A few months ago, I wrote about a new device raising funds on Indiegogo: the TellSpec food allergen detector. The campaign raised nearly $400,000 but as it turns out, the product doesn't quite live up to its claims. And by "doesn't quite," I mean it looks like it's total bullshit. As far as science is concerned, in any case.
When questioned by actual scientists, the two people behind the company, Isabel Hoffman and Stephen Watson (from York University in Toronto) backtracked on their claims, even admitting their campaign video was a complete fabrication. Pando.com posted an article on April 4, 2014 bringing to light many discrepancies in one of TellSpec's YouTube videos stating:
"When the camera focuses in on the phone to show off its analysis of the food being scanned, the phone’s clock is clearly on display. The first result is from 1:30 p.m., but in the next shot it’s 1:21 p.m., 1:22 p.m. and 1:23 p.m, before jumping back in time again to 1:15 p.m., 1:18 p.m. and 1:19 p.m. What we’re clearly seeing is not a live demo, but a series of cut together clips which cast doubt on whether what’s shown on screen has any connection to what was scanned by the device."
And what has happened since they first came to the public claiming they were totally ready to head to production? Well, I personally reached out to TellSpec numerous times, with no response whatsoever. One would imagine that if you're a Toronto-based company aiming to boost awareness about this awesome new product, you'd be eager to do interviews, right? Wrong. The company ignored all outside contact and questions. Pando notes that in March, TellSpec updated their Indiegogo page to say they were rethinking their technology, and pushing shipping dates to late 2014. So, absolutely nothing had been perfected (in fact, their product didn't work at all), but their campaign has been left to run, collecting funds for something that is a fraud? How is that ok? They said they had something with all the bugs worked out, but now claim they've put the money into things like R&D? Hmmm.
Just last week, TellSpec CEO Isabel Hoffman posted a new, very positive-sounding update on the company blog, but if things are so rosy, why all the backpedaling? Why aren't they responsive to public inquiries? It's really disappointing that they've been allowed to prey on the fears of those with life-threatening food allergies, but I guess the saying holds: caveat emptor, friends. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
(Unless it's these Banana Oatmeal Superpower bars... they really are as amazing as they seem.)
For more articles about other scams people love to fall for, how about this piece on oil pulling? Or this one about the latest research on homeopathics?