Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Keeping Abreast of Pseudoscience Part I

At the New Year's Eve party I attended, we saw an eye catching commercial on the Sci-Fi Channel. Women's breasts expanding and pulsating kept appearing on the screen. In just minutes a day, they claimed, all women could have a more heaving bosom by heaving away with their new exercise equipment, Easy Curves.

This commercial presents, "facts and figures" supporting the effectiveness of their product, yet if one pays attention to it, it has several hallmarks of possible pseudoscience. Pseudoscience was perhaps best described by Richard Feynman as "cargo cult science." That is to say, it imitates science without really getting at the heart of what really makes science science. Brian Dunning of Skeptoid has made a great list of red flags of pseudoscience.

What are some of the red flags of the Easy Curves commercial?

A woman in a white lab coat appears while the voice over describes their scientific study. Purveyors of pseudoscience often use the image of authority to support the legitimacy of their claims and give a scientific like appearance.

Mention of a study done by a University. Again, another use of authority to give an appearance of legitimate science but pay attention. They only say that the university study found, "You can change the shape and size of your breasts through working the underlying muscles." They then go on to say that, "using Easy Curves just 5 minutes a day increased the average bust line from 36.4 inches to 37.2 inches in 30 days." as well as increased firmness by 30%. If one is not careful, one will assume the university study is the same one showing results specific to Easy Curves. It may or may not be, they do not say.

The source of the information is selling the product. When the source of the information has a financial interest in promoting the product, therefore one must look at the claim with added skepticism.

What kind of methodology did they use in measuring visible lifting of the breasts and, "Increased firmness by 30% ?" There are so many potential problems with this I could write an entire post on it itself. Which gives me an idea...

Stay tuned for part two to complete the pair.

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