Bad Science

April 21st, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, water | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 21, 2005
The Guardian

· That poo lady gets everywhere. Now let’s get this straight: I like organic food, alternative therapies are OK by me, and scare stories are often great fun. What I don’t like is made up bollocks. And there’s only one thing I’m disappointed with the Soil Association for, which is giving its 2005 Consumer Education award to Dr Gillian McKeith PhD. Who can forget the time she educated us all about photosynthesis on national television, explaining that chlorophyll is “high in oxygen” and that the darker leaves on plants are good for us because they contain “chlorophyll – the ‘blood’ of the plant – which will really oxygenate your blood”.

· Of course, if you want real nonsense, you’re best generating it yourself. The three prankster geeks at MIT who had their phony paper, Rooter: a methodology for the typical unification of access points and redundancy, accepted for an academic conference this week, have released their random text-generating code to the world: just type in the author names of your choice, and you too can generate your own computer science research paper of grammatically consistent but meaningless gibberish. For example, at you can find a paper entitled On the Analysis of Robots that appears to be written by “Dr Gillian McKeith PhD, Ben Goldacre, and the staff of Penta water”. Although the next time you visit it might be On the Synthesis of Neural Networks or Permutable, Fuzzy Epistemologies for Semaphores. Don’t tell McKeith or she might use it to write her next series.

· But I digress. The trouble here is that the Soil Association is an independent body, whose little kitemarks only mean anything if we believe that it knows what it’s doing. I’ve even been kind enough in the past to not write about the “organic salt” packet someone posted me, featuring the Soil Association kitemark. Disappointed, I got in touch with its press office, and blow me if they weren’t lovely. “The Soil Association believes it is very important to give the public sound advice on issues of health and nutrition and for our licensees to do the same. I hope that we are an organisation people trust because we take this responsibility seriously.” And? “I was not aware of the specific concerns you have raised when judging the awards. The matters you highlight are clearly important, and I will be discussing them with Gillian McKeith and her representatives directly and in detail.” Contrite surprise or PR fudge? We’ll know by next week.

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One Response

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