I call bullshit

Bullshit would be synonymous with ‘bad science’, although people tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the latter because the mainstream media’s journalists have trigger fingers, their left hands on their notebooks and their right hands in the public’s pants scratching their asses for a few pennies. Bad science also happens to be the title of a very well-written book that painstakingly (and painfully) sifts through the ugly of sensationalised scientific news which mislead the scientifically illiterate and feed on money of those who are shameless about one thing – being utterly wrong. That is Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. It explores the tantalising surface of cheap tricks like detox scams, exposes the blatant lies of nutritionists that make ridiculous claims and give a bad name to scientific investigation and also mutilates the sham of homeopathy. Goldacre is quick-witted and sharp to pick up on the false claims of pseudo-intellectuals who are quick to change their game once he burns their reputation with a pinch of common sense.

Thanks a great deal to this book, I have been introduced to the rough terrain of scientific study and general scepticism. A few weeks after reading it came both the monsoon and the exam season. Though the smell of bullshit is around all-year long, it was particularly pungent during this time of the year, when people tell me rain gives you a cold (people do, but if you disagree I’d like to hear what you have to say). Out of all the myths that I have taken note of, nothing gets me going (read: irritated) more than the claim that supplements will boost your academic performance.

It’s the exam season. The perfect time for tuition centres to make a quick buck by herding 200 students into a pe- room with a single projector and promise to help them achieve success! Too bad this doesn’t happen at pre-university level and above (or does it?). It is at this stage where the blinds are put up and a show is put on. What can else can we milk from these students? In exchange for confidence, let’s sell them a food supplement and convince them that it will increase their brain performance. Let’s.

This is how I view X product – sceptically. I don’t want to name it in fear of legal implications, although virtually no one views this site. Packaged in green (I won’t say more), this product has virtually no competitors and has successfully led a nation of parents who – sorry to say – grossly overestimate their children’s capabilities to believe that this product will help. I have a bone to pick with not the truth of it because after searching through online journals and reliable sources I cannot find a single independent study on the effects of their ingredients, hence I have no evidence whatsoever of the falsity of it. Mind you, a couple of studies by the same company whose main source of income is dependent on the sales of the same bloody product is NOT AT ALL convincing.

I put it up to a group on Facebook called Advocates of the Propagation of Science Literacy (APOSL) and I got a bunch of startling (and startled) replies.

Smells funny to me. Not just literally.

Even if this stuff actually works (although I will never relent until MORE PROOF of its effectiveness shows up and not just by market-driven crazies) in the sense that it enhances brain performance, memory yada yada yada, I wouldn’t buy it. A box of such stuff is too bloody expensive for a humble home maker. I would rather invest in fruits and vegetables, food items that will aid the growth and maintenance of my child’s health. I wouldn’t treat it as a magic potion. Trust me, there are parents who do and even advise their children to take it before they eat their breakfast (didn’t we learn that food stays in the stomach in a mixed, gooey lump BEFORE absorption? Some drugs are taken after/before food for several other reasons). Why? So the brain absorbs it first. *coughs blood*

Some may argue that it works as a placebo and that it will boost one’s confidence levels. This is true to some extent because even coloured water can do the same. However when we rely on a supplement, we are merely deluding ourselves and ignoring the real problem. We forget that activities like exercising, eating well, avoiding dangerous situations, hard work and passion are also important components of academic success. A bottle of black liquid will not make up for the lack thereof of the above. Blinded by the flurry of pretty advertisements and persuasive salespeople we must not give in to the childish dreams of ‘shortcuts’ in life that greedy people make. Unfortunately too many are too quick to grab onto the promise of an easier way – and get scammed in the process, due to either their ignorance or wishful thinking. Social media makes their job a much easier one when ignoramuses move in droves.

Clench firmly to your wallets people, because they’re not done with you yet.

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