I used to be a fully paid-up card-carrying skeptic, eager to confront and attempt to correct scientific silliness wherever it raised its muddled head. I conferred, I debated, I pointed and counterpointed, null hypothesized and t-tested, and all to no avail. Now I generally save my breath to cool my porridge. Well mostly. A bit. Sometimes, however, the red mist descends ...

Odd, then, that this time it is Sense About Science1 that has me all aflutter.

Sense About Science is an independent charitable trust. We respond to the misrepresentation of science and scientific evidence on issues that matter to society, from scares about plastic bottles, fluoride and the MMR vaccine to controversies about genetic modification, stem cell research and radiation. We work with scientists and civic groups to promote evidence and scientific reasoning in public discussion.

All of which is perfectly sensible. Laudable even. I certainly agree with those aims, even if I have abandoned them myself as not worth the candle. What got me in a lather was the way in which they dismissed two particular bits of 2010's crop of celebrity scientific silliness. Naturally, I emailed my concerns, as follows:

In talking about dear Olivia Newton-John's diet fads, you quoted Dr Helen Lock saying that "your immune system cannot be 'boosted'". I would agree that it cannot be boosted by a plant extract. However, I would like to know what you -- or Dr Lock -- thinks of the impact of fermented foods on the ability of the immune system to respond to challenges. I'm not talking about the quasi-magical magical properties ascribed to cult cultures (hoho) like kombucha, but instead the rather good evidence, as I see it, although I am no expert, that a variety of fermented foods, especially those involving various strains of lactobacilli, do indeed modulate the immune response.

And a little quibble; to point out that "Nothing is chemical free: everything is made of chemicals, it’s just a case of which ones," is surely to deliberately and somewhat disingenuously miss the point that when most people use the word "chemical" in that context, they mean something like synthetic, or unnatural, or something similar. Heavens, next you'll be telling us that all food is "organic".

So far, all I have is an automated response. They take their downtime seriously over there. I'll keep you posted.2 This way, maybe I can squeeze two posts out of one non-event.

Sense about Science is an independent campaigning charity that challenges the misrepresentation of science and evidence in public life. We advocate openness and honesty about research findings, and work to ensure the public interest in sound science and evidence is recognised in public discussion and policymaking.

  1. 2019-11-13: Which changed its URL since this piece was first written and which, strangely, sems to have dumped all its old stuff. My link now goes to the Internet Archive. Th new mission reads: 

  2. Never heard another word, natch. 

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