Walmart Pitches Woo

-Submitted by David Durmm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Woo, a term used by scientific skeptics for pseudoscience, alternative medicine and New Age beliefs, or a person who holds such beliefs.

Walmart, through their website, is selling Oscillococcinum, manufactured by Boiron, to be used “for flu-like symptoms.” Their image of the package shows that the product “Reduces [the] Duration and Severity of Flu Symptoms,” including “Fever, Chills, Body Aches and Pains.”

It does no such thing.

According to a report from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

There was no evidence that homoeopathic [sic] treatment can prevent influenza-like syndrome …

In a study from the University of Exeter:

Similarly, there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo.

You might as well buy a dispenser of Tic Tacs, it’s cheaper, too.

Does Walmart not have a shred of ethical obligation? Does Walmart have to exploit the ignorant? The product is also available from Target.

The stupid and their money are soon parted.


51 thoughts on “Walmart Pitches Woo”

  1. It’s important to keep in mind that “real science” conflicts with BOTH “woo” and “big pharma”, sometimes in similar ways. Just because people who promote real science give the necessary smackdown to WOO doesn’t mean that they are aliied with Big Pharma. Homeopathy is fundamentally the same as astrology, and sometimes Big Pharma is happy to jump on that same “wishful thinking” bandwagon. Real science is the toolbox we have available to sort out those problems and attempt to arrive at better outcomes – it’s imperfect, but it’s the best hope we have.

    Most of us say, “Damn it, I just want the f*@%ing answer!” and all real science can say at times is “well, this appears to be the best information we have currently.” Stimulating the placebo effect is one of those frustratingly not-well-resolved issues, but paying money for Woo isn’t a good solution to that lack of certainty.

    Ben Goldacre is a writer for the Guardian, and does a lot of good in pointing out Woo, and smacking down Big Pharma when it’s called for. His main writing is in the Guardian’s “Bad Science” column, a web search for “Ben Goldacre” will turn up links to his work.

    But here’s a nice, succinct talk he gave where he sums up how Woo really does kill lots of people around the world:

    When we say, “Oh, it isn’t so bad that Walmart sells little bottles of nothing (aka “homeopathic remedies”)” we open the door to the jerks who say “Anti-retrovial drugs are bad – vitamins will cure AIDS”. Both are equally Woo-tastic, it’s just that one of those Woo-positions had caused the unnecessary deaths of huge numbers of people. Ben’s talk (and writing) does a better job of explaining the issues than I could here.

  2. Woosty’s still a Cat,

    I don’t have any problem with those things being on the market, I just want them better regulated by the FDA.

  3. I was a hippie and once totally into health foods/stores/etc. Homeopathy has been around for a very long time. Even Whole Foods sells homeopathic formulas.

    I never found them to work, but a lot of people swear by them.

    They will have to go after health foods stores. It’s not just Walmart.

  4. James, diarrhea is a symptom not a disease….mitigating the effect is important and lots of things do it. I’m not so schooled in the male enhancement arena but arginine does the same thing as viagra in a safer and less risky manner…it is the main ingredient in many preparations…if we legislate always against a few bad eggs we also hamper and hinder those who are doing good and offerring real and valuable service and goods. Why not enforce the existing ruleagainst those things that are clearly across the line instaed of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

    …and promoting healthy cholesterol occurs not just by lowering …it occurs by not adding to the burden already there and also by increasing inate mechanisms for self-regulation and clearance and decreasing storage and a whole lot of other ways and channels including stress reduction!

  5. Brian,

    Yes, because that clearly was the most important part of my post. Bravo.

  6. RE: James M., January 31, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    “promotes healthy cholesterol”


    Within the realm of science, facts may trump sincerity.

    Low high-density lipoprotein levels can result in serious health problems, as can high low-density lipoprotein levels.

    Alas, sincerity perchance is easier to find than verifiable fact.

    Sincerity requires no research competence.

  7. Woosty’s still a Cat,

    Except I want the prohibition to be effective (e.g. mitigating colds and the flu sound to me like treating diseases; stopping traveler’s diarrhea sounds like treating a disease), and broader, so that it also covers functional claims about health (e.g. “male enhancement”). We’re in a crazy realm of regulation where dietary supplements can weasel their way into what are effectively drug claims by changing how a claim is phrased. “Lowers cholesterol” is a drug claim, but “promotes healthy cholesterol” can be made by dietary supplements. How exactly does something promote healthy cholesterol? By lowering it :-/

  8. RE: M. Wrytter, January 30, 2011 at 9:00 am

    LOL @ Woo-Mart, but if the name fits so be it and yes the stupid and their money are soon parted. This does make one ponder where the true soul of Woo-Mart does lie eh???


    I reckon the soul of every corporation always lies, no matter where it lies; is not a fictitious person always a lie?

    Fictitious Citizens United? Where better for a lie to lie?

  9. “I want the law changed such that dietary supplements cannot be marketed as treating diseases.”

    POOF!!!!!….your wish is granted…..

    ‘Under federal law, a dietary supplement may not claim to treat, cure or prevent a specific disease or class of diseases.’

    They , I think, are allowed to be marketed as ‘promotin health’
    which I do believe they do I do…..

  10. PaulThomson,

    If you aren’t saying there is a lack of research, perhaps you can explain your comment above: ” However, corporations should be prevented from marketing such materials as effective unless they have rigorous scientific studies demonstrating their effectiveness.”

    I want the law changed such that dietary supplements cannot be marketed as treating diseases. Producers of dietary supplements should have to either pass FDA approval to make drug claims, or be packaged as, e.g., “Echinacia”, without making claims about its medicinal properties.

    Ignoring claims on packaging, there are a number of “dietary supplements” that you see heavily marketed on TV and the radio that go way beyond the pale in terms of making drug claims.

    I don’t want to restrict people’s acccess to dietary supplements, but right now there is a booming trade in old-fashioned patent medicines that the amendments to the FDCA in the 1990s allowed.

  11. James M. If you aren’t saying there is a lack of research, perhaps you can explain your comment above: ” However, corporations should be prevented from marketing such materials as effective unless they have rigorous scientific studies demonstrating their effectiveness.”

    The main problem with the regulations is that the big pharmaceuticals weigh in on the legislation and want it to cost so much to get approved that only the largest of corporate producers can afford it. All manufacturers should have to stand by their claims, especially those of specific content. But if a local organic grower wants to sell tincture of echinacia and NOT make claims about specific amounts of ingredients they should be allowed to do so.

    The reason the big pharmaceutical companies have to adhere to such rigid standards is that their drugs are hundreds of times more potent, and have in fact killed several million people through medical errors and unpredicted reactions.

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