To understand why these quack medical treatments persist in the face of better proven remedies, Tanaka applied mathematical models used to measure evolutionary fitness to medical treatments.I'm certain this model can be applied to the entirety of the Internet with identical results.
His model accounted for factors including the rate of conversion to a treatment, the effectiveness of a treatment, the rate at which people abandon a treatment, the odds of recovering naturally, and the chances of dying. The model starts with a single person demonstrating a treatment – rubbish or not – and measures how many people are influenced to go on to give the treatment a try.
Under a wide range of conditions, quack treatments garnered more converts than proven hypothetical medicines that offer quicker recovery, Tanaka found. "The very fact that they don't work mean that people that use them stay sick longer" and demonstrate a treatment to more people, he says.
Bad treatments don't always win out. Recurring diseases are more likely to promote effective treatments than rare diseases because repeated demonstration weeds out bad treatments, Tanaka found.
May 1, 2009
quackery's popularity tied to its disutility
NewScientist has the story: