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Hard (Pseudo) Science: The Second Coming of the VIBE Machine

The Good Word

Karen Stollznow

March 29, 2011

According to anecdotes, the machine has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including pancreatic cancer, intestinal parasites, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, snoring, and speech impediments.

For some time, purveyors of pseudoscience have been name-dropping scientific terms such as quantum, energy, and vibration in an attempt to lend legitimacy to their products. It is akin to, many ghost hunters claiming to use the “scientific method”—one group even claims to “employ rigorous investigative protocols, and submit our case reports to fellow researchers for peer review.” Not to be left out, nowadays the Denver Metaphysical Fair is less metaphysical and more pseudoscientific.

Moreover, marketing for these items is changing. Crystals are repackaged as having “the combination of far infrared light, negative ions and amethyst quartz [which] opens the channels for intelligent cellular communication leading to DNA repair and total body wellness.” Elixirs, potions, and tonics are rebranded as the “Wonder nutrient of the century-cellular liquid-food liquid minerals-healthy chocolate a complete RX Defense pack for your Physical-Emotional-Mental-Spiritual Body!”

Trying to suggest a semblance of science, paranormal purveyors have swapped their capes for lab coats. Today’s paranormal practitioners often have scientific and scholarly backgrounds; there is a Feng Shui practitioner with an MBA, an “Oracle” with a master’s degree in psychology, a Shaman with a PhD, a psychic with a degree in psychology who works with the police (and Archangel Gabriel), and a teacher with advanced degrees in chemistry who “developed The Path of the Holistic Warrior, a system which focuses on balancing inner and outer self-sufficient realities.”

There were fewer vendors at the Denver Metaphysical Fair offering candles and incense and more pushing pseudoscientific devices: computerized chakra reports, Network Spinal Analysis, Orgone products “for help with EMFs,” Bio-Energetic medicine, and a “device that can clear cellular memory patterns using voice recognition.”

Bad Vibrations

There was also a so-new-it’s-unnamed product; yet another device “invented by Tesla” that Tesla didn’t seem to know about. According to the salesperson, the device uses “electromagnetic radio wave vibration energy. It’s basically a Chi device. It breaks down blockages in the meridians. It centers you and lets your body heal itself.” A member of our party merely pointed at the flashing, humming machine and received an electric shock. “Careful, it bites” the salesperson chuckled, although there weren’t any warning signs about this danger.

Talking about “breaking down blockages” and “healing” hadn’t enlightened us about what the machine does any further, so we asked if the device could cure cancer. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t use the word cure, but all my clients are cancer free; including me. I had extremely aggressive skin cancer and a series of strokes. I was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease but now I’m completely free of any diseases,” the salesperson told us. So, he didn’t use the word cure, but he did use the phrases “cancer free” and “completely free of any diseases.” The vendor was very cagey when talking about the product, and for good reason: we recognized it as a remake of the Vibrational Integrated Bio-photonic Energizer (VIBE) Machine, a device that was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008.

The VIBE Machine was created by Gene Koonce, an electronics repairman. He began manufacturing and distributing the device in 2002, claiming that it could treat or cure cancer, depression, infection, and pain. By 2008 there were nearly 900 machines in existence and Koonce was selling them for $17,000–20,000 apiece, mostly to practitioners who would charge patients for five-minute sessions with the machine.

According to anecdotes, the machine has been used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including pancreatic cancer, intestinal parasites, anxiety, depression, digestive problems, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, snoring, and speech impediments. Some even believe it cures the soul: “Some practitioners are using the V.I.B.E. strictly to help people with illnesses. Others believe the physical healing is just a byproduct—that the V.I.B.E. has a much broader metaphysical purpose. Some suggest the machine is helping to raise the vibrational rate of the planet.”

How does the machine supposedly work? According to one source:

The FDA recalled the VIBE Machine for making unsubstantiated medical claims, and the company was also cited for substantial deviations from good manufacturing practices. The recall was classified as a “Class 1 recall,” meaning “there is a reasonable probability that the use of a device will cause adverse health consequences or death.” This move was prompted by the death of a thirty-two-year-old Washington man who had relied on the device rather than seeking orthodox treatment for his testicular cancer. The practitioners involved in this case were charged for operating without a medical license and attempting to treat seriously ill patients. As often happens with these devices, someone had to die for it to be recalled.

The FDA press release stated, “The manufacturers, VIBE Technologies of Greeley, Colo. … claimed their devices treated conditions ranging from cancer to migraines. The FDA is concerned that based upon the original health claims made by the company, patients may forgo approved therapies, and that this could result in more severe illness or death.” The company was directed to send a certified letter to each customer who had purchased the device, ordering them to stop using the product and to cease making medical claims and promoting the product as a medical device. Yet the VIBE Machine has resurfaced again, much like televangelist Peter Popoff’s comeback after he was exposed by James Randi.

The Metaphysical Fair vendor offered sessions with the device at the SweetLeaf Compassion Center, a medical marijuana dispensary (which seems to be new place for these things to covertly flourish). Here is the advertisement for the product, which is replete with medical claims.

NEW TO SWEETLEAF: ELECTROMAGNETIC THERAPY!

A VIBE Machine, By Any Other Name

In fact, the VIBE Machine never really went away. When the FDA began cracking down on the business, Koonce rebranded his VIBE Machine as the QuantumPulse by VIBE Technologies, still in operation today. The device has even morphed into several variant forms, including the Rife Machine, Detox Box, and the Global Wellness Machine. Of course, the original is the best.

On the current website, gone are the claims that the machine was “invented by Tesla.” Now, “The QuantumPulse is based on proven technologies and theories pioneered by scientists.” The site maintains a practitioner directory so clients can locate a machine. (A second-hand device was found on eBay being sold for $13,000).

As per the clauses outlined in the recall, Koonce removed all of the explicit medical claims and has replaced them with ambiguous Law of Attraction-style promises:

What can it do for me?

Like the “for entertainment purposes only” caveat favored by television psychics, the QuantumPulse site features an important postscript: “Nothing on this website is intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or medical conditions. If you have a physical or medical condition, you should seek the advice of your medical professional immediately.” And it’s still not FDA approved. “The QuantumPulse is not a medical device and is not intended to be used in a medical situation of any kind; therefore, it is not FDA cleared.”

The website’s promise that “the QuantumPulse can promote and support general well-being” is still a medical claim, albeit a vague one. But as long as the advertising favors language that complies with FDA law, the device can continue to be marketed and used commercially. However, some sites are still making explicit medical claims about the device. “[The VIBE Machine] is used to treat conditions as diverse as cancer, diabetes and depression, all with great success!”

The FDA has been alerted that the device has re-emerged and that medical claims continue to be made about the product. The bottom line is that by any name, the VIBE Machine/QuantumPulse does not work and needs to be banned from sale and use. Truthful marketing of the machine would indicate that it’s an expensive, dangerous, ugly ornament.

Acknowledgments

With thanks to Matthew Baxter and Bryan Bonner for their research assistance.

Karen Stollznow

Karen Stollznow's photo

Karen Stollznow is an author and skeptical investigator with a doctorate in linguistics and a background in history and anthropology. She is an associate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a director of the San Francisco Bay Area Skeptics. A prolific skeptical writer for many sites and publications, she is the “Good Word” Web columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the “Bad Language” columnist for Skeptic magazine, a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer, and managing editor of CSI’s Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Dr. Stollznow is a host of the Monster Talk podcast and writer for the Skepbitch and Skepchick blogs, as well as for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift. She can be reached via email at kstollznow[at]centerforinquiry.net.