Fish Oil Trials In Viz

November 30th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil | 24 Comments »

Don’t let me distract you from the important work in the other fish post, but you might have missed this from the current affairs monthly Viz, which was pointed out to me in the senior common room today:

Give our kids brain boost oil.
By our science correspondent Old Mother Shipton.

Parents in Nottingham are demanding that their children be given free Snake Oil in order to improve their examination results.
Snaik Oil,though not scientifically accepted as a ‘brain suplement’ or ‘food’,has long been associated with increased brain function in pub conversations and newspaper columns,a fact which parents are keen to see reflected in school spending.
Suporters of the proposal insist that anecdotal evidence for the benefits of Snake Oil is unarguable.A series of anecdotal trails carried out in 2005 by Dr Hiram J. Pepperworth’s Travelling Circus and Health Supplements Laboratory found that children who sat GCSE examinations after taking Snake Oil improved their results by one grade,as well as growing full heads of luxurious hair and gaining the strength of ten men.

Hiram J. Pepperworth’s marketing director deflected the scientific community’s criticism of their methods.”These impressive results came from a full trial”,he said while ripping a telephone directory in half.”Not a trial in the scientific sence,but their are other sorts of trial,which are more like what this trial was like.Motorbike trials,Sheepdog trials.That sort of thing.Here,punch me in the stomach as hard as you can.”
A campaign has been launched by the Daily Mail to divert school funding to the purchase of Snake Oil tablets and away from school dinners,sports equipment or text books.

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24 Responses

  1. hinschelwood said,

    November 30, 2006 at 7:30 am

    Ah, Viz. Funnier than it used to be, and surprisingly a regular source of rationality and sense – this normally takes the form of pouring scorn on bonkers ideas.

    Some time ago, they “reported” on a campaign to teach an alternative version of the eight times table in maths lessons. The eight times table we all know (and accepted by the overwhelming majority of mathematicians) is “disputed”, apparently, and they wanted to teach both sides of the “controversy”.

  2. Graham Hughes said,

    November 30, 2006 at 9:11 am

    I love the Viz! One of their best ‘science’ stories appeared a few years ago. It was an news report concerning an experiment to find the worst thing in the world – which turned out to be a paper cut across your bell-end.

    Scientists discovered this by performing various tortures on students and measuring how much bunny rabbits wince in response.

    The bell-end paper cut test caused one bunny rabbit to wince so much it broke its back, resulting in angry protests by animal rights campaigners.

    Quite a scientific study compared with Durham council’s fish oil trials…

  3. Ithika said,

    November 30, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    I’m guessing the tests more closely resembled a “show trial”, in style-over-substance if not in public access…

  4. doctormonkey said,

    November 30, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    this is very funny and rather too true sounding… especially about the Daily Wail.

    i am surprised as i had not realised that Viz was turning into another Private Eye, good on them

  5. jackpt said,

    December 1, 2006 at 12:36 am

    Their mock newspaper articles are genius. They have a pop at pseudo science and quackery often. My humour is maybe easily satisfied, but the Laxaphone stands out, illustrated with a no longer constipated man happily playing the laxaphone while sitting on the toilet. “Is constipation making you feel low?.. then SHIT your pants and HIT THE HIGH NOTES with a Laxaphone”.

  6. abahachi said,

    December 1, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    In a stroke this redeems at least a decade’s worth of sexism, vulgarity and Just Not Being Very Funny. Looks like a useful backlash to me; somehow we need to make sure that any future newspaper reports on the Durham ””trials”” mentions the fact that they’re a laughing stock in popular circles as well as scientifically-informed ones.

    A further thought – drawing on my evil and anti-scientific powers as an Arts graduate – is that, rhetorically, it would be most effective if we stop referring to ‘trials’, even in cynical quote marks, and instead constantly describe them in deliberately unflattering terms. It’s obvious that these people are not playing by the rules of evidence, research methodology etc. but are trying to exploit popular respect for the power of Science, so we should stop trying to engage with them sensibly – we’ll just get accused of harrassment again. So, henceforth it’s the Durham Snake Oil Scam; coming up next week, how mystic crystals will elevate our children to a higher plane of consciousness and improve their SATs scores…

  7. Dr Aust said,

    December 1, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    …Or what about making them do their homework next to the Rock Salt Crystal Lamp to purify the air by producing lots of “good” ions?

    The rock salt lamp appeared in Ben’s 2003 Xmas column of Bad Science “Presents to avoid”, back when the Science Museum shop were selling them:

    My mum bought me one for Christmas that very same year because she thought it sounded scientific. It’s sitting wafting “good” ions at me as I type. I feel intensely ionized.

  8. doctormonkey said,

    December 2, 2006 at 12:16 am

    Umm, is being ionised good? I thought we used it to kill cancer and Russian spies because it kills them slightly faster than it kills everything else…radiotherapy?

    (apologies if anyone is offended by my speaking ill of the dead, it is in jest only and does not reveal a lack of sympathy for family etc)

  9. Robert Carnegie said,

    December 3, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    Show trials!

  10. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 3, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    grammatical trials?

  11. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 3, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    ah wait, no, i get it now: free trial!

  12. csrster said,

    December 5, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Dr. Aust: You think that’s embarassing? My sisters bought us a _star_ to mark our daughter’s birth – a real “International Star Registry” one, no less. To make it doubly embarassing, both my wife and I are PhD astronophysicists. If anyone we knew found out we’d have to kill ourselves. Or, possibly, my sisters.

    Needless to say, the certificate was hidden away in our attic and “mysteriously” vanished when we were moving house.

  13. AndrewT said,

    December 5, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    Dr Aust: That link was cracking. I clicked on the [url=]Tachyon Field [/url] book link:
    “Tachyon energy differs from other forms of energy in that it is not of the electromagnetic realm. According to Professor Tiller of Stanford University, Tachyon exists in the magneto-electric (etheral) realm.”
    So its magneto-electric, not electromagnetic. All clear?

  14. tabitha gun said,

    December 5, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    Did anyone see brainiac on sky 3 last night? It might have been a repeat?

    They talked about the durham trial where some kid improved his reading age by a few years,
    then made some guy eat nothing but fish for a month and claimed he had an improved IQ by the end of it, but stank of fish!

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 5, 2006 at 8:34 pm

    eheh this is like bad science bingo…

  16. Dr Aust said,

    December 5, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Talking of which, check out the thread on the “special grounding mat for re-connecting to the earth” (I sh*t you not) on the forum:

    – the original “grounding mat” pitch is at:

    – which pricked my interest as it refers to a gen-u-wine scientific study which is dying for the David Colquhoun statistical trashing (12 subjects!)

    Anyway, one for the grounding-needy person in your life. Once I’ve got mine on the bed, and the rock-salt crystal lamp on the bedside table to read the Gurdjieff by

    – I will be guaranteed some primo ultra-grounded sleep. That’s if we can convince Jr Aust not to wake up at 4 am…

  17. Dr Aust said,

    December 5, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    re #15

    The “tachyon energy site” is a killer laugh.

    “The Takionic 14” coils are most popular as bracelets (worn on the wrists); however, they can be used just about any way. Wrap around the steering wheel and hold onto the Takionic “Car Clips” while driving. This may help with stress encountered while commuting, in traffic jams, etc. It just may increase gas mileage, by wrapping it around gas station’s nozzle, when filling up. See for yourself -just don’t forget to remove it from the gas station’s nozzle!”

    Wounder how long it’ll be before you can get one to save gas with on the NHS?

    Slightly puzzled by “Takionic” for “Tachyonic”. Or does this perhaps refer to the actor George Takei, who was Mr Sulu in Star Trek?

  18. Ben E. Hill said,

    December 6, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Where can I buy this snake oil?
    And which part of the reptile is it extracted from?

  19. Delster said,

    December 6, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    but surely if you sleep on one of these grounding mats with the rock salt light sending out ions next to you then any ions’ would be discharged through the grounding at and negate the effects…. unless of course you make a really powerful light that pumps out loads of ions so you charge up faster than the mat and discharge you.

    Alternativly we could form our own company selling pure copper sleeping mats to ground people along with braclets (also copper for good conduction AND it’s anti arthritic properties) that connect to a cable that you plug into the mains…. although i can’t see many repeat sales on that one

  20. TRiG said,

    March 8, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    It’s all a bit tacky, isn’t it?

  21. quin said,

    March 16, 2009 at 7:36 am

    I once heard an interesting thing from a research chemist. it appears that some fish oils most notably cod liver contains naturally occurring PCBs (Poly chlorinated biphenpols) Of course “health products” don’t have to be tested for nasties, and there’s probably worse out there.

    we want the products but not the by-products

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