Tuesday, May 19, 2015

But they said it was real!

Paul Offit, M.D. wrote a fascinating book, Do You Believe in Magic?, about the alternative medicine industry and the many snake oil salesmen that participate in it.  I find it incredible that people will buy alternative medicine cures even when they are proven to have no value.  The old adage that ‘There’s a sucker in every crowd’ seems to have become ‘Every crowd consists of suckers’.  

Everyone wants an ‘Easy Button’.  They want to lose weight by taking a pill or have their stomach stapled.  People want to be healthy and live forever.  There’s a juice drink for that.  There is a cure for cancer hidden in the special vitamins made of ‘ancient herbs’.  We are told that the ancients all had incredible secrets to long life.  Strangely, their lives weren’t any longer than ours are today.  They weren’t a whole lot shorter, either, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Ancient Medicine had anything to do with current lifespans.

Oh, as an aside, the reason that average life expectancies were, in fact, much lower in ancient times had to do with the high infant and early mortality rates from disease, lack of sanitary conditions, lack of adequate, yes we shall mention it, medical procedures.  The same is true today in, say, Swaziland and Sierra Leone where poverty and very high infant mortality due to poor medical services affect overall life expectancy.

Dr. Offit proposed that once ‘alternative’ medicine becomes scientifically proven to work, through valid procedures and experimentation, it becomes part of the ‘modern’ medicine world.  Any sort of anecdotal proof, no matter how loudly claimed, will never be enough to force a product to work. 

Recently a friend and supplier sent me a note with an email blast advertisement attached.  She thought that I would find it interesting.  The customer claimed to take the guesswork out of calculating embroidery costs by producing a table with a standard price for ‘up to 10,000 stitches’.  My first reaction was to panic because I saw that their prices seem lower than ours.  Then I looked at all the detailed promises that they made regarding timely delivery, free freight and so forth. 

In my experience, the louder one shouts about superior and/or free service, the less attention I should give to their claims.  If a vendor claims to be ‘World’s Greatest Innovator’ I probably will look elsewhere for innovation.  If they have to tell me that they give fabulous service, I’ll look for it and be hypercritical if they fail in any small way.  If they have to sport their prices in a big way and tell me that they are low, I’m going to look for the sneaky add-ons because I know where their real costs have to be.  “Oh, you wanted real thread on that logo?  We charge extra for that.  Otherwise, you get our patented invisible logo thread.”

I don’t know if the advertising is working for my competitor.  People are definitely accustomed to hearing claims to service and quality and we are not at all immune to unsubstantiated representations of the magic pill.  After all, four out of five dentists [to whom we gave an entire case of the stuff] recommend beet-juice for brushing.  And things really do go better with fishnet stockings.  Or something like that.  It’s all in the catchy rhythm.

Anecdotal evidence is what advertising is all about.  Even before reading Dr. Offit’s book, I was skeptical.  Now at least I have a reference point from which to direct my questioning eye. 

On the other hand, maybe there is a real magic pill.  I think it’s time to go hunting for one.