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Part 2: Shameless National Geographic Joins The Quack Medicine Cesspool

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Tuesday, September 17, 2019

To everyone’s disbelief, the National Geographic Society has knowingly and intentionally dived into the cesspool of snake-oil and quack medicine. They are now wading and wallowing waist deep in the putrid smell of a moral cesspool. The link to Part 1 is below the Related Posts.  

Harriet Hall, MD, is a retired Air Force physician, contributor to the blog Science-Based Medicine and coauthor of the textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions. She pulls no punches in evaluating one of the Society’s six recent publications, Nature’s Best Remedies: Top Medicinal Herbs, Spices, and Foods for Health and Well Being:

“The National Geographic store proclaims, ‘This authoritative guide to the foods, herbs, spices, essential oils, and other natural substances that alleviate common ailments will enhance your life—from treating illness to sharpening the mind, losing weight, cleaning the home, enhancing pregnancy, and reducing the effects of aging.’ No, it won’t. Its information is biased, incomplete, unscientific, and sometimes even dangerous. I am a longtime subscriber to National Geographic magazine; I enjoy the great photography and always assumed the articles provided reliable information. I can no longer trust it; this book was a bitter disappointment.”

As in all snake-oil claims, the peddlers mix sound science with nonsense, duping people into thinking the claims are evidence-based:

“The author, Nancy J. Hajeski, is a fiction and nonfiction writer with no medical or scientific credentials. The foreword is by Tieraona Low Dog, MD, an integrative medicine specialist. As Mark Crislip famously said, ‘If you integrate fantasy with reality, you do not instantiate reality. If you mix cow pie with apple pie, it does not make the cow pie taste better; it makes the apple pie worse.’ Integrative medicine is a marketing term designed to infiltrate quackery into science-based medicine. It accepts poor-quality evidence and tries to co-opt some of the standard recommendations of mainstream medicine such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes, giving the impression that only integrative medicine appreciates their value!” 

You know it’s snake-oil when the word “natural” is so revered it must have descended from the heavens:

“The book subscribes to a logical fallacy, the naturalistic fallacy: the idea that a natural remedy is inherently better than a pharmaceutical remedy. That concept is demonstrably false. It doesn’t matter whether a remedy comes from a plant or a laboratory; what matters is whether it is effective and safe. Around half of pharmaceuticals were derived from plants. Drug companies improved the natural remedy using science. They identified and isolated the active ingredient, developed a pure version with a controlled dosage, and often synthesized the active compound and altered it to improve its efficacy and safety.”

There is a dramatic contrast between the information in the Society’s books and reliable, scientific publications:

“I have long relied on another resource that is much more trustworthy and complete, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. It covers all the published research (with citations) on vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements. It lists adverse reactions, safety concerns, drug interactions, warnings, and more. It rates each natural medicine for effectiveness and safety. Only 5 percent are rated as ‘effective,’ and almost all of those are vitamins, minerals, and medicines that are also available as prescription or over-the-counter products approved by the FDA. Others are rated likely or possibly effective, likely or possibly ineffective, or ineffective. Safety ratings are likely or possibly safe, likely or possibly unsafe, or unsafe. For a great many entries, they say there is insufficient reliable evidence for them to provide a rating.”

Just one specific example is the list of possible remedies for urinary tract infections:

----Drink a minimum of eight glasses of water a day
----Eat cucumbers because they are full of water and can supply extra fluid to your system
----Drink ginger tea
----Avoid chocolate, citrus fruit, carbonated beverages, and caffeine
----Apply a heat source over the bladder
----Drink cranberry juice, three glasses a day
----A half cup of blueberries
----Baking soda
----Parsley water

“There is little or no scientific evidence for any of these. They have not been evaluated in controlled clinical studies; they are mainly old wives’ tales. In an article on the Science-Based Medicine blog, pharmacist Scott Gavura reviewed the research on cranberry juice and concluded: ‘There is no persuasive evidence that cranberries can prevent urinary tract infections.’ He called it ‘an alternative medicine zombie that’s impervious to evidence.’”

National Geographic and sound science have become as opposite as oil and water:

“It’s easy enough to cherry-pick the literature and find a study or two that supports any given natural remedy, and that is what the author of this book has done. The scientific approach is to look at all the published evidence, pro and con, evaluate the quality of the studies, and put all the evidence into perspective before assuming that the remedy is effective. A scientist would not be satisfied with a list of ‘health benefits’ but would insist on knowing about negative studies, adverse reactions, interactions with other treatments, safety, and much more. And if it appears that a natural remedy is effective, the next question is whether it is the best choice. How does it compare to other treatment options that might be more effective and/or safer? The book provides no comparisons.”

Over and over and over again, snake-oil peddlers rely exclusively on the placebo effect for any so-called cures:

“The description of the book on the Amazon website calls it ‘a guide to the world’s most therapeutic foods, herbs, spices, and essential oils’ that will ‘allow the healing power of nature to energize your body and enrich your life, providing a surefire path to good health and well-being.’ It calls the book ‘an authoritative guide.’ I have shown that it is clearly not authoritative, and Amazon’s description is highly misleading. There isn’t a shred of evidence that any of these remedies will ‘energize’ your body, whatever that means. The remedies will please those who believe the naturalistic fallacy; suggestion will lead to a placebo response and will make the user feel virtuous in the belief that they have taken action to improve his or her health. There are plenty of subjective results, but not much in the way of objective effects.”

Hall’s conclusion:

“If National Geographic had presented this as a coffee table book describing folklore and belief systems, illustrated by lots of pretty pictures, I wouldn’t have objected. But they presented it as an evidence-based review of the top natural medicinal remedies, and they presented the natural medicines as effective, without mentioning what Paul Harvey would have called ‘the rest of the story.’ This is superstition, not science. It is misleading, incomplete, and potentially dangerous. Nothing in this book can be trusted without confirmation from other, more reliable sources. National Geographic let us down. They should be ashamed.”


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Shameless National Geographic Joins The Quack Medicine Cesspool (Part 1) https://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2019/09/shameless-national-geographic-joins.html

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Photo:  https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/quack-medicine-used-be-taken-very-literally

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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