She blinded me with science…

No, this isn’t just an excuse to listen to Thomas Dolby’s brilliant song (but here it is anyway…)

I have an issue with the current fashion for adverts, and particularly those for cosmetics, to bandy about the word ‘science’ willy nilly. The current worst culprits are L’Oreal, who in their adverts for their skin cream Youth Code use the frankly rather meaningless phrases ‘inspired by gene science’ or ‘inspired by the science of genes’. I’m sorry, how is it inspired by genes? Are you perhaps referring to the telomeres at the end of chromosomes that if maintained *could* protect the chromosome against damage during replication so it *could* replicate indefinitely? No, thought not. Or perhaps you’re playing on the base level knowledge from school that genes replicate when you make new cells, so maybe this cream will help…make your cells new? Blimey I’ve no idea.

And the new Elvive shampoo advert is just as bad – ‘now more concentrated…with more science…’ – I am assuming that this means that they have been working to improve their formulation, but just effectively saying ‘Now with extra science!’ like it’s an added vitamin is pointless.

I have no doubt that there are some very dedicated and talented R&D scientists working on L’Oreal’s products, but to blind people with the word science, which engenders a certain amount of trust in what they are saying is misleading and a little patronising. To assume their customers will go ‘Oh! Scientists worked on this product, it must be better than all the others out there…’. Perhaps some of them will, in which case well done marketing folks, you’ve succeeded in selling your product by blinding people with their imagined view of what science is.

So I suppose my problem with these adverts is actually part of a wider issue – the way that science is perceived by the public. When I interviewed Alice Bell for the Cambridge Skeptics in the Pub podcast (which you can download here), we touched upon the public’s view of science, and she made the point that if people base their view of what science is really like on programmes like Brian Cox’s or Bang Goes the Theory, which can make it seem all very exciting and glamorous, they will be more easily connable by what she calls ‘shampoo ad science’. She believes, and I agree, that people need to be aware of the realities of scientific research, to be sceptical and willing to ask questions – because really, no scientist wants anyone to be blinded by their science.

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5 thoughts on “She blinded me with science…

  1. Aaah – the ‘inspired by science of genes’ advert is the worst!

    I also think it perpetuates the idea that science is something you do or don’t ‘get’ – like maths. So, only scientists can understand science and everyone else is at the mercy of these stupid adverts!

  2. Interesting take. But I wonder — what is this threshold you intend to place for what does, and does not, constitute science? If the folks at L’Oreal’s R&D department aren’t meeting it, what would you need to see for them to satisfy you?

      • Aha. So rather than proclamations to the effect of “We did science to it!” you’d prefer to have them describe in greater detail what research was in fact done?

      • Perhaps, but not necessarily. I don’t find the Colgate Sensitive or Head and Shoulders ads, that do use dentists/researchers in the adverts, annoying – they present their ‘here comes the science bit’ in a fairly reasonable way. What I object to is just wheeling out the word ‘science’, with no qualification of what that means – what kind of research? But even when some companies do try to explain the ‘scientific’ reason their product works it’s still completely fudged. I’m not sure where I stand though, as there’s no way you could stop them using any mention of science or research at all…

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