Apes and antibiotics
Thursday April 17, 2003
New: Talk about Bad science
Â· The terrifying epidemic of inaccurate fear-mongering continues to rage over the Sars virus. Dominik Diamond of the Daily Star blames you, the general public, for creating the super virus: “We’ve wasted our defences against this, by demanding antibiotics at the mere hint of a sniffle.” Clever boy. Perhaps there’s a GCSE biology student out there who could explain to him why antibiotics only kill bacteria, and not viruses.
Â· Although we are, of course, right to worry, war is nothing compared to the glorious might of the natural world. Remember: politics killed only between seven and 10 million men and women in the first world war; the influenza epidemic bagged 21 million a year later. Morality is vanity, I tell you. The scientists are fighting a much bigger game.
Â· And so, with almost painful inevitability, we move on to Crap Cure of the Week. US regulators have ordered the chancers flogging the wonder-pill “Cellasene” to reimburse their customers $12m (Â£7.6m) over claims, now withdrawn, that their expensive blend of herbs and crushed grape seeds “eliminates” cellulite. I was more interested in their promise of a wholesale personality change, giving me a bottom and thighs that, apparently, I would be “eager to show off”. Thank God you can still buy Cellasene Forte in Boots at only Â£29.99.
Â· If only the Cellasene salespeople had followed the lead of Elemis, who have just won the Professional Beauty Awards 2003 prize for “Best Marketing and Promotions”. The key to pseudo-scientific cosmetics marketing is, as they demonstrate, to generate publicity material that means nothing and to steer well clear of testable hypotheses: “We use Absolutes, the purest form of living energy . . . Elemis plant essential oils are most potent and . . . have an immense capacity for oxygenating the skin.” Sold.
Â· And finally, we turn to the extraordinary letters pages of the Daily Mail, whose reactionary Victorian values seem to go well beyond the family: “Evolution is absurd. Are there any scientists who still believe in it?” Gulp. And, most terrifyingly: “If man evolved from apes, why are there still apes around?”
Dr Goldacre will be back next week.
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