Information is more accessible than ever for smart, motivated people – and, yes, kids too – so let’s allow them to share it.

If you can tear yourself away from Ryan Giggs’ penis for just one moment, I have a different censorship story. Brain Gym is a schools programme I’ve been writing on since 2003 . It’s a series of elaborate physical movements with silly pseudoscientific justifications: you wiggle your head back and forth because that gets more blood into your frontal lobes for clearer thinking; you contort your fingers together to improve some unnamed “energy flow”; they are keen on drinking water, because “processed foods” – I’m quoting the Brain Gym Teacher’s Manual – “do not contain water.” You pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for Brain Gym, and it’s still done in hundreds of state schools across the UK.

This week I got an email from a science teacher about a 13-year-old pupil. Both have to remain anonymous. This pupil wrote an article about Brain Gym for her school paper, explaining why it’s nonsense: the essay is respectful, straightforward, and factual. But the school decided they couldn’t print it, because it would offend teachers in the junior school who use Brain Gym.

Now, this is weakminded, and perhaps even vicious. More interesting, though, is how often children are able to spot bullshit, and how often adults want to shut them up.

Emily Rosa is the youngest person ever to have published a scientificpaper in JAMA , one of the most influential medical journals in the world. At the age of nine she saw a TV programme about nurses who practise “Therapeutic Touch“, claiming they can detect and manipulate a “human energy field” by hovering their hands above a patient.

For her school science fair project, Rosa conceived and executed an experiment to test if they really could detect this “field”. Twenty-one experienced practitioners put their palms on a table, behind a screen. Rosa flipped a coin, hovered her hand over the therapist’s left or right palm accordingly, and waited for them to say which it was. The therapists performed no better than chance, and with 280 attempts there was sufficient statistical power to show that these claims were bunk. Therapeutic Touch practitioners, including some in university posts, were deeply unhappy: they insisted loudly that JAMA was wrong to publish the study.

Closer to home is Rhys Morgan , a schoolboy with Crohns disease. Last year, chatting on, he saw people recommending “Miracle Mineral Solution“, which turned out to be industrial bleach, sold with a dreary conspiracy theory to cure Aids, cancer and so on.

Aged 15, he was perfectly capable of exploring the evidence, finding official documents , and explaining why it was dangerous. The adults banned him. Since then he’s got his story on The One Show, while the chief medical officer for Wales, the Food Standards Agency and Trading Standards have waded in.

People wring their hands over how to make science relevant and accessible, but newspapers hand us one answer on a plate every week, with the barrage of claims on what’s good for you or bad for you: it’s evidence-based medicine. If every school taught the basics – randomised trials, blinding, cohort studies, and why systematic reviews are better than cherrypicking your evidence – it would help everyone navigate the world, and learn some of the most important ideas in the whole of science.

But even before that happens, we can feel optimistic. Information is more easily accessible now than ever before, and smart, motivated people can sidestep traditional routes to obtain knowledge and disseminate it. A child can know more about evidence than their peers, and more than adults, and more than their own teachers; they can tell the world what they know, and they can have an impact.

So the future is bright. And if you’re one of the teachers who stopped a child’s essay from being published, because it dared to challenge your colleagues for promoting the ludicrousness of Brain Gym, then really: shame on you.

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Source: Guardian –