It is difficult to know when looking at the claims of many alternative medicine web sites, whether the people involved are a) deluded or b) fraudulent. For my part, and being a good natured soul, I tend to believe most people are just into weird things and are rather locked into their strange world view. They genuinely feel they are helping people by selling their products and services. To challenge their own beliefs and let in new arguments would mean risking abandoning so much about how they define themselves – and how they earn a living.
A journey through quackland is a salutary reminder of how we need to guard ourselves against false beliefs. The existence of quackery ably demonstrates that the easiest person to fool is yourself and that if you want to fool someone else, it is best to fool yourself first.
But undoubtedly there are the deeply cynical and fraudulent out there. And every now and again you come across a product or site that really tests my belief that most quackery is the result of simple delusions. The QLink pendant is a good example of this. The QLink is a device that claims to ease the stresses caused by exposure to ‘electrosmog’.
There is a growing belief by the public that the radio waves given off by everyday appliances and electronic devices can somehow be harmful. People report having violent headaches and other symptoms in the presence of TVs, mobile phones and WiFi routers. The problem is that the evidence to date does not support any of this. Firstly, there is a plausibility problem in understanding how exposure to low doses of non-ionising radiation can affect you in any way at all. And secondly, when these ‘electrosensitive’ people are tested in controlled ways (such as exposing them to a mobile phone, without them knowing if it is on or off) then the symptoms are unrelated to the exposure. Whilst few deny that the symptoms of sufferers of ‘electosensitivity’ are real, there is huge doubt that they are caused by ‘electrosmog’. There is something else going on and it may be psychological.
So, even if electrosensitivity were real, could the QLink do anything about it? Uh, no. Radiowaves are going to get to you whether or not you are wearing it. You can protect yourself against exposure, but you need to be completely enclosed within a box with a conductive surface, e.g. an iron clad room. The claims of some QLink sellers that the device works on a ‘quantum level’ are just plain hogwash. So, the device appears to be a cure that can never work against an illness that is probably purely psychological in nature. At best, the device will function as a placebo in pendant form.
But maybe a placebo for those affected by electrosensitivity is exactly what they need? A complex question. But that does not mean that companies selling QLink should be pushing at the worried well, sports-people and animals? That looks like a plain rip-off . What amazes me about this, is that the sellers of QLink are not just a ‘lone-genius’ with a strange theory to sell to the world, but a fairly large company with many people involved in the sale. You must have the original product designers, a manufacturing plant, marketing people, distribution channel managers and finally, the direct and indirect sales force. The product is widely distributed through QLinks own sites or through re-sellers such as Patrick Holford. Do all these people in this complex chain really believe what they are doing is for real? Is everyone just deluded?
It many ways, it does not really matter if there is deliberate deception or just mass delusion. The end result is the same. People spend lots of money on stuff of marginal benefit to them. They also acquire delusional beliefs that may not help them in the future when they really could do with some medical intervention. Are the deluded people in this chain culpable? We might easily forgive and say these delusions are harmless, but delusions can lead to reckless beliefs where real harm might be done.
Another QLink seller rather outstanded me this week with their range of products. The UK company Electronic Healing sells all sorts of gadgets and devices, many of which look as doubtful as the QLink.
One product that really took my breath away was a homeopathic first aid kit. The blurb says…
An essential first-aid remedy kit for the home, car and workplace specifically formulated to be used in even the most severe emergency and accident situations.
Cripes! Most Severe! Now I was under the impression that that homeopathy is a ‘gentle healing’ method that requires an ‘individualised approach’ and, usually, a lengthy consultation to provide a ‘holistic remedy’. This does not look likely in an emergency situation. Indeed, I would strongly suggest that application of homeopathy in a life-critical situation could severely detract from the absolute need to establish and maintain an airway, ensure breathing and prevent shock. To have one of these kits and believe that it can help is a delusion of the reckless variety.
I’ve emailed the Society of Homeopaths about this. Would they endorse such a product? Let’s wait and see.