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How snake oil got a bad name


During the pandemic, the pejorative term “snake-oil salesman” has been bandied about a lot. It is been used, perhaps with a tinge of 1980s nostalgia, to describe convicted fraudster and serial opportunist Jim Bakker, whose colloidal Silver Solution required only some deft rebranding to become a specific curative for Covid-19.

For this, the televangelist found himself on the receiving end of multiple cease-and-desist letters, followed by lawsuits, from several United States states. This past June, at least one suit was settled when Bakker agreed to return the “donations” his ministry had collected in exchange for his product.

Then there are the “Snake-Oil Salesmen of the Senate”, as a New York Times opinion piece labelled them. This referred to a collection of Republican senators and the medical experts they had invited to a hearing about hydroxychloroquine, a drug hyped early in the pandemic by Donald Trump as something he had a “really good feeling” about.

The opinion piece’s author, Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, had warned at the hearing against deploying the drug against Covid-19. Dr Peter McCullough, a cardiologist at Baylor University Medical Center, described Jha’s testimony as “reckless and dangerous for the nation”.

Just to confuse matters, Floridian reptile squalene – actual snake oil – has been credibly proposed…

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