You And Yours – An all time low in consumer reporting

May 4th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, cosmetics | 11 Comments »

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.

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11 Responses

  1. manigen said,

    May 4, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Hand up who’s surprised. Anyone?

    No, thought not. You and Yours is consumer affairs for the weak-minded, by the weak-minded.

  2. ccomley said,

    May 4, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    I’m afraid I’ve long regarded Yew and Yaws as just about the bottom of the barrel, when it comes to responsible journalism. Worst example I’ve heard recently (bear in mind I tend to avoid it!) was them giving a chap who worked for an equity release firm a hard time. Because the target market is old folk, and because at least ONE old person was sold an inappropriate deal by ONE firm one time, they couldn’t seem to get away from the theory that all equity release product must be devil spawned. Very poor.

  3. Daniel Rutter said,

    May 4, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    For the benefit of readers who aren’t aware that the Boots chain of chemists does actually have a research division that does real science – they do :-). Their greatest achievement was the invention of ibuprofen.

  4. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 5, 2007 at 12:38 am

    it would have been forgiveable if they weren’t so incredibly chuffed about what they think they’ve found.

  5. Wiretrip said,

    May 5, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Calm down you lot – I actually don’t think they were claiming that this was dodgy research at all. My impression was – having actually listened to the whole report, that their complaint was more of an advertising standards area concerning Boots’ claim that the research was ‘independent’. Now I’m not a lawyer – thank God, but I think it is stretching the meaning of ‘independent’ a bit far. Now I know that they made this claim in the sense that someone else carried out the research, but in advertising and publicity, it is the overall impression given that counts. And I don’t believe for one second that this research, its motivation and hence its funding, were independent of the desire to sell a product.

  6. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 5, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    thats bullshit, i dont think there was anything in the piece chastising boots for actively claiming it was independent as you state. listen again.

  7. MrPharmacist said,

    May 5, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Daniel, Boots did indeed have a big research base at Nottingham and formulated Ibuprofen . I seem to remember them selling that all off when Manoplax went tits up. I think they sold it to Knoll, who have since merged with other big pharma. (Manoplax was a wonder drug for heart failure that ended up causing extra premature deaths)

  8. IanWac said,

    May 6, 2007 at 11:10 am

    There are few things that make me hit the “off” button on the radio than Y&Y. Their approach seems to be “Find a situation, find a negative spin about it, report it in funereal tones”.

    Anyone hear the spoof of it a while ago – can’t remember which of the programs in the 6:30 slot it was on – but went along the lines of “Now, this week on Y&Y we’ve been looking into doors. This seemingly innocent bit of machinary is used throughout the country for sealing rooms. However, we’ve unearthed a report which suggests that literally hundreds of people hurt their fingers using them each year, and we ask why this report has been suppressed by government…” (and so on, to include such dangers as steps, grass and air, I’m sure.)

  9. Robert Carnegie said,

    May 6, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Sounds like a [Dead Ringers] bit. They have had a go or three. it’ll probably come around on BBC 7.

    For some reason, [Quote Unquote] gets a lot of abuse, but I like the show.

  10. Junkmonkey said,

    May 6, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    My favourite recent Y&Yism was the idignation expressed by a woman who had managed to lock herself into one of those fixed price options from British Gas. She had managed to buy just as gas was its most expensive – and was whining that gas prices had since fallen. Y&Y took up her case.

  11. Toby Hopkins said,

    May 7, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    I heard this in the car on friday too, and even after a long long weekend of drinking to excess I haven’t been able to work out what the point of that story was, bar shaking the worry stick at competent science in the public sphere compared to that which deserves to be exposed.

    If they think that was bad, how can we trust a drug of any kind since, good lord, those get tested by the creators prior to their going on general release, and are required to do so [ensue continuing hysteria about government conspiracies…]