There’s a lot of garbage on the internet. A lot. My patients are constantly bringing in things that they print off the web that sound great- supplements, weight-loss drugs, cancer cures. When you read it, it all sounds amazing. I’m just grateful that they trust me enough to get my opinion before they go wasting money on many of these things.
The problem is that any idiot can write anything they want and get it out on the internet. And once it’s out there, it can get picked up and repeated again, and again and again…until what was once fiction starts to take on the veneer of fact.
It can be difficult to tell truth from fiction, or, as I like to say, true from woo. What is woo? I’m not really sure of the origins of the word, but most people think of it as pseudo-scientific thinking. It’s not just someone throwing out a line of bull. It’s bull that is cloaked in a shroud of scientific-sounding words and phrases. This often makes it sound just plausible enough that you might fall for it.
Therefore, to help you all figure out True from Woo, I’ve created the Woo-O-Meter. It takes 18 separate criteria and uses them to calculate a score of “True” or “Woo”. A few criteria might require some defining. The “Quack Miranda Warning” is the standard disclaimer that claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and that the product is not intended to treat, prevent or diagnose any disease. Woo purveyors seem to think this gives them carte blanche to make all sorts of outlandish claims. PubMed is a database of basically all published journal articles. A link is provided in the table. Impact factor is a measure of how prestigious a journal is (because there are a lot of journals out there that are crap and will publish anything). The table has a link to a database of impact factors.
So, to use the Woo-O-Meter, all you need to do is find a questionable article/blog post/advertisement, plug the information into the table below, and read the meter!
Let’s give it a try, shall we?
Check out this blog post. The blog came to my attention because of some rather extreme anti-vaccine views the writer was expressing. While reading more of her blog, I came across this post about curing ADD and bipolar disorder with essential oils. It’s a moving testimonial about a mother stopping her son’s psychiatric meds and using essential oils instead. Per her report, her son was completely cured. The blog author then goes on to say this:
I mean, wow. That sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it? I’m practically ready to go order some oils, and I don’t even have ADD.
However, before we whip out our credit cards, let’s fill out the Woo-O-Meter. We’re going to add points for mentioning Western Medicine and pharmaceuticals. We also have to give a point for the Quack Miranda Warning, as it appears at the end of the blog post. Of course, another point for using testimonial and for linking to a sales site.
Now, you’d think we could also add a point for the amazing sounding study. However, no citation is given. A quick search in PubMed confirms that no only does no such study exist in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but there are actually no studies at all published by a Dr. Terry Friedmann.
Our final Woo-O-Meter verdict is this:
And there you have it. Something that sounded terrific, when looked at critically, is clearly woo.
So, please, don’t allow yourself to be taken in by woo. Feel free to use the Woo-O-Meter for yourself- the spreadsheet can be downloaded. Share far and wide, and don’t forget to think critically!