April 17th, 2009


The snake oil all makes sense now...

Arstechnica, one of my favorite online news/technology sites, has done a nice writeup on a study done regarding "snake oil cures."  Essentially, less efficacious cures, including those that are completely ineffective, are still very commonly spread.  This is, oversimplifying drastically, because cures that are too good aren't much talked about after they finish working.  Think of this example:

Three people, Alex, Ben and Clare, all get sinus infections.  They have different ideas of proper treatment.

Alex takes nothing, but toughs it out and is well in a month.  Lots of complaining and lingering simptoms, so everyone around hears about it.

Ben takes antibiotics and begins feeling better in 24 hours and is well in a week.  Feeling well almost immediately, he quits talking about being sick, and no one around thinks about it after a couple days.

Clare desides upon a "total body cleansing" regimen and is well in three weeks.  It does a reasonable job of treating symptoms like congestion, but is only slightly effective at removing the infection.  Since the symptoms are helped but she is not totally well, she will mention to others that she is improving because of the cleansing.

In the end, socially speaking, Clare's total body cleanse will be more effective at selling itself to others.  It will be spoken of positively for the longest period of time, so it markets itself better.

Another point from the article is that vaccines, because they prevent the illness completely, market themselves in the worst possible way.  You can't tell if it's working on an individual basis.  Every time the vaccine saves you from getting the mumps, you can't even tell.  So, it makes a lot of sense why negative effects, even imagined ones, are going to appear to far outweigh the positive effects, even when this is absolutely not the case.