Too True To Be Good

One thing is pretty certain: there have always been, and will always be people lined up around the block trying to sell you something. Most of those people are honest and have perfectly good products and services that some folks need. This isn’t about those people.

The Romans had a phrase – or at least Latin teachers do – “Caveat Emptor,” or, “Buyer Beware.” While we do have some legal protections against fraud in commercial transactions, the burden falls on us as consumers to determine if we should or shouldn’t buy something.

Unfortunately, even the smartest people don’t have enough knowledge to make purchasing decisions in every possible situation. Maybe 200 years ago the average person could judge whether a plow or an anvil or a pound of butter was a good value, but with hundreds of thousands of products available in the modern marketplace, it’s impossible to know a good buy from a bad one.

Though, to be fair, useless patent medicines were around back then, and plenty of people spent a lot of money on snake oil and miracle cures.

Medical science in this new century is so complex, what with the human genome having been at least partly unlocked, Eastern healing practices and other alternative therapies gaining popularity, and new research on nutrition and sociological factors in health – including job stress, lack of sleep, and other variables we never much thought of in the past.

Not only that, but some things we never dreamed could be treated can now be addressed: things like baldness, impotence, and obesity can be helped by the drugs Propecia, Viagra, and stomach “stapling.” And, almost anybody can see pretty well without glasses, thanks to laser surgery.

The knowledge that such miracles are possible leaves us emotionally vulnerable to the same snake-oil salesmen and women who have been around for years and years.

Radio stations – particularly AM stations, and TV stations – particularly late at night, have a continuing stream of ads for diet products, menopause cures, erectile dysfunction pills, and brain function herbal treatments. One thing they almost always have in common is that they will gladly give you a month’s supply free, in exchange for your credit card information. Not that they plan to steal it or sell it, but any attempt to reach them to get your money back, or to cancel the monthly shipments you’ve inadvertently authorized, will likely be difficult and time consuming, to the point that some people end up paying for months before they can actually reach somebody at the company.

Commercials disguised as TV and radio shows feature “doctors” who pretend to be interviewed by a concerned show hosts on one medical topic or another, and – shock of all shocks – they happen to have a product that will solve all your problems.

My favorite line from these infomercials in disguise is that “doctors and the pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know about these cures.” There’s nothing like a good conspiracy theory to sell products.

The sad thing is that some non-traditional approaches to medical problems really do offer legitimate help and relief. Not wanting to be suckers, or having been burned in the past, people may shy away from anything new or different.

When it comes to medical things, I’m likely to trust doctors who have studied for eight years or more in medical school, and I’ve found that most of them are pretty open-minded about new approaches. And they may know which ones to steer clear of for safety reasons.

One part of Caveat Emptor is that we all have to make up our own minds about choices we make on our health and everything else. One tip that might help us choose wisely is this: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.


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