Monday, 10 January 2011

Queen of Clean, 1 - New Scientist, nil

I like New Scientist. It might have a love of over-the-top headlines that promise more than the article delivers, but it provides up-to-date science news and good features. However, like everyone else it occasionally gets it wrong, and I'm rather disappointed that it seems unwilling to recognize this.

In December the entertaining Feedback column decided to have a go at TV cleaning guru and nice person (as opposed to the other one), Aggie Mackenzie. They pointed out that Aggie is fronting up a range of cleaning products with the brand name 'Probiotic.' Having used Wikipedia to provide an explanation for us of what probiotic means (could do better, Feedback), the piece goes on:
So if you feel like adding thousands of extra micro-organisms to the ones that already live in your toilet, go ahead and buy the ones Aggie is offering. We don't think we will, though.
I thought this was a bit heavy handed, as did Aggie, who came back the same day with a response. She pointed out that those 'extra micro-organisms' inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria on the surface by 13,200 times* compared with a conventional antibacterial cleaner. She also noted that they can carry on working and protecting against harmful germs for up to 8 days, which does sound rather impressive to me. It seems that it's a good idea to add 'thousands of extra micro-organisms' if these are harmless ones that leave less room for the bad guys through competitive exclusion.

If I'm honest, when I first heard about this Probiotic range I was highly suspicious. After all, probiotic foods have no proven benefits. But I'm quite impressed by Aggie's argument. I'm not trying to sell the products, but rather to suggest that the Feedback people at New Scientist should have done a bit of homework to find out just what the product was before subjecting it to one of their attacks, usually reserved for genuine fruit loopery like 'quantum holistic healing.' This particular attack, I'd suggest, was wrongly aimed at a product that was taking a genuine scientific line. Admittedly that 'probiotic' term is tainted and perhaps was a mistake, but if New Scientist can't look past a label, who can?

So come on, NS - own up. Publish an apology. (To be fair, they might still - the latest issue carries a letter I wrote the week before this happened.)

* Dubious statistic alert. This is after an arbitrary period of time of 24 hours. But it doesn't demolish the argument.

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