Is That Health Testimonial Bogus?
(June 9, 2020)
Today I am hoping to give anyone who is using YouTube videos and popup ads to guide their health decisions a little nudge in the direction of abandoning that questionable practice. If I cannot manage that, I hope that at least I can provide a useful tool or two that can be used to decide whether or not that story they are reading, or watching, is worth betting their health on.
An awful lot of people these days lack confidence in conventional medicine, for whatever reason (cough cough, third leading cause of death in the U.S., cough). These suspicious people are often predisposed towards believing anything "alternative" that comes their way, as long as it comes with a good enough story.
But that doesn't mean that people who retain that old-fashioned touching faith in the perfection of their doctors are less credulous. They can be just as ready as the former group to fall for a bogus treatment, although for them it would probably be a medication rather than something "natural".
There are all types of people with all manner of thoughts and feelings about the state of health and medical care. And every single one of them -- us -- is open to being seduced by a Health Story.
You know what I mean by a Health Story. It might be a piece about a Young Mother whose life was saved by a new medication. Or it could be about the marvels of some weird fungus that an old hippie found on his back forty when he crawled back there to die that turned out to have been a long-forgotten Native American cure for cancer. You get my drift.
The right story has a way of grabbing your attention and emotions and bypassing your bs filters. That's why they feature so prominently in sales and marketing generally. But they are especially important in selling crap, because if you want to get people to buy something that's really not that special, for a few bucks you can always find someone who'll stand in front of a camera and praise it to the skies.
Here is an example.This is a real testimonial I stole off the internet.
A friend started me on this when I was in my 40's Bad back, grumpy about being unable to do things I used to do, etc. So he gave me a handful of capsules and told me to start off slowly and take one or two a day and build up gradually... settled down to watch a hockey game...about the middle of the second period....a kazillion flashbulbs went off and it was like someone had shattered a massive glass window right before my eyes.....and energy...oh dear, so much I couldn't sit and watch the rest of the game....I bounced off the couch, started cleaning the house from top to bottom, did a week's worth of laundry and was up the entire night. I think I also washed the car at 4am but not really sure about that... off next morning at 6am to my friend's house 70 miles away to beg plead and do anything to get a steady supply of more. That was over 20 years ago. I've gone from a smoking, heavy drinking non exercising grouch potato to the opposite end of the spectrum. ... God I love this stuff.
Please notice the story arc here. Someone is living in pain and misery without hope, and out of nowhere a miracle comes into his life and suddenly all his dreams are fulfilled. That's the plot of a million fairy tales. Even more interestingly, it's a variation of the "hero's journey", a mythological narrative that Joseph Campbell asserted that, in one form or another, gives the basic structure to every myth. He summed it up like this:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
How many zillion stories have this as a theme? How many kids instinctively enact it in their play every day? As a better writer than I said, "The hero’s journey is so pervasive in storytelling because it is so aspirational. It offers the possibility of escape and transformation." And if you're sick and scared, what could be more appealing?
That kind of deus ex machina is exactly what someone is hoping to find if they're ill, and/or not getting better with the treatments they're taking, and/or are just plain scared. That's why you see them so much.
Does the presence of a questionable testimonial automatically mean that the treatment being hawked is bogus? Well, no. Still, when you have to punch those kinds of psychological buttons in order to get someone to buy your stuff, it does suggest that whoever put the appeal together feels that maybe it would just be better if the audience wasn't encouraged to think too much about the whole thing.
Because sick people are so vulnerable to those kinds of appeals, no one with an ounce of ethics will try to use one to sell you their stuff. So although it isn't a given, I think that you can safely assume that when you see smoke and mirrors accompanying the promotion of a health/medical treatment that there's nothing behind it but a very bad wizard.
Most testimonials these days, however, aren't just story. People get suspicious if there isn't any science in there at all. So next time I want to discuss a few sneaky things you can look for in the sciencey part of health testimonials to help you decide whether or not they are TOTALLY snake oil. In the meantime, view all proffered miracles with a questioning eye.
--dr. diane holmes
Copyright © 2020