History of Medical Fake News at the Mütter Museum

by Sabirah Mahmud

Have you ever been to the Mütter Museum? If so, have you ever had a lesson from their wide range of interesting medical and scientific topics? If you answered no to any of these questions, then I have an offer for you that may compel to finally get a lesson and visit the Mütter Museum. They recently have introduced a new medical lesson called the Medical Fake News which exposes the history of fake medical cures and conditions that many people endorse and argue.

An ad promoting violet ray therapy for pain relief. Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
An ad promoting violet ray therapy for pain relief. Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Let’s start about the past of medical fake news. In the past, there was hearsay of new medical breakthroughs and cure-alls, but were they really all they lived up to? There were many speculations that violet rays would provide many health benefits like destroying all germs, cure hair loss, and help eczema; however, these medical fallacies didn’t just stop there. Additionally, Dr. McLaughlin’s Electric Belt had apparently shocked the female problems and complaints out of a woman and Angelo Mariani’s patent medicine, Vin Mariani, had “said” that it would increase productiveness and help to make someone happy. However, these were all proved ineffective. As the electric belt itself would shock the one who wore it constantly, it is very blatant and self-explanatory as to why it would be ineffective. The violet rays were proved later on to be ineffective and Vin Mariani had soon given those who used it mercury poisoning which instead of being a cure-all, gave someone a deathly disease.

Now closer to the present, we hear these crazy medical “breakthroughs” all the time. Whenever I’m on a website, I usually see an ad that says, Click here if you want to find the cure to cancer. If you’ve seen this like me, sometimes you’re compelled to read more and truly find out what is behind this link, but would you believe me that this is also an example of the medical fallacies that we see today. Something that we might have all have heard through these false advertisements is the “cure” for cancer through apricots, specifically through their b17 seeds. In reality, as some would connect this to something that as a collective we would all want, this is actually connected to cyanide poisoning and could be fatal to anyone who tries this method. It is important that though sometimes these medica fallacies may be humorous, they actually have serious consequences that we all must be aware of. As expected though, there are always conspirators who believe that the rejection of this method is just the government suppressing cancer cures for bigger companies and hiding the truth.

Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Courtesy of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

However, these medical fallacies don’t always take place in a serious manner. How many times have you told yourself that you are going to go on that 2019 diet? I’m sure I have. Nonetheless, these diets aren’t always as true as they may seem. In the past, there was a diet called Fletcherism created by Horace Fletcher. The reason I mention it is because this ‘diet’ had many crazy rules to it. Fletcherism included chewing your food 30-50 times and if you’ve ever tried this, you would know it would be nearly impossible to chew anything past 20 times. This isn’t the only crazy diet though, there is also the hay diet. This diet includes not eating AT ALL. The theory behind this is that food creates a disease, many people actually believed this.

Fallacies don’t just come through diets and crazy potions and devices, they also come in many other ways. There are the random stories that smelling farts, of all things, can apparently ‘cure’ cancer that is usually from misinterpreted and bogus studies. Sometimes these fallacies can even be shown in crazy anti-aging methods where the Sun had released an article saying that apparently drinking the blood of young people can slow the aging process. Similarly to most of these fallacies that are mentioned, they are always brought up through a suspicious branch of science like Phrenology, the science of studying the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities.

But how can we figure out that these news stories  are fake? Well, the Mütter Museum will provide you with many tips, though I can tell you a few.

Firstly, if you’re reading an article and there is no author, it’s already a red flag. If you go onto reading and it’s from a questionable site, you can already tell the situation isn’t so great. Finally, if you see that there are poor copy editing, grammatical errors, and they rely on conspiracy theories, I promise you that this is a medical fallacy. However, the story doesn’t end here. I encourage you all to visit the College of Physicians Mütter Museum and take this lesson on the History of Medical Fake News.

Sabirah Mahmud is a sophomore at the Academy At Palumbo as well as a Teen Ambassador for Philly STAMP representing the Mutter Museum, and the Penn Museum. She enjoys doing Congressional Debate and Declamation Oratory at her school as well as playing the Oboe and Clarinet in her spare time.