This is a summary of a recent New York Times article titled “How Fake Science Sells Wellness.” The Times offers 10 free articles a month for non-subscribers and a $1.00/week “welcome” offer for one year.
This article examines the trend of ‘scienceploitation’, a term coined by Timothy Caulfield from the University of Alberta to describe how brands use scientific language for marketing unproven products. The article argues that these scientifically-sounding claims are increasingly seen across different platforms and often need clarification for consumers who may struggle to separate fact from fiction.
This trend has grown to such an extent that the Federal Trade Commission has revised its guidelines for health-related products. They are now demanding that companies back up their health claims with solid evidence. However, it’s not feasible for the commission to monitor every company without significant funding.
The article highlights several wellness products, such as collagen, magnesium, vitamin B6, melatonin, and vitamin D supplements. It outlines the scientific facts about these substances and warns that many studies promoting these products are small, possibly biased, and may not represent their actual effectiveness.
Key marketing tactics that consumers should be aware of include:
- Long, scientific-sounding ingredient lists: these often don’t specify the quantity of each ingredient or how it interacts with other ingredients, which can affect the product’s effectiveness.
- Vague terms like ‘boosts’ or ‘supports’: these words imply positive health outcomes without having clear and quantifiable definitions. They often accompany a small disclaimer stating the product isn’t intended to cure or prevent any disease.
- Questionable studies: wellness brands may include links to studies that may not be directly related to their product. Or they make sweeping claims based on poorly designed or cherry-picked studies.
Be sure to critically assess product claims by researching the product online, consulting reputable health organizations, and being skeptical of claims that sound too good to be true. They should also remember that a single ingredient is unlikely to drastically change their health overnight.