There are two ways to get your product’s name into a newspaper. The first is to buy an expensive advert that nobody will read. The second is to engineer a news story. This option is increasingly popular because it’s free and people will read it. PR firms call it "advertising equivalent exposure". There are a few ways of doing it, including inventing an amusing anecdote and conducting a survey and rigging it to give newsworthy results. But my favourite is to confidently announce that scientists have found the mathematical formula that governs some banal aspect of everyday life.
One simply has to ring round a few universities until one finds a professor, researcher or grad student bored or broke enough to put their name and their institution’s name to your nonsense in exchange for a small wad of bills. There are hundreds of these stories, ranging from mundane to absurd, from patronising to intimidating, from silly to offensive, and even from implausible to valid.
In 2008, I made a big list of these from the Mail and the Telegraph, and in August 2011 I turned it into a 20-minute talk for the Greater Manchester Skeptics. This went down well, and has been repeated since at BarCampMediaCity, Girl Geeks Show and Tell, and Didsbury SciBar. I’m currently looking into taking it around Skeptics in the Pub groups in other cities — it was in Kingston on August 2nd 2012, and will be in Tunbridge Wells on December 6th 2012.
It looks at why these stories are so common, whether we should worry about them and how close they are to genuine science. Then it goes off on a long and silly journey into the slightly strange world we would inhabit if they were true. If you’d like me to do it for you, then send me an email.
If I’ve done a talk you’ve seen, you can look at my slides online. I mean, you can have a look even if I haven’t, but there would be precious little point, since without the talking you wouldn’t get much out of them.