The Prevalence of Nonsense

On my way to work in the morning I jump on the bus and in a matter of minutes I pass Dr. Q’s Chinese medical centre. With promotial signs galore hanging from the window they proudly proclaim that whether my problem be acne, erectile disfunction or hairloss Dr. Q’s medical centre has a Chinese herbal remedy guaranteed to sort the issue, and if that doesn’t work, well there’s always the option of a course of acupuncture treatments which will apparently do just as well.

A few minutes more on my bus journey, and I come to ‘Tony’s natural food & organic cafe’ which explains in it’s takeaway menu that:

There are two oceans of water in the body; one ocean is held inside the cells of the body, and the other ocean is held outside the cells. Good health depends on a most delicate balance between the volume of these oceans, and this balance is achieved by salt- unrefined sea salt.

And that’s not all. Just around the corner is a board advertising ‘Tony’s holistic centre’ which should be my first stop if I require any of the following: training in ‘metamorphic technique’, advice from a ‘raw food nutrionist’, ‘energy healing’, ‘psychic healing’, ‘reiki’, ‘reflexology’, ‘medicinal herbs’, ‘clinical aromatherapy’, ‘holistic massage’, ‘phytotherapy’ or ‘ayurvedic therapy’. Certainly an impressive amount of services in one holisitic centre.

After getting off the buss and walking another couple of minutes I’m now passing an osteopath’s clinic complete with oversized plastic spine attached to the outer wall.  Alongside it’s general joint and back manipulations I can see from it’s billboard advertisements that it is also offering acupuncture to help you recover from those serious sporting injuries.

And then I’m in the office, logging in to facebook. Curious about what useless exercise machine or protein shake the muscular fellow in the small advertisement to the left of my screen is peddling as ‘a new workout secret to get six pack ab’s without “the repetitive situps” I click on the advert. To my suprise this isn’t a new protein shake or ab crunching machine, instead it is an advertisement for acai berry juice. This juice is apparently all you need to not only get your new six pack, but also a new girlfriend and a better life:

You are already losing in the six pack race if you haven’t ordered some free acai berry… I met my current girlfriend thanks to Acai Berry…  I hope you take the opportunity and turn around your life like I did and it only takes like 3 minutes: (like the people on TV said, the only stupid thing to do right now would be to not order and end up paying for it later when everyone starts ordering).

And that’s just the start of my day…

Now in mentioning all this I don’t mean to suggest that all the treatments and products offered in these various clinics and cafes are useless or unenjoyable (though drinking acai berriy juice will DEFINITELY not give you a six pack). Osteopaths, for instance, often offer treatments for sports injuries that are indistinguishable from those that a doctor or a physiotherapist would offer, and I’m sure Tony’s cafe & holisitic centre give some nice massages and possibly serve some nice food (although it doesn’t look very apetising to me!). All I’m wanting to point out is just how prevalent nonsensical claims and non-evidence based treatments are and how when you start getting interested in skeptical issues you begin to notice that they are infused all throughout our daily lives, even just as general background scenery.

Lest I be taken as a grumpy old so and so (I am still 25!) I should add that I don’t find most of the nonsense which I encounter on a daily basis to be particularly worrying (in fact the strongest impression I’m left with is a genuine curiousity as to how a ‘holistic massage’ differs from a ‘full body’ massage and whether any crystals are involved). All the silliness adds up however and it is a clear indication of the scale of the opposition which those adopting critical, science based positions will inevitably face up against.

Finally, despite my own sense that all of the above examples are more amusing than harmful. I can’t ignore Ben Goldacre’s poignant warning of the danger that ‘harmless’ quackery can cause if it finds it’s way into the right environment (which I previously discussed here). So perhaps their outlandish claims and non-evidence based treatments do deserve to be challenged in some form or another, whatever the case, for anyone who gets involved in such issues, they should realise it’s likely to be a battle that will never end.


  1. Actually, the bit about sodium holding the balance between water in and out of the cells is true. Biology major.


  2. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thanks, However
    I am experiencing troubles with your RSS. I don’t know why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody getting similar RSS issues? Anybody who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!!


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