Imagine a simple “taco-shaped” device that can be injected into your eye by a trained eyeball-injecting specialist that will make your vision better than 20/20 for the rest of your life!
Never mind that no one knows quite how it works—or whether it’s safe. Never mind that injecting anything into an eyeball is a risky business, even for a trained semi-board-certified ophthalmologist like Rand Paul! Never mind that, as the press release-y article primly notes, “clinical trials [are] still needed before device can be approved!” This new gizmo must be better than wearing glasses and wearing contacts and having cornea-reshaping surgery! It must—because the inventor says so!
Meet the latest slightly interesting entry into the ever-expanding realm of health-care magical realism, the lair of veterans like Gary Null and Derek Chopra as well as the now-beleaguered Dr. Oz. They promote unbelievable claims that are readily believed despite, or because, of the countervailing evidence. Or, as no less a mendacity expert than Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
The latest version of the old Ponce de Leon scam, the so-called bionic lens, was invented and promoted by Garth Webb, a man with a very light Google footprint. His stature is enhanced, apparently, because he holds lots of patents, a particularly strange stat to be considered trust-worthy. As the Bionic people announced, the bionic lens is simply injected in an 8-minute procedure and you are better than perfect. Forever.
It is bizarre, really, and surely infuriating the way medical “breakthroughs” travel through the media, into the reading public, and out the other end without perturbing anything or anyone. It is a reality TV sort of life without consequence, from the calm, handsome promise of miracle to the bored (and still handsome) shrug if and when someone circles back to challenge the claim or show new evidence. They arise not from science but the from back-of-the-comic-book ads where 99-pound weaklings could grow muscle, lose zits, and kick sand at former tormentors by mailing away for this simple hand grip.
Indeed these self-evidentially B.S. medical claims have entered, somehow, that weird non-world of celebrity life where the featured players—Kim and Beyoncé and Nicole and so on—never are affected, really, by reality but rather float and paddle through the ether from here to there, looking glam and fit and cheerful. Despite our learning hidden truths of alcoholism or infidelity—they remain, well, celebrities, embalmed in their glorious fabulousness.
In medicine, it is not the doctors who get the celebrity treatment (Oz aside) it’s the set of cures and correctives. Pomegranates and blueberries, kale and quinoa, and now, bionic lenses, are really just the Brad and Kim and Kanye of health care, living outside of reality to mildly entertain and distract everyone. Superfoods and superstars, together at last.
How then to discuss something like an injectable taco-shaped piece of plastic that a promoter claims can be shpritzed into an eyeball to cure abnormal vision, never mind that it hasn’t been studied in people? Line up the evidence; recite the studies; plumb the medical literature?
It simply doesn’t work. This sort of health-care claim lives beyond the reach of the rational world. A hard-edged scientific railing against the crime of flim-flam is as likely to gain adherents or reduce belief as a tersely worded 5,000-word document listing the false steps of Angelina Jolie would result in a decrease in her fan base.
A better approach might be this: Adopt the same oh-my-goodness look of teen amusement we experience when the latest mag shows us a celeb spat between this one and that one.
Advice then to myself and others who remain flummoxed and purple-faced over the American love of the not-true: Get a life, dude.