Ben Goldacre on bogus fish oil trials

”[N]onsense research…undermines the credibility of trial research in general, and makes it more difficult to recruit into trials. It propagates cynicism about research, and encourages people to believe that trials are only done as a sham marketing exercise.”

- Ben Goldacre, writing in The Guardian

Everyone’s favorite pseudoscience basher is once again challenging the educational Council in Durham, UK, over health claim benefits for omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil pills. Durham recently recruited 3000 pupils to take part in uncontrolled 'trials' of fish oil pills produced by the company Equazen, to see whether the pills could increase their end of year GCSE exam scores.

So what happened? The GCSE results have come and gone, but no ‘data’ have yet been officially released from this ‘experiment’. Goldacre managed to dig up some figures suggesting that the exam scores were only slightly above the national increase and actually down slightly on the previous year’s gains – a fact which has not stopped some elements of the British press from continuing to pronounce Equazen’s pills as efficacious.

So is this fish oil actually snake oil? We still don’t know. As Goldacre points out, unbelievably enough, there has yet to be a single randomized, placebo-controlled trial of fish oil supplements on normal children reported in the literature. In the meantime, he argues that the folks at Durham and Equazen (and the press which supports them) are making a mockery of the scientific method.

You can read the rest of the article here.