Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sanctified Snake Oil and Anti-Cultism

AntiCultControversies : Message: Sanctified Snake Oil and Anti-Cultism:

"There is an article (and also a book by the same title) by Susan Sarnoff entitled Sanctified Snake Oil that is about what can happen when advocates of various causes get carried away and distort things to fit a cause. Sarnoff makes no mention of cults or anti-cultism, but what she wrote seems to fit some of what I see going on in some circles. I posted the article in the Files section of this list serv if anyone is interested in reading the full article. Here is how Sarnoff describes the “Snake Oil Paradigm”:

****begin quote (Sarnoff, Sanctified Snake Oil, p. 397, 1999, Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services)


1. Frame the subject so that it cannot be opposed.

2. Once the issue is defined, stretch the concept as broadly as possible in order to:
a.) Increase the size of the “target” group;
b.) Make the problem appear to be universal;
c.) Make the problem appear to be of crisis proportions.

3. Consider anyone who resists identification with the target group to be “in denial,” in order to:
a.) Define all “sufferers” as in need of “treatment;”
b.) Make treatment seem more effective because many of the treated will not suffer from the problem or will have a mild, easily treatable degree of the problem, and non-improvement can be blamed on denial.

4. Identify “poster children” who “suffer” from the problem but are appealing to the public (e.g., completely innocent and in no way responsible for their circumstances).

5. Use anecdotal evidence (preferably about “poster children”) and single, dramatic cases to publicize the problem.

6. Use biased or “cooked” data — if forced to present any statistical proof of the problem.

7. Confuse goals and processes.

8. Confuse satisfaction with effectiveness.

9. Ignore unintended consequences and never admit that they might emanate from the “solution.”

10. If criticized for any of the above, attack the opponents instead of their positions.



1. Write “human interest” stories on single, extreme cases, suggesting that they are “typical” of the problem.

2. Publish statistics without consulting source data or confirming accuracy.

3. Oversimplify complex issues and policies.

4. Publish the results of research studies without discussing the methodology of the research (e.g., samples, controls).

5. “Bury” corrections and retractions in back pages and small print.

End quote********

Sound familiar, anyone?


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