The gold standard in science is the randomized, controlled, double-blind trial. If you want to know whether Garcinia cambogia (also known as assam fruit) causes weight loss, or whether glucosamine helps with arthritic pain, there is only one way to find out. You have an experimental group that is given the substance and a control group that is given a placebo, with every other variable being held constant. These are difficult, expensive studies to carry out because you need a large enough group of subjects for statistical weight, you have to ensure compliance and you have to monitor what is going on. Almost always some questions remain unanswered. Could results have been different with a different dose? Were all variables properly controlled for?

While randomized controlled trials are important, they are not always necessary. Science has accumulated a great deal of knowledge over the years making it possible to make evaluations based on scientific plausibility. Let’s take an extreme example. You see a picture on the Internet of a man being held aloft by several dozen helium balloons. We do not need to design a trial to determine if this is possible. It is not. Why? Because of the law of buoyancy. A balloon filled with helium rises because the helium in it weighs less than the amount of air it displaces. Using this difference in weight, one can calculate how much a balloon can lift. A 50-kilogram man would need at least 3,500 balloons for any lift at all. No experiment is needed to know that the picture is faked. Similarly, no randomized trials are needed to determine that oxygenated water increases energy or improves physical stamina — despite advertisers’ claims. The amount of oxygen dissolved in the water is insignificant in comparison to what the body uses. And, since we breathe through our lungs not our stomach, the oxygen in water will not make it into the blood to combine with hemoglobin.

Neither do we have to carry out studies to determine if the newly approved artificial sweetener advantame should be required to carry a warning about a risk for people afflicted with phenylketonurea (PKU), a genetic inability to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. Advantame has a chemical similarity to aspartame and, like its cousin, can release phenylalanine. Why does it not need a warning? Being 100 times sweeter than aspartame, only a tiny amount is needed to sweeten a beverage. This cannot release enough phenylalanine to cause a problem for those with PKU.

There is also no need to mount experiments to determine whether tuning forks can restore the human body’s “natural vibration” of 60-65 hertz and thereby alleviate all sorts of health issues, as is claimed by the promoters of “sound therapy.” There is no such thing as the body having a natural vibrational frequency and talk of tuning forks being able to restore the frequency that has gone out of tune due to illness is nonsense. Claims that tuning forks can address diseases like cancer or multiple sclerosis is out of tune with what we know about how the body works. The idea that cancer can be cured with a tuning fork does not require an experiment to prove that it isn’t sound.

The same goes for “drinkable sunscreen.” Ben Johnson, founder of Osmosis Skincare, claims that just a teaspoon of his drinkable sunscreen will offer three hours of protection from ultraviolet light damage to the skin. How? Johnson’s so-called “harmonized water” is made by manipulating radio waves that naturally occur in water to give them UV-cancelling properties, then bottling it. The use of such scientific jargon almost makes this product sound plausible. But once again the claim is implausible — no further research required.