Archive | May, 2014

The continuing saga of ‘drinkable suncream’

22 May

A couple of days ago I wrote about a laughably ludicroius story in the Daily Mail about drinkable suncream, that worked by making your molecules vibrate.  I’ve just read a wonderful blog post, that delves more into the story, and exposes that the ‘Doctor’ that runs the company involved might not be a ‘doctor’ in the tradional sense at all.

This new evidence makes it an even more compelling teaching example. It seems now like a really good illustration of Nick Davies’ point that so much of the media’s output is, in fact’ jsu rehashed press releases

Drinkable sun cream that makes your molecules vibrate !

20 May

As previous readers will know, The Daily Mail (A UK tabloid mid-range newspaper) is a great source of teaching material for me, and this morning has produced a particularly good example.

 

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You might imagine that the headline alone, including the phrase ‘drinkable sun cream’, would be sufficient to prevent anyone reading further, but I was particularly taken by the line a few sentences into the story  ‘”Once ingested, the product’s liquid molecules vibrate on the skin, cancelling out 97 per cent of UVA and UVB rays”untitled2.

A visit to the manufacturer’s website makes for even more interesting reading. It appears that the produced is water than has had its ‘frequency enhanced’. It seems depending on the ‘enhanced frequency’ this water can be used for anything from hair loss to bowel irregularity.

Given the extravagant claim on the website, its ‘odd’ to see a disclaimer (in very small print) saying ‘These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease’.

This looks like a lovely example for initially getting students to be discerning consumers of information, but also looks like it might be useful as an intro into a discuss of the reliability of the press in general. After all, I can only think of three possible explanations for this story:

1) The Mail believe it

2) The Mail don’t believe it but think their readers will

3) The Mail were paid to publish it as an advert in the guise of a news story

Each of these options are worrying in their own way !!

On a separate note, I wonder if homeopathy ought to sue the suppliers of this product, after all it seems like they’ve adopted the ‘it’s water’ idea and taken it to it’s logical conclusion 😉

 

 

Correlation and Causation – Comedy Gold !!!

16 May

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For anyone who’s ever taken a university research methods or statistics course the phrase ‘correlation doesn’t imply causation’ probably sticks in the mind. This vitally important idea is central to interpreting statistics, and yet I suspect that even for those who have studied such things to university the idea isn’t entirely clear. Politicians seem to love to ‘abuse’ correlational data, and thus an understanding of this concept is important for anyone wanting to think rationally.

Most teachers presented with the problem of getting this idea across have on obviously ridiculous correlation that they roll out. My own example is ‘There is a negative correlation between number of children in a household and number of electronic devices in a household, but this doesn’t mean that handing out toasters will reduce the birth rate’.

Someone has now done a great service to rational thinking teachers everywhere and collected a great series of spurious correlations all in one place

 

Why teaching rational thinking is so important….(Homeopathy yet again)

11 May

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The undergraduate programme of which my rational thinking course is a part is being revised, and from September my course will change from being one semester long to being a year long. In preparation for this change I’ve been reviewing my existing material, and this week I happened to be looking at my lecture on homeopathy.

I’ve written previously about what a great vehicle for teaching rational thinking homeopathy is, but having looked at my material I did think that I needed to update it a little. One particular point that I thought needed updating was my use of a 2007 House of Commons Early Day motion as an indication that the UK Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, supported homeopathy. Now, I’m no great supporter of Mr Hunt, but I did think that using something seven years old to attempt to define his current views was pushing it a bit. I’d settled on the idea that I would email the Health Department to ask for the minster’s current views, when I came across a startling newspaper story.

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The Guardian’s story ‘Jeremy Hunt sent homeopathy studies to chief medical officer’ suggests that the minister recently asked the government’s Chief Medical Officer to studies of homeopathy. Two things worry me about this, one quite nerdy and the other rather fundemental. Firstly, the two studies in question were cosponsored by Boiron, a leading homeopathic manufacturer. It might seem reasonable for the minister to pass compelling new evidence to the Chief Medical Officer for advice, but surely obvious vested interest is unlikely to be’ compelling’. My second, much more basic point, is that the minister seems to completely either overlook (or not understand), hat in asking the Chief Medical Officer, ‘Does homeopathy actually work’, he’s actually asking her to admit that everything medical science currently knows is wrong. To put it bluntly, if homeopathy works then science has got something very basic, very wrong. Given that I suspect the minister isn’t completely anti-science, what could possibly be going on here.

I genuinely haven’t had time to think about the answer to that question yet, but at the very least my homeopathy lecture will remain next year, and Jeremy Hunt has reinforced my belief in the importance of the stuff I teach !

My next job is to update my correspondence with Dr Nancy Malik (See the comments section of this post). Should be interesting 😉

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