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Friday, October 16, 2009

Woo by phone (action skepticism!)

This morning I got a rude awakening. I got a call from a swedish telemarketer, who started out by saying she was not trying to sell me anything. Yeah, that was convincing.

She asked if I had heard of Aloe Vera, in gel or in cream, and if I'd tried it when I had a sunburn or otherwise. Sure, I said. I've tried cooling lotions.
- Good right? she said. Well, now I'm calling to let you try, absolutely free, Nature****** , which is like aloe vera, only for your insides!
- ORLY? I said.
- Yes, our product will regulate the acid balance in your intestines, rid your intestines of gas completely, rinse through your system, and that sounds nice, doesn't it?
- Not really, I said. My body is perfectly capable of ridding itself of crap, and balancing whatever needs balancing, didn't you know that?
- (pause) Well, she said, I also want to offer you blueberry-extract, have you heard of that?
- Not really, I said.
- (Encouraged again) , Oh, then, basically it's extract from blueberries, which contains lots of antioxidants, and it makes your vision MUCH better, and strengthens your immunesystem, and helps prevent cancer!
- OOORREEEALLLYY?? I said. Do you even know how the immune system works? It cannot be "boosted" or bettered any other way than exposing your body to the pathogen or a reduced form of it, so an immune response will be quicker next time. Being not exhausted and properly nourished is also helpful, but other than that, I am convinced you're wrong in your claim.
- Well, you should have more antioxidants to help prevent cancer!
- Hmm.. no, I'm not so sure about that either. Actually, antioxidants have been shown to be harmful in large doses.
- Ok, sure, she says, too much of anything is bad. But blueberry extract is nice!
- Well, actually, the amount of antioxidants most people consume daily is enough without any form of supplement. (Sadly, I forgot to mention the question of if the antioxidants are biologically accessible for your body in blueberry form. )
- (Getting frustrated now) Well, most people would still benefit from taking blueberry extract!
- I believe in evidence. As far as I know, there is no evidence for any of the things you are claiming.

Sadly, she accepted my rebuttal and wished me a nice day and hung up before I had the time to give her my own super special offer.

One copy of Ben Goldacre's wonderful book Bad Science, absolutely free, for the price of shipping only. I would happily send it to her, knowing that the reading of that book will slowly rid the world of telemarketers trying to sell me miracles in a bottle.

Better vision! Less cancer! No gas in your intestines!


So here is my plea to you:
- Get informed: Read a book, like the aforementioned Bad Science, or Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh, and maybe even subscribe to a blog or two, or listen to a science/skepticism podcast.
- When someone offers you magic pills on the street, or by phone, or while standing in line buying coughsyrup, fight back! Ask for evidence that is
. unbiased
. not funded by the people selling it
. has mechanisms of operation that seem slightly plausible
. does not claim to give miraculous results. Miracles are not ordinary!
- Try to explain to the assailants what is wrong with what they are saying, and offer them free resources to find out more (blogs, science and skepticism podcasts or even books)

It was pretty fun to have a telemarketer hang up on me. I don't think they're usually allowed to do that.

Skepticism FTW!

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