Semantics 6/21/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

People love to play semantics, especially politicians. For example, technically I am employed. I had a contract to teach a summer course, but unfortunately it was canceled. I’m assuming they’ll invite me back in the fall (they’ve already said they would), but for the summer, it’s basically a furlough. Fortunately, I’ve just completed the on boarding process for a new job. In the age of the pandemic, it’s basically a job collecting data from volunteers on drug usage requiring me to visit them in person, so, yay me. The bad news is that the training to do the job (assuming there are no “glitches” to the application as they complete the process) won’t happen until probably early July. That means that my first paycheck from the position will likely occur in August, and without the paycheck I was depending on from the college, I get to go for a month with, quite literally, no money since this month I have a sum total of about $80 in my bank accounts. Yeah, I’m going hungry. But, technically, I’m still employed. Semantics. Unfortunately, they won’t fill my stomach or pay next month’s bills.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine about how the “holistic medicine” industry uses semantics in their claims for sales. As a reminder, is a huge industry in and of itself worth an estimated four and a half TRILLION dollars in 2018. This multi-trillion dollar industry built itself on the premises of being antithetical to large pharma, painting their competing industry as dishonest and greedy, ironically worth a fraction of the holistic industry (the global pharma industry has a net value estimated to be about one trillion dollars). This is an industry that certainly doesn’t want to be caught up in lies (although it clearly already has been in continuing to claim a link between autism and vaccines). As such, the industry uses semantics in many of its advertising claims. For example, I’ve seen advertising for natural flu remedies that presumably helps the victim of this virus heal in as little as four to five days. What they fail to mention is that, untreated, the flu typically lasts only four or five days. So, treating the flu with these products is no different than not treating the flu, save that you are spending money on their industry’s products.

It’s important to really listen to their claims and check them. One of my favorite examples is the holistic medication advertised as “clinically tested” to perform whatever it was that they are claiming. Yes, I’ve no doubt it was clinically tested, but was it clinically proven? I’m guessing not, otherwise they would have used “proven” rather than “testing”. A lot of their claims are extreme extensions of actual science. Chelation therapy was very popular just a few years ago. Few people know what a “chelating agent” is on a chemical level or understand the coordination complexes they form. They treat heavy metals, but chelating agents are highly specific on which metals they bond, so a general “chelation” therapy likely has no value at all, or worse, has the potential to do harm by removing metal ions necessary to our bodies such as iron. Because chelation therapy has been successfully used to help improve the lives of patients suffering from heavy metal poisons, the holistic industry advertises chelating agents for sale proven to improve health without mention that they only work with specific problems.

We’re about to hear a lot of semantic play as the election approaches. Our president loves to play with words. For example, he was voted to be impeached by the House of Representatives, but the Senate voted against removing him from office. The president claimed that this “exonerated” him of the impeachment, but although he is the third president to be impeached, to date no president has been removed from office. If he was exonerated, so were the other two presidents, including President Clinton. To be “exonerated” means to be absolved from blame. Technically, I guess it’s true that the Senate absolved him of the charges in their half of Congress, but it does not exonerate him of the impeachment.

The economy has been a considerable source of semantics. The stock market reached incredible highs before the pandemic. Looking at a graph of the market growth, it’s clear that this trend began shortly after George W. Bush’s presidency, in the Obama era. This trend continued, with a remarkable linearity, well into the Trump term. Trump takes credit for this growth because the peak occurred during his presidency. This is semantics. Technically it’s true, but there doesn’t seem to be any dramatic change in the rate of increase since his term. In a way, measuring the strength of the economy based on the stock market is another technical argument and a matter of semantics. As the income gap between the most wealthy and the working class Americans continue to grow, as more people go further in debt even before the pandemic when so many people were furloughed is a measure of a stagnant economy that helps nobody but the wealthiest.

Listen carefully and get all of the facts. Beware of semantics.

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