Aquatics Unlimited: Articles: Miracle Cure? - or Snake Oil?
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Miracle Cure? - or Snake Oil?

for the week of 4/16/98

Ahhhhh... the Wonder of Science. If the modern aquarist needs to boost, promote, enhance, replenish, maximize, minimize, control, reduce or prevent anything, there's a bottle on the dealer's shelf that promises to accomplish just that. According to the product labels, we need not concern ourselves "cycling" aquariums, sludge buildup, or even disease, if only we'll plunk down a couple of bucks, and add a few teaspoons of these "scientifically formulated" products to each of our tanks every once and awhile. Do any of these products actually work?

You got me.

I've got a ritual I go through at pet industry trade shows or with salesmen: whenever I'm shown one of these amazing new items, I ask if the manufacturer has any scientific research showing that their product performs as claimed. If it supposedly "dramatically reduces cycling time," by how much? If it "eats sludge," where does "it" or its waste go? And how can one tell if it's your product that "prevents disease," or just good aquarium maintenance?

The answer is always either "no, we don't have any such research," or "we'll get back to you," which apparently also means the same thing. At best, the manufacturer will have a couple of testimonials that show how certain other dealers tried the product and were impressed - at least with the product's sales!

This isn't to say that none of these new wonder formulations can work; every product that we now believe works was once a new "wonder product," and it's introduction was no doubt greeted with a certain amount of skepticism. But for every product that made the grade, there were no doubt dozens - or perhaps hundreds - that failed. And here, at last, is the big point: if a product hasn't been thoroughly tested and proven to be effective, we, or more accurately, our fish, are the Guinea Pigs.

Submitted by: Jim Kostich

"Tip of the week" appeared regularly in 1999 and 2000.

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