Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Ethics of Product Reviews

It's no secret that my allergy list is longer than some students' homework lists. I also happen to mix my own homeopathic anti-allergy capsules (for regular maintenance) and can't use medicines like Claritin* because I develop a tolerance after a week.

Would it be ethical for me to review Claritin?

I've tried it, and it didn't work for me, so I have that personal experience to draw from for my review. I also know plenty of people who use it and are happy with it, so while that's not needed to review something, it can help a reviewer balance their review.

However: I mix my own anti-allergy capsules.

Does that make me a competitor? Would it be unethical for me to review a medication because I make an equivalent home remedy for my own personal use?

No? Okay. What about if I start selling my recipe?

Now, if I were given a free sample of Claritin to try and review, most folks would deem that acceptable.

But what if the company heard that the medication didn't work for me and gave me compensation for my trouble, like a $10 gift card to buy something that'll work for me? Would it be ethical for me to review the medication then?

Yes? No? I seem to be getting conflicting answers, there, and the compensation wasn't even directly for the review. I can imagine it would be sharper if I were paid for a review.

What about if I knew the company's CEO?

Hmm… Answers also seem to be conflicting there. Some folks assume that knowing the person would make you more likely to give a good rating, while others insist that knowing the person doesn't have to affect the rating whatsoever. And a few up here in the rafters with me say that knowing the CEO would make us more critical in our reviews.

You might or might not have heard the recent hullabaloo about people paying for product reviews, including John Locke of How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months fame. (And for the record, I do still believe his book can be useful as a reference for some marketing techniques, or at least for nudging your imagination into ideas for further ways to market something.)

And then J.A. Konrath went investigating fake reviews and had so much fun reading them that he posted some himself, for fun.

Any argument about ethics appeals to morals—but it also relies on assumptions.

  • Someone who says it's never ethical to review someone you know assumes that knowing someone means you won't say what you actually think.
  • Someone who says it's never ethical to review a product for which you receive compensation assumes that compensation necessitates a positive review.
  • Someone who says it's never ethical to receive money for a review assumes that money is compensation for the review.

Depending on the situation, any of those can be incorrect…or correct. ^_^

Have I ever paid for reviews? No—as long as you don't consider a copy of the story to be "payment".

Would I ever be willing to pay for reviews? Theoretically—because someone who writes a review has spent their time on the product, so the payment would be reimbursement for that time. But I'd have to 1. have a budget for that and 2. find reviewers I could trust to list what they actually think, rather than cater to what they think I want to hear…and I'd have to do damage control for folks who assumed the reimbursement was necessarily for a positive review… Really, my time's better spent elsewhere. ^_^

In the latter situation,would I be willing to rehire someone who posted a negative review? If they supported their complaints, sure! (That would, of course, be dependent on their willingness to work for me again.) I mean, if you're squicked by first cousins as spouses (which is perfectly legal in most municipalities and actually not all that unusual), then a paragraph or two in "The Corpse Cat" will turn your stomach. By all means, put that in your review so others like you will be warned.

Notice, though, that I'm saying I have no problem with reviews by friends or relatives or employees as long as they're honest.

And it's entirely possible to be honest when reviewing someone you know, are related to, or have been paid by.

Ergo, calling one of those things necessarily unethical is missing the point about what makes that something unethical.

(Note: Fake reviews are honest, too, because they're obviously jokes. Don't believe me? Check out some of Konrath's.)

Now, such reviews might still be good to avoid, to avoid the appearance of dishonesty, but that's an entirely different matter.

Do you agree with me? Why or why not?


*I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Claritin. I know some folks who've used it for years, and it's still working great for them. I mention it specifically because it's a well-known antihistamine medication, at least in my area.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yes, You ARE That Stupid (and so am I)

Even if you haven't heard about the agent Pam van Hylckama's carjacking by a rejected wannabe client, you've doubtless heard of the ill-informed mob swarming to take down the perfectly legal LendInk, or some other incident that makes you wonder "How could they have been so stupid?!"

You might've even been one of those "stupid" people and are therefore now kicking yourself for that stupidity.

If you are—whether you're sniggering or embarrassed about the stupid—stop. Stop being embarrassed if you did something dumb, and stop sniggering at those who did something foolhardy.

Because every one of us is just as stupid.

Our individual types of "stupid" just show up in different areas.

I wasn't one of the fools who helped take down LendInk or who lashed out at those folks who helped take down LendInk…but you do not want me in an argument with someone who's upset and not saying what's really bothering them. It takes me far too long to catch on when someone's being roundabout or figurative, and I therefore am gasoline on their indignation.

Yet every so often I forget and try to jump in and diffuse a situation.

Since it's never worked, expect me to know better.

You have your own areas where you do something that you know—you know—is foolish.

And if you put any of us in an echo chamber about one of our "hot button" topics, we'll be just as likely to do something dumb…because all we're hearing is "This is okay, not stupid."

(By "echo chamber", I mean a place where you only hear one opinion about what's "right" to do or say, with any problems with that opinion and alternatives to that opinion being non-existent or squashed whenever they're brought up.)

For example, take KindleBoards. If you're a self-publisher, common advice there is to go exclusive with the Kindle Select program and to price low-low-low, get as many readers as possible, as fast as possible. While that model fits some folks' publication goals, it doesn't suit everyone.

But considering the overall tone and population in the Writer's Café on KindleBoards, a writer could easily be convinced to do something that goes against their goals—like, for example, giving their book away for free. And that website isn't an echo chamber.

Oh, KindleBoards sometimes sounds like one or acts like one, but it isn't a literal echo chamber. (Ah, on most topics, anyway.)

All of us have our hot buttons, topics that bypass our analysis and get us riled. Put us in an echo chamber that appeals directly to one of those hot buttons, and…

We'll be just as stupid as those featured in our favorite "I can't believe he did that!" stories.

Do you agree with me that everyone's that dumb? Do you have any "dumb" stories to share?


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Of Allergies and Medical Care


You've probably heard of—or know someone with—horrific allergies to latex, some involving seizures. It's like peanuts: Some folks are insanely sensitive. (I know someone who has an unusually bad reaction to both, actually, among other things.)

There are entire medical facilities, now, that are latex-free. That's due to people who can't even handle trace amounts of latex in the air, like I react to strawberries. (And the protein that people usually react to in strawberries is also found in latex and other things, but evidently that's not what I react to in strawberries.)

What do those latex-free facilities use? Nitrile. Unless they're one of the extremely rare facilities where 1. a nurse has developed an allergy and 2. the administration believes the nurse about that allergy (which is uncommon, because folks dislike admitting that fixing one problem has only caused another).

Problem #1: Most medical practitioners don't even know that the gloves they're using are nitrile.

Problem #2: Nitrile gloves are now following the pattern of latex ones, wherein first some nurses started developing allergies; then with the common usage, medical personnel started claiming the gloves harmed them; then the administrators insisted the allergy was due to the powder in the gloves—complicated by the detail that the administrators were sometimes correct; and gradually the genuinely allergic medical personnel proved that no, they weren't idiots.

Problem #3: That pattern probably has a good decade or more before it plays out, as far as nitrile is concerned.

Problem #4: The other alternative, vinyl, will doubtless follow the same pattern when it gets popular.

Problem #5: A patient carrying his or her own gloves for medical personnel to use is a risk, both for the personnel—who can't be sure the gloves are medical grade—and for fellow patients—who could have a hypersensitivity to the rubber the glove-carrier has.

Okay, so I carry a mini box (unopened) of medical-grade vinyl gloves in my purse, marked on all sides with "ICE", with my allergy also listed in my phone. But I'm well aware that, in case of an emergency that renders me unconscious, I'll probably wake up after medical personnel are wondering what's making my skin flake off like dried glue.

I haven't heard of anyone yet with a hypersensitivity to vinyl, though I'm sure they exist. I just pray I don't meet that person.

People allergic to cleaners and soaps also have issues with medical care. After those issues I mentioned that I have with standard, over-the-counter soap, imagine what happens when I encounter that tough antibacterial soap that's in every hospitals (which was a stupid move, biologically speaking—they at least should have switched out antibacterial types every month or week to keep them effective, rather than killing off all the bacteria they worked on so only the resistant strains remained to breed).

Yeah. Not fun.

Then there's the other type of allergies, probably the most common type: allergies to medicines. I'm allergic to acetaminophen. My mother has to avoid aspirin (and might be allergic to acetaminophen, too). My brother's allergic to penicillin and sulfa and all related medications. One of my friends can't have ibuprofen.

Someone once told me about a time when she went to the doctor for pain. She had symptoms of an allergy to the acetaminophen-based medicine they gave her, so they gave her yet another acetaminophen-based medicine—not once, but twice!

Seriously. I can't help but wonder what those medical personnel were thinking. "Hey, she's evidently allergic to this one, so let's give her a related medicine!" (What…the…[expletive deleted].)

I mean, I'm careful to track down my painkiller herbs to see what medicines they're related to, and I clearly mark that on my bag. I will never give my mother white willow bark or meadowsweet root, because both contain a chemical that's in aspirin. If she wants to try it on her own, fine. But I won't hand it to her.

I'll even ask if someone's allergic to fish before I hand 'em something with GMO corn, though it's highly unlikely that someone allergic to fish will be allergic to the specific plasmid that was taken from a fish and put into corn. Just in case.

But that's the weird thing about hospitals. It's frightening how often I have to repeat my allergies to medical personnel who are supposed to know to take these things seriously. I've been patronized, all but called a hypochondriac, asked how I know I'm allergic to something (in a disbelieving way, not a curious one)…

My mother once happened to be me once to witness a nurse's passive-aggressive, "I have to open these expensive surgical gloves." Mom was appalled, more so when I shrugged and found the comment mild.

To be fair, I do know doctors and nurses who actually listen and like my scientific approach to my symptoms and their causes. (Not uncommon: Walking into the doctor's office with a list of symptoms to hand the doctor, including potential causes for problems I already know I'm having.) And those folks are often appalled themselves when I thank them for not being condescending.

And I must admit that one of the two times I was poisoned after a surgery seems to have been caused by the hospital mixing up my prescription with someone else's. (The other case was an example of Murphy's Law. I can only guess that the surgeon was having a bad few months, because I've been told by nurses who've worked with him that he's very competent in surgery, he was a bit snappish when his one nurse displayed potential incompetence in front of him—and she also screwed up my allergy list on my medical file. Correcting that took a good five minutes of arguing.)

Allergies to medicines can effect people (and characters) in interesting ways. Did you know penicillin is bread mold? Imagine how that affects people who are hungry and only have moldy bread to eat. Eat the bread and suffer from the allergy—which can be debilitating or life-threatening—or not eat it and starve—which can also be life-threatening?

But food allergies—and how long I think I'd last in case of an apocalypse—are a topic for another day.

Do you have any allergies that affect your medical care? Have you known anyone with severe medical allergies? Have you read or written any characters with medical allergies?


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Of Tea and Toothpaste: Allergies to Sweeteners and Herbs

To continue my mini-series of how different allergies can affect everyday life, last week I covered some basic contact allergies. I also asked if anybody could think of an allergy I'd mentioned before that would affect my ability to use toothpaste and drink tea.

Nobody did, but no biggie. My own mother loses track of my allergies. (Yeah, that can get fun when she hands me food.)

I was thinking of stevia. Gives me headaches.

Stevia is both a sweetener and an herb, but reactions to sweeteners are actually fairly common, particularly to artificial ones. There's a reason anything with aspartame has a warning on it, and it's not that one of the byproducts if formaldehyde. There's a disorder wherein people can't break down phenylalanine. It can cause neural issues like seizures and mental retardation.

The odd-ish thing about that? All chemical sweeteners have molecular structures that are odd to the body and don't necessarily digest (and there are some studies showing correlation between artificial sweeteners and obesity + cancers, which suggests causation). So poor aspartame is singled out for the terrible side effects it has on that minority of the population, while the other artificial sweeteners are ignored.

(I've read before—but I don't know how verified it is—that when you taste sweet, your body tells your brain, "Prepare to store calories," so if you don't get them, your body still wants them and it may even make stuff to store. That might just be a theory for why some studies have shown correlation between obesity and artificial sweeteners.)

Granted, I still avoid eating aspartame, but that's because I don't want formaldehyde in my body. Sugar, honey, agave—I'll eat those over the others, any day. And I'm working on getting corn syrup (with its many name variants) out of my diet, because my insulin's wonky enough and I don't need that adding to it. ("Corn syrup" is a misnomer, and though it doesn't affect your blood sugar right away, it affects spikes your blood sugar higher than table sugar after your body's done digesting what you ate. Thus why some folks call soda pop "Diabetes in a can.")

Okay, to get back on topic of allergies, what does all this about sweetener have to do with allergies? ^_^

Sweeteners are in everything. Baked beans, cheese, chicken nuggets, canned asparagus—if you eat it, the major brands probably have sweeteners added. Because sugar's nicely addicting like that, encouraging you to come back for more—and it can act as a preservative, too.

Xylitol's in most gum and toothpaste. Stevia's often in tea blends. Food usually has some form of sugar or corn syrup added—unless it's natural, in which case the added sweetener is more likely to be stevia or brown rice syrup. (And remember my rice intolerance? Makes it hard for me to find "all-natural" pre-made foods I can eat.)

So anybody allergic to a sweetener—and I've known people allergic to Splenda and others—has to be careful with what they consume, reading labels for particular families of foods…

And then there are the exceptions, which can get more common as different sweeteners get chic and other ones lose popularity. If you're allergic to a sweetener and you don't read every label, you'll probably end up blindsided sometime and wondering why on earth you have a headache. (Oh, toothpaste, I hate you.)

Now, imagine you were allergic to peppermint. Or cinnamon. (I once knew someone allergic to cinnamon and nutmeg.) Or to the most popular flavor where you live.

If you eat it, somebody's allergic.

Technically, you could even be intolerant to a food and not realize it. I'm a chatterbox, and I've discovered that a fair number of people have symptoms of a food intolerance and don't know that's what it is. Some people just think "My stomach hurts all the time" or "Sometimes" or "Sometimes my digestion's really screwed up".

For girls in particular, those things can happen due to hormones, but they can also be due to food sensitivities—and you can be sensitive to a food in one form and not in another. My brother can't have cooked cabbage, but he can eat raw cabbage just fine, though it's harder to digest.

My own mother, no stranger to allergies and intolerances and such, had symptoms of being allergic to Lortab and didn't realize it until I pointed out, "Er… Mom? What you're describing as your reaction to Lortab is how my Tylenol allergy started." (Tylenol is in Lortab.)

So don't assume you have no allergies or intolerances or sensitivities. You won't be doing yourself any favors—though if you have as limited a diet as I've heard the average person does, you may not ever encounter anything you react to.

Do you ever read the labels in what you eat? What's your sweetener of choice?


Popular Posts
(of the last month)