The amount of health-related money-making schemes and pseudo-scientific claims, mainly on the internet, have proliferated greatly in recent years. Without a knowledge of basic scientific principles, many people are taken in. Sly smooth talkers are experts in manipulating readers and viewers into believing outright lies in regard to "curing" a disease or ailment. And here is the icon to click in order to fill in your credit card information. Reliance on anecdotes and cherry-picking data are just two of the ploys these con artists use. Below are 14 basic and simple ways for the consumer to spot misinformation and evaluate health claims. Quoted directly from "Quack Quack: The Threat of Pseudoscience" by Dr. Joe Schwarcz (ECW Press 2022).
-----Any new finding should be examined with skepticism. A skeptic is not a person who is unwilling to believe anything. A skeptic, however, requires scientific proof and does not swallow information uncritically.
-----No major lifestyle changes should be made on the basis of any one study. Results should be independently confirmed by others. Keep in mind that science does not proceed by "miracle breakthroughs" or "giant leaps". It plods along with many small steps, slowly building toward a consensus opinion.
-----Repeating a false notion often does not make it true. Many people are convinced that sugar causes hyperactivity in children - not because they have examined studies to this effect but because they have heard that this is so. In fact, studies have not demonstrated that sugar causes hyperactivity.
-----Humans are biochemically unique. Not everyone exposed to a cold virus will develop a cold. Response to medications can be dramatically different. Eating fish can be healthy for many but deadly to those with an allergy.
-----It may not be possible to predict all consequences of an action, no matter how much research has been done. When chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were introduced as refrigerants, no one could have predicted that thirty years later they would have an impact on the ozone layer. If something undesirable happens, it is not necessarily because someone has been negligent.
-----There will often be legitimate, opposing views on scientific issues. But the impression that science cannot be trusted because "for every study there is an equal and opposite study" is incorrect. It is always important to examine who carried out the study, how well it was designed, if anyone stood to gain financially from the results, and where consensus lies. One must be mindful of who is the "they" in "they say that..." In many cases what "they say" is only gossip, inaccurately reported.
-----Only the dose makes the poison, only the dose makes the cure. It does not make sense to talk about the effect of substances on the body without talking about amounts. In science, numbers matter! Licking an aspirin tablet will do nothing for a headache, but swallowing two tablets will make the headache go away. Swallowing a whole bottle of pills will make the patient go away.
-----"Chemical" is not a dirty word and "chemical-free" is nonsensical term. Chemicals are the building blocks of our world and are not good or bad; however, they can be used in safe or dangerous ways. Nitroglycerine can alleviate the pain of angina or blow up a building. The choice is ours. Furthermore, there is no relation between the risk posed by a substance and the complexity of its name. Dihydrogen monoxide, after all, is just water.
-----Nature is not benign. The deadliest toxins known, such as ricin from castor beans or botulin from the Clostridium botulinum bacterium, are perfectly natural. "Natural" does not equate safe, and "synthetic" does not mean dangerous. The properties of any substance are determined by its molecular structure, not by whether it was synthesized in the laboratory by a chemist or by nature in a plant.
-----The human body is incredibly complex and our health is determined by a large number of variables that include genetics, diet, the mother's diet during pregnancy, stress, level of exercise, exposure to microbes, exposure to occupational hazards, and luck!
-----While diet does play a role in health, the effectiveness of specific foods or nutrients in the treatment of diseases is usually overstated ..... The greater the variety of food consumed, the smaller the chance that important nutrients will be lacking in the diet.
-----The mind-body connection is an extremely important one. About 30-40% of people will improve significantly when given a placebo and about the same percentage will exhibit symptoms in response to a substance they perceive as dangerous. The mind is capable of making a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.
-----There are no geese that lay golden eggs. In other words, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As H.L. Mencken said, "Every complex problem has a solution that is simple, direct, plausible, and wrong."
-----Nonsensical lingo can sound very scientific. An ad for a type of algae states that:
"the molecular structure of chlorophyll is almost the same as that of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Oxygen is the prime nutrient and chlorophyll is the central molecule for increasing oxygen available to your system".
This is nonsense. Chlorophyll does not transport oxygen in the blood.
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