Friday, September 16, 2011

A Cat Cured My Headache

In the words of Dara Ó Briain  "Well, I know a woman and she had a terrible headache, and then she rubbed a cat on her head, do you know, two days later her headache was gone!" (He puts the case more forcefully and with NSFW language here.)

The point is this: there's a good amount of stuff that's marketed to us daily that has no evidence to support it whatsoever.

Now, I really shouldn't mention this because I work in marketing and it breaks the Code of Marketing BS but every so often there are claims made about products and services that just ... aren't ... true.

And we know this.  We see it often enough that everyone can think of a case.  

  • These little pills will cure you.  How are they made?  Well we dilute the "active ingredient" 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times in water.  Sure it will work!
  • Detox shampoo.  Really?
  • Yoghurt that optimises the release of energy from your diet. How?
  • Homeopathy that can treat AIDS.
  • Curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric) can cure cancer.
Some of these claims are foolish.  Others are dangerous.

Sense About Science is a charity that clearly and simply explains the facts when it comes to science.  They have started a campaign encouraging people to ask for evidence when they come across an unlikely claim.  It's called, unsurprisingly, "Ask for Evidence". 

Here's what you can do:
  • Please read the link above: it will take you just a few minutes and may save you money or, even, your health.
  • If you come across an unlikely claim, be sceptical.  It takes little time to ask the company for proof and you may help remove a dishonest claim.  If you do this, please let Sense About Science know.
  • If you like the work that Sense About Science does, you could donate here.  They run an excellent organisation very efficiently.
If nothing else, you'll get a laugh reading about some ridiculous claims, and that probably does more to cure a headache than rubbing a cat on your head.

Footnote:  In a related area, there's also Ben Goldacre's excellent, humorous and immensely readable book, Bad Science, for those who'd like to delve more deeply into the subject.

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