The Guardian | Saturday September 24 2005
The au pair said something very funny about my dinner parties the other day: oh hang on, wrong column. Didn’t they tell you? We’re all written by the same person. So I’ve been reading the BBC’s health website â€” on the importance of drinking water â€” and it seems we missed a very exciting discovery: “Implosion researchers have found that if water is put through a spiral, its electrical field changes and it then appears to have a potent, restorative effect on cells.”
This, speaking as someone who now writes for the news pages, is “news”. They even have further details on the water research: “In one study, seedlings watered with spiralised water grew significantly faster, higher and stronger than those given ordinary water.” (www.tinyurl.com/9p578)
Now, I am of the longstanding opinion that national newspaper journalists calling up press offices and being taken seriously is, in the simplest sense of the word, cheating: which is why I have an extensive range of fake email identities, for circumstances just like these.
So Dr Quentin Arbuthnot (FRS) inquires innocently to the BBC complaints department, with his eminently reasonable questions: “What is an implosion researcher? And what is the electrical field of water?” he begins. “How does your correspondent believe it ‘changes’, and how was this measured?” Too vague. Bring it back to the specifics, Quentin: “What, pray, was the ‘potent restorative effect on cells’ and how was this measured? And please, what is the reference for the research referred to, which shows that seedlings in this special water grow ‘significantly faster, higher, and stronger’?”
That was the beginning of August. Three weeks later, Quentin receives the following: “Thank you for your interesting comments. The author of this piece is getting in contact with the researchers who provided the information and will endeavour to get answers to each of your questions.” Quentin is loving how doggedly they’re being all grown-up and professional. “In the meantime she has asked that this paragraph be removed from the site until the points can be further clarified. We will write to you again once we have further information.”
That was a month ago. Then nothing, although Quentin has been making a right old noise: first he had suggested that someone calling themselves an implosion researcher is no source for a media organisation to use as a source of improbable facts. Then he pointed out that Jacqueline Young, who wrote the piece, describes herself as “originally trained as a clinical psychologist in the NHS”. I contacted the British Psychological Society and they’d never heard of her. So either this was before 1990, or she’s changed her name, or she never was trained as a clinical psychologist.
But lastly, a clarification: this is not a cultural issue, and this is not about alternative science versus western medicine. It is about the far simpler issue of a proper media organisation presenting made-up marketing rubbish as if it was scientific fact.