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The other day, I received a jaw-dropping piece of spam e-mail:

The Detox Box is a remarkable device that uses frequencies to destroy toxins in the body. It’s similar to how a singer can hit a note and shatter a wine glass.

According to the e-mail, this marvelous machine is based on the ideas of one Dr. Royal Rife, who lived in the 1930s and claimed to have developed the world’s first “virus microscope”. (It is physically impossible to resolve the average virus with a light microscope, since the size of a typical virus is smaller than the wavelength of visible light. This gives the reader a good idea of the quality of evidence supporting Rife’s claims.) Rife then went on to invent a “beam ray” device which, he said, could cure cancer and other diseases using the principles outlined below.

Rife was able to observe the frequency at which viruses and bacteria vibrated… When increasing the intensity of the frequency at which they vibrated, its natural oscillation also increases, causing it to disintegrate from the structural stresses and break just like the wine glass did. Rife named this intensified frequency the mortal oscillatory rate, or “MOR”. He discovered that every microorganism has its own frequency and can be destroyed by intensifying this frequency until it explodes. Rife invented a frequency machine (now known as a Rife machine), the forerunner of today’s “Detox Box” instrument.

As is usual for pseudoscience, the companion website gives a large number of unsubstantiated, anecdotal testimonials and is generously larded with fear-mongering “facts” about how modern medicine is poisoning us all. Thankfully, the “Detox Box” can purge one’s body of these toxins. (Any substance or organism that causes people harm is lumped together under the heading of “toxins”, which is also standard practice for alternative medicine.) Apparently, all one needs to do to use this treatment is to hold two stainless steel cylinders (shades of Scientology’s E-meter) or apply electrode pads to the skin to let the healing frequencies flow through the body.

Also as usual, the principles being advocated have only a superficial resemblance to actual science. First of all, some of the “toxins” the website lists are arsenic and lead. How is the “Detox Box” supposed to help with this? Arsenic and lead are atomic elements. They are not compounds that can be “shattered” by any kind of destructive resonance, unless this product is claiming to produce nuclear fission inside the body, in which case the user has bigger problems.

And though it scarcely needs saying, viruses and bacteria are not wine glasses. Resonance of the type that shatters glass can only occur in a uniform substance with nothing to damp out vibrations, so that every part of the object vibrates at the same frequency and there is nothing to absorb or cushion the vibrational energy. This will not happen with a bacterium, or any other complex object with many different component parts. And even this effect only occurs with sound waves, not electromagnetic energy as this quack device provides.

So, how much are the proprietors asking for this dubious panacea?

The professional price is $1495, which is a $500 savings off the regular price of $1995.

That was where this e-mail ceased to be amusing. Taking advantage of the sick and the desperate by selling quack machines at outrageous prices is no longer a harmless deception, it is an act of evil. People have died after forsaking evidence-based medicine in favor of Rife machines to treat cancer and other lethal illnesses. The attorneys general of several states have won injunctions against operators of these machines for making fraudulent claims about their efficacy.

Although I don’t anticipate swift results, I’m going to bring this site to the attention of the FDA. If experience is any guide, it’s likely that it will fold on its own before any action is taken. I only hope that no one else is hurt or dies needlessly before that happens.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...