What have I got to lose by trying it?
Sarah Mehta works for an innovative not-for-profit that supports people affected by neurological conditions. She worked for Sense About Science to produce the new edition of I’ve Got Nothing to Lose by Trying It over four months. She was previously a medical writer and editor of the MS Society’s flagship research magazine. Along the way Sarah has spoken to many people about their experiences of different health conditions, and is passionate about people having access to good information and well-planned health and social care. Here she writes about the new guide:
I’ve Got Nothing to Lose by Trying It launches today to help people weigh up claims about bogus treatments and ‘miracle cures’.
Patients, carers and doctors, World Cancer Research Fund and other medical charities have collaborated with Sense About Science on the new guide, which explores the pitfalls and dangers of unproven treatments. These treatment claims offer hope of finding something that will do more than conventional medicines can. But the evidence for many of these claims is unreliable. This leaves people searching for anything that could help.
Many of the people affected by long-term or chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or epilepsy share their experience of the consequences of chasing ‘false hope’. They raise concerns about being exposed to crippling financial and emotional costs, and the serious harm they could risk to their health by trying unproven treatments.
The pressure to try things despite a lack of evidence can also come from well-meaning family and friends – and it’s hard for people to know how to say ‘no’. The guide highlights how important it is to ask questions that dig down to the evidence behind claims.
Many clinics profit by selling false hope, making costly unfounded treatment claims. They use aggressive marketing to prey on people – selecting the best testimonials, using pseudo-science, and even posing as patients in online forums. People can spend as much as tens of thousands of pounds for unproven treatments.
Fiona, a cancer patient and contributor, is angry at the way patients are taken advantage of after she sought nutritional advice to help her recovery and instead was offered a course of expensive, unproven treatment: “I left my appointment feeling utterly powerless. I hope that from now on vulnerable people who are suffering emotionally will not need to have such a horrible experience when they go to see someone who they think would help them.”
Derren Brown, known for his use of illusion and trickery, supports the new guide as a tool against the barrage of misinformation and explains that scepticism is key: “Curiosity is at the heart of what makes us great. To not just mindlessly believe what we’re told, but to know how to question and test a claim, has lifted us from the Dark Ages. And when the vacuous and untested assertions of health products and celebrity endorsements, of psychics and faith healers, of politicians, religious leaders and journalists go routinely unquestioned, we are put at risk. But we need the understanding and the tools to question these claims in order to know what we should believe.”
Sense About Science is a UK charity that equips people to make sense of evidence and campaigns for sound science and evidence in public life.