Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | January 28, 2011

Clinically Proven: Completely Meaningless

I heard yet another commercial on the radio this morning for some menopausal cure-all that was “clinically proven” to reduce hot flashes, improve sleep, increase energy, help you lose weight, and probably cure bad breath to boot. Anyone who calls in the next ten minutes gets a month’s supply for free. Hurry.


At least they finally stopped running the one for the colon cleanse product that helped remove the “five to ten pounds of waste some experts* believe are spackled along the inside of the large intestine.”  (*Emphasis mine. “Some experts” also believe the moon landing was a hoax, the Holocaust never happened, and homeopathy is effective medicine.) Somehow this colon cleansing stuff helps you preferentially lose belly fat. Not really sure what belly fat has to do with five to ten pounds of stuff spackled inside your intestine. But they’re not selling logic. Call right now for your free sample.

Or not.

Then there was the pediatrician hawking the natural, safe, clinically proven effective sinus cure that sounded suspiciously like saline spray. Hurry and call right now.

Don’t bother.

Words are my friends. That’s why I hate to see people abuse them.

Clinical” is adjective referring to “that which can be observed in or involves patients.” It’s the hands-on part of medicine that can’t be replicated in a lab, nor taught from a book. There is virtually no such thing as “proof” in the scientific sense. Laboratory and patient-based medical research can strongly suggest things. Scientific evidence can accumulate supporting things; the more the better, of course.

When I send a patient for an x-ray or other imaging study, I get a report back (eventually) from the radiologist describing what was seen, along with an interpretation of what those images might mean. Reports that are anything other than completely clear-cut usually end with the phrase, “Correlate clinically.” This means that whatever it was they saw could mean any number of different things depending on the signs and symptoms present in the specific patient. I know the patient; they just see the images. I’m the one who’s supposed to put it all together. This is a correct use of the term “clinical”.

Clinically proven” is a meaningless combination of words that mean someone is trying to sell something. Isn’t there some kind of rule against making stuff up, even in advertising? Obviously people are used to it in politics, but those are opinions, to which everyone is entitled. What people are NOT entitled to is their own facts. There is no clinically proven remedy available without a prescription for menopausal symptoms, quick and painless weight loss, or sinus congestion that can be purchased from a radio ad, because there is no such thing as “clinically proven.”


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bora Zivkovic, Ivan Oransky and Tom Hughes, LeighKrietschBoerner. LeighKrietschBoerner said: I am sending this link to my mom. RT @BoraZ: Clinically Proven: Completely Meaningless […]

  2. Wonderful points! This sort of language has a far reaching effect as well – I can’t tell you how many student research papers I’ve had to mark up for misuse of “prove”, “proved”, and “proven”. As if undergrad research projects ever proved anything! It’s clear when the students write like this about their own or others’ research findings, they are repeating what have become catch phrases, but more disturbing is that those phrases worm their way in to the consciousness and create potentially lifelong barriers to critical thinking.

  3. It’s been proven that 78% of statistics brought up in internet comments and discussions are made up on the spot. True fact.

  4. As someone pretty desperate for an end to the fatigue caused by hot-flash disrupted sleep, I find those “clinically proven” ads for menopause symptom remedies tempting. Fortunately, I know “clinically proven” really means “we have no good evidence for this claim” so my wallet stays shut, but I’m sure they make millions hawking these worthless nostrums nevertheless.

  5. There are laws against deceptive advertising, but as with many things the government agencies have minuscule budgets versus who they are overseeing. The slaps on the wrist (fines) that usually come around are looked at as the cost of doing “business” (lying and selling garbage). One continually egregious abuser can be found if you google or wikipeidia Kevin Trudeau.

  6. Hello Dr. Lucy,

    Thought you’d like to know that I have featured this post on “The Ethical Nag: Marketing Ethics For The Easily Swayed” at:

    Thank you for this!

  7. Such a great post, spot on! And this also implies us dietitians and other health care professionals.

  8. Don’t blindly!We must believe ourself.

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