I know this isn't exactly environmental, but a couple of side interests of mine have been 1) the ability of health fads and information conveyance (or misinformation) to affect behavior, and 2) using science for mythbusting. Here's a case where anomalous scientific findings--gluten causes intestinal issues in some non-celiac patients--helped establish a multi-billion dollar industry and convince thousands upon thousands that they are gluten-sensitive. So what happens now when the same scientist who established gluten sensitivity, follows up with two, more rigorous, studies and finds that non-celiac gluten sensitivity, well, doesn't exist.
In one of the best examples of science working, a researcher who provided key evidence of (non-celiac disease) gluten sensitivity recently published follow-up papers that show the opposite.
A few of the money quotes. First how do consumers react to gluten sensitivity?
Gluten is a big industry: 30% of people want to eat less gluten. Sales of gluten-free products are estimated to hit $15 billion by 2016.
So what will happen when those 17% of adults who don't have celiac disease read this:
For a follow-up paper [by the same authors who wrote the original paper that found gluten sensitiveity existed], 37 self-identified gluten-sensitive patients were tested...
The subjects cycled through high-gluten, low-gluten, and no-gluten (placebo) diets, without knowing which diet plan they were on at any given time. In the end, all of the treatment diets — even the placebo diet — caused pain, bloating, nausea, and gas to a similar degree. It didn't matter if the diet contained gluten. (Read more about the study.)
In other words, subjects who THOUGHT they were gluten sensitive had the same belly troubles, even if their diet contained no gluten. Consumer behavior is driven by perception.
Now that's good science.
So what happens now? My guess, good science will take a long time to prevail. Now that gluten sensitivity is entrenched as a consumer reality, it will take a long time for the myth to disipate in the market.