Consumer Health Digest #20-19
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 17, 2020
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Vaccination is losing ground on social media. A system-level analysis of vaccination-related messaging of nearly 100 million Facebook users has found that anti-vaccination pages:
- have fewer followers than pro-vaccination pages
- are more numerous than pro-vaccination pages
- tend to be linked to more frequently than pro-vaccination pages from Facebook pages whose stance on vaccination is undecided
- tend to blend topics such as safety concerns, conspiracy theories, alternative health and medicine, and the cause and cure of COVID-19
- grew in networking more than did pro-vaccination pages during the measles outbreak of 2019
The researchers' computer simulations suggest that opposition to vaccines will dominate the network of views on vaccines within ten years unless the scientific community becomes more effective. [Johnson and others. The online competition between pro- and anti-vaccination views. Nature. May 13, 2020] Public health messaging arguably needs to do a better job competing with the appeals to the heart and disinformation about a potential COVID-19 vaccine that are common in anti-vaccination messaging. [Ball P. Anti-vaccine movement could undermine efforts to end coronavirus pandemic, researchers warn. Nature. May 13, 2020] Dr. Stephen Barrett agrees but asserts that social media can and should decide not to remain a conduit for harmful health misinformation. [Barrett S. Facebook should do more to combat vaccine misinformation. Quackwatch, May 18, 2020]
Guidance provided for countering conspiracy claims. Four scholars who study conspiracy theories have identified seven traits of conspiratorial thinking and explained how they are displayed in the misleading COVID-19 video "Plandemic," which has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. [Cook J and others. Coronavirus, 'Plandemic' and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking. The Conversation. May 15, 2020] The traits are:
- contradictory beliefs
- overriding suspicion
- nefarious intent by conspirators is assumed
- conviction that something is wrong, and the official account is based on deception
- thinking of themselves as persecuted victims
- immunity to evidence
- reinterpreting randomness as patterns caused by conspiracy
The scholars concluded: "Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty."
Claims for "bioresonance" device debunked. The Healy, a device that can be clipped to a user's clothing, is claimed by its marketers to be "designed for total health, inside and out to assist with energetic imbalances by directing cell communication and increasing cellular energy (ATP) by 500%." Ads include mumbo-jumbo appeals to quantum physics, motion-creating resonance, and optimal frequencies as supposed justification. Dr. Barrett has summarized the history of "bioresonance therapy" and observed that even Healy's marketers admit that there is no scientific support that the device works as advertised. Healy World has announced that it would begin multilevel marketing in the United States this month. The device has FDA clearance as a Class II medical device, but the suggested uses vastly exceed what the clearance authorizes. [Barrett S. A skeptical look at the Healy "bioresonance" device. Device Watch. May 13, 2020]
CSICON 2019 presentations available online. The Center for Inquiry has made recordings of 30-minute lectures from the last convention of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, CSICON 2019. Several that address health-related topics are appropriate for online discussion assignments in consumer health and other university courses:
- Do not harm. But first, nature by Britt Hermes (also see her similar article Beware the naturopathic cancer quack)
- The overblown breast is best mantra for breastfeeding by Kavin Senapathy (also see her Woo Watch column: The overblown breast is best mantra)
- Facilitated communication and autism: What we need to know by Janyce Boynton
- Little-known acts of skepticism and how to join the home front for science by Jonathan Jarry
- Getting the chemistry Right by Joe Schwarcz
- Modern wellness, women, and the religion of pseudoscience by Jen Gunter
- Legislative alchemy: Pseudoscience in the law by Jann Bellamy
A recorded fifty-minute talk, Fantasyland: The History of America's Irrationality, by Kurt Andersen, author of the 2017 book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, is relevant to understanding the cultural climate in which deception thrives in the health marketplace.
New book dissects "alternative medicine." Prominent "alternative medicine" critic Edzard Ernst's latest book is Don't Believe What You Think: Arguments for and against SCAM (2020). Dr. Stephen Barrett wrote this blurb: "This book punctures 35 claims that can trick people into making bad choices. It can help doctors educate their patients and help patients protect their pocketbook, their health, and maybe even their life."
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This page was posted on May 18, 2020.