Monday, December 16, 2013

In marketing we trust

When is science not science? When you read about it in e-mail or see it on TV.  Hyperbole in advertising is universal and the more ludicrous the claim, the less it seems to violate FTC truth in advertising laws at least in terms of enforcement. I'm not talking about the ability of advertisers to distract from facts, like running a Toyota Camry through some kind of  roller coaster contraption to 'prove' that's it's not a boring, soulless transportation appliance for dull people, or inventing "the star safety system" to distract from stories about how people are dying because of it's defects. I'm not even talking about TV ads claiming that after driving a Nissan, the speed of light doesn't seem so fast or showing SUVs beating sports cars on a track.  I'm talking about the level of deceit in the marketing of health and science products and advice -- the kind of pervasive disinformation that makes people believe they can eat double bacon cheeseburgers with impunity as long as they don't eat the bun -- eat chili cheese fries  and lose weight by buying Dr. Oz's magic beans and miracle berries, or put their faith in "the proven science of the glycemic index" as though an index could be science. -- as though that handsome guy in the lab coat were a real scientist and his doctorate not in marketing.

It's about the kind of massive promotion of ideas about gluten and fructose that have no scientific support, about making your brain work better by doing 'exercises' that really doesn't have support from neuroscience as claimed, about getting "grain brain" or removing those mysterious "toxins" from your blood or colon. Never mind none of these "studies" ever appear in professional, peer reviewed journals, but only in advertising. Never mind that what they call "studies" never are more than anecdotes, inventions, gross distortions and deliberate misrepresentations.  You just can't get to the science through the smokescreen of marketing -- and in marketing we trust.

We live in an age of snake oil where all it takes is some actor in a white coat, some diet book salesman posing as a scientist to convince our gullible nation that unhealthy things will make them well, that lethal germs and 'toxins' are lurking under the bed, that green tea or green coffee beans or Doctor Bonkers' Egyptian Oil will let them eat 10,000 calories a day while they stay thin and live forever. The sun will kill you quick, we just know it and even on cloudy days and even wrapping yourself like a Bedouin in wool won't help unless the clothing has extra sun protection chemicals in it. Your kitchen counter of course is a dangerous place that needs to be laved with "anti-bacterial" products lest your family die horribly and everything we touch has to be anti-bacterial. Does it surprise you that SPF 50 doesn't give you twice the protection of SPF 25 -- hell no and while the marketing guys smile we cover ourselves with lead foil and hide in the basement.

UV and Toxins and Germs, oh my! Unless you buy anti-bacterial products you'll be eaten alive by bacteria, no matter that there are more of them inside and all over you than there are people in the world and you wouldn't be healthy otherwise. Anti-bacterial soap, lotion, shampoo, body wash, eye drops, sprays, food, gels, creams, toothpastes -- there are kitchen utensils, toys, bedding, socks, and trash bags -- we're told to be afraid of such things on the food we eat, but we're soaking in it. is it even practical, necessary, healthy or smart to attempt living in a bacteria free bubble? Is that attempt involved with all the allergies everyone seems to have these days?

We never ask what anti-bacterial means, do we?  If cleaning our hands with soap and water removes adequate amounts of bacteria according to real double blind scientific studies, we still want to be righteous and hip and enlightened and we don't bother to ask why some chemical that prevents bacteria from reproducing is needed after the bacteria already has been removed by plain water.  We all feel much better eating "organic" food in the faith based belief that chemicals used by those farmers are safer than the chemicals used by regular farmers and the food is healthier and more nutritious. We obsess about unnamed "toxins" and chemicals and preservatives but we don't ask if long term exposure to the serious toxins in anti-bacterial products might have side effects. But hey, better safe than sorry, right? and if it's on TV it must be true!

There are at least 2000 anti-bacterial products on the market says the FDA.  They're finally going to begin to ask for evidence that they are safe. It's about time. In fact scientists have been pressing for the FDA to remove one chemical, triclosan, that interferes with the thyroid gland in rats, since 1978 even though there is no evidence that soaps containing it are any more effective at preventing disease in your home than washing with plain soap and water. The Government is  finally going to demand evidence of safety and effectiveness and it's about time!


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