Sense About Science’s Ask for Evidence campaign

SASLogoPicture the scene: you’re sitting at home, relaxing and watching a bit of TV. The adverts come on and there’s a flashy commercial for an expensive sounding beauty product. All is fine until suddenly a ludicrous scientific claim flashes up on screen; clearly dubious, it’s designed to baffle and impress us into parting with our hard-earned cash.

If, like me, you find these adverts very frustrating then the Ask for Evidence campaign is for you. The Biochemical Society supports this initiative as part of our collaboration with Sense About Science. It aims to encourage both scientists and non-scientists to ask for the evidence behind claims in the media and elsewhere which relate to a variety of topics, from beauty products to supposed health benefits to purported environmental impacts. The more people ask for evidence, the more companies, politicians, commentators and official bodies will start to feel accountable for the claims they make…

For example, I recently came across an advert for a product with the auspicious title ‘Fountain – the Beauty Molecule’. I was intrigued by the identity of this supposed ‘beauty molecule’ and, upon closer inspection, discovered it to be resveratrol, a naturally-occurring stilbenoid. The product markets itself as a next generation resveratrol-containing tonic and as an ‘anti-aging elixir’. Could this really be true?

A quick internet search threw up a sea of dodgy-sounding assertions about resveratrol and its effects. However, conclusive scientific evidence was somewhat harder to find. To this end, I decided to ask the company which makes the product for the evidence behind their claims and participate in the Ask for Evidence campaign.

After sending a request to the manufacturers I received a reply within a couple of days. A peer-reviewed scientific paper was duly attached as well as a link to a news item about another study about the effects of resveratrol. The paper, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, aimed to investigate the effects of a polygonum cuspidatum extract (PCE) containing resveratrol on oxidative and inflammatory stress in normal subjects. Upon reading, it seemed to present good evidence and concluded that there was a ‘comprehensive suppressive effect’ brought about by the resveratrol. However, this paragraph near the end rang alarm bells:

‘The major weakness of our study is that it does not identify which component of the extract is responsible for the effects observed. The PCE used has only 20% resveratrol and the effects that we have described may be due to products other than resveratrol contained in that preparation.’

So it doesn’t really present concrete scientific evidence, rather a platform for future studies. Hmmm… not really the ideal basis for a £25 ‘beauty elixir’…

The other evidence I was provided with, a link to a Harvard Medical School study which details ‘what researchers consider conclusive evidence that the red wine compound resveratrol directly activates a protein that promotes health and longevity in animal models’ sounds more convincing, though without seeing the evidence of the actual study itself it’s hard to tell. I’m still waiting for further information…

a4e_button_with_web_address_2011_sept_28So the next time you come across a scientific sounding claim and you want to know more, why not Ask for Evidence? Sense About Science has advice on how to draft such a request, examples of what others have done already and provides expertise if you get stuck.

In the meantime, I think my purchase of ‘the beauty molecule’ is on indefinite hold…

One thought on “Sense About Science’s Ask for Evidence campaign

  1. I’ve been in touch with the makers of the Beauty Molecule too. They wanted me to sign an NDA. Sense About Science pointed me to your blog. I think it would be useful if we got in touch. Could you email me so we can have a chat?

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