Friday, 1 May 2015

Ranting About Rip-Offs

I was reading yet another news article about the Belle Gibson scandal, and wondered what lessons there are in the whole mess for those of use who are sick, and who spend a lot of time online.

These are the things that jumped out at me:

  • Someone being pretty is not necessarily the same as them being believable. (Despite what the advertising industry may have spent our whole lives trying to condition us to believe.)
  • Not everything on the internet is trustworthy, no matter how well it is dressed up.
  • There's no shame in admitting to having been tricked by a fraud. Some frauds are so good they convince themselves.
  • If a "cure" or "treatment" seems miraculous, or too good to be true, it probably isn't true.
  • The internet is a great place to go to for support, to be able to see how others have handled the challenges we face, for a sense of community.  It's not a substitute for a doctor.
  • If anyone ever tells you to not follow your doctor's instructions (unless they're saying get a second opinion - which is appropriate any time you feel unsure); you should find alarm bells ringing.
  • If someone tells you "big pharma" or "big medicine" is only out to make money out of you, and they're trying to sell you a product (or multiple products, usually ridiculously expensive) of their own, alarm bells should be ringing.
  • Journalists can sometimes be taken in by a believable fraud, the same as everyone else.  Talk television and radio programs, and non-news magazines, are less likely to check their sources than serious (or "hard") news services.
  • A tiny bit of truth (or a little bit of preliminary research, taken out of context) can be stretched into a dangerous myth.
  • Human beings are mysterious, complex creatures.  We don't always know what motivates a person.  Not everyone's motives are good.
  • It can be hard enough assessing another person's trustworthiness when we meet them face to face - it's even harder on-line.
  • That prince in Nigeria isn't really going to send you a million dollars in diamonds; the unclaimed inheritance in England isn't really coming to you; and you cannot replace your medication with superfoods.  In fact, don't replace your medication with anything, unless you discuss it with a doctor first. 
  • A healthy balanced diet is a great thing for pretty much everyone, and should improve your overall health.  On its own, it won't cure cancer, or lupus or anything else.  Eat healthy food because it's good for you, not in expectation of a miracle.
  • Miracles may well happen. (In fact, in hospital chaplaincy, I'm sure I witnessed a few.)  But they're "miracles" precisely because they're not supposed to happen, and not expected to happen, and completely unpredictable.  You can't recreate a miracle.  If someone recovers against all odds, that doesn't mean that everyone who tries to copy them will have the same result.
  • When people are desperate enough, they will try anything (note, the "slapping therapy"stories in the references.) Be aware there's always someone out to make a quick buck from someone else's desperation. 
  • Now that I've digressed to the "slapping therapy"; I suspect that if those parents had gone to the doctor who was treating their son's diabetes and said: "Would starving our young child for three days and then slapping him to read his bruises help with his diabetes?"  I'm fairly sure the doctor would have explained the difference between a diabetes cure and child abuse. Ask your doctor, no matter how convinced you are from your own reading. 

I know there are many people who will feel hurt over Belle Gibson deceiving them, many confused, and quite a number outraged about the money not getting to charity, and the possibility that people may have died unnecessarily by following her recommendations.  But the issues this situation raises are much bigger than just one blogger running a scam (or suffering Munchausen's - the jury seems to be out).

The bigger questions are about things like who to trust, how much of what we read we can believe, how to recognise a fraud, and how we will use information we find.  The more time we spend on the internet, the more often we will have to face those questions with regards to what we're reading.


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