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One of my favorite books ever is Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences by John Allen Paulos and it has one bit I always think about regarding medical quackery.

You can make up a drug, and go into business of selling it, and if the general population doesn't understand logic or scientific method you can make it sound like you've got the perfect cure. If you give it to a guy and he gets better, you can take credit for it and tell the world it works. If the guy doesn't get better, you can tell everyone he just didn't take your drug soon enough, or he didn't take enough of it.

Science tells us that you should actually compare the drug to another one, or to a placebo, to see what it's effects are, but not everyone gets that.

The reason I think it's so important is because I see the quackery EVERYWHERE... like when my $1000 mutual fund only made $60 over eight years during a GOOD stock market period, people were still telling me that mutual funds and investments were still the answer, the problem is that I just didn't put enough money in, or didn't keep it in long enough. Just give it a few more years. Give it decades! The truth is, I could have had my money in any plain old savings account, taken less risk and made the same interest rate.

I see it in religious fundamentalism. I read the No Longer Quivering blog about women who tried to really submit to their husbands like they were told the Bible commands... it was awful for their marriages. It turned the guys into assholes. The whole time their religious leaders were saying that the problem was not enough submission and humility, not enough silence... the men would certainly come around and be good husbands because this WAS the cure for a marriage, they were sure of it. But things spiraled downward.

So it's not just in medicine... the quacks are everywhere. Once you know what red flags to look for they're obvious, it's getting there that's the problem.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
binaryprecision
Jan. 2nd, 2013 02:35 pm (UTC)
Actually thanks to the FDA, it's very difficult and takes many years of tests to get a drug on the market. Supplements (herbal or otherwise) probably fit your description though since they are not as regulated as medications. Nobody pays attention to those disclaimers at the end of the ads though: "This product has not be evaluated or approved by the FDA. It is not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease."
Sounds like you were just in the wrong mutual fund. ;)
I don't disagree with the religious fundamentalist one though.
sandokai
Jan. 2nd, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC)
I feel somewhat that way about investing. But if you keep buying shares, well bought a lot of low shares over the years that might thus be worth a lot if they ever go up much in price. You know, the whole "buy low sell high" theory. That's the benefit of "Staying in" moreso than having money just sit there earning nothing in interest. ALso if you took it out, then by the time you put it back in because the market was rising, you'd have lost money...
spacefem
Jan. 3rd, 2013 03:37 am (UTC)
In theory, you're right about the stock market, but in practice it's been a disaster for me. A stock can make 20% and you're like "yay, I made 20%!" and then another one you bought for the same price TANKS, and totally negates the gains you got from everything else in your portfolio. You can have ten picks that increase by 10-20%, but if one fails (like it did for me) you're done, even if you sit on that loser stock while it's low, it just stays low.

Maybe I should write an entry about the interesting picks I have at the bottom of my portfolio, see what the gallery thinks I should do... you're right, I don't want to sell low! But once they've been down under $5 for a couple years, and you paid $25 for it, you start to think about just accepting your losses.
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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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