Thursday, 8 January 2015

Science for Life

I'm unusually excited that my new book Science for Life is now on sale.

It's quite different from anything that I've ever done before. The idea is to take on all those science issues we constantly get pumped at us in the media (especially from the Daily Mail and Daily Express), telling us about a new discovery in science and how it influences in our lives. It could be that red wine is good for you... or bad for you. It could be that there's a new sunscreen you just drink, or that listening to Mozart will make your baby cleverer. What I try to do in the book is both explain the
 difference between real science and the media representation of science, and to cover as many different topics that have an influence on our lives as I can.

It's divided into Diet, Exercise, Brain, Psychology, Health, Evironment and Fun sections, each containing a host of little articles on all these many topics. And because it's never really going to be finished, there's an accompanying blog where I'll continue to add new topics and update existing ones.

The book is now available both as a rather handsome hardback and as an ebook (all the main formats) - please do click through to its web page and find out a bit more about it (or even go mad and buy a copy). The nice thing about it is that though it should interest my usual science audience, I think it will be really appreciated by a much wider set of people who are simply confused by all the conflicting information the media pump at us.

In case you didn't believe the bit about a drinkable sunscreen - and to see a little of what the book's like - here's the entry on that subject.

Drinkable Sunscreen

In May 2014 the British newspapers were flooded with articles about a new, miracle product. The Daily Mail took the lead, splashing the headline: ‘World’s first DRINKABLE sun cream goes on sale – and just a teaspoon will offer three hours’ protection.’ According to the Mail, the product ‘works by molecules vibrating on the skin, cancelling UVA and UVA [sic] rays’. (The Mail clearly meant to say ‘cancelling UVA and UVB rays’.)

This is a bizarre claim. The Mail tells us that the product’s developer says: ‘If 2mls are ingested an hour before sun exposure, the frequencies that have been imprinted on the water will vibrate on your skin in such a way as to cancel approximately 97% of the UVA and UVB rays before they even hit your skin.’

There are serious problems with this explanation. The suggestion is that somehow the frequencies ‘imprinted on the liquid’ can cancel out light the way noise-cancelling headphones cancel out noise. If this were possible, the military would be rushing out to buy this product for their planes as ‘cancelling out light’ would make them invisible. But in fact light is nothing like sound – you can’t cancel it out with a vibration, even if something you drink could make your skin vibrate with a particular frequency – which it can’t.

The real concern is that people will use this product and then undertake dangerous levels of sun exposure – and a particular concern is that this would seem ideal for children. There’s no worse job when arriving on a beach than having to coat your children, who want to be running around, in sunscreen. Imagine how attractive the idea is of just being able to give them a drink and they are protected. But should parents do this, they will be exposing delicate skin to the sun’s rays without protection, which can result in very serious outcomes.

Of course, scientists are coming up with new treatments and products all the time – but when the description of how a product works is one that bears no resemblance to known science, when the product has not been tested by any authorities for safety, and when the result of it not working could have very serious health implications, it is extremely irresponsible of newspapers to cover it in this way.


There is nothing you can drink that will protect you from the sun. 

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