Skepticism

The Long History Behind the Latest TikTok “No Glasses” Scam

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Transcript:

(Rebecca sits, reading a book) Oh hi there, I didn’t see you. Welcome. I’m Rebecca Watson, and if this is your first time seeing one of my videos, I hope you enjoy it. If you’re a returning viewer, welcome back! You might notice something is a little different about me, and you’re absolutely right! What you’re noticing is that I recently did some “inner child work,” explored my “inner world,” and “strengthened my intuition,” so now I’ve awoken my third eye and long story short I no longer need glasses to see.

Okay I can’t handle it anymore, I can’t see, this is all a scam. Anyway, check out this asshole.

That’s Samantha Lotus, “Holistic Master Coach, Human Optimization Specialist and Business Mentor for Maverick Female Leaders,” or as I prefer to put it, a charismatic quack with thousands of views on her TikTok videos, in which not only does she tell you that you don’t actually need corrective lenses, but obviously that you can learn to improve your eyesight naturally, by first giving her $11 to attend her virtual “Vision Healing Masterclass.”

I know all this thanks to Mallory, a very funny lady who exposes fake “wellness” influencers, of which there are many but Samantha Lotus may just be the platonic ideal. DeMille actually coughed up the $11 to see what Lotus had to say and wow, did she have a lot of…nothing. A lot of nothing to say. And amusingly, she even seems to admit it early in her session when one slide reads “METAPHYSICAL HEALING – WOO.” “Woo” is literally what skeptics used to call idiotic pseudoscience. “Woo woo.” Also, no, I have no idea what she means by “Now if where you need that open mind people!!!!” Oh I guess that’s an “s”? “Now is?” Does she use that font on purpose to make people think their vision is worse than they think at the start of their journey?

Anyway, in my intro to this video I actually was quoting directly from Lotus’s instruction manual. She told 125 people (that’s more than a thousand bucks she made from this one session) that something “happened” to their bodies that led them to “believe” they couldn’t see. To fix this, the answer isn’t “glasses” or “contact lenses,” but “radical self inquiry,” oh, and some magic mushrooms won’t hurt.

Her “fix” for bad eyesight actually isn’t anything new, as you might realize immediately when she launches into the importance of “affirmations” like “my eyes are windows to clarity,” “I am open to receiving intuitive insights” and “I SEE WITH LOVE & JOY.” This is standard “The Secret” or “Law of Attraction” bullshit, in which the scammer suggests that you can “manifest” anything you want by simply pretending you already have it. In this case it’s eyesight, but the same principle can be applied to fame and fortune, or other forms of health, like cancer. Which further suggests that people who die of cancer really just failed themselves by not pretending hard enough that they were healthy. Yeah, it’s pretty disgusting.

Lotus goes on to make general “be healthy” suggestions like “be less stressed!” and “make good choices!” But here, in suggestions like “sun gaze” and “eye stretches” is where we see the other shadow of a long debunked pseudoscience: the Bates Method.

William Horatio Bates was a doctor and ophthalmologist who came up with his “theory” for fixing bad eyesight in the early 20th century, publishing his thoughts in 1920 in his book “Perfect Sight Without Glasses”. That’s right, Samantha Lotus is just rehashing a century-old quack, whose ideas were immediately debunked by the entire medical industry at the time.

While his colleagues understood poor vision to be primarily the result of misshapen eyeballs that required corrective lenses, Bates insisted that the cause was “strain” and that glasses were just “eye crutches,” and so he tried to relieve that strain by, for instance, recommending patients shift their eyes back and forth, or sun gazing. And yes, sun gazing is exactly what you think it is: staring at the sun. Like Donald Trump watching an eclipse. And yes, it’s dangerous and you should not do it. In fact, after Bates died and his quackery lived on, reprints of his book carefully excised the part about staring at the sun because it was so obviously stupid, but I guess Samantha Lotus didn’t get that memo.

Bates died in 1931 after living an increasingly bizarre life in which he disappeared from New York, reappeared six weeks later working in a hospital in London where he had first been admitted as a patient with mysterious amnesia, and after his wife came to collect him he disappeared again two days later, only to be found eight years later practicing medicine in North Dakota. By then his wife had died and he moved back to New York to resume practicing there. Also he had an adult son who disappeared in 1928. This all seems very strange to me but hey, Agatha Christie pulled the same shit in 1926 so I guess that was just what people did back then: disappear for a bit, wait for your spouse to die or agree to a divorce, and then reappear in a hospital somewhere claiming no memory of what happened. Whatever.

Anyway, unfortunately for all of us, Bates’s wacky ideas didn’t die with him. His True Believers continued to spread the word, and in fact a few years after his death a new book was published based upon his method: The Art of Seeing by Aldous Huxley. Yes, that Aldous Huxley. The Brave New World guy. Yes, this very talented writer was also super into something that was obviously a pseudoscientific scam, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was super into psychics so again, that was just what people DID at the time. They wrote classic novels that would be beloved for centuries and ALSO had really weird and kind of stupid hobbies.

Anyway, Huxley actually suffered from seriously impaired eyesight since he was a teen, and he tried the Bates Method and thought that it helped him greatly, leading to his writing a whole book on the topic.

Such a well-respected person as Huxley helped the scam continue through the decades, to the point where it made it all the way to the 1950s and was mentioned by the late, great Martin Gardener in his book, Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, which is how I originally came to learn of Bates and his beliefs and his weird disappearance and everything.

Gardener correctly deduces a number of reasons for the enduring love of this crackpot idea: there are a number of reasons why a person’s eyesight might improve regardless of the magical thoughts or eyeball stretches one does, like cataracts that cause temporarily improved vision or an astigmatism that changes for the better. But he points out that the most important factor is that “‘seeing’ is deeply involved with one’s mental attitude…given the right frame of mind–which may be induced by faith in any kind of treatment–a person with even a large visual error may be able to toss away his glasses and get along comfortably. Bates himself wrote about how some persons found their vision much improved after they had been given glasses which were almost plain glass. What he did not realize was the possibility that his own system might operate along similar lines.”

He goes on to describe a case in which an old woman had glaucoma, but after just a few minutes of the Bates “palming” technique (of putting the palms over the eyes), she was able to read the top of an eye chart. How did it happen? Gardener writes, “The answer is suggested in the next sentences. ‘She was very happy and wanted to talk, which I encouraged her to do. She said she was living in a small furnished room and…had no one to look after her.’”

She was sad, lonely, and likely exaggerating how bad her vision was at the start and how “improved” it became later. This is something we see over and over again with the victims of scammers, especially medical scammers: they just want some hope, and maybe a friendly person to listen to their problems. If our healthcare system were better, and if our support for elderly, disabled, and marginalized people was better, these people would be more likely to get real, science-based medical treatment instead of empty promises. But instead they trust quacks, and for many people, treatable diseases like glaucoma quickly become untreatable blindness.

Before I move on, let me just share one other anecdote from Fads & Fallacies: in 1952, Bennett Cerf in The Saturday Review described a speech given by Aldous Huxley at a Hollywood Banquet, during which Huxley “wore no glasses, and evidently experienced no difficulty in reading the paper he had planted on the lectern. Had the exercises really given him normal vision? I, along with twelve hundred other guests, watched with astonishment while he rattled glibly on…Then suddenly he faltered—and the disturbing truth became obvious. He wasn’t reading his address at all. He had learned it by heart. To refresh his memory he brought the paper closer and closer to his eyes. When it was only an inch or so away he still couldn’t read it, and had to fish for a magnifying glass in his pocket to make the typing visible to him. It was an agonising moment…”

Huh. More like “Big L” dous Huxley, am I right? Sorry, I actually feel really bad for him but I had to say it.

Gardener’s thorough explanation of the Bates Method was first published in the 1950s, but it continued to be republicized by True Believers even up until 2011, when Dover published Better Vision Now, a book that remains in publication today. James Randi mentioned its initial publishing in his weekly newsletter, adding “I recall that my own father was quite captured by this notion, because he was a fan of health guru Bernarr Macfadden, a then-popular author and “authority” who endorsed the dippy idea. The Bates System of Eye Exercises urged readers to “throw away” their glasses, and my dad did just that. He wrecked his car shortly thereafter; he promptly threw away the book and ordered new glasses.”

Did that happen? I mean probably not, but in true Randi style it’s a very good anecdote.

And so here we are in 2023, and the Bates Method is back with a new veneer of wellness influencer chic. Oh, and a bonus scam: Mallory points out that Samantha Lotus’s $11 presentation slowly became more and more about essential oils–specifically DoTerra, a multilevel marketing company that I’ve talked about in the past. That’s right, she recommends rubbing essential oils around your eyes to improve them, which you should absolutely not fucking do. Lotus specifically recommends the “immortelle” oil for “eye strengthening,” which Doterra rushed to copy/paste a response to, stating that their products “cannot be used or marketed as capable of preventing, treating, or curing any disease or symptoms associated with a disease” because they know that the FDA will ruin them if they do. These pyramid scheme-type companies rely upon a network of representatives who quietly tell each other and potential customers that their products are magical cure-alls, while the larger corporation can simply state the required legalese while allowing the representatives to continue.

In fact, Mallory points out that she previously reported Lotus back in December for claiming DoTerra oils could treat COVID, but no word from corporate on that yet.

Mallory says she HAS heard from Lotus, who appears to have decided the correct path forward is harassing her critic on various social media networks, including LinkedIn, somehow. And of course, the story lands where these stories always land: Lotus threatening to involve her lawyers. I’m sure Mallory is terrified. If someone at 1-800-LAWYERS actually answers Lotus’s call, you can be sure that I’ll be back with an update and a link to a GoFundMe.

In the meanwhile, follow Mallory on TikTok if that’s your thing, and please continue to not stare directly into the sun in order to fix your vision problems.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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