Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Truth & Falsehood

I went to see a seminar at Bath University today, I left Cardiff early especially. It was given by Prof David Colquhoun, he's a walking stereotype and a bit of a personal hero of mine. He is a very well respected scientist and has particular interest in receptor pharmacology and ion channel mechanisms, which is also what I work on. But for the purposes of this blog and your sanity I promise to never delve further into my scientific specialty than that.

Anyway, not only is DC (for that is how he is known) a great scientist (he's an FRS, but I'd imagine he would prefer it if I didn't point that out), a champion of goodscience and a challenger of bad science, quackery and out-and-out bullshit. All of this he writes about on his blog; DC's improbable science, which I discovered about 6 months ago via Ben Goldacre's bad science blog/Guardian column.

Anyway, DC's talk today (Science Fact & Science Fiction - how to read the news critically) introduced the uninitiated to many of his usual pet-hates which he has been challenging for many months/years on his blog. These include the marketing of Homeopathy as medicine (despite a lack of evidence), the teaching of Homeopathy and other "alternative" medical practices (i.e. those that have been shown to be ineffective), such as Acupuncture, Nutritional Therapy, Reflexology and Herbal Medicine in British Universities dressed up as science degrees (B.Sc.) despite the complete lack of science.

That is not to say that real scientists don't also come in for some flack from David, he attacks labs who spinning their research in press-releases in order to boost exposure of their labs. For example the "Honey is better than cough medicine" headlines from last December all hailed from a study that had said "Comparison of honey with DM [cough medicine] revealed no significant differences."

These though were all things I'd previously read about in his fine blog. However he finally talked about something I'd not come across before; Brain Gym. Brain Gym is now being taught in British Schools. It encourages them to be more active (good), drink more water (still good), also that any learning challenges can be overcome by finding the right movements, to subsequently create new pathways in the brain. It claims that the repetition of certain movements "activates the brain for optimal storage and retrieval of information" (Hmmmm).

Ben Goldacre has already written about the scientific-inaccuracies of Brain Gym, but I'll just point out my favourite line, quoted by Ben in his column, and by DC in his talk today.

“Processed foods,” says the Brain Gym manual, “do not contain water.” So there's not, for example, any water in soup? Apparently not.

Forget scientific inaccuracies, this is bullshit, and taxpayers money is being used to teach it in our schools.

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