Monday, June 9, 2008

Quack Health Part 1 : Insidious Advertising and Magnet Quackery

I normally try and ignore most advertising on the television. A majority of it holds no interest (toothpaste - it ain't that interesting), does not apply (do I really need another pair of high heels?), or is total bollocks (thanks whoever wrote the ad's for Dunedin). But tonight whilst watching the news and having a spot of dinner, I noticed an ad that has been on for quite some time and although I had noticed it in the past, I hadn't really paid much attention. But when I tuned in I realised it was an ad for good old, gen-eew-ine higgery pokery. Yes it was quack medicine from the 1800's, on prime time television.

Magnesleep, a product distributed by Body Magnetix for the duped masses all over New Zealand. Its their advertising we see most often, and certainly the one I notice the most, although I have seen others. I looked them up to see what they sold and what they claimed. Their website is decidedly unprofessional, and if I was purchasing something on this fact alone I wouldn't send them a cent. Their front page is full of good sales language - lots of descriptive words and emotion evoking, but little content or description of their actual product and its benefits. Here's a sample :

Imagine waking each day feeling better - refreshed, energized and ready to get into life. Imagine your aches and pains gone, your illnesses and injuries being eased away quickly and painlessly.

Sure - that's nice, but although they imply that's what their product does, they don't say it. Imagine this, imagine that - nice try but no substance.

It's not a dream! It's the reality you can enjoy, thanks to the amazingly effective magnetic therapy created by Magne-Sleep. We are magnetic therapy specialists, using only better quality magnets and manufacturing procedures. No short cut's - just better pain relief, better quality in every way.

Although they use the right words, they are still not really claiming to do anything other than what would be given by having a sleep in a warm bed (which is the wool part). "Magnetic Therapy specialists" = specialist in nothing. In fact, replace the word "magnetic" for "nothing" and its about right.

The next two paragraphs are much the same - no substance to the claims other than "Magnetic therapy has helped millions of people worldwide" and "Discover how magnetic therapy can make your life better, ease your aches, pains, illnesses and injuries and help you get the very best out of life". But how? Well, if you scroll past all the intro, past the prices for the products, past the guarantee (more disclaimer and refund policy) you get to a list of ailments this product is supposed to affect. here's the list :

ARTHRITIS, LOWER BACK PAIN, ASTHMA & ALLERGIES, ADHD, SKIN CONDITIONS, FIBROMYALGIA, DIABETES, SCIATICA, GOUT, MUSCLE SPASMS, LEG CRAMPS, BONE FRACTURES, INSOMNIA, STRESS & NERVOUS DISORDERS, SPORTS INJURIES, SPRAINS & STRAINS,CHRONIC FATIGUE SYNDROME, CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME, HEADACHE & MIGRAINE, DEPRESSION LUPUS

Shit - is there anything it can't do? New Super bed blanket thing! Cures all ailments, feeds the hungry, makes you a cup of tea and leaps tall buildings in a single bound. Depression Lupus - I'm sad because I'm a werewolf? Ok - I couldn't help it. Lupus is apparently a very real condition with a lot of symptoms. I cant say I know a lot about it, so look it up on disease and medical sites if you are interested.

And what does the magic hoo-doo cost? Shitloads - from $190 for a single budget COTTON (not wool) version, and from $290 (single) to $429 (super king) woollen version. Compare that to a standard woollen underlay from a standard NZ supplier of $190 (single) to $350 (super king). And that's not the cheapest price I could find, merely the one I knew off the top of my head. So you pay an extra $70 to $100 for what? Some magnets.

If you look at any of these websites like Body Magnetix, Biomag, Biomagnetic, you will notice the same formula. There are plenty of vague claims about supposed health benefits, several key phrases like "ease your aches, pains, illnesses and injuries", "all without pills and potions" or "as viewed by leading Western medical practitioners and researchers". They use word play and advertising jargon to convince the unwary and people in pain that their product will cure their problems. They point to specific studies that back up their claims of magnetic therapy. They claim magnets increase circulation because blood has iron in it. They say things like "the magnetic force stimulates nerve-endings to improve blood flow to injured or swollen joints, causing the blood vessels to dilate". Hmm - really?

Pills and Potions
This is a standard advertising technique used by fringe medicine. If you used the word potions along with pills, it evokes negative connotations by drawing on peoples mental picture of alchemists and pre-1800 style quacks selling tonics at sideshows. Ironically, this is exactly their area of trade and they apply it to science based medicine to give it a negative spin.

"Studies have shown"
Really? Which ones? These website make major claims and don't back them up with any evidence whatsoever. I will steal a few paragraphs from the Silly Beliefs site...

The following is typical of proponents of magnetic therapy:

The positive effects of magnetic treatment have been confirmed by clinical tests and are recognized by modern medical science around the world.

Do you believe these claims, and if you do, why? What clinical tests support magnetic therapy and since when has modern medical science proscribed a treatment of magnets? Since they provide no real evidence whatsoever that their claims are in fact true, this statement is worthless, just as worthless as the following claims that I might make:

'The positive effects of treatment using Eskimo magic has been confirmed by clinical tests and is recognized by modern medical science around the world'.

Or how about this one:

'Many scientists believe the Moon is made out of green cheese, and suppressed government files support this belief'.

These examples clearly demonstrate that saying something is true does not make it so. Magnetic therapy proponents can make bogus claim after bogus claim on their websites and in their promotional brochures, but this doesn't mean there is any truth to them. They can claim that science and research supports their claims, just like I can claim Eskimo magic works and that the moon is made of green cheese, but you shouldn't believe either of us until we provide supporting evidence.

A double-blind test study - apparently.
Some sites actually refer to a study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston on which people who had suffered Polio as a child and had pain related to that illness were treated with magnetic therapy. Although the results of that one pilot study of 50 people showed a statistically significant result in favour of magnet therapy, there were several major problems with the study, and the results have never been accepted as proof of the efficacy of magnets, except by the Magnet Salesmen. The key phrase here is "pilot study" - it was never a full blown test. The authors themselves acknowledge that the study was a "pilot study." Pilot studies are done to determine whether it makes sense to invest in a larger more definitive study. They never provide a legitimate basis for marketing any product as effective against any symptom or health problem.
Every other scientific study conducted within double blind testing, and large groups has shown there is no effect from magnets of the size marketed by the woo merchants like Biomag, Magnesleep and other such conmen.

So in conclusion what more do I need to say? Its pretty clear that there's no evidence to support any of this mumbo jumbo, but it continues to be pushed onto the unsuspecting public here in NZ. I think the Government should make these guys put up or shut up - scientifically prove that what you are selling has an effect on the diseases you claim to cure, or fuck off. They fleece the unsuspecting public for millions every year, and should be subject to the same kind of rigorous testing all other medicines go through.

See these websites for an even more in depth dissection of Magnet Therapy and its false claims.

Silly Beliefs - Magnetic Therapy - Healing or Scam?
Magnetic Therapy: A Skeptical View

2 comments:

Xenoba said...

You had better start praying that Mr Fetts Mum aint reading this blog, if she is prepare your self for a tounge whipping boy cause she swears by this magnasleep stuff. In her defense prior to using a magnasleep underlay she could barely get out of bed some days. Now aday's she is her usual pain in the arse self...

Spankermatic said...

Yeah its like that - anecdotal evidence is no evidence however. People will convince themselves of anything to prove themselves right. I don't bother trying to convert the magna-people out there - as James Randi says, its an unsinkable rubber duck. No matter how much proof or how much evidence you line up, they refuse to believe it because thats what they "know" is right. Like UFO abductee's, Moon Hoaxers and people who use homoeopathy.