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Monday, August 18, 2008

Be Smart, Be Skeptical

The internet is a wonderful and empowering tool for us in this modern age. I am very grateful that it was available to me as a source of knowledge when I first decided to learn about diabetes. There is no way I would have been able to educate myself in the same way from courses, libraries and local support groups. Apart from the time involved, I simply would not have had the motivation to go out and find all of those sources. The internet made it simple and easy. However, the net also has it’s dangers. All of us realise that there is a lot of nonsense on the web and that we must filter the good from the bad. However, sometimes that becomes more difficult when we are reading "real people" on support forums.

On medical support forums there is a tendency to accept all new people as genuine. When someone arrives telling their story, or seeking help, our natural reaction is to believe them and offer our support and assistance or accept their story of success or woe.

Over a few years of wandering the web and the net, reading and posting on medically-oriented groups, I have found that cyber-space has a population of fringe-dwellers; kooks and fanatics who have discovered their divine purpose in life is to convert us to their own beliefs. That belief can be a cure for all our ills with herbal potions or vegan diets or magnetic rings or even stranger gizmos; or the one true religion; or the dangers of ingesting everything from artificial sweeteners to drinking water to eating meat.

Often they are easy to pick. The most common are dupes of snake-oil salesmen; either trying to convince others to reassure their own wavering beliefs, or sucked into yet another multi-level-marketing scheme for yet another wonderful cure. As the FCA warns us, Be Smart, Be Skeptical (click on any link after you've read the opening page). However, sometimes they are more cunning or devious, using search engines to alert them whenever key words appear on the net. For example, if you post a message to your favourite web forum with "aspartame" or "stevia" in the title or text you have a pretty good chance of getting a response quickly telling you of the terrible dangers of the first or the wonderful benefits of the latter. Usually from someone who has never posted to your forum before.

Similarly, if you include "PCRM" or "PETA" or "Vegan" or "Dr Neil Barnard" or "McDougal" in your title or text you can almost guarantee that a new person will arrive, usually in a separate thread, giving a glowing report of the benefits of a Vegan diet. They may remain for a week or two, then they disappear forever. Until the next time those words are used and another new person appears. Almost certainly the person posting is a figment of the author’s imagination, created to spread the word.

I have used the anti-aspartame and PCRM kooks as examples, but there are many others.

There is so much of value we can learn from the net, but always treat free medical advice as worth the price you paid for it until you have checked it with your doctor. For all other advice on the web use your common sense and logic.

Be smart, be skeptical.

Cheers, Alan


Trinkwasser said...

I gave up Aspartame, started drinking Stevia and adopted a vegan diet and my leg grew back.
This was very surprising as I had not lost it in the first place!
It's a pity all these scam supplements don't work on intelligence . . .

gloriachadwick said...

Hi. Just found your blog and looked around. I like what I see. Thanks for sharing your journey with Type 2.

ATruthOnly said...

Ha ha ha ha ha ha..... my leg grew back.....

Stevia is a licorice-tasting sweet leaf. It is adulterated with other substances when marketed to make it more palatable.

Should we ever get it alone, and learn to handle the aftertaste, it could prove a great sugar substitute.

Insofar as the rest of the "buyer beware the promises of the internet", point well taken.

We don't all fall for it, but there are an alarming number of people who do.

Many or most can be just out masquerading as blog contributors while heavily invested in the item they have discovered-this-great-new-report over.

(See the tongue firmly in cheek in my case?)

We all should reserve the right to try each new "it" on the chance that it produces the stated results.

It makes the most sense that we first wait for others to have done so for the feedback that supports or collapses the claims.

Otherwise, we may miss something "out there" that actually does what it claims to do.