First, we had a "Quantum Pendant" that was supposed to realign your chakra frequencies (or something like that), but was recalled when the authorities found the rock it was made from was actually radioactive. Then we had the warning issued because people with ear wax impactions were sticking lit candles in their ears to "suck out the wax," which resulted in several hospitalizations and at least one person setting their house on fire. Yet another warning was put out by doctors when the woo-woos started recommending taking off all your clothes and exposing your butthole to direct sunlight, risking a sunburn that I don't even want to think about. Then there were the homeopathic "remedies" that were taken off the shelves because, by some horrific mistake, they turned out to have some actual active ingredients.
So you'd think after all this -- and, allow me to say, I didn't make any of the above up -- either (1) the general public would realize that the woo-woo alt-med types are full of shit and stop listening to anything they say, or (2) I'd stop being surprised by what new idiotic "natural health" fads crop up.
Neither of those, in fact, has happened.
This comes up because of a loyal reader of Skeptophilia who sent me a link to a story out of Australia about a company that distributes chunks of a rock called rough serpentine to stores specializing in woo-woo crystal nonsense. Serpentine is common -- it's a characteristic rock found in areas that once were part of oceanic plates -- but it's pretty enough. It often has green and black bands, and occurs in two main forms, a shiny, smooth "platy" variety (sometimes nicknamed "false jade"), and a fibrous, grainy "rough" variety. If you're curious about what they claim serpentine can do, one source says that it "is believed to help establish control over one's life. According to metaphysical beliefs, serpentine provides a clearing of thought to better facilitate meditation. Serpentine is said to clear clouded areas of the chakras and stimulate the crown chakra, promoting spiritual understanding and psychic abilities."
Pretty impressive, no?
There's a wee problem with rough serpentine, though.
It contains asbestos.
Asbestos exposure, as I probably don't need to mention, is associated with lung cancer, emphysema, and mesothelioma."Consumers should immediately stop using this product and wrap it in thick sturdy plastic or a heavy duty sturdy plastic bag where the seal cannot be broken," said a spokesperson for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. "The supplier – Alliz Trading Pty Ltd – will contact consumers to provide advice about safe disposal of the stones and arrange a full refund."
I really shouldn't be surprised this happened. It's all part and parcel of the "if it's natural, it must be good for you" mentality, which conveniently ignores the fact that strychnine is all-natural and 100% organic.
In any case, it brings home the fact that modern science and medicine have done a good job of improving our lives. Yes, they're far from perfect. I'm aware of the issues with the pharmaceuticals industry, and the ongoing health insurance mess here in the United States. I know that modern technology has created a good many problems itself. But on balance, we live longer, healthier lives, and more of our children survive to adulthood, than ever before, and that's not because more of us are waving crystals around, taking "remedies" that have been diluted to the point that there's basically nothing left but water, or (heaven forfend) exposing our nether orifices to direct sunlight.
So learn a little science, okay? And stay away from rocks containing asbestos. Those things are dangerous.