The Body, Soul and Spirit of Vancouver…but not the Brains.

A couple weeks ago Vancouver hosted the Body Soul and Spirit Expo at the Vancouver convention centre. For those who live in Vancouver or know anything about the city this is no major surprise. Vancouver has gained quite a reputation for being a hotbed of alternative medicine, spiritual healing, and other forms of magic quantum energy photon torpedoes.

I, along with my co-hosts from Radio Freethinker, decided to attend and see what we could learn. We did a number of impromptu interviews and took some video footage and picked up a whole bunch of brochures and flyers and free hand outs. Since then, we’ve been airing our interviews on the show and discussing some of the claims we heard at the expo.

And oh what claims we heard.

Our initial strategy had been to ask questions. As oppose to simply standing there and shouting “are you kidding me!?!” Which, believe me, we wanted to do a number of times.

But my curiosity got the better of me and I found myself wishing I could sit down with some of those people and really question them. Not just the people selling homeopathic allergy medicine either, I wanted to talk to the people who were buying this stuff. I wanted to ask them where their critical thinking skills were. Why don’t you trust science based medicine? What makes these people more trust worthy? I was just frothing at the mouth with questions…

But basically all we did was ask “how does it work?” And we got some interesting answers. Sometimes it was we would catch them off guard, and they would stumble for an answer, giving a lot of “well…” “you see…” “Uh sort of, it kind of works like well um…” I guess for some of the sellers they were just expecting universal acceptance on the part of the convention goers. Of course many had ready made answers and were happy to spell it out for you. Of course I had to smile at the way they would still take for granted any number of claims. “It works the same way homeopathy works” of course it does. Or that Nikola Tesla discovered Scalar energy…sounds reasonable he was a real inventor.

To give you an idea, here are just some of things I heard and saw: Quantum power magnets, essences in a bottle, health and wellness bracelets, Sufi meditation, maum meditation, energy medicine, chiropractors, herbal remedies, conspiracy theories, psychics, channelers, and don’t forget the talks like Awakening the Magic Genie Within YOU!

So it would take hundreds of posts to debunk all of this and to be fair, while I’d love to do that, it’s been done by smarter people elsewhere and diligent readers will have heard it all before.

The question I kept asking myself however, “do these people really believe it?” I have no question that for many of the people who paid the twelve bucks to get in to this expo probably really believe in this stuff. But what about the sellers and speakers and booth people? Do they believe it?
I divided the people I saw selling things into a couple groups. 1) True believers 2) I believe enough’ers 3) Liar’s 4) scam artists.

Starting with the true believers, I saw plenty of people there who genuinely seemed to think their products worked. Now to be fair…I’m lumping in the people who were selling cookware and Buddha boards. (Those things are pretty cool actually) Now you might say how can you tell a true believer apart from the scam artists, especially if it’s a really good scam artist? Well that’s a fair question and I guess you can’t tell them apart. But just going on my impressions from talking to them face to face I’d still say there were people there who genuinely believed in what they were selling worked.

Now a sad portion of the “true believers” is the delusional. And I don’t want to talk about this too much but I did meet people who I had serious questions about their mental state. And whether they’re paranoid or delusional or both, some people obviously have serious problems distinguishing between reality and make-believe.

Now for the second group, the “I believe enough’ers” I throw in all the people there whose attitude is basically “for a paycheck, I’ll believe you can heal people.” These are the people that while they may not reject science based medicine or critical thinking…they are still won over enough to convince themselves that they are not working for a charlatan. I met a few people like this. Mostly they were assistants or helpers to the psychics or healers. For example I had one discussion with an “enough’er” over the political correctness of the word for “alien”.

Ah the Liars. This group is made up of all the people who preformed those staged and rehearsed demonstrations, people who do all the talking at the booths and are what you might call professional salesmen. And of course don’t get me started on the booths and practitioners who hired a gaggle of scantly clad hostesses who went around inviting people to their booths to try some new tea/muscle relaxant/energy drink/incense thing.

After watching some very carefully staged demonstrations I have to believe that many of the people there were dutifully coached in what to say and what not to say. They were taught to act convincingly and perform these “demonstrations” most of which were old magician tricks that might look impressive but are easily explained. I think that to go through that process of coaching and preparedness, it would imply that you really know what’s going on there. They seemed too rehearsed.

Finally the scam artists. And yes, we did meet a few. One was so bold as to hand us a flyer and explain how all we had to do was sign up three of our friends and they would sign up three of their friends and so on and so on, all the while, drawing a pyramid on this flyer… For those that don’t know, pyramid schemes are illegal in Canada.

Many people there were selling bogus cures. What you might define as snake oil salesmen. Pretty much any problem you had, cancer, heart disease, allergies, H1N1, taking some homeopathy or essence in a bottle would cure you right up. Not only completely wrong and dangerous, but that’s also fraud. Another crime in Canada.

So in conclusion what do I have to say? Honestly what can I say about the Body Soul and Spirit expo that sums up my feelings and this blog remains PG-13? How about this: the expo was sponsored by Global, CTV, 103.5 QMFM, the Beat 94.5 FM, the Georgia Straight, the Vancouver Sun, and The Province. I wonder…would all those media outlets consider sponsoring a Neo-Nazi convention? Holocaust deniers have about as much evidence to say the Holocaust never happened as homeopathic practicioners have that water will cure H1N1. My concern is not so much that true believers and scam artists mingle with potential consumers at these conventions but rather that the rest of us aren’t as mad and outraged as we would be if CTV and the Vancouver Sun sponsored a Neo-Nazi convention.

Comments are closed.

  • Ethan Clow

    Ethan Clow, born and raised in the Vancouver area, is best known in the skeptical community as Ethan the Freethinking Historian, co-host of Radio Freethinker, a skeptical podcast and radio show on CiTR in Vancouver. And as the former Executive Director of the Centre for Inquiry Vancouver. Ethan graduated with a B.A. in History from UBC in the fall of 2009 and has an active role with skeptical movements in Vancouver and British Columbia. He was an executive member of the UBC Freethinkers, a campus club that promotes skepticism and critical thinking. He still maintains a close relationship with the UBC Freethinkers and helps plan events and organizes skeptical activism as best he can. Currently he works for the Centre for Inquiry as the Executive Director of CFI Vancouver.