Swimming with sharks

October 30th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, cosmetics, express | 4 Comments »

Swimming with sharks

Ben Goldacre
Thursday October 30, 2003
The Guardian

Talk bad science

· Dolphins will save us all, according to the International Journal of Bad Science – sorry, I mean the Express. “Swimming with dolphins is increasingly recognised as a therapy for clinical depression, autism, and other neurological conditions,” it says, before regaling us with tales of autistic children speaking their first words. All sounds jolly nice, if a bit sentimental. No bad science there. Although no evidence on Medline. I was just wondering, how does it work? Over to Dr Horace Dobbs: “One theory is that the sounds they make coming through the water interact with our central nervous systems and produce tiny holes which can boost energy and stimulate the immune system,” he tells the Express.

· Tiny holes? A bunch of holes might well stimulate the immune system, but who says that’s a good thing? In the past week, it’s been reported that echinacea, Geranium Egypt aromatherapy and aspartame are all immune system stimulators. But could stimulating the immune system, if such a thing is possible, actually be bad for you? Holistic Vets spammed me last week trying to get me to feed my cat “immune stimulating” mushrooms, weirdly, I swear, on the actual day the cat died from leukaemia, a disease of an overactive immune system.

· Do these things come with a health warning? Clearly not. Although best-selling author Andrew Weil says: “I advise people with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus to avoid long-term use of any of the immune-enhancing botanicals. But I think it’s perfectly fine for them to take echinacea or astragalus short-term (up to 10 days or so) to treat colds and other minor infections.” Based on what exactly? Well, he is a doctor. And Dr Dobbs is, it turns out, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, no less. You can buy his book, Dolphin Healing, on Amazon at the moment for 1p.

· Which is a lot cheaper than the bottle of “Organics” conditioner with collagen and amino acids (your hair is dead, I repeat, your hair is dead) that I have before me. May I point out, before I go, that the ingredients of this conditioner are as follows: Aqua, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethiconol, Cetrimonium Chloride, C11-15 Pareth-7, C11-15 Pareth-5, Parfum, Tocopheryl Acetate, Citric Acid, Amodimethicone, Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Hydroxide, Isoleucine, Lysine, CI 47005, CI 4700, CI 42051, and Collagen Amino Acids.


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4 Responses



  1. Richard said,

    December 2, 2005 at 10:15 am

    Ok so, a bottle of “Organics” contains:

    Aqua, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethiconol, Cetrimonium Chloride, C11-15 Pareth-7, C11-15 Pareth-5, Parfum, Tocopheryl Acetate, Citric Acid, Amodimethicone, Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Hydroxide, Isoleucine, Lysine, CI 47005, CI 4700, CI 42051, and Collagen Amino Acids.

    But does it taste good?

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