Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: Betty Martini

In the late 90s, a chain letter penned by a woman named Nancy Markle began to appear in people's inboxes, and on usenet sites, warning any who would listen of the terrible danger posed by a chemical we all consume to some degree or another. The email listed multiple health problems caused or aggrevated by this chemical, including:
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Blindness
  • Gulf War Syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Brain Tumours
  • Fybromyalgia
  • Spasms
  • Shooting pains
  • Numbness in the legs
  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Tinnitus
  • Joint Pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Seizures
  • Obesity
  • Manic depression

"My God!" you exclaim, "what a horrific substance! Surely we could improve the health of millions and millions of people if we could cut this substance from our diets! Tell us what it is!"

My good people, the substance which causes this host of troubles is none other than aspartame. That's right, the artificial sweetner in your diet pepsi is the cause of nearly every sickness known to man. It does this by converting to formaldehyde (a chemical Nancy compares to cyanide in its toxicity) at 86 degrees F, which we all know is below body temperature, thereby poisoning anyone who ingests it!

If this seems at all implausible to you, then you may have a modicum of sense. Just as there is no one substance that will cure all diseases, no magical panacea, there is also no one substance that causes all diseases. Anyone claiming that one chemical can cause the above list of medical complaints should not be taken seriously. Another red flag is raised when the email claims that the reason aspartame hasn't been banned yet is because the Evil Aspartame Overlords are paying off every scientists, university and government health authority in the entire world to keep it a secret.

This is the point when you smile and nod and back away from the crazy person.

Here are a few facts to set the record straight: aspartame has been proven by study after study to be safe for the vast majority of consumers; the exception is in the case of phenylketonuerics, who cannot metabolise it (hence the warning 'contains phenylalanine'); aspartame does not cause Multiple Sclerosis (as stated by several MS organizations who are certainly not in the pockets of the evil aspartame overlords); aspartame is safe for use by diabetics (as stated by several diabetic organizations also not in the pockets of the EAOs); the vast majority of proof takes the form of unconfirmed anecdotes; aspartame consumption has been shown to cause headaches in a very small percentage of the population but then again so has caffeine; snopes.com lists the contents of the Markle Email as an urban legend; so does About.com.

So where does Betty Martini fit into all of this? Well, it is a point of contention as to whether the 'Nancy Markle' who supposedly wrote the article featured in the email even exists. It's widely accepted that the article was actually a talk presented by one Betty Martini at a conference. Whether Nancy Markle was someone in the audience who saw fit to transcribe the talk and present the work as her own, or whether she was a pseudonym adopted by Martini, is unknown. What is not contested is that the sentiment and statements made are Martini's.

So who is this woman who has seen fit to warn the world of the dangers of aspartame? A medical doctor perhaps? Betty claims in her bio that she worked in the medical field for 22 years, but also says that she had 3 children instead of a doctor's degree (but doesn't say what, if any, qualification she does have). It seems she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was cured by a miracle herb. This may have been the start of Betty's road from responsible medical worker to outright kook, and the FDA's banning of the supposed cure certainly turned her against them permanently. Then in 1993 Betty was investigating the cause of a friend's severe neurological problems, and diagnosed him with aspartame disease (remember, Betty is not a doctor). She promptly founded an organization known as Mission Possible International, commited to removing the aspartame from our food. It doesn't seem like they've had much success so far.

It's funny in some ways that the anti-aspartame movement distances themselves from her, yet embrace Nancy Markle. From website nancymarkle.com comes the following opposing statements (on the same page):

Nancy Markle, where are you? If you ever show up, please check in with us! It was the much-criticized Nancy Markle Letter that led a lot of people to aspartame awareness, and most of them are very grateful for that.
DISCLAIMER: The owners of the website, The Aspartame Victims Support Group, do not endorse any statements made by Betty Martini. Niether do we discount them on the the grounds that she might have disseminated them. We are not associated with her, and we will be re-doing this website in the future to clearly reflect that. We are aware that she has certain alleged credibility problems, and we do not want our efforts to be tied to the negative publicity that she has received.

And yet the also state on their site that "a whole lot of people, tens of thousands, perhaps even millions by now, have found out the truth about aspartame thanks to the so-called "Nancy Markle Letter", a piece really written by Betty Martini."

So they treat her like two different people when it suits their ends to be distanced from her disproved rantings, but still note that it is the same person. What we have here is a classic case of kookdom: a woman who began a career in the medical field, was sucked into woo woo medicine during a time when she was obviously desperate and vulnerable, and who has declared war on the very establishment she once diligently served.

See here the mark of kookdom: the long list of complaints, the single cure, the cries of conspiracy, the use of pseudonyms to maintain a semblance of legitimacy, the medium of the email chain letter. Learn these marks well, for you will know the kook by his actions.

2 Comments:

Blogger Wyrd said...

Again this proves that reading your blog is the highlight of my internet browsing.

Your definition of kookiness makes it that much easier to spot the regular quacks. For example 'scientists' who support creationism is usually the persons that was spurned by the scientific community.

Thanks for your blog!

May 18, 2006 11:17 PM  
Blogger moonflake said...

wow! thanks, glad i could entertain or even, heaven forbid, inform :)

May 19, 2006 9:49 AM  

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