Thursday September 4, 2003
Talk bad science
Â· When I was a lad, washing powder adverts were all about men in white coats on housewives’ doorsteps; now international biotech firms have to wear a kaftan and beads just to get your attention. New Persil Aloe Vera contains “Aloe Vera extract, well known to be gentle on skin … a touch of nature for all the family wash”. If I can be the man in the white coat for a moment: aloe vera has been shown “in tests” to accelerate wound healing, which might count as gentle, but [turns earnestly to camera ignoring baffled housewife] “a touch” of nature is just about all you’ll get once it’s been through two rinse cycles and a drum spinning at 1200rpm.
Â· And while I’m still in anally retentive mode: Bach’s Flower Remedies were not, as the unendingly credulous Times stated last week, “discovered” by Dr Bach in the 1930s. Species and laws are “discovered”; esoteric moneyspinners, no matter how well-meaning and fluffy they may be, are “concocted”.
Â· And now to our star bad science activist from Birmingham, who, sadly, wishes to remain anonymous. A firm called Neutralec is apparently on to something big. That funny shading you sometimes get on your carpets, where the weave points in different directions? Electromagnetic waves, apparently. I turn to the website (www.field-free.co.uk). I start to worry when I see the pictures of big dark rectangles in fitted shagpile that were apparently caused by a broken video recorder that was 2m away in the loft and wasn’t even plugged in. The website says I can get rid of this sort of thing by plugging a little ceramic sphere (that costs Â£60) into my earth loop through the three-pin plug on the wall, and this will also protect me from electromagnetic radiation. Or will it? In among the testimonials (“Neither I or anyone else has experienced a headache since … Twelve months later … her husband had not experienced any fits whatsoever!”) they seem to be hedging their bets: “We are not in any way suggesting that the Neutraliser will cure any specific illness or prevent disease.” Well, as the Guardian legal department often say, as they rap my sarcastic little knuckles: that’s certainly what you’re implying. Where others would have held their heads in disbelief, our masked crusader wrote to Solihull trading standards, asking: “How many gullible souls have to part with Â£60 before someone makes a stand?” So far, no response. If you need any help, trading standards, a nation of scientists is at your disposal.