Monday, February 23, 2009

Microblog Mondays


Douche from the French, shower: 1) A stream of water or air applied to a body part or cavity. 2) An instrument for applying a douche. American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd Edition p255

Douchiness: The quality of being a douche, whether whole or in part. In scientific notation, exponential quantities of being a penis, cunt, or whore, expressed in powers of douche: total, complete, unbelievable, et al.

Douchy: An expression describing noticeable levels of douchiness.

Douche Canoe: What one travels in when immersed in complete douchiness.

Douche Bag: A human vessel for carrying douchiness, theoretically of infinite size.

Douche Lord: 1) One to whom other douches defer as having the superior quantity or quality of douchiness. 2) Male having transcended the limits of being a penis.

Ménage a Douche: Three or more douche bags, usually traveling via douche canoe.

Douche Master: Douche bag who helps others discover their inner douche.

Douche Fu: Self defense techniques practiced mainly by douche bags, though can be used to combat douchiness.

Douche Camp: Congregational location for various douche bags, douche masters, and douche lords to commingle unequal quantities of douchiness until equilibrium of equal douchiness is reached by all. Often produces compete douchiness, requiring douche canoes.

Douchetastic: Expression of admiration for incorporating douchiness where none was thought possible.

Douchaccino: The bitter drink of being unalterably stuck in the company of a douche bag.

Douchage: Informal, all the douchiness one has left in one’s wake, douche bag or not.

Megadouche: a douche bag exceeding his or her normal ability to douche. Only one is able to fit per canoe.

Instadouchional: Formalized and traditional modes and practices of douchiness.

Douchebaggery: Improvisational acts of varying douchiness.

Douchependant/Douchependancy: Douchbags whose effective douchiness is dependant on proximity of other douche bags. The number and strength of douchiness varies as to whether the needed douchebag is a bag, master, or lord.

Douchesaur: A limitless megadouche.

Skeptical Sunday!

But a day late...ah well.

Big, Greedy, Unscrupuous Pharma

Corporate Conspiracy Theory #4:

“The pharmaceutical companies are making up diseases to sell us their drugs.”

I’ve heard this actually come out of more than one person’s mouth. This makes absolutely. no. sense. if you think about it. Are they advertising drugs to treat existing diseases? Yes, they are, and they market them to the hilt. You can certainly accuse them of “repackaging” or “rebranding” diseases, and giving them a sexy acronym, but they aren’t making diseases up out of thin air, and then bilking you out your money.
Drug companies have a very powerful incentive to make things that actually do something, and treat very real diseases that they spend millions of advertising dollars on: reputation. If they sell millions of sugar pills, that treat a fictitious disease, they are going to get sued sooner rather than later, no one would ever trust a company that got caught selling a sugar pill, ever buy their products again, and the company would die.

If you buy into the above Big Pharma conspiracy, here are the assumptions you have to make:

1) That they really make up diseases (which, you can look up on PubMed and see, yes, there is literature on each and every disease advertised), and that a television commercial, or magazine ad is going to somehow convince a large number of people who do not have the fictional disease that they do. This assumes an ridiculous amount of gullibility on the part of the general public.

2) That they do this instead of making real drugs to treat real diseases. So they're what, spending hudreds of millions of dollars just looking busy?

3) That all these now-convinced people, victims of marketing, will go to their doctors, who are also in on the conspiracy, because what doctor isn’t going to lie to someone who could sue him into the poor house for a box of logo pens, demanding the drug for the fictitious disease, and the doctor will, of course, oblige, sniggering in his complicity.

4) That these sugar pills are actually loaded with stuff that mimics side-effects, which will enhance the placebo effect, and remove the symptoms you don’t have for a disease you never did.

5) And all this while, you’d have to assume that not a single person within the pharmaceutical company has a shred of morality, that every single doctor in the medical community has a lifetime’s supply of pens to keep her mouth shut, and that everyone in the FDA is so far in the pockets of every Pharma, that not a single one would ever speak out.

“But, but, but they have to make up stuff and sell drugs, because they’ve invested so much money into their drugs.”

Well, yes, that’s why real drugs that work are so expensive. You’re not just paying for all the testing for the one that works, but for all the others that didn’t! It takes years to develop a drug that works and doesn’t kill people, and it’s not 7-11 employees doing the researching folks, but highly trained,educated, expensive people. They deserve to be profitable, or else there’s no point in making the drugs. If you think they should be giving the drugs away because it’s wrong to charge people who are sick, take that same logic to your grocer and see if he’ll give you food because you get hungry. Heaven help you if he buys into your philosophy because he’ll be out of business in a New York minute, and then where will you be?
Good Lord, people, everybody loves a multi-million dollar Hollywood blockbuster, which is completely frivolous, uses insane amounts of resources, is horrific for the environment, usually contributes nothing to the intellectual or artistic progress of anyone, and hopes it makes buckets of money. Manufacture a drug that may relieve human suffering, possibly offering hope for the first time in history for its sufferers, perhaps even save someone's life, but make so much as a dime, and you're a greedy, evil fucker. Am I the only one who sees the moral inversion necessay here?

Yes, bad things have happened. People make mistakes, some things aren't found out before damages are done, and yes there have been cases of corruption. Nothing's perfect, but the nature of the industry is such that it's pretty much self-correcting.

Pharmaceutical companies are not making up diseases to sell drugs. They are marketing their drugs in the hopes that if you have the very real disease, your doctor will prescribe it. They are expensive because it was expensive to make them. The more profit they make, the more new drugs they can research. And some of that profit is fun money for a job well done, and they deserve it. Why is this last paragraph so difficult for people to believe, but the gigantic conspiracy theory, with millions of people keeping their silence in its interdependent assumptions is the preferred reasoning for some people? These are the same people who would never be fooled by that bogus advertising, but insultingly think everyone else is being fooled. Unreal.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Likely not to get a skeptical sunday blog up today. I've got something to do today, and schoolwork all week have priority over the blog, even though I tried to get one done aheads of time. Maybe tonight, but don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tangent Two-Fers Done

Tangent Two-Fer Tuesdays are kaput. Tuesday is relegated back to an irregular, unfeatured day. I am considering starting a Friday feature, and doing regular, if thematically-freeform postings on Wednesdays.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Skeptical Sunday!

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

It’s often cited as refutation of evolution by creationists, and sounds pretty convincing if A) you take their definition as actually what the law says, and B) completely ignore the world around you. It’s usually phrased something like this...

“A system will always increase in disorder (entropy)” thus the argument goes that complexity cannot develop from simplicity, as any system will tend towards maximum entropy, thus evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.

The real laws of thermodynamics deal with the exchange of matter and energy (remember, they are equivalent in a relativistic universe) within a system. It’s actually more complicated than it’s most often presented because it deals with some pretty abstract concepts. Simplifying it, while useful to convey the sense of it, robs it of its specificity and accuracy, and also leaves it open to misinterpretation.

It’s taken me weeks of research to feel confident enough to address the issue, and attempt a compromise between simplicity, and complete accuracy. The second law could be stated this way...

No exchange of energy will be completely efficient, and some of that usable energy will always be lost as heat. This process will continue until all the usable energy in the universe has not only been converted to heat, but that heat has spread evenly across the entire universe, and no information about the past is recoverable, because the universe will be the same energy level (temperature) in every square inch.

I hesitated to include that last clause, as the transmission of information is a complex subject. Anyway, energy is defined as “the ability to do work.” Heat is energy as well, but it is the most “disordered” state energy takes. Its disordered state means that it cannot be used to do work (per se! We might disagree about that definition as we use heat for a variety of uses, but just go with it, as our day-to-day definitions aren’t of any importance to the universe.) So, while disordered is somewhat accurate, it’s also misleading. Entropy is often defined as disorder, but it’s better stated as the dispersion of energy in a system, or that systems tend to go from less stable states to more stable states. In other words, the universe is working towards the most stable state it‘s capable of, which is an even distribution of its energy, and without energy being “concentrated” in one place or another, there won’t be any transfer of energy, or any work able do be done.

So, the second law (which is why there’s no such thing as perpetual motion) doesn’t have anything to say about complexity, whether it’s nuclear, chemical, or biological complexity. In regards to biological evolution, it pretty much obeys the law as far as it goes. Life forms go through a long chain of transformations to convert sunlight into other useful forms of energy (or matter, as the case may be), and they do it with less than perfect efficiency, and lose some of that energy as heat, contributing to the entropy of the universe. The second law of thermodynamics, while it does govern biological fuel consumption and uses, doesn’t at all forbid life forms from becoming more complex as they do so.

For example, we consume food, and thus grow, creating first our complex biological systems in utero, then as new cells (order) in our bodies as we grow older. While we develop and learn, our brains create new pathways, etc., etc. We are living examples of complexity developing from simplicity, and it requires energy to do so. All the second law warns us of is that we don’t get all the work possible from the energy we consume. Incidentally, the whole universe appears to be geared towards increasing complexity, so it comes as no surprise to me that biological life forms follow suit (years of study of chaos theory and fractals, and I still have barely scratched the surface. It’s why I went back to school, to get a new understanding of it by learning the math.)
Acorns, snowflakes, crystals, puppies, even nuclear fusion, are all examples of increasing complexity. The sun’s a beautiful example, really. It uses a tremendous amount of energy to fuse two hydrogen atoms into a helium atom, an arguable more “complex” element. That would be the work. In the process, some of that energy is lost as heat. Lucky for us, eh? Complexity happens all around us, all the time, it’s just going to cost the entire universe one day. Perhaps we should make the most of our time here, hmm?

So the universe couldn’t care less how complex a system is. Have at it, just realize that when it’s all said and done, no matter how complex a system gets, at some point there will be no more usable energy for it do so. That’s all, really. Nothing about how complex a system can or can’t be to use the energy, nor evolution, which incidentally, doesn’t assert that life forms must get more complex. Evolution is the theory that life forms change (evolve) over time to fill biological niches and pass on their genetic material, and they do so by natural selection determining which traits are passed on to successive generations (and boy is that an oversimplification!) Evolution couldn’t care less how complex you are. Bacteria are orders of magnitude less complex than we are, but have evolved to fill just about every niche there is, evolving a stunning array of diverse traits to do so.

So, add equal parts understanding of evolution and thermodynamics, bake for one semester of biology and physics, and viola, you have a complete dismissal of the “violation of the 2nd law” argument. For what it’s worth, creationists, you’d probably sleep better at night if you just looked at it this way: there’s what the Bible says God did, and there’s the actual universe, what God really did. The difference between the two could be thought of as only a matter of accuracy, not veracity. Think of it this way: the universe is like a skyscraper God built. The Bible is like a flyer advertising His services.

Mayhap this is a better analogy: the Bible is trying to describe a painting. When you look at the world around you, that’s actually looking at the painting. Science is analyzing the painting, looking at the brushstrokes, to see how it was painted. Even you’d have to admit, no matter how well written, the description doesn’t do the painting justice.

Random Act of Quotation!

“If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?” Steven Wright

Sunday, February 8, 2009

MicroBlog Mondays!

This is most concise explanation of the Large Hadron Collider I've yet seen. Sooooo cool. Incidentally, this largest of scientific instruments, ever, is in a very real sense, the most powerful microscope on Earth!

I'm just in awe constantly when it comes to the universe. That it takes an instrument so large people work inside of it, that crosses two countries (even though I suppose a telephone booth could do that too), and so powerful (so much so that the LHC can't be run in winter: they wouldn't have enough power to heat the city of Geneva!!) to "see" not just the smallest things in the universe, but perhaps the smallest things possible in the universe, is just amazing in its strangeness, and complexity, and such profound mystery.

A cool thing about being an atheist is not having any kind of mythological indoctrination for the origin of the universe. The sheer dread mystery of its beginnings, and even if there was another universe before ours, of different physical laws perhaps. A creationist arguement is that the fundamental constants are too exquisitely tuned for life to be chance (the nontheist rebuttal, that if we're here talking about them, then the constants of the universe couldn't be any different, we're possible, and here because of the constants, the constants are not here because of us, has the same virtue as the creation arguement: it only convinces the side it's coming from) doesn't take into account that, true, if you change just one value of one of the constants then life becomes far more unlikely, if not impossible, but different combinations of values might yield universes where "life" might indeed arise, and our universe may not be the first and only universe.

Interesting note about the Jewish creation story: it's different than most other myths in that it's so...procedural. Other myths have great beasts battling, pantheons of gods warring, gods and goddesses dying to become the universe: genesis is almoat a to-do list. Not judging, but it lacks drama and narrative drive. Does show the Jewish penchant for exacting rites and ritual, the character of their god, no wonder they have a thousand damn laws in the old testament, lol.

Skeptical Sundays

Skeptical Shorthand for Your Health

If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Your body can only use so many nutrients at a given time. Future energy reserves are stored as fat; everything else is excreted. It’s a waste of your money to purchase mega dose supplements. Even a multivitamin is largely superfluous if you regularly eat a balanced diet. Some vitamins and minerals are even toxic in large doses.

Your body is complicated! Drugs are not (yet) intelligent. If something claims to affect your body in some way, but mentions no side effects, or potential interactions with other substances you can assume: 1) it has not been properly researched for its claim, and 2) it likely has no benefit. This is a rule that surely has some exceptions, but they only prove the rule.
Just because the vendor of a “health” product is not a pharmaceutical company in no way means they aren’t unscrupulous. In fact, if a vendor’s untested product is meant to be taken propholactically, it’s almost certainly a scam to bilk you out of money.

A multi-billion dollar international pharmaceutical company who’s very existence is dedicated to researching chemicals and designing effective products, and yet they missed the apricot extract that’s 87% effective against cancer, and magically only affects cancer cells. Sorry, this just isn’t likely. More likely they’ve tested it and found it’s worthless.

“They don’t want you to know!” Oh bullshit. Notice that none of these supplements have patents. A drug company would slap a patent on an effective herb so fast it would make a homepath’s head spin. You can guess why you’ve never heard of a drug company slapping a lawsuit on any of the vendors of the products “They don’t want you to know about!”
No legitimate drug ever has the word “miracle” tagged to it.

Real drugs have clinical trials. Supplements have testimonials. Hmmm.

Diet, exercise, and a positive attitude are the only things that conclusively improve and maintain health with no side effects.

The acidity of the food you eat has no effect on the internal pH of your body outside of your stomach. Acidic foods do not cause disease, so don’t waste your money on those diet books.

The only health benefit water has is being water. It cannot be chemically or structurally changed to be better absorbed, nor can it carry the “benefits” of ingredients that were once held in suspension in it. Water has no “memory”, so don’t waste money on products based on that principle. Certainly don’t waste money on expensive machines that purport to change the chemical or structural properties of water to enhance its health benefits. Water is neutral Ph, hence why your body loves and uses so much of it. Water cannot be ionized, though it can contain ionized particles. An ion is a charged particle that has either net positive or negative charge, so gained by adding or stripping an electron from a particle. Note to self: article describing the amazing properties of water and the science behind it.

Heavy metal poisoning is extremely dangerous. Chelation is the only known method for removing heavy metals from your body, and is nearly as dangerous as the poisoning itself. 1) It should only be done under the supervision of a doctor! Do NOT buy any drugs from, or submit to a procedure from anyone who is not legitimately trained in scientific medicine! 2) Your body has no mechanism for removing heavy metals (the exception being molecular compounds containing certain metals, which are designed to be flushed from your body) so there is no basis for any product to make the claim that it helps flush metals from your body: there is no mechanism for it to help…they are lying to you.

If something claims to be able to “cure” a broad variety of ills but has no side effects, especially because it’s “natural,” IT IS A SHAM.

If ANY health system justifies its effects based on quantum physics, IT IS A SHAM!

If any health system uses the “supernatural” card (the energies for their healing are undetectable by modern science, but trained adepts can see, feel, and manipulate them. Bullshit! We have a civilization made of machines that can see, feel, and manipulate invisible energies our bodies cannot, in fact are incapable of perceiving) IT IS A SHAM!

Eat well, exercise often, do things that promote a positive attitude, such as love, sex, and moderate vice, fight depression by filling your time with worthwhile things and acknowledging even small accomplishments, get plenty of sleep, nap often, drink plenty of water, and enjoy the money you save by being healthy and not spending your money on crap.

Random Act of Quotation!

Wisdom is to the soul what health is to the body.
De Saint-Real

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Reading some new books, too into them to break away, so some video content for you!

mildly amusing...

not sure how offended I should be by this one, and there's a whole series of them!

this is ok

Screw it. You can't go wrong with Carol Burnett

Monday, February 2, 2009


A new feaure (maybe).

A relatively brief essay by me, though the subjects may be expanded on, or may be based on far longer essays which may appear in the future. This is more a writing exercise for me than for your benefit, dear reader, but enjoy it anyway.

Good things about science and our civilization:

A Recurring Topic

As we discover daily, the world, the universe, reality itself is far more complicated than we ever dreamed. As we advance, in communications, medical, and virtually all other technologies, we create an ever more complicated, and interconnected civilization. Due to the real, concrete advances we have given ourselves, more people than have ever lived enjoy longer, healthier, and generally happier lives.
Ascribe whatever moral motivator you will to the beneficial application of the advances of science, it’s irrelevant to me. Historically, it takes more people doing right by each other than not to form larger societies, no matter the cultural or religious influences. This bolsters my conviction that humans are innately good creatures, though flawed. Perfection is a pretty subjective concept anyway.
What makes the times we live in so wonderful above and beyond the marvels we almost daily create, is that as we increase the complexity of the world we live in, generally to the benefit of most people, we increase out interdependence on each other. For a society such as ours to function, it relies on increasing numbers of people being educated, and working together.
It takes a complicated hierarchy of individuals to mesh different levels of expertise into usable advantages. We laud Jenner for discovering vaccines, but think on the modern culmination of vaccination. It takes people smart in business (smart here denotes cultivated intelligence, by being both educated and trained, not natural Einstein genius. We’re ALL capable of cultivated intelligence) to secure resources to get a manufacturing business started, relying on the expertise of builders, designers of equipment, ad infinitum, to get the business physically established. Then specialists in certain diseases to research, and further specialists to design the usable vaccines. Even further, talented bureaucrats to design programs to disseminate the vaccines.
As we advance in just this area of expertise, which is predicated on huge numbers of people educated, and researching multiple branches of biology (microbiology, immunology, evolutionary biology [back off Creationists!]), the result is tens of millions of lives saved, which is deaths prevented (I feel I sometimes have to throw that perspective out there, the anti-vaccination crowd growing louder, and slowly making inroads, shame, shame, shame on them), every year.
Our civilization is built on the discoveries and methods of science. It also requires us to more deeply depend on each other to reap, and multiply the benefits. Science is a good thing ya’ll.

Random Act of Quotation!

"Science increases our power in proportion as it it lowers our pride"

Claude Bernard


Weasel Words and Red Flags,
Or how to save money by not spending it on crap.

In the world of logic and logical fallacies, weasel words are words peppered throughout a speaker’s or writer’s argument, usually adjectives, that can be used to deride their opponent, or an opponent’s argument. They have a negative connotation, but weasel words can also be used to affirm an argument, making it seem more appealing by whatever tactic the author chooses: more scientific, more humorous, more civilized, more well-thought out. The reason one should be on the lookout for weasel words in an argument is that they are irrelevant to the point under debate, and the one who uses them liberally is generally on the intellectually poorer side of the argument.

But weasel words aren’t limited to argument, and can be useful in spotting crap. In this instance, when they are used in advertising they are generally called red flags. While it is commonly understood that red means warning and/or stop, being that I live on the beach, it’s much more poignant. When the red flags go up here, no swimming is allowed in the ocean. No matter what the ocean looks like on the surface, the conditions are such, with currents and undertows, that you are likely to die. Just like in life, there’s no lifeguards, or law enforcement on the beaches to keep you from swimming. You are supposed to know what the red flags mean, then it’s up to you. Go jump in, it’s your choice.

In the realm of alternative medicine, red flags abound. Some general things to consider when looking over some pill, supplement, treatment, or dietary and lifestyle change that makes a claim, whether in the store isle, or on TV:

First, there is no such thing as “alternative medicine.” There is only medicine that works, and medicine that doesn’t. We have come a long way in the last 200 years, which has been, at the outside, about how long scientific medicine has been around. That is to say, treatments submitted to rigorous tests to establish if there is any effect, beneficial or otherwise. As well, this has gone hand in hand with an ever increasing knowledge of how the body actually works.
Second, there is no outside cure for a great many of the common ailments caused by disease organisms other than your immune system. There are things to ease the symptoms, but a great deal of your doctor’s work (or your alternative medicine scam artist’s) is actually done by you. This is in no way an endorsement for not seeing your highly educated, trained, and usually very dedicated doctor.

Third, I have some caveats regarding the generalizing I’m about to do, the current limits of human understanding about the body, and my attitude in general, which I will offer in closing to hopefully counter some judgment on the reader’s part. If you need them now, just scroll down.

ONE ( We Begin)

So on to our first red weasel. “NATURAL” an utterly meaningless, and unregulated term. Hmmm, perhaps not completely unregulated. The FDA requires on food that you ingest, that “natural flavors” must actually be derived from a real source, as opposed to laboratory derived. If it is natural bacon flavor, it must actually come from a pig (or at least a majority of it). I’m forever tickled that pills are labeled as “natural.”
“NATURAL”, “ALL NATURAL”, “MADE FROM ALL NATURAL INGREDIENTS. Don’t get me wrong, it may very well be that something is indeed made from non-laboratory/manufactured ingredients. If it is food, regulated by the FDA, it almost certainly is. If it’s alternative medicines, you roll the dice, with odds that always favor the crank.
Some of my contention with “natural” is this, pointed out more thoroughly by many others, including Brian Dunning of Skeptoid: Toadstools are natural, lead is natural, arsenic is natural, ultraviolet radiation is natural, so is the lethal radiation of nuclear decay, cowshit is natural. I think you get my point. Just because it says it’s “natural”, doesn’t mean it’s safe, or even that it actually is naturally derived, being that there’s no regulation for OTC supplements, so long as they don’t overtly claim to prevent, treat, or cure any disease.
What you read when you read “NATURAL” on something, is something like this: “This is from a natural plant, grown in untainted soil, with only natural fertilizers, no pesticides, far from urban air and pollutants. In fact, this was harvested in a rainforest 1000 miles from modern humanity, with absolutely no impact on the pristine environment. It was transported by electric car to a hippie commune, where deeply spiritual people used no modern technology to transform this all-natural substance into a pill (pr whatnot) inside a plastic bottle, arriving fresh, as nature intended, to my grocery or health food store.”
Sadly, there’s no regulation on the word natural in relationship to supplements. Natural has become a marketing tool, completely devoid of meaning, so I would counsel setting aside your expectations. Yes, aspirin is natural, of course. It can be derived by boiling the bark of a willow tree (though I’m not entirely sure if it’s species-specific) and that’s just what the Romans did. I challenge you to go do that next time you have a headache, bearing in mind that you have no control over the effective dosage, and have to consume everything else that leeches out from the willow bark, including the flavor, and I’ll be impressed at your commitment to “natural.”

TWO (The Long One)

Oh, and you expect it to work, too.
Also sadly, as long as the claims are kept vague, there’s really no regulation regarding what supplements imply they do, which is heal. Coupled with a mistrust in all things human made and science in general (don’t get me started), our current “green” movement has been hijacked by charlatans out to get your money. Here’s another choice red weasel: “BOOSTS/ENHANCES/SUPPORTS/INCREASES insert bodily function or the word “vitality” hereWhat’s so sad is how little education it really takes to get at least a generalized understanding of how the various systems in your body work. Even a cursory knowledge will plant suspicion in your mind when products make such vague claims. Let’s address “VITALITY” first. It doesn’t mean anything, even though it sounds like it does. There is some historical literature regarding “vitalism”, a long-discredited theory of life and medicine, wherein the body and life was dependant on “vital energy” for existence, and the flow, or balance of this (and in some cases various) energies affected your health, and imbalance was thought to cause disease. If you think this sounds valid, especially all you Chi and Chakra folk, I’ll address this a little later, hopefully letting you down gently. For the rest of you, just know this theory of disease was conceptualized BEFORE the germ theory of disease, and has yet to ever have any supporting evidence for any variation of it.
If the producer of the product you’re considering subscribes to this, you gather as you read the website or shiny product label, adorned with fairies, don’t waste your money. If they believe in “vital energy”, that’s their business, but they’re dong you a financial disservice by asking you to buy something that doesn’t do anything.
As for “vitality”, ask yourself this:
what does that mean?
Is that a valid term?
How would I measure it?
Does it mean I will have more energy?
Do they mean what I mean by energy?
A cup of coffee would "give me more energy."
Does it mean it will make me healthier?
If so, why aren’t they allowed to say in what way?
If it increases vitality, how will I know?
Will my heart rate increase, my feet sweat more (dear lord, no!), halos in my vision?
Does it do anything specific?
Why aren’t they allowed to say what it does specifically?
Ask yourself these, and any other troubling questions that pop into your mind while you look very carefully at the price tag.
As for the other terms, in regards to affecting the functioning of your immune system, digestive system (or health, they’re all big on saying it supports digestive/immune health. This appears to be just vague enough to slip under the FDA’s radar. Whether it’s the term support, or the vague use of health, I’m unsure), or any other system in your body, be very skeptical of these nebulous claims. All of these systems are very complicated, with various and sundry stages of function. If it supports digestive health, ask yourself, “How does it do that? Does it increase enzymatic action in my saliva? Does it regulate acid production in my stomach? Does it somehow increase the absorption of nutrition in my large intestine? My small intestine? Does it give a handshake to the symbiotic bacteria in my gut? Does it affect the muscles in all those various digestive components to work better, or more efficiently? Does it somehow affect the waste removal systems? What exactly do they mean?” When you or someone you know goes to the doctor for a digestion problem, you usually get a medicine that affects a specific problem, a particular aspect of digestion. The immune system, endocrine system, circulatory system, all of these are multi-layered, complicated, and interconnected. The ailments for these are pretty specific, and thusly so are the medications, so a panacea for overall system health starts to make no sense, and sound like either ignorance on their part, or supreme contempt for your part.
The only thing I know of that affects all aspects of any of these systems is diet! I won’t fail to mention exercise either, as it greatly affects the efficiency of these systems as well, mainly through efficient delivery of nutrition. Diet is important because you, theoretically, consume all sorts of vitamins and minerals, plus necessary carbohydrates, and roughage. Your systems need a diverse array of chemicals to keep each and every different stage of the systems running, and on a daily basis at that. Now, think on the Amazonian Teabag extract, and ask yourself (really asking the manufacturer), “Do you really expect me to believe that this one thing does the same thing as 2 dozen vitamins and minerals, especially when you don’t tell me exactly where, or what aspect of said system your product effects?” Use your perfectly healthy nervous system to walk yourself to the produce aisle.
A final note about the above red weasels. If they aren’t exactly implying that they cure something, or affect a disease process, or alleviate a vitamin deficiency, then they are doubtless implying that you should take their supporter, booster, enhancer propholactically. To avoid problems, take 2 pills twice a day, and buy monthly. Pretty insidious. I want you to picture this in your mind: the snake oil charmer talking to his ad executive, telling her to say this without actually saying this. Don’t forget, being that if you cross the line into specifics, the FDA WILL come down on you (never hard enough, sigh) both of them have lawyers present as well.
Why are all these nebulous wordings necessary? Because these people selling you their likely bogus health supplements have not proven their products do anything. They have not gone through the rigorous processes that drug companies must go through to:
1) Isolate the active ingredient.
2) Prove the efficacy of their product, and establish safe dosages.
3) Document the number of, and severity of side effects.
The overwhelming majority of health supplements (things like “herbal” supplements [yes, yes, yes, I know what your thinking. I will address that in the caveats upon closing]) have never gone through that process. Some have, and there’s negative evidence for effect, yet they are still sold as somehow having an effect on your health. Several new age therapies also have been tested, and still are being tested, showing negative effects, or indistinguishable from placebo. I’m staying close to the supplement, pill-form of alternative medicine. Getting into those other modalities also requires tackling the mindset associated with them, which can get complicated. Another time? Good.

THREE (Bear with the Tangents)

I want to make two things clear in this part.
1) Diseases have a natural progression, either simply due to a life-cycle, the time it takes your body to mount an effective response and win against the organism, but most likely a combination of the two. If something is meant to be taken propholactically (boosts, enhances, supports) then it is pointless to take it when the disease process has started. Bt my real point with this one is explaining “confirmation bias.” You get sick, and take a supplement. Even though it’s likely bogus, and it’s your own body’s immune system that kills the disease, your associate your feeling better with the pill you took, and will carry that belief with you even when someone points out to you that Australian Dingo Placenta was shown in a clinical trial not to do a damn thing. That’s confirmation bias, and we are all susceptible to it. Trust me, all sickness runs its course in due time. Now eat your chicken soup.
2) All real medicine has a real effect. It doesn’t matter to me if the active ingredient did come from a Dingo’s womb, but you do need to prove the extract actually does something, and I’d appreciate if you’d isolate which chemical(s) in the aforementioned placenta do what you’re claiming, establish how much of it I need to have an effect, but also how much is too much, and if you don’t mind, please replicate the chemicals in a laboratory so that my body can’t tell the difference, and we don’t have to kill any more pregnant Dingoes. Real medicine has real effects. We use them for the beneficial effects, and since there’s no free lunch, balance the good against the negative side effects. All those medicines that have those horrible side effects on TV, they actually do what they say they do, and it’s up to you and your doctor to decide if you want to risk the side effects. Medicines have side effects because, while they affect certain processes, or functions, they have no way of knowing you only want those processes to affect just the liver, so they affect everywhere that process happens, which may cause problems if they affect the same process in your pituitary gland. But who knows, you might luck out.
Supplements not only aren’t allowed to make specific claims, but they don’t list any side effects. Isn’t that strange? Makes me think it’s either a sugar pill, or whatever’s in it doesn’t do a damn thing at all. It’s cheaper, and healthier to go eat a apple, chock full of proven nutrition. If something’s had the money to go through the levels of testing our pharmaceuticals have gone through, it’s going to cost a lot of money. Even generic drugs are expensive, comparatively. I’m not saying price is always an indicator. There is plenty of bullshit out there that’s got a ridiculous asking price. I’m just here to save you money, whether it’s $5.99, or $59.99.
I haven’t even gotten into the weasels of red in this section yet! They are: RESEARCH SHOWS, and STUDIES SUGGEST, and sometimes, though more in verbal advertising, SCIENTISTS SAY/AGREE. Research means it’s in the process of experimentation. The results aren’t out yet. You don’t even know where they are in the research. It could be that research was just started because someone suspected an effect, but the lab isn’t even open yet. It might however, mean that legitimate research is being done by reputable organizations, and some preliminary paperwork is available, but regardless, don’t put the cart before the horse. You don’t get a prescription for anything manufactured under the auspices of research shows. RESEARCH SHOWS is empty techno babble, and means nothing: absolutely nothing.
Studies is such a vague term, you should ignore that one as well. While plenty of studies are legit, they aren’t clinical trials. Another example of dyslexic cart harnessing. Also, a study bandied about in the way alternative medicines use them could honestly mean anything, including that one person looked at a beaker, and pronounced he had studied it. Ignore this one unless you can track down literature, and it produced by reputable sources.
SCIENTISTS SAY/AGREE, and indeed they may, but they never tell you who, or what their specialty is. 20 veterinarians agreeing that the cosmos is collapsing doesn’t make me despair for creation.
All these are used to make the products sound authoritative, effective, safe, and to make you think somebody actually did the work. Well, to be fair, a chemist did make that $4.99 starch pill you're taking.

FOUR (Nice and Short)

“THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW.” Mmmm hmmm. It’s all a big conspiracy by government, Big Pharma, and no doubt the Illuminati. Right, why suppresses it, when they could make a mint selling these supplements, and home remedies legitimately? This one just drips of pure marketing. It’s an instant Do Not Buy.

FIVE (Sucker Punch)

ANCIENT WISDOM. I’ll be very brief. I will be the first to affirm that our ancestors were in no way stupid, but they were not technologically advanced, and had NO IDEA how the body really worked, beyond perhaps that the heart pumped blood, and a few other obvious things. And I will gladly proclaim their hits (remember aspirin?), but unlike some, I won’t ignore the monumental number of misses. Theirs was a world of trial and error (so is science, but very systematized, with ever increasing technology, and transmission of accurate information doesn’t depend on WORD of MOUTH) and riddled with ignorance. We have and are discovering that they got a few things right, but they got a spectacular amount wrong. A few hits in the Iron Age in no way means everything they did must be right. It’s like saying because you can balance your checkbook, your differential calculus must be right. And why do Orientals get special medical reverence? Ancient Oriental medicine is chock full of just as much “does not work, never did” as Europeans. Lastly, just because a culture has been doing something for 1000 years doesn’t make it work. Some traditions are stupid.

FINIS (Been waiting for this)

So there are some of the weasel words and red flags to be on the look out for when shopping in the world of alternative medicine. You’re looking for something that works, to relieve symptoms and pain, and make you feel better. I hope this essay gives you the skills to evaluate what’s likely to not really do anything but put your wallet on a diet. The best way to stay healthy is not in a pill. It’s diet, exercise, moderation of your vices, and a good attitude. When your sick, use the proven medications, all of which (well, perhaps not aspirin) were clinically trialed, and prescription once, so they have a long history of efficacy and safety, which you can look up anytime. If you’re really ill, consult your doctor, whose training, experience, and expertise you rely upon.
In closing, I just want you to know, I don’t have anything against the idea of supplements and alternative medicine in general, per se. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that if you want me to buy something, I should know exactly what I’m buying. If your claiming it affects my health, all I ask is proof that it does that. The above weasels have been used in the promotion of snake oil after snake oil, so if I seem harsh, it’s just because I have standards: efficacy and safety. Why shell out money otherwise?
Nearly all of our pharmaceuticals come from plants, or other biological sources. I’d never deny that. That in no way means, however, that just because it comes from a biological source, it does anything at all, much less that it’s inherently good for you.
As for energy-based modalities, such as chi, charkas, or meridians in the body. Sorry folks, there’s no evidence for those energies. The body is an energy system, to be sure, and it’s that, ahem, vitality that no doubt was the genesis of the aforementioned belief systems. But 1) we’ve learned that the body is a chemical engine, using the heat generated from the transfer of electrical energy from chemical bonds (this is way simplified) being created and broken, and 2) we are very, very, very good at detecting and measuring invisible energies. For example, the Voyager 2 probe is over 9 billion miles away. It’s radio output is equivalent to a 20 watt light bulb. We can and do receive radio transmissions from that probe. We have instruments that can see a 20 watt light bulb 9 billion miles away. Sorry, but there’s no empirical evidence for chi, and all the rest.
Sure, there is plenty that we don’t know, in fact far more than we do. I’d advise against leaping on the gaps in our knowledge as a place to lay your favored belief, which inevitably turns out to be hope. Those gaps have a way of quickly closing within a human lifetime these days. Sure, evidence for other modalities may show up one day, and I even think it would be fun if they existed, but it would require altering our whole physics to incorporate them. Until that day, however, it makes no sense to give them any credence, as decades of study (tee hee) have shown nothing.
I'm not against every supplement, or alternative therapy. There are a few that actually do somewhat what they claim, and research is being done on them. This in no way makes the rest of them in any way correct.
Anyway, do good things for your body, real good things, and good things for your mind, and you'll find you inevitably do good things for your wallet.

Random Acts of Quotation!
On Evidence...

"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."
Henry D. Thoreau

"The fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd." Bertrand Russel

"Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful"
Ann Landers