I’ve been reluctant to call bogus on science reporting from shows like Today Tonight or A Current Affair because, well, it’s just too easy. That, and I don’t watch them.
It feels kind of cheap picking on Today Tonight when they feel the necessity to put at the bottom of the idiotic reporting on their website a disclaimer stating that “the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information is not guaranteed.”
But this week I did accidentally catch part of an episode of Today Tonight and they had an absolute cracker of a bogus science story about a bracelet that improved your life in all kinds of ways. I just couldn’t resist saying something about it.
But when I took a little detour past their website, I noticed that three of the top five stories were science stories! (Well, health stories really.) How wonderful that science is getting an airing on such a popular show!
So, what follows is a little commentary on their most popular science stories, finishing with the little gem about the miracle bracelet.
Coming in at number three in the popularity ranking is a little story about the benefits of fish oil.
Ruthless investigative reporter, Helen Wellings, explains how fish oil supplements will help you with rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica (an inflammatory disorder that causes muscle ache and stiffness), “cardio vascular problems” and even depression.
A good place to start is the Cochrane Library. Cochrane reviews are highly regarded, systematic reviews of the literature on different topics. Individual studies should not be relied on almost every issue, there are studies with conclusions that contradict one another. Systematic reviews, on the other hand, take a considered look at all the relevant studies.
A quick search of the Cochrane library reveals a systematic review of the research on the effects of dietary supplements (including fish oil) on rheumatoid arthritis published in January this year. It concludes: “The effects of dietary manipulation… on rheumatoid arthritis are still uncertain due to the included studies being small, single trials with moderate to high risk of bias.”
But wait, it goes further and says that “higher drop-out rates and weight loss in the groups with dietary manipulation indicate that potential adverse effects should not be ignored.”
Yes, that’s right. Not only is there no reliable evidence that dietary manipulation helps with the condition, but it can potentially have adverse effects!
So much for fish oil helping with rheumatoid arthritis.
What about helping with “cardio vascular problems”? On this topic they speak to Dr Peter Clifton, head of the CSIRO Clinical Research Unit and his opinions, as an expert, are worth listening to. They quote Dr Clifton saying that fish oil “certainly is an arithmetic [sic] so it normalises the heart rhythm, particularly after you have a heart attack.” He goes on to recommend taking a handful of capsules each day.
Firstly, the cunning Today Tonight researchers might have a bit of trouble finding any research on fish oil and “arithmetic”. It’s not particularly known for its ability to add up numbers.
When one searchers for “arrhythmic” functions of fish oil, a bunch of conflicting stuff comes up. From what I can see, there was a big systematic review published in BMJ which concluded that fish oil did help with lots of heart conditions but not with arrythmia.
Moreover, there was a follow up review which suggested that fish oil could have negative outcomes for patients with arrythmia.
I’m not even going to bother saying much about their ridiculous and exploitative claim that fish oil helps with depression. You can look around yourself and see that there’s no evidence for that claim at all. [Update: See comments below. Some research does support the use of fish oil to treat depression but more research is needed.]
Coming in at number two was the “flat belly diet”. According to the Today Tonight website, you don’t need to do any exercise, you can eat 1600 Kj every four hours and you have to eat a monounsaturated fatty acid at every meal.
If you ate 1600kj four times a day and did no exercise, you are not going to lose any weight. And telling people with dangerously unhealthy weights that they will is completely unethical.
Coming in at number one is the amazing “Power Balance Bracelet”!
Fearless reporter Frank Pangallo explains how this bracelet will make you “the best you can be.”
The snake who sells this product tells viewers that “In the Mylar hologram is a frequency and the frequency as soon as it comes into contact with the electrical field of your body basically works with your body’s electrical field that gives you a feeling of wellness.”
Right. So the “hologram is a frequency” which “works with” the “electrical field” to make you more flexible, stronger and gives you improved balance.
None of this makes any sense. How can a hologram “be” a frequency? And if it were, what would it mean for it to “work with” your body’s supposed electric field? And if it did somehow do that, why would it make you more flexible?
There’s clearly no answers to these questions.
Oh! But don’t worry, if you check out the manufacturer’s website, you can return any faulty goods!
Power Balance will replace without charge if the goods purchased are faulty. All faulty goods must be returned prior to replacement. Power Balance will meet all costs associated with postage for faulty goods. All goods carry a three month warranty.
Presumably they’ll give everyone their money back then.
Update: Here’s the full references (in order to allow this post to be indexed by Research Blogging.)
Hagen KB, Byfuglien MG, Falzon L, Olsen SU, & Smedslund G (2009). Dietary interventions for rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (1) PMID: 19160281
Leon, H., Shibata, M., Sivakumaran, S., Dorgan, M., Chatterley, T., & Tsuyuki, R. (2008). Effect of fish oil on arrhythmias and mortality: systematic review BMJ, 337 (dec23 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a2931
Saravanan P, & Davidson NC (2009). Fish oil and arrhythmias. Pro-arrhythmic effects of fish oils. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 338 PMID: 19188223