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See Clearly Method Investigation

by David Richards, Lead Investigator
October 1, 2005 Report, updated August 2008

The See Clearly Method logo
In the Summer of 2004 the IIG launched an investigation into the so-called "See Clearly Method" for vision improvement. This was a product being heavily advertised on radio and television, with celebrity spokesperson Mariette Hartley. One of our members called the toll-free number and requested an information kit, and another IIG member purchased the complete system. The information kit comprised a video tape about 15 minutes in length, consisting largely of testimonials from (alleged) users of the system.

The IIG investigation began by reviewing the claims made in the marketing materials. Here are some of the claims made by the program marketers in the introductory video:

"Glasses just treat the symptoms, they don't solve the problem."
"Premature aging is caused by the ciliary muscle not getting enough exercise."
"[the method] improves flow of nutrients to the eye."
"...is based on 50 years of clinical experience."
"…restores focusing power naturally".
"You exercise your other muscles to keep fit, doesn't it make sense to do the same for your eyes?"

And here are some excerpts from on-camera testimonials by users of the system:

"Colors look brighter."
"Night vision improved."
"...has taken away headaches when I read, by making my eyes stronger."
"You can have the same vision you had when you were 15 or 16 years old."
The See Clearly Method product
These claims were somewhat suspect to IIG members since similar vision improvement systems sold in the past had been shown to be without any real merit. A main target of the Sea Clearly marketing seemed to be those individuals over the age of 40 who have difficulty focusing their eyes close up. This is a condition experienced by almost everyone eventually as they get older. The process of shifting focus from far to near is called accommodation, and the condition where the accommodation capability is reduced is known as presbyopia. In the See Clearly Method materials this condition is characterized as a problem related to weakening of the ciliary muscles that act on the lenses in the eyes. In fact a complete medical explanation of the cause of presbyopia has yet to be established, however ophthalmic textbooks relate this condition to a gradual hardening of the crystalline lens of the eye, not a problem with the muscles. [1] Reference sources that do mention the muscles in connection with presbyopia characterize it as a potential, unproven contributor to the condition.

A key aspect of presbyopia is that most people with reduced accommodation ability can "get by" without their reading glasses to various degrees, so it could be difficult to accurately gauge an improvement. Although there are many disclaimers in the See Clearly materials to limit the expectations of users, nowhere are any clear statements made about who can benefit from the program, or how much improvement may be expected. Those with eye diseases or damage, or anyone having "unusual" vision problems are told specifically the program isn't for them.

A review of the purchased materials making up the method reveal that it consists primarily of visual exercises for the eyes such as shifting focus from near to far. However some questionable aspects are also present. For example, the users of the program are encouraged to recite daily affirmations, telling themselves things like, "I am seeing better each day," and "I can see without my glasses." One would expect that if a treatment really works (i.e. is not a placebo) it shouldn't be necessary to continually tell oneself you're getting better. Also several of the printed diagrams and charts used to focus the eyes include religious symbology, such as a cross, and incorporating religious terms such as "God" and "Christ". The inclusion of these words raised more questions about scientific basis of the method.

Research Findings

Research by IIG volunteers uncovered substantial background material. The "See Clearly Method" was based on a book, Improve Your Vision Without Glasses or Contact Lenses: A New Program of Therapeutic Eye Exercises, written by a team of four authors in 1996. The authors of the book were three doctors and a "scientist", calling their collaboration "The American Vision Institute". The three doctors were David W. Muris, O.D. (optometrist), Professor Merrill J. Allen, O.D. PhD (optometrist), and Professor Francis A. Young PhD (psychologist). The "scientist" is Steven Beresford PhD (nuclear chemistry). Note: The doctors are optometrists and a psychologist, not ophthalmologists or medical doctors.

The company promoting and selling the See Clearly Method is Vision Improvement Technologies, in Fairfield Iowa (Vision Improvement Technologies was previously called Sentient Global Marketing). It was founded by CEO & President David Sykes, and Executive VP Cliff Rose. Apparently the rights to the method are owned by Vision Improvement Technologies, and royalties on systems sold are paid to the authors of the original book. [2]

Around the time this IIG investigation was initiated, one of the authors and founders of the American Vision Institute, Steven Beresford, apparently fell out of favor with the other partners, and all references to him were subsequently removed from the method and the website. It isn't clear why, although we have discovered that Mr. Beresford has been involved in a highly-publicized dispute with the IRS, based on his assertion that compliance with the income tax in the United States is voluntary and that one can "opt out" of it at any time. We of the IIG have no way of knowing if his legal problems had anything to do with his disassociation from the See Clearly Method, and no further comment or speculation is offered here.

In another personnel change David Sykes, previously described as a co-founder of Vision Improvement Technologies along with Cliff Rose, also disappeared from the company. In late 2005 when this investigation was ongoing, the website suddenly began describing Cliff Rose as "the founder" of VIT (singular) and references to David Sykes were eliminated, although the web URL address text was still reminiscent of the previous relationship:

http://www.seeclearlymethod.com/scm/cofounder

Note: the above URL is a dead link since 2006, which is explained below.

IIG Action

After reviewing the marketing materials and contents of the program, the IIG sent a letter to Steve Cooperman, Public Relations Director for Vision Improvement Technologies. In the letter several questions were asked regarding efficacy and the availability of results of clinical trials, the background of the inventor-doctors, and the level of satisfaction of customers. A list of customers was requested so the IIG could conduct their own customer satisfaction survey.

No written response to the letter was ever received, however a message was eventually relayed that Mr. Cooperman had attempted to reach the IIG lead investigator by phone, and a phone number was provided for a return call. Mr. Cooperman was called back several times at the number provided, but he couldn't be reached and didn't return any of the calls.

It was decided at the IIG meeting in June, 2005 that based on the unwillingness of the company to provide information, and no other sources of information forthcoming, that there was no path forward for the investigation. The IIG investigation was officially terminated at that time.

Epilogue

In August 2005, a lawsuit was filed by the Iowa Attorney General against Vision Improvement Technologies for misleading and unfair claims in connection with their marketing of the See Clearly Method. Although the IIG can't take any credit for this development, we are pleased to report it. The full text of the announcement appears in the Appendix.

After the announcement of the lawsuit by the Iowa Attorney General, the company shifted its focus from the eye-strengthening program to a series of vitamin and herbal supplements which were also claimed to aid vision. However their troubles weren't over. In November 2006 a consent decree was agreed to by the company, which would cease all operations of the company by the end of 2006, and required VIT to deposit $200,000 with the state attorney general's office to cover refunds to customers who purchased the See Clearly Method.

In August 2007, the Iowa Attorney General's office subsequently announced that the $200,000 fund had been depleted due to the many claims that were submitted, and that no refunds would be available any longer.

Vision Improvement has been out of business since 2006. All previous web site URLs relating to the company are now "parked" and only yield general purpose advertising. There is a www.seeclearly.com website which is for a laser eye surgery business, unrelated to Vision Improvement Technologies.

So at least in this one case, a business based on a shady product got its comeuppance, and consumers got their due.

References

  1. Visual Perception: A Clinical Orientation, Steven H. Schwartz. 2nd ed, pp380-381.
  2. Post-Gazette: See Clearly and Transcendental Meditation

Bibliography

The following web sites also may be of interest:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/See_Clearly_Method
Consumer Affairs
Iowa State Government
http://www.allaboutvision.com/buysmart/see_clearly.htm
Quack Watch

Below is the old link for the See Clearly website, now defunct:
http://www.seeclearlymethod.com/

Appendix A

Iowa Attorney General Files Consumer Fraud Lawsuit Against Marketer of See Clearly Method

DES MOINES, Iowa, August 15, 2005 — Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc., based in Fairfield, Iowa, is the subject of a consumer fraud lawsuit filed by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

"We allege that the company made dramatic claims for its product that it could not substantiate, including representations that consumers who used the method could quickly and easily free themselves of having to wear glasses or contact lenses," said Miller in a press release.

Miller added that the suit alleges that the company "uses a combination of misleading and unfair marketing tactics to sell their kits," including "exaggerated claims of effectiveness, false implications of scientific validity, and misleading consumer testimonials in advertising." The lawsuit also charges that the 30-day trial period is deceptively presented and results in people paying hundreds of dollars each, even though the program didn't improve their vision.

"Our suit asks the court to halt the unfair and deceptive practices, assess civil penalties, and provide appropriate reimbursement for consumers," said Miller.

See a more detailed description of the lawsuit here:

Miller Sues Vision Improvement Technologies, Inc.

Court Orders Vision Improvement Technologies to End Sales of "See Clearly Method" Kit

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