Media: Russell Davies

When I'm not composing these glistening pearls for Campaign, I spend quite a lot of time writing a blog called eggbaconchipsandbeans. It's about fried food and cafes, as you might imagine.

It's quite popular in the fried food and cafes world, so occasionally someone from a related brand gets in touch to try to sponsor the site or involve me in some promotion.

The last people to do this said they were attempting to "save the Great British Cafe". They were making their campaign journalist-friendly with a survey they wanted me to endorse which demonstrated the British cafe was on its last legs.

But they hadn't counted on me being a pedantic planner, so they were a little taken aback when I asked about the research methodology, which was the usual faux science PR rubbish. All they'd done was ask a bunch of people whether they thought the Great British Cafe was under threat: rather like asking the Family Fortunes survey the speed of light and basing your space programme on the most popular answer. They then trotted this nonsense out to the papers and got the required editorial flurry. I was especially annoyed that The Guardian fell for it, as its own Ben Goldacre does such good work unpicking this stuff in his Bad Science column.

We marketing and advertising folk have always played fast and loose with science when trying to convince our customers of the merits of Product X. Vast Soho warehouses have been co-opted to house the computer graphics technicians who do the nonsensical science bits in the middle of ads. Huge battalions of lexicographers labour day and night to create convincing neologisms and circumlocutions such as "active liposomes" and "challenges the signs of aging".

And don't get me started on that bloke who announces the saddest day of the year every year. We're partly to blame for the devaluation of science, the tendency to ignore it when it's not convenient, which gives us excuses not to act on things such as climate change.

We could get away with it once because not many people cared that much, and those that did couldn't make much of an impact. That, of course, is all going to have to change. Because one inevitable consequence of an empowered and connected cyber-citizenry is they're going to ask awkward questions on those corporate blogs we're all busily building. They're going to demand detail on the science behind the assertions, the facts behind the flummery, and then we'll need proper answers, not surveys and opinions.


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