Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Hot dog cure

There's nothing like a good parody to point up the absurdity of a claim.

Of course, when what you're parodying is itself ridiculous, you stand the chance of having your parody sound as plausible as the original claim.  (Which is the basic idea of Poe's Law.)  And that's why it took me about ten minutes to figure out that what Douglas Bevans was doing at Gwyneth Paltrow's "Goop Health Summit" in Vancouver, British Columbia, was a prank.

Bevans was there to sell Hot Dog Water -- which is, unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like.  It's a bottle of water with a hot dog suspended inside.  The product, he says, has innumerable health benefits.  "Our extraction experts have deemed it a miracle product and with reason.  First of all it’s keto-compatible, you can lose weight, look younger, increase vitality for sure, and last but not least, increase brain function."

It's also gluten-free, and "full of sodium and other important electrolytes."  Bevans says not only does he have drinkable hot dog water, but hot dog water lip balm and hot dog water breath spray.

The problem, of course, is that this sounds a great deal like claims Paltrow has actually made, such as "gemstone water," which is like hot dog water only replacing the hot dog with an emerald.  "Although humorous," Bevans says, "Hot Dog Water is not a prank, and people are not being tricked into drinking it.  Rather, in its absurdity, the art performance encourages critical thinking related to product marketing and the significant role it plays in our purchasing choices."

Well, it'd be nice to think that this'd be the effect, but having written here at Skeptophilia for eight years, I'm perhaps to be excused for thinking that he might be vastly overestimating the human race's capacity for critical thinking.  After all, people buy Quantum Downloadable Medicine (you pay by credit card, then sit in front of your computer as the medicine "downloads directly into your body"), homeopathic water (which is water diluted with water), and arranging your diet based on the phases of the moon (it is called, I shit you not, the "Werewolf Diet").  To me, Hot Dog Water is actually more sensible than any of those, although it pains me to admit it.

I mean, tickets to the Goop Health Summit cost $400 each, and she sold out.  I don't want to think of how much money she made from this event, and that's not even considering the fact that the whole point of the summit is that she's trying to get her products into Canadian markets.  She called it a "mind-expanding day," which apparently means that your mind turns into a gas and then drifts out of your ears.

Because in my opinion, that's the only way you could believe 90% of Paltrow's health claims.

Nevertheless, Paltrow considers the event to be a roaring success, and brags that she "goopified" Stanley Park Pavilion.

Whatever the hell that means.

So I'm not sure I should be encouraged by Bevans's Hot Dog Water stunt.  I mean, I laughed, not least because it reminded me of "hot ham water" from Arrested Development (Lindsay Bluth's one and only attempt to fix dinner -- ham soaked in hot water.  "It's watery," she bragged.  "With a smack of ham.").  But the fact that there are people who probably think Bevans is serious is a little disturbing.

I'd better go get a cup of my favorite health supplement -- "hot bean water."  With extract of the tropical plant Saccharum officinarum.

Better known as coffee with a teaspoon of sugar.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a wonderful read -- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Henrietta Lacks was the wife of a poor farmer who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951, and underwent an operation to remove the tumor.  The operation was unsuccessful, and Lacks died later that year.

Her tumor cells are still alive.

The doctor who removed the tumor realized their potential for cancer research, and patented them, calling them HeLa cells.  It is no exaggeration to say they've been used in every medical research lab in the world.  The book not only puts a face on the woman whose cells were taken and used without her permission, but considers difficult questions about patient privacy and rights -- and it makes for a fascinating, sometimes disturbing, read.

[If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]

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