Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

The Quack Prince

March 11th, 2009 Posted in Health

Good old Prince Charles has done it again – he’s offering quack detox products from his all-organic range of foods. And, as anyone who has done any research will readily tell you – detox products are, basically, total quackery.

Here’s the BBC News coverage, with comments by Edzard Ernst, joint author of the excellent “Trick or Treatment”, together with journalist Simon Singh. I can heartily recommend reading that book  in addition to Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science”, which follows a similar theme.

The concept of a ‘detox’ product is a seductive one – everyone wants to get rid of the nasty things in their bodies which are causing them to function at less than optimum performance. But of couse that’s a bad picture for two reasons:  (1) the overwhelming proportion of people have no problem whatsoever with ‘toxins’ and (2) even if they did, these detox products don’t measurably affect the levels of any toxic substances in the blood whatsoever.

That’s Professor Ernst’s point – most quack medicine is trivially easy to test, and people do test it, and the treeatments fail every well-designed test they face. Some procedures, such as acupuncture, are very difficult to test, but even that is being tested to some degree now. To claim that a treatment hasn’t been disproved is irrelevant, as there are an infinite number of such treatments – we must instead insist that any product making a testable claim has that claim verified.  But of course, if we did, then detox firms would go out of business. And that would make people angry because, after all, detox works, doesn’t it? 

And there’s the heart of the problem – too many people get their medical opinions from the Daily Mail, and resent the fact that scientists are trying to disprove treatments in which the general public strongly believes. And, unfortunately, emotion usually wins.

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