The internet is always a good source of information – and misinformation. Those of us who once had no option to do anything other than first-hand research probably appreciate this more than those who are too young to remember the olden days.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to be able to click and surf. As a journalist, how else could I get access to experts in so many fields, from vets to undertakers? (Don’t worry, it was for an article on horse-drawn hearses.)
But where there are delights, there is danger. In the horse world, there are various spats going on between manufacturers of complementary feed products and if some social media and equestrian internet forums are to be believed, there is also skulduggery afoot as companies aim to trash each others’ claims.
In the past few weeks, there’s been a spate of companies sowing seeds of doubt about others’ research. Normally, I’d think it was nothing more than ‘marketing techniques’ but when people whose knowledge far exceeds mine and whom I know to have high ethical standards are concerned, it makes me worried.
I’ve now got to the stage where I don’t take anything for granted, which is probably a good thing. When I get press releases saying that ‘trials show that X achieved a 95 per cent success rate’ I want to know more: who carried out the research, was it a proper clinical trial and was it a representative sample?
After all, there was a memorable glossy magazine and TV advertising campaign for a cosmetics product which proudly claimed that a phenomenal percentage of those who tried it believed it had a significant effect. When you looked at the small print, the number of testers was ridiculously small.
It’s great to see experts having discussions, but when they start coming nearly to virtual blows it leaves the rest of us even more confused. For instance, one will say ingredient A is effective whilst another says research shows it has no effect on horses.
Then there are products sold only through vets. Does this mean they are better than ones which are widely available, even if reading the labels seems to show that the ingredients and quantities show little difference?
I do know that I trust my vet not to try and sell me anything he hasn’t researched and is satisfied with and I know he’ll be up to date on what is and isn’t legal. I also know he doesn’t have the time to research everything that’s out there, so it may be that I can find something as effective, but cheaper.
When you buy a horse, the golden rule is Caveat emptor: Buyer beware. It’s sensible to keep that in mind with other things, too.