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More Omega 3 child testing nonsense – this time, New Zealand.

Posted in Thinking is dangerous by Skepdude on November 17, 2008

The outcome I would be really happy with is a better understanding of healthy eating“, said teacher Paul Whitaker, from Auckland’s Wellsford School, according to TV.NZ.

What I assume he meant is “The outcome I would be really happy with is a better understanding of the scientific method, placebos and possibly the Hawthorne Effect“.

It appears that after watching a BBC documentary on Omega 3 fish oils, Mr Whitaker decided to run a trial of his own: 42 pupils, 21 with a fish oil pill and 21 without, otherwise, everything was the same. The story was also picked up (slightly, but only slightly more sensibly) in The New Zealand Herald.

Now, Mr Whitaker makes a big enough song and dance about his results to allow me to pilliory him as a bit of a fool. It would be unkind to say that not much happens in NZ, and indeed this is no excuse. History repeated itself in many ways with the ghost of the nonsensical Durham Fish Oil trial/experiment/initiative/trial (still being admirable hounded by MacCruiskeen) being resurrected – the pills were given free to the school by Good Health, a NZ-based ‘natural health solutions’ company, who are happy to tout the trial as a success (despite not being finished yet) and give a list of some of the media exposure gained. (Save lazy people like me having to do too much Google trawling).

In a very similar case to Durham, the trial was poorly designed scientifically and a waste of time, although excellently designed from a point of view of getting a false positive with which to spin to the media.

First of all, 42 people is never enough to get any meaningful results – at best it may give an inkling as to the next direction your research will take.



One Response

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  1. Ken said, on November 18, 2008 at 1:18 AM

    That so-called trial was unscientific all round. Selection of pupils depended on parental permission, the teacher wanted a specific result, etc. The school acknowledged that it wasn’t a scientific trial. Sop the question is why do it.

    The sad thing for me is that it could have been an opportunity to educate the pupils in the scientific method by using a good design and telling the students why. Instead they will probably have given the students a completely wrong impression of what science is.

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