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Evidence matters, and we can all ask for it

Posted by on November 4, 2014

By guest blogger Indrayani Ghangrekar

Ask-for-EvidenceFrom all directions we are told what we should and shouldn’t do, about diets, staying healthy, fighting disease, avoiding chemicals, helping the environment. Some of the advice is based on rigorous testing and evidence, but some is not. How do you sift through the confusion and work out what to believe? Rather than wonder and grumble to yourself about whether a claim is based on fact or fiction, you can simply ask whether it is backed up with evidence.

Asking questions in whatever way we can is a conversation that society needs to start having. Some people are already doing this and organisations like Which? are helping to lead the way by scrutinising the evidence for product claims. Medical research charities and many learned societies make it their business to take on claims that hit the headlines – but this is fragile, fragmented work and can only get us so far. Imagine if everyone joined in.

But it can seem a daunting task – who to ask, what if you’re ignored, what to do with the information once you receive it? Sense about Science has launched a new interactive site dedicated to supporting people through the whole process.

With stories of people who have made a difference by asking for evidence, and lots of help understanding what is and isn’t reliable evidence, the whole process is now a lot easier. By holding companies, official bodies, politicians and commentators to account for the claims they make you can help people – by reducing the burden on wallets, or saving people from false hopes of downright dangerous products.

The charity Sense About Science has a campaign encouraging people to ask for evidence for statements that make you think, “really, how do I know if that’s true?”. The cynical may think that asking commercial entities to back up what they say won’t work, but the campaign has already amassed many success stories about people who have exercised their rights as citizens, voters, consumers and patients and held people and organisations to account for their assertions. Products have been taken off shelves, advertising has been amended and individuals have apologised, and vulnerable people have been helped.

Successes in a commercial setting include, Vision Express admitting to a customer that there wasn’t any evidence behind a salesperson’s claims, and then committing to an investigation and training to ensure it didn’t happen again. And Ann Summers reviewed its policies when an employee raised doubts about advice to customers that a brand of wipes prevented infections.

If there is no evidence available, why should you change your habits part with your hard-earned cash or in the worst case scenario, put your health at risk? Have you seen claims that were confusing, or made you wonder, “really?!” Will you ask for evidence the next time you think this?

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