Saturday, September 01, 2007

Deny

The Electric Picnic festival in 2005 was probably the best festival I was ever at. But there was a serious amount of new-age crusty nonsense at it, as if taking shite like reiki, aromatherapy, crystal healing and the rest seriously goes hand in hand with enjoying good music and comedy in comfort. Where's Eric Cartman when you need him?

Whenever these topics come up in conversation, as they do (especially when you're in the company of a lot of women (not sexist - it's true), I find it hard to keep my mouth shut. I just fail to remain impassive when seemingly intelligent people speak of such things in the same breath as proper medicine or science.

Often you get the line 'you can't prove it doesn't work', which makes you wonder about the quality of the education system when, as you may know, a lot of the people I'm talking about work for a drug company with me and have degrees and (worse) PhDs in the sciences. Or you get the line 'science is often wrong.'

Now when people say that they usually forget that science is self-correcting. It is scientists that do the correcting - not tarot card readers. However the statement itself is mostly incorrect. Can you name a single major accepted scientific theory from even the last 150 years that has turned out to be 'wrong'. It's 400 years since (so called) scientists said the earth was flat.

Part of the problem, though, is the amount of junk science in the mainstream media. It doesn't matter what the topic is, just read what the report says and think to yourself 'who is trying to sell what?'. They're always about bad or non-existant studies that have bullshit results designed to increase the sales of crap products people don't need.

Ben Goldacre talks about one recent example that made the front page of the Daily Telegraph (which was also in no way related to the Telegraph's penchant for sticking beautiful women on its front page in the guise of 'news')...

“Jessica Alba has the perfect wiggle, study says”. You have to respect a
paper like the Telegraph, especially when they report an important piece of
science news like this on their news pages, especially when it gets picked up by
other people like Fox news, and especially when it’s accompanied by a photograph
of some hot totty.

“Jessica Alba, the film actress, has the ultimate sexy strut, according to
a team of Cambridge mathematicians.”This important study was the work of a team
– apparently - headed by Professor Richard Weber of Cambridge University, and I
was particularly delighted to see it finally in print since, in the name of
research, I discussed the possibility of prostituting my own good reputation for
this same piece of guff with the very same PR company in June.

Here was their opening email: “We are conducting a survey into the
celebrity top ten sexiest walks for my client Veet (hair removal cream) and we
would like to back up our survey with an equation from an expert to work out
which celebrity has the sexiest walk, with theory behind it. We would like help
from a doctor of psychology or someone similar who can come up with equations to
back up our findings, as we feel that having an expert comment and an equation
will give the story more weight.” It got them on to the news pages of the Daily
Telegraph.

I replied immediately. “Are there any factors you would particularly like
to have in the equation? Something sexual perhaps?” “Hi Dr Ben,” replied Kiren.
“We would really like the factors of the equation to include the thigh to calf
ratio, the shape of the leg, the look of the skin and the wiggle (swing) of the
hips… There is a fee of £500 which we would pay for your services.”

And there was survey data too. “We haven’t conducted the survey yet,” Kiren
told me: “but we know what results we want to achieve.” That’s the spirit! “We
want Beyonce to come out on top followed by other celebrities with curvy legs
such as J-Lo and Kylie and celebrities like Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse to be at
the bottom e.g - skinny and pale unshapely legs are not as sexy. I will find out
when we will have the results of the survey for you. Are you pretty free this
month to work on it?”


Class.
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