The S-word That Lost its Meaning:

The s-word has been seriously abused. The one we use every day, we use describe things the world around us, and we use to explain and validate things.

Which word? “Science”. Of Course!

Used day in and day out by the media to sound more convincing. Our beautiful word. That I felt so attached to it and its community is now so taboo – I shiver when I hear it used in the wrong context.

’According to science…’, ‘Science shows us…’, ‘One scientific study has shown…’.

Every time I hear these words I interpret it as
‘According to science [insert claim with a link to an irreproducible study!]’.



Science is not a person. Or an opinion. Australian comedian and musician, Tim Minchin summed it up best in his occasional address.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation.

There are two main problems when it comes to abusing the name of science.
1. Companies abusing the name of science.
2. Scientists abusing the name of science.

The latter is the bigger problem, so let’s start lite ’n’ easy with the first. And what a better example than “Australia’s #1 Multivitamin Range” – Swisse?

Swisse’s liver detox:

Swisse states it’s liver detox capsules are backed by science and by traditional western medicine.
I would disagree. I have an alternative theory… I’ll try to convince you below that Swisse is, in fact backed by advertising flawed logic.

Let’s not speculate too much on the sum George Columbaris is being paid here (if it’s $500’000, that meant that $450’000 wasn’t enough??) but instead focus on the fine print which says ‘backed by science and traditional western medicine’.

You may wonder what ‘traditional western herbal medicine’ is. Let’s follow the citation trail.

What they claim is in each pill and in what dosage is listed under the ingredients tab

Follow the ‘science’ trail found in the ‘science‘ tab.

Ah!!! There’s too many links, a clever intimidation tactic to make you think that their sources are legitimate and they’re not worth following up. We’ll look just at Tumeric on dyspepsia (indigestion) today.

Health Canada Monograph – Turmeric root. 2010. leads you to this site:

Then we’ll check out the Mills and Bone link as this is the claim of tumeric root to dyspepsia.

Which leads you to their Phytotherapy book from 2005:

On page 607 of this book, we have the first mention of Tumeric and its benefits.

Also noted is that Tumeric is NOT monitored by the Therapeutic Goods Administration Australia.

The citation from the Mills book links to a paper here by:
Randomised double blind study of Circuma Domestic Val. for Dyspepsia – V Thamlikitikul et al. from J Med Thailand, 1989.
To show how old this paper is I have taken this excerpt:
“Patients were asked to mail a postcard if they were not able to go back for a follow-up visit.”

This Thailand paper is written no worse than any paper you would find in a Western journal. In fact, it has been cited over 100 times!

I do question using ‘Flatulence’ as a positive control (is the listing of the Flatulence tablet known to cause farting?) I’m not sure why it was used in the trial, but it seemed to help indigestion. If someone is reading this and knows the answer, please contribute!.

They were able to show some significance in the difference of recovery between the placebo and the turmeric root.
However, when the unknowing placebo patients were asked if they would recommend their treatment 48% said yes! Whilst the proportion for the turmeric was 50% (which is definitely not significant).

This study doesn’t anger me. Phytotherapy is no less a science than pharmacology, often the two overlap. What does anger me is Swisse using this study as their primary source of evidence that their pill is ‘based on science’.

Many questions are remain unanswered.

  1. What is the concentration of the active ingredient? Is it comparable to that used in the study?
  2. What is the extraction method? Is this identical to that found in the study?
  3. Does there exist any interaction factors between the root and other ingredients or the pill solvents?

If you feel like vitamins are working for you, great! Keep taking them, I have no evidence to say that they don’t work. But there is much less valid evidence out there than Swisse’s ’Science’ bible claims.

If Swisse want to back this by science they’re going to actually have to back it with ad hoc ’registered’ double-blind clinical trails of their products in their pill form…. so they’ve done that for some of their most popular products!

Reading this paper through the link above, you should find many flaws and it segues nicely onto scientists abusing science. Which we’ll talk about next week!

Alexis out.

One Response to “The S-word That Lost its Meaning:”

  1. Tessa Marshall says:

    I’ve begun to tune out whenever any advertisement with a man in a white coat starts talking about what ‘science says’. If any of those pills work for me, I’ll thank the placebo effect.