Just once in a while, speaking up can make a difference.
As I entered my favourite local pharmacy, I was disturbed to read a sign on the window announcing that a certain iridologist would be holding consultations at this shop at a future date. I asked the pharmacist if he really felt this was helping the community or his image. He asked what the problem was. I said that I had to rely on his professional expertise for assistance in choosing between competing products, and his promotion of iridology would make me (and others) dubious about his professional judgment. I’m afraid I described the field of iridology with some strong epithets, moderated only by the presence of female assistants and shoppers.
After promising him more factual information, I went home and dug out the Truth Kit on Iridology prepared by Dr John Welch a few years ago. I left this with the chemist, promising him that he’d be unhappy when reading it. My expectations were minimal, for I’d also noted an ad in a local oldfolks publication promising that this pharmacy regularly had visits from the iridologist. There was clearly some degree of commitment by the pharmacy.
To my utter surprise, on a later visit to the shop, the Truth Kit was returned with a comment that the iridologist would not be returning again. The pharmacist had not stopped with the truth kit, but had (very properly) obtained an independent opinion about iridology. We agreed that a ‘discipline’ purporting to diagnose illness, that would misdiagnose nonexistent problems while missing actual disorders, was not acceptable.
This was my first success in modifying a misleading action by a chemist shop. I’ve had total failures: another chemist was selling oxygenated vitamin water, and my protestations that these claims were nonsense were met by the statement that “many people think it’s very powerful”. Success was due to the fact that iridology makes specific claims for efficacy and accuracy, and these claims had been demolished by the Truth Kit.
Most health products are sold with no real claim to do anything. The labels will say, for example, “This plant is traditionally used to treat xxxx,” or “This product supports liver/heart/circulation/brain function”. Cleverly worded but meaningless statements like this are neither provable nor disprovable.
On the other hand, it’s not the job of skeptics to stop people from wasting their money on magic water or enchanted inositol pills. (If that is our self-appointed task, perhaps we should start by investigating the claims of financial advisers compared with their actual results.)