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The Wright Brothers and the Wellness Industry

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

My Kindle has so many books on it now that I can barely lift it. One is The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough.  I would recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in basically anything. It’s the first-ever detailed looksee at how two brilliant, dedicated, self-financed, self-taught polymaths changed the world.

Even a guy like me was amazed at how much I learned despite already knowing enough trivia to have been on Jeopardy once. (People ask me how I did. I reply: “I said, ‘I was on Jeopardy once.’ “)

Mr. McCullough is perhaps the finest living American historian.  I am also privileged to have him as a kinda sorta neighbor, as he lives about 3/4 of a mile from me in a house that just screams “An American historian lives here.”  (I refuse to divulge his actual address, in order to protect his privacy from the onslaught of paparazzi that would inevitably follow.)

Though we don’t know each other, I have briefly chatted with him several times, and he is as gracious a gentleman as one might infer from his book that the Wright Brothers were.  The last time I saw him, I had just finished the captivating 1776, which ends right after the Battle of Trenton (that whole Washington-crossing-the-Delaware thing).  He was behind me in line at the farmer’s market, but I let him go ahead of me.  He of course balked but I said: “The way I figure it, the sooner you get your vegetables and get out of here, the sooner I can read 1777.”  It’s the only clever thing I’ve ever said to a celebrity. Usually I turn to mush.

Cute, But What Does This Have to Do with Wellness?

Glad you asked. Two things.  First, many members of the media, the government, and scientific establishment believed flying was impossible. So what, you ask?  Since it hadn’t been done it was perfectly reasonable to believe it couldn’t be done, right?  True enough, but they believed this for years after the Wright Brothers had actually flown — and had documented their flight with pictures, eyewitnesses etc.

Likewise, it has already been proven that wellness in its current “pry, poke, and prod” configuration cannot conceivably break even mathematically.  It has already been proven that wellness has accomplished nothing in 14 years— meaning even if vendors offered wellness free, it would have lost money.  And it has already been proven that the “participants-vs-non-participants” study design, the industry’s signature lie, is totally invalid.

These are mathematical proofs, not scientific ones, which means they are determinate. Hence I can offer a $1-million reward for showing wellness breaks even, and hence that very same $1 million reward is gathering dust–an acknowledgement that the Wellness Ignorati know they’re making stuff up.

And yet…

These wellness people continue to make stuff up.  Especially the ones on the Koop Award Committee, to the point of doctoring government materials, which is probably not legal. And certainly awarding prizes to obviously made-up outcomes besmirches the good name of Dr. C. Everett Koop.

And yet…

Employers and others continue to believe these wellness people despite proof. Hopefully it will take less time for decision-makers to accept my proofs than it did for the media to acknowledge that the Wright Brothers had completed many hundreds of flights.

Here’s another similarity. The first publication to accept and laud the Wright Brothers’ accomplishment was — a classic piece of trivia — Gleanings in Bee Culture. Obviously, the publisher had no background in aviation. Likewise, another criticism made of me is that I don’t have the academic background to invalidate these clearly fictional wellness claims.  In my defense, I did complete fifth grade, and that’s all the “academic background” that anyone needs to show stuff is nonsense.  I dedicated my first book, Why Nobody Believes the Numbers, “to my fifth-grade math teacher, for doing a better job than the other kids’ fifth-grade math teachers.”

OK, We Get It.  So What’s the Second?

Second, Mr. McCullough made a rather obvious factual mistake in his book that anyone with any elementary historical/economic background could have noticed…but didn’t.

(As an aside, I’ve also found other mistakes in similar high-profile venues. After describing a meteor wiping out the dinosaurs 63-million years ago, the narrating voice says: “But, don’t worry, the chances of this happening again are a million to one.” Nope. If that were the case, we would have been struck by roughly 63 meteors since then and who knows how many before.  Likewise, Austria’s Museum of Military History says the German trenches were sometimes as much as 3 km deep. Nope. Meters. Both mistakes were corrected by a grateful staff soon after I pointed them out. Plus, on my next trip I get to visit the latter museum free, just like everyone else.)

The Wright Brothers was carefully researched, read by editors, reviewed by professional reviewers (including one who found a few minor errors, like “canvas” vs. “muslin” for the wing-covering fabric), and read by a gazillion readers.  But none of them noticed this screamer.  Hint: Mr. McCullough confused two common words that are often confused. They have very different meanings but both begin with the same letter.

That’s as much as you get. I’m not going to tell you what the mistake is, because I want people to read the book. Not just because it’s a great book, but specifically to understand the position I’m in, where I find ridiculous numbers of obvious errors in just about everything the Wellness Ignorati publish but am dismissed or diminished with comments like: “But these are highly respected researchers.” (Actually, they aren’t researchers — they are vendors and consultants out to make a buck — and if they continue to lie, undeserving of our respect.)

Instead of pointing out the mistake, I will offer a free pdf of Surviving Workplace Wellness to the first person who contacts me to identify it.  No, it’s not a million dollars. It is a far more modest prize, because — unlike the other award — there is actually a chance that I might need to pay this one out.

1 Comment

  1. Mitch Collins says:



In the immortal words of the great philosopher Pat Benatar, hit me with your best shot.

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