The problem becomes even worse when the profit motive is involved, because the stakes become higher. There often seems to be a deliberate intent on the part of the seller not to clarify matters, but to obfuscate further. A confused buyer, apparently, is a confident buyer.
I was sent an especially good example of this yesterday, when a friend emailed me a link with the message, "Could there be any truth to any of this?" On clicking the link, I was brought to the site "Shungite in a Nutshell," which explains the amazing properties of a rock found in Russia.
Shungite, we are told, is a carbonaceous deposit found near the village of Shung'a in the province of Karelia. It contains large quantities of fullerenes, molecules made up of latticelike arrays of carbon atoms (buckyballs and carbon nanotubes are two types of fullerenes you might be familiar with). Because of its high concentration of fullerenes, shungite has (according to the authors of the website) a variety of amazing properties:
- it can purify water and air
- it is a natural antioxidant
- it is an antibacterial
- it speeds up healing
- it stimulates the immune system
- it suppresses allergies
- it can act as a carrier for biologically-active molecules
- it can neutralize the negative effects of electromagnetic fields, including "anthropogenic high-frequency, solar, geopathogenic, (and) biofields"
- "Shungite contains almost the entire periodic table" -- actually, if their first claim (that it's composed of fullerenes) is correct, this is about as wrong as you can get, because fullerenes are pure carbon, and therefore are made of only one element on the periodic table. So the only way you could have less of the periodic table is if shungite was imaginary. On the other hand, it's not necessarily a good thing to have lots of elements -- I'm rather happy, for example, that the vitamin tablets I take in the morning contain no arsenic or plutonium.
- Shungite is "a catalyst, which ensures decomposition of organic substances sorbed and restoration of the sorption properties" -- honestly, I'm not even sure what this is supposed to mean. Catalysts are chemicals that alter the rates of chemical reactions, usually by changing the activation energy; and if shungite really does trigger the decomposition of organic substances, it would be a little on the dangerous side to consume, because our bodies are basically big blobs of organic substances.
- Shungite is an "electroconductive rock." Well, lots of stuff is electroconductive, including the wiring in my house. I'm not sure why this is relevant, but the writer sure seems to be impressed by it.
- The "presence of shungite materials close to the source of cellular frequency radiation significantly weakens their effect on the human body." Once again, what the hell is this supposed to mean? What is "cellular frequency radiation?" I dunno, but it sure sounds bad, doesn't it?
So it sounds like what we have here is another example of someone trying to sell something useless to the credulous, and throwing around science-y terms to convince the layperson that what they have will cure damn near everything. Once again, the best way to insulate yourself, and your pocketbook, against spurious claims is to learn a little science and apply the tools of critical thinking. So, sad to say, but magic rocks that heal every illness known to man remain exactly what they sound like -- fiction.