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Miracle Mineral Supplement

16 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 November 2012 09:17PM

We can always use more case studies of insanity that aren't religion, right?

Well, Miracle Mineral Supplement is my new go-to example for Bad Things happening to people with low epistemic standards. "MMS" is a supposed cure for everything ranging from the common cold to HIV to cancer. I just saw it recommended in another Facebook thread to someone who was worried about malaria symptoms.

It's industrial-strength bleach. Literally just bleach. Usually drunk, sometimes injected, and yes, it often kills you. It is every bit as bad as it sounds if not worse.

This is beyond Poe's Law. Medieval blood draining via leeches was far more of an excusable error than this, they had far less evidence it was a bad idea. I think if I was trying to guess what was the dumbest alternative medicine on the planet, I still would not have guessed this low. My brain is still not pessimistic enough about human stupidity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_Mineral_Supplement

Comments (81)

Comment author: prase 20 November 2012 11:09:58PM 20 points [-]

It's industrial-strength bleach.

It is consumed diluted (I think the vendors suggest to mix it with lemon juice or so) and only few droplets a day, so it's not that bad as drinking industrial-strength bleach. (There is certain threshold of strength above which the evidence overcomes even the crackpots' natural immunity. Death or immediately noticeable health problems tend to be above the threshold. There are naturally people who ignore all suggestions and take the stuff in concentrated form, but I suppose they don't stay in the pool of MMS proponents too long.)

Actually I don't think MMS is sillier than homoeopathy - although sodium chlorite is a poison, poisons in small concentrations are used in medicine and it has at least a chance of producing some effect, which can't be said about distilled water.

I have discussed - over the internet - with a person who claimed to be cured from various diseases by MMS, and was very indignant when I said it doesn't work.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 21 November 2012 11:39:19PM 2 points [-]

It is consumed diluted (I think the vendors suggest to mix it with lemon juice or so) and only few droplets a day, so it's not that bad as drinking industrial-strength bleach.

And it could actually work.

To me, EY's post is a couple of unfavorable case studies.

Case Study 1: Treat a substance as if it had a "curing/harming property" as an out of context absolute - out of context of treatment protocol, dosing protocol, or the particulars of a patient.

We see this all the time. Newspaper headline: "Substance X cures/does not cure disease Y." Of course, both could be true for different treatment protocols. For that matter, both could be true for the same treatment protocol but for different people.

Here's the place with directions for using this stuff: http://miracle-mineral-supplement.com/instructions-for-taking-mms/

Always use 5 drops of one of these food acids to each one drop of MMS, mix in a empty dry glass and wait at least 3 minutes, then add 1/3 to 2/3 glass of water or juice and drink.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_Mineral_Supplement

When citric acid or other food acid is used to "activate" MMS as described in its instructions,[8] the mixture produces chlorine dioxide, a potent oxidizing agent used in water treatment and in bleaching.[9]

And at the Wikipedia Chlorine Dioxide page, they show how it is used in water treatment, and the conditions for which it is superior to the use of chlorine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorine_dioxide#Uses

Now, I don't know if the MMS protocol simulates a beneficial water treatment in dosing terms, but I'll bet a nickel that EY didn't either when he wrote this post.

Case Study 2: Confirmation bias on "the world is full of morons."

EY writes:

We can always use more case studies of insanity that aren't religion, right?

My brain is still not pessimistic enough about human stupidity.

If you're just looking for case studies of idiocy, and you habitually tell yourself that you're not pessimistic enough about human stupidity, are you likely to look for the sense in what people do or say?

To combat this, when I see something that looks stupid, I try to remind myself that "The other guy might not be a moron." In this case, it wasn't really that hard. I have a historical antipathy to Case Study 1 (ny own confirmation bias was at work), and the other comments provided hints and pointers to relevant information.

With these facts available from wikipedia, wouldn't it be reasonable to think that the MMS folks had actually worked out dosing based on their treatment protocol, so that it in fact did simulate a perfectly safe and beneficial water treatment method? If they're not morons, they can use wikipedia, they don't want to kill anyone, don't want to be sued, and would hope for some beneficial effect that helped sales.

I doubt that this cures whatever ails you, but very likely some guy just figured he could make money if he sold something, that when used as directed, amounted to home water treatment. If he was just a quack, there would have been a zillion and one things he could have thrown in water and sold - seems like a huge coincidence for him to happen upon something used in water treatment.

Comment author: prase 22 November 2012 12:36:17AM 5 points [-]

water treatment

If it were so (intentionally or accidentally), users would be instructed to put MMS in any water they drink. But in fact they are instructed to take few droplets of MMS once a day; they can drink whatever water they wish after that. I doubt a disinfecting agent works several hours after being ingested.

seems like a huge coincidence for him to happen upon something used in water treatment

Almost any chemical is used for something; couldn't you just write "seems like a huge coincidence for him to happen upon something used in dish washing" if MMS was instead a saponate? (Note that water treatment and dish washing are of approximately same relevance to human health.)

Also trying different chemicals and finally choosing sodium chlorite due it's observed beneficial effects seems to me a less likely way to "discovery" in this case than knowing that bleach kills bacteria, concluding that it could work even internally and then using confirmation bias upon experimental data. Provided Jim Humble is not an ordinary quack.

I agree with your first point; I was surprised that EY used the "MMS is bleach, bleach is poison, MMS is poison" syllogism, given what he has written explicitly about poisons. It was perhaps a shorthand for a more valid argument, but surely sounded like very hasty reasoning.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 22 November 2012 02:42:52AM 0 points [-]

I don't get your points on water treatment. Maybe you don't get mine. Selling a water treatment solution as a miracle health cure has the benefit of being safe and possibly having some marginal benefit. Such a sales plan doesn't require that every bit of water be treated.

And it doesn't seem like you read the directions. The directions are to put it into water, as I quoted earlier, and as can be seen in the included link.

Almost any chemical is used for something

But not every chemical has been so widely ingested to human benefit.

Also trying different chemicals and finally choosing sodium chlorite due it's observed beneficial effects seems to me a less likely way to "discovery" in this case than knowing that bleach kills bacteria,

Replace "knowing that bleach kills bacteria" with "knowing that sodium chlorite can be easily transformed into chlorine dioxide, which is used as a water treatment", and you've got my point about coincidence. It's more likely that he picked this chemical because he knew it was used in water treatment than picked some chemical at random and liked the results.

Comment author: prase 22 November 2012 06:24:03PM 1 point [-]

Selling a water treatment solution as a miracle health cure has the benefit of being safe and possibly having some marginal benefit.

Safety would be guaranteed if the concentrations used for MMS didn't exceed the level used for water treatment (under the natural assumption that water is not treated in order to become toxic), I don't assert that the concentrations suggested by MMS proponents are unsafe, but rather that being a water treatment agent does not alone guarantee safety.

As for marginal benefits: water treatment is beneficial if all water one drinks is treated and if the water were infected before treatment. The MMS protocol, as likely applied in the western world, reduces to treating one glass of water a day, or even a glass of juice. Under normal conditions in developed countries drinking water or juice are perfectly safe as they are - adding disinfectant improves nothing. If, accidentally, the user has access to spoiled water only, treating one glass again is nearly worthless, since the germs would arrive to the intestinal tract with the next glass. If MMS were indeed beneficial, it would probably be for reasons completely unrelated to its being used for water treatment.

sodium chlorite can be easily transformed into chlorine dioxide, which is used as a water treatment

Reading more into Wikipedia I found the transformation goes as 2 NaClO2 + Cl2 → 2 ClO2 + 2 NaCl, which suggests you have to add chlorine to trigger the reaction. Are you sure this is happening when MMS is put into water? I suppose adding salt would be sufficient, but they suggest adding organic acids.

Comment author: Pavitra 20 November 2012 11:28:25PM 16 points [-]

Recall that the goal isn't to undershoot reality every time, but to do so half the time.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2012 01:05:49AM 12 points [-]

assuming symmetry and some relation to a linear component of your utility fuction, and so on...

Comment author: fubarobfusco 20 November 2012 11:44:23PM 26 points [-]

"Telling someone who trusts you that you're giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying--it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong." —http://xkcd.com/971/

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 21 November 2012 02:28:47PM 6 points [-]

For both of you not familiar with xkcd, hover your mouse over the comic.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 20 November 2012 11:37:10PM *  33 points [-]

I don't think point and sputter posts like this are very useful. How is this example more surprising than any other quack medicine example? How much understanding does the typical patient have of any medicine? Lots of medicines are controlled doses of poisons.

I think you are mistaken about the lethality. It would be surprising if it "often" killed its users, yet was able to spread. But that's not true. Yes, it is sold at industrial concentrations, but most people follow the directions and dilute it. The FSA says that, used as directed, it will only cause GI distress (though the FDA suggests that the low blood pressure could be fatal). Users are warned of the effects ahead of time. That probably reassures them that it is working, that they haven't been scammed with an inactive substance.

What is the death rate? The Seattle case appears to involve 200 users and no fatalities. The woman who died in Vanuatu appears to be the only known death, but I don't think much is known about the hundred thousand malaria victims in East Africa who took it.

I don't think this demonstrates human stupidity any more than any other quack medicine example. It does nicely illustrate Poe's law. That may make it more memorable and convincing.


Added: By "point and sputter" I mean that Eliezer did not provide enough information for me to determine what surprised him about this example and why it would be a useful example to give to others. I think he reached much of his conclusions from false beliefs about how the product is described and how lethal it is, but I don't know. Certainly, what the impression I took away from his post was false.

Comment author: MugaSofer 21 November 2012 03:43:46PM 6 points [-]

I don't think point and sputter posts like this are very useful.

The post clearly states that this is intended to be used as an example in other posts, to reduce the use of religion as an example.

Comment author: MugaSofer 21 November 2012 08:08:47PM 2 points [-]

I don't think point and sputter posts like this are very useful

This is intended to be used as an example in other posts. Our current go-to example is religion, which leads to point-and-laugh routines and isn't very, well, dramatic, is it?

Comment author: army1987 21 November 2012 01:41:11PM 2 points [-]

I don't think point and sputter posts like this are very useful.

Well, it could have been a comment in the Open Thread. But I don't think it wouldn't belong on LW at all.

Comment author: Robert_Unwin 21 November 2012 11:14:01PM 0 points [-]

Whether you change beliefs in response to a new case will depend on the nature of the selection or sampling process . If you go through a history of quack medicine, you'd get lots of new case-studies but you might not change your beliefs about typical human epistemic performance at all.

Even if new cases are selected to be examples of human stupidity, they might still be roughly random within that class. So cases that are more extreme than one's expectation will shift your beliefs. But this might leave your beliefs about the frequency of incidence of human gullibility unchanged. (Maybe I come to think that believers in quack medicine are even more stupid than I previously thought, but not that such believers are any more common).

It's very hard to judge whether one's new information is selection-biased in some way. In areas like psychology and political science, it's not so hard to find academic papers that support either side on a debate. Even if you can't find that, it could be because of file-drawer effects or because of topic has not been investigated much by academics.

Comment author: shminux 20 November 2012 11:37:17PM 6 points [-]

It's industrial-strength bleach. Literally just bleach. Usually drunk, sometimes injected, and yes, it often kills you. It is every bit as bad as it sounds if not worse.

Apparently it's quite diluted and taken in very low doses, so it's not like you are advised to drink a glass of bleach. It's also less corrosive than chlorine and superior for the control of legionella bacteria, when used for water disinfection and purification. Whether it kills cancer without killing the patient first has apparently not been tested.

Comment author: AstraSequi 21 November 2012 10:51:12PM 2 points [-]

Bleach will control (kill) most bacteria, but since cancer cells are very similar to your own cells, the prior is very low unless there is a specific reason to think that it will target one of those differences. For example, something that is just corrosive will probably affect the different cell types equally. Another thing is that since it's a charged molecule, it can't actually enter the cell on its own unless it rips apart the cell membrane, in which case that's probably the main mechanism of toxicity.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if it had been tested. The most likely outcome would be that it failed at an early step in the testing process (along with a large number of other chemicals), and nobody had any reason to publish it or think that anyone would ever actually decide that it might work.

Comment author: shminux 21 November 2012 11:29:12PM 0 points [-]

All good points, which, incidentally, invalidate the OP's assertion that he is 'still not pessimistic enough about human stupidity".

Comment author: MugaSofer 21 November 2012 03:37:47PM -2 points [-]

Whether it kills cancer without killing the patient first has apparently not been tested.

Are you seriously suggesting someone should have given cancer patients bleach in case it turned out to cure them?

Comment author: Alicorn 21 November 2012 04:57:13PM 10 points [-]

A lot of chemo drugs are toxic, aren't they? I'm actually not sure how they were located as hypotheses. Does anyone have info on this?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 November 2012 09:33:43PM *  19 points [-]

A lot of chemo drugs are toxic, aren't they? I'm actually not sure how they were located as hypotheses. Does anyone have info on this?

This is discussed to some extent in Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies" which is an excellent book about the history of cancer. In most cases, chemo drugs are chosen because they target a specific phenomenon that is occurring in cancer cells more commonly than it is occurring in other cells. The most common example is mitosis (since the main problem with cancer cells is that they just keep growing). This is why chemo drugs often harm cell types like immune cells and hair follicles- these cells are some of the few cells in the body that are often growing.

A historical example may be instructive. One of the first attempts at chemo was for leukemia. It was known that leukemia cells had strange mitosis behavior and distorted nuclei. So researchers tried giving folic acid to the patients since this was known to be important in cell dvision. Unfortunately, this made the leukemia even more virulent: it turned out that levels of folic acid were actually a limiting factor on how fast the cancer cells could divide. So then they tried giving them chemicals that interfered with the metabolism and processing of folic acid. This was the first set of chemo drugs that had any success (although it turned out to be always temporary: the cancer almost inevitably evolved around it).

Comment author: Alicorn 21 November 2012 09:42:06PM 4 points [-]

That's really interesting, thanks!

Comment author: AstraSequi 21 November 2012 10:27:01PM 3 points [-]

Historically, most drugs have been identified by high-throughput screening, i.e. you purify an enzyme of interest and test billions of different chemicals against it for the desired effect. You then test for an effect in cell culture (compared to healthy cells), or you can screen directly against the cancer cells. Once you have that evidence, you test whether it has effects in mice, and only after that can you test anything in humans.

It's possible to propose a single chemical and get it right by chance, but testing a single chemical is cheap. In an already-equipped lab, the initial cell culture data will probably take a few weeks and under a thousand dollars, and after that you will have people willing to help and/or fund you. The lack of even this initial evidence is generally a good reason to believe that something doesn't work.

With regards to hypotheses, a lot of the early drugs were identified by chance - there's a description at History of cancer chemotherapy. Most of the current interest is in targeted therapy, i.e. intended to act against specific proteins involved in various types of cancer, and the starting point is the identification of that protein. Chemo drugs are a bit different since they're a very broad class (they target rapidly dividing cells in general, which is also what causes the toxicity), and the metabolic networks they affect are generally well-known, so the initial hypotheses tend to be about new ways that you can intervene in those networks. There are other approaches to the various steps as well, e.g. structure-based drug design has had some success, but not yet enough to replace the screens.

Comment author: MugaSofer 21 November 2012 06:55:34PM *  1 point [-]

Me neither, but I doubt they just gave them random poisons on the off-chance one of them would survive.

EDIT: Seconded the request for info, incidentally.

Comment author: quiet 21 November 2012 04:02:06PM *  3 points [-]

Hmm, when jokes about medically experimenting on cancer patients with bleach don't register as being all that dark (until someone takes it seriously), then I think it might be time to reevaluate my sense of humor.

Comment author: shminux 21 November 2012 05:54:26PM 1 point [-]

Pun intended?

Comment author: shminux 21 November 2012 05:52:58PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: MugaSofer 21 November 2012 07:56:40PM 0 points [-]

My point is that testing toxic substances on people without any reason to believe that they will have any effect beyond further damaging their health is, y'know, bad. Obviously. We don't stab people in the head to cure their personality problems, even though brain damage can and has altered peoples' personalities. Have you read HPMOR? Because Dumbledore makes a similar suggestion, but at least he has the decency to suggest something merely inconvenient.

Comment author: Manfred 21 November 2012 07:08:49PM *  0 points [-]

Probably that we have a causal model of how bleach is bad for you, and a causal model of how cancer drugs can help, and bleach would just kill you. We're not evolution, we don't have to test every design before building a car.

Comment author: Mestroyer 21 November 2012 07:22:54AM 4 points [-]

I showed this to my friend who is a chemistry student. He said bleach is sodium hypochlorite, and this is sodium chlorite.

Comment author: CronoDAS 21 November 2012 08:06:51AM 1 point [-]

True. They're pretty similar chemicals, though.

Comment author: Kevin 21 November 2012 10:05:46AM 0 points [-]

And the suggested use is to mix it with acidic food..

Comment author: lsparrish 22 November 2012 02:04:02AM 5 points [-]

Hormesis might be relevant here. I don't see a compelling reason to believe these people are not being helped in some cases. This isn't homeopathy-level crazy. And let's not forget to do the utilitarian homework: one case of cancer remission (or any other serious condition) is worth a substantial number of mild digestive discomfort.

It also isn't religion-level crazy, since it is empirically testable (actually rather trivial to test as these things go!), and controlled studies could probably change most of these people's minds on it. Knee-jerk appeals to disgust and "hey it's bleach!" seem like unimpressive noise to me. Why not "hey we tried this on 100 people and they did 10% worse than the control group!"

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 November 2012 02:13:08AM 3 points [-]

I agree with most of your comment but I wanted to single out one bit

and controlled studies could probably change most of these people's minds on it.

Given how many people still do homeopathy despite the controlled studies strongly showing it doesn't work, and similar issues with the vaccines-autism crowd, this seems overly optimistic.

Comment author: lsparrish 22 November 2012 07:30:12PM 0 points [-]

You may have a point. There's a crowd of people who do not understand the most basic of science, who are susceptible to MMS for the same reasons they are susceptible to say Astrology. However that's not the only thing at work here. Part of it is that people often find it plausible that ivory-tower science (with all of its obscure focuses and elaborate, often highly beaurocratic needs) has overlooked a simple solution that maverick scientists and amateur experimenters (desperate to cure stuff like malaria and cancer, and willing to try anything, including bleach) didn't miss. Its not an anti-science viewpoint at all, but a skepticism of mainstream methods of achieving the scientific ideal of rational empirical observation.

On another note: It's strange to me that vaccines are usually attacked by the same people who promote homeopathy, and that skeptics who promote vaccines usually take the position that homeopathy is bunk. The term "homeopathy" does not etymologically have anything to do with how dillute the drug is, rather it means "like the disease" and refers to the ancient doctrine that "like cures like". A vaccine actually illustrates this principle quite well: a virus is rendered impotent by some means, but still stimulates the symptoms, and in particular the immune response for the disease. If there was ever a proof positive that homeopathy works, it is vaccination.

It's surprising that skeptics have been content to allow the con artists their ridiculous premise that "homeopathy" somehow equals or implies the hyperdillution of the active ingredient. Instead they should have insisted on etymological purity and pointed out that real science has developed real homeopathic ("like cures like") approaches that work well, and it is not by hyperdillution or special mystical properties of things at all, but via rational and empirical studies like biochemistry, virology, and immunology.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 November 2012 05:35:11PM 3 points [-]

: It's strange to me that vaccines are usually attacked by the same people who promote homeopathy, and that skeptics who promote vaccines usually take the position that homeopathy is bunk. The term "homeopathy" does not etymologically have anything to do with how dillute the drug is, rather it means "like the disease" and refers to the ancient doctrine that "like cures like". A vaccine actually illustrates this principle quite well: a virus is rendered impotent by some means, but still stimulates the symptoms, and in particular the immune response for the disease. If there was ever a proof positive that homeopathy works, it is vaccination.

This is confused. Vaccination is a specific, well-understood procedure with known mechanisms. The similarity to homeopathy is purely superficial.

Instead they should have insisted on etymological purity and pointed out that real science has developed real homeopathic ("like cures like") approaches that work well, and it is not by hyperdillution or special mystical properties of things at all, but via rational and empirical studies like biochemistry, virology, and immunology.

First, even one thought of "like cures like"- vaccines exist as a preventative measure, they don't cure something already there. Second, emphasizing the etymology of a word to dictate what the word must mean doesn't change the nature of reality and is an example of using words badly.

Comment author: lsparrish 28 November 2012 06:23:27AM 1 point [-]

Calling something one thing versus another doesn't alter the reality being described. However, choice of nomenclature does affect how people tend to think about things, and I think does take its toll on discourse over time, by creating pockets of cognitive dissonance and subtle miscommunication.

The fact that not only a term like "preventative medicine" but also a word which literally means "like the disease" don't instantly generate mental pointers to vaccines as an obvious and superb positive example of both of these things, seems like a pretty good illustration of words having gone horribly wrong. (Incidentally, vaccines do in some cases cure existing conditions, e.g. rabies.)

Vaccines function by well understood mechanisms that stand in sharp contrast to the magic water kind of homeopathy. That's the whole point as to why I would consider vaccines a stronger example for the darned word (it being an etymologically generic sounding word which aptly describes the notion that -- in at least some cases -- "what has the best chance of curing the disease is something that resembles the disease"). Permitting an etymologically unrelated meaning to become the primary definition, especially if that is a valueless and silly thing, is linguofiscally irresponsible. Latin roots don't grow on trees (well, perhaps they sort of do, but my point is that there are costs to this sort of thing).

Debunking "homeopathy" in a way that respects the idea of the word being synonymous with Hahnemann's magic water is an unnecessarily weak approach. To defeat an argument you ought to use the strongest face-value interpretation, not just the one you think the other person probably means by it (or even what the history books say they mean by it). Start by saying "your so-called homeopathy isn't even a consistent concept, otherwise you guys would be championing vaccines". Complain about the use of a word to mean an unrelated concept. Then move on to disprove the magic water hypothesis with a different (mutually acceptable) word being applied like "dilutive persistence" or some such thing.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 28 November 2012 02:45:47PM *  2 points [-]

This is an interesting set of points which I'll need to think more about. My immediate reaction is that a) you overestimate the level to which the vast majority of people are actually influenced at all by the roots of the words they hear. b) The statement about the rabies vaccine isn't really accurate- it doesn't cure rabies. If you actually get serious symptoms the vaccine is essentially close to useless. The vaccine is given to people after they have been bitten because the immunity it induces can often be enough before the virus has had a large chance to multiply. We generally only do it in that circumstance because the immunity given is short-term, on the order of 2-3 years, and humans rarely get rabies now that we have largescale animal vaccination programs.

Your point about using the connotations of words to our advantage is an interesting one however that I'll need to think more about.

Comment author: ChristianKl 29 November 2012 05:05:35PM 1 point [-]

This just shows that etymology is a poor way to determine what words actually mean in the real word. Words have no meaning apart from what people mean when they say the words or listen to them.

Etymological purity has no practical value.

Comment author: gwern 29 November 2012 09:42:35PM 0 points [-]

Hormesis might be relevant here. I don't see a compelling reason to believe these people are not being helped in some cases.

I see no reason to expect hormesis to be relevant. Typically, hormesis is about really low doses, sometimes to the point where accidental contamination is a confound: for example, in radiation hormesis, I've read of measures like using ancient marble or lead as shielding because they will have less residual radiation than other materials. If the bleach hormetic doses are that small, then all they're doing is poisoning themselves by going way beyond hormetic doses...

Comment author: ChristianKl 29 November 2012 05:12:57PM 0 points [-]

The stuff is more dangerous than just causing mild digestive discomfort. It can kill people. Yes, giving people a random person might also destroy the cancer in some people. From an ethical perspective we can't give people random poisons to see whether their cancer gets better.

Comment author: Kevin 21 November 2012 07:52:44AM *  2 points [-]

Perhaps the manufacturer of MMS actually specifically is trying to kill people?

Comment author: jimrandomh 21 November 2012 12:28:40AM 2 points [-]

There are two things going wrong here. The first problem is failing to call things by their true names. This is a widespread problem when people use drugs and supplements: they refer to them by slang terms or brand names. This cuts them off from information; if they knew it was bleach, they'd think twice before using it. There was a similar problem with "bath salts" (a term that does not identify a drug, but rather means "unidentified substance that's labeled as maybe poison".)

The second problem is failing to observe the first level of precaution, which requires, at a minimum, doing some internet research, either being qualified or consulting someone qualified to judge the risks and benefits, and knowing how to measure out a correct dose and what the consequences are if you screw it up. (This last one appears to have killed some people: they didn't water the bleach down enough to be survivable).

I will say this, though: it makes the quacks promoting ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for everything look a whole lot better by comparison.

Comment author: blashimov 20 November 2012 10:31:17PM 2 points [-]

Frankly, I am surprised you have even Facebook friends who would recommend drinking bleach.

Comment author: Tenoke 20 November 2012 10:47:10PM 0 points [-]

He saw it in a Facebook thread, the person who recommended it was probably not his friend but to be honest that surprised me too.The only reason I've even heard before of this is Facebook as well but it was a rant against MMS by an 'Objectivist'.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 November 2012 12:25:42AM 3 points [-]

Another angle on this is that it isn't about humans in general, it's about some of the most gullible humans.

That aspect of things became salient to me when I read a man complaining about the women who get involved with prisoners-- even those who have been convicted for murder. It's so unfair when some ordinary guys get no female attention at all. I suddenly realized that he was talking about a very small proportion of women. The vast majority of women aren't chasing prisoners.

Tolkien's Sindarin (and, IIRC, Welsh) have two plurals, one for more than one and another for everything in a class. I am very envious. My ideal language would have a bunch of plurals-- the two from Sindarin, plus "a noticeable minority" and "the vast majority". I might even split "everything in a class" into "all we have seen" and "all by nature".

Comment author: tim 21 November 2012 04:16:54AM *  6 points [-]

Another angle on this is that it isn't about humans in general, it's about some of the most gullible humans.

This seems to imply that there is something fundamentally different about these humans compared to other humans. I'm not convinced this is the case. I would be rather surprised if you couldn't make the average human drink bleach by exposing them to specifically tailored situations/information.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 November 2012 06:04:28AM 1 point [-]

That's not just arguing from fictional evidence, it's arguing from hypothetical evidence. I don't know, but I've been told that you can get a room full of Jews shouting "Sieg Heil" with a sufficiently rousing version of this. [1] You could probably get people to drink bleach by mislabeling a bottle.

Getting back to the general point, it's not just important to know that an aspect exists, it's important to know how strong it is.

[1] I was told it either by or about Robert Aspirin/Yang the Nauseating. He was quite a good performer.

Comment author: tim 21 November 2012 06:52:58AM *  3 points [-]

I think this is a rather uncharitable interpretation of my argument. There is a difference between how strong an effect is and how common it is. If you had said "Another angle on this is that it isn't about humans in general, it's about [a small subset of humans that happened to experience an unfortunate convergence of misinformation and subjective context]" then we would have no disagreement.

I'm not contending that these situations are representative of the human population, but rather that these situations do not require "some of the most gullible humans" to occur.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 November 2012 02:38:44PM 0 points [-]

You could be right.

The thing both of us are leaving out is that deciding what can be trusted is a genuinely hard problem. You can get badly hurt trusting conventional medical advice, too.

Comment author: army1987 21 November 2012 01:45:56PM 2 points [-]

Tolkien's Sindarin (and, IIRC, Welsh) have two plurals, one for more than one and another for everything in a class. I am very envious. My ideal language would have a bunch of plurals-- the two from Sindarin, plus "a noticeable minority" and "the vast majority". I might even split "everything in a class" into "all we have seen" and "all by nature".

Why do you need grammatical inflection when you can just use quantifiers (“several sheep”, “all sheep”, “many sheep”, “most sheep”)?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 November 2012 02:42:50PM 2 points [-]

Because having rationalist features built into the language means that it's harder to slip in irrational premises. I don't know whether there's be research on whether native speakers of languages with evidentials think more clearly about the sources of their information.

Comment author: army1987 21 November 2012 06:27:53PM 2 points [-]

Why the same thing would count as “built into the language” if expressed in one word but not if expressed in two? After all, spelling conventions for separating words are partly arbitrary -- a language might have stuff like “severalsheep”, “allsheep”, etc.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 November 2012 06:55:56PM 5 points [-]

It's a question of what's obligatory. Admittedly, this doesn't have to be handled by what's a single word. In English, you have to introduce nouns with 'a' or 'the'. I'm not sure how valuable this is-- many, perhaps most, languages don't have that feature, but in English, you're stuck with indicating whether something you're talking about is especially important.

In the same spirit, you have to make an effort to avoid indicating a person's gender.

In English, you can say "men do x" or "women do y" without a built in obligation to indicate or to notice to yourself whether you mean all, all that you've noticed, all inevitably, most, or some. I think not having a requirement to be clear about such things leads to a lot of stereotyping and pontificating.

Comment author: army1987 22 November 2012 11:47:11AM *  2 points [-]

In English, you can say "men do x" or "women do y" without a built in obligation to indicate or to notice to yourself whether you mean all, all that you've noticed, all inevitably, most, or some. I think not having a requirement to be clear about such things leads to a lot of stereotyping and pontificating.

I don't think it's just a matter of language. In Italian it's extremely rare to use a noun without an article as the subject of a sentence -- you'd use the definite article (lit. ‘the men’) if you mean something like ‘typical men’ (as in ‘men have opposable thumbs’ -- male amputees do exist but are irrelevant to the point being made) and a ‘partitive article’ (or an indefinite pronoun such as ‘someone’, rewording the sentence such as ‘there are men who’, etc.) when you mean ‘certain men’ -- and yet people use the former all the time even when they have very little evidence that something applies to an entire reference class except a few irrelevant exceptions.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 November 2012 07:39:36AM 1 point [-]

Thanks. That's a good example of mental defaults pulling in one direction even though the language is pulling in the opposite direction.

Comment author: DanArmak 22 November 2012 07:21:41PM *  1 point [-]

In the same spirit, you have to make an effort to avoid indicating a person's gender.

English is a lot better in that respect than most languages in the Indo-European family (and Hebrew, just because I happen to know it). Many languages have mandatory gender for all nouns. Not just "he" vs. "she", but "he-chair" vs "she-sun". In those languages you can't talk about something without knowing its gender - masculine, feminine or neuter. You can't address a person in Hebrew without knowing their gender - not even to ask for their name. (Think how fun that makes replying to email.)

My two mother tongues are Russian and Hebrew, but I read and write more in English. Every time I need to write something in Hebrew, I become angry at how gender forces its way to my attention.

ETA: I'm sure you know this already, but it was worth saying clearly.

Comment author: army1987 18 February 2013 09:26:05PM 0 points [-]

BTW, see this.

Comment author: Baughn 21 November 2012 06:51:23PM 2 points [-]

If it's built into the language then, presumably, you can't not use it.

That's the main difference, I think.

Comment author: prase 21 November 2012 11:49:18PM *  0 points [-]

I am constructing an artificial language (just for fun; also it isn't going to be finished any soon) with three grammatical numbers: singular, plural (can be any number, zero and one included) and class plural for everything in the class. I have invented this independently of Tolkien not for practical reasons, but just for sake of elegance, as it better suits my desire to have the grammar work in part like set algebra.

Having grammar rules that enforce expressing the number more precisely than we are used to (e.g. different grammatical numbers for one vs. two vs. more than two but few vs. noticeable minority vs. majority vs. all) has disadvantages when the speaker doesn't know the number or just wishes to describe a general situation where more than one number is applicable. Similar problems we face when our grammars enforce gender expression when using some pronouns (if we aren't Finns or Turks or Chinese or...). People try to find a way around, either by using more complex expressions ("he or she") or by attempts to update the grammar / vocabulary ("ey"). I am not sure whether I'd wish to have the same problem with grammatical number.

As for Welsh, a peculiarity with plurals I know about is that some nouns, usually denoting animals, have the basic (shorter) form denoting plural and the singular is derived by a suffix (e.g. adar/aderyn for birds/bird, pysgod/pysgodyn for fish, plant/plentyn for children/child - children are apparently sort of animals too). I haven't heard/read about different types of plural though.

Comment author: LadyStardust 20 November 2012 11:54:58PM 2 points [-]

When I read the title I thought you'd be presenting us with an ad for a fake snake oil cure, mocking alternative medicine. The truth is far more horrifying than fiction.

What I don't understand is how this got into the market in the first place. Don't they have to pass regulations first? Or was he making it in his basement like a meth cook? Now I think most alternative medicine is over-priced placebo for gullible rich twits, but this crosses the line. I have to commend Rhys Morgan for exposing this consumer hazard. At the age of 17, he's already done much more than most will ever do. He'll make a fine addition to the skeptic community.

Comment author: CronoDAS 21 November 2012 08:06:10AM 0 points [-]

According to Wikipedia, the first person involved just wrote a book. As for how it got into the market, the people who manufacture and sell it make a point of not putting any actual "medical" claims in writing and call it a "water purifier" or something. I mean, if you want to buy and sell concentrated sulfuric acid, it's perfectly legal to do so.

Comment author: moshez 21 November 2012 06:24:07PM 1 point [-]

My initial reaction was "I wish I wouldn't have known about this", because it made me physically shuddered. After the shock and disgust, I forced myself to accept the proposition "There is a company selling bleach as medicine, and people are ingesting it". I am now happy I have seen this, because my model of the world is more accurate, and if I act on my values in accordance with more accurate beliefs, I will be able to do more good.

Comment author: Caspian 24 November 2012 12:59:45AM 1 point [-]

Others have covered your knee jerk poison-is-bad reaction so I'll let that pass, but the thing that stuck out for me as bad epistemic standards from MMS proponents was seeing some "explanation" for why it would give you an upset stomach despite the other claim that it would only harm "bad" bacteria. Something about how it's your body flushing out poisons and it's a good sign. It struck me as an untested rationalisation someone just made up.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 18 February 2013 09:52:45PM *  0 points [-]

People sometimes seem to use a model that says that potency is a scalar quantity. If you have a powerful illness, you need a powerful medicine to defeat it. Weak medicine has little side effects; powerful medicine has big side effects. So if something has big side effects, that means you know it is powerful medicine!

People use a similar model for computer security: Installing antivirus, a firewall, or other security features gives your computer some number of security points. Like armor class in D&D, the more security points you have, the harder it is for an attacker or malware to hurt you. If you install a lot of security stuff, it will make you really safe ... and you can safely go do dangerous things like installing software that fell off the back of a truck, or browsing spammy porn sites with IE6.

The problem in both cases is an ignorance of how the attacks work, and thus how the defenses have to work, too. An arbitrary chemical that has heavy "side effects" is not thereby a potent remedy for infections, cancer, wounds, and other diverse afflictions. Malware and attackers use specific exploits and tricks; in order to make your computer safe from a specific attack, security software has to block particular things.

And unlike in classic D&D, putting on a helmet doesn't make it any harder to run you through with a lance.

Comment author: Decius 21 November 2012 07:55:48AM 1 point [-]

To be fair, it technically cures any number of ailments as well as modern medicine: You die of something other than the treated disease.

But if your standard for effective treatment is "Died of something other than the disease", there are easier ways to reach that goal.

Comment author: army1987 21 November 2012 01:51:14PM 0 points [-]

technically

That sounds like a strawman to me... Has anyone actually proposed that as a technical definition of “cure”? If I had to come up with one, I'd use “die after more QALYs than you would have without the treatment”.

Comment author: Decius 21 November 2012 05:49:01PM 0 points [-]

Poe's law.

Comment author: DanArmak 22 November 2012 07:27:09PM 0 points [-]

My brain is still not pessimistic enough about human stupidity.

I'm pretty sure we have a cure for that. It involves spending time on certain sites...

Comment author: army1987 21 November 2012 01:39:19PM 0 points [-]

Sigh...

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2012 11:54:00PM 0 points [-]

It's industrial-strength bleach. Literally just bleach. Usually drunk, sometimes injected, and yes, it often kills you. It is every bit as bad as it sounds if not worse.

Industrial strength bleach? Not even diluted? Sometimes injected? But that's a go to method for a cruel and painful but fairly quick way to murder someone!

My brain is still not pessimistic enough about human stupidity.

Likewise. In fact there aren't many people I would have believed at face value if they had told me this was actually a thing people do.