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

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 …


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    1. Anonymous Coward


      'Scientific fundamentalist' is an oxymoron.

      You either follow the scientific process or you are not a scientist.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ But..

      ".. Science is based on a process. You come up with a theory and test to see if it's true or not. So what's wrong with this process that it doesn't work on herbal products?"

      It does work on herbal products. The problem is that homeopaths have decided that this method can be abandoned sometimes when it suits them, where 'when it suits them' = 'when it's homeopathy'. This is because all clinical trials of homeopathy have show it to be a load of old snake-oil and they are scared they will lose their jobs / reputations / livelihoods.

      "That's what vexes me with your attitude. Science isn't the only way of looking at the world. It's not always the best way either."

      It's the best way when you're talking about the interactions of chemicals.

      "The closed mind of a scientific fundamentalist is just as bad as the closed mind of a religious fundamentalist."

      Firstly the term 'scientific fundamentalist' doesn't mean anything because the term 'fundamentalist' refers to strict adherence to specific set of /theological/ doctrines. The work of scientists is testing scientific theory, not theological asssertion. I suppose you could try and appropriate the term by analogy, but the thing is that good scientists don't maintain strict adherence to a set of doctrines, so much as strict adherence to a set of testable (and tested) hypotheses.

      While I agree that a closed mind can be a bad thing I'm not entirely sure why you think a closed mind is always a bad thing. I, for example, have a closed mind to jumping off cliffs without adequate protective gear. This particular closed-minded attitude has preserved my life so far.

      "The hilarious "sky fairy" rhetoric that I read frequently on this site is a clear example of a narrow minded, unscientific attitude..."

      Tell me one way to scientifically test whether or not there is a God that doesn't involve appeal to a holy book or a tradition of people saying "There is a God" and I'll go test it.

  1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Whilst I wouldn't for a moment consider Homeopathy to be anything other than fraud

    I don't see why studying essential oils should not be considered to be science. Just because these are natural plant extracts, it does not change the fact that they are complex mixtures of organic compounds, many of which have biological activity. It is completely legitimate science to study the biological effects and intereactions of these, as well as performing the complex analysis required to characterise their principle constituents.

    HOWEVER, just because Neils Yard employ people with science degrees, does not necessarily make them scientists, unless they are performing some sort of scientitic research. Furthermore, because something is claimed in advertising material, does not mean you should believe it. In fact, if someone has gone to the trouble of putting it into advertising material and printing it on glossy paper in four-colour separations, then the odds are they are deliberately trying to mislead you or distract you from something.

    1. Steven Jones

      There is another option

      Homeopathy can be something other than a fraud. It's quite possible for it to be a delusion, and I've no doubt that most of the practitioners are deluded rather than fraudulent.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        @Steven Jones

        Agreed, let us settle on 'delusion' on the part of the individual, and 'fraud' on the part of companies. Allegedly.

    2. Cameron Colley

      RE: Advertising

      "In fact, if someone has gone to the trouble of putting it into advertising material and printing it on glossy paper in four-colour separations, then the odds are they are deliberately trying to mislead you or distract you from something."

      This, I think, is a very important thing to remember.

      Almost all advertising is designed to coerce you into buying something you do not either want or need. Most advertising should be viewed as deceit -- since it is, effectively, the nearest that the company producing it can get to out lies without being censured.

      Never, ever, ever, believe anything that anyone trying to sell you something says if you are not able to interrogate* them and see proof.

      If you have children drill it into them that adverts are lies (for a "fun" example of how -- try showing them the pictures and adverts for Sea Monkeys, then buy them some) I am sure other people have their examples too.

      *politely, of course

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        "If you have children drill it into them that adverts are lies"

        I know a lot of adults who would benefit from this treatment, too.

  2. Bilgepipe

    So what's the "official" definition?

    So if a scientist isn't "someone who frames and test [sic] hypotheses", what's the official, El Reg definition of "a scientist"? If you can deride the ASA ruling then you must have an alternative meaning for the word which indicates they are incorrect.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll let Dara say it better than I can

    1. Colin Brett

      And Jasper Carrott can say it as well

      "What is a homeopath? Sounds like a gay axe murderer."

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    And I mean this nicely..

    Paramedics used to do a long course, in house, validated by the IHCD.

    Now some of them (not all) do a degree in Paramedic Sciences at various levels (foundation, Bachelors etc) depending on their choice, service etc.

    Both the in house course and the degree routes lead to the same state registration with the HPC, allowing them to practice under this title. There are military paramedics similarly registered as well.

    I'm not quite sure what those doing the 3 or 4 year course (OK, some of it is "sandwich") do with all that time in the classroom that makes them better able to practically treat a casualty, but by the ASA's logic, all those doing the in house courses and then validating this with experience on the road are also scientists.

    I expect the nurses will be demanding a change in status to "Nurse-Scientist" based on this ruling.

    An utter debasement of the term scientist, and I speak as a non-graduate looking at the many nonsense degrees making it harder to get through any paper sift in job applications.

    1. The Indomitable Gall


      Stating that "BSc=science" is just silly.

      Most UK computer degrees are BSc or MSc. A computer programmer is not regarded as a "scientist".

      All Maths degrees are BSc or MSc. A mathematician is not regarded as a "scientist".

      And what about Physiotherapy?

      The list of BScs out there is endless and this is a stupid ruling from the ASA.

      1. Stuart 22


        I am BA Mathematics (University of Essex). My fellow physicists were awarded BA degrees too.

        A BSc a scientist does not make. A scientist today is someone qualified (or at least acknowledged to have the ability to be qualified) in a discipline considered for inclusion in our leading peer reviewed Scientific publications. Or alternatively what the Royal Society says it is. Certainly not what the ASA might claim ...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A Cambridge maths degree is a BA

        And so is a Cambridge computer science degree, as far as I know:

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          and if you wait a year and cough up its an MA

          is that still true?

      3. Anonymous Coward

        Is MMath == MSc? Cancel the M's...

        "All Maths degrees are BSc or MSc."

        My MMath disagrees.

  5. The Indomitable Gall


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

    Can I suggest creative misspelling?

    Like "sighuntist" or something?

    Homeopaths can be "placebo sighuntists" and essential oils guys can be "girly stink sighuntists".

  6. Anonymous Coward

    There is a higher qualification

    So, scientist->boffin->BCS Scientist

    The latter class is for a very limited set of people - according to the BCS (the British Computer Society) people with PhD's and have 10 years working (in industry!) in relevant fields are not qualified to be scientists (CSci) because they do not have the experience....

    Sorry, El Reg, Boffin is not the highest accolate :-)

    However, wtf is a herbal scientist?

    1. GrahamT

      Re: wtf is a herbal scientist?

      He is a sage of course.

      1. Mr Young

        Or maybe...

        he smokes stuff for a living? No, no, that's a fishmonger, sorry about that

  7. Anonymous Coward

    There is a higher qualification

    So, scientist->boffin->BCS Scientist

    The latter class is for a very limited set of people - according to the BCS (the British Computer Society) people with PhD's and have 10 years working (in industry!) in relevant fields are not qualified to be scientists (CSci) because they do not have the experience....

    Sorry, El Reg, Boffin is not the highest accolade :-)

    However, wtf is a herbal scientist?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A 'herbal scientist'


      a) A scientist involved in the formulation and creation of strains of 'herbs', or, most oftenly

      b) A scientist who partakes in the consumption of such 'herbal remedies'

      1. Anonymous Coward

        You forgot:

        c) A scientist made out of herbs.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: you forgot

          d) a scientist who uses herbs. I know of many who make recreational use of some of the more interesting members of the plant family*.

          *i'm not a biologist, plant family is good enough for a lowly BSc MSci PhD physicist

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Other "Sciences" ...

    Don't forget Sciences like :

    Witchcraft, Vodoo, Black Magic, Astrology, Alchemy ...

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      ...or IT

      see title

      1. Ian Stephenson Silver badge


        Oracle is a "Dark Art" (TM)

  9. Joe Earl

    Differentiating Boffins and 'Scientists'

    As a researcher at the Institute for Computational Cosmology in Durham, I wholeheartedly agree with the move away from the discredited 'scientist' term, and would like to second 'boffin' for the replacement.

    Furthermore I hereby propose a test which any boffin may apply to distinguish a scientist from a boffin:

    1) They can handle basic maths: integration, differentiation, logarithms (removes biologists/wasters)

    2) Every number they quote has an error attached (removes mathematicians, economists)

    3) They never, ever use the word 'believe' when talking about science (this one removes the amateur scientists)

    Your subject is a boffin if (and only if) they pass all three stages.

    I propose we set up a national centre for boffinry, and only once one has completed the required testing while you be allowed to call yourself a boffin.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Hi Joe,

      Here I am a lowly psychologist, but I

      1) can do all the maths (studying vision properly needs sums)

      2) qualify numbers with errors

      3) don't like 'believe'

      must be in the Durham Department of Psychoboffiny...

      As an ivory tower academic, I'd like to know how many papers these 'Essential Oils' and 'Natural Toiletries' scientists have in ISI Web of Science and what their h-indices are. After all, without decent numbers there how can they get jobs?



      1. Joe Earl

        Psychologists and h-indices

        @AC: I digress, psychologists and biologists *are* scientists really; we physicists just love to tease the others - it gives us sense of superiority that many (a larger proportion than in psychology etc) of us physicists fail to achieve outside of scientific practice.

        AFAIK no one uses h-indices to actually to select or differentiate candidates for a position; they will look at the total number of citations your papers have relative to others in the field and the total number of papers you have published relative to their length and the time you have been researching.

        The h-index is really measure of how popular you are as a scientist *overall*, not how popular a certain piece of work is in it's field.

        For instance if you worked in a really obscure field with only 3 other researchers in total and had produced 2 papers both cited by all 3 others, then those pieces of work would clearly be very significant (espec. if you were being hired to do something like that), but none of this would be revealed by your h-index.

        So within their field, homoeopathists etc can get lots of citations and thus jobs in homoeopathy, since their employer really only cares about their performance in that field (quite rightly so).

        1. Anonymous Coward


          I was teasing a bit about h-indices. Our previous PVC science (a physicist, indeed an astronomer) was v enamoured of them and had clear views about the sort of H you needed for a chair etc. So these homeopathists might get jobs in Neal's Yard, but they wouldn't get jobs in a top-notch department of boffinry!

          Bob (h =16 +/- 2)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @However, wtf is a 'herbal scientist'?

    A dealer.

  11. Winkypop Silver badge

    Not science

    Not scientists!

  12. graeme leggett

    Remember Beatty?

    "You got an -ology, you're a scientist"

  13. Oliver Mayes


    "there will still be many diehards who simply don't accept that homeopathy or herbalism are sciences"

    Because they're not.

    Diluting something in water over and over again until there is no longer any significant amount of the original substance left, then selling it at an enourmous mark-up to gullible idiots whilst claiming that the water somehow 'remembers' what was originally in it is not a science. It's a glorified con.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      it's about time someone proved this ridiculous water memory/clathrate* BS untrue.

      ...I believe a combined synchrotron/neutron/raman experiment should suffice. Anyone got some mother tincture to hand? Leave the rest to me ;)

      The only question remains is where could this be published (without damaging the career of a respected member of the scientific community)

      *yes, clathrates, they exist. But not how the homeopaths miss-appropriated the term.

    2. David Barrett Silver badge

      Water 'remembers' what was originally put into it...

      No one is claiming that water can 'remember' what is put into it, thats just spin added by non believers like you... you have to put the water into a jar and hit it on a HORSE HAIR and LEATHER pillow for it to take an impression of the molecule that you have long since diluted out of the jar...


      To be clear on this... If you have a 200C dilution of anything in water, what you actually have, is water.

  14. Jacqui
    Thumb Up

    anon complaint

    I wonder who they got to make the complaint?

    These days, having your ad pulled is probably a good way to advertise your product!

  15. EddieD

    Utter nonsense

    Even for the register, this goes beyond the limits of patronising.

    Almost all research, whether in the physical sciences or the Humanities comes down to statistics. This number of patients die with this drug, this proportion of hadrons collided in this fashion, what proportion of cats have died when locked in a box with a jug of cyanide that will spill after a certain proportion of nuclear events have happened, nuclear half-life is the time when /on average/ 50% of particles have undergone decay.

    I work in a department spanning various cognitive disciplines, including psychology. To dismiss the research that is done in the departments as statistical bullshit, displays the rather juvenile and facile level of understanding that folk come to expect from the Reg, even when the tongue in cheek attitude it normally possesses is taken into account.

    1. Tom Maddox Silver badge
      Dead Vulture

      Oh dear

      I trust you'll be cancelling your subscription, then?

  16. Mike 140

    All maths degrees are BSc or Msc ?

    Indomitable @ 13:40

    Nope. I had a choice of BA or BSc for mine. At one time Oxford awarded only BA's, no matter what the content. (I think that's changed, but not 100% sure)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Does this mean that the famous holder of a Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition (sic) can go back to calling herself 'Dr Gillian McKeith' on her TV shows 'You Are What You Shite"? after she was obliged to drop the title following complaints to the ASA?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Utter bloody nonsense.

    What a load of rubbish the ASA talks. There are so many errors with its thinking it's difficult to know where to begin.

    "The ASA noted that there was no qualification process to become a scientist in the same way there was for professions like medicine or law ..."

    1) A qualification process to become an X doesn't mean you are an X.

    If I qualify as a lawyer but never practice law then I am not a lawyer but a Y (street cleaner, communications technician, beautician, &c.). I could truthfully say "I qualified as a lawyer", but not "I am a lawyer".

    2) A lack of a qualification process to become an X doesn't mean you aren't an X.

    If I don't graduate in entomology, but I get a job at a university where it is my job to spend all my time studying insects, where colleagues in the same university or other universities value my work and review my papers (that I am required to publish in order to maintain tenure) favourably, then I am an entomologist regardless of the qualifications that allowed me to take up that noble profession.

    3) There is more than one way to become qualified to practice science.

    Just because there is no one trade-standard single-governing-body-accredited method for becoming a scientist doesn't mean there is no qualification process. On the contrary - try getting an interview for this job ( without having a Masters degree in entomology.

    4) Proclaiming oneself to be an X is not equivalent to being an X.

    "I am an egg". There, I've said it. I am an egg. And by the logic of the ASA it is, therefore, true. I leave it up to them to explain how an egg is able to type.

    Seriously though - homeopathists can (and do) proclaim themselves to be scientists. This does not make them scientists, it merely makes them deeply misguided individuals who have abandoned science in favour of testable and provably false hypotheses such as the power of 'succussion'.

    "... and that there was no universal definition of what constituted a scientist ..."

    1) What is a "universal" definition?

    Without a definition of the term "universal" it's not possible to know what it meant by it, and if that is not possible it may be assumed to be a meaningless term. Thus the point they are making is "there is no definition of what constitutes a <meaningless-term> scientist", or - to put it more briefly - "there is no definition of what constitutes a scientist". This is a provably false assertion.

    2) There are many things whose definition changes with time and/or place and/or context.

    Tables, houses, pets - all these are things of which there is no lasting definition. A table doesn't necessarily have four legs, a pet is not necessarily a mammal, a house needn't be permanent dwelling built of brick. That doesn't mean that the people on the ASA panel don't keep pets, dwell in houses or eat their evening meal at a table though. It does mean their requirement for the term scientist to have a universal definition is meaningless though.

    I could go on like this for hours and hours, for pages and pages revealing deeper and deeper levels of nonsense in this judgement, but I think that will do for now.

    I'm also inclined to complain about their judgement, citing the above reasons for starters.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Minor point... can practice medicine with a Bachelor of Medicine degree, although not independently. And not very well, initially.

    Teaching on the scientific method is pretty scarce as an undergraduate though. Worryingly, a lot of practicing doctors believe in hippy medicine, and sky faries. And creationism for that matter, but don't get me started...

  20. Joe Harrison Silver badge

    What have teh herbal scientists ever done for us?

    Go on then what ? Apart from researching which tree barks produce aspirin. But apart from that? And which flowers produce heart drugs? Apart from that though? And identifying the thousands of other phytological items in today's pharmacopoeia? Apart from that WTF have they ever done for us?

    1. GrahamT

      Herbal Scientists?

      I'm not sure Pharmacologists would like to be referred to as such.

  21. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    It shows the sad state of language instruction

    That El Reg's crew of low-minded commentards are not sniggering away at the name "Neal's Yard".

  22. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    They're not -absolutely- not scientists. Darwin didn't have qualifications.

    I have quickly thought of two difficulties in applying the word "boffin" to female scientists, and then another, and so I think it is sexist. Sorry. One, it simply doesn't fit; and, two, it must create the impression that the person referred to is a female boff. Which may be true, and very enjoyable, but is not the attribute that you're supposed to be addressing. If we manage to set that aside, it also sounds like a fat bird that probably doesn't get out much. So just give up now.

    And you can't be any kind of biology boffin, surely? I mean, see above.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lord Kwac of Napa* Ph.D.**

    Redefining 'Ph.D.' rather than 'scientist'?

    Perhaps to include something like 'has advanced the body of knowledge' rather than merely 'has signed a cheque' - although these four ladies must have got their doctorates from reputable establishments (or the ASA would have upheld the complaint of course)

    * As soon as the cheque clears.

    ** In 'Nutritional Science' as soon as I post the cheque off to Ashwood University

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    In significant parts of the world you can only call yourself an engineer if you have the right degree. In the UK you can call yourself an engineer if you fix washing machines for a living. Obviously the same goes for calling yourself a scientist.

    I would have thought the only people who can use the label "scientist" would be those who practice what is generally recognised as the scientific method. That would rule out a lot of "climate scientists".

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