Snake oil

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Clark Stanley's Snake Oil

Snake oil is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. By extension, a snake oil salesman is someone who knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is himself or herself a fraud, quack, charlatan, and the like.


Alphabetized by author
  • It seems almost incredible, whatever their origin, that remedies of so offensive a character as many of those above given can still retain a place even in the rudest traditional pharmacopoeia, but there seems to be in the uneducated human mind a sort of reverence for or faith in that which is in itself disagreeable or repulsive. This idea apparently rules in- stead of rational judgment in the selection of many popular household remedies in the shape of oils of most loathsome deriva- tion, such as " skunk-oil," " angle-worm oil " (made by slowly rendering earth-worms in the sun), " snake-oil " of various kinds, etc. George Borrow, in that rare idyl of vagabondage, " Lavengro," tells of various encounters with an old herbalist who always car- ried on his back a stout leathern bag, into which he gathered not simples but vipers, whose oil he extracted for medicinal purposes. The faith of this wandering English mediciner and his numerous customers of half a century ago in the viper-oil is quite equaled to-day by that of American frontiersmen in the peculiar virtues of rattlesnake-oil. It is just possible that subtle remedial powers do exist in some of these oils, but it is not easy to ascertain why lard or olive-oil might not take the place of these disgusting un-guents.
  • Numerous supplement products have emerged in the market in the last ten years. They range from vitamins and minerals to herbals and hormones. This boom has created an uncertain situation as to the quality and safety of dietary supplements. According to Bruce Silverglade from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 'the challenge for most consumers is to determine which supplements are beneficial and which are nothing more than 21st-century snake oil--or even dangerous.' That is why this legislation includes authorization of funds for physician and consumer education programs regarding adverse reactions.
  • [Jack White] is the showman—the brassy frontman and the snake-oil trader.
Florida politician with a jar of snake oil
  • The powers of the placebo are so strong that it may be morally wrong to call homeopathy a lie because the moment you say it then a placebo falls to pieces and loses its power. I am a great believer in double-blind random testing, which is the basis of all drug testing. People still insist on things like holistic healing and things that have no real basis in evidence because they want it to be true—it’s as simple as that. If you’re dying of cancer or very, very ill, then you’ll cling to a straw. I feel pretty dark thoughts about the kind of people who throw straws at drowning, dying men and women, and I’m sure most of us would agree it’s a pretty lousy thing to do. Some of these people perhaps believe in the snake oil they sell or allow themselves to believe in it. That’s why James Randi is so good, because he knows what magicians know: if you do a card trick on someone, they will report that it was unbelievable, they describe the effect the magician wanted, and they miss out all the steps in between that seemed irrelevant because the magician made them irrelevant, so they didn’t notice them. People will swear that a clairvoyant mentioned the name of their aunt from nowhere, and they will be astonished if you then play a recording that shows that thirty-two names were said before the aunt’s name, none of which had any effect on them. That’s because they wanted to hear their aunt’s name; they wanted the trick to work, so they forgot all the failures in the same way as people forget all their dreams that have no relevance to their lives, but they mark when they dream of someone they haven’t met for ages that they see the next day. I would be astounded if everyone had coincidences like that—yet people say that is somehow closed-minded of me!
    • Stephen Fry (2010). "Last Chance to Think, Interview by Kylie Sturgess". Skeptical Inquirer 34 (1).
  • Richard Kunin visited San Francisco’s Chinatown to buy such snake oil and analyze it. According to his 1989 analysis published in the Western Journal of Medicine, Chinese water-snake oil contains 20 percent eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids most readily used by our bodies. Salmon, one of the most popular food sources of omega-3s, contains a maximum of 18 percent EPA, lower than that of snake oil.
  • Mr. Speaker, there is an old trick to hawking snake oil. First raise the fear. Then sell to it. That is exactly what the big- union, Washington-based labor bosses are trying to do with their latest advertising campaign of fear and blatant disinformation.
  • This poet is now, most of the time, an elder statesman like Baruch or Smuts, full of complacent wisdom and cast-iron whimsy. But of course there was always a good deal of this in the official rôle that Frost created for himself; one imagines Yeats saying about Frost, as Sarah Bernhardt said about Nijinsky: “I fear, I greatly fear, that I have just seen the greatest actor in the world.”
    Sometimes it is this public figure, this official rôle — the Only Genuine Robert Frost in Captivity — that writes the poems, and not the poet himself; and then one gets a self-made man’s political editorials, full of cracker-box philosophizing, almanac joke-cracking — of a snake-oil salesman’s mysticism; one gets the public figure’s relishing consciousness of himself, an astonishing constriction of imagination and sympathy; one gets sentimentality and whimsicality; an arch complacency, a complacent archness; and one gets Homely Wisdom till the cows come home.
    • Randall Jarrell (1953). "The Other Frost". Poetry and the Age. pp. 30–31. 
  • In 1917, the U.S. government actually tested one of the bogus potions sold by Clark Stanley, the “Rattlesnake King,” and called Stanley's Snake Oil. it contained no EPA at all and consisted mostly of mineral oil and red pepper (with a tiny bit of beef fat, camphor, and turpentine thrown in), apparently similar to ingredients found in modern day capcaicin cream that is alleged to provide temporary arthritis relief. Interestingly, genuine snake oil is still sold in traditional Chinese pharmacy stores. A sample brought in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1989 was found to contain 75% of carrier material, such as camphor, and 25% of oil from Chinese water snakes, and 20% of that oil, in turn, was EPA.
    • Heinz Kohler in: Caution - Snake Oil!: How Statistical Thinking Can Help Us Expose Misinformation about Our Health, p. 13
Decision against Clark Stanley for selling snake oil
  • In the Middle Ages people took potions for their ailments. In the 19th century they took snake oil. Citizens of today’s shiny, technological age are too modern for that. They take antioxidants and extract of cactus instead.
  • My dad's father was of Scots-Irish descent and a man of many hats. He was adopted by a neighboring family at the age of six after his single father decided to move on without him. As a young teenager, he ran away from the only real family he knew and set out to start a life for himself. I loved hearing his stories, some sounded like tall tales. Grandpa, a snake-oil salesman of sorts, rode the rails all over the country, selling anything and everything to earn a buck.
  • Well, he is on the recovery board, right? I guess two things. Caterpillar has also opposed the "buy American" provisions in the stimulus package. Recently a spokesman for Caterpillar said that they were like snake oil. And I know that the final package is still being finalized. But I'm wondering, that, and the fact that Caterpillar -- probably one of the companies that most supports the Colombia free trade agreement, and says that the stalling of that on Capitol Hill -- and I believe the President also has expressed concerns about that free trade agreement -- that that stalling is basically sending a message to businesses in Colombia, please buy Canadian products, not American. Does Caterpillar's support for the Colombian free trade agreement and opposition to the "Buy American" provisions, under the same idea of what's good for their workers and good business, would that have any effect on the President's thinking?
  • Clark Stanley reached into a sack, plucked out a snake, slit it open and plunged it into boiling water. When the fat rose to the top, he skimmed it off and used it on the spot to create 'Stanley's Snake Oil,' a liniment that was immediately snapped up by the throng that had gathered to watch the spectacle. Little wonder. After all, Stanley had proclaimed that the liniment would cure rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, lumbago, sore throat, frostbite and even toothache.
  • Look, we're both snake oil salesman to a certain extent, but we do label the show as snake oil here. Isn't there a problem selling snake oil as vitamin tonic?
    • Jon Stewart (March 12, 2009). "CNBC Criticism and Jim Cramer Interview". The Daily Show. 
  • Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right. It isn't the gold standard that they want to put us back on. They want something even more basic. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard.

See also

Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Wikisource has original text related to: