It seems every day a news organization is doing a story on the latest health craze. That wonder drug to give you more energy, get rid of the cricks in your knees, or even fight off cancer. So how do you know if it’s real or some form of woo? The Skeptic’s Dictionary defines woo, by the way, as “…ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence…”.
Headline Is A Trap
First off, ignore the headline. “Doctors say it’s a Miracle Cure”, fat chance. “Wonder Drug Stops Cancer”, uh-no. The headline is just a sexy invitation to get you to read or watch the story. Clickbait is what the kids call it these days.
Patient Doesn’t Know Best
Next, take a look at who the story is about. Is it about the patient who suffered some ailment or is it about someone with a vested interest in the product? If the story is focused on the patient pay close attention to what they say was wrong. Do they have a specific name of the problem or are they just saying that even their doctor didn’t know what was going on? Chances are if they can’t say exactly what was wrong…”I was tired all the time” or “my back was sore in the morning” or “I just felt icky”…then they possibly never even went to a medical doctor. If they say their doctor didn’t know what was wrong…well, that’s a possibility. Contrary to popular opinion doctors do make mistakes and can misdiagnose. The question is what did the patient do after that? Did they go see another doctor or did they go straight to the wonder drug? While one doctor might overlook something, the chances of others doing it are slim. If the patient went straight to the wonder drug then you know they didn’t give medicine a chance.
Expert or Pseudo-Expert?
Now let’s look at the so-called expert in the story. The person who, on the surface, knows all there is to know about this amazing treatment. Are they a real doctor? Not a doctor of chiropractic medicine. Not a naturopath. Not a homeopath. Not an acupuncturist. A real, honest to goodness, doctor of medicine. An MD. If they’re not, take everything they say with a grain of salt. (Actually, a grain of salt may do just as good what they want you to do.) I encourage you to click the links and read for yourself from people much smarter than me about why those so-called treatments are bogus.
But wait there’s more…does anyone in the story have a vested interest in the product? Are they trying to sell you something? Do they say the drug changed their life so much that they’re now selling it themselves. If so, giant red flag. I think it’s easy to see the conflict here.
Just cuz someone “says” something doesn’t make it true
Another question to ask, is there anyone in the story who takes a critical look at the treatment? The story must have an outsider, someone not connected with the wonder drug who also has a credible science-based medical background. If that person is not part of the story then the reporter either didn’t think to examine the treatment to see if what’s being claimed is true or they just didn’t want to include any critical information. Think about it like this, say a reporter does a story about you. They talk to your neighbor who says you’re a drunken slob and accuses you of going on midnight crime sprees. What does the reporter do next? They should talk with you and police to confirm or disprove the claims. The key word is “says”. Your neighbor can say anything they want but that doesn’t make it true. If the reporter doesn’t mention whether they tried to confirm what is said about the treatment you should question all of those claims.
Research, Research, Research
The best thing after reading such story is to do some research yourself. Below are some websites I use to wade through the woo.
Finally, here’s a fantastic song by the talented Tim Minchin that should help put it all into perspective.