Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
This is an important book with two main themes. The first is what really goes on behind medical trials – the placebo effect; how many trials are poorly designed; how their data is reported and manipulated; and then how the media takes it, twists it and sensationalises it. The second is his personal crusade against quackery in all its alternative therapy forms.
Goldacre is a proper doctor working in the NHS, and the book has grown out of his weekly column for the Guardian, also called Bad Science. Everything he’s written for them and loads more is on his website Bad Science.net.
The author is absolutely scathing about homeopathy, Gillian McKeith and all the so-called nutritionists, however he saves the best ’til last and tackles MRSA and MMR. Apart from all the flawed research, bad testing and manipulation of results, he is also highly contemptuous of all the bad reporting by non-scientists who whipped up the media frenzy which resulted in a huge rise in measles cases, and thousands upon thousands of non-vaccinated children. My daughter was MMR age when this was at its peak, and I remember telling other mums at toddlers that the right thing to do was to get the vaccinations.
The book was thought-provoking and an educational read for me. It’s one major failing was although it has notes/references at the back, it has no index, which would make it so much easier to refer back to. As a former devotee of homeopathic belladonna eyedrops for my hayfever, it’s still difficult to believe that the easing of symptoms I experienced were the placebo effect in action – however logic tells me it must be so. It was shocking to read about all the incompetence going on in the medical world, and if I’m honest Goldacre comes across as a little bit smug and pleased with himself about the great public service he’s doing – but someone does need to do it -so please do carry on Dr Ben!
5 thoughts on “Quality debunking of poor scientific thinking”
When science is infallible itself, then I will pay closer heed to its debunking of 'alternatives' which were actually the original medicine which science evolved from.Not that there aren't charlatans out there in the alternative field. But then there are also plenty of lousy doctors out there killing and maiming people (aka the cardiologist who seemingly killed Micheal Jackson).Plus its horses for courses re what works for what patient (ideally all medical regimes need to be bespoke to the patient and frequently reviewed to ensure all are still needed). And however something works for someone, surely the point is that it works for that person!
Complementary medicine is one thing, but you can't argue with his work on understanding statistics, manipulating data and what constitutes a fair test. He is also clear that the placebo effect can be a good thing.This book is my book group's choice for August, and we're expecting to have some good arguments on this one!
This does sound interesting! I think many people are led astray through not understanding terms like "theory" or the difference between correlation and causation. A basic scientific education would go a long way.