UK’s “Sense About Science” Questions Quackery

Here’s a quick note that might belong best in Orac’s weekly feature, Your Friday Dose of Woo.
The Scientist reports today on a report released by the UK-based group of scientists called Sense About Science. The group has been challenging dietary supplement manufacturers about their scientific-sounding advertising claims by calling the companies up and questioning their “science.” Their statement of intent stays away from the fact that companies are making money on these products but, instead, focuses on the two standards for science that seem to operate in our societies:

We are fed up with the way pseudoscientific claims play on the public’s fears and spread science myths that deceive and misinform. We think it is wrong that members of the public are misled about products and practices based on unproven, and pseudoscientific claims. Why, when our scientific research is held accountable through peer review, are these claims not tested with similar rigour? By demanding answers for questions that typically go unasked, we aim to encourage more scrutiny of pseudoscience, expose misinformation and bring those responsible to account.

Their report, “There Goes The Science Bit…” is available for free download at their site. The report provides transcripts of 11 conversations with the customer helplines of supplement manufacturers. I couldn’t decide on the best discussion to post here, so I encourage you to read the report.
I wonder how long it will be before a similar group pops up in the US. As the authors of the report note:

There are no qualifications needed to do this — just an inquisitive mind and the tenacity to keep asking questions. Sometimes people make genuine errors or don’t appreciate the effects of exaggeration, but if no-one is probing these mistakes, they will go uncorrected. The lack of evidence and ridiculous answers we were given made us realise how important it is to ask these questions. We hope the next few pages (PDF report) will inspire you to do the same.

Well done, mates.


5 thoughts on “UK’s “Sense About Science” Questions Quackery

  1. I’m still in a state of shock from learning earlier this year that they actually have “homeopathic hospitals” in England. I wonder how many millions they are wasting on them and what the effect would be if they diverted that money to proper medical care.

  2. I thought this was great! Although, I like what they are doing, and will continue to watch their efforts, I think they’ll need to do a little more research on who they are trying to contact. Trying to get at the facts with a customer service rep is a fruitless expedition. A CSR is given a certain amount of information, just enough to do their job. After that, you’re dealing with someone who probably has no more information than anyone else. One of my jobs is a CSR, so I feel their pain. The digging for information is great though, I too am I’m way past exhausted about products wrapped up in pseudoscience.

  3. joltvolta:
    That’s an important criticism and I’m glad you’ve raised hit. My team were very aware that CSRs aren’t always the best people to answer scientific queries about their company’s product, so in every case we asked if there was anyone more suitable to answer our questions. Sometimes this meant speaking to the inventors or MDs themselves. Anything less would have been cynical snootiness, and wouldn’t have answered the question: is there evidence to back up these claims.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the project though.

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