Monkey Business

Oh no! My favorite mischievous monkey, Curious George, has been co-opted to brainwash children with pseudoscience. Is nothing sacred? See On the DVD, an innocent CG cartoon segment is followed by a “real life” segment where children visit a naturopath. He tells them oregano seems to be helpful for fighting germs, he shows them acupressure points and indicates the meridians where the “energy” flows, and offers the kids bandages with embedded magnets. He then talks about maintaining health with exercise and good diet – as if it were something naturopaths recommend that regular doctors don’t.

Naturopathy sounds so good – it’s “natural.” It claims to address the cause of illness rather than just treating the symptoms. But in reality it’s a mixture of real medicine and quackery. Natural treatments have to be tested by science just like any other treatments, and very little of what naturopaths recommend has been properly tested or has passed the tests. In addition to prescribing plant-based remedies, naturopaths promote all sorts of bizarre nonsense including homeopathy, enemas, iridology and reflexology. Naturopaths are only licensed to practice in 15 states; if they operate elsewhere they are technically practicing medicine without a license.

Someone has cynically taken advantage of a beloved character from children’s literature to make an infomercial for a dubious system of healthcare, a system based on belief rather than on evidence. What next? Will the kids on Sesame Street be visiting a witch doctor or a psychic? A dowser or a therapeutic touch practitioner?

There is nothing wrong with entertainment just for entertainment’s sake, but if they are going to add educational information it would be nice if they would present information that was educational. There is no excuse for telling children magnets have therapeutic effects. As Robert Park said in his book Superstition, science is the only way of knowing; all else is superstition. There is no excuse for teaching superstitions to our children.

The man with the yellow hat needs to come and rescue George from all association with this pseudoscientific silliness. You might say the monkey needs to be “detoxified.”

This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.


Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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