Warning Signs of Quackery and Fraud – Part 2

Here’s Part 2 of an excerpt from my and Donal O’Mathuna’s book, Alternative Medicine: The options, claims, evidence, how to choose wisely. You find the book here. Next week, I’ll post another five warning signs.

6. Are technical words used without a clear definition? “Energy” is one of those words. Claims that a therapy “boosts energy” can mean anything from the common idea that you feel better able to do things, to Eastern ideas of promoting the flow of chi or prana. Introducing ideas from quantum physics is usually not necessary if the product really works. Information sheets should clarify, not baffle with mind-boggling gobbledy-gook.

7. Would a treatment require you to abandon any well-established scientific laws or principles? This is often subtle in quackery, blatant with fraud. For example, psychic surgery requires you to believe that a hand, without first cutting an opening, can enter the human body, perform whatever surgery is necessary to remove tumors or organs, then be withdrawn, all with no marks, no obvious place where the flesh was separated. Since it violates so many scientific laws, it may be fraudulent. If it actually works, then it most likely involves supernatural forces. Either way, you should not get caught up in the hype.

8. Do proponents claim that a medical system is so flawless (“airtight”) that there is no need for further testing? No area of science should be closed to further developments or revisions. The same is true of good medicine. That’s part of the reason why medical recommendations are always changing, whether in small or large ways. When a system remains the same for hundreds of years, chances are it has missed out learning from the experiences of those using it.

9. Is the treatment said to be effective for a wide variety of unrelated physiological problems? If something really does work, it usually has a limited effect—a specific action on a specific part of the body. If a treatment or product is said to cure everything, chances are it cures nothing or it works as a placebo. There can be benefits from a general relaxation response, but that doesn’t mean the specific condition is cured.

10. Is the product a quick and easy fix for a complicated and frustrating condition? A “favorite” is called Exercise in a Bottle—said to help people lose weight and boost athletic performance. It appeals to our desire to find easy answers, avoid the difficult lifestyle changes needed to lose weight and get fit. But the idea that you can get the benefits of exercise by taking a pill is ridiculous.

You can find more information in my book, Alternative Medicine: The options, claims, evidence, how to choose wisely.

Here’s the entire series: