Monday, September 25, 2023

OTC Products Backed by Use of Science Words

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Literacy, Science & Society, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

Sunday, August 27, 2023 the Science & Health section of the StarTribune reprinted a column by Rina Raphael, a reporter for the New York Times. See end for details about access.

The article is about not being able to "browse a grocery store or pharmacy without being subject to labels that promote health benefits." Some examples may be found in the illustration by Nuri DuCassi of the Star Tribune who bordered the column with labels in the tradition of another era, including mortar and pestle and finger pointing hand. Some of them are "STIMULATES & BOOSTS," "DOCTOR RECOMMENDED", "EVIDENCE-BASED," "CLINICALLY -TESTED."

Raphael included other claims, too, such as those found in "the beauty department", and "the supplements section." You may have thought such claims had diminished with the end of the booming patent medicine era in the U.S. Such labels, with the glow and glitter of science terms have been used by"marketers for centuries." 
Such labels have been given a term coined by "Timothy Caulfield": 'scienceploitation.'"  (my emphasis).

Because I'm happy to note you can read the reporting, I'm not going to include much more from it. This is worth repeating though. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised its guidelines for health-related products which includes comments on health claims. They should be supported "with high quality, randomized, controlled human clinical trials." Sounds good but the explosion of brands makes this impossible "to monitor how companies market...without a huge increase in funding."

You'll learn why lists of ingredients obscure more than they reveal and what they hide in a thick fog; the common use of the disclaimer - "is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."; mention of research studies on websites that summarize "emerging data without mentioning the product."

Raphael includes some recommendations for consumers some recommendations which I think can be helpful; and she notes that tne "buzzy" phrase "microbiome-friendly" has a special danger since microbiome research is in its infancy.

Mayo Clinic's Connect posted Raphaels's reporting. Same article in both news outlets, the New York Times and the Star Tribune. If you subscribe, look it up to see the wonderful illustration. You may be able to catch a glimpse even if you are not a subscriber of some of the illustration so here is the title again: Step Right Up! Buy a Cure Backed  By Science Words!
Please read the reporting. It is a welcome article for those interested in good health and scientific literacy. I'm glad the Star Tribune reprinted it. A real service to readers. 

One response to Raphael's reporting was published September 4, 2023 from a Minneapolis reader. It introduced me to a new term which is related to the idea of "scienceploitation": "science washing." I looked it up to find this definition: a "deliberate attempt to simulate scientific practices or quality to deceive others." It is behind a paywall but if you have a subscription type in "Letter. Evidence base can be pretty weak."  You may want to add the date, too (above).

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