An article in the Guardian recently talks about supplements and focuses on an example where antioxidants went from being an interesting scientific observation to super miracle supplement in a really short time.
We can understand from the antioxidant story how something 'assumed' can immediately be euphemistically used, mangled and quote-mined in order to make the public feel they are missing out on something grand.
As the article in the guardian shows: not understanding what you consume could easily make you one of the gullible folks forking out money for hyped up rumours of health, and then shoving them down the throat of your kids, loved ones and yourself... in the process telling them that its OK to pop pills with no effects as its a simple way to feel like you have done yourself some good.
Again, were going to touch on that unhealthy practice - Garbage Enzyme.
No, i don't mean unhealthy like improper eating or things like that.
I mean mentally unhealthy.
First up, I don't hold anything against people that are lead into thinking that they are helping society by using Garbage Enzyme.
Although misdirected, the intent they carry may be just as honest as mine.
It is the deception involved in that misdirection that i consider the carcinogen in this smoke cloud.
I blame the negligence of those that fervously promote Garbage Enzyme with no care to the underlying science behind it.
They wish to carry authority, but much of the time jump into the 'blissfully ignorant' safety net when unable to answer simple queries like "how does it work", and pointing their fingers to their straw men to fend off the annoying questions.
If you honestly have something as important as the improvement of the environment at heart, please do not choose to ignore the critical questions when they are raised.
The double standards practiced when taking up queries are truly shameful. Take up the responsibility please.
So why do i loathe the attitude of these quacks so much?
It is because they practice deliberate misdirection. Would i be so bold to make this claim?
"Yes"...and let me explain why.
In our correspondence, aside from the testimonial claims and other nonsense, one thing stood out to me:
Dr Joeann and her counterpart in Singapore has never held back the fact that they have done laboratory testing on Garbage Enzyme's efficacy.
Very bold claims when promoting something you don't even understand yourself.
They do however choose to hold back the results from parties with a questioning nature or critical eye. There had to be a catch somewhere.
When I asked to have a look at these "documents" that were being pushed around as proof of efficacy in the Garbage Enzyme circles, i was asked to go down to Singapore, at my own cost, to attend a seminar and let a Russian Enzymeologist whom they refused to name (i am NOT making this up) explain to me the details. Wow.
Anyway, to cut things short, after some talk and explaining how absurd me coming down for this would be when a simple email with the documents attached would suffice, Dr Joeann's counterpart from Singapore asked me to wait a couple of weeks for him to come down to Penang so he could explain the results better to me.
He was even saying how happy he was that there are people like me who are interested in helping others understand.
*//Should'nt those that are promoting this damned thing carry that responsibility in the first place? Bloody hell.//
So, since we were to meet, I asked him to forward the results my way first so that I, or someone more qualified, could read it and come up with the best possible questions for him when he finally comes down two weeks later. He then said he felt that he really needed to be there to explain it. Fine.
A month down the road and neither the test results or the trip to Penang happened.
Correspondence dropped off, and I still had no test results. It seemed the ignorance is bliss safety net button was pressed again. sigh*
I did luck out in the end though, as someone offered me those lab results which were being promoted in Garbage Enzyme workshops.
Ironically it came from someone within their own circles, who over time has begun to question the efficacy of the product.
First up: Mechem Consultancy test result
Description of sample:
"A sample said to be fruit, honey water (concentrated) drink was received" for testing.
The above results are tested as per sample submitted with reference to Singapore Food Regulation(2005) and found to be satisfactory.
Amazingly, there was nothing in the description to indicate that this was Garbage Enzyme, but what is more worrying is the test itself. This was to test if the sample submitted was safe to drink or not... NOT WHETHER IT HAS ANY HEALTH IMPACT.
Then we have the results from Analytical Consultancies (3 documents)
Tested: Green Detergent with Enzyme
Doc #1 looks at a 1:500(quite difficult to read this part) dilution of Green Detergent with Enzyme and compares it with Sewerage and Drainage Regulations (4th column in case unreadable)
Doc #2 tests the 1:200 dilution for arsenic, copper, lead and mercury.
Doc #3 is a microbiological examination
But NONE of them test if Enzyme DOES anything! Not the Mechem tests, or the 3 Analytical Lab ones. All they do is show that this is either meeting fair sewage criteria, or drinking safety criteria. Not a control sample in sight.
If they wanted, they could have just tested Green Detergent without Enzyme vs Green Detergent with Enzyme, or some better controls. Not even a slight effort to prove efficacy.
These documents exist solely for pushers to claim they have lab results.
It is immediately quite clear why i wasn't given the chance to review it even once before he came down, if coming to Penang ever was his intent.
I see this misdirection as a bad attempt to confuse the public.
It is further reinforced by the refusal by Dr Joean to return my emails.
From parents to teachers...it should be our gift to be able to provide our children the tools that will make them less gullible to simple tricks, instead we propagate the idea that research is not necessary since someone else seems to have done it first.
We should always question the methods of the research, lest we be taken for a ride.
Ask anyone you meet about homeopathy and keep track of the responses.
Note how few people generally know what it is in Malaysia. Do you know?
Ever wonder why its usually not explained to people that are not desperate for cures?
I read this article from TheStar. Note what that at the end, the man turns to homeopathy for what? Aids? whoa... must be a super alternative treatment to let you recover from that.
"He said he was now seeking homeopathy treatment, believing that he had a better chance of recovery."
"Recovery" he says.
Poor deluded, misdirected and gullible man.
Homeopaths go around claiming to cure everything from the sniffles to syphilis, but does anyone really know what homeopathic preparations really are?
Homeopathy, by any modern standards used to measure its efficacy, appears to be nothing more than a practice that takes advantage of the placebo effect to trick people into thinking it does something for their problems.
Really, it is just a sugar tablet covered with liquid containing a substance that causes the symptoms it wishes to cure, but so diluted that you would be lucky to even get a molecule of the original substance covering the tablet.
Again, what they are selling is essentially magic water on sugar pills.
Now, who usually falls for these? well, take the example in the article from TheStar above.
Twice confirmed HIV positive? He is definitely looking for answers.
On one hand, you might use the "what is the harm" argument. He is already out of options so why not try alternative right? This is nothing but a hunt for simple answers for his far-from-simple predicament.
On the other hand is the much uglier face of homeopathy. Having no real science to back it up, do homeopaths have the right to jump in and give false hope to desperate people... at a cost no less?
Are we honestly not going to put our foot down on such a practice, or do we simply wish to not think about it should we ever need the comfort of a security blanket in the future.
Think hard on that, as the cost for that safety blanket for ourselves is to keep this nonsense around for our kids to fall into.
Homeopathy seems nothing more than another snake-oil merchant's juice that is targeted at desperate folks looking for a quick or simple answer, and the homeopath looking for a quick and simple buck.
They prey on those who are already at the end of their ropes, giving false hope at a cost.
Don't get me wrong, I can acknowledge that there are those that really believe they are helping others with their practice, but please HONESTLY look at these few issues with homeopathy below:
- The dilutions are usually so dilute there is nothing in it but water. Yet they stick with the "more dilute more effective" theory. There is nothing to prove this theory works.
- "Like Cures Like" is another principle. Give sufferer a homeopathic remedy with the exact same main ingredient that would cause the patients current state... of course you then dilute it later and somehow this is supposed to make it a remedy. Again, no explanation on how that works.
- Homeopaths use a special shake(succussion) when making their dilutions so that the water will "remember" what is in it, even thought there is probably less main ingredient in it than contaminants at some point... yet they claim water knows what to remember. Also, there is no proof of water memory that can do such things.
- When administering a treatment, these quacks refer to and unrevised journals known as the MateriaMedicia. Most entries of course were from before germ discovery many years ago. I.e they had cures for microbe caused issues even if they had no idea there were such things... this just means that they have not been reviewed to make sure its up to date with newer medical discoveries etc.
- And to 'learn' new 'cures' homeopaths do 'provings' which require consuming a substance and then monitoring things like subtle simptoms and their dreams etc. The involvement of a 'dream' element should be enough to hint to you that exact science is not really part of their game.
In 2008, the same challenge was extended to universities offering classes in quack subjects. Still silence. Many of these universities are now dropping these BS classes when made aware of how foolish it was that academic institutes were looking into pseudo-science for courses.
(On a side note, our already degrading Malaysian universities are still dishing out these courses. Ill touch on that in another post)
For now, the main issue is homeopathy creeping into our society.
So, with more homeopathy clinics popping up in Malaysia these days, I think its very important that we take, and encourage others to take, a strong, long and objective look at homeopathy.
We should take the time to do this NOW, instead of later when we are desperate for a cure and everything magical or mysterious suddenly seems possible.
Hardly any health nut Ive met doesn't know what it is.
I mean... has not at least heard about it.
Those that know what it is? very few really.
One thing we do very well in Malaysia is quote others.
You see, it takes away the mundane task of doing any homework yourself.
Everywhere i look now, from the curry mee lady in the Tg Bungah market, to the folks sitting around me in the office... all i hear is "make enzyme!" "take enzyme" "enzyme is good for you" etc... heck, some even sell the stuff now...
...but none, I repeat... NOT ONE person can tell me why these new enzyme supplements are good for you.
HELL, not a single one can even come close to telling me what enzymes ARE in the first place.
Here we are in an advanced society with information at our fingertips, yet we let the alt-nutrition folks lead us around with pseudo-scientific nonsense like buffaloes tugged by nose rings.
I am disappointed that many of these people are well educated folks. Their flaws in wanting a quick cure or their fear of "missing out" on something no matter how much like bullshit it smells really makes you wonder: How can they justify these things to themselves?
By the very act of practicing, you are giving it more credibility then it deserves.
There are even some that openly tell you that there is no real effect, but they want to use it like a juice or something of the like...that is how much the fear of "possibly missing out" is ingrained in these people.
Whatever reasons you give yourself, you are still guilty of propagating a practice that is both pointless, and misleading. You endanger the minds of those that look up to you by saying its ok to act outside of better judgements.
So, after that rant...what is an enzyme?
An enzyme is just a kind of protein that has a catalytic role in some situations like the original environment it existed in. The problem with this, is that once it is not functioning as an enzyme, it is nothing more than regular protein.
When consumed, the body breaks down these proteins into the amino acid building blocks that make them up so that they may be consumed. Any function that it may have had as an enzyme is going to be lost at this point.
If you do not understand what that means, you should not be promoting enzyme based supplementary products.
It highlights what you need to have in your head to be an alternative practitioner.
We really need to take heed as these practices are slowly, but steadily, seeping into the cracks of our culture through our gullible that are desperate for answers.
What is sad is, that our gullible folks transform to our selfish folks when they succumb to these irrational fears that have been promoted via active marketing streams, not science backed journals.
It is a truly selfish thing to deny our future generations the lessons to critically judge a product just because you think taking it will be an easy way to solve all your problems, and you assume theirs too.
Like it or not, we all affect those around us... be it our kids, friends, parents, relatives etc.
If you hold any respect from them, anything you do will influence them to think that something is good for them or not.
If you sacrifice critical judgement just for a few shortcuts that are probably as fake as the claims they are based on, which you trust on faith through some marketing leader with a grand smile...then at that very moment, your endorsement will burden those around you with the weakness of that gullibility you carry.
Few people can accept the fact that paying for false hopes is not better than dealing with the truth.
If you cannot see the bigger picture. Imagine one day when a Quantum Pendant peddler's child, as gullible as his parents, convinces your own kids to fall for some scam or other. Yes, it will be your fault as an elder to not have educated them.
Toss your apathy aside.
Take a stand for reason, if you do not wish to see our future generations so easily fleeced or molded by irrational fear.
I came across this article recently that helps us all pick out when someone is trying to sell us bogus science.
On a side note, first thing i generally do when reading an article i like or dislike, is to learn who the authors are. A simple google(Robert L. Park) helped that immensely. (See, those search engines are useful for finding out lotsa things)...
I figured, OK, i liked the points he raised. These are definitely valid arguments.
Lets see if i can find any local examples i have experienced myself.
I am not going to use his definitions here, just his 7 points which i will elaborate on.
1) The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media
What this means is, taking a shortcut to publicity.
No need the reviews by fellow scientists, just pushing your products to folks that have no idea how it works.
I've seen this with recent Enzyme practitioners in Penang. Enzyme is a product being promoted to clean everything from the kitchen, your gut, and the environment.(I will have a write up specifically on Enzyme soon, as it deserves a post of its own)
Bottom line: it was being promoted by the Penang state government under LimGuan Eng, by releasing lots of it into our rivers as an "environmental" act. I have written to them on this, but seen no reply yet.
How much me and my buddies flinched when we saw the people we voted into office come out and support something they do not even understand. Heck, from my emails with the practitioners of Enzyme, even they do not understand it themselves, yet they promote it fervently.
I even had to put a stop to them running a workshop in the company i work in. Its an MNC by the way, and the only justification the folks(practitioners) in my company were using to back up their workshop was that it "was practiced even by the state government"... see what can happen when you put support to a product outside of your field of expertise?
When we do not understand something, yet promote it sometimes to the extent of getting organizations involved, we end up giving the illusion that the organizations are then in support of those products.
2)The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work
Fuel Savers! Ever hear of those? Remember our last round of petrol price hikes? all the way up to RM2.70?
Like mushrooms did the fuel savers pop up. Ever ask a salesman "why aren't these available on standard cars?"...heh :)
You will now learn of a conspiracy between all car manufacturers and the government to cause us all to use more fuel... and the only solution is the magnetic fuel savers or the tank tablets that miraculously make your car run better.
People forget however, that regardless whether the conspiracy exists or not, it does not change the fact that the product is a scam and has no science or even proof to back it up.
None that will stand up to real tests anyways.
Eventually even folks like me will be labeled by somebody as having monetary interests in defaming other people's competing products... What most fail to understand is that skeptics like myself are only in it because we want to reduce the number of idiots around. We gain by having a cleaner gene pool.
3)The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection
There is never any surefire proof. Always some imperfection to the tests that need to be explained.
Results always "seem" possible, but play just out of reach. Maybe claiming to having done lab tests, but the lab tests are in some obscure location. Or maybe they are waiting for a visit from their foreign enzymeologist(who apparently does not have a name) to visits Singapore to better explain their product. Information always just out of reach. This example again taken from Enzyme.
The intention, to me it seems, is that by the time you would normally be pushing for more information, you would already be sold on the product or already too deep in to back out.
In fact, when talking to a Homeopathy Doctor from TgBungah who happens to be the main person behind the Enzyme drive in Penang. (By main person, i mean most people point her way when i ask questions)
The first and foremost thing offered to me was "plenty of testimonial data" of how great the product was.
As a note to point 2 & 3 against testimonial data in the previous post, let me just say that there have always been people with doubts to the product.
When i asked them why none had voiced their concerns, their reply was simple. "let them be", "i dont want to look negative", "their choice lah", "cant be bothered".
Many just choose to walk away quietly than bust someone elses groove.
What happens is that woo practitioners ignore these people and their thoughts, but latch on to every positive result thrown their way. Its called Cherry-Picking in data diving terms.
No credibility. This is why testimonials are always a bad idea.
5) The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries
This one is a no-brainer.
There are FEWER reasons than this to re-evaluate a practice.
Things revered following age should be kept to the elder folks, wine, cheese and the odd trinket.
There usually is some mention of it or its origins being many years in its coming. Quantum Pendants claim scalar energy popping up about a hundred years or so back. Homeopathy is in the few hundreds... in my opinion, if an idea has been about for even half a decade and remain unchallenged, it needs a good proper revisit.
The beauty about using science is that it is always open to review. Practices that begun years ago may always be re-evaluated with new methods, and amendments can be done to our knowledge of the subject. We learn.
6) The discoverer has worked in isolation
Well, i haven't personally encountered this one. Most of the time, the woo figures i get instead are the "Enzymeologist from Russia", "Specialist from Germany" or some other foreign dude that has been so busy pushing the envelope of science to its brink by themselves in some foreign land.
For some reason, they seldom have support or even notice from other scientists...
Must be bad BO or something.
7)The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation
This one is classic.
I once attended a QiGong class. A demonstration used to show the power of QiGong was for 4 people to lift a relatively large person with their finger and fist. Similar to this one, if you aren't sure what I'm talking about.
Then i saw it again, but this time at a Quantum pendant demo. Then again from a crystal bauble street demo... every time they used this trick to make the audience go "ooooo"... but each time i hear some new story about how it works. They keep plucking new theories out of their arses.
Here's another one... same concept ...find a trick that amazes people, then milk it for what its worth by saying its some new power or product and then sell it.
If you ever get the chance, just ask promoters if they dare perform these tests blindfolded, just tell them that you will be the one placing the pendant/crystal/whatever onto the test subject every time, but you will swap between a fake and a real one to see if they can repeat the tests without knowing if the real or fake item is there... Then take the time to enjoy the different excuses they use to back off from your challenge.
Oh, another thing. That first example's YouTube video also does not allow unmediated comments... another surefire sign of bogus science.
Aside from all those mentioned above, there are of course other hints as well.
Experience to see thru these will come as long as you keep asking the right questions.
Here is to the tiny hope that my messy thoughts and typing eventually get to help someone out there.
If you google that, there is literally dozens of sites out there that can better clarify what pseudoscience is.
In a nutshell, it is the practice of making a subject seem scientific, but skipping or masking important stuff by using common scientific terms, and also perhaps coming out with some theories and diagrams which are pushed straight to the general consumer without any review by other scientists to see how valid the work done really was.
For example, one common form of this misdirection is the use of testimonial data as proof of the usefulness of a product.
Why isn't testimonial data good data?
1) People do not understand what the placebo effect is. Our own bias in assessing or hoping for an outcome will affect our judgement of that outcome. If its a subjective outcome like "do you feel better?", all the worse.
2) How do you stop someone from picking just the good results and not showing you the bad(cherry picking)?
3) Then there is the human ego. Many folks tend to put away that 200 dollar bio-energy pendant and consider it $$ lost to bad investment, rather than come out and explain they were foolish in falling for the scheme in the first place.
Things like that make testimonials a little shaky to rely on, but they are most used by snake-oil merchants... No proper testing documentation on what it does, just fear mongering and the like.
Sometimes the best tool we have is good old common sense to look around these things.
Other times, the net helps too ;)
I found a neat article online which i would like to try to apply to local context next.
So just how is it possible that we have company directors and consultants, alongside the common folks, falling for such things? Shouldn't it be these folks at the front line stopping such utter nonsense from reaching the rest of us?
Well, if we think that, then we have seriously overestimated people in general.
We must remember that we are flawed in our perceptions. Biases can only be addressed if they are acknowledged.
To many of these folks, where science or medicine is nowhere near their expertise, "placebo" would merely be a the name of a band.
I'm going to go with the term "Woo" coined at the blogs from badscienceblogs as my reference to all these unproven practices to simplify stuff.
As a reference, woo for me generally covers thing like : energy pendants and trinkets, magnetic fuel savers, unproven health drinks, detoxification(nutritional), homeopathy, acupuncture, electronic car rust protection etc etc etc.
So you can see, woo is a very wide ranging issue. It does not necessarily touch on any field like health and nutrition in particular.
Woo generally tends to have an impact using outlandish claims, and once they have your attention, begin discrediting the other party in order to gain themselves points, or backing their claims with testimonial data. They do this by sounding scientific but not really using proper scientific methods... a "convenient science" if you will.
It is this method which is utilised that we need to understand. The common ground of all things woo: Pseudoscience.
In Malaysia, it seems, the ability of people to fall for simple tricks just make it a ripe market for the plucking by snake-oil merchants. Everything from energy water, to quantum pendants and even magic crystals.
Sure sure, you may say that this happens everywhere, but I'm going to be focusing on my experiences here. Of course I will also share what i find on related matters abroad...
Basically, it is my intention to help people nip this habit of relying on ignorance as their excuse to latch on to a product because it "may" work. Not because it works, just that it "may".
Not being critical of something will guarantee that you inadvertently fund the snake-oil industry in one way or another.
The worst part is not just falling for these scams, but allowing that non-critical mentality into your friends, kids and others.
Our biggest sin here would not be our indulgence in ignorance and the bliss it provides, but our inability to protect the next generation from being able to defend themselves against this simple non-critical mindset and its flaws.
The world is changing. The information is literally at our fingertips.