One major problem with politicians today is there is a huge lack of trust. People simply don’t believe their claims. The same issue can be applied to society more broadly, particularly media and advertisements. People know that when something seems too good to be true it probably is, but they don’t know what to do about it.
To address this Sense About Science set up the ask for evidence campaign, and in particular askforevidence.org to encourages the public to challenge unbelievable claims directly, asking those who make them to provide evidence which can then be scrutinised and evaluated. Since it’s launch less than a year ago askforevidence.org has seen over 1000 queries from frustrated members of the public seeking evidence from those who make extraordinary claims.
As part of my internship I was lucky enough to work with the ask for evidence campaign; this included helping people who have received (often dubious) evidence be put in touch with scientists who can help interpret it for them, whilst also querying a number of claims for myself. For me this is a large part of what makes the ask for evidence campaign so powerful, because people can ask for evidence, but what they receive could be nonsense. In fact very often it seems those making the claim will be deliberately confusing, they know the person asking is unlikely to have a scientific background so should be easily put off by technical jargon and long research papers. However the beauty of Ask For Evidence is that it allows them to follow up on any evidence with the help of a professional.
The campaign has already queried many extraordinary claims and found them to be, unsurprisingly lacking in extraordinary evidence. The full list can be found on the website. During my time at sense about science I wrote a piece on a fertility app that claimed to be “99.9% safe”, an extraordinary claim which if true would make it more effective than condoms or the combined pill. Another was a claim by Dr Marilyn Glenville that changes in diet can reduce menopause symptoms, a claim that is not supported by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Encouraging the proliferation of claims that are well supported by strong evidence can only be a good thing. It might not rebuild trust completely with politicians and the public, or mean we still don’t see companies making ridiculous claims, but a well informed public, willing to challenge these claims, can only be a good thing. We need to speak up and stand up for evidence, only then will we stop being lied to.