woo, woo-o-meter

The Woo-O-Meter

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:

Wow! I love this testimony. I love that this sweet boy is happy and healthy and whole again. This testimony is what Young Living Essential oils are all about. Health and healing using God’s medicine!
One of the most effective approaches to treating ADD and ADHD – without drugs – is the use of pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils per a study conducted in 2001 by Dr. Terry Friedman that compared the effects of lavender, vetiver, and cedarwood essential oils in improving focus and learning in ADD and ADHD kids.
One of the oils Rebecca mentioned above is called Vetiver. Vetiver oil is psychologically grounding, calming, and stabilizing. One of the oils that is highest in sesquiterpenes, vetiver was studied by Dr. Terry Friedmann for improving children’s behavior.
“The American Medical Association Journal published a two year case study (1999-2001). Stating that Dr. Terry Friedmann M.D. found children who previously had been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were administered therapeutic essential oils by inhalation that got noteworthy results. The essential oils used were Lavender, Cedarwood and Vetiver”
Dr. Friedmann found a 53% performance increase with Lavender, 83% performance increase with Cedarwood, and 100% performance increase with Vetiver.

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!

20 thoughts on “The Woo-O-Meter”

  1. http://drfriedmannessentialoils.com/what-is-adhd-attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/

    I couldn't care less about the idea of Woo meter but the “I can't find” made me go …I wanna know what people are using as a resource so I checked to see if I could find it. I have not looked for the studies used but clearly, someone is misquoting the actual source.


  2. This is wonderful! I responded to you on Dr. Amy's blog, (story about the ADHD quacks at the library), and have sent this post to my husband.

    I have a friend whose wife has Stage 4 cancer…..they are constantly getting well-meaning, but horribly misguided “advice” from people about things she should be doing to help her get better, or should have done to avoid cancer in the first place (…victim blaming, another red flag). My friend is an immunologist with a PhD, so he has no patience for the woo. I hope your efforts, and Dr. Amy's and other people who try to fight it make a difference, and actually teach some people.


  3. SO according to the WOO Meter, all the drug commercials on TV or Radio can be in the red zone, huh? It's tough to know what's true anymore. I think being a role model and just walking to talk and being smart enough to eat as naturally as possible with plenty of exercise and regular honest appraisal of our emotions lead to the most healthy people. what do you think?


  4. Well, can you give me a specific example of a drug commercial? Because I'm not quite sure what you're talking about here. If you give me an example, I'd be happy to run it through the Woo-O-Meter and see how it pans out.

    Also not quite sure what “being a role model” and “walking to talk” have to do with being healthy What exactly does “walking to talk” mean?


  5. Dr. Marni,
    Vetiver, and Cedarwood are very helpful in treating ADD, and ADHD. With an open mind please read the Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple by David Stewart.
    I think you'll find that God-made medicine is quite effective.


  6. Oh Good Morning. I find your post close minded. Can you tell me where the pharmaceuticals that you prescribe derive from? Are they originally plant based and then created with synthetic compounds?

    Tell me more about the FDA and their approvals? Aren't there numerous medications that have been approved and then cause damage or death to humans. These drugs are also tested on innocent animals, yet? Side effects of long term use of your prescribed meds?

    Okay all that aside, I use essential oils. YL to be exact and they 100 % work. So does meditation, yoga, drumming, a walk in the woods, massage therapy and cranial sacrial therapy. Before you call us Woo's experiment yourself.

    This amazing planet earth, Mother Earth, has the most healing properties. Since time began, humans have been using essential oils to heal.

    I also know, first hand how essential oils support the brain function, immune system, and fortify the body.

    I urge all parents to “try” to use food as a healing modality for your children along with “alternative” choices to help your child calm their busy minds. It works. Love & Light, Mother of FOUR kids…single Mom #lovemylife #memberno2068844 http://www.lifealchemyliving.com


  7. Hello Annie. Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry you find my post close minded.

    The FDA approval process is the most stringent in the world. Yes, there are numerous medication that can cause harm. However, those harms must be balanced with the benefits.

    Tell me about the safety testing that your YL essential oils go through. Please sent me links to the studies showing their safety profile.

    You claim that they work “100%”. Please send me citations for the studies that show a 100% success rate in treatment of illness (I'm not picky. I'll take any illness).

    Can you please explain a bit more about how EOs support brain function and the immune system? Do they boost T-cells? Increase macrophage function? Please be specific.

    Looking forward to being open minded and educating myself via your information!


    Marni, mother of TWO kids.


  8. So is there an article where I can find the validity, reliability and generalizability of this “woo-o-meter?” You do realize that this makes you sound pretty quackish yourself, right?


  9. And not trying to hide behind anonymity. It showed my name before posting but put up “unknown” for some reason. I'm Dr. Park. Essential oil user/advocate. I came upon your site when trying to find the article on ADHD you mentioned. Yes, it's all pretty mysterious, especially since I've seen others mention that the article was published by the AMA. However, your cynical and dismissive attitude towards folks who find therapeutic value in natural substances is disheartening as a fellow medical professional, and part of the reason why I am exploring other options of care. If someone feels an emotion or pain, you can't jump to conclusions, at first glance, and assume it's all false or supratentorial. In the same way, if someone experiences benefit from something that isn't yet “scientifically proven through double blind research and published in a peer-reviewed journal,” does that automatically mean that they made it up? Can you really tell them, “No, you didn't experience that. It's all 'woo' according to my meter.” I really do hope you see my point, as a colleague, and reflect upon your attitude towards people. It will only help your practice if you approach a fellow human being with an open mind instead of cynicism.


  10. Because you made it a point to let me know that you're a doctor. You said we're colleagues. So, I'd like to know where you went to med school and what your board certification is in.


  11. Yes, I did point that out because I can tell credibility is very important to you. This is not surprising…it's what we were taught after all, right? What's the Pvalue? What's the CI? What journal was it published in? What's your degree? I guess I may be cynical in the opposite way you are. I've come to see how Western Medicine has trained us to look for statistical significance, yet count all else as insignificant. I've come to see that, in many cases, credibility may mean next to nothing if a patient isn't heard and/or their quality of life is diminished. Don't get me wrong…I'm not anti-Western med. Drugs can work, and they can work well. But they can also harm plenty. And I just think we can be doing more for, and offering more to, our patients.

    So, to answer your question, I'm a board certified pediatrician. Osteopathically trained at Nova Southeastern. Thanks, I guess?, for assuming I'm board certified. Not sure if that was another one of your tests for credibility, but board certification is another label I'm weary of. I know plenty of super intelligent people who are not board certified in their fields, whether or not by choice, but are damn good physicians nonetheless. Much better than other board certified ones, and I know many would attest to that. Thanks for sharing your opinions, and allowing me to voice my own.


  12. Thanks for your response. The reason I asked is that I have had an issue in the past with naturopaths and chiropractors coming here and claiming to be physicians and colleagues, which they are most certainly not.

    If you had bothered to read anything else on my blog, you'd actually see that I think board certification and MOC is kind of a crock, and at this point basically a money-making scheme for the ABMS. However, at this time it is still the only way to confirm that someone has actually completed an accredited residency and acheived basic competancy.

    And, again, if you had bothered to read anything else here, you'd see that I also have big problems with where Pharma chooses to spend it's R&D dollars and their predatory marketing practices. It's one of the reasons that I refuse to allow drug reps into my office.

    Now, back to your original question- I developed this using components of the EBM Toolbox, the heirarchy of evidence, and Ben Goldacre's great book, Bad Science. Do you have an actual problem with any of my criteria? Or have you just made the (very incorrect) assumption that I am dismissive of my patient's experiences? Because that's a helluva an assumption to make, given that this blog post doesn't say a damn thing about my patients or how I treat them, only that I have made an easy-to-understand tool for the layperson to evaluate the information they find on the internet. The meter has absolutely NOTHING in it about a patient's personal experiences with something.

    In short, you've come onto what is basically a dead blog that I haven't updated in 2 years to make assumptions about me and my attitudes and medical practices, and that is insulting.


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