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17 Concise Health and Wellness Fallacies Every Consumer Should Know

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Marketing and snake-oil gurus understand and use logical fallacies to dupe people into dubious and unsubstantiated beliefs. Since critical thinking and logical fallacies are not taught in elementary or high school, many people are susceptible to falling for these sly, clever con artists. From alternative medicine to vitamins and cancer quackery, there are thousands of greedy, immoral predators willing and ready to take down any unsuspecting consumer.  

Researcher in applied physiology at Harbor-UCLA, Nick Tiller (MRes, Ph.D), author of The Skeptic’s Guide to Sports Science, writes:  

"The average American is exposed to as many as several thousand advertisements and sales pitches every day. In an effort to cut through the noise and capture your limited attention, marketing companies often invoke the logical fallacy—an informal error of logic—in their sales pitch to exploit ingrained biases and convert potential customers into sales...... 

"Understanding the logical fallacies is a skill that extends far beyond the world of health and wellness. There are individuals and groups lurking in all walks of life who would have us making impulsive decisions on intuition alone. But being a valuable and responsible member of society means familiarizing ourselves with logical rhetoric, and its pitfalls, so that we can mitigate bias and make rational and informed decisions that benefit ourselves and those around us." 

The first seven fallacies are my summary from a large number of resources, followed by Nick Tiller's ten excellent descriptions with examples.  

Perfect Solutions Fallacy 

Alternative medicine practitioners, including the deadly purveyors of cancer quackery, salivate over the Perfect Solutions fallacy. Because modern medicine and advanced technology can’t cure ALL cancers and diseases, then it must all be a fraud and a conspiracy, and the millionaire charlatan is the one with the amazing cure. The millions of people actually cured from cancer by conventional medicine are ignored because, what about all the ones that didn’t make it? Because medicine cannot cure every single disease, then pseudo-science automatically is supposed to have the answers, in spite of no evidence and a mountain of dead bodies.  

The Novelty Fallacy  

 Alternative medicine doctors rely on many people’s preference for the new and shiny. Any fresh, modern, cutting-edge approach or medical “discovery” must surely surpass the outmoded, out-of-date, anachronistic technology or belief systems. This is the novelty fallacy. Medical tourists who travel abroad for dubious treatments falsely assume because a treatment is new it must work better than the old tried-and-true but not 100% guaranteed treatments. Many are upset that their own country is not supporting this new, innovative medical "miracle".   

Red Herring Fallacy   

Alternative medicine advocates love the Red Herring fallacy. In any debate they try to change the subject, divert attention to an irrelevant topic, appeal to unsubstantiated conspiracies, or appeal to emotions, never dealing with the crux of the issues. Watch any debate on YouTube between a skeptic and an alternative medicine advocate and analyze their responses when they are faced with a point they have no intelligent answer for.  

Straw Man Fallacy 

Alternative medicine advocates also employ the Straw Man fallacy: Inability to counter a point and in desperation, attack and argue against a straw man – a position or point that the opponent never stated. They have no problem exaggerating, misquoting, oversimplifying or outright lying about the opposing arguments. This is the only way they can appear credible and dupe those not savvy in critical thinking. This also helps them avoid the thousands of holes in their “remedies” and claims.  

Begging the Question Fallacy 

The Begging the Question fallacy is an attempt to cleverly slip in a conclusion within a question. One excellent example is Dr. Oz and his relentless advocacy of unproven remedies. He had a skeptic on his show and asked him “What are alternative medicine skeptics afraid of?” This erroneously asserts that skeptics are afraid and that they are the last standing “holdouts”. Both premises are false, as daily research endlessly debunks alternative medicine beliefs, and the only genuine fear is of patients dying of cancer desperately turning to bogus remedies and meeting their demise.  

Ad Hominem Attack 

Ad hominem attacks criticize the messenger in the absence of counter-arguments related to the facts being discussed. For example, when vaccines are suggested to be unsafe because of a nefarious conspiracy between government officials and pharmaceutical companies. This is a fallacy because it does not address the overwhelming evidence for vaccine safety but rather specifically targets groups they disagree with. The swindlers provide and have no evidence for their position, so all they have are attacks. Government and Big Pharma, while not perfect, are evil monsters and everything they do is wrong. In reality, vaccine safety is not established primarily by who says vaccines are safe, but rather the result of thousands of scientific studies, decades of research and the millions of lives saved worldwide. 

Circular Reasoning  

Circular arguments use the preliminary assumption as the basis for arriving at the same conclusion. For example, when someone already believes the MMR vaccine causes autism and their child gets autism after he gets the needle. The vaccine is blamed. This is an example of a circular argument. The millions of children who did NOT get autism are completely ignored. No correlation between the two has ever been proven. A certain number of children will get autism no matter what. It just happened that the child was diagnosed soon after the needle. Considering many children are vaccinated 3-4 times per year, how could the autism diagnosis NOT soon follow the vaccination? Scientist concede openly that for a tiny fraction there may be adverse effects, but the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the risks.  

1. The Appeal to Popularity  

"(Mere) popularity is not a sufficient reason to believe an assertion; in fact, it’s the absence of a reason. Would it be sensible to buy an activity tracker, some running sneakers, or a protein supplement purely based on the number of units that had been sold, or would doing so conflate popularity with efficacy? It stands to reason that the number of people using a product says nothing of its quality or effectiveness, because popularity can be influenced by marketing, creative statistics, political control, or a falsification of data."  

2. Blinding with Science  

"For years, athletes and celebrities around the world wore the PowerBalance bracelet on the misapprehension it would improve their strength, speed, and vitality. Made with 'holographic technology embedded with frequencies that reacted positively with the body’s energy fields,' the bracelet was wildly popular until 2011 when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deemed the company to have engaged in misleading advertising. 'Holographic technology' is a pseudoscience, and the notion that a hologram can resonate with frequencies of the body is not a physical phenomenon. Having been blinded with 'science,' numerous athletes and celebrities wore the PowerBalance bracelet on the misapprehension it would improve their physical and emotional wellbeing." 

3. The Argument from Authority   

"An array of brands and businesses, including Coca Cola, LiveScore, Free Fire, Nike, Herbalife Nutrition, and Tag Heuer, sponsor Cristiano Ronaldo to endorse their products through his Instagram account. Partnering with an online “fitness influencer” has become a fundamental part of brand marketing, because forging an affiliation with revered athletes tends to improve sales .... It isn’t just athletes and online influencers lending their popularity to commerce. Many pseudosciences proliferate because they receive the backing of contrarian medical doctors or high-profile scientists whose opinions do not represent the scientific consensus."  


4. The Appeal to Tradition  

"Used with increasing regularity in the sports industry, the appeal states that an assertion is correct because it correlates with a past practice or tradition—a golden prior age when athletes were naturally trained and sport was pure. However, traditions are passed down from generation to generation, remaining intact often for no other reason than engrained behaviors or sentimentality. Two prominent examples in health and wellness are barefoot running shoes and the Paleo Diet, which encourage consumers to run or eat 'like their paleolithic ancestors' as if the lifestyle practices of an extinct human species were something to which to aspire. Both practices stake a claim for efficacy, at least in part, because they are traditional." 

5. Confirmation Bias (or cherry-picking data) 

"This fallacy was described by philosopher Francis Bacon as 'counting the hits and forgetting the misses.' Fad diets, such as Atkins or Keto, are quick to draw attention to online weight loss success stories and the glossy 'before and after' images they engender. But twelve–twenty-four–month follow-up studies generally show fad diets to be ineffective for long-term weight management. In fact, a large proportion of individuals regain all the weight they initially lost, and sometimes more. Those aren’t the stories that make the headlines." 

6. The Appeal to Nature   

"Probably the most widely committed fallacy in all of health and wellness, the appeal to nature posits that something is 'good' because it’s natural and 'bad' because it’s unnatural or synthetic. Every product advertised as being made with 'all-natural ingredients' commits this fallacy, as do advertisements for foods or cosmetics that are 'free from chemicals.'  

"The organic food industry, for instance, makes a claim for relevance partly based on this fallacy and the notion that consumers would generally prefer to consume 'natural foods.' But consider two glucose molecules—one synthesized in a lab and one found in nature. Both have the chemical formula C6H12O6, both appear as identical under an electron microscope, and both will have an identical effect on the body when consumed. That most people would prefer to eat the 'naturally derived' sugar over the synthetic one speaks to the ubiquity of the fallacy. Our inherent bias for natural products is pervasive in the health and fitness industry; another exploitable flaw in cognition." 

7. Definitional Ambiguity  

"When engaging in logical discourse, the language used should have a conventional meaning, otherwise you will be talking at crossed purposes—analogous to playing a game of football by two different sets of rules. But in health and wellness advertising, language is often deliberately misleading or vague because it makes claims easier to defend...... 

"But what about less explicit terms such as 'recovery,' as used in the sale of supplements, recovery shakes, massage therapy, stretching, cryotherapy, ice bathing, among others? It has no definitive operational definition or end point. Does it reflect a return to baseline function? Is it specific to the musculoskeletal system? And what about recovery of immune function, hydration, or psychological wellbeing? By itself, the term is ambiguous and cannot pertain to all body systems. Even 'wellness' has no agreed-upon meaning and can be interpreted to serve any number of functions from person to person. And that’s the intention." 

8. Confusing Correlation with Causation (post hoc fallacy) 

"(This) fallacy is committed when one observes two events occurring in sequence, one after the other, and then assumes that the first event must have caused the second. A colleague of mine once committed the post hoc fallacy when his partner’s back pain spontaneously improved after he applied acupressure to the balls of her feet. To assume a physical connection—that the one action necessarily resulted in the other—without objective evidence, is post hoc ergo propter hoc. Failing to consider alternative explanations for the outcome of events leads to erroneous conclusions." 

9. The False Dichotomy  

"A particular diet, supplement, or exercise program may be presented as your only option for achieving long-term weight management. Vendors of one product might even demonize others as being ineffective. This is a false dichotomy, because there are many ways to achieve health and wellness. There is growing evidence, for example, that yoga is effective at evoking long-term weight loss. Does this mean that yoga is only means of achieving this aim, or that it’s inherently 'better' than other methods?  

"No. In fact, there’s research showing that weight loss and good health can be achieved with regular walking, running, weight training, swimming, team sports, spinning, and gym programs—basically anything that increases activity levels on a consistent basis. Dietary changes alone may even be sufficient to improve overall health, although a combination of good diet and exercise is considered most effective." 

10. The Appeal to Anecdote (or emotion) 

"An anecdote is a short narrative of an individual’s experience. These personal accounts are accessible and trigger emotion and empathy. Moreover, they contrast sharply with empty messages from large data sets of cold numbers and statistics. But because anecdotes trigger an emotional response without necessarily representing the mainstream opinion, they can evoke tremendous bias in the decision-making process. Health products are often sold alongside customer testimonials and 'before and after' images—visceral accounts of recovery from injury or dramatic weight loss—to compensate for a lack of scientific legitimacy. We see ourselves in those images, desperate to believe that such rapid transformations with minimal cost could also happen for us. But meaningful outcomes require careful planning, commitment, and many months or years to materialize." 

Source                                                                                                                              Ten Health and Wellness Fallacies Every Skeptic Should Know  https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/ten-health-and-wellness-fallacies-every-skeptic-should-know/ 

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Photo: https://www.dreamstime.com/logical-fallacies-human-mind-pictured-as-word-inside-head-to-symbolize-relation-psyche-d-illustration-image172334632 


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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