Mumbo jumbo gets on my nerves

YOU know those moments in Star Trek when a senior crew member has to “explain” something inexplicable or bizarre?You get a sentence or two of dialogue, including words like “isomiotic hypo”, “optical transducer” or “matrix diodes”.

YOU know those moments in Star Trek when a senior crew member has to “explain” something inexplicable or bizarre?

You get a sentence or two of dialogue, including words like “isomiotic hypo”, “optical transducer” or “matrix diodes”. They are there to give the impression that something is scientific, advanced, the product of cleverer minds than yours. You're not meant to understand it - just to be impressed and reassured.

The scriptwriters, like those of any other series, are really mostly concerned with people and their emotions. At such moments in the story they simply insert the word “tech” in the script and leave it to the specialists to provide the elegant gibberish.

Which, I suspect, is exactly what goes on in the offices of product manufacturers of all kinds.

What do you make of it when you read on a label that a shampoo is “enriched with satin proteins” or that its “new formula” contains “pro-B5, PP and a derivative of vitamin E”?

That a food supplement “maintains homocysteines”? That a toothpaste employs “advanced cleaning silicas”?

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If a stain-remover boasts of “oxi-action”, does that mean it breathes? Does a detergent announced as “aromatherapy for your clothes” induce psychological well-being in your wardrobe?

Salesman 150 years ago and more were peddling tinctures, liniments and salves they claimed cured everything from boils to your bowels. But the barrage of mumbo-jumbo is more all-pervasive now than ever.

Shampoos all seem to be “enriched” with something or other, all in the cause of enriching the manufacturers and their shareholders.

I've often wondered how real scientists feel about all this pseudo-science. And now I know.

Physicist Carolyn Tregidgo says: “Bad science gives all scientists a bad name and undermines the work we do.”

Meanwhile biologist Kehinde Ross is concerned about “the unscrupulous development” of products “with little or no scientific evidence to support their claims”.

Both are among a group of young scientists behind the project There Goes The Science Bit. You can find the results of their inquiries - some hilarious, some downright scary - on the website senseaboutscience.org.uk

The researchers set out to challenge the scientific claims made by a number of manufacturers of health products. And guess what? They found an awful lot of that old formula politely known as BS.

Now is that something you'd like to swallow, wash in or rub into your skin?

N

What's your favourite example of mumbo jumbo? Write to Star Letters at The Evening Star, 30 lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk .

FINDING ourselves in London recently with time to kill, my partner and I decided to pop in to Tate Modern.

One of the things I love about the gallery is its unpredictability. I visit fairly often and it's never the same twice.Exhibitions change frequently and even the supposedly permanent collection gets swapped about so there's always something you haven't seen before.

A lot of what gets shown there seems to me to be frankly rubbish.

I mean - an ordinary canvas with a knife slash in it? That must be the quickest and easiest cop-out of all for an artist who can't think what to paint.

But in a way it's the surrounding garbage that makes you go “Wow!” when you stumble upon something really good.

Like Picasso's Three Dancers, for example: however familiar you may be with postcard or book-plate reproductions, the real thing is still stunning. I've stood before it a few times and doubtless will do so again.

It can be even more rewarding to be struck by the power of a work by an artist you'd never heard of.

On this occasion, though, there was a big disappointment. The Tate's huge entrance hall - the former turbine-hall of the 1930s power-station the building originally was - was sealed off.

This massive, grey, blank space has a physicality and power that more than matches most artworks ever displayed. It is also my favourite place in all of London for people-watching.

Now I know why the blinds were up and the doors blocked off. It was all in aid of a new installation, Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth. This work consists of a 548ft-long crack in the floor. Starting at one end as a hairline fissure, it widens out to a 3ft gap at the other end of the hall.

Now I'm not sure about this, for several reasons.

If this is a work of art, how do you sell it, or transport it for exhibition somewhere else?

If, as the artist claims, it's “about racism”, in what way is this so?

As a jolly fine crack, which took a lot of concrete and a lot of people a long time to create, does it have to be “about” anything at all?

Most importantly, I hope they make the floor good again when it's time for the next thing.

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