What I assume he meant is "The outcome I would be really happy with is a better understanding of the scientific method, placebos and possibly the Hawthorne Effect".
It appears that after watching a BBC documentary on Omega 3 fish oils, Mr Whitaker decided to run a trial of his own: 42 pupils, 21 with a fish oil pill and 21 without, otherwise, everything was the same. The story was also picked up (slightly, but only slightly more sensibly) in The New Zealand Herald.
Now, Mr Whitaker makes a big enough song and dance about his results to allow me to pilliory him as a bit of a fool. It would be unkind to say that not much happens in NZ, and indeed this is no excuse. History repeated itself in many ways with the ghost of the nonsensical Durham Fish Oil trial/experiment/initiative/trial (still being admirably hounded by MacCruiskeen) being resurrected - the pills were given free to the school by Good Health, a NZ-based 'natural health solutions' company, who are happy to tout the trial as a success (despite not being finished yet) and give a list of some of the media exposure gained. (Save lazy people like me having to do too much Google trawling).
In a very similar case to Durham, the trial was poorly designed scientifically and a waste of time, although excellently designed from a point of view of getting a false positive with which to spin to the media.
First of all, 42 people is never enough to get any meaningful results - at best it may give an inkling as to the next direction your research will take.
Secondly, the person running the experiment knows everything about who is getting what and how well they are expected to do etc etc. This is where blinding normally comes into it. The amount of personal bias put into this trial (both unwittingly and perhaps wittingly) makes any results valueless. Did Mr Whitaker bias the choice of pupils in each category so that the trial would be a success? Who knows and indeed who cares, because there is so much more wrong with this trial.
Thirdly, what about a placebo? No placebo makes the trial an investigation into the Hawthorne effect - people perform differently when they know they are under test. You remove the problem by using a placebo.
Fourthly, the results are interpreted by Mr Whitaker - again the bias is open to his perception.
He said the 21 students taking the capsules for two months [...] were now six months to one year above where they were before they began taking Omega 3.
Really? They had moved a year ahead in 2 months? Read over that again - they had moved ahead by 1 YEAR in 2 MONTHS. That is a result. That is a HUGE result. Imagine the money that could be saved by shovelling fish oil down all these kids necks! IMAGINE! It's clear that this is just not the case.
Fifthly, why is the trial being touted as a success when it still has months to run?
Whitaker's experiment is expected to continue until the end of the academic year in December.Why is this being treated as a media press release and not a scientific paper? The answers are pretty obvious, of course.
Now, you may think that this posting is an obsessive rant regarding a fairly small study in New Zealand, a bit of publicity and PR spin and not much more than a bit of fun. Well, I object to the following:
1. Children being tested on (especially when there is no possible knowledge gain, and only for a pill company to sell more pills)
2. The public's understanding of science to be further cheapened.
3. The media again showing no basic scientific criticism because they are scientifically illiterate and unable to carry out journalism as opposed to press release restructuring.
4. Lying to children by telling them the reason they have got good results is nothing to do with their hard work, but due to a pill and that's the way society works, so take your foot off the gas, kick back and get on the vitamins.
5. Lying to children by telling them the reason they are not progressing is because they aren't taking pills and not because they are not as smart as other kids or have some learning difficulties.
6. The medicalisation of "intelligence" as something which can be found in a bottle of pills.
7. Pill companies benefiting from all the above, and using the nonsense to pretend their brand of placebo is 'scientifically proven'.
No doubt this will prompt someone to do a formal trial of the fish oil pills. I wonder how meticulous they'll be? One can only assume that (especially with Durham) there is no interest in actually finding out whether or not there is an effect. A negative result would have too much of an impact on the bottom line.