Pyramid Hats

Pyramid Hats would be pretty cool if they worked as advertised, wouldn’t they?

Pyramid hats are good eats
(Note: Pyramid Hats should not be fed to newborns)

Well, I hope you really didn’t expect to find an order form here, because I have no Pyramid Hats to sell. Never did, probably never will. This, instead, is the Pyramid Hat FAQ.

Q: What the heck is a Pyramid Hat?

A: A pyramid hat, at least the kind I speak of, is a metaphor for anything that someone tries to convince you to use, without the benefit of sufficient evidence that said thing actually does what it’s supposed to do. Snake oil, in other words. But the term “snake oil salesman” is so often applied where the salesman has a purposeful aim to deceive, a new “product” was needed which could encompass all those well-meaning (but often self-deceived) people selling stuff they truly belive in.

Q: Why “Pyramid Hat” then?

A: While discussing such things in the newsgroup in mid-1999, a pyramid hat was the first thing that came to my mind. Just imagining such a device is somewhat amusing, as well.

Q: Why the fake ad?

A: Why else advertise? It’s an attention-getter, and also part of the joke.

Q: What joke?

A: Well, the real joke is that it’s no joke. This is serious stuff. There are pyramid hats all over the place for unwary consumers to buy. Not just in the health field, either (although the practice does seem more rampant there). Fuel magnetizers, laundry balls, people finders, psychic hotlines, miracle stain removers, money-making schemes, etc. These and many others are all equivalent to pyramid hats.

Q: Okay, why?

A: Because they all promise things which, when the evidence is examined, they seldom deliver. The pyramid hat, as I envision it, is pretty much a cure-all device. There is no such thing. There is often no scientific proof that pyramid hats do anything, except act as aplacebo.

Q: So what’s wrong with placebos? If a pyramid hat cures my migraines, aren’t I getting what I asked for?

A: No, because there’s no guarantee that it’ll do so again, or for the next guy. Or, like little Timmy and his groin pull, the condition can be self-limiting (Timmy could have been skipping and jumping in a few days whether he wore a pyramid hat or not).

Q: But so what? What if my pyramid hat really does help me?

A: That’s great! Keep it. But realize that it may not help anyone else, so trying to get all your friends to try your particular flavor of pyramid hat, or worse yet, selling it, may not be the most ethical thing to do. In fact, promoting something for which there is no evidence of efficacy is a part of the definition of “quackery,” and it doesn’t matter whether you make a dime or not. Also, and unfortunately, your pyramid hat may very well stop working for you tomorrow. I wish you luck.

Q: So how can I tell when something is a pyramid hat?

A: By double-checking the claims made by the promoters with other sources. If there are no other sources, then that’s a big warning sign in itself. For example, for health-related things, always check with a doctor or two who have some experience in a related field (and I mean an M.D., not a “Doctor of Naturopathy” or an herbalist or some such). Or for automotive doohickeys, check with your mechanic, or a magazine like Consumer Reports or Road & Track. Etc., etc. If a product or practice works, someone other than the manufacturer will know about it, and be able to recommend it without making a sales pitch at the same time.

Q: But this thing sounds great. Isn’t it?

A: If it’s the seller you’re listening to, then of course it’s going to sound great. However, as a general rule, the better something sounds, the less likely it is to be true. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Q: But this book says that…

A: Forget the books. Most are published through popular-press or self-publishing houses. They don’t care whether or not the content of the book is correct, they just want to sell it. Anyone can write a book and state just about anything they want to in it. If you want a book on a particular disease, find a reference, not a “How to Beat Disease X” book.

Q: Changing the subject, what the heck are the numbers on your ad?

A: I’m glad you asked. Each section followed by a number in brackets ([2] for example) is an example of one of the seven bulleted points in the Federal Trade Commission’s Fraudulent Health Claims: Don’t Be FooledBroken Link publication (I am not affiliated with the FTC in any way).

Q: So all the stuff in the ad is made-up?

A: Yes. I’ve seen a lot of ads in the same vein(s) as all that stuff, and used a little of each to come up with it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s 100% garbage (except for the bit at the end — Pyramid Hats really will not suffer at all from Internet flames), but fairly good when it comes to making a point.

Q: What the heck are “gouty teeth” anyway?

A: Beats me. I made it up. Sounds pretty bad, though.

Q: And what does any of this have to do with psoriasis?

A: According to D. Zivkovic in a report titled “Psoriasis — A Dermatological Enigma” in 1998 psoriasis patients were turning to alternative therapies more than any other disease group. Since alternative medicine practitioners sell more pyramid hats than just about anybody else, I feel it’s vital for psoriatics to be aware of this issue.

Q: So is my current psoriasis therapy a pyramid hat?

A: If it’s not on the National Psoriasis Foundation’s list of Scientifically Proven Treatments for Psoriasis, it’s more than likely that it is. (Update, June 8, 2009: that list is no longer available.)

Q: Do you know of some good ones that aren’t on that list?

A: Yes, I do. Fumaric acid esters spring to mind first, but they are strong drugs, and the high frequency of side effects means it’s not for everyone (also it’s not readily available here in the U.S.). Certain dietary measures can also help (such as fatty fish oils — they’re no miracle cure by themselves, but they might help a little), but on the other hand, every one-size-fits all diet like you’ll find in a book is pretty much a pyramid hat. There are a few others.

Q: What about the new drugs on the horizon?

A: Really, until something gets approved, it should be treated just like any other pyramid hat. The odds are that a new drug will not make it to market, either due to poor performance or a plethora of side effects (or even one deadly one). Once a drug is approved, you can befairly certain that it’s not a pyramid hat (but it might get pulled off the market for other reasons).

Q: But what about drug X? It’s approved but didn’t help me.

A: Sorry to hear that, but no one therapy will work for everyone — for any disease, not just psoriasis. Through clinical trials, it can be shown, for example, that drug X clears 75% of psoriasis patients, while placebos clear only 10%. This means the drug works, but it obviously doesn’t work for everyone.

Q: So what about this alternative therapy? It helps some, too.

A: But does it help them better than a pyramid hat would? That’s the ultimate issue. Is it worth spending time and money, getting ones hopes up, etc., only to find you could get the same response (or lack of response) by eating sugar pills or wearing worthless headgear? I understand that for some whose psoriasis is extremely bad, the cost and risk might well be worth it, for them, but the same doesn’t hold true for everyone else.

Q: Is that it?

A: For now, yes. I’m sure I’ll think of something else to add later.