Propaganda: The Dark Side of Ignorance

by Steven Carney on October 25, 2013

This post is #95 on the site (about online propaganda and misinformation). The site is a collection of breakthrough articles and resources at your fingertips! Feel free to browse the information here. Whether you have health, life or prosperity and business challenges, I can help you have the life you desire! I offer a unique mix of coaching, training and experience based on multiple certifications and overcoming my own life challenges.

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I’m often frustrated by comments and postings online. Almost daily, I see misinformation and postings of all kinds, from articles to comments. What’s happening?

It seems like the online world is so open to anything, people with little education or training in a subject area will, nevertheless, present their opinions like they are experts. Maybe a friend told them something or they saw a tweet! Then these things are repeated and re-tweeted! Myths become facts. Unfortunately, we’re drowning in falsehoods!

It’s distrissing to see how often people post misinformation. And if you challenge them, they often avoid your questions and react like you are the problem, showing little interest in learning new things or how they got something wrong. They also have no problem giving wrong information to the public. I see these problems in many areas, especially nutrition, health, weight loss, research, etc.

A recent example is an exchange I had on a website, where I challenged a misguided writer who put up a link to an article she had written, designed to bring her buzz and attention. The first word of her title was “Quackery” for a piece about alternative medicine. The irony of her sensationalized article is something I will explain later. But her naiveté and ignorance about nutrition, science, research and alternative health is painfully obvious!

The article presents the alternative health field as a collection of quacks! The author starts with the typical media approach of using a few stories involving children, offering 3, highly sensationalized stories (I don’t know if any are really true or not, but she seems to overstate the first story as vitamins don’t seem to be proven as the cause of an infection as claimed).

And although it was apparently the parents who gave supplements to the kids, she didn’t challenge their judgement, shifting all the blame to unnamed alternative health people. The author relies on the stories about the children to create a sense of danger and fear. The message is that vitamins, minerals and supplements are scary and that quacks are hiding everywhere.

My first response to her article (shortened):

“This article is classic media theatrics!

A few odd and extreme examples of possible bad outcomes with dietary supplements, and a title that includes the term quackery! Wow, scary, and at its core, propaganda!

Why not do a story on these problems (the dark side of medicine offers real carnage):

  • About 125,000 people (or more) are killed annually by taking drugs as prescribed!
  • 200,000 people are killed in hospitals from preventable errors annually, costing an additional 19 billion for treatment.
  • 1.5 million patients are injured annually by medication errors and side-effects, costing billions more for treatment (these numbers don’t include injuries that aren’t reported).
  • 575,000 people died from preventable hospital mistakes between 2000 and 2002 (that’s real carnage).
  • Dozens of drugs have been pulled from the market (or require new black-box warnings) because they cause so much injury and death after FDA approval.

Here are some shocking numbers on drug addiction and abuse for prescription drugs, a growing epidemic:

  • Prescription drugs are abused by teens, ages 12-17, more often than ecstasy, heroin, crack/cocaine and methamphetamines combined!
  • About 20 million Americans have abused prescription drugs (taken for non-medical reasons), with addiction a growing epidemic.

So if I have this straight, many millions are killed, injured and addicted but that’s okay because a few extreme examples of alternative care or supplements caused a problem?

This expose’ will shock you if you believe the medical industry is real and evidenced-based (It’s not).”

I inserted a link to my post called: Medical Corruption: Don’t be a victim! (See link at end.)

Unfortunately, she didn’t respond to any of my specific stats about the millions of deaths or injuries from standard medicine and she offered no comment about my link. This is so typical of what I see online.

After starting with the 3 children, she quickly generalized to making all kinds of accusations about the alternative health field. She claimed alternative health was high in cost. Really? Compared to standard medicine here? Does she know what people go through (if you walk into an ER, expect to pay thousands, maybe tens of thousands).

She also claims that dietary supplements aren’t very regulated (The FDA regulates many aspects of supplements, from labeling and health claims, to manufacturing and adverse reports. Remember, most supplements are derived from some type of food or natural source).

She claims that quacks are everywhere and they want your money, like they are muggers hiding around every street corner. She also tosses in terms like “scary,” “pill popping” and “herbaholics.”

Her biased article also claims that the FDA reports 50,000 adverse events from supplements each year! I went to the FDA site and couldn’t verify those numbers (they sounded quite high). The FDA has gathered information that about 50 to 150 monthly events from supplements have occurred since late 2007. But who really knows if someone didn’t feel well because of a vitamin, mineral or other supplement compared to drugs or health problems they may have. As you will see below, few of these claims are proven.

Plus, studies have shown that people often take more supplements after they are diagnosed with a health problem or disease, and it’s common for anti-vitamin researchers to claim the vitamins killed people rather than their disease (also untrue as you will see below)! The FDA doesn’t seem to offer details about what happened and whether it was proved that the events came from supplements.

I checked her 50,000 events claim (not even close)

I wanted the truth so I started by adding up all the monthly totals the FDA has available in chart form for supplement adverse events and it totaled about 3,100 events over several years. I saw another report that said the FDA received about 6,000 reports over 3 years, from 2008-2011 (averaging about 2,000 per year). Both numbers are in the same ball park but far below her claim.

FYI, the supplement events reporting system started in December of 2007. Most of the info is from 2008 and later. But again, it’s a challenge to know what happened because the FDA has no consistent details about what happened and whether supplements were the proven cause. In any case, overdoing a supplement, especially weight loss pills, caffeine/energy drinks, stimulants or hormones, etc., can cause problems and I don’t recommend that anyone self-treat that way.

For perspective, there are tens of thousands of supplements on the market now. Who knows if people follow the directions (it’s common to list a recommended dose on the label). Most people don’t work with an alternative health professional, they self treat. Research has shown that complaints are very rare or non-existent from alternative nutrition or health professionals. A complaint analysis was done by the ANH (see link below) and they found it was mostly dietitians conducting stings to entrap people like nutritionists. Consumers weren’t complaining.

Clearly, the author’s wild claim that supplements cause 50,000 adverse events annually per the FDA is a gross exaggeration (I finally saw a reference to a FDA estimate from years ago on another website but no where did I find that the FDA actually compiled 50,000 actual adverse events a year. The total is way below that for 3 years.

Drugs remain a huge problem!

Let’s compare that average 2,000 annual events reported for supplements to this: Adverse events for drugs ranged from 30,000-90,000 annually from 1998-2005, (and about 4,000 people per day are hospitalized for adverse prescription drug events)! Those are far higher numbers with more serious injury and death compared to anything in the alternative health field (a good 200 times more injuries from drugs). Another report showed that almost 600,000 kids had ER visits for adverse drug events annually (see links below) She simply ignores these problems.

Another report showed only 600 events for supplements reported to the FDA in that first year of the new system (2007-2008); during that same time, there were 400,000 adverse events for prescription drugs reported to the FDA, something ignored by this author and many regulators! (See links below.)

No deaths from vitamins

Another important data source shows that in 27 years, no one has died form a vitamin or mineral supplement. In fact, here is a quote from that “no vitamin deaths” information:

Over the past 27 years the complete time frame that the data has been available there have been 0 deaths as a result of vitamins and over 3 million deaths related to prescription drug use. In fact, going back 54 years there have only been 11 claims of vitamin-related death, all of which provided no substantial evidence to link vitamins to the cause of death. The news comes after a recent statistically analysis found that pharmaceutical drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the US.

And a 2010 database showed no deaths from any vitamin, mineral or amino acid:

The new 203-page annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, published online, shows zero deaths from multiple vitamins; zero deaths from any of the B vitamins; zero deaths from vitamins A, C, D, or E; and zero deaths from any other vitamin.

Additionally, there were no deaths whatsoever from any amino acid or dietary mineral supplement.

Back to her article:

She claimed that alternative health is based on the placebo effect, that it’s essentially unproven and without real evidence (it’s all in your mind stuff). Do you think she has studied nutrition, fitness, lifestyle or alternative health?

Although the placebo effect is known to influence prescription drugs (20-30% of test subjects often claim that placebos provide significant relief when tested against drugs, and many drugs only perform a few percent better than placebo, which is all the FDA requires), there is a huge difference with supplements.

Vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other supplements derived from food sources add nourishment to the body. By design, drugs work by disrupting normal functions and they don’t nourish the body. Those disruptions are the side effects people feel. The groups are not comparable and the supplements are much safer when properly used! She doesn’t seem to understand any of these key concepts!

When she did respond to my initial comment where I challenged many of her claims, she told me to look at the research! First, the children! Now, the research! She again claimed many alternative health people are quacks who only want your money, then offered a few platitudes that some doctors are bad and some hospitals make mistakes.

Here’s my response to her comment (shortened):

“I read the article and I have followed these kinds of claims for over 20 years! They are often exaggerated and unproven (someone gets sick and vitamins or supplements are blamed, often without actual proof).

The statement that: “. . .many of those who claim to be experts are little more than quacks chasing your money.” is based on what research or study? Who says many? What are the numbers? Research shows that they pale in comparison to medical injuries.

I pointed out, correctly, that millions are killed and injured by standard medicine annually, and millions are adversely affected by the practices and often rigid dogma followed by medical people (high cholesterol causes heart disease, wheat is healthy, etc.).

True, to go through all those links would take hours. Take this quote from Dr. Marcia Angell, a Senior Harvard Lecturer and former Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), talking about medical research and advice:

It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The post link I provided has dozens more quotes like that.”

Her response: more of the same!

As before, she apparently didn’t read anything I offered and went back to the research. She proceeded to challenge my intellectual honesty (ironic as she appears to have so little), then summarized several old, anti-vitamin studies (long-ago debunked ). She was excited to tell me all about those bogus studies and how they proved that supplements were dangerous.

I knew many of the studies she highlighted and remembered that they were largely debunked. I could tell she understood little of the bias and political influence so rampant in the U.S. medical industry, including most anti-vitamin research.

She believed a batch of older, anti-vitamin studies, many from the 1980s to 1990s (20-plus years ago). They are known to have major flaws in design, written by authors biased against supplements. I’ve seen and read these vitamin attacks for years and I’ve never seen a credible study that attacks vitamins! Not one.

One study showed her obvious lack of science and health knowledge. It’s the Finnish smokers study, published in 1994 (almost 20 years ago from older data)! The subjects were Finnish (and they were heavy smokers and drinkers). Many were older, life-long smokers. The study claimed some died from lung cancer because they took some vitamin E or beta carotene for a few years. Really? Their heavy smoking and drinking wasn’t a problem (more than 20 cigs/day for over 30 years), but those scary vitamins killed them?

This author doesn’t seem to understand the basics of cancer: Cancer takes decades to materialize and spread, with smoking a major cause for both lung cancer and heart disease (the 2 problems that killed most subjects)! But in that bad study (see quote that follows), the subjects smoked for over 30 years and took the supplements for only a few, yet it was the supplements that killed them? Does that sound plausible to anyone?

She embraced the notion that beta carotene (like you find in carrots and pumpkin, although they used a synthetic form in the study which may cause problems), and so that’s what killed heavy smokers, a derivative of carrots?

Here is what some debunkers found for that smokers study from the National Cancer Institute (I included in another lengthy response to her):

NCI’s study suggested that there was an 18% greater incidence of lung cancer deaths among Finnish smokers given beta-carotene as compared to those given placebo. This is statistical gibberish. The absolute difference between each group of 7,287 participants receiving beta-carotene or placebo was actually 0.00548%, or one-half of one percent, not 18%. There were 262 deaths among 7,287 non-beta-carotene users (3.596%) and 302 deaths among 7,287 beta-carotene users (4.144%). These are real numbers, not relative numbers, and they indicate that there was no more than an absolute difference of 0.00548%, or one-half of one percent, not 18%, in mortality rate.

The NCI researchers must have realized this insignificant difference. They stated in their paper:

“…there are no known or described mechanisms of toxic effects of beta-carotene, no data from studies in animals suggesting beta-carotene toxicity, and no evidence of serious toxic effects of this substance in humans. In light of all the data available, an adverse effect of beta-carotene seems unlikely, therefore, this finding may well be due to chance.”

I can predict she has virtually no significant background in the health field because her article and comments are from someone who has little education in nutrition, health, research, etc. Like lots of media folks, I can see that her approach was to maximize the drama and the reader’s reaction, but not building her info on broader sources or verifiable facts (her FDA events claim for supplements is an example: she was off by a factor of 20 or more (about 2,000 annually vs. her claim of 50,000 annually), a huge exaggeration!

Even as she claims quacks (as in alternative health practitioners) are everywhere and they are out to get your money, she seems to have no clue that the U.S. medical system drains 2-3 trillion from insurance companies, taxpayers and individuals annually. Not only that but medical costs are a main cause of bankruptcies here! She also seems to have no clue about the billions in fines drug companies have paid for fraud and illegal marketing, not to mention the deep corruption of money, politics and power that has tainted every aspect of our medical system (see my link below for all the shocking details).

One of her oft-quoted sources is from Dr. Offit (she was apparently drawn to the more sensationalistic, anti-supplement papers and books Offit writes and promotes). And he also focuses on those older, anti-vitamin studies, debunked long ago by numerous medical experts and doctors because of poor methodology, bias and study manipulation to exaggerate their findings as outlined above.

I responded with more comments and links to all the studies she was taken in by, all debunked after they came out! And many reports implicate Offit as a questionable, profiteering-type doc that she also used as her major source! According to those reports, he supported a vaccine he stood to profit from on vaccine boards (he apparently made over $29 million on one). He also banned vitamins and supplements for kids admitted to his Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)! See numerous links below for a broader perspective on Dr. Offit!

Yes, it’s Propaganda!

This situation points out a terrible problem which the online world fosters: the article is really a work of propaganda. Why? Propaganda is designed to appeal to emotions rather than intellect, propaganda is often biased and one-sided; it’s designed to mold people’s beliefs rather than educate, and is often based on fear and scare tactics rather than information and perspective. In short, propaganda is about misinformation that plays to negative emotions. It’s very common in politics and used to demonize people or groups.

Her piece fits that propaganda model well! Her article is not about credible science, it exposes a more political and personal agenda: to demonize supplements and get attention! The article reflects naiveté, a lack of life experience and the willingness to embrace questionable stories, claims and biased studies from years ago.

BTW, the piece was linked to the website where it was posted. Perhaps urbansculpt thought it would be an attention getter on Reddit, especially given the theatrics of using kids, then adding her exaggerations and misinformation. I bet they were expecting a reaction out of readers? But don’t be fooled by this kind of manipulative writing. Most supplements taken for health in recommended or moderate doses are generally safe, although it’s best not to self treat. Work with a professional who can guide you through the process.

I mentioned in the beginning how there was great irony in her calling so many alternative health people quacks. Here’s my explanation about her calling other’s quacks:

Based on her own comments and writing, she is one of the more nutritionally/health-challenged writers I’ve run into lately. I predict that she has little or no education, training or background in nutrition, science health/wellness, medical research or alternative health. Given her mix of exaggerations and misinformation, she is the true quack (writer)!

Her piece should have been titled: Quackery: The Dark Side of Amateur Health Writers (I did my own parody of her title for this post).

The bottom line is that her terrible writing is clearly approved and supported by the business and I will never recommend that site or any of the products or services they offer. I suggest everyone boycott that company, unless you like the poor judgement they have demonstrated. And remember that this type of misinformation is put on the Internet every day! We’re drowning on falsehoods, misinformation and propaganda all the time!

Questions? Comments? Contact me at: or if you would like a nutrition make-over! If you are a new client, I can give you a special price. See Fees page for more info!

Helpful links:

Here are 2 links that show zero deaths from vitamins or minerals in 2010 and zero in 27 years:

Here are 3 links to sites that debunk the Finnish Smoker’s study with the kinds of bias and poor methods I told her about:

The study he referenced shows the right mix of anti-oxidants accurately predicted cancer risk for the same study participants (higher levels of antioxidants predict lower cancer risk):

Several sites with credible debunks of the Women’s Health Study that shows how these studies are done (a recent version was published in 2011):

Here are some of many debunks of her biased SELECT study (vitamin E, selenium and prostate cancer) with the second link has a great analysis for how study numbers are manipulated/exaggerated:

And here are many eye-popping links to info about highly biased Dr. Offit (her major source for attacks on supplements):

And some background and obvious bias uncovered for Offit and his anti-oxidant research buddy:

And I had to include this complete takedown of Offit and his ilk by another MD:

A new and highly damning article (with a link to actual study details) disclosing fraud in vaccine research: 


© 2013 by Steve Carney/End Sickness Now



Anonymous November 9, 2013 at 11:23 PM

Good info…thanks for providing this.

phillis November 30, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Nice page and comments, keep up the excellent work. With thanks!

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