Don’t look now: ugly food!

OK, that was a ruse. I will not show you pictures of ugly food, but if you’d like to see some, you can head on over to the Daily Mail, who today are featuring this ridiculous piece:

Just take a moment to read paragraphs two and three of this “story” again, and behold a wonderful example of non-evidence-based argumentation. I’ll summarise:

Fact 1: Nigella tweets some pictures of ugly food/ugly pictures of food

Fact 2: More than 250,000 followers regularly “gobble” up her recipe posts, including these pictures of ugly food/ugly pictures of food.

Conclusion: She could be in danger of losing followers.

What’s missing here? What sort of thing might indicate that there is an actual danger of her losing followers, and that this might be in any way related to ugly pictures of food/pictures of ugly food?


Yes, maybe some facts and figures about how she actually is losing followers would do it.

Sorry, I don’t know why I’d expect more of the Daily Mail. But I must commend them on providing excellent examples not only of shoddy journalism, but how we are often ‘cognitively impenetrable‘ to the facts; in other words that we see what we want to see, and are really good at making up or inflating risks where there may be none. This case is fortunately harmless, and seems little else than an opportunity for some Daily Mail “journalist” to point out that she doesn’t like the look of some of the stuff Nigella tweets – and eats. (Besides, there are entire websites dedicated to pictures of food that have been rejected by some of the top sites, so to claim there is no appetite for ugly pictures of food is just wrong.)

But this is the kind of blindness to the facts that can actually become dangerous when it comes to making important decisions in the real world, like whether or not to vaccinate your child. It’s easy to laugh off the Daily Mail, as it is to laugh off lots of quack “science” out there. But just because homeopathy can’t directly harm you (just your wallet, since you’re paying for water, or sugar), that doesn’t mean it’s not harmless if it encourages lazy thinking and bad decisions. I’ll let Steven Novella conclude this post as he does a recent excellent article on homeopathic logic (a generous word, it should be noted):

Homeopathy is pure pseudoscience and its potions are just placebos.  Proponents cannot defend homeopathy with scientific arguments or evidence for efficacy (although some try, to humorous effect). Instead they propagate a misunderstanding of how science works and the current practice and regulation of science-based medicine. While their potions may be mostly harmless because they are just sugar pills, the scientific illiteracy and distrust of science-based medicine promoted by homeopaths is anything but harmless.

I’m not the first to call out the Daily Fail. And let’s not give Nigella Lawson’s food tweets more gravitas than they deserve (which is to say *any* gravitas). But bad journalism is dangerously close to bad science. Nothing good can come of it.