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quack Miranda warning

It is generally understood in the fields of alternative medicine, chiropractic, nutrition, herbal medicine, naturopathy, acupuncture, and massage that these individuals [who criticize snake oil salesmen], and their closely affiliated organizations, are simply filthy prostitutes for the global pharmaceutical cartel.* -- Leonard Horowitz

Many websites offer for sale unproven or untested remedies for illnesses and disorders ranging from the common cold to cancer and heart disease. Although the products haven't been tested or proven, many testimonials to their effectiveness can be found on these websites. Somewhere on the website, however, will be a disclaimer that says, in effect, that the claims made about the miracle product should be understood as "informational" and shouldn't be understood as medical advice. The snake oil salesmen will sometimes even state that they aren't claiming that the remedy in question cures or prevents anything. They still want you to buy their snake oil, of course, but they don't want to be sued for false advertising. Nor do they wish to be arrested for fraud or for practicing medicine without a license. So, they may be happy to comply with the FDA requirement for dietary supplements that they provide what has been called a quack Miranda warning:

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Quack disclaimers are a good sign that the product being sold is snake oil. Unfortunately, many people want snake oil.

the Miranda connection

“In the United States, many citizens are ignorant of their rights, so our Supreme Court has ruled that after a person has been taken into custody, but before the police conduct an interrogation, the person must be advised of his or her rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Statements given to the police by people who are arrested but have not been Mirandized may not allowed as evidence in court proceedings.”

The expression 'quack Miranda warning' has caught on among critics of snake oil peddlers, even though there are some significant dissimilarities between it and the Miranda warning. In the latter, an officer is required to inform a suspect of his rights before interrogating him or risk having any information the suspect provides rendered impermissible in court. The officer is required to warn the suspect that anything he says while being interrogated may be used against him in a court of law. In the former, the seller is trying to protect himself from being sued or arrested for making false claims about the healing effects of his product. The snake oil peddler is warning the potential customer that he's selling snake oil, not science-based medicine. Thus, in effect, the snake oil salesman is warning potential customers that any claims he makes may not be used against him in a court of law. The quack who provides a warning that his product isn't intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease isn't telling the patient about the patient's rights.

The expression 'quack Miranda warning' was originated, as far as I have been able to ascertain, by the blogger PalMD of White Coat Underground and denialism blog. PalMD is an internist and says that he never Mirandizes his patients: "When I treat someone for a medical problem, I pretty much say that I intend to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease."

the call of the wild

Why doesn't the quack Miranda warning scare all potential customers away? It's obvious that millions of people currently buy and use ineffective health products and services, even though the scientific studies are out there for anyone to see that demonstrate that such things as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, herbal and supplement medicine, holistic medicine, and energy medicine are not effective beyond a placebo effect for most of the things they treat. For those who won't or can't read the scientific studies, there are other sources: skeptical and science-based websites and blogs, etc.

The average person probably can understand most of the scientific information that should make him skeptical of snake oil. There are many other things, however, that prevent the debunking of ineffective medicine from having more of an effect on society in general. There is a large segment of the potential market for these products where the distrust of science-based medicine is great. Many of these folks favor alternative treatments, especially if they're called "natural" or make some appeal to "energy." Many have had bad experiences with scientific medicine. Many distrust medical journals or press releases from scientific researchers, sometimes with good reason. Many are ignorant of how placebo medicine works. Many mistakenly believe that so-called alternative medicine is always safer and cheaper than scientific medicine. Many distrust the government  and consider the FDA an enemy of good health. A substantial number distrust Big Pharma and think there is a conspiracy to make people unhealthy by promoting science-based medicine. Many trust testimonials over scientific studies, especially if the stories are told by celebrities. Furthermore, the mass media often distort or falsify scientific studies, providing the general public with a misunderstanding of both the actual results of the studies and of the way science works. Those in the media and much of the general public are often ignorant of basic biological mechanisms. They are not put off by stories of cancer being caused by too much oxygen in cells or of cells communicating with each other by vibrations to indicate health. The media and the public love the idea of "miracle" cures and oppressed mavericks who've found the cure for whatever using some sort of alternative science.  Finally, many people do not know how to evaluate evidence. They take personal experience at face value and don't understand the purpose or value of scientific studies, much less how to evaluate them. The quack Miranda warning is actually a code for many people who want to avoid reality-based medicine. The message they see is Come on in! We're not from the Establishment and we're here to help.

See also alternative health practices, Andrew Wakefield, complementary medicine, the anti-vaccination movement, Russell Blaylock, detoxification therapies, Barbara Loe Fisher, frontier medicine, Dr. Jay Gordon, hidden persuadersholistic medicine, Leonard Horowitz, integrative medicine, Rauni Kilde, Joseph Mercola, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), and supplements.

further reading

Belief Armor

Defending Falsehoods

Evaluating Personal Experience

Why Do People Believe in the Palpably Untrue?

Immune system quackery

Honesty, law, and the free market

Antivaxxer Plague

Cell phones, brain cancer, and other cheery thoughts

Warning: Your Magazine may Be Hazardous to Your Health

The World According to Oprah

Why Oprah loves Jenny McCarthy

Oprah and Oz spreading superstition at the speed of night

The Liars at "60 Minutes"

Fraud and Bias in Medical Research

Framing the Medicine Wars

Statistics and Medical Studies

Prescribing Placebos

Evaluating Acupuncture Studies: Laughable vs. Dangerous Delusions

How safe are "alternative" therapies?

Food allergy fanatic

Top ten false health scares of 2007

California Study Finds No Link Between Vaccines and Autism

Mesmerized by hypnotherapy - how does  hypnosis differ from the placebo effect?

Miraculous Deception - miracles, faith healing, self-deception

Last updated 16-Apr-2013

Snake Oil Science
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Science Meets Alternative Medicine
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