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Official: PhD in 'Essential Oils' or 'Natural Toiletries' = 'a Scientist'

Also herbal medicine, homeopathy - amazing ruling

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The Advertising Standards Authority - in these benighted short-attention-span days, perhaps one of the most important guardians of the English language - has described the fields of "Natural Preservatives in toiletries" and "Essential Oils" as being "traditional scientific disciplines" and ruled that people qualified in these areas may fairly be described as "scientists".

Neal's Yard introduces its 'Green Scientists'

Green scientists.

The gobsmacking ruling arises from a complaint made by a member of the public regarding advertising material issued by the well known bogo-smellies company Neal's Yard (Natural Remedies) Ltd. This featured a picture of four women wearing white coats standing in a garden holding various Neal's Yard products, headed "Green Science ... Meet Our Green Scientists Who Make It All Happen". It went on to specify the women's qualifications.

An anonymous member of the public complained to the ASA challenging the idea that the women were qualified enough to be considered scientists.

According to the ASA, Neal's Yard defended its "green scientists" claim vigorously, offering the idea that "science is beginning to be viewed more widely, such as the emergence of 'green science', defined by Carnegie Mellon University as 'the application of eco-friendly thinking to scientific disciplines' and 'a holistic approach to sustainability science'."

The smellies vendors went on to say that even if you stuck to a more rigid definition of "scientist" as someone who frames and tests hypotheses, their team would still qualify. The ASA goes on to say:

[Neal's Yard] provided biographies for all four women, which showed that Dr Dhushyanthan and Dr Hili had PhDs in traditional scientific disciplines while Ms Curtis and Ms Vilinac had undertaken study in Homeopathy and Medical Herbalism respectively. NYR said those two women had qualified in their fields before degrees were possible, and now those courses were available as BSc degrees at UK universities.

In fact, Doctor Dhushyanthan - according to the catalogue in question (pdf) - holds a PhD in "Natural Preservatives in Toiletries" and Doctor Hili holds a PhD in "Essential Oils". There are probably a few old fuddy-duddies around who might argue with the ASA's suggestion that these are "traditional scientific disciplines", but Neal's Yard says "Dharmini [Dhushyanthan] has more than fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a scientist".

Ms Vilinac apparently has training in "western herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine", while Curtis "is a homeopath". Terrifyingly, it is indeed a fact that British universities will nowadays issue a "Bachelor of Science" degree in herbal and homeopathic medicine, though again many would quibble with the idea that a bachelor's degree makes a scientist in the commonly understood sense.

Bachelor's degrees in law, medicine or engineering don't permit their holders to practice as lawyers, doctors or engineers, after all. And there will still be many diehards who simply don't accept that homeopathy or herbalism are sciences no matter what.

But these views meet with no sympathy down at the Advertising Standards Authority. The ruling states:

The ASA noted... that science was continually evolving, and that "green" and holistic approaches to science were becoming more common. We considered that because the ad was in a catalogue for natural remedies, readers were likely to be familiar with alternative or less traditional approaches to science, and therefore to the idea of a "green scientist". We noted that the evidence showed that the four women... all had significant experience in "green" science.

Perhaps it might be OK to describe the four ladies as "green scientists" then, though this would probably rile a lot of climate physicists and the like. But the ASA, not content with describing essential oils and natural toiletries as "traditional science", goes on to say bluntly that these women are not merely green scientists:

We therefore considered it was acceptable for the ad to refer to the women as scientists, and concluded the ad was not misleading.

Truly these would seem to be the end times for the public image of science and scientists. ®

Bootnote

We here at the Reg would like to offer as a new gold standard our use of the term "boffin" to replace the now officially discredited term "scientist" - which was already in our view unacceptably loosely applied, including as it did researchers in such fields as sports science, psychology etc.

A boffin, on these pages at least, will be a researcher whose work is based on hard sums and/or hard facts such as fossils, atomsmasher collisions etc. Statistics, especially ones gleaned by surveying students or counting up patents granted etc, will generally not count. Persons who work with the latter sorts of material will normally be known as eggheads, trick-cyclists, economists etc as appropriate.

And even though the word "scientist" now officially means nothing, we still aren't going to apply it to homeopathic smellies experts.

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