The Checkout

Seeing the See Clearly Method for What It Is

Scammers become more and more technologically advanced with each passing day, or so it seems. Starting today, in fact, the Federal Trade Commission is holding a series of public hearings on "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech Age." It's billed as a glimpse into the not-too-distant future, with panels devoted to how changes in products, marketing, and data security are likely to affect consumers.

No matter how sophisticated we become as consumers, however, some scams survive all manner of technological change and find new victims generation after generation.

A case in point: eye exercises to help correct impaired vision.

Eight-six years after this scam first surfaced, a judge in Iowa last week put the kibosh on the "See Clearly Method," promoted in national ads claiming it could save four eyes like myself from having to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.

The court ordered Vision Improvement Technologies Inc. to stop all sales of "natural vision improvement kits" sold as the "See Clearly Method" as of Nov. 1, and to cease business altogether by Dec. 22. The Fairfield, Iowa, company, which shipped as many as 10,000 kits a month, at a cost to consumers of $350 a piece, was also required to pay $200,000 in restitution.

The kits consisted of manuals, charts, video and audiotapes describing eye exercises. The ads featured testimonials by consumers who claimed to be success stories. However, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller discovered that VIT kept airing the ads after those very same customers had given up on the See Clearly Method and gone back to wearing corrective lens.

Miller filed a lawsuit against VIT in August 2005, which led to last week's court action.

In addition to exaggerated claims of effectiveness, VIT stuck consumers with kits by offering them a "risk-free" 30-day trial period that turned out to be not so risk-free. Consumers who realized their folly and tried to return the kits weren't able to and ended up paying hundreds of dollars.

The See Clearly Method is just the latest incarnation of a scam pioneered in the early 20th century by William Horatio Bates, an M.D. who, in 1920, published The Cure of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment Without Glasses.

According to quackwatch.org, Bates a few years earlier had partnered with Bernarr Macfadden, "a well known food faddist," to offer a course in the Bates System of Eye Exercises, which included shifting one's gaze from one object to another. But Bates' real legacy was his book, which fueled imitators who recommended people "throw away" their glasses.

Vision problems such as near sightedness, Bates claimed, were caused by eye strain and could be fixed by relaxing the eyes. Eyeglasses were not only a crutch but also made people's vision worse. Bates' method, he claimed, could cure farsightedness, astigmatism, and even cataracts and glaucoma.

The Federal Trade Commission, founded in 1914, filed a complaint against Bates in 1929 for false and misleading advertising.

By Annys Shin |  November 6, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Legal Battles/Settlements
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Comments

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Whatever happened to "buyer beware"? How can any person of intelligence fall for such a thing as a doctor who claims to be able to cure anybody through the mail, without so much as an examination, without even meeting you once? Ordering stuff through the mail is one thing, but with something as serious as your vision (or any other aspect of your health), go to the doctor in person, people!

Posted by: NAC | November 6, 2006 10:12 AM

I remember radio ads for that product not too long ago, starring Mariette Hartley, where she claimed it helped her and her family members "get rid of" their glasses and contacts. Where's the liability on her part for endorsing something so obviously fake?

Posted by: CallMeSkeptical | November 6, 2006 10:51 AM

The mention that this company is based in Fairfield, Iowa should have been an immediate tipoff. Fairfield is the home of Maharishi University, and it is a safe bet that any business or product emanating from that town (more complicated than a bushel of corn anyway) is somehow connected to their Transcendental Meditation industry.

No insult intended to either Fairfield (if you're ever in the area, the Maid-Rite sandwich restaurant is not to be missed) or for that matter TM. Meditation is good and should be encouraged. But some people can take any belief system and turn it into a racket, as any perusal of the news should be sufficient to prove.

Posted by: Xan | November 6, 2006 10:59 AM

I did eye exercises guided by an opthamologist in Northern Virginia about 10 years ago, and my eyesight ceased its yearly decline at that time. Perhaps I reached an age at which my eyesight would have steadied anyway, but it may not be a coincidence that the last time I got a new prescription was before I started the exercise regimen.
I did not "throw away my glasses", but it sure has been nice to go through my 20's without getting thicker lenses once a year, as I had for 10 years before that.
I make no claims for the scam from Iowa, but perhaps with the guidance of a trained professional, vision therapy is effective.

Posted by: Pat | November 6, 2006 11:08 AM

I always considered that ad featuring Mariette Hartley to be something that is too good to be true. If it worked, it would put optometrists out of business. Who "likes" wearing glasses?
Ms. Hartley should hang her head in shame, as she is exactly the sort of celebrity they looked for to convey an aura of integrity. You certainly would not hire O.J. or Robert Blake for that gig.

Posted by: cynic | November 6, 2006 11:10 AM

There is such a thing as effective eye training, as mentioned in a post above, which can halt or slow vision deterioration. This approach has been used effectively for decades. But it requires numerous expensive therapy sessions, and therefore lenses/glasses are just a more realistic (affordable) approach for most people. Also, seeing an optometrist in person is often just as much of a scam as these Iowa people were peddling. In fact, Bausch and Lomb and its distributors have been successfully sued for inflating lens prices, and it has long been suspected that eye doctors over-prescribe lens power in order to weaken the patients' eyes and necessitate continual changes in lens strength. It is precidely because peoples' eyes are so important that they simply shell out for these practices rather than seeking alternatives. I guess my point is, son't blame the victims or lionize your family optometrist because of stories like this one.

Posted by: er... | November 6, 2006 12:05 PM

Anybody want to wager that this scam re-emerges, under a different name & location within 2 - 3 years and is not shut down for another couple?

Posted by: Catcher50 | November 6, 2006 12:16 PM

As a former user of corrective lenses for severe (-8) Myopia, I always wondered how those people could sell their "product". A practice of "Myopia Reduction" is one thing, but exercises do not cure the elongated eyeball. I AM one of those whose Myopia was probably exacerbated by being forced to wear distance vision glasses full-time as a compulsively reading child. It wasn't really known in those days that I should have had either bifocals or been allowed to use the glasses for distance work only.
Lasik (monovision as well) five years ago at 60 finally solved my lifelong problem.
I'm glad to see these charlatans outed.

Posted by: Carol | November 6, 2006 12:57 PM

The real villans in this case are the media outlets that accepted these obviously phoney ads.
They shold be required to disgorge any profits they realized.

Posted by: Bob N | November 6, 2006 1:35 PM

I think it's very easy for people to get sucked into this sort of scam because there *is* a kernel of truth in it - like some commenters have said, there is such a thing as real eye exercises that have real effects on real eyes. It just happens that you can't get them through these scammers, but I wouldn't necessarily blame the poor-sighted person for being willing to give exercises a shot. Especially when the people offering the exercises claim to give a money-back guarantee.

Posted by: h3 | November 6, 2006 1:36 PM

I remember doing our "eye exercises" every night when we were kids. Our optomitrist was the well regarded Bob Kraskin on Mass. ave. who was LBJ's doc. At least one or both of his daughters even worked in his office. My aunt and uncle used to drive long distances to see him and must have thought there was something to his therapy. I can't remember if it did us any good. I can't remember if we quit going or he retired. Kraskin did have a book that I read that exlained his views on eye care. I certainly would not characterize Kraskin as a quack. I don't think his charges were extraordinary. I'm glad the SC scam is busted.

Posted by: robert | November 6, 2006 1:39 PM

As comsumers, we have to remember the two golden rules. If it sounds too good to be true, most likely it is and if it sounds like something you might be interested in, research it.

Posted by: Mike | November 6, 2006 2:58 PM

ELECTION ALARM!! SPREAD THE WORD!!

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HOW THEY STOLE THE MID-TERM ELECTION

by Greg Palast
for The Guardian (UK), Comment
Monday November 6, 2006

Here's how the 2006 mid-term election was stolen.

Note the past tense. And I'm not kidding.

And shoot me for saying this, but it won't be stolen by jerking with the touch-screen machines (though they'll do their nasty part). While progressives panic over the viral spread of suspect computer black boxes, the Karl Rove-bots have been tunneling into the vote vaults through entirely different means.

For six years now, our investigations team, at first on assignment for BBC TV and the Guardian, has been digging into the nitty-gritty of the gaming of US elections. We've found that November 7, 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. Four and a half million votes have been shoplifted. Here's how they'll do it, in three easy steps:

Theft #1: Registrations gone with the wind.

On January 1, 2006, while America slept off New Year's Eve hangovers, a new federal law crept out of the swamps that has devoured 1.9 million votes, overwhelmingly those of African-Americans and Hispanics. The vote-snatching statute is a cankerous codicil slipped into the 2002 Help America Vote Act -- strategically timed to go into effect in this mid-term year. It requires every state to reject new would-be voters whose identity can't be verified against a state verification database.

Sounds arcane and not too threatening. But look at the numbers and you won't feel so fine. About 24.3 million Americans attempt to register or re-register each year. The New York University Law School's Brennan Center told me that, under the new law, Republican Secretaries of State began the year by blocking about one in three new voters.

How? To begin with, Mr. Bush's Social Security Administration has failed to verify 47% of registrants. After appeals and new attempts to register, US Elections Assistance Agency statistics indicate 1.9 million would-be voters will still find themselves barred from the ballot on Tuesday.

But don't worry: those holding passports from their ski vacations to Switzerland are doing just fine. And that's the point. It's not the number of voters rejected, it's their color. For example, California's Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson figured out how to block 40% of registrants, mostly Hispanics. In a rare counter-move, Los Angeles, with a Hispanic mayor, contacted these citizens, "verified" them and got almost every single one back on the rolls. But throughout the rest of the West, new Hispanics remain victims of the "José Crow" treatment.

In hotly contested Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell, Secretary of State and the Republican's candidate for Governor, remains voter-rejection champ -- partly by keeping the rejection criteria a complete secret.

Theft #2: Turned Away - the ID game

A legion of pimple-faced Republicans with Blackberries loaded with lists of new voters is assigned to challenge citizens in heavily Black and Hispanic(i.e. Democratic) precincts to demand photo ID that perfectly matches registration data.

Sounds benign, but it's not. The federal HAVA law and complex new ID requirements in states like New Mexico will easily allow the GOP squads to triple the number of voters turned away. Rather than deny using these voter suppression tactics, Republican spokesmen are claiming they are "protecting the integrity of the vote."

I've heard that before. In 2004, we got our hands on fifty confidential internal memos from the files of the Republican National Committee. Attached to these were some pretty strange spreadsheets. They called them "caging lists" -- and it wasn't about zoo feeding times. They were lists (70,000 for Florida alone) of new Black and Jewish voters -- a very Democratic demographic -- to challenge on Election Day. The GOP did so with a vengeance: In 2004, for the first time in half a century, more than 3.5 million voters were challenged on Election Day. Worse, nearly half lost their vote: 300,000 were turned away for wrong ID; 1.1 million were allowed a "provisional" ballot -- which was then simply tossed out.

Tomorrow, new federal ID requirements and a dozen new state show-me-your-ID laws will permit the GOP challenge campaign to triple their 300,000 record to nearly one million voters blocked.

Theft #3: Votes Spoiled Rotten

The nasty little secret of US elections is that three million ballots are cast in national elections but not counted -- 3,600,380 not counted in 2004 according to US Election Commission stats. These are votes lost because a punch card didn't punch (its chad got "hung"), a stray mark voided a paper ballot and other machinery glitches.

Officials call it "spoilage." I call it, "inaugurating Republicans." Why? According to statisticians working with the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will "spoil" this way is 900% higher for Black folk and 500% higher for Hispanics than for white voters. When we do the arithmetic, we find that well over half of all votes spoiled or "blank" are cast by voters of color. On balance, this spoilage game produces a million-vote edge for the GOP.

That's where the Black Boxes come into play. Forget about Karl Rove messing with the software to change your vote. Rather, the big losses occur when computers crash, fail to start or simply don't respond to your touch. They are the new spoilage machines of choice with, statistically, the same racial bias as the old vote-snatching lever machines. (Funny, but paper ballots with in-precinct scanners don't go rotten on Black voters. Maybe that's why Republican Secretaries of State have installed so few of them.)

So Let's Add it Up

Two million legitimate voters will be turned away because of wrongly rejected or purged registrations.

Add another one million voters challenged and turned away for "improper ID."

Then add yet another million for Democratic votes "spoiled" by busted black boxes and by bad ballots.

And let's not forget to include the one million "provisional" ballots which will never get counted. Based on the experience of 2004, we know that, overwhelmingly, minority voters are the ones shunted to these baloney ballots.

And there's one more group of votes that won't be counted: absentee ballots challenged and discarded. Elections Assistance Agency data tell us a half million of these absentee votes will go down the drain.

Driving this massive suppression of the vote are sophisticated challenge operations. And here I must note that the Democrats have no national challenge campaign. That's morally laudable; electorally suicidal.

Add it all up -- all those Democratic-leaning votes rejected, barred and spoiled -- and the Republican Party begins Election Day with a 4.5 million-vote thumb on the vote-tally scale.

So, what are you going to do about it? May I suggest you ... steal back your vote.

It's true you can't win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. The regime's sneak attack via vote suppression will only net them 4.5 million votes, about 5% of the total. You should be able to beat that blindfolded. If you can't get 55%, then you're just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don't deserve to win back America.

********
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, "ARMED MADHOUSE."

For specific advice on How to Steal Back Your Vote, go to http://www.gregpalast.com/steal-back-your-vote

Catch Greg Palast on Election Night on the new Mike Malloy Show on many Air America affiliates.

Posted by: CHE | November 7, 2006 5:27 AM

I am from Fairfield, Iowa. People associated with the Transcendental Meditation movement, like Vision Improvment Technologies, are under huge pressure to donate money to create World Peace. Currently, over 1000 Vedic Pandits are being brought in from India, at a cost of millions, since few Americans have answered the call to meditate as a group. In Fairfield, it is felt that people who live their life based on absolute truth should not have to answer to relative truth, hence out aggressive business practises.

If you Google: Illustrated Weekly of India veda pandits - you will see what illustrious fellows are being brought to our shores, with the help of See Clearly money. Thanks.

Posted by: Mahesh | November 7, 2006 2:39 PM

My fiance' used a similar method years ago that worked to correct his poor vision where he no longer needed glasses or contacts. The exercises needed to be done twice a day for 30 minutes each time once vision is corrected. In his busy schedule, he just did not have time and within 2 weeks of stopping the exercises, he needed to resume wearing glasses. I'm not sure if it was the "See Clearly Method", but it did in fact correct his vision to the point where no corrective lenses were required to see and read. I live in Fairfield too and have spoken to others who also had good results only more recently. Maybe the ones who say they did not have good results or no results were the ones who did not stay on the program.

Posted by: mary | November 8, 2006 2:07 AM

Even though "See Clearly" has been hit with legal sanctions, many similar scams continue to operate:

www.rebuildyourvision.com
www.program-for-better-vision.com

Posted by: Rob | November 19, 2006 5:34 PM

It is good to be sceptical about unproven methods, however, it does appear that with our wonderful technology, we fail to correct a problem, like myopia. Why is that? Since it is obvious that when we abuse drugs, there will be side effects, then why would anyone use a minus lens for reading? Since a minus lens is meant to improve distant vision, I don't understand why near-sighted people wear them for reading! Yes, I do believe that The See Clearly Method is bogus, but the problem of myopia is not the see clearly method's fault. Maybe if we train our children to use a great invention like minus lenses for the "rightful" purpose, we wouldn't ruin our eyes thru idiotic abuse!

Posted by: daren | December 4, 2006 3:34 PM

As someone who resolved his vision problem entirely using the "silly Bates scam" this can work, at least for low myopia, if you know what you're doing. Annys Shin can see for herself this is not a structural problem by simply going around wearing a plus lens for a few hours it will at least temporarily clear the problem right up. I have researched this problem extensively and could go on for 20 hours, but the problem is with the ciliary muscles. The eyemen are the quacks.

Posted by: 2Eyes | December 8, 2006 11:56 PM

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