If you are familiar with Internet message boards much, you may have noticed a preponderance of friendly strangers who vaguely agree with you and then link to fake-looking websites promoting Acai, the palm-borne purple berry which is very high in antioxidants (true) but which they often claim can cure cancer, diabetes, and such (not true).
ABC’s Nightline has done a nice job of sweeping through the claims and counterclaims about acai in their episode tonight, talking to scientific researchers about the berry’s properties, flying to the Amazon to meet the people whose livelihood it constitutes, and even talking with Dr. Mehmet Oz, who appeared on an infamous episode of Oprah in which the use of the unscientific word “superfood” to describe acai launched a thousand acai spam sites pretending to have their backing, many of which Oz and Oprah have sued. Dr. Oz: “If my name or picture is next to a product being sold, you can guarantee it’s a scam, because I don’t endorse any products and I would never let anyone use my name or my face, image, to sell a product.”
One can quibble with Nightline on some grounds — for instance, for largely accepting the claim that antioxidants themselves have anti-cancer and anti-aging properties when that’s still under debate among scientists — but the show should be commended for bringing a clarifying, relatively objective pop science lens to a set of claims about acai that have played on the public’s lack of scientific literacy and tendency to get caught up in hype-storms — claims promoted, not least, by other media outlets.
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