Nov 20 2007

History Repeats Itself – The PAPIMI Scam

In 1916 a physician name Albert Abrams published a paper introducing the world to the Electronic Reactions of Abrams (ERA). According the Dr. Abrams every disease has its own unique vibrational signature, and Abrams was soon marketing devices to both diagnose (the dynamizer) and treat (the oscilloclast) pretty much anything. Abrams made millions selling and licensing devices to doctors, chiropractors, and other practitioners and clinics began cropping up all over America. This cottage industry of quackery continued for years, convincing millions of clients that the ERA was a miracle breakthrough of modern medicine. The ride didn’t end until Abrams died and it was discovered that his machines contained useless parts (a scam within a scam), and it became clear that he was the perpetrator of one of the greatest medical hoaxes in history.

Sounds crazy, right? Nothing so outrageous could happen today. (OK, so regular readers of this blog will see what’s coming next a mile away.)

Recently the Seattle Times recently ran a story exposing a con-artist and his device that would make Abrams proud – Panos Pappas and his PAPIMI device. Pappas claims that his device is based upon “frequencies spectrum,” that physicists should “forget E=MC2,” that his machine treats inflammation and improves oxygen. His claims are essentially a mishmash of typical quack mumbo jumbo, but he has an impressive looking machine that uses “energy.” Wow.

Pappas is following the Abrams model – selling or licensing machines to quack clinics and raking in millions off the suffering of others. Pappas has added a new twist, however. Pappas has one thing to contend with that Abrams did not have, and that is the FDA. Because Pappas wants to sell his device to treat cancer and AIDS (you know, real diseases) his claims fall under FDA regulation. The way around this, however, is to register the device for clinical research, so that is what he did.

It was a good scam while it lasted. Clinics used the PAPIMI to conduct “research” even though they were getting paid for its use. Some clinics didn’t bother with the whole research thing, and just used it as if it were a legitimate device. Pappas, meanwhile, was busy marketing – scamming the San Francisco 49ers to endorse the device. He was also able to claim that the device is FDA registered. This only means that the company is registered with the FDA – it is not the same thing as FDA approval, and the FDA never approved the device as safe and effective. (This is a common deception.)

But the trail of death and misery finally caught up with Pappas. A five month old baby boy died of cancer while under treatment by the PAPIMI. The electromagnetic device also caused some injuries. Eventually the FDA prohibited use of the machine in 2005, and Pappas had to flee the country on fraud charges. But there are still some machines in use in the odd CAM clinic.

Pappas’ mistake (if you can call it that – he is happily living off his millions in Europe) was that his machine actually did something. He could have had his machine use chi or some other form of fake energy, instead of actual electromagnetism. Fake energy therapies that do literally nothing are outside the regulation of the FDA.

This sad tale teaches us a few lessons. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it – that is why part of the job of skeptics and the skeptical movement is to remind the public about the scams of the past, because they are likely to come around again every generation.

Second, the current regulations that we have (at least in the USA) were inadequate to protect the public from the PAPIMI or the likes of Pappas. This one definitely slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately the cracks are widening under pressure from the health care freedom lobbyists who want freedom for quacks to defraud the public.

They really want history to repeat itself – they want to go back to the days of snake oil salesmen and patent medicines – the heyday of medical quacks and con-artists.

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