I'm currently reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre and whilst I'm not finished, it is certainly an entertaining read and is providing the confirmation of a lot of "health" topics I always suspected to be a bit dubious.
One of the topics covered right at the beginning of the book is "Brain Gym". I'd heard something about "Brain Gym" before, but as I didn't have any school-going aged kids I very quickly dismissed it as irrelevant. What I didn't realise is how prevalent "Brain Gym" is in schools all across the country. The government is (or was - the book is a couple of years old and we have a new government eager to swing the axe) spending an absolute fortune paying for what is effectively a series of complicated exercises for kids with a whole lot of quackery to try and support it. To quote the book...
At the heart of Brain Gym is a string of complicated and propriety exercises for kids which `enhance the experience of whole brain learningˊ. They're very keen on water, for example. `Drink a glass of water before Brain Gym activitiesˊ, they say. `As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain.ˊ Heaven forbid that your blood should dry out. This water should be held in your mouth, they say, because then it can be absorbed directly from there into your brain.
The chapter goes on to explain some of the Brain Gym exercises and explains exactly how pointless they really are. What I find amazing about the whole explanation in this chapter, and it's pointed out by Ben, is the number of teachers who just swallow this rubbish and don't even question it. Surely we have teachers in this country with the intelligence and courage to stand up and speak out, but I guess it's often easier to just sit down and shut up in the name of an easy life. After all being a government school teacher in this country is not the easiest thing in the world and the last thing you want to do is rock the boat. You get enough trouble from the kids without having to get it in the neck from your "boss" too.
You can get the gist of this chapter from two columns Ben has written for the Guardian: Brain Gym exercises do pupils no favours and Nonsense dressed up as neuroscience. This chapter of the book is basically an elaboration of these two articles.
The chapter finishes off with a brilliant email from a child which Ben quotes...
I'd like to submit to Bad Science my teacher who gave us a handout which says that `water is best absorbed by the body when provided in frequent small amounts.ˊ What I want to know is this. If I drink too much in one go, will it leak out of my arsehole instead?
— `Antonˊ, 2006
I particularly enjoyed this and for some reason found it very funny when I first read it. Maybe it's because this is something I was likely to have come up with as a kid.
I'm really enjoying this book and will be writing a few more posts about some of the topics covered in it in the coming weeks.