The quack Miranda warning metastasizes

Today is the third day of the three day weekend cobbled together from happenstance that the Fourth of July fell on the weekend this year. In any case, I’m still in a bit of vacation mode; so this post won’t be as voluminous as you are used to. (Some of you are probably rejoicing at the lack of logorrhea.) I’m also working on my talk for the Science-Based Medicine workshops at TAM8. In fact, while working on my talk, I came across a little tidbit that forms the basis of this post.

Blog bud PalMD once coined a truly apt term to describe a certain form of disclaimer that’s found on quack websites, namely the Quack Miranda Warning. Indeed, the quack Miranda warning has even wormed its way into the Rational Wiki. Here are a few examples.

First, from Healing Water Works, which sells “alkaline ionized” water:

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and as such shall not be construed as medical advice implied or otherwise. No claims are made with respect to treatment of any physically diseased condition and no attempt is ever made to dissuade individuals from seeking medical treatment for any condition. In addition, this equipment, technology and products have not been evaluated by the FDA, nor are they intended to treat, cure, mitigate, diagnose or prevent any illness or disease.

And from Byron J. Richards Wellness Resources:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Note: the asterisk mark following a paragraph and linking to the above FDA disclaimer applies to any or all statements in that paragraph.

You get the idea. Although various websites selling non-science-based nostrums, “treatments,” and dietary supplements may use somewhat different wording, at the core of every quack Miranda warning is a statement something like this:

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Clearly, these statements are meant to immunize the seller of dubious treatments against the charge that it’s making any promises whatsoever about their efficacy with respect to any diseases or conditions, and quack websites always have some variant or other of this statement phrased with different levels of emphasis and detail listed somewhere on the website. Indeed, the presence of a quack Miranda warning is something that is about as reliable indicator that a website is selling rank quackery as I can find.

As much as I’ve railed against what has been termed “quackademic medicine,” there’s one thing that distinguishes quackademic medicine websites from full-on quack websites is the distinct lack of a quack Miranda warning. At least that’s what I thought until I started doing research for my talk. That’s when I came across a pamphlet published by the University of Colorado Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, CO. The pamphlet is entitled Acupuncture & TCM, and it’s full of stuff like this:

Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the management of a life force or energy called Qi (pronounced “chee”). According to TCM theory, Qi flows freely through channels in the body called meridians. Each meridian connects to a specific organ that governs a particular function of the body. When healthy, Qi maintains a balance between two opposing energies: the yin (negative, dark, feminine) and the yang (positive, light, masculine). Illness occurs when Qi becomes blocked or unbalanced. Acupuncture and other TCM treatments restore the balance and flow of the Qi. For certain conditions, TCM may work well as a stand-alone treatment, but for many conditions TCM therapy works most effectively when combined with Western care.

Nowhere in the entire pamphlet is a mention of any science whatsoever. It’s full of the same sort of acupuncture woo-speak full of references to qi and life energy you could find on any acupuncturist’s website. If that’s all that was in this pamphlet, I probably would not have bothered to blog about it. Unfortunately, this is what I found at the very end:

By making this information available, the University of Colorado Hospital and The Center for Integrative Medicine do not promise or guarantee the effectiveness of this integrative therapy. For any serious conditions, we recommend that you contact your physician before trying any new therapy.

That’s about as close to a quack Miranda warning as I’ve ever seen in a publication in an academic medical center’s website. I have a suggestion for the University of Colorado: Do what academic medical centers do and stand behind the therapies that you offer as science-based. If you’re offering something that you can’t fully stand behind, something that makes you feel that you have to offer a disclaimer for it, and it’s not part of a well-designed clinical trial, then it’s not science-based.

And if it’s not science-based, an academic medical center shouldn’t be offering it, much less charging for it.