Simply, quick ways of deciding quack issues without looking at the
1. There is no reasonable modus operandi.
Garden cocktail of several herbs and thus hundreds of chemicals, none of which are in typical medicinal concentrations.
3. Failure to find widespread application by physicians.
4. Failure to be published in a major peer-review medical journal.
5. Reliance upon testimonials, including scientists and physicians.
6. The results are contrary to a large body of experimental, published results.
Discussion of 1-6 (above)
1. Reasonable entails a method of operation
consistent with scientific knowledge. Nearly always the quack claims that there
is a pathway; for example, the polarity of molecules was affected by magnets in a way that increasing the rate of healing
for a broken bone or injured joints. However, magnets do not affect in a useful
way polar molecules. This is because compared to the energies of electrons and
the molecular distances involved in a chemical reaction, the magnetic force is insufficient to have an effect. It is for this
reason that magnets are not used in chemistry lab to modify chemical reactions. The
modus operandi touted by the quack is not reasonable: it is nothing more than
a sales gimmick.
2. For a drug to be effective it must be
administered in medicinal amounts. For example 10 mgs of codeine relieves pain,
but 1mg doesn’t. The same is true of all drugs; there is an optimal effective
dose. In herbal preparations generally the individual substances are not present
in sufficient quantities to have a curative effect. Moreover, with few exceptions,
unrelated compounds do not have an additive effect. When a chemical found in
a plant or fungus has a potentially useful effect, the scientist then isolates and concentrates that chemical (not the whole
cocktail of compounds) so as to be able to administer it in a medicinal dose.
3. Thousands of treatments have been tried by tribal care givers; however, nearly always
their use remains local. Successful treatments, like opium for pain, become widely
used. Moreover, in the search for curative chemicals medical science has tested
many of these herbs. If a chemical therein could have a possible a curative effect,
it is then concentrated into a medicinal dose and then tested.
4. Any treatment worth its salt will be tested and the results submitted to a medical
journal. If magnet on the wrist cured liver dysfunction, then the manufacturer
of that product ought to advance its marketing by having a study done and then published in an important medical journal. Being published does not prove the case: there
are trade publications for alternative treatments and the editorial review of the submitted works are scanty at best and fall
well below scientific standards.
5. True believers are as much a proof of angels dancing on the head of pins as that of
the curative property of the magnet. And just as there are scientists who profess
to believe in a young earth, so too are there physicians and researchers whose beliefs are equally questionable. These experts who violate their science are the rare exception.
6. Reproducibility is part of the gold standard.
A result that stands in conflict to a large body of evidence is always more like to be in error.
Consider the following example (from http://quackwatch.org/04ConsumerEducation/QA/magnet.html)by Stephen Barrett, MD.
The main basis for the claims is a double-blind test
study, conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, which compared the effects
of magnets and sham magnets on knee pain. The study involved 50 adult patients with pain related to having been infected with
the polio virus when they were children. A static magnetic device or a placebo device was applied to the patient's skin for
45 minutes. The patients were asked to rate how much pain they experienced when a "trigger point was touched." The researchers
reported that the 29 patients exposed to the magnetic device achieved lower pain scores than did the 21 who were exposed to
the placebo device [3} Although this study is cited by nearly everyone selling magnets, it provides no legitimate basis for
concluding that magnets offer any health-related benefit:
- Although the groups were said to
be selected randomly, the ratio of women to men in the experimental group was twice that of the control group. If women happen
to be more responsive to placebos than men, a surplus of women in the "treatment" group would tend to improve that group's
- The age of the placebo group was
four years higher than that of the control group. If advanced age makes a person more difficult to treat, the "treatment"
group would again have a scoring advantage.
- The investigators did not measure
the exact pressure exerted by the blunt object at the trigger point before and after the study.
- Even if the above considerations
have no significance, the study should not be extrapolated to suggest that other types of pain can be relieved by magnets.
- There was just one brief exposure
and no systematic follow-up of patients. Thus there was no way to tell whether any improvement would be more than temporary.
- 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
Two better-designed, longer-lasting pain studies have
- Researchers at the New York College
of Podiatric Medicine have reported negative results in a study of patients with heel pain. Over a 4-week period, 19 patients
wore a molded insole containing a magnetic foil, while 15 patients wore the same type of insole with no magnetic foil. In
both groups, 60% reported improvement, which suggests that the magnetic foil conveyed no benefit .
- More recently, researchers at the VA Medical
Center in Prescott, Arizona conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled,
crossover study involving 20 patients with chronic back pain. Each patient was exposed to real and sham bipolar permanent
magnets during alternate weeks, for 6 hours per day, 3 days per week for a week, with a 1-week period between the treatment
weeks. No difference in pain or mobility was found between the treatment and sham-treatment periods .
[i] This presumes a basic understanding of our body,
such as one would obtain from a suburban high school health class coupled with a biology class.