Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Call Out the Quacks

By Tory Shepherd

Scientists often complain about the way the media treat their message, but journalists have reason to complain as well, since many scientists don’t help to get that message straight.

Tory Shepherd is the Political Editor of The Advertiser and a columnist at The Punch. She regularly writes columns exposing alternative medicine bunkum and bogus health claims.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Have you heard of Scala’s magic fat-busting undies? If you don’t know them specifically, you know the drill.

  1. Target customers’ unfulfilled desires – in this case a smooth, cellulite-free derrière and no more jelly-belly.
  2. Fill their heads with sciencey-sounding words. This “BioPromise shapewear” uses Active BioCrystals to emit Far Infrared Rays.
  3. Put up some before-and-after shots and a few choice quotes from a doctor and you’re on a winner.

In this case, more than half a million bits of shapewear have been sold. The fat-blasting smalls have been covered four times in the mainstream press, twice uncritically (once in business and once in fashion) and twice critically.

The best piece took a lengthy look at their claims and their evidence and their critics. It ran on under the headline: “Doctor says ‘fat-melting’ undies ‘pseudoscience’”. And it featured the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s nemesis, the amazing Dr Ken Harvey from La Trobe University, who has made it his life’s mission to highlight shonky medical products that are approved by the TGA. He’d put in a complaint about the underwear.

It’s harder than you think to call out pseudoscience in the media. First of all, although most of my excellent colleagues have a good nose for bulldust, few have scientific training.

Then, even if they did...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.