Chapter 10: How Not to Get Quacked
He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever - chinese proverb
Much quackery is involved in informing people that something is bad for them (such as food additives) and selling a substitute (such as organic or natural food). Quackery is also involved in misleading advertising of dietary supplements, homoeopathic products, ayurvedic medicines and some non-prescription drugs. In many such instances no individual quack is involved - just deception by manufacturers and their advertising agencies.
Unproven methods are not necessarily quackery. Those consistent with scientific concepts may be considered to be experimental, but legitimate practitioners do not go around promoting unproven procedures in the marketplace. Instead, they engage in responsible, properly designed research studies to prove or disprove their claims. Methods not compatible with established scientific concepts should be classified as nonsensical or disproven rather than experimental: for example, fish cure for asthma which draws huge crowds to Hyderabad.
Quackery flourishes even in the USA where people are much more sophisticated, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides effective policing. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that in India this menace is rampant, and there are far more quacks than regular medical practitioners. Faith healing, for example, is an integral part of Indian traditions, especially in villages where educated priests take advantage of peoples ignorance and blind faith.
How can you save yourself from being quacked? Here are some useful pointers by Dr. Stephen Barrett from his Quackwatch Web site (www.quackwatch.org)
- Forget about secret cures. True scientists share their knowledge as part of the process of scientific development. Quacks often keep their methods secret to prevent others from decisively demonstrating that they dont work. No one who actually discovered a cure would have reason to keep it secret. If a method works - specially for a serious disease - the discoverer would gain enormous fame, fortune and personal satisfaction by sharing the discovery with others.
- Remember that quackery often garbs itself in a cloak of pseudo-scientific respectability and its promoters often use scientific terms and quote (or misquote) from scientific references. Be equally wary of pseudo-medical jargon. Instead of offering to treat your disease, some quacks will promise to detoxify your body, balance its chemistry, release its nerve energy or bring it in harmony with nature. The use of concepts that are impossible to measure or quantify enables success to be claimed even though nothing has actually been accomplished.
- Ignore any practitioner who says that most diseases are caused by faulty nutrition or can be remedied by taking supplements. Although some diseases are related to diet, most are not. Moreover, in most cases where diet actually is a factor in a persons health problem, the solution is not to take vitamins but to alter the diet.
- Be wary of catchy anecdotes and testimonials. If someone claims to have been helped by an unorthodox remedy there is often a rational explanation. Most single episodes of disease which affect patients lead to recovery with the passage of time, and most chronic ailments (such as arthritis and psoriasis) are marked by symptom-free periods. Many people who give testimonials about recovery from cancer have undergone effective treatment as well as unorthodox treatment, but give credit to the latter. Some testimonials, of course, are complete fabrications!
- Be skeptical of any product which claims to be effective against a wide range of unrelated diseases, particularly serious diseases. There is no such thing as a panacea or cure-all.
- Ignore appeals to your vanity. One of quackerys most powerful appeals is the suggestion to think for yourself instead of following the collective wisdom of the scientific community. A similar appeal is the idea that although a remedy has not been proven to work for other people, it still might work for you. Remember that all humans have the same anatomy and physiology, and scientific rules apply to all of us.
- Dont let desperation cloud your judgment! If you feel that your doctor isnt doing enough to help you, or if you have been told that your condition is incurable and dont wish to accept this fate without a struggle, dont stray from scientific health care in a desperate attempt to find a solution. Instead, discuss your feelings with your doctor and consider a consultation with a recognized expert.