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The Dandelion Diet, or how to sell utter nonsense

Edzard Ernst gives his essential guide on how to make your evidence-free therapy a money-spinner.

Edzard Ernst gives his essential guide on how to make your evidence-free therapy a money-spinner.

Imagine a truly nonsensical treatment. As I am trying to think of one, I realize that they have all been invented already. What about The Dandelion Diet (Prince Charles had a similar idea recently; I hope he will forgive me for modifying it)?

Dandelion is French and means tooth of a lion; the German name of the plant is ‘Löwenzahn' which means the same. So what is more logical than to assume that consuming an extract of dandelion (highly diluted, if you insist) every day before breakfast, will make you enjoy the strength, endurance and health of a lion for the rest of your life? Not convinced? Don't forget I was looking for something nonsensical!

Having found it, you now need to persuade the rest of the world of your ground-breaking idea. How can you achieve this goal? Having observed this sort of think for some years now, I advise you to follow this simple, seven step strategy.

1. You need a good story. If necessary, invent a grandmother who lived to 120 and told you the secret for her longevity on her deathbed. Or better, claim you have found an entire tribe of people – in your younger days you have been an explorer in Mongolia – who all lived to 120. And, risking your life, you somehow extracted the valuable formula from them.

2. Get a brand. Of course, you don't want to die poor. So you need to commercialise your idea and protect it so that not every Tom, Dick and Harry can nick it. Here, I am afraid, you will have to invest some money. Only the best agency will do!

3. Avoid the regulators. You don't want to get bogged down in boring toxicity issues nor in complicated quality standards. A food supplement will nicely avoid the most embarrassing questions but you might need some legal advice at this stage. If all else fails, market you product via the internet from an address on the Cayman Islands, which will come in handy later.

4. Avoid the scientists. As your brand becomes popular (and lucrative), they will start asking questions. They will say your claims are not biologically plausible. Don't get intimidated. There are many effective replies. Science does not have all the answers. There are more things between heaven and earth…Look what science has brought us: superbugs and GM food!

5. Get some ‘evidence'. To start with, anecdotes might help, e.g. ‘my secretary's grandmother takes it and is still alive'. But eventually, people will insist on clinical studies. I suggest you run a pragmatic trial; if they are designed cleverly, they never produce negative results.

6. Get a libel lawyer. If you make outrageous claims – and only such claims generate outrageous profits – sooner or later, you will be challenged by critics who are not convinced by your treatment. Such people endanger your livelihood and must be silenced. The best is to sue them for libel in England. Here the laws are such that the one with the larger budget (and by then money will not be in short supply) always wins.

7. Find a clever financial adviser. As your business already has links to the Cayman Islands, I suggest you look there. And it's such a nice place to enjoy your hard-earned wealth.

Professor Edzard Ernst

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