For years, marketers of sketchy dietary supplements have cooked up fake news websites and used bogus “reporters” to push their product online. But we stumbled on one site that quadruples down on the fiction, attributing utterly made-up endorsements to bona fide stars of stage, screen, sports, and science.
First off, the web page, DiscoveryNewsJournal (we’re not going to actually link to it, and we highly recommend against seeking it out), attempts to pass itself off as a piece of the vast Discovery Communications network, complete with a header that looks like something you’d actually see on a website for a cable TV channel:
Of course, if you try clicking on any of those header items, it just links you out to a site pushing a supplement called BrainPlus IQ, which just so happens to be the only topic discussed on the Discovery News Journal page.
So let’s move on to the content itself, which kicks off with a graphic featuring the internet’s four basic food groups — cable news, science, drugs, and Masonic imagery:
The main thrust of this story is a fictional narrative about physicist Hawking going on Cooper’s CNN show to talk about how he used this product to improve his brain power.
Except this never happened. In fact, reps for both Cooper and Hawking told the Federal Trade Commission that neither of these men has ever endorsed any sort of brain-boosting pill.
Even more amusing, the little inset image of Hawking appears to be taken from this YouTube video for another unproven brain-booster:
What makes this funny, aside from the laughably bad production values, is that this image of math scribblings on a chalk board also contains a bunch of seemingly random pro wrestling references:
That’s because it appears to have been swiped from the story “Stephen Hawking struggles to explain WWE Universe,” a 2012 post on wrestling satire site KayfabeNews.com.
Denied By Denzel
But what about the other big-name celebrities allegedly touting the powers of these pills? Right there in the story it claims that superstar Denzel Washington not only talked up this supplement at a “science convention in New York,” but that he then introduced an “MIT scientist” to discuss a supposed study — one that we’ve been unable to find any evidence of — that compared BrainPlus IQ to Adderall and found that the former “doubled [test subjects’] IQ,” as if that’s something that is even possible.
Once again, this is a complete fiction. A representative for Denzel tell Consumerist that there is no connection between the actor and BrainPlus.
What’s more, not only could we not find this study touted by the “MIT scientist,” but the scientist referenced in the story is actually a geophysicist who presumably would not be running any scientific studies on brain-boosting supplements.
We’ve tried to contact that professor but have not yet heard back. However, we’re going to give him the benefit of reason and assume that — like everyone else we’ve spoken to about this — he had nothing to do with this product or this risible marketing scheme.
Once again, we’re confounded by the scammers’ image selection. Here’a photo of Denzel above a banner intended to make it look like he’s on the Dr. Oz Show (a program that has been known to advocate for questionable supplements and unproven treatments):
You will note, however, the set seen in the background of this image clearly belongs to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. In fact, it appears to be from the actor’s Feb. 2014 appearance on the show.
A Nat Geo No-No
The fake Discovery site also includes a “Related Stories” sidebar quoting National Geographic and Tiger Woods about the supposed benefits of BrainPlus IQ.
Additionally, the National Geographic “limited edition cover” shown boasts that “Your Brain on Brain Boosters Works 600% Better,” which would be awesome, if it were true.
Yet, not only is it a false statement, it’s far from what actually ran on the actual Nat Geo cover:
A rep for National Geographic confirmed — not that we really needed it — that this image and the Nat Geo name are being used without consent.
“We are now aware and will take the necessary next steps to get this resolved,” said the rep.
The Fictional Tiger’s Tale
Below the doctored Nat Geo cover is a quote attributed to a Tiger Woods in a Time Magazine cover story:
Problem is, that cover story is from Aug. 2000, nearly two decades ago. Oh, and Tiger Woods never actually said any of the nonsense in that quote. This is an athlete — easily one of the most famous people on Earth — who has made an ungodly fortune endorsing a wide variety of products, but we couldn’t find one legitimate instance of the golf legend saying a word about this supplement.
Just for fun, we also tracked down that Time cover story, and, shockingly, there’s no mention of any brain-boosting pills.
Not Just A-Listers
If you keep reading the bilge on the bogus Discovery site, you’ll come to the part where the site’s “Senior Chief Editor Alan Frasier” gives his first-hand account of trying the supplement for 14 days. The man in the handsome black-and-white image does look like he could be a magazine editor, but we had a feeling that, just like everything else on this page, this was also a fiction.
A simple reverse Google-image search led us to the website for a Seattle-based photographer, who posted this photo to her portfolio back in 2014.
The photographer immediately confirmed to Consumerist that she’d not given permission for this site to use the image, and that the man in the photograph is definitely not an editor of a fake news site.
That fact was later confirmed by the man himself, who tells us he had no idea his photo was being used to push supplements. The real man in the photo is a classical music singer and had the headshot taken for use in conjunction with his performances.
No Reply At All
We have tried to contact BioTrim Labs — the company behind this and other supplements — with questions about the claims made on this fake Discovery site. However, we’ve not heard back from anyone.
We can’t say for certain if BioTrim’s Dublin-based parent company is behind this particular fake news site. The person to whom the Discovery News Journal domain name is registered is also the registrant for hundreds of other websites pushing supplements and beauty products, some of which resolve to the BioTrim website itself.
Even though the BioTrim website lists the BrainPlus price in U.S. dollars, the company does not appear to allow shipping of this product to the U.S.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.