Health Quackery

Published on August 19th, 2014 | by Rayne


Clickbait advertisments and quick fixes: Selling pseudoscience to impatient people

Today’s blog is a special request that I am more than happy to fill.

“Can you do an article about dietary supplements and weight loss products? Ie, Juice Plus, Raspberry Ketones, miracle antioxidants and ‘one moms weird weight loss tip!’ Clickbait ads? Its a personal bugbear of mine, would like to see you do something to follow up your recent posts of quackery and pseudoscience!”

I’ve combined my special request with a few answers taken from responses to a question I posted on my Facebook page. The question was “What’s the strangest woo, you have heard of?” and the answers were quite intriguing. Never fear readers, I do plan to do blog posts on the answers that I don’t incorporate in today’s blog as well.

Pseudoscience can be classified into several different categories. There is anti-medicine, quick fix and “filling a need” pseudoscience. Often many forms of pseudoscience will overlap into two or more of these categories. Most of them are anti-science and all of them are based on wishful thinking and untested, unproven claims.

Alternative medicine as anti-medicine pseudoscience is self-explanatory. Homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture. chiropractic, cupping, “holistic healers”- most, if not all in some shape or form are designed to turn people away medicine that has been rigorously scientifically tested for effectiveness and safety. All in the pursuit of bringing customers through their door. As I mentioned in this article, alternative medicine exploits the holes left by medicine and fills them with wishful thinking. In the case of homeopathy and naturopathy, these alternative medicine practitioners will turn people away from medicine to bring customers through their door and sell them their very own line of untested products.

Filling a need pseudoscience refers to pseudoscience that fills an emotional need for a person. People become reiki healers or become astrologists. People turn to psychics and horoscopes. Why? For a variety of reasons. Some become healers as a misguided attempt at helping people, some do it for the sense of elitism pseudoscience and woo can give a person. People turn to psychics in times of loss and confusion so they can get order in their lives and they turn to horoscopes because living life without guidance can be scary for some. Carl Sagan in his book “The Demon Haunted World” has this to say about pseudoscience:

“Pseudoscience speaks to powerful emotional needs that science often leaves unfulfilled It caters to fantasies about personal powers we lack and long for (like those attributed to comic book superheroes today, and earlier, to the gods). In some of its manifestations, it offers satisfaction of spiritual hungers, cures for disease, promises that death is not the end.

Quick fix pseudoscience refers to pseudoscience designed to give people quick fixes in life which is the main topic for today’s blog. Diet fads, diet pills, magnets that lose weight, miracle antioxidants to name a few. Quick fix pseudoscience is usually food, illness or weight related. It may include vitamin supplements and herbal supplements (which can also cross over into alternative medicine territory) if they are being used as a way to get “healthy” without having to do much at all.

Not all diet fads are quick fixes, some of them have been designed as marketing or scare tactics to sell (organic food, “superfoods”. anything with “boost immune system!”, the gluten-free fad). Note: the gluten-free fad is not a fad if you actually have Celiac’s disease however there is a rise in trendy gluten-free self diagnosis which has given rise to “gluten free” marketing. Gluten-free marketing occurs when companies put “gluten-free” on products that have never been made with gluten (as opposed to gluten-free foods that have been recreated without gluten in them such as sweets, breads, cereals etc) to sell them to a new niche market. 

We’ve all seen diet fads and diet pills. Infomercial channels exist because of them. Raw foodism, Macrobiotics, Alkaline dietFasting (especially juice fasting), The Jesus Diet (Don’t look at me like that, I don’t make this shit up), Lemonade diet, Low-carb diet, Paleo dietWeigh down diet, Blood type diet, just to name a few. Again not all of them are quick fixes, not all of them healthy for everyone.

A change in diet is going to lead to a change in person. More vegetables, less junk food, more exercise will make you feel great because good eating is good for you. Diet fads however can be dangerous. Doing a juice fast – drinking nothing but juice for two weeks? You’re going to harm your body. Diet fads like juice fasts, lemonade diet, blood diet, low-carb diet are designed to be addictive. They’ll lose the weight but they aren’t sustainable especially if you’re missing out on a benefit food group. Take a calorie counting diet or dieting using a dieting company like Jenny Craig – you may lose the weight but as soon as you stop and can’t maintain the diet, you’ll put the weight straight back on again.

Diet fads like Jenny Craig attract yoyo-dieters and people who need a quick fix because they don’t have the time, resources or motivation to change their diet. Jenny Craig offers pre-cooked meals for a price straight to your door. Diet pills offer the same fantasy – take a pill, lose the weight without having to change anything about yourself.

There are prescription diet drugs and herbal diet pills. Prescription drugs are only prescribed to people who are obese people and people with medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure who are in serious need of loosing the weight they have accumulated. Prescriptions diet drugs have been tested for safety and effectiveness and are prescribed with close monitoring with a strict diet plan and exercise regime.

Herbal diet pills such as the ones found in your local vitamin expensive urine store usually cater to people who feel bad about their body but generally don’t need to lose weight. With the ever present bombardment of super skinny models and negative messages advertised to men and women about their bodies – diet pills prey on upset impatient people wanting to lose weight without having to do anything. Except they haven’t been tested or proven to work and most are advertised with “use with diet change and exercise” meaning until herbal diet pills are proven to make fat disappear, any change can be attributed to less junk food and more exercise.

Diet fads and diet pills can look sciencey because that’s what pseudoscience does. It dresses itself up to look like science to peddle bullshit but sometimes even pseudoscience out bullshits itself. Sometimes it comes up with something so incredibly ludicrous you wouldn’t think for a second that anyone could fall for it.


Presenting the Magnetic Weight Loss Toe Ring.

I had to hunt around the Internet for a while before finding any semblance of an explanation for how these things work. I found a lot of unhelpful testimonials but not a lot of explanations.

Finally I found this explanation: “The secret lies in the 2 pieces of magnets which can emit 1,100 Gauss’s magnetic force to stimulate the acupuncture points” (source) and this: “Two powerful magnets on each ring provide a magnetic field of 1100 gauss to stimulate the acupressure points on your big toes” (source).

I can’t even make this shit up if I tried.

Let’s look at the first claim: “which can emit 1,100 Gauss’s magnetic force” The gauss, is the unit of measurement of a magnetic field. The gauss measurement has been superseded by the tesla measurement. 1 telsa equeals 10,00 gauss. According to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory of Florida State University, a fridge magnet is about 0.001 tesla (10 gauss). The Earth’s magnetic field is about 0.00005 tesla (0.5 gauss) and an average MRI magnet measures 1.5 tesla (15000 gauss). 1,100 gauss is not powerful and not going to do anything to a human especially towards body fat.

Second claim: “to stimulate the acupuncture points”. None of the explanations I have found describe how the magnetic force stimulate the acupuncture points – unless acupuncture points are made out of ferrous material that reacts to magnets. An acupuncture point is the location on the body that is the focus of acupuncture – fucking duh. It is the point where a needle is inserted into the body to stimulate the bodies “Qi” or “life energy” (source). It is vital to note that “Qi” has never been measured or found in any scientific capacity. It has never been recorded, seen or quantified by the same method that has given us organ transplants. Acupuncture also relies on Appeal to Ancient Wisdom also know as the Appeal to Tradition and Appeal to Age.

Magnetic Weight Loss Toe Rings is quick fix pseudoscientific woo that uses scientific measurements and appeals to unproven alternative medicine and logical fallacies to sell silicone rings that make your toes hurt and lose weight only by emptying your wallet.

Clickbait advertisements rely on many of the above types of pseudoscience. Clickbait refers to the way a headline for an article or advertisement is structured to gain the greatest amount of clickers. Clickbait advertisements are a great way to peddle weight loss pseudoscience and scams. You’ll often see them state “Moms secret to weight loss” or “You’ll never believe how this new mom lost all her body fat is 1 month!”. Clickbait advertisements are annoying at best and swindle you out of your cash at worst.

If you are thinking about using a substance that promotes a quick fix cures to your problems, please seek guidance from your medically trained doctor.

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One Response to Clickbait advertisments and quick fixes: Selling pseudoscience to impatient people

  1. Pingback: » The irony of alternative medicine

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