The BBC has a popular program entitled JUST ONE THING presented by Dr, Michael Mosely. In each of these short broadcasts, Mosely presents JUST ONE THING that will make your life more healthy. Whenever I listen to them, I get slightly irritated. Mosely is clearly a very skilled presenter and makes complicated things easy to understand; but for my taste his approach is totally devoid of critical thinking. This is obviously the point of the series and probably one reason for its success. So, maybe it needs to be tolerated – perhaps, but surely not if it seriously misleads the public on important health issues.
The most recent broadcast was entitled EMBRACE THE RAIN and, in my view, it did cross this crucial line. Mosely explained that after it has rained, the air is full of negative ions and these ions are effective against depression. The center piece was his interview with Prof Michael Terman who explained some of his research on the subject, in particular a clinical trial which showed that intensely ionized air was effective against depression. Terman explained that this was more than a placebo effect, that it worked even for serious chronic depressed patients, and that the effect was better than standard treatments.
At no stage was there an even mildly critical question from Mosely. Consequently many depressed patients might now abandon their standard treatments and opt for air ionizers in their homes or walks in the rain which was deemed to be just as effective. In view of the fact that chronic depression, through its suicide risk, can be a life-threatening condition, I find this rather concerning.
My concerns were not exactly alleviated when I did a quick search for the evidence. The most recent review on the subject states that there has been considerable interest in the potential effects of negative air ions (NAIs) on human health and well-being, but the conclusions have been inconsistent and the mechanisms remain unclear. So, why does Terman promote NAIs as though they are the best thing since sliced bread? It took me less than a minute to find a possible answer: he holds a patent for a NEGATIVE ION GENERATOR!
It is laudable of the BBC and Michael Mosely to present aspects of healthcare in a simple, understandable way. Yet, it would be even more laudable, if they did their homework a bit better and, crucially, tried to also educate the public in critical thinking. After all ’embracing the rain’ will not change lives but critical thinking most certainly does!