Ask For Evidence
New year – new you? Tempted by promises of detox diets, super-foods and high-tech work out plans? Before you pay out for them, take a moment to consider whether the claims are based on solid science, or if they are just seductive marketing claims designed to part you from your pennies. With support from the Wellcome Trust, the charity Sense About Science has launched a new interactive website, that lets you ask individuals and companies directly for evidence behind claims they make. Sense About Science’s Max Goldman explains why we’re encouraging everyone to Ask for Evidence…
From all directions we are told what we should and shouldn’t do: advice about diets, ways to stay healthy, fight disease, avoid chemicals, help the environment. Some of this advice is based on rigorous testing and evidence, but lots of it isn’t. How do we sift through the confusion and work out what to believe? We should find out what’s supported by evidence, and what isn’t.
Many medical research charities and many learned societies already make it their business to take on claims that hit the headlines – but organisations doing this, as opposed individuals, can only get us so far. Imagine if everyone joined in.
It’s already happening – Katy asked for evidence after a salesperson at Vision Express told her that her eyesight would get worse if she didn’t buy new lenses for her glasses. Vision Express investigated, realised the claim wasn’t based on the best available evidence, and promised to improve its staff training. Rita asked Planet Organic for evidence about its claim that wheatgrass could remove toxins from the bloodstream, and the claim was withdrawn from all the company’s promotional material. Even the café at Wellcome Collection, run by Benugo, was taken to task about the use of the word “detox” to describe one of their fresh juice blends, and it was swiftly removed.
By asking for evidence publicly and sharing these stories, people can engage with – and better understand – the medical, dietary, or other questions that affect them, and help others do the same. Ask for Evidence online not only encourages and helps people to ask, it becomes a place to highlight the companies and individuals who respond well to requests for evidence, and those who don’t.
Ask for Evidence online also has a help centre for people make sense of evidence they’re sent. This gathers together expertise from Sense About Science and the organisations we work alongside, shaped by our experiences and insights from 12 years helping people understand evidence and answering public questions about science – people can also ask for help directly from a scientist.
If companies, politicians, NGOs or journalists want us to buy their products, vote for them, donate to them or believe them, then they should all be prepared to provide the evidence to support their claims. To hold them to account, we all need to be the ones to ask.
Visit askforevidence.org to read more stories, see the latest from the campaign and, of course, to ask for evidence.
Image credits: Nutritional information – Wellcome Library, London; Morning wheatgrass shot, it tasted like grass by Merri on Flickr, CC-BY-SA.