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Cold-FX vs. the CBC

The folks at CBC’s Marketplace have done it again. As a kind of a follow-up to their piece last January on homeopathic medicine, they’re now coming after the ginseng-based Cold-FX, purportedly Canada’s most popular remedy for the common cold.

It’s not the first time CBC has profiled the product; an interview (embedded below) with Cold-FX inventor Dr. Jacqueline Shan was part of a segment called “My First Million” on an apparently now-defunct program called Fortune Hunters. It’s posted to CBC’s YouTube account and is actually used by the company itself to advertise the product.


The new episode, which airs tonight, promises if nothing else to be entertaining; a preview which can be seen here features Don Cherry – a former Cold-FX spokesperson – being characteristially loud and indignant:

“I want to talk about science . . .” begins host Erica Johnson

“Science?!” snorts Cherry, as though he were being asked to comment on art history or flower arranging. “Scientists, doctors and politicians, sort of like the same thing,” he says later in the interview.

(My personal favourite moment comes later on in the clip when he’s listing all the people he knows who use Cold-FX. “Margaret Atwood!” he bellows, “You must love Margaret Atwood!”)

Joking aside, this little dialogue revolves around the level of public understanding of science and how best to increase it. Exposing hoaxes and scams are favourite activities the whole skeptic/rationalist/atheist movement, a group of people about whom I have mixed feelings. As a science communicator, I agree with them in principle, but I often find that their tactics can be a bit belligerent, nasty and even mean. They seem to relish the fight against people they see as stupid, rather than enjoying the opportunity to help people see the beauty of science, which to me is the real point.

I haven’t yet seen the Marketplace piece, so I can’t comment on its overall tone. However, if I were producing a piece about Cold-FX and other products like it, I would start with an exploration of the human immune system itself. It’s an amazingly complex entity, made of millions of dynamic components, orchestrated and controlled in ways we still don’t fully understand (although I hasten to point out that we do know quite a lot.) And the kicker is, most of the time it works terrifically well; the immune system itself is in fact the only proven cure for the common cold. To me, the story of how we evolved evolved the ability to defend ourselves against an ever-changing array of assaults and infections is more interesting than – maybe even a prerequisite for – one about whether or not ginseng has any effect on it.

But of course, nobody would make that documentary, would they? Bob? Dr. Suzuki? Are you listening?

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