If, like me, you’re interested in science and putting a little more “evidence-based” into your health, check out Is That a Fact?: Frauds, Quacks, and the Real Science of Everyday Life by Dr. Joe Schwarcz.
Dr. Schwarcz, a chemist as well as a radio host and a best-selling author, brings some much-needed attention to the overabundance of health information found on the internet and in the media.
As he says in the book’s introduction:
We suffer from information overload. Just Google a subject and within a second, you can be flooded with a million references.
The University of Google is well stocked with information, but its students are left to flounder when it comes to determining whether that information is reliable.
He writes to inform, but also to encourage us to bring a more critical eye to what we see, hear and read.
How do we know what we know? What is the evidence? How certain is that evidence?
Certainty is elusive. Facts are supposed to be based on evidence, but the problem is that with more research, evidence sometimes changes. That fact is that science isn’t necessarily white or black; it can come in various shades of gray.
And that’s how he organized this book: BLACK, WHITE and GRAY.
The Black chapters look at topics he considers to be pure quackery, such as homeopathy, rhinoceros horn (?!), colon cleansing and other bogus cures and diets.
The hallmarks of quackery include the bashing of conventional medicine, the use of gushing testimonials from supposed contented patients, and extravagant claims for painless cures for virtually all diseases.
Sound familiar? Whenever I hear about a food or supplement that cures everything from impotence to psoriasis to gallstones, my quack radar immediately goes up.
Topics in the White chapters, however, are supported by adequate research. For example, despite being maligned by the public, BPA (bisphenol A) is apparently not hazardous to our health. But the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed is contributing to the huge problem of antibiotic resistance.
I found the Gray sections the most interesting, however, because this is where we find way more questions than answers. Do fish oil supplements prevent heart disease? Do blueberries prevent cancer? Is gluten responsible for all kinds of diseases? Is Dr. Oz a quack?
The current state of research on many of these topics is intriguing, but far from definitive.
Dr. Schwarcz advises us to approach any marketing claim with caution. Small-scale studies may show promising results, but it’s not evidence that something really works and/or doesn’t cause harm.
Related post: What is the Quack Miranda Warning?
And when a company wants to sell a product, they won’t hesitate to “cherry pick” the results that best support their claims. Buyer beware.
Other books by Dr. Joe Schwatcz: