Opinion

A view from Dave Trott: We believe what's interesting

In 1954, Linus Pauling won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In 1962, he won again: but this time the Nobel Peace Prize.

This second prize wasn’t for chemistry, it was for opposing the spread of nuclear weapons.

But Pauling would always be known as the man who won two Nobel Prizes.

In 1970, Pauling wrote a book called Vitamin C And The Common Cold.

It advocated mega-doses of vitamin C as a way of preventing colds.

It became a worldwide bestseller.

If the man who won two Nobel Prizes said it, it must be true.

It launched the craze for vitamin C.

Vitamin C in drinks, in cereals, in desserts, in snacks, even in cosmetics; Vitamin C became a marketing dream.

Mention your product contained vitamin C and it was sure to sell.

It must be true: double Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling said it was.

The only problem was: it wasn’t.

Other scientists thought Pauling’s results needed checking. 

So they checked, and found them less than rigorous.

In fact, scientists worldwide did their own tests on vitamin C.

In 1972, 800 volunteers were tested.

Mega-doses of vitamin C were found to make no difference.

In 1974, 3,000 volunteers were tested.

Mega-doses of vitamin C were found to make no difference.

In 1975, 500 volunteers were tested.

Again, no difference.

In 1977, 44 pairs of identical twins were tested: one twin with vitamin C, one without.

Again, no difference.

In 1981, 95 pairs of identical twins were tested.

No difference.

In 1979, 500 US Marines were tested.

No difference.

In 2001, 400 Australian volunteers were tested over a period of a year-and-a-half.

No difference.

According to the entire worldwide scientific community, it was conclusive.

Vitamin C made no difference to either colds or flu.

But none of that interested the public.

None of the evidence affected the public’s desire for vitamin C.

Because none of the people doing those tests were as famous as the man who’d won two Nobel Prizes.

The simple fact that he’d recommended it outweighed any evidence.

Because the evidence was dull by comparison.

The evidence wasn’t so interesting, so it wasn’t newsworthy.

Big, boring scientific institutions versus the man who won two Nobel Prizes.

Linus Pauling was a much better story.

People will believe what’s interesting over what’s true.

One double Nobel winner over every other scientist in the world.

In fact, Pauling caught the public’s imagination so much, he was able to open his own scientific institution. 

The largest corporate donor was the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche.

The makers of most of the world’s vitamin C.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three