Friday, December 19, 2008

Science me up, Gok!

As a scientist, one of my personal pet peeves is the amount of pseudo-science that is spewed at people, particularly in advertising. The health and beauty industries are the absolutely worst offenders. The Limey and I keep a folder of pictures of products that are given a "nano" name because it just sounds so cool and cutting edge, even though the product is nothing of the sort. I once saw a bottled water advertised as having "added oxygen". W. T. F?

So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw my first episode of Channel 4's "How to Look Good Naked". For those who haven't seen it, it's a show in which our fearless host takes a British woman who hates her body for one reason or another and convinces her that her self-image is what needs work, that her body itself is beautiful and then shows her how to dress and style herself to show that body off. I know, it sounds a little bit...reality-show. Which it is. But I love it.

The first and foremost reason to love it is the host, Gok Wan. I tell you, we need more flamingly gay Asians in the public eye. We do.

The second reason is that, even though this sounds hippy dippy, he always convinces the women that they are beautiful as is. There is no suggestion of dieting or plastic surgery. Nothing of the sort. It's nice.

Third, and getting back to the science bit, is the way the show does its product reviews. They do them really well, and in a manner that is satisfying to my scientist brain.

  1. They have a panel of 100 women, which is a good, large enough number for the data to be believable. If there are a few outliers, it won't affect the result.
  2. They have the women test the products over a period of time. So they use the products as they are meant to be used, and they get to note reactions along the way. This is much better than just a first impressions kind of product trial, obviously.
  3. Most importantly, they decant all the products into plain, un-marked jars. So it doesn't matter how much money is spent on packaging and advertising, and the testers can't be mis-led by scientific-sounding claims from the manufacturer.
As you can imagine with this kind of product testing, the more expensive, "exclusive" products more often than not end up at the bottom of the league. The women are often really surprised that the product they thought was best (at, whatever, wrinkle-removing, tanning, moisturizing, etc.) is the cheapest brand, or the one available at your normal supermarket.

The other result that kinda makes me feel smug and "I told you so" is that, for many of the products, there's very little difference in the ratings. That is to say, the night cream serum for eyes (or whatever) that gets ranked highest had a score only several percentage points away from that which ranked lowest. There's hardly ever a product which was obviously better and preferred by a majority of the testers. Meaning, most of this shite? Yeah, it's the same. And probably doesn't really do much anyway.


soknitpicky said...

How interesting! We have a version of the show here in the US with one of the guys from Queer Eye as the host. I've never watched it, but I'll look for it now that I read your post. I wonder if our version does product reviews. Anyway, I laughed out loud when I read your line about adding oxygen to water. My first impression is...H2O2? That would be peroxide! LOL!

LilKnitter said...

I love it, too! Gok is so great with those women, and so unapologetically, too! It's so true, too, about products all being essentially the same: I had a sample of some Lancome moisturizer a few years back, and ooh, it was nice. And I have systematically found cheaper and cheaper versions of it that feel exactly the same. It's rather funny, actually.

Woolly Stuff said...

hmmm, I haven't seen this show (completely being be derailed by Survivors these days!), I'll have to check it out. Hey, happy holidays by the way! And thanks for your help on ravelry in the beginning of the year regarding my new-american-in-london-visa-travails!