False hope

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False hope is hope built entirely around a fantasy, having no knowable chance of coming to fruition. The creation and exploitation of false hope in others for material gain is at the core of many of the scams covered on this site. It can be found in medicine, politics, religion, economics, law, and many other fields.

Creating false hope in others is a particularly heinous act. Often, the last refuge of the crank or pseudoscience promoter will be, "at the very least, what I do doesn't harm people" — but harm is exactly what a peddler of false hope creates.

False hope in health[edit]

False hope is abundant in issues revolving around health. Health serves as a fertile ground because it is so salient to our daily lives. Everyone wants good health, but many cannot or do not want to do the things necessary to have it. Something that everyone wants, but not everyone can get, is easily manipulated by quacks and frauds selling their easy non-solution nostrums. Such fraud is all the easier because health is "squishy" — everyone's health varies constantly, and there's no way to immediately tell for sure whether something affected your health. It also doesn't help that strong belief in a false remedy can make it effective to some extent — a phenomenon known as the placebo effect. In contrast, if someone told you that thinking positive thoughts would fill your gas tank or fix a broken distributor cap, you wouldn't buy it for a second.[note 1]

At its most extreme, peddling false hope in health centers on pretending to have cures for diseases or disabilities that are deadly and incurable or difficult to cure. This is where the slimiest and vilest people thrive, offering up quick and easy cures for cancer, AIDS, autism, arthritis,Wikipedia etc. Others claim to have found secret causes for these conditions, such as vaccines, completely deny the germ theory of disease, or push failed pseudoscience like homotoxicology.

Less extreme are the peddlers of easy weight loss schemes without dieting or exercise, worthless cures for the common cold, and other more transitory or lifestyle health issues. The major players in this area are homeopathic snake oil, bodybuilding woo, and questionable herbal supplements.

False hope in religion[edit]

Religion, at its core, is a pinnacle of false hopes, such as the promise of immortality and bliss, or the 70-odd virgins, in heaven. One doesn't even have to dig much deeper to find many more crude examples.

A favorite scheme of televangelists is to sell financial security. In essence, they tell you to send them all your money and God will find a way to give it all back — times ten! Some of the more stubborn pushers of this false hope are Pat Robertson with his law of reciprocity and Peter Popoff with his magic salt.

Another nasty false hope peddled by these charlatans is faith healing,[note 2] grotesquely personified by the likes of Benny Hinn. Con artists have made veritable fortunes pretending to magically cure everything from paralysis to cystic fibrosis by "laying on hands" or merely mumbling to themselves. Several religions revolve entirely around this non-existent power of faith to heal. One such example is Christian Science, whose practitioners regularly cause their offspring to die horrible deaths from normally curable disease.[1]


  1. Of course, the aforementioned placebo effect does not extend outside of a person's individual body. If it did, things like name it and claim it, the law of attraction, or The Spirit Science might actually work. (Spoiler alert: they don't.)
  2. …Oh, look, we're back to the subject of health again. Funny how that works.