updated 11/19/2007 12:08:32 PM ET 2007-11-19T17:08:32

When biologist Harriet Ball noticed that a popular vitamin B-enriched yogurt made by Nestle promised to "optimize the release of energy," she was suspicious.

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So she called the company and asked exactly how it worked.

According to Ball, Nestle's representative said the yogurt would "get the optimum nutrition out of your food and direct it to the correct areas" but was unable to offer any evidence to back up the company's claims.

"It's possible that Nestle has found some special effect that happens when you eat their particular mix of B vitamins in their yogurt," Ball said. "But there's nothing in the scientific literature that suggests that."

Ball is one of a group of more than two dozen British scientists who became so fed up with advertisers' seemingly bogus claims that they started a campaign to debunk the bad science.

Last month, the scientists published a report chronicling their encounters with 11 companies.

"These are just a few of the products that particularly annoyed us," said Alice Tuff, coordinator of the group, Voice of Young Scientists.

Technical-sounding language
Using inflated claims to sell products is not new. But the scientists worry that advertisers are increasingly employing technical-sounding language to hoodwink consumers.

In some cases, the scientists say the pseudoscience has sought to generate alarm about a supposed health threat, with no supporting data.

In one recent case documented by the group, Britain's Advertising Standards authority ruled that French cosmetics company Clarins had needlessly worried people about the dangers of electromagnetic radiation waves in marketing their "Expertise 3P spray."

Clarins claimed their spray protected skin against pollution and the effects of artificial electromagnetic waves. Its ads claim that the spray "leaves an invisible, highly protective veil on the skin to protect its youthful radiance" — but company officials did not answer calls seeking comment on how the product works.

Electromagnetic radiation is naturally present in the environment, and is also produced by microwave ovens, pollution and cigarette smoke.

The advertising authority judged that Clarins could not prove that its spray protected against radiation. "The ads made an undue appeal to readers' fear," wrote the authority in its decision, explaining that Clarins had not proven that electromagnetic waves could damage skin in the first place.

In the case of Switzerland-based Nestle, company spokeswoman Samantha Fulton told The Associated Press that their yogurt "provides the vitamins and minerals involved in the body's energy producing cycles," but did not share any studies to prove this.

Voice of Young Scientists is part of Sense About Science, a charity that promotes better understanding of science in the general public. In the past, it has criticized celebrities who promote causes using bizarre and completely unfounded scientific claims.

Last year, the charity chastised Madonna for her attempts to "neutralize radiation" by using a mystical Kabbalah fluid that allegedly decontaminated nuclear waste in the Ukraine.

No evidence
In the bogus ads campaign, the group found that none of the companies investigated had proof to support their assertions. Products ranged from a cleanser purported to wipe the body clean of parasites to Himalayan salt lamps that supposedly relieve asthma.

"Some people we spoke to disavowed responsibility," the scientists wrote in their report. "Others were able to link their claims to science, albeit from a galaxy far, far away."

Tuff said they were not intentionally trying to show up the companies.

"All we wanted to do was track down the evidence," she said. "We were really quite shocked that we didn't find anything at all."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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