It was with a wry smile that I saw a very recent offer - colonic hydrotherapy. I'll reproduce the explanatory text of the advert here (specific identifiers removed) to illustrate some points:
"Before Albert Einstein invented the law of physics, only money made the world go round. Teach your colon the advantages of feeling flush with today’s <offer>: £28 for a colonic hydrotherapy treatment at <company>.Now, my first thought was that as much as they're desperately trying to make this sound attractive, it's still a case of sticking a pipe up your bum and squirting a bag full of water into it. My immediate suspicion of spin, using fancy language to make it more attractive.
Set within the orbit of <place>, <company> conducts its adventures into the world of holistic health from its quiet and relaxing clinic. The trusty team are lead by ARCH trained hydrotherapist and trained nurse <name> to ensure a professional and knowledgeable service.
Health hunters are entitled to one session of colonic hydrotherapy which can help to cleanse the colon and flush the body system of unwanted matter. Using the latest in advanced hydrotherapy technology, bodily inner tubes are irrigated with filtered water at a temperature and flow adjusted to specific needs and colon comfort."
Now, I've never had this procedure administered personally but for anyone attempting the same thing at home, I'd suspect that the temperature/flow control could be achieved by leaving it a bit longer after boiling the kettle and then squeezing the bag a bit harder. I'm sure that patrons of said establishment would find a sexy, futuristic machine capable of administering the water rather than just some poor girl with a kettle and a stopwatch but that brings me on to my underlying unease here.
Look again at the advert.
Note the number of scientific sounding words: Albert Einstein, Physics, Hydrotherapy / Hydrotherapist, Orbit, Holistic, Clinic, Technology, Temperature / flow, nurse, body, system, matter, irrigated.
Colonic irrigation / hydrotherapy is an alternative therapy. It has never been shown to have any scientific benefit at all. In fact, certain preparations have been shown to cause serious health problems (both immediate and longer term) and the very administration of them can cause medical problems.
(And as we all know from Tim Minchin, "by definition, alternative medicine has either not been proved to work or it has been proved not to work. Do you know what they call alternative medicine which has been proved to work? Medicine".)
This sort of marketing spin - taking a product which is entirely without medical merit and wrapping a load of scientific words around it in a blatant and often successful attempt to suck people in - is commonly known as "pseudo-science". Personally, I don't think that term is strong enough - I'd consider 'utter bollocks' to be more accurate.
Other areas of society use it too - just look at the way the various religions have used scientific-sounding explanations to justify their positions. The "Creationist" movement in the Christian church are a case study in themselves - they'll routinely phrase their position and their arguments using this pseudo-scientific language and disingenuous references to actual science, again in order to give the appearance of credibility.
Back in the world of medicine, perhaps the best known of these alternative therapies is Homeopathy - there are many dedicated disciples who will testify (their terminology) about its efficacy but there has never once - once - been a truly rigourous, scientific experiment which shows homeopathy to have any value over and above that of a placebo (i.e. the recipient thinks it's working so it works). This, however, doesn't stop the movement using pseudo-science and innovative marketing spin.
The practitioners are no doubt kind and lovely people but dangerously misguided. In a study in 2006, 10 practitioners were tested by undercover reporters after claims of dangerous advice around malaria protection. In all 10 cases, the homeopaths recommended homeopathic products without suggesting that the person also consult a GP. Now that may not strike you as particularly bad as they're just trying to flog their wares but surely they should give at least one hoot (if not two) as to the health of their patient. As you no doubt know, Malaria can be a fatal disease and failing to advise a patient to seek actual medical help is extremely dangerous.
Please allow me to try and relay the basic premise of homeopathy so that - for those of you taken in by the 'natural' marketing ploys - you can understand just how dangerous it can be. It's effectively "treat like with like"; the practitioner will find out what the patient's ailment is and find something which causes the same thing, then use that in the remedy. For example, someone suffering from insomnia could be treated with caffeine. It's not just straight caffeine however - it is diluted with water over and over and over again. And over and over and over and over. In fact, it is calculated that the patient would need to drink 10 to the power of 34 gallons (10 billion times the volume of the Earth) of "remedy" in order to consume a single molecule of the original remedy.
To put it another way, it's water. That doesn't stop the British Homeopathic Association proudly boasting that 'it's available on the NHS' and 'there are a wealth of healthcare professionals' using it (much to the chagrin of real scientists everywhere) and all this despite any evidence of it working.
The only medical condition it can 'cure' is thirst, hence why the 10:23 campaign organise mass "overdoses" of homeopathic remedies outside of their establishments - to draw attention to the fact that it's water.
Personally, I think there should be much more severe rules and penalties for using such quackery but dressing it up as real science; things like 'nutritionist'. That sounds professional, right? Sounds science based? Not necessarily - the protected term is dietician. As Dara O'Briain pointed out, Dietician is the equivalent of Dentist. Nutritionist is the equivalent of Toothiologist. Anyone could be a nutritionist. Anyone at all. Even the most wretched, gnarled, faeces-rooting, self-involved old hag on the face of the planet could. Gillian McKeith is a nutritionist. Actually, no, she's a horrible person who was told that she couldn't sell any more books with her name prefixed by "Doctor" mainly because she isn't one.