You and Yours has just broadcast one of the weakest pieces of journalism I have heard in a very long time. The Boots No7 face cream has precipitated a mass stampede of wrinkly ladies since it was endorsed by BBC Horizon: it is, people say, the only “scientifically proven” cream.
The reaction of You and Yours to this?
A hysterical witch hunt about the fact that Boots paid for the research.
This was trailed as if it was a finding of Watergate proportions. Did they carefully explain and discuss what the researchers did, what they measured, what the results were? No. Did they criticise the methodology of the research? No. Did they explain how the results could have been distorted, and where the flaws were? No.
The implications of this are twofold. Firstly, the assumption is that you, the listener, are too stupid to understand the explanation of the science, so it can only be critiqued in terms of who paid; although more likely is that Y&Y lack the rudimentary skills base necessary to understand the research, so they simply cannot explain and discuss it (it’s not very complicated, I’ve just written about it for tomorrow’s column).
But secondly, there is a rather sinister and unfair implication: that simply by being funded by Boots, the results are biased. I would like the people from Y&Y to explain exactly how they think this is the case. Did the researchers at Manchester fake their results? I am very keen to hear their explanation.
Industry funded drug trials, overall, are sometimes biased towards their own product. If there is a problem with a piece of research, producing a spuriously positive result, then in general (publication bias and explicit fakery aside) you can usually find it by looking at the research, by thinking about what was done, who it was tested on, what tests were performed, and so on. That’s not difficult. That’s what science is. If you’re going to criticise a piece of science, and say its results are dodgy, that’s what you do.
Wittering on about funding – in such hysterical and chastising tones as Y&Y just engaged in – is a very poor surrogate for properly discussing a piece of research.
The link below will take you to the audio for the piece after 3pm, so you can hear the self-congratulatory hysteria for yourself.