General Discussion Thread

November 27th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 113 Comments »

Here is a place to discuss alternative therapies in general, ask basic questions about science or stats, share wacky theories about MMR, anything. This is until I get the bigger discussion forums built.


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113 Responses



  1. Nasty Jim said,

    November 27, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Anyone care to help debunk this spot of advertorial puff?

  2. Richard said,

    November 27, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Ok, I’ll begin. The opening sentence reads:

    “I cannot believe I’m finally here to tell you I’ve naturally cured my 3 1/2 yr. old son of recurring MRSA”.

    So her son experienced several MRSA infections (that’s some bad luck the boy’s got) and survived. However, in the three months since the most recent infection, he has not become reinfected. Yet.

    Er, that’s it. Move along, nothing to see here.

  3. maibee said,

    November 27, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    Good or bad science? www.naturesdefence.com

    They’re real scientists and there is a link to a proper paper.

    Just curious what people think.

  4. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    November 27, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    I agree with Richards analysis of the MRSA blog anecdote. I’ve just checked out what the ‘ORAC’ business is, and despite the terms legit background, it seems that it’s essentially a vice of faux authority (including a false FDA link) for health food companies to con the public into thinking they need to eat at least 12 servings of fruit a day. Or buy yet more unecessary crap, this time in the form of one megaberry drink, et voila.

  5. Richard said,

    November 27, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    maibee, I understand there is some research suggesting that resveratrol (a salvestrol) may be of use in dealing with some types of cancer. This company is peddling salvestrol supplements on this basis. In the same spirit, may I refer you to the following article:

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/utils/lofref.fcgi?PrId=3048&uid=15231405&db=pubmed&url=http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0031942204001876

    Suggesting that Xanthohumol, found in hops, may help fight cancer. I am about to set up a company to market my new Xanthohumol Therapy. This therapy helps you combat cancer by ensuring you get the right balance of Xanthohumol in your diet through the consumption of Real Ales and carefully selected fine continental lagers.

  6. Bob O'H said,

    November 27, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    *Good or bad science? www.naturesdefence.com*
    Well, their website looks a mess in Firefox

    More importantly, there’s nothing on Web of Science about salvestrols, but there is quite a lot about resveratrol, which seems to be a salvestrol. Most of the work looks to be too biochemical for me (i.e. it’s done by people in lab coats). My take is that this is a legit line of enquiry, but there’s no clinical trial results yet, so it could do all sorts of other harm. HEALTH WARNING: Jumping on a band waggon can severely impair your hearing.

    I was also worried by this title:
    Uguralp S, Usta U, Mizrak B. Resveratrol may reduce apoptosis of rat testicular germ cells after experimental testicular torsion. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PEDIATRIC SURGERY 15 (5): 333-336 OCT 2005

    Testicular torsion? Sounds painful.

    Bob

  7. Tessa K said,

    November 27, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    Yay, at last a general discussion thread.

    Has anyone seen the latest Domestos adverts on billboards? It is being sold as a ‘flu killer’.

    According to this link someone sent me: www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-pandemic-plan-5e.htm

    chlorine bleach should be used on materials that have been in contact with blood or human fluids, such as hard surfaces. That’s in hospitals and labs.

    How can it help in the home? Most viruses are caught outside the home. Indoors, I guess you could use it on your kitchen worktop if someone sneezed on it, but only if you were planning to rub your face on it. Otherwise, surely the best advice is to wash your hands a lot and not touch your face.

    This does seem like blatant scaremongering. There is no mention in the ads of how Domestos should be use to kill flu. Spray it on your chickens?

  8. Tim said,

    November 27, 2005 at 7:42 pm

    Diabeticine

    Is this the nonsense it appears to be? I’ve searched the internet but I haven’t found any kind of positive comment from an identifiably neutral source, or anything with any kind of scientific basis really.

  9. Ray said,

    November 27, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Good or bad science? www.naturesdefence.com. Just curious what people think.

    I think the most interesting thing is the way this company handles the issue of the Cancer Act 1939 (i.e. no advertising of cancer cure products) by having one site, www.naturesdefence.com, going into great detail about how salvestrols allegedly target cancer, and selling their salvestrol products via a separate one with no outright medical claims, www.fruitforce.co.uk. I see they have a research wing too, www.globalbotanicalresearch.com. Wonderful how it can all be crammed into 103 High Street, Syston, Leicester. This bunch have got the usual free BBC advertising.

  10. RS said,

    November 27, 2005 at 8:28 pm

    For anyone that’s watched Channel 4′s “Make Me a Million”, you can see corporate bad science in action, here they’ve set up a phony academic sounding organisation to approve their pseudomedical product:

    www.dermapaedic.org/
    www.halogb.co.uk/

  11. JohnD said,

    November 27, 2005 at 9:12 pm

    All,
    Orac? ORAC??

    Does nobody here remember ‘Blake’s 7′?
    (Okay, for you young things. Orac was the ships computer. It was about as sane as HAL)
    Got to be a wind up.
    John

  12. JohnD said,

    November 28, 2005 at 8:36 am

    Just to stay off-topic for a moment, the Liberator’s computer was Zen. ORAC was the annoying talking christmas tree ornament. How sad that I know that…..

    Back on topic, ORAC appears to be one of those measurements that rapidly get subverted to the marketing cause. Here is a real link:

    www.cancer.med.umich.edu/learn/nutorac.htm

    And soon we find it touted at the dubiously named “Healthy-Living.org” (“Eating the 25,000 food nutrients our body needs each day.”):
    healthy-living.org/html/e7_-_faq.html

    Cyclingnews.com (How did we ever manage to ride as kids without counting our ORACs):
    www.cyclingnews.com/tech.php?id=tech/2005/reviews/first_endurance_multi-v_response

    In fact, it seems that cycling is developing a rapid and faintly disturbing obsession with ORAC:
    www.firstendurance.com/qa_multi-v.html

  13. JohnD said,

    November 28, 2005 at 8:39 am

    Argg!!! I just realised there are two of us using the same name! Mine is the second post, the ones with the links. My schizophrenic alter-ego posted the first one immediately above that.

    Now I have to go and count my ORACs……

  14. FredM said,

    November 28, 2005 at 9:12 am

    Orac is also the name of the excellent medical blogger whose blogs regularly expose pseudoscience at oracknows.blogspot.com. His old blogging platform was recently cybersquatted by J.B. Handley of Generation Rescue, a website that promotes belief in a thiomersal/autism link (the full story appears at oracknows.blogspot.com/2005/11/internet-squatter-j-b-handley.html). I wonder if the appearance of ‘ORAC’ as the brandname of some pseudotherapy is part of a coordinated attack?

  15. Jimmicus said,

    November 28, 2005 at 9:17 am

    Here’s another one. Can anyone tell me why the latest Kleenex tissues, that kill 99% of cold viruses or whatever the claim is, are necessary? I’m just a little old Chemist who thinks that it doesn’t matter a toss what happens to those viruses stuck in the muck of my latest blow, as they’re destined for the bin mere seconds after their landing.

    Seriously, is there a point to it that I’ve missed?

  16. Edward Bozzard said,

    November 28, 2005 at 9:35 am

    Good Science on the BBC this morning. Did anyone else see this? They did a feature about 0835 about cures for the common cold. Their resident GP was asked what cures were out there for the common cold. She was presented with public opinion ranging from Vitamin C and Zinc to Echniacea. He response was: “There is no evidence whatsoever to support any of these remedies.” She did then mention the study that “showed” that if you stand in a bucket of cold water, it’ll bring on a cold quicker, but otherwise, she was very direct and unequivocal. Bravo!

    What made me laugh was the cut to the weatehr girl, who when asked whether she had a cold, said “Yes, i’m going home to take some Vitamin C straight after this”. Proving that people just don’t listen!

  17. Edward Bozzard said,

    November 28, 2005 at 10:19 am

    Well whadda you know – Apparently Zinc can help kids with HIV news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/health/4463920.stm
    (www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673605677562/fulltext)

    I don’t have access to the full text, but hope this study is better than the one that Ben higlighted a while ago from everyone’s favourit nutritionist Patrick Holford, suggesting Vitamin C was more effective than AZT.

    Hey, maybe all those people that take vitamins every day really are going to live forever!

  18. Edward Bozzard said,

    November 28, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Ok, have accessed the full text – It is double-blind, controlled, and randomised, so maybe it’s an OK study… It’s alweays been my understanding that vitamins are only useful in cases where there is already a severe deficiency, so perhaps this is a case where it’s fully kosher..

  19. wilksie said,

    November 28, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    As for Diabeticine – It says it can be 64% effective for reversing the root cause of Type 1 diabetes. Wow!! Does this mean it can grow new beta cells in the pancreas or stop the auto-immune reaction that destroyed them in the first place? This must be a major medical breakthrough, applicable in many other areas. I wonder why it hasn’t been reported anywhere else?
    Humph! I don’t think so.

  20. Michael P said,

    November 28, 2005 at 1:15 pm

    Richard, I’m with you 100%! If I can’t help you shift the stuff to other people, I’d be more than happy to make sure I’m ‘protected’ :-D

  21. Michael Harman said,

    November 28, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Is it possible to devise a program for automatically calculating a pseudoscience score? Contributing elements would include:
    - the words “immune system” (multiplied by the number of occurrences of “boost”)
    - the word “homeopathic”
    - the word “chemical” (not preceded by “synthetic”)
    - the words “toxin” and “detox”
    - the word “organic”
    - the number of typefaces used on the website
    - the number of colours used for the text on the website.

  22. Michael P. said,

    November 28, 2005 at 2:45 pm

    Re: salvestrol

    The whole thing’s blown completely out the water. From my quick look at the paper I’d say the the biochemistry looks about right (do some incubations, chuck it through a mass spec, boom – paper), and even the bandying about of the ideas that it’s a potential therapy is fine – It’s clearly discussive.

    I’ll bite my tongue about naturesdefence.com for now. But the BBC couldn’t have gotten it more wrong if they tried – they say the compound ‘targets’ CYP1B1 and destroys it. I think they were reading a different paper from me…. Hats off to CRUK for staying out of it altogether though!

  23. Michael P. said,

    November 28, 2005 at 3:13 pm

    I’ve just told the BBC about the article. Shall I hold my breath for a correction to be published?

  24. MostlySunny said,

    November 28, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4478040.stm

    So Romantic love only lasts a year? Like a good little reformed flaky humanities graduate I went to pubmed, looked it up and tried to read it. Hmm – looks ok to me but eyes glazed over a bit at all those numbers, “

  25. MostlySunny said,

    November 28, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    whoops – half of my post got cut off!

    what I ended with was – it seems to me from reading the actual paper and comparing it to the BBC article that the BBC was on the money and that it was a correct reflection of the research findings.

    am I right?

  26. tonyhatfield said,

    November 28, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Anybody fancy prescribing swimming with dolphins to help depression?
    www.thersites.org.uk/blog/?p=123
    Me Miss.
    t

  27. Tessa K said,

    November 28, 2005 at 4:57 pm

    Michael Harman – you forgot something in your list. A lot of the wackier ‘cures’ invoke quantum theory as an explanation. That one really should set off the alarm bells.

    Oh, and of course, natural .

    I walked past the Homeopathic Hospital in Queen’s Square today. A lot of money has been spent poshing up the outside. Shame it’s right next to Great Ormond Street hospital where real science is done.

    If anyone wants volunteers to swim with dolphins, I’d be up for it.

  28. Stan said,

    November 28, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    MostlySunny, the story is a class of “science” reporting I find infuriating, and one that’s very popular in Social Anthropology circles right now. It’s easy to do: you misinterpret or overgeneralise a biology/chemistry research finding, then extrapolate a socialogical effect from it (cf Thornhill and the “biological imperative to rape”).

    The second crime of the report is mistaking correlation with causality, which is equally annoying.

    I’d recommend reading “A Certain Chemistry”, a fictional novel that manages to be more accurate than the BBC it seems.

  29. Ray said,

    November 28, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    Michael Harman …. calculating a pseudoscience score?

    energy
    frequency
    vibration
    rebalance

  30. Rob Sang said,

    November 28, 2005 at 10:48 pm

    Okay, I have questionable science that needs debunking.

    www.drksmith.com/nutrasweet.htm

    Gotta be rubbish, but I’m no doctor.

  31. Organic Potatoes said,

    November 28, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Should I use Veggi Wash on my ‘chemical’ laden vegetables? or just water? www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/detail/969076.html

    Also, why do some people into organic seem to think you don’t have to wash organic fruit and veg? I thought people washed them to get the dirt off, silly me.

  32. Dean Morrison said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:15 am

    Just been the the goodness direct site …A quid for a tin of beans???
    .. and it doesn’t even claim that they are not genetically modified?

  33. Andrew Clegg said,

    November 29, 2005 at 2:34 am

    Rob — this one’s easy, since that page makes some claim about MIT researchers discovering aspartame causes seizures in humans.

    1. Go to pubmed.org

    2. Put in:       “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” AND aspartame

    3. There’s two hits; the second is an analysis of data on rats, and the first is on humans and ends with the sentence “CONCLUSION: Large daily doses of aspartame had no effect on neuropsychologic, neurophysiologic, or behavioral functioning in healthy young adults.”

    4. Draw own conclusions…

    Andrew.

  34. amoebic vodka said,

    November 29, 2005 at 10:33 am

    Well washing with water certainly doesn’t remove any insecticides – they do not dissolve in water very well as this helps the pesticide work at lower concentrations and stay where it’s applied and not get into ground water or rivers. Basically, the veggi wash is a detergent: “Veggi Wash contains three naturally based surface- active ingredients – one to reduce surface tension on the produce, a second renders materials soluble and the third breaks them down prior to rinsing”.

    Presumably it might actually wash more stuff off, espescially as the instructions say to soak the fruit for 1-2 minutes instead of just putting it under the tap for 5 seconds. Any detergent would probably do, super value washing-up liquid for example. It’s certainly cheaper. We’re not sure what they expect it to remove as some herbicides in particular are taken up by the plant, they’re not on the surface.

    We note it says:”All three are vegetable derived.”

    Well that’s fine, then. Everyone knows all natural products are good for you: botulinum toxin, cyanide, nicotine, snake venom, curare and atropine for starters.

    Um…and we’d wash organic fruit and veg – without those evil chemicals being applied to the crop they are more likely to be infected with fungi or bacteria, some of which produce some toxic compounds…ergot, Fusarium species…

    Some Fusarium species produce a toxin called vomitoxin, we think this is a great name.

    We always thought that washing fruit was not just about removing the soil, but also because you don’t know who’s been handling it before you buy it and what was on their hands.

  35. Caradog said,

    November 29, 2005 at 10:56 am

    I’ve got a question regarding using a control group. I can understand how important they are to achieving a unbiased (or at least a much less biased) result, but seeing as it is so vital, why isn’t more than one control group used? If you’ve got one ‘true’ homeopathy group and one control group, then seeing as its likely one result will be (however marginally) more effective than the other, the chances of it being the homeopath group is 50/50. If you use three control groups, then the ‘true’ group would need to prove itself against three placebos, not just one, thereby by making any evidence (or otherwise) of its efficacy clearer and more reliable.

    Just wondering if anyone’s got an answer

  36. Tessa K said,

    November 29, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    Amoebic vodka: I was told ages ago that fruit and veg should be washed in a vinegar-water solution to remove pesticides. I don’t know if this works.

    Most people think that ‘organic’ means pesticide free. It doesn’t, it just means that some of the nastier ones are not used. There are still ‘chemicals’ on/in your organic fruit and veg. I was also told that carrots and apples should always be peeled as there is a lot of residue in the skin. Is this right?

  37. Organic Potatoes said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    I’m more worried about dirt and bacteria residues

  38. Organic Potatoes said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    See what the FSA say: www.food.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/2002/mar/fruitveg

  39. Organic Potatoes said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:24 pm

    I meant to paste this link: www.food.gov.uk/safereating/pesticides/pesticidesmainqa/pesticidesqaq10

  40. amoebic vodka said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:29 pm

    Vineger might work, though like using washing up liquid, it would probably make the skin taste a bit wierd. We suppose it depends what you are hoping to remove. Though there’s not really much evidence that pesticide residues are harmful, at least not at the levels normally found on or in fruit and vegetables.

    We like the way strychnine is one of the chemicals allowed for organic farming. It’s natural, so it’s fine, right?

    As for what foods have the most pesticide residue, we honestly don’t know.

  41. Howard said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Michael H – automatically detecting pseudoscience based on text analysis? Interesting idea, though I agree with Ray’s additions – “energy” and “vibration” are key terms to detect, “resonance” is another.

    There are many free websites that do word-frequency analysis of web pages – it would be simple enough to point one of these at some online pseudoscience, then at some real science, and compare the output.

    Some of the Gillian McKeith rubbish that used to be at the www.bonasana.com site would be a good starting point (not that it’s hard to find scientific rubbish on the web). It’s probably wishful thinking to imagine that the bonasana content was pulled because McKeith was actually embarassed by the availability of some of her scientific nonsense from years gone by. The site says content is unavailable “pending redevelopment/rebranding”.

    … it should still be available from www.archive.org though.

    Howard

  42. Michael P said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    Caradog – the way I think of it is that in good experimental design you only allow one variable to be changed at a time, because if two variables are altered and you see an effect, you don’t know which one might be associated with the effect. So the example here would be “patients + homeopathy” vs “patients – homeopathy”

    Of course it depends on how far you split hairs. If the subject you are studying is gross you could redefine your variables with even finer variables. If you have more than one control group, however you think of them, if you only change one variable from all those groups to the experimental group, (±homeopathy) then in effect you only have one control group! (It would just be ridiculously large compared to the experimental group). Basically you’re reducing fractions :-)

    If it’s marginal effects you’re worried about then you’re supposed to use groups large enough so you can talk about the changes in terms of statistical significance. If it is a small change and not statistically significant then it’s not the ‘evidence’ they were looking for. (Or, indeed, it may point to the evidence they are looking for not existing!)

  43. Big Ant said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    Metro Health (page 17) is worth a read today. It is all about energy patches.

    To help us readers understand that the scientific communitee are sceptical we are given this opinion, “It’s all based on pseudo science. The explanation of the technology doesn’t make the slightest sense and seems to be using scientific language to disguise bulls**t” from Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University.

    Err. Believe Edzard, believe!

  44. Big Ant said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:49 pm

    If you are interested in the patches click on the below

    www.lifewave.com

  45. Rob Sang said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks Andrew. Woohoo, I’m learning stuff!

  46. Big Ant said,

    November 29, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    Sorry its a bit scattered…

    Ernst goes on to say “Progress in medicine is not being made by publishing anecdotes but by proper scientific scruntiny”

    Quite…

  47. Michael P said,

    November 29, 2005 at 2:03 pm

    Big Ant – that site is AMAZING!!! Non-transdermal patches of amino acids that blah blah blah ATP don’tyaknow blah blah… They work by not doing anything! And there are testimonials from all sorts of sportsmen that look like they’ve used their heads as hammers at some stage of their lives. Who could doubt such a site!?!?!?

    Can they be sued for saying they used clinical trials to prove they supply more energy to the body, when it’s clearly bunch of arse?

  48. Marge said,

    November 29, 2005 at 2:24 pm

    I was looking at the highly dubious study about dolphin therapy for depression in the BMJ. Surely you could duble-blind it; if you took some scuba divers, put them in some dolphin-type wet suits… it’d be great.

  49. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 29, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Actually I thought that dolphin study was an excellent example of non-dubiousness.

    They described their methodology in detail, it was completely transparent, they didn’t overclaim in the discussion, there was no loopy press release. I was even half thinking about writing on it in a kind of good-science-on-an-apparently-loopy-topic vein.

    In the words of Bananarama: “It aint what you study its the way you report it”.

  50. tonyhatfield said,

    November 29, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    Ben,
    Ah, but you would have found these two examples to balance out your piece.
    Both I’m afraid again from the BBC though not this time from its health site- here news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/863704.stm
    and here
    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2736863.stm
    t

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 29, 2005 at 3:00 pm

    Well without checking it out too hard at face value that deaf one looks like nonsense, but it is on a completely different subject and doesnt relate to this impressively metered BMJ paper on dolphins and mental health. And the other one is a perfectly nice selection of pleasant rehab anecdotes. I felt warmed to the core of my being just reading it.

  52. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    November 29, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    What’s that about bananas?!?

  53. Martin B said,

    November 29, 2005 at 3:48 pm

    All hail the mighty BBC (nothing vaguely wierd or animal related dismissed.)

    The first report about dolphins helping children to hear is interesting but, from the report, ultimately pointless. The report suggests that the dolphins sing ultrasonically, which deaf people can hear. This may well be the case (doubtful, but I suppose that it’s possible) but it doesn’t say that the deaf children can then hear normal sounds after exposure to the ultrasonic dolphin songs. If the story is true then it could be used as the basis of a new breakthrough in hearing aid technology, except that all of the children in the report had hearing aids which worked perfectly well, anyway.

    The second report is a classic. Introduce a child to a dolphin and they get better. Nice anecdote. The sting comes when months after the child starts to deteriorate “…after about three months she [the child] started going backwards.” Or maybe it was immediate, but because of the great improvement you couldn’t/didn’t want to see it. As the president of the Dolphin Human Therapy says “…you need continual reinforcement.” At £2500 a week. Right. However, little Emily’s parents have managed to raise the funds for a second trip. Wonder how long it’ll work this time. Get the girl a puppy from the local RSPCA rescue centre. Better still, as they tend to charge something in the region of £25, save a hundred.

  54. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    November 29, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    “MRSA victims call for superbugs audit” 28/11/05

    snipurl.com/kbvz

    I don’t know how far your investigation into the MRSA story is going Ben, but I hope the tabloid cries of cover-up don’t regain momentum while hiding behind the backs of these concerned affecteds. Understandably they want heads on stakes, but there are emotional barriers against the effects of reasoning and it wouldn’t surprise me if these were abused.

  55. Rosie said,

    November 29, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    Martin B, you said:

    “…except that all of the children in the report had hearing aids which worked perfectly well, anyway.”

    You do know that hearing aids don’t allow hearing-impaired people completely normal hearing, right?

  56. cnrw said,

    November 30, 2005 at 10:55 am

    General research type question – am doing a market research course in the new year and am wondering if there’s a good general text looking at research methods, the interpretation of results etc

    I realise that marketing and science don’t always see eye to eye, but I don’t think marketing will suffer because of an injection of rigour.

  57. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 30, 2005 at 10:57 am

    How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine by Trisha Greenhalgh in BMA Books.

    It’s the don tome.

  58. cnrw said,

    November 30, 2005 at 11:04 am

    Cheers, if I come across any strange marketing research methods I’ll mention them here.

    CNRW

  59. Neil Atoms said,

    November 30, 2005 at 11:14 am

    www.universalconnectionsonline.com/products.htm

    Can anybody help me with this one?, before my girlfriend spends over 200 quid on it?? It’s clearly just a crystal in a box, but I’m having difficulty explaining why this section in particular is pseudoscientific nonsense;

    The EMN range has been researched and developed over the last five years, and the result is a unique magnetic field radiation neutraliser. The heart of its design is a quartz powered magnetic field frequency changer that will neutralise any distorted magnetic radiation field emanating from a man made, or a natural source, such as:- mobile phone mast transmitters, magnetic pulsing devices, electricity sub stations and pylons, broadband, fibre optic lines, micro wave/RF transmitters, subterranean streams, mineral fault lines, geological fault lines, mines and wells.

    The EMN range electro magnetic radiation neutralisers are self contained units that do not require servicing, batteries or setting up. It is a freestanding unit that does not have any electrical connection requirements.

    Once an EMN unit is placed in a negative electro magnetic radiation environment the positive neutralisation is immediate. Before neutralisation takes place, most negative electro magnetic radiation fields vibrate at over 100hertz, after neutralisation, the environment returns to its natural magnetic frequency, 7.8 hertz.

    It gets wackier the further down the page you go, but it’s only this first section that I’m concerned about.

    cheers

    Neil

  60. David A said,

    November 30, 2005 at 11:22 am

    To add to the earlier list of words that should alarm bells ringing – another ubiquitous term is “magnetic” and especially if it has the “bio-” preifx. For an example of bio-magnetic therapy from the very well-known (and respected?) sports manufacturer Slazenger:
    www.slazengerhealthcare.co.uk/slazenger_products_GO.asp?category=Magnetic%20Supports

    This starts off suspicious by linking the benefits to knowledge gained from acupuncture. They try to legitimise the quackery by mentioning a medical effect that is probably present in the back of a lot of people’s minds, namely that a damaged area of the body will heal faster if you increase the blood supply to it.

    Not only this, they tag on a genuine physics term – the Hall Effect. Now, I’m not a physicist, but a quick search revealed that this effect is not “a principle of physics…that when a magnetic field, which provides deep heat, is place over blood vessels, the heat & mechanical change in blood flow cause the blood vessels to widen.” From what I can gather, the Hall effect is actually a situation where a magnetic field can induce an electric current in some metallic or semi-conductor materials.

    So, what Slazenger seem to be contriving is that placing their bio-magnet near the skin will induce an electric current within the flesh, which is dissapated as heat (or will it earth itself if the leg you treat is on the floor?), which opens blood vessels, which obviously speeds up healing….Except there’s no magnetic metal or semi-conductor in our body….Except neither copper nor zinc are magnetic in the first place…

    But, at least Slazenger are guaranteeing the quality of their bio-magnets – “Hi-quality bi-polar” – none of these third-rate mono-polar magnets…

  61. David A said,

    November 30, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Case proven about the term “magnetic” – I hadn’t seen Neil Atoms’ post before posting mine.

    Good to see that magnetic / electro-magnetic / radiation terms are still interchangeable in some people’s eyes.

    From the last paragraph alone – magnetic fields don’t have a frequency, although electromagnetic radiation (such as radio, microwave, light) does. And complete b****cks about reducing the frequency from 100Hz to 7.8Hz which is a lower numeral and therefore much safer (plus it is a natural frequency, therefore doubly good). It’s like saying the UK electricity supply is unsafe because it’s at 50Hz, so lets dial it back to 10Hz and make it safe (as if that was even practically possible), nevermind the huge electric current and high voltage behind it.

  62. Dave M said,

    November 30, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    See these previous Bad Science columns for lots of stuff on the effect (or lack thereof) of magnetism on the human body.

    www.badscience.net/?cat=34

    I still love the levitating frog footage!

    www.magnet.fsu.edu/science/levitation/index.html

  63. Michael P said,

    November 30, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Sorry Neil, I don’t think it’s possible to go through each part and pick why it’s bollocks, because the whole thing is bollocks from start to finish!!! Let me re-write it, show this to your girlfriend, and see if she’s still so impressed she’ll part with £200….

    “The EMN range has been dreamed up and made in our shed over the last five years, and the result is a unique crystal in a box. The heart of its design is a quartz crystal that will sit in a box.

    The EMN range boxed crystals are self contained units that do not require servicing, batteries or setting up. It is a freestanding unit that does not have any electrical connection requirements.

    Once an EMN unit is placed in a your environment the crystal will remain in it’s box.”

    That’s just about all that I can see in it that’s truthful.

  64. Michael P said,

    November 30, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Oh, I just thought – all that might mean something to her if she believes crystals actually do something! If there’s some deep-rooted belief in crystals going on here, then reasoning about it is probably a waste of time.

    Good luck anyway!

  65. amoebic vodka said,

    November 30, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    “Once an EMN unit is placed in a negative electro magnetic radiation environment the positive neutralisation is immediate. Before neutralisation takes place, most negative electro magnetic radiation fields vibrate at over 100hertz, after neutralisation, the environment returns to its natural magnetic frequency, 7.8 hertz.”

    Well, if it did work you would get no TV or radio reception in your house. With radio waves being um…electromagnetic radiation. If it’s supposed to work for all frequecies of electromagnetic radiation, you’d have even more trouble as that includes visible light.

  66. Michael P said,

    November 30, 2005 at 1:52 pm

    I’ve just made the link – they’re selling some sort of Kryptonite with magic ‘positive’ properties!!

  67. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    November 30, 2005 at 1:58 pm

    Neil Atoms:

    I’m far from understanding physics – molecular biology is witchcraft in comparison – but what I do know is that electromagnetic radiation is a form of wave-like energy that ranges in frequency from radio waves, through to microwaves, infrared, visible light, UV, X-rays, then gamma-rays (from radioactive stuff). According to Wikipedia, ‘Extremely Low Frequency’ radio waves are between 30 and 300 Hz (the range that this company claims to mop up) which according to another Wikipedia link, are wavelengths that were developed by the US Navy for submarine communication, abd are still in use for very technical things, or for geeks who detects the earths magnetic field variations with homemade radios.

    Nevertheless, I am under the impression that although the properties (e.g. momentum, frequency and direction) of electromagnetic radiation can be altered (or ‘neutralised’ through absorbtion) when a travelling electromagnetic (EM) wave (from a light photon for example) interacts with other atoms and their EM properties, I think that it’s not possible to actually ‘attract’ EM radiation directly (as David A has already said, we’re not talking about the magnetism of objects per se).

    …and so, even if the Kryptonite that you carry around with you is merrily absorbing EM waves, your body will still continue to mop it up as well, at no significant drop in rate/efficiency. Unless the sole source of EM radiation in your universe was a mobile phone, which happened to be encased entirely in this Kryptonite stuff.

    A Google search with “attract electromagnetic” produces 34 hits, so maybe I suspect Universal Connections Online are in for e Nobel prize.

    Again I’m not a physicist, but I suspect if one were to drop by here, they’d happily blow appart this EMN business (and I appologise to them in advance for my rudimentary jibberings).

  68. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    November 30, 2005 at 2:09 pm

    Neil Atoms:

    Ask your girlfriend to check this site out first, before she invests 200 bucks on crystals:

    www.powerwatch.org.uk/docs/aboutus.asp

    I think Powerwatch is an affiliated site (they are linked from the crystal site). From Powerwatch, your girlfriend may purchase a power frequency meter for £346.62 (or hire it for 35 quid per week), to determine whether she is at risk before purchasing the crystals.

    :-)

  69. JonnyW said,

    November 30, 2005 at 3:46 pm

    The geopathic stress (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geopathic_Stress) /emf
    nonsense mentioned here is being pedaled here is all over the Internet. I have been looking at on and of f for a while now.
    The 7.8hz natural frequency is most likely refering to Schumann_Resonance (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schumann_resonance)

    Apprently by avoiding geopathic stress you can prevent the majority of cases of
    • Cancer, M.E., Asthma, P.M.S., Cot Death & Heart problems.
    • Long-term physical & mental illnesses where present treatment does not seem to work.
    • Children who are hyperactive – have learning difficulties – difficult to control.
    • Children born with defects.
    • Long-term stress in relationship/at work.
    • Miscarriage, premature birth, not able to conceive & difficult pregnancies.
    • Allergy to food & drinks.
    • Child Abuse.
    • Road Rage

    As the wikipedia article says one of the commest devices to combat it is the multiwave oscillator
    See this site for examples (taking a diversion Ben talked a while ago about the atmosphere having 30% oxygen 200 years ago its 38% here and now it has 25% carbon dioxide, and check out the oxygen healing therapy for this, Im no pharmacologist but I can’t image taking 15 500mg tabs of magnesium peroxide can be too good for you but there again I don’t really now that for sure!!) www.dulwichhealth.co.uk/

    You can also buy a “Rainbow Vortex Card”
    www.stepstoperfecthealth.co.uk/articles/geophatic_stress.htm
    And loads of different homeopathic remedies as well as loads of other devices including crystals. But I havent come across these ones before so cheers for that.

    All really quite scary and funny (well when its not dangerous) all at the same time.
    If that ain’t enough I’m sure I dig out more

  70. Ray said,

    November 30, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    There’s a whole circuit of sites based around a) scary EM radiation b) pseudoscientific devices claimed to counter it. I notice the PowerWatch links include one to the twisty-wire-and-magic-water people discussed in the earlier threads on implosion researchers.

  71. Silv said,

    November 30, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    I need help, how do i persuade my housemate about the highly dubious nature of homeopathy? After watching a piece on how to cure colds on This Morning (being typical students) we have had an argument about the benefits of taking herbal remedies. Her point is that alot of the medicines used today have been derived from plant extracts, true but my point is that for the majority (or even all) of these herbal remedies there is no scientific evidence to support the view that these have any impact. Being a Biology undergraduate I really don’t want to lose this scientific argument to an art student!

  72. frank said,

    November 30, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    My God, it’s a goldmine of bad science links. It’ll take me months to write angry letters to all these people. In the meantime, there are people on our side, too.

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4482174.stm

    rock on.

  73. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    November 30, 2005 at 5:35 pm

    Silv:

    Homeopathy is not necessarily the same as taking a ‘herbal remedy’.

    A basic premise of homeopathic mechanisms would be that by taking miniscule (impossibly small) amounts of a substance that would normally harm the body at normal dose (e.g. arsenic), your body will do some magic jiggery-pokery and cure itself. Really what is happening is a ‘placebo’ effect of psychosomatic healing (a natural defense mechanism of humans).

    Herbal remedies are typically things (tablets, ointments, raw materials) that are derived from plants. Although the health food and supplements market is flooded with either the use of scare-tactics and false, or exagerated claims, there are a number of herbal remedies that do have a significant pharmacological (drug-like) benefit. e.g. St. John’s Wort can be taken in some cases to ease the effects of depression, ‘possibly’ because of components such as hypericin and hyperforin.

    Your friend is true that many modern medicines today are derived (or were first derived) from plants. e.g. digitalis is found in foxgloves, and is used clinically to treat certain heart problems.

    I would say that, as a scientist it would be rational to defend certain elements of ‘herbal remedies’ (i.e. those elements that are know to work, such as the examples I’ve given you), but I would diss the claims that homeopathy has any significant effect above that of a placebo.

    The problem is that placebo’s work on the basis that their guise (what colour pill, or what sort of alternative therapy) has relevant cultural significance/meanings. And in those very rare cases where pharmacology does not work on a particular individual (or they don’t want the chance of having nasty side effects), the use of the placebo effect might give better results than nothing at all, provided that the patient has significant belief or hope in the treatment (e.g. through cultural belief).

    I have an old uni-mate who gradutated in stage direction (dramatics), and once I convinced him that the IBM company wrote it’s initial using atoms, in an attempt to communicate with bacteria. The premise being that the fundamentals of communication evolved like biological life, so that all organisms would share similar symbology in much the same way that we share with bacteria similar gene sequences for ribosomal RNA. The fact that I had an actual clipping of the (real-life) atomic acronym at hand distracted my friend from questioning the blatant flaws in my theory.

    Whether we were stoned at the time is besides the point. I’m sure you can convince your art student friend of the ‘truths’ concerning homeopathy and herbal remedies.

  74. cnrw said,

    November 30, 2005 at 5:45 pm

    Silv, the JREF site and forum are not bad for those sort of resources – www.randi.org/

  75. VF said,

    November 30, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    Is the discussion forum on here going to be made in the near future? I’ve been having a hard time trying to convince some people I know that some therapies that claim to cure ME and CFS are a load of bull, and I could do with some help. They’re throwing 80 quid a session away on these things. The exact details of the therapies seem to be hard to come by on the internet, although I have a book that explains one of them in more detail and could post parts of. I have ME myself and am finding it difficult to think straight enough to put everything into words, especially when people are quite aggressively telling me that they had the therapy, they are now cured, and I should explain that. The best I’ve come up with is that ME tends to disappear after a few years for a lot of peple, and that the longer you’ve had the illness the more likely it is to go away soon and the more likely it is that you’ll be desperate enough to pay 80 quid per session for 10+ sessions of therapy if you think there’s the slightest chance it will work.

    Of course, there’s also no published data, there are claims of 100% success rates (no less) with no details of any tests, people are screened before being treated, and nothing (dropping out, relapsing, refusing to have more treatment) actually seems to count as a failure anyway. The actual “science” behind one of them that’s available in the book is so ridiculous I may post it here anyway for a laugh (it even mentions the experiment that was posted in this column a few months ago with the water crystals changing shape when classical music or heavy metal was played). It’s so obviously all rubbish but so many people I know are falling for it and I’m not sure how to explain why they should be more cautious. Some of them are under the impression that it’s the only way they’ll get better. There are so may things I want to know that I should probably wait until there’s a forum on here, but if anyone could give a clear reason for exactly why testimonials (especially the ones that are being given right to your face and you want to stay tactful) aren’t reliable, that would be fantastic, thank you.

    And how do you check qualifications and whether a college is accredited? And it is dodgy if a bloke only has qualifications from the college he runs, right? I mean, I’m not the mad one for thinking that am I?

    www.lightningprocess.com/details.htm and www.mickeltherapy.com/ are the sites, but they’re useless if you want to know the scientific principles they’re claiming, as they’re not on there. Both have excuses for why it’s pointless even trying to explain how it works, and asking anyone who’s actually had the therapy what it involves is like trying to play Mornington Crescent for the first time, you just get a load of “oh, you have to have the therapy youself to understand it” type answers. As I said, I do have the book for Mickel Therapy, which is a lot more forthcoming with information than anywhere on the internet, so I can quote that once I have the energy to type it all and copy the diagams (it’s only about 50 pages, if you don’t count the testimonials chapter), and even if it’s really obvious to you lot why it’s rubbish, I need to explain this to teenagers who a lot of the time have been too ill to get to school to learn even the most basic scientific principles.

    Oh, and whilst making this post, someone found an even newer ME cure at www.energynutrition.co.uk/default.asp . I’ve not looked at that site yet, but if any of you lot are bored and like a good debunking session, I’m sure I can keep you all busy :).

    Thanks again, if any of you do have the time to help here.

  76. Paul said,

    November 30, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    It may be unwise to fight irrational beliefs with scientific rational refutation. Many people know the sort of thing they would prefer to believe. Where these preferences come from is probably inextricably woven into the fabric of their lives but the long and the short of it is that certain people will have a view that industry is bad and natural is good. Anything that sounds “industrial” is met with suspicion and distaste. Anything that sounds “natural” is met with slack-jawed credulity and a willingness to open their purse strings (this phenomenon – where a whole systems of beliefs and responses and behaviours is based upon a single core (frequently irrational) stance is well-described in the beginning of Kingsley Amis’ book, Jake’s Thing, as “the inverted pyramid of piss”, but I digress).

    My guess, Silv, is that, in arguing with your pal, you should forget placebo-controlled trials and science because this may just evoke a gut-reaction that precludes any rational thought. Try explaining instead that the herbal medicine industry (note – INDUSTRY) is a multi-million enterprise that funds fine holidays and fancy cars for suited men who chuckle at the fact that they can make outrageous claims and people will lap it all up, pay through the nose and come back for more without ever applying the simple criteria for proven efficacy that they would happily bring to bear on choosing a new kettle.

  77. Teek said,

    December 1, 2005 at 9:20 am

    Here’s an article that pretty much sums up how a lot of us on this blog must feel:

    www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,3605,1653748,00.html

    many of the salient points made in this article are exaclty the sort of things that homeopaths, creationists, the green lobby and the climate-change deniers need to take heed of.

    your thoughts would be welcome people, good to see folks in high places (he’s a Lord, don’t ya know!) are on our side too!!

  78. Batsgirl said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:29 am

    VF, I nearly cried when I read what you’d put – I also have CFS and half my local group have been suckered in by www.judycole.co.uk/ and her other site www.thebodytalks.com/ .

    Judy Cole believes she can psychically detect Parasites in the body that medical science cannot find. And she can use Kinesiology to Listen To Your Body and work out how to help you.

    Have a look at the Zapper, in particular. Not to mention her prices.

    She also warns how you may well feel worse before you feel better in following her programme, 100% success rate, etc etc etc.

    From email with someone to whom I tried to explain that this was a con – I was told that obviously I hadn’t been to the meeting at which Ms Cole had given a talk (read: sales pitch) and that the Zapper works on sound waves and although this person believes the sound waves can kill the Parasites, they can’t possibly harm a human being…

  79. Pete said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:35 am

    You could refer them to the advertising standards agency, or trading standards.

  80. cnrw said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:36 am

    As well as the size of the industry a boom in herbal medicine could threaten plant life: www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn4538

  81. Marge said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:36 am

    I agree with that Guardian article. However, last night I was reading an interview with Stephen Pinker, and it really got to me. (Statutory ‘I am a Humanities Graduate who has studied some Sociology’ warning). It’s a problem that I’ve particularly had with evolutionary psychology, but have come across this in some other areas. It seems to be a particular sort of arrogance; that because they are scientists they can ignore anyone else’s point of view. There are some people who seem to ignore the fact that they are human beings, members of society too, that they will start out their own research with their own prejudices, beliefs and so on. I think this is most galling in evolutionary psychology, where there is a lot of ‘Society is like this. This must be because homo sapiens evolved like this, not because of any economic or other issues’. It gets me angry in relation to women, as reported studies tend to be ‘women are weak/emotional/unable to get a man if they are tall or clever; this is because of Evolution’, and not, you know, prejudice, economic submission etc. This is a journalism problem as well, because I’ve found out from New Scientist/Scientific American about other, better studies.

    I think this may be one of the reasons why some people get ‘turned off’ science. Yes, there are some unpalatable truths out there. This is not to say that you should ignore climate change because some people want to drive hummers. But scientific research is related to the real world, where people can take your research and use it to discriminate.

    That was all rather incoherent. Um. Sorry. Trying to get my thoughts across.

  82. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:54 am

    just posted here:

    www.badscience.net/?p=187#comment-1279

    LORDS MRSA

    MINISTER HITS OUT AT `MISLEADING INFORMATION’ ON MRSA
    By Anthony Looch, PA Lords Staff
    The Government today hit out at “misleading information in the
    media” about hospital killer bug MRSA and singled out a company for
    criticism.
    The claims were levelled at Lords question time by Health Minister
    Lord Warner who named Dr Christopher Malyszewicz of Chemsol
    Consultancy Ltd.
    He said: “The main source of this misleading information in the
    media is Chemsol which is run by a person who is not qualified in
    microbiology.
    “He is not a member of a recognised professional body and his
    so-called laboratory does not meet UK accreditation standards.
    “It is disappointing that test results for MRSA, produced by
    unsound methods, are given wide publicity in the media.
    “This causes unnecessary public concern and wastes NHS resources
    in countering them.”
    Lord Warner was replying to Labour’s Baroness Pitkeathley, who had
    asked what the Government’s response was to reports that tests for
    MRSA “may be falsely positive as a result of using a single
    laboratory”.
    Lord Warner told her: “Laboratories doing microbiological
    investigations should be accredited or registered for accreditation.
    “Tests must be undertaken in accordance with approved standards
    and operating procedures and results should be validated by process
    controls, internal quality control and participation in an external
    quality assurance programme.”
    Lady Pitkeathley asked: “Would you agree that the continued use by
    the tabloid press of one particular laboratory, with questionable
    qualifications and results, shows more interest in criticising the
    NHS than reporting the facts?
    “Are you concerned that this particular laboratory appears to
    derive most of its income from selling disinfectants to combat MRSA
    and so might perhaps be seen to have a vested interested in achieving
    positive results?”
    Lord Warner replied: “I entirely agree with you about the
    laboratory concerned and the uncritical acceptance of its results by
    some parts of the media.
    “The main source of this misleading information in the media is
    Chemsol which is run by a person who is not qualified in
    microbiology. He is not a member of a recognised professional body
    and his so-called laboratory does not meet UK accreditation
    standards.
    “The methods used in this laboratory do not distinguish between
    harmless bacteria found on the skin and the potentially harmful
    MRSA.”
    Tory Baroness O’Cathain asked: “If this laboratory does not reach
    accreditation standards, why not close it down?”
    Lord Warner replied: “Dr Malyszewicz, who is the owner and
    operator of this so-called laboratory – I am using that term
    advisedly – is not a member of a recognised professional body as a
    microbiologist nor is he a registered health care scientist or a
    medical doctor.
    “His laboratory is not accredited as a diagnostic laboratory. In
    those circumstances, he is not actually claiming to be any of the
    things for which we could actually take professional action against
    him.”
    end

    www.badscience.net/?p=187#comment-1279

  83. Peter V said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:54 am

    From the Veggi Wash site
    www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/detail/969076.html

    “Veggi Wash contains three naturally based surface- active ingredients – one to reduce surface tension on the produce, a second renders materials soluble and the third breaks them down prior to rinsing. All three are vegetable derived.”

    I think on planet Earth we call this stuff “soap”, don’t we? Or am I missing something?

  84. Peter V said,

    December 1, 2005 at 11:26 am

    Ben, Lord Warner observed with regard to the MRSA reporting that “This causes unnecessary public concern and wastes NHS resources in countering them.’’
    Causing unnecessary public concern is precisely why the tabloid press exists, and why the public buys it. What better way for a newspaper proprietor to make money than by setting up his publication to be the “defender” of what is in the public’s interest. And what easier way to do that than with invented demons and sloppy journalism?
    Sadly very few members of the public are in a position to verify the news items they read or hear. They have to take a certain amount on trust and are, therefore, easy targets to deceive. Really, in the case of MRSA, the NHS should have been more proactive in publicly denouncing the tabloid rantings for what they are. At this point they should be keen (and seen to be so) to add their voice to the exposure of the shed-laboratory and and it’s opportunistic owner.

  85. CaptainSensible said,

    December 1, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Re: Marge

    Not all scientists are as enamoured with evolutionary psych.: here is of good interview with Steve Jones which mentions it:

    www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge66.html

    “It’s what I think of as neo-creationism. In Kansas nothing can be explained by evolution; it’s wrong. That’s it. To a lot of evolutionary psychologists, though, everything in human society — war, peace, rape, marriage, the lot — can be explained by the pressure to pass on genes. But if everything can be explained, then nothing can be explained. You don’t need any experiments, it’s in the great Darwinian Bible. I’ve seen evolutionary explanations of acne, of gossiping, of ballroom dancing, the lot. It’s a parlor gam called name and explain. Just as for creationists, all this needs nothing more than belief. The infantile Darwinists are in a situation where they can’t lose. If you find everything in the Bible or the Origin there’s no point in doing science.

    Evolution is to social scientists as statues are to birds. It’s a convenient platform on which to drop ill-digested ideas. An odd thing about evolutionary psychology — which is what most of the public (and, as I know to my cost, quite a few book reviewers) see as the centre of the science — is that it is almost absent from the practice of evolution itself. It may be talked about in psychological conferences, but it is never mentioned in evolutionary meetings. I go to dozens of them. People argue about the fossil records, about DNA, about animal behavior, about kin selection, about the nature of species — everything is open; but evolutionary psychology is, in the eyes of evolutionists, more or less a dead duck. I’ve never seen any of its supporters at a scientific meeting about evolution, either. There’s a kind of parallel Darwinian universe in the arts faculty out there — and I don’t think the arts faculty has much useful to say about science.”

  86. Marge said,

    December 1, 2005 at 11:47 am

    Thank you Captain Sensible. Nice to know that my edginess about the whole topic is backed up by people who have Real Qualifications.

  87. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    December 1, 2005 at 12:00 pm

    Crumbs! We have about 200 threads in one! I hope that some bbs-style multiple forum is in the pipeline :)

  88. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2005 at 12:03 pm

    yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah….

  89. CaptainSensible said,

    December 1, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    I don’t think there is any need to be edgy about the fundamentals of it: our brains (and hence our minds) are a product of variation and selection just like everything else and that is that. However, it is all too easy for people to assume that that basic observation/conclusion can support all kinds of secondary and tertiary theories without having to do any further work/research.

  90. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    December 1, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    Sorry Ben, didn’t mean to criticise. Patients come before researchers with too much computer access after all… :(

    Before I appear ungrateful and greedy, I have to use this opportunity (*stands up, taps glass with knife*) to offer thanks to Ben for both the breath of fresh air he’s giving the mainstream media, and giving us the chance here to contribute to his arguments.

    Cheers!

  91. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    if anyone knows of a good wordpress forum plugin let me know, xdforum looks alright, i’ll stick it up at the weekend if i get a break, here are some examples of it in action:

    www.google.co.uk/search?q=%2F%3Fa%3Dxdforum&sourceid=mozilla-search&start=0&start=0&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official

  92. Teek said,

    December 1, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Elmer Phudd:

    all i can say is, Here Here!!

  93. Teek said,

    December 1, 2005 at 2:00 pm

    :-) hurray for folks like this:

    www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1654477,00.html

  94. Michael P said,

    December 1, 2005 at 2:18 pm

    Good one Teek, about time we were exposed to a calm, rational article on MMR etc. by someone who has no need for a tin foil hat :-)

  95. Michael P said,

    December 1, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    On a separate note, this is quite interesting…

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4484718.stm

  96. Elmer Phudd, Phrenologist to The Elephant Man said,

    December 1, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    That was an insightful read, thanks.

  97. Andrew T said,

    December 1, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    Is Ben moonlighting as Druin Burch? Or is bad science finally having an effect on the media?
    www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1654886,00.html
    shame its called ‘the sceptic’. You don’t have to be sceptical to read and understand science (though of course it sometiems helps…)

  98. Caradog said,

    December 1, 2005 at 4:35 pm

    You might like to have a look at this.

    www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,8125-1866577,00.html

    It’s about how magnets heal. As well as saying that test show electromagnets have proven to be effective pain relief (I’m no scientist, but the only thing I could find on pub med ‘electromagnet AND pain’ was three articles, none of which address the point the reporter (I can’t say journalist) referes to).

    he also states that there is a ‘problem’ with the placebo effect as it might be responsible for any improvements, rather than the healing powers of magnets. Fancy that!

    My favourite bit is at the end however.

    “The latest big thing is a device, designed to boost men’s sexual performance, that can be clipped on to a belt. The Mood Maker’s manufacturers claim that just a few days of wearing the device increased men’s sensitivity and greater control during lovemaking.

    The British device, which gives a whole new meaning to pulling power and animal magnetism, can be yours for a modest £19.”

    Bargain.

  99. Andrew T said,

    December 1, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    Caradog,
    i did pub med on harvard knee magnet. 1 paper. sample size is 29. stats are ok.
    They did at least say that a large scale trial was needed. The effect they found after 4 hours was huge, which you only see with small studies or very very effective therapies. any bets which one it might be? The effect after 6 weeks was nothing. Hmmm.

    i did magnet shoulder. it was paper number 3 of 24. this one is even better. 8 people, no control group. (MMR anyone?) I can’t read the actual paper, but the summary suggests their statistics are absolute nonsense, even without a placebo group.

  100. Tessa K said,

    December 1, 2005 at 6:11 pm

    Neil: crystals are pretty cool things. They are dead handy in watches, for example. They are also very beautiful. I have several small ones although I am cautious about wearing them as people sometimes ask me what they ‘do’. As far as I’m concerned, they are jewellery. Anyone who is thinking about spending £200 on one needs their head felt. You can buy them in Covent Garden and hippy shops all over the country for a few quid. Of course, they have not been ‘potentized’…

    Silv: Yes, natural mediciines can work. But ask your friend this: would you rather take a bit of twig for a headache or an aspirin? The aspirin comes in a measured dose, free from impurities. The twig has an unknown amount of active ingredient so you may not get enough or you may get too much of the active ingredient. The twig may well also contain bird poo, mould, dead insects and have been handled by people/stored in non-sterile circumstances etc. A chemical is a chemical is a chemical. Maybe if medicines came in packets with pictures of the plants they are derived from or fluffy bunnies, people would be happier about them.

    Marge: I know what you mean about evolutionary psychology. Taken in context, it is a very useful tool for understanding much of human behaviour and for comparing us with other animals. It is especially useful for combatting people who say things like ‘morality can only come from religion’ when you can point out proto-morals in other social animals, for example. However, context is the key word here. Our human context is modern society, not the savannah, and there are many other factors that have to be considered, as you pointed out. Science works best when it seeks to explain, not when it seeks to reduce everything to handy little boxes. There will always be people who are Little Box thinkers in all areas of knowledge. Fortunately, there are others who are Bigger Picture thinkers too.

    This thread is getting huge! Ben, can you make sure that whatever you replace this with (eventually) is Outlook Express friendly as some MBs are not.

  101. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2005 at 9:09 pm

    Darlings. The forums are open:

    www.badscience.net/?a=xdforum

  102. Silv said,

    December 1, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    Darlings??? Ben we love you too x

  103. Michael Harman said,

    December 1, 2005 at 11:03 pm

    Elmer Phudd, in post no 68, refers to the Powerwatch site, which seems to search for possible ill effects of electricity transmission lines, microwaves, and so on.

    Voodoo Science, by Robert Park, a US professor of physics, has a chapter on the alleged carcinogenic effects of power lines (Currents of Fear – in which power lines are suspected of causing cancer). This outlines how the matter was treated in the US over some 20 years. There were increasingly large studies, which found steadily less and less evidence for the suggestion that power lines caused cancer (specifically, childhood leukaemia), and eventually the US Government terminated study funding. (In my view it had to be governmental funding – no other organization would have either the resources or the incentive for the big studies.)

    Ironically, the original study which found evidence for a link turned out to be flawed. The supposed link was spurious, an artifact of the statistical analysis.

    But the point which struck me was an estimate by the White House Science Office of the total cost of the affair (including things like loss of property value) – in excess of 25 billion dollars. (That’s 100 dollars a head for the US, or 4 dollars a head for the entire world population.) That’s just one example, though admittedly a big one, of the economic cost of dealing with popular concerns based on bad science.

  104. Tessa K said,

    December 2, 2005 at 11:55 am

    Darlings? Oh no – Dr Ben has gone all showbiz.

  105. Artiki said,

    December 2, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    Who’s going to volunteer to sort this forum into categories?

    Hey! I’m sure I saw some ad on the TV for a newspaper that featured ‘Dr Gillian’ – their words, not mine – promoting something or other (sorry, picking my toenails at the time). Can anybody confirm what it was? Just for curiousity sake, of course….

  106. JohnD said,

    January 7, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Copy of email to “ask.emma@guardian”
    Copied to “bad.science@guardian”
    Titled “Treating hypercholesteriolaemia – Ask Emma, Weekend Guardian, 7/1/6, p43)
    Emma,
    I’m sure that you and Ben Goldacre often chat around the office water cooler about evidence, science and double blind controlled trials. Your latest column offers you the opportunity to scotch his over emphasis on these and to learn to trust his feelings.

    Your correspondent with hypercholesterolaemia has asked their GP for two months in which to achieve a lower cholesterol and avoid being prescribed a ‘statin. As an active, non-obese, non-smoker with a healthy diet, they don’t have many other options. Let’s see what alternative treatment can do! Please report back in two months time what vitamins C, D and garlic (haven’t heard of that one), sterols, policosanols, artichoke and guggul have done for your patient.

    It’s not exactly a DBCT, but at least plasma chlolesterol is an objective measurement.

    John Davies

  107. cystic acne said,

    March 2, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    You must have already heard this. But let me say it yet again – YOUR SITE ROCKS!!

  108. Alex said,

    March 9, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Yep,
    Agreeing with cystic acne there. Remember, Dr Goldacre loves you!

  109. lucas said,

    November 22, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    *Good or bad science? www.naturesdefence.com*
    idiots. the lot who say this dosent work.
    salvestorels are one of the easyest thing to understand in the fight against cancer.
    i mean im 12 i know alot of stuff cancer,salvestrolsand science are what i know alot abot.
    i am nothave this bull **** off anyone who says this dont work.
    IDIOTS to who eva is against humanity being able to fight off dangrous diseases.
    we only get 20 percent of the salvestrols we use to get.
    i mean i bet most of you olderpeople didnt know that did you?

  110. lucas said,

    November 23, 2006 at 11:22 am

    oi bob O’H ur an idiot u know nothing about cancer so get a life u ****.
    leave it to people who know about it

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