The feds have busted 12 shady STD treatment companies—and the Better Business Bureau might be collateral damage
The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission joined forces Tuesday to threaten 12 companies with legal action over the manufacture and sale of products that purport to treat sexually transmitted diseases. The FDA's webpage alone, complete with the video STD Treatments That Don't Work, will prove a devastating assault to most of these businesses. Though it lacks the authority to carry out an IRS-style raid, the FDA has been using its legal department's fearsome prose to bust bad drugs sold as supplements for decades now, and in the past few years we've seen the agency ramp up these efforts as online commerce has driven the problem to epidemic proportions.
So while I expect a steady drumbeat of deadbeat drug bashing, I was instead far more interested to discover a prominent consumer rights nonprofit linked to the mess. The Better Business Bureau lent its considerable credibility to one of the companies the Feds are slamming for endangering the country's public health. What's more, the BBB followed its normal practices and policies in doing so, the organization told me yesterday.
The BBB's involvement became apparent once I decided to take a closer look at the assortment of crappy capsules the Feds are putting on notice. I zeroed in on Medavir, produced by a central-Florida based outfit called The Arenson Group (a.k.a. TAG Health). The internet is littered with TAG's websites selling Medavir under various names. While scrolling along you'll see the usual unsubstantiated claims and endorsements from unnamed physicians that one would expect from shady operators. "Over 90% of outbreaks do not occur when you apply Medavir at first signs of outbreak," one site says. Stop the presses! For your information, that compares to about an 50 to 60 percent chance of future genital herpes outbreaks while on FDA-approved medical treatment (versus a blistering 80 to 90 percent rate without treatment) according to a 2007 meta-analysis of available trial data.
The Arenson Group preys on ashamed kids and unsophisticated adults. Your sexual partner, your doctor, and the public health department need never know!
So how's the the BBB mixed up in this? Take a look at this screen shot from one of the Medavir sites:
As shown in the above screenshot, Medavir prominently displays its BBB Accredited Business logo in the upper left hand corner of its website. Unlike the sprinkling of other certifications and logos on the site that turn out to be illegitimate, BBB's is the real deal. Until earlier today when the organization heard from me and took down their rating, consumers could click on that link to see its A+ rating from the BBB:
The BBB accredited The Arenson Group in January 2009 "based on information provided by the company and our own research," says Holly Salmons, Vice President of BBB of Central Florida.
The bottom line? The BBB is pleased to accredit questionable pill purveyors when they market their mixtures as supplements. Because The Arenson Group's website included the statement "none of these statements have been fully evaluated by the FDA" at the time they applied for accreditation (it still does), the BBB was satisfied to welcome them into its brotherhood of legitimate American businesses. In fact, Ms. Salmons says that while as of Wednesday she has frozen Arenson's status in "update" mode, the BBB will suspend or restore their accreditation only pending their response to the FDA's demands.
Arenson could potentially satisfy federal regulators by removing all medical claims from its websites and packaging and marketing Medavir in some vague manner unconnected to treating herpes sufferers. That would leave little text on their sites indeed. I find it difficult to imagine what a website attempting to sell Medavir without claiming that it treats herpes would look like (what in the world is a "herpes supplement"?), and I'd love to see the original materials the BBB reviewed in 2009.
Once BBB approved Medavir's membership, the company wasn't slated for another review for three years, giving plenty of time for its claims to become progressively more egregious without any oversight. But lack of such frequent review doesn't seem to be the crux of the problem in my own analysis. BBB protests to me that Medavir's January 2009 materials fit classification as a supplement and did not overstep bounds into FDA-regulated territory. After reviewing versions of Medavir.com from January 2009 and the oldest available version from June 2008 over at the Internet Archive, I don't buy their version of events. Take a look back, and make your own call.
The Arenson Group showed off its A+ BBB rating to its vulnerable lot of prospective consumers as an implied seal of approval. This use, even for a health care product, is routine in BBB practice. "Accredited Businesses are permitted to report their rating as long as it is accurate at all times," BBB VP Salmons tells me. Arenson had just two complaints over three years, she says, which is a low complaint volume. Another BBB policy helps explain why Medavir might have so few complaints. BBB only accepts complaints that come with real names and documentation.
People searching out genital herpes cures from the privacy of their own homes are obviously reluctant or unable to do so in the care of actual medical professionals out there in the real world. These consumers must have found some reassurance in BBB's A+ rating, which is why the Medavir site advertised it high above the fold. Medavir had a perfectly marginalized population base from which to draw its A+ record: folks too anxiety-ridden to speak up once they realized they'd been scammed; STD sufferers who didn't think admitting they have herpes to a third party was worth it when that third party took the Hippocratic Oath certainly aren't going to confide their private secrets to the BBB.
The characters behind Medavir made BBB into a Bogus Balms Bureau. To get out of this fix, BBB needs to eject itself from the field of lending credibility to unregulated drug makers entirely. This means excluding health "supplements." It's hard enough for physicians and the FDA to weigh evidence about these agents. BBB ratings are bestowed by an organization with no possible claim to competence in mediating between patients and providers in the unique health care marketplace, as the policies that led to this case prove. Moreover, BBB ratings add nothing of value to any consumer considering what pills to take for an illness. Continuing to offer accreditation to firms like The Arenson Group (aka Medavir Medical Advances) of Windmere, Florida, whether or not they barely skirt FDA enforcement does a disservice to BBB's own heritage.
What would the American culture wars look like if they were less about “values” and more about Jesus?
Evangelical Christianity has long had a stranglehold on how Americans imagine public faith. Vague invocations of “religion”—whether it’s “religion vs. science” or “religious freedom”—usually really mean “conservative, Protestant, evangelical Christianity,” and this assumption inevitably frames debates about American belief. For the other three-quarters of the population—Catholics, Jews, other Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, secular Americans, Buddhists, Wiccans, etc.—this can be infuriating. For some evangelicals, it’s a sign of success, a linguistic triumph of the culture wars.
But not for Russell Moore. In 2013, the 43-year-old theologian became the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the political nerve center of the Southern Baptist Convention. His predecessor, Richard Land, prayed with George W. Bush, played hardball with Democrats, and helped make evangelicals a quintessentially Republican voting bloc.
Many psychiatrists believe that a new approach to diagnosing and treating depression—linking individual symptoms to their underlying mechanisms—is needed for research to move forward.
In his Aphorisms, Hippocrates defined melancholia, an early understanding of depression, as a state of “fears and despondencies, if they last a long time.” It was caused, he believed, by an excess of bile in the body (the word “melancholia” is ancient Greek for “black bile”).
Ever since then, doctors have struggled to create a more precise and accurate definition of the illness that still isn’t well understood. In the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Kurt Schneider argued that depression could be divided into two separate conditions, each requiring a different form of treatment: depression that resulted from changes in mood, which he called “endogenous depression,” and depression resulting from reactions to outside events, or “reactive depression.” His theory was challenged in 1926, when the British psychologist Edward Mapother argued in the British Medical Journal that there was no evidence for two distinct types of depression, and that the apparent differences between depression patients were just differences in the severity of the condition.
The winners of the 27th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced.
The winners of the 27th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced. Winning first prize, Anuar Patjane Floriuk of Tehuacán, Mexico, will receive an eight-day photo expedition for two to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal for a photograph of divers swimming near a humpback whale off the western coast of Mexico. Here, National Geographic has shared all of this year’s winners, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Captions by the photographers.
Exceptional nonfiction stories from 2014 that are still worth encountering today
Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best ofJournalism, an email newsletter that I send out once or twice a week. This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.
Paul faced danger, Ani and Ray faced each other, and Frank faced some career decisions.
This is what happens when you devote two-thirds of a season to scene after scene after scene of Frank and Jordan’s Baby Problems, and Frank Shaking Guys Down, and Look How Fucked Up Ray and Ani Are, and Melancholy Singer in the Dive Bar Yet Again—and then you suddenly realize that with only a couple episodes left you haven’t offered even a rudimentary outline of the central plot.
What if Joe Biden is going to run for the Democratic nomination after all?
Most Democrats seem ready for Hillary Clinton—or at least appear content with her candidacy. But what about the ones who who were bidin’ for Biden? There are new signs the vice president might consider running for president after all.
Biden has given little indication he was exploring a run: There’s no super PAC, no cultivation of a network of fundraisers or grassroots organizers, few visits to early-primary states. While his boss hasn’t endorsed Clinton—and says he won’t endorse in the primary—many members of the Obama administration have gone to work for Clinton, including some close to Biden.
But Biden also hasn’t given any clear indication that he isn’t running, and a column by Maureen Dowd in Saturday’s New York Times has set off new speculation. One reason Biden didn’t get into the race was that his son Beau was dying of cancer, and the vice president was focused on being with his son. But before he died in May, Dowd reported, Beau Biden tried to get his father to promise to run. Now Joe Biden is considering the idea.
An activist group is trying to discredit Planned Parenthood with covertly recorded videos even as contraception advocates are touting a method that sharply reduces unwanted pregnancies.
Abortion is back at the fore of U.S. politics due to an activist group’s attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood, one of the most polarizing organizations in the country. Supporters laud its substantial efforts to provide healthcare for women and children. For critics, nothing that the organization does excuses its role in performing millions of abortions––a procedure that they regard as literal murder––and its monstrous character is only confirmed, in their view, by covertly recorded video footage of staffers cavalierly discussing what to do with fetal body parts.
If nothing else, that recently released footage has galvanized Americans who oppose abortion, media outlets that share their views, and politicians who seek their votes. “Defunding Planned Parenthood is now a centerpiece of the Republican agenda going into the summer congressional recess,” TheWashington Postreports, “and some hard-liners have said they are willing to force a government shutdown in October if federal support to the group is not curtailed.”
The jobs that are least vulnerable to automation tend to be held by women.
Many economists and technologists believe the world is on the brink of a new industrial revolution, in which advances in the field of artificial intelligence will obsolete human labor at an unforgiving pace. Two Oxford researchers recently analyzed the skills required for more than 700 different occupations to determine how many of them would be susceptible to automation in the near future, and the news was not good: They concluded that machines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.
This is a dire prediction, but one whose consequences will not fall upon society evenly. A close look at the data reveals a surprising pattern: The jobs performed primarily by women are relatively safe, while those typically performed by men are at risk.
Blame Prohibitionists, German immigrants, and factory workers who just wanted to drink during their lunch break.
Today’s discerning beer drinkers might be convinced that America’s watery, bland lagers are a recent corporate invention. But the existence of American beers that are, as one industry executive once put it, “less challenging,” has a much longer history. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, himself an accomplished homebrewer, complained that some of his country’s beers were “meagre and often vapid” nearly 200 years ago.
Jefferson never lived to see the worst of it. Starting in about the mid-1800s, American beer has been defined by its dullness. Why? The answer lies in a combination of religious objections to alcohol, hordes of German immigrants, and a bunch of miners who just wanted to drink during their lunch break, says Ranjit Dighe, a professor of economics at the State University of New York at Oswego.
It’s impossible to “solve” the Iranian nuclear threat. This agreement is the next best thing.
Having carefully reviewed the lengthy and complex agreement negotiated by the United States and its international partners with Iran, I have reached the following conclusion: If I were a member of Congress, I would vote yes on the deal. Here are nine reasons why.
1) No one has identified a better feasible alternative. Before negotiations halted its nuclear advance, Iran had marched relentlessly down the field from 10 years away from a bomb to two months from that goal line. In response, the United States and its partners imposed a series of sanctions that have had a significant impact on Iran’s economy, driving it to negotiate. That strategy worked, and resulted in a deal. In the absence of this agreement, the most likely outcome would be that the parties resume doing what they were doing before the freeze began: Iran installing more centrifuges, accumulating a larger stockpile of bomb-usable material, shrinking the time required to build a bomb; the U.S. resuming an effort to impose more severe sanctions on Iran. Alternatively, Israel or the United States could conduct military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, setting back the Iranian program by two years, or perhaps even three. But that option risks wider war in the Middle East, an Iran even more determined to acquire a bomb, and the collapse of consensus among American allies.