I received an email message today with the subject “FW: Very interesting – Onion Theory” and I realize that alone should have given me pause, but I recognized the sender’s address and took a look at it anyway. The gist of the message is that onions scattered about the rooms of your house can stave off the flu virus, and that everyone should give this a try since flu season is upon us. Here was my response to the message:
It’s a little disappointing that this stuff still gets spread around (no pun intended) and casts a sad light on the state of our understand of scientific method and principles of science in general.
The narrative of the farmer’s tale has some rather gaping logical flaws, to say nothing of completely misunderstanding the biology of viruses.
The best way to prevent the flu, of course, is to get a flu vaccine, which countless double-blind studies have shown, prevents the flu with a higher degree of success than anything else, including onions.
Despite advice to the contrary, trying the onion method can hurt, especially if you are someone prone to getting the flu like a young child or elderly person. Since onions provide no protection, trying this method as opposed to, say, a vaccination leaves you vulnerable to a virus that you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re protected against. This can have obvious dangerous consequences.
Sorry to spoil the show, but it’s nothing more than snakeoil shammery.
What bothers me most about messages like this is that they uncover just how poor our collective grasp of science and scientific principles really is, and just how easily we’ll accept without question something we receive in email, and then pass it along to everyone we know. We’ve got to do better people! It took my 5 seconds to do a Google search for “onions and flu” and the top two hits were the two links that I included in my message.
What’s more is the assertion that cut up onions left around somehow dangerous, an assertion that goes equally unchallenged, and one that is equally false. There is no scientific evidence of this.
There is the question of why even bother replying to these messages. After all, I know that the information is wrong, so who is it hurting? Well, I suppose I could leave it alone, but this is a particular pet peeve of mine and sometimes, I just can’t keep quiet about these things.
And just to be clear and so no one missed the point onions won’t protect you from the flu.