Himalayan Bath Salts Will Not Save Your Life – Why are so many Facebook friends sharing preposterous stories from Natural News?

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Have you heard that eating whole lemons prevents cancer? Or that bathing in Himalayan salt rids the body of harmful toxins? That eating hijiki seaweed can delay hair graying? If you have a few Facebook friends, you’ve probably encountered some of these claims. The website Natural News —which seems like a parody but is unfortunately quite serious—published these preposterous stories, and many others just as silly, last week alone.

Hokum like this is best ignored, but hundreds of thousands of Americans fail to do so. Natural News has achieved astonishing traction on social media, garnering Facebook shares in the high five and low six figures. These numbers should trouble you—Natural News has an uncanny ability to move unsophisticated readers from harmless dietary balderdash to medical quackery to anti-government zealotry.

Let’s start by deconstructing the claim that eating whole lemons staves off cancer. The author cites two medical journal articles. She badly mischaracterizes the first, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 1999. The study described the isolation of three compounds, known as coumarins, from lemon peel. Coumarins exhibit tumor-suppressing properties in a laboratory dish, but that does not mean that eating lemon peel prevents cancer. Even if the oral ingestion of coumarins were convincingly shown to fight cancer in a laboratory animal, we still wouldn’t know how much lemon peel would be required for a human to experience the same effects or whether you could tolerate the dose.

The second study the author cites is an enormous overreach. No one enjoys biostatistics, but bear with me and you’ll be better prepared to identify weak studies in the future. The study, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in 2000, purported to show a correlation between consumption of lemon peel and diminished cancer risk. The authors surveyed 242 skin cancer survivors and 228 controls about their citrus consumption habits, but the questionnaire wasn’t externally validated and has some screwy definitions. (Eating citrus peel “often,” for example, is defined as “50-75 percent of the time.” What does that mean?) The authors did not adequately control for race or skin tone, which is an important variable in skin cancer studies. The sample size was much too small. Only 163 of the 470 study participants reported eating citrus peel, and just 28 of them admitted to eating citrus peel often. That’s not enough to prove that eating lemon peel prevents skin cancer. In addition, the statistical correlation is very weak, close to undetectable. Had one more person with cancer reported eating citrus peel, the relationship would likely have disappeared. In fairness, the study authors acknowledged the small sample size and the need for more substantial follow-ups, but everyone knows how these correlational studies are reported in the media. This is why you should look for patterns in scientific literature rather than relying on individual studies.

Anytime someone tells you that eating something prevents cancer, your BS detector should start a-clanging. Natural News is full of these beauties. In addition to whole lemons, the site pushes organic green shakescilantroblueberries, and spirulina as surefire cancer fighters. Whisper it, though, because Natural News has exclusive information suggesting that the government will silence anyone who pushes natural cancer cures.

We’ll never be rid of tripe like this—shortcuts to immortality are irresistible—but it’s important not to confuse hopeful superstitions with science. If you loosen your grip on the anchor of evidence-based medicine, you’ll find yourself drifting dangerously toward conspiracy theory.

You probably know what’s coming next—vaccines and autism, of course. Natural News loves to prey on vulnerable parents, and it’s jumped all over questionable preliminary studies linking autism with everything from gluten to air pollution toantidepressants to the “Western lifestyle.” But the site’s drumbeat of support for the thoroughly debunked claim that vaccines cause autism is particularly shameful.

In case you’ve managed to miss this “controversy” (where have you been and congratulations, by the way), a 1998 paper in the influential medical journal The Lancet claimed that the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella caused autism. Sixteen years and many preventable measles outbreaks later, we know for certain that the claim is wrong. Literally hundreds of thousands of children have participated in studies around the world showing no association between vaccines and autism. A 2011 Institute of Medicine review of thousands of different studiesreached the same conclusion. The Lancet has withdrawn the original paper and Andrew Wakefield, its author, lost his medical license, in part because he failed to disclose that lawyers preparing to sue vaccine manufacturers helped fund his research.

Written By: Brian Palmer
continue to source article at slate.com

31 COMMENTS

  1. Truly depressing stuff, Natural News should be held responsible for their ridiculous false claims. Unfortunately even members of RD.net are not immune from the ever present odour of this BS.

    The US loves its freedom of speech but this is clearly causing harm, prosecution and punishment for those endangering lives seems appropriate – if you don’t want a jail sentence do the work properly. Perhaps there are other jurisdictions around the world with appropriate laws?

    • In reply to #1 by alaskansee:

      Hi alaskansee,

      The US loves its freedom of speech but this is clearly causing harm …

      Freedom of speech, idleness, stupidity and fraud are four very different things.

      One is a principle of human freedom and flourishing.

      One is an all-to-common human trait which, when mixed with a lack of care is also known as negligence.

      One is a failure to think, and creates victims.

      One is a name for the process hucksters use to separate victims from their money, time, health, life and / or freedom.

      … prosecution and punishment for those endangering lives seems appropriate – if you don’t want a jail sentence do the work properly.

      Negligence is a crime. Fraud is a crime.

      Perhaps there are other jurisdictions around the world with appropriate laws?

      I know of no jurisdiction where fraud and negligence are not crimes.

      Note that in order for ordinary citizens to find and prosecute fraud and negligence it is usually easiest where they have free speech.

      Unfortunately, being stupid is not only not a crime – if you’re stupid and dogmatic your stupidity is often protected in law.

      Peace.

      • In reply to #24 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        In reply to #1 by alaskansee:

        Hi alaskansee,

        The US loves its freedom of speech but this is clearly causing harm …

        Freedom of speech, idleness, stupidity and fraud are four very different things.

        Thanks for the reply but I’m not sure what idleness, stupidity and fraud were replies to. As for the negligence and fraud prosecution suggestions I think “freedom of speech” has again got in the way of protecting the truth.

        I don’t know what any of your very polite reply meant but I’m putting “eXtreme Frrreeeeeedom of Speech” down as one of the big problems. Not that it’s insurmountable – you can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre, you shouldn’t be able to shout medical fallacies in an uneducated backwoods of civilisation.

    • In reply to #1 by alaskansee:

      The US loves its freedom of speech but this is clearly causing harm, prosecution and punishment for those endangering lives seems appropriate – if you don’t want a jail sentence do the work properly. Perhaps there are other jurisdictions around the world with appropriate laws?

      That’s right, the citizens of the United States love their FREEDOM OF SPEECH and we also appreciate something called SELF RESPONSIBILITY. Unlike those such as yourself, we generally comprehend that a person is responsible for doing their own intelligent research into any claim prior to simply believing it. It’s really that simple. It’s a shame that any adult would be ignorant enough to need laws to protect them from their own stupidity… :) Good luck with yours..

  2. That, and the diet books. Anyone with some letters after their name and a collection of anecdotes can publish diet gobbledygook and claim it’s the solution to everyone’s weight problem once and for all. I picked one up at random from the bestseller rack at a local bookstore, and the first thing I saw when I cracked it was the word “toxins”. Apparently, people are not eating too many calories, they’re ingesting too many “toxins”. Ever since that stupid ad about the foot pads that supposedly drew “toxins” out of your body through your feet, I’ve associated the word with quackery. It’s a word that seems to be bandied about by people who know something’s wrong with their diet but don’t want to or can’t take the time to study how we really metabolize nutrients. Everything from cancer to plantar warts is caused by “toxins” – simple!

    • In reply to #3 by Sue Blue:

      That, and the diet books. Anyone with some letters after their name and a collection of anecdotes can publish diet gobbledygook and claim it’s the solution to everyone’s weight problem once and for all. I picked one up at random from the bestseller rack at a local bookstore, and the first thing I…

      “…a collection of anecdotes…” ; the plural of anecdote is not data.

      S G

  3. Gullible folk will fall for any type of woo, be it religious or medical,

    Anyone care for Scientology, Mormonism, healing crystals, homeopathy, divining, astrology, tarot cards, psychic reading, acupuncture,? The list is seemingly endless.

    Should idiots wish to waste money on junk, it is up to them. When snake oil salesmen are doing harm then they cross the line and action should be taken.

  4. I’ve said this often in the past, there is good science and bad science. It is all very well Brian telling us to have our bull shit radar at the ready but the vast majority of the public (and I include myself in this number) and not equipped or simply do not have the time to filter the good from the bad.

    Oh yes, it’s obvious isn’t it that eating lemon peel won’t protect you from cancer! Yet this news comes at a time when we are all encouraged to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables because they help stave off heart disease. Is that utter crap too? How do I check? Do I have time to check?

    Ultimately, for most people, science is little better than faith. We trust that the scientists tell us the truth but when they don’t we as individuals have to trust to gut feeling and seldom do we actually go diving into the research that lay behind the claims. Brian might be in the enviable position of being able to check out every scientific claim by delving into the research behind the claim but most of us cannot or simply don’t want to do so.

    • In reply to #6 by naskew:

      I’ve said this often in the past, there is good science and bad science. It is all very well Brian telling us to have our bull shit radar at the ready but the vast majority of the public (and I include myself in this number) and not equipped or simply do not have the time to filter the good from the…

      I can’t agree that we take on science with little more than faith, I like to apply some reason and logic as a filter.
      It’s a fairly simple step to look at the claims being made and who’s making them.
      I don’t see it as viable to balance up ‘eating lemon peel beats cancer’ with ‘eating a varied diet with fruit and vegetables improves longevity’ as being equally fatuous. It’s a fairly simple step then to see what else the ‘lemon peel beats cancer’ guys are saying.
      We apply filters all the time, imagine a work colleague or family member with a propensity for joshing about is trying to pull their latest joke on you, do you fall for it or apply a filter? Or a snack shop that you tried a few times and didn’t like their food is advertising a new product, do you try it or apply a filter?
      Applying filters isn’t something we choose to do when we have time, it is something we do to SAVE time, and we do it ALL the time.

      • In reply to #7 by TheGap:

        I can’t agree that we take on science with little more than faith, I like to apply some reason and logic as a filter.

        I’m certain you do. Just because we have convinced (in Europe at least) vast numbers of people to stop being silly and bowing down before false (as if that needs to be said) gods, that does not mean that everyone has suddenly stopped being gullible! Few people in the past questioned how it was possible that the Pope had a direct line to God and he knew that condoms were offensive. They simply trusted that this was the case.

        We might smugly pat ourselves on the back for not falling for the lemon peel scam but that does not mean we can filter out all the scams. Nor, I might add, does the article actually state that a trial was performed to prove that lemon peel does not help, it simply states that there is not conclusive research. So who is going to look silly when all the lemon suckers start reaching old age with no sign of cancer then?

        • In reply to #8 by naskew:

          In reply to #7 by TheGap:

          I can’t agree that we take on science with little more than faith, I like to apply some reason and logic as a filter.

          I’m certain you do. Just because we have convinced (in Europe at least) vast numbers of people to stop being silly and bowing down before false (as if tha…

          I quite agree that the application of filters doesn’t prevent us from being conned by experts, or even when no intention is there by anyone, we’re led down a wrong path with bad information.

          In the main tho, our filters work, and they are there all the time. I was trying to say (probably badly) that just because different people make different claims, we don’t need to invest a huge amount of time or effort to have a fair idea of whether the claim carries any credibility. We don’t, in most circumstances, need to put research into claims made by people or sources with a history of nonsensical or non-validated claims.

          Your earlier post seemed to suggest that ‘lemon peel cures cancer’ carries equaly weighting as ‘a diet including plenty of fruit ‘n’ veg will improve health’, and as we don’t have time to research the evidence for both, we should either take both or none at face value.

          Now, it may just actually be that lemon peel cures cancer and most of us will feel pretty silly when our varied diet didn’t, but a) I’d guess the chances are low, and b) it doesnt mean that the filter system is a bad one as a whole, but that sometimes, like a lot of evolutionary processes, it can misfire.

          The filter HAS to work, else would take any old baloney as worth acting on, something I don’t do, and I’m pretty sure, neither do you :)

    • In reply to #6 by naskew:

      I’ve said this often in the past, there is good science and bad science. It is all very well Brian telling us to have our bull shit radar at the ready but the vast majority of the public (and I include myself in this number) and not equipped or simply do not have the time to filter the good from the…….

      Always read the small print, there is NO excuse. Natural crap’s Disclaimer is as follows:

      “This site is part of the Natural News Network © 2013 All Rights Reserved. Privacy | Terms All content posted on this site is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech. Truth Publishing International, LTD. is not responsible for content written by contributing authors. The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Truth Publishing assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms and those published here. All trademarks, registered trademarks and servicemarks mentioned on this site are the property of their respective owners. “

      Another Website with similar BS is CancerTruth-dot-net and theirs is as follows:

      “I (Ty M. Bollinger) am not a doctor, thus I have not been formally “miseducated.” I am not certified in medicine, therefore there is no certificate or diploma disgracing the interior of my home or office and no monument to the biggest revenue generating fraud ever perpetrated on human kind. All content contained on this website consists of my own personal commentary or opinions, and the same is protected under Free Speech laws in all the civilized world.

      The information contained in this website is intended and shall be deemed to be for educational and informational purposes only. The information contained in this website is not intended nor shall it be deemed to be a substitute for the diagnosis, treatment, or advice of a qualified licensed professional.
      Under no circumstance should any information contained within this website be deemed to be medical advice of anykind whatsoever and in no way should anyone consider that I (Ty Bollinger) am practicing medicine.

      A conscious effort has been made to only present information that is both accurate and truthful. However, I assume no responsibility for inaccuracies in my source materials, nor do I assume responsibility for how this material is used. Any statements regarding alternative treatments for cancer have not been evaluated by the Federal Death Administration (FDA).

      If you elect to implement, use, share or distribute any of the information contained in this website, in so doing you hereby agree that you are doing so at your own free will and discretion and as such, you thereby indemnify and forever hold harmless, Ty M. Bollinger and Infinity 5102 Partners, from any and all claims and legal liability of anykind whatsoever.

      By visiting this website you acknowledge and agree that you have read, understand and are in full agreement with all statements setforth in this disclaimer.”

      I challenge you to find similar disclaimers on NHS/CDC/FDA websites.

      • In reply to #9 by veggiemanuk:

        I challenge you to find similar disclaimers on NHS/CDC/FDA websites.

        Hmm, well that was easy

        NHS Choices provides medical information for use as information or for educational purposes. We do not warrant that information we provide will meet your health or medical requirements. It is up to you to contact a health professional if you are concerned about your health.

        NHS Choices does not give medical advice in relation to any individual case or patient, nor does NHS Choices provide medical or diagnostic services.

        If you are a medical or health professional then you are encouraged to use NHS Choices for general information purposes. However, you should not rely on material included on NHS Choices and we do not accept any responsibility if you do.

        And how about this then from a site you should be familiar with:

        The posting of an article, video or other item on this website does not mean that [this site] endorses its content: items are selected purely for their relevance and their potential to stimulate interesting discussion. We are responsible only for content posted by us or by someone authorised by us to post items on our behalf. We are not responsible for the content of other websites, or for comments posted by users. We are not able to read every comment that is posted on this site, so if you see something that requires our intervention please alert us to it promptly. If we become aware of inappropriate comments posted by users, we reserve the right to modify or remove them, but not doing so does not imply that we endorse or approve of them.

        Every site has a get out clause just in case they make a mistake. It’s a bit like saying ‘may contain nuts’ just in case the parents some kid with an allergy decides to take them to court. Meaningless disclaimers like these simply make it less easy not more easy to decide who you can trust. Although frankly anyone who reads anything on Facebook and takes it seriously just gets what coming to them.

        However I still maintain that it is not an easy matter for most people to filter truth from lies. If it were then the religious charlatans that plague us would not be able to dupe so many people. It is human nature to be gullible but if you have managed to get though life without ever once being duped then good for you.

        • In reply to #11 by naskew:

          In reply to #9 by veggiemanuk:

          Although frankly anyone who reads anything on Facebook and takes it seriously just gets what coming to them.

          Actually there are some very good pages on Facebook trying their hardest to give people good advice and combat the swathes of stupidity that preside there. – ‘refutations in vaccine memes’ is one such page.

  5. Just because most of Europe is predominantly atheist, there are still countless numbers of people willing to fall victim to the snake oil sellers. There are plenty of sellers peddling their BS and despite the vast amount of knowledge available, apparently their number seem to never decrease.

  6. Unfortunately, no one is now safe from conspiracy theories. Most of these start/started in the US and have spread from there. You can’t trust your Government, or any international corporations, or the medical professional, or climate scientists, or the gun lobby, or the anti-gun lobby … the list goes on. Everyone is using spin. And the internet has made it all the more difficult to sort fact from fiction.

    Furthermore, you can’t sort out fact or fiction from incompetence, meaning when errors occur in, say, the banking industry, people assume there is a hidden agenda when, more than likely, it was idiocy.

    Anyway – hence Natural News.

  7. Why are so many Facebook friends sharing preposterous stories …

    you’re clearly new to facebook…

    the internet is full of bollocks. this has not always been the case but has increased in line with the ease of use (facebook is so easy to use your gran could manage it). anything computer-related was once the realm of nerdy types who sat quitly working when they were at school but in order for such dangerously stupid content to get distributed the nerdy types had to develop technology to be so advanced, anyone could use it.

    I guess what’s happened is stupidity has always existed, maybe even in a majority, but was always its own barrier to infecting others but now in a world where we have websites that work best when used by stupid and self-obsessed people desperate for a “like” validation, they’ll behave exactly as they would in an 18th century village when someone shouts “witch”, stupidity has become the norm

    Sadly the rest of us get to witness it

  8. It’s quite normal for people to look for immortality or at least lengthening their lives; people are gullible. So naturally many will buy into any old chance to beat the clock, even if science indicates otherwise. The best kept secret – in the end living will kill you.

  9. This underlines the utmost importance of scientific education and critical thinking. It should be mandatory and started at an early age in elementary school. Teach kids about the REAL world and teach them how to think. Schools should dump these ridiculously wasteful and useless “religious ethics” classes and use the precious time and resources to teach science and logic instead.

  10. If you are sucked in by salesmen and their products – its a bit similar to religion – you are gullible or indoctrinated and you shouldn’t complain too much when you realise you have been ‘easily led’ by liars and fraudsters for years – you should instead wise up – try to empower yourself through education, stop being a ‘yes’ person….and stop being a follower…instead aspire to being a seeker of truth judged by yourself…..

    and erm – “don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear” – Lou Reed…..

    • In reply to #25 by Light Wave:

      If you are sucked in by salesmen and their products – its a bit similar to religion – you are gullible or indoctrinated and you shouldn’t complain too much when you realise you have been ‘easily led’ by liars and fraudsters for years – you should instead wise up – try to empower yourself through education, stop being a ‘yes’ person….and stop being a follower…instead aspire to being a seeker of truth judged by yourself…..

      Does this apply to OAPs who are fleesed out of their life savings by unscrupulous salesmen?

      • In reply to #27 by veggiemanuk:

        In reply to #25 by Light Wave:

        If you are sucked in by salesmen and their products – its a bit similar to religion – you are gullible or indoctrinated and you shouldn’t complain too much when you realise you have been ‘easily led’ by liars and fraudsters for years – you should instead wise up – try…

        Just say No…or don’t even open the door…..its quite simple…and I have no conscience about telling them where to go and how quickly ….If anyone does have a conscience about the poor salesmen…well be prepared to kiss your savings goodbye…
        You can either be wise or risk getting shafted….any age group….but OAP’s like children should have responsible adults looking after their welfare…as I’m sure you know already but you were just being pedantic right ?

        • In reply to #28 by Light Wave:

          In reply to #27 by veggiemanuk:

          In reply to #25 by Light Wave:

          .but OAP’s like children should have responsible adults looking after their welfare…as I’m sure you know already but you were just being pedantic right ?

          No, I was not.

          At what age do you let go of a child/young adults hand? And again take hold of it at an older age?

          What about other groups of people who are easy targets for these people, who holds their hand?

          Instead, maybe we should regulate these industries just like we do any other, hold THEM to account and stop pretending it’s Joe Bloggs fault for being a fool.

          If we were to go to our local supermarket and buy something that claimed to cure cancer or prevent it, you can be sure that said product would be taken off the shelves within minutes of any complaints made and action taken, yet these charlatan websites can pretty much sell anything they like with impunity any we just sit by and claim that people sound not be so silly. Pathetic.

  11. The article said……”We’ll never be rid of tripe like this—shortcuts to immortality are irresistible—but it’s important not to confuse hopeful superstitions with science. If you loosen your grip on the anchor of evidence-based medicine, you’ll find yourself drifting dangerously toward conspiracy theory”

    This is what I’m saying too – after a person has been a victim of conmen once – they should empower themselves against it happening again…
    Where did you see me say I don’t think its the salesmen’s fault ? No where You made that one up …I didn’t suggest that for a minute….Its a rational ‘given’ idea that we should prosecute liars, conmen and that includes salesmen and religious leaders…..for pedalling bullshit…..as to when do we know who and what age to protect…open your eyes…do you have kids or elderly relatives….its fairly obvious when they need our help to rationalise etc….

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