‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre has lessons for us all and should be required reading for all ‘opinion formers’

I have just finished reading Ben Goldacre’s book, ‘Bad Science’. Much of the book will be familiar to assiduous readers of his regular column in ‘The Guardian’ each Saturday, but even for them it is worth having all the arguments in a fuller form with the detailed references cited.
Ben Goldacre should be essential reading for all ‘opinion formers’ and indeed, given the prevalence in the media of misrepresentation of scientific stories and of pseudo-science masquerading as fact, we would all benefit from the crash course that Goldacre offers.

The book takes the reader through what constitutes a good scientific experiment and a meaningful clinical trial and then looks at how various widely-reported issues measure up. Along the way ear candles, the Brain Gym (shamefully promoted – with the connivance of the Department of Children, Schools and Families – throughout the school system), homeopathy, and most commercial nutritionism are systematically debunked. This leads into a discussion on the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry’s products are promoted and concludes with the way in which the media hyped up a manufactured scare about the MMR vaccine.

So why are people so taken in by pseudo-science, by health scares and health fads? I suspect, while the media should take a large chunk of the blame, the real reason is that as a society we have been collectively undervaluing science and technology for several decades. Not enough is done in schools to promote not only the wonder and excitement of science, but also a basic understanding of scientific principles and method. Perhaps as a first step Ed Balls and senior officials at the DCSF should have as their New Year Resolution to read ‘Bad Science’ and figure out how to include its central message in the National Curriculum.

3 thoughts on “‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre has lessons for us all and should be required reading for all ‘opinion formers’”

  1. Sorry Lord Toby Harris but Ben Goldacre’s main assertions is that clinical trials are the be all and end all of science. I have nothing against science but I do keep an open mind. As a natural health practitioner (who’s parents and grandparents health were adversely affected by pharmaceutical drugs) I have spent many years researching the truth behind clinical trials and have found overwhelming evidence that the vast majority are driven by financial interests. After all no one is going to invest in trials for natural remedies as natural remedies cannot be patented. Think Thalidomide, yes the drug that went through clinical trials and resulted in hundreds of thousands of babies being born without limbs.
    There are endless examples but most are not reported in the press, they are just quietly taken off the market or worse kept on the market and the adverse affects are hushed up.
    We have the internet now-do your research. I cite just one example below of the dangers of a popular diabetes drug where GlaxoSmithKline attempted to downplay scientific findings about the safety of Avandia as far back as 2000.

    Ben Goldacre is a smooth talker and for those who are skeptical of alternative therapies, he comes across as some kind of authority, consistently stating that clinical trials are the only basis for any medicine or therapy. He neglects to say in any of his commentaries that there is vested interest from many parties including the government in the way that clinical trials are conducted. Open your mind. Why would any rational person ingest substances shown to have serious adverse side affects. People are totally brainwashed.
    One more FYI

  2. Actually, Ben Goldacre is also very scathing about clinical trials being driven by financial interests and has written about this extensively.

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