Magical Thinking at Work

In a free world you'll find high-profile freeloaders, gleefully exploiting the human tendency towards magical thinking by adopting, misusing, and ultimately corrupting the best-known terms made popular by progress in medical science. This is particularly widespread and pernicious in the "anti-aging" marketplace, or indeed anything to do with cosmetics products.

The scientific method is the cure for problems caused by magical thinking, such as a lack of progress towards better lives, and all the limitations - dramatic or trivial - that stem from an incorrect understanding of the way in which the world works. To make progress happen, you must tackle complex systems in a methodical way: propose, explore, test, verify, record, repeat. But that requires more work than merely guessing, and so there will always be some market for those willing to take the "shortcut" to the wrong answer. When the wrong answer doesn't have clear, obvious and rapid bad consequences attatched to it, magical thinking will prosper. Such is the downside of human enonomic preferences - there is always a market for "incorrect" when "incorrect" is sold more cheaply than "correct."

There is no perfect solution to the issue of short-sighted fools who've found a way to make money through flaws in human nature and the poor choices of others, and along the way make life difficult for people who are aiming at real progress. You can - and should - shame them for their idiocy, and you can - and should - do your own due diligence for any product you buy, but any sort of law or proscription will always wind up causing more harm than good. The FDA is the end result of just such an impetus to regulate and prohibit, and it's probably causing more harm to scientific progress in medicine than any other single source in the world.

I noticed a particularly outrageous example of Star-Trek-like bio-babble associated with an "anti-aging" cosmetics product today:

The list of ingredients is certainly staggering - but for no other reason than that their very names sound as if they were dreamed up by a group of stoned science students, each trying to outdo the last with a more ridiculous suggestion: Phyto-CelTec Malus Domestica, Anti-Cyto Stressor, Happybelle, Nano-Claire GY.

Seriously? I feel like saying: 'Pull the other one, it's got Happybelles on it.' And that's before I read the bit that tells me this is: 'The first cosmetic product that contains stem cells from the rare Uttwiller Spatlauber Swiss apple, so rare that only three trees remain in existence!'

Apparently 'stem cells' from this tree - yes, apple trees do have stem cells too, but only a few years ago, I bet they'd just have called it 'an extract'.

Sadly, there's a market for these sorts of near-outright falsehood, and there will continue to be a market for this sort of thing until the buyers stop buying. All these folk should be free to continue in their foolishness for so long as they care to, but feel free to let them know what you think of their actions.

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