“Best and Worst” of 2015

In 2015, 521 people used the AskforEvidence.org tool to ask organisations and people selling products for supporting information behind claims ranging from silver-lined underpants to London buses that run on used cooking oil.

We’re calling on politicians and companies to make access to evidence their New Year’s resolution for 2016. Chris Peters from the campaign says: “If someone is trying to sell you something, they should be happy to explain how it works. Unfortunately we have found many companies are happy to make wild claims, but go quiet when asked to back them up with good science. We’re calling on people to do better. Show us the evidence.”

Chris & Max Goldman from the campaign have sifted through all 521 stories and identified the best and the worst ways to respond to someone asking for evidence. They’ve seen some weird, woeful and sometimes wonderful responses along the way.  

 Worst Responses

  • Sending totally irrelevant ‘evidence. Holland & Barrett sent a science paper about an ingredient that wasn’t even in its ‘Bootea Teatox’ (request for evidence originally sent in 2014).
  • Distorting the science. Can Wireless Armour protect your crown jewels from electromagnetic radiation? The research they sent didn’t bear any resemblance to real world conditions.
  • Citing commercial confidentiality. Does Ronseal’s antimicrobial paint do what is says on the tin? Sorry that’s classified.
  • Giving anecdotes as evidence. MET police posters claiming a reduction in scooter racing in Hornsey were based on observations of just one officer.
  • Silence! This happens far too often and generally doesn't look good – if you have good evidence, you have nothing to hide.


Best Responses

  • Making a speedy correction. Benugo who run the  Wellcome Collection Café immediately removed claims for a ‘detox’ juice when asked for evidence.
  • Providing good evidence. Boris Johnson’s office came back with a thorough response when questioned about claims that London’s buses would be more environmentally friendly if they ran on waste cooking oil .
  • Willing to discuss the evidence and its flaws. Network Rail were completely open about the uncertain evidence that led them to pilot a scheme to put blue lights in stations to reduce suicides.
  • Setting the record straight. When the newspapers proclaimed that banning mankinis had reduced crime in Newquay, Devon and Cornwall Police explained they hadn’t banned mankinis, but that several other interventions could have led to reductions in crime.

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