Sifting Through Internet BS

One of the many things I encounter with clients is the amount of health-related internet BS they’ve swallowed. I don’t know if it’s related to the type of light coming out of the computer/phone screen, the fact that it’s on the internet and that’s “modern” (because I don’t think they’d believe it if it was on a late-night infomercial or in a newspaper) or because looking at the screen puts people into such a passive-learning mode (then compounded by the type of light maybe?) - or – the ultimate in woo-woo: this stuff is going directly into the third eye area so it’s akin to a psychic download. No matter what, people believe some crazy stuff and share some really silly, and often dangerous, memes and articles.

Due to this kind of passive swallowing of BS I’ve decided to share some rules that I use to figure out what’s what. Some of these rules are common sense. Some of them I’ve devised after doing some not-so-easy and time consuming, investigation of people who are on Facebook and are just, pardon my expression, totally full of it, IMHO. The main thing behind many of them is the usual – they want your money, baby! Just because you’re on the internet (either with a website or browsing stuff) doesn’t mean you’re smarter than the average Joe anymore and PT Barnum’s old adage stull applies: There’s a sucker born every minute.

There is also another kind of health-related poster on the internet: the natural health blogger. These people are a bit more insidious. Some do still want your money. Others chronicle their anti-medical establishment type of crusades with personal stories. Now, people are completely entitled to do this, PLEASE read these with a grain of salt. A really large one. There can be all kinds of psychological things going on with these people – need for attention or justification, etc.

What is most dangerous about some of these personal narratives is that, by reading this stuff, some people will opt out of treatments that could truly save their lives. I’m very up-front with people that I have no problem with a lot of conventional medicine; emergency and trauma medicine, especially. Modern medicine absolutely ROCKS at that. I will certainly send them to a conventional MD if I think it’s warranted and the best course of action. That happens quite often, especially with people who want a magical cure rather than taking responsibility for themselves. Really, if all you eat is donuts and drink coffee and are going into kidney failure, you need to see an MD, like, yesterday. Yes, your angels did send you to me for a reason – the reason being I’d send to an MD and be a jerk about it! Yes, actual client. Another example. Remember Steve Jobs? He treated his pancreatic cancer with “alternative” therapies (hokey ones, too, from what I understand). He later admitted he wished he would have listened to his oncologist and did conventional treatment. He’s dead now, yes? Yes. More on that: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2011/10/24/steve-jobs-cancer-treatment-regrets/#28cd95633594 (and yes, it’s an article from Forbes. Why? Because I’ve found so-called “alternative” medicine website to be completely full of junk. And that’s coming from a woo-woo, shamanic herbalist that talks to faeries.)

My Rules

These are things to watch out for and be aware of. Most legitimate practitioners I know don't do these things.

  1. The person/website is posting a lot of memes, especially ones with their name somewhere in the meme. They’re marketing themselves and aiming for legitimization by people sharing their memes. And they have an army of people or something similar working for them posting this junk. This can be quite an effective strategy for quacks and old-fashioned scam artists. This is a great, discerning article about a specific such person: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2015/05/28/how-is-it-that-ive-never-heard-of-david-avocado-wolfe-before/ And, please people, for the love of all that is holy, STOP SPREADING THESE MEMES TO LEGITIMIZE THESE IDIOTS. Do some digging on your own for these people, too, if you don’t believe me.

  2. Post a lot of articles with phrases like “this will blow your mind” or “you won’t believe…”, “just this one thing prevents/cures (usually cancer)”, “they don’t want you to know this”; medical or political conspiracy anything. It’s all just click-bait. If you don’t know what click-bait is, it is a marketing strategy that gets you to click on a link to an article that’s usually outrageous. The page you go to is full of ads. The ad pay for the page and the article is often non-sense/fluff. They can be funny but it’s just to get a lot of clicks to sell ad-space. It’s like TV: just there to sell ads. And while there is a legitimate concern over the abuse of power, money and influence by the FDA and pharmaceutical companies, these articles don’t really address it or have the investigative journalism to really uncover anything.

  3. Have an online store that features mainly products they don’t make and often you can buy at Whole Foods or other such places and/or is full of expensive “superfoods”. Real practitioners or herbalists make and sell their own things. And if you see ads on the store pages, see #2 above. Ad revenue. It’s all about the money.

  4. A vague biography that doesn’t list people or institutions the person has studied with. It may have a lot of testimonials or flowery language but you can’t quite figure out where or with whom the person studied with. This is a huge red flag or anyone who states they know stuff, especially stuff that affects your health. Independent study is great but you need some type of mentor, no matter who you are or what you’re studying. If you see this from anyone - Run. Away.

  5. Junk science – or just junk - in the articles. I read an article on coconut oil posted by – yes, naming names here – Dr. Axe. It stated that coconut oil is full of healthy fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Please, spend 5 seconds thinking about this and tell me what is wrong. If in doubt, get a jar of coconut oil and look at the content and nutrition label. It’s OIL. That is all that’s in there – no carbohydrates or protein. It’s so basically factually wrong that I had my 12 year old kid read it and she made the “huh?” face and said “how can there be carbohydrates in it if it’s oil?”. I would have shared it with a critique but I’ve found people just look at the shared article and don’t always look at my actual post. How did I see this? Someone shared it! Gah!

  6. Belies common sense. A soup with 10 heads of garlic in it? For, like, two people? Really? How much gastro-intestinal pain would you like to be in? The sorry thing – I know people who read this type of article, don’t know a thing about plants, make the recipe, get really sick and decide ALL plant-based medicine is a sham. Thanks, marketers!

  7. There is no real author to the article, the author has a funny or one-word name or the author bio has “an interest” in natural medicine but does not list any actual training. Some sites have health blog authors with little or no rules governing what these people write and no oversite or fact-checking. How do you get to be one of these authors? String five semi-coherent sentences together. Literally. One rather well-known site (okay, Natural News. There. I said it.) actually encourages the use of a pseudonym (pen-name) and has little or no traceability to the authors. And the authors can write anything they want. Anything. With no fact-checking. And you don’t know who they are. Think about that for a minute. Do you really want to trust them?

  8. Bad or oddly phrased English, bad grammar, misspelled words, etc. Or “word salad”: a bunch of words strung together that sounds kind of good but you don’t know what it really means. Usually goes along with #7. Here’s a fun way to get a metaphysical word salad: http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/ . And, while I haven’t addressed metaphysical BS here, if you read something metaphysical and you’re not absolutely sure about it, immediately go to the metaphysical BS generator and compare what you read to it. Sound similar? It’s BS. And, again, this is coming from someone who is a practicing shaman/spirit lawyer/energy healer. People who really know what they’re doing don’t talk that way.

So, what do I trust? First and foremost, physical books by actual people I know are good herbalists and are in, or have been in, practice: Matthew Wood, Gail Faith Edwards, Susun Weed, Margi Flint, Robin Rose Bennett, Deb Soule, Aviva Romm, Stephen Harrod Buhner, etc. Blogs and articles by actual people I know are good herbalists and are in, or have been in, practice Todd Caldecott, Gail Faith Edwards, Robin Rose Bennett, Karen Vaughn, Paul Bergner, Sean Donahue, and others. These people may or may not be posting a lot on Facebook. You may have to look them up and use the RSS feed for a newsletter or blog post notification. Even then, some of them are too busy practicing to be writing a lot of Facebook posts.

Articles from major publications: Scientific America, Science, Science Daily, Nature, New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, Business Week. Oddly enough, I find some really good, discerning science and health reporting from Forbes and Business Week along with the NYT and WP. What would have thunk?! There are also very good articles in the journal put out by the American Herbalists Guild but you have to join AHG in order to get the journal. Please note that none of the standard “alternative” websites that post on Facebook a lot are on here. I have read some absolute BS in their articles; things I know as a professional, trained herbalist aren’t true, and sometimes are downright dangerous.

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