Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse

[BPSDP] If you thought the Durham fish-oil saga was bad enough, according to this in the Times Education Supplement, someone has found an even more unethical way to cash in. Thanks to Paul Thompson for pointing this out to me.

Tony Attwood of Corby-based PR firm Hamilton House has sent a mailshot to more than one thousand schools suggesting that they take part in deliberately meaningless experiments as a means of boosting examination results.

According to the TES, Attwood suggests that the schools hand out placebo pills or claim they are making changes to the school’s lighting in order to improve examination results. Attwood cites the fish-oil farce as an example of the type of meaningless “experiment” he has in mind (Can’t fault him on his analysis of the Ford-Portwood brainchild).

The point of doing this would be to exploit the Hawthorn Effect – the fact that people’s behaviour changes when they know they are taking part in an experiment. This would be boosted by getting the press involved and generally talking up the “experiment”. I wonder who he thinks should ensure this is done? (Clue: Hamilton House is a PR firm).

The ethics of the situation seem to have escaped him. It cannot be ethical to perform meaningless experiments on children as part of a PR stunt. Furthermore it is bad educational practise; school students should learn about the design of trials and experiments as part of their science education but taking part in a stunt of the type suggested by Attwood will completely mislead them.

I have always had a low opinion of PR and spin-doctors but Attwood has shown that I have still been overestimating their ability to conduct business in a principled manner.


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