We are bombarded with elaborate advice by self-styled health gurus. This advice can seem convincing and well-researched, but all too often this is simply not the case: ‘experts’ can turn out to be nothing more than confidence tricksters who manipulate suffering for profit.

One such confidence trickster is Australian Belle Gibson, a 24 year old single mother, who assured the world that she had cured her own brain cancer with diet and alternative medicine, allegedly garnering half a million dollars from her online business.

Then, in April last year, she admitted that her claims were false: that she has never suffered from cancer, and that her claims to multiple heart surgeries also have no basis.

Although Apple initially refused to remove Gibson’s money-spinning Whole Pantry app, denying any liability for the advice it was promoting. The app has since been deleted.

Penguin Australia claimed that Gibson’s book was simply a collection of recipes, but has been ordered to make a A$30,000 donation to Victoria’s state Consumer Law Fund with a warning that the publisher should ‘substantiate’ health claims in future and to publish ‘a prominent health warning notice’ in books about alternative therapies.

New Scientist suggests that all publishers and broadcasters should be held responsible for the claims they make, pointing out that our society has stringent controls over financial advice but no such protection for health advice.

At Open Minds we strongly agree with this advice: the world is awash with fraudulent self-help and dieting books that are not supported by any evidence. Those who publish these books for profit should be liable to prove the claims or pay the price for their casual disregard of the truth. Any such book should at least be prefaced by a disclaimer that there is no scientific basis for the claims made between its covers.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about a fad diet or other health fraud that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!