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The informative and witty expose of the "bad science" we are all subjected to, called "one of the essential reads of the year" by New Scientist.

We are obsessed with our health. And yet — from the media's "world-expert microbiologist" with a mail-order Ph.D. in his garden shed laboratory, and via multiple health scares and miracle cures — we are constantly bombarded with inaccurate, contradictory, and sometimes even misleading information. Until now. Ben Goldacre masterfully dismantles the questionable science behind some of the great drug trials, court cases, and missed opportunities of our time, but he also goes further: out of the bullshit, he shows us the fascinating story of how we know what we know, and gives us the tools to uncover bad science for ourselves.


From the Hardcover edition.
Published: Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780771035760
List price: $21.00
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"Just as the Big Bang theory is far more interesting than the creation story in Genesis, so the story that science can tell us about the natural world is far more interesting than any fable about magic pills concocted by an alternative therapist." Well, no. Stories are important. They tell us what people's preoccupations are, what people want and what they're scared of. Scientifically, Goldacre's right -- but science isn't the only thing to be concerned about. I'm sure he'd think this reaction typical of an arts student who has a belief system that, wishy-washy, may or may not involve a god, and who rather defends people's right to believe whatever damn fool thing they want to as long as they don't force it upon me. That's very much Goldacre's style -- flippant, funny, but at the core you get the sense that he'd like to hit you over the head with the book to batter the concepts into you. Science Is The Only Thing. If You Can't Test It, It Isn't Real.

For what he's talking about -- "brain gym", which I was subjected to, for example, or homeopathy -- he's totally right, but the way he talks just sets my teeth on edge. I'm quite sure we couldn't get on if we got onto questions with subjective answers. So yeah, his writing about science is good, and perfectly clear to a relative layman (I did a biology AS level, and my mother's a doctor, though), but something about his attitude just narks me.

I mean. "The people who run the media are humanities graduates with little understanding of science, who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they have denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of Western thought from the past two hundred years..."

That's a direct quote from Goldacre. And watch! I can do it too: "The people who [write books like Bad Science] are [science graduates] with no understanding of [the important things in life], who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they [do not understand the power of stories, and resent their limitation of thinking that Western thought is the pinnacle of human achievement]."

Oh, and SSRIs: to be honest, I do subscribe to the theory that if they work for me, I'd rather not question it. (And they do. I haven't reacted to them in the exact way I'd been told I would: I had no side-effects, for example, and they began to work fairly quickly. Within a couple of weeks, all the major symptoms of my depression were gone, and though I wept when my grandfather died while I was on antidepressants, my feelings were in proportion to the event, unlike when my dad's mother died and I took to my bed for a week. I have not experienced any increase in anxiety, or that much trumpeted criticism that SSRIs make people want to kill themselves.) So I'm probably too biased to accept a word that Goldacre says on the subject, even forgetting the fact that a close relative has done research into antidepressants and I typed up their results! Of course it would be galling to accept that SSRIs are rubbish and I've been duped. But still, even trying to keep my own bias in mind, that doesn't sit right with me.

I wonder -- has Goldacre written anything about his own biases? My humanities degree has at least taught me that no one acts without some kind of stimulation. If you're looking at post-colonialism in literature, it's probably because the theory speaks to you (in my case, because I'm Welsh and some postcolonial theory can be applied; for others it's the issue of kyriarchy, the way that all kinds of things intersect, so that racism sometimes looks and acts a bit like sexism or homophobia, and so the theory can be applied elsewhere). If you're a feminist, you can find sexism in every text you read (and I'm not saying it isn't there, or you don't experience it as there). More harmlessly, perhaps, I'm a lover of Gawain, and I can interpret any given text as sympathetic to Gawain based on the social mores of its time -- or it's a shitty book, of course.

So yeah, watching Ben Goldacre froth in this book made me sort of want to know why it's so important to him. That's a bit of an ad hominem attack on his work, I suppose, but I do wonder how careful Ben Goldacre is to make sure he doesn't just find the results he's looking for, as he accuses other people of doing, or if he assumes that because he's debunking it in other people, he's immune.more
Very good, very readable, very worthwhile. Will need to remember various choice snippets - I already knew the one about standard homeopathic dilutions being to the level that if you had a sphere of water 8 light seconds in diameter then there would be just one molecule of the active ingredient in it, but there are plenty of others in there. Lots of lovely outrage and information, too, which is cool.

Less cool is an infelicity of language that he needs to look at. There's a couple of places where he either refers to the reader as "he", or to doctors as being male. Somewhere else he says that the Toys R Us microscope can amusingly be used to look at "your sperm". None of it is egregious, but there's enough that I noticed it in the first place and then noticed more of it. And FFS, he's only mid-thirties - no excuse for not either paying attention to this or already doing it reflexively.more
Not much unfamiliar here- but then, this is the sort of debunkery I enjoy, so it stands to reason that I've come across most of the examples here. Goldacre's got a whimsical tone that I enjoyed, a matter-of-fact "you're not stupid, your brain just isn't trained to deal with this sort of obfuscation and complexity" attitude. Recommended, especially if you have ever believed anything presented in the media as a staggeringly important, health-affecting statistic.more
10-star book

Edit - I have edited the review as the book is now available in the US. Truly a worthwhile read, one up for us against big Pharma!

Until recently this book was not available in the US as books that attack big Pharma, alternative medicine gurus (especially the tv variety) and sacred cows like the MMR-Autism myth get sued just to stop publication even if there is no hope of winning the suit.

This is an important book and illuminates the part the media plays in the dissemination of information - truths, half-truths and outright (but very profitable) lies in the medical, health and nutrition fields and why we are taken in. Why the truth is both deliberately and in a very cavalier manner hidden from us by all that stand to make a buck, even peripherally like some columnist for a news rag.

It also explains, after a fashion, the still not properly understood placebo effect and why therapies that can have no possible physical effects whatsoever, particularly homeopathy with its dilution of the active ingredient to the nth degree, still work! We are amazing! The book is too.more
An entertaining and scientifically solid look at critical thinking. The author discusses a number of places where people go wrong in critical thinking, and uses examples from contemporary society to illustrate them. His writing style is casual enough to be accessible without talking down to readers and it has enough meat to still be interesting to someone who is already steeped in the information he's detailing (I did get a bit of a laugh toward the end when he says in a footnote that he'd be intrigued to know how far you would have to go to find someone who could tell you the difference between mean, median, and mode - he obviously didn't gear this book at those of us who have years of statistics under our belts). The book was fun and informative, and gives a pretty good rundown of the dispute over vaccines. I do feel, however, that he tends to downplay the risks of sloppy thinking throughout much of the book, and seems to think that homeopathy isn't really that serious a problem. I know too many people who are taking their kids strictly to homeopaths to buy into that. Otherwise, a good, solid, entertaining outing.more
I wish all doctors, scientists, and (especially) journalists could write like this. Unlikely, I know, but they could at least read Goldacre to see how it's done. A fine, inspiring piece of work, recommended for anyone who has to weight up the claims of medical researchers and alternative-medicine practitioners (and that's al of us these days).more
Brilliant. Funny, educative, committed, deeply informed. The clinical trial - blind, controlled, randomised, peer-reviewed - is the hero of the book. I was familiar with it in outline but Ben really makes clear how it works and why it matters; and far from blinding us with science he shows it to be common sense pursued to the utterance. There are tricksters aplenty and some villains, the most egregious being the guy who persuaded Mbeki to torpedo the the South African AIDS programme . We also learn how the media, especially it seems the British, swallow fistfulls of alarmist nonsense and ignore anything resembling real science. He explains not just what happens but how and why. Ben tells great yarns with good jokes (getting "Dr" McKeith's degree for his dead cat is one of the best) but an underlying high seriousness. Appreciate how he does not blame us ordinary folk for credulousness, but calls on both the scientists and the media to take proper responsibility for their communication.more
The sort of book which makes you feel a little smarter after reading it, a bit more confident in your ability to see through the bunk that gets published in the popular press. It's also the sort of book which makes me feel that there is a real gap in the literature between scientific papers and the sort of things that regular people read every day. I will go and look at journal articles if I'm particularly interested in a topic, but they're inevitably filled with statistical jargon which is hard for a non-specialist to interpret. As Goldacre points out, science journalists aren't often given the big stories that they are best placed to explain.I found the tone of the book rather condescending and self-satisfied in places, but generally it's an interesting read and a good introduction to the important of rigorous experimentation and analysis.more
This is a great read for the lay person wondering why scientist get their pants in a twist about alt-med and various health scare-stories put out by the press. I would also strongly recommend this to people studying their A-levels as it would make a good basis for many essays in General Studies. It is a witty, informative read, covering some pretty heavy academic stuff without getting bogged down in a load of statistical nitty-gritty.more
I thought I'd like this book because I consider myself a scientific person, and I agree with most of the fundamental points the author makes. But I was disappointed, mainly because of the presentation and style rather than the factual content.The first half of the book is the worst: the author makes snide comments about professions he doesn't like. For example, he says "[nutritionists] lack ... intellectual horsepower". He also indulges in ad hominem attacks against specific individuals who he disagrees with. I think he has a good argument, and is probably right about most of what he says. But he should really let the argument speak for itself rather than bashing the professions and individuals who oppose it.I can't imagine this book doing much to convince people who believe in "bad science", and that's a shame because a lot of the points are valid.I found the second half better. This covers how the media distorts findings, heath scares like MRSA and MMR, and how big pharma manipulates results.more
Three and a half stars.I really wanted to like this book. I went through the first four chapters highly entertained and thinking this was going to be a four or even five star book, but Goldacre's tone started to grate on me in the second half of the book.Goldacre is a science writer with a background in both medicine and psychiatry. This book exposes ridiculous claims in the medical world and explains the importance of the scientific method and its nuances. "Well, I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that" is the theme throughout the book. He covers homeopathy, the placebo effect, nutritionists, the MRSA scare, and the MMR vaccine drama. He also really hammers the media for its biased and sensational coverage of health news, its lack of understanding of science, and how it perpetuates that lack of understanding in the general population. He talks about cognitive illusion, how drug companies can skew results of studies, and statistical tricks. All of this was highly enjoyable and insightful.Here's the thing. This book will appeal to people people who fancy themselves a bit smarter than everyone else who are interested in (but not immersed in the world of) science in general and health & medicine in particular. This book was clearly written for people who already agreed with Goldacre--it could not have been for those who disagree with him because those people would be too highly offended. And the trouble is that I agree with Goldacre. I think he's right and I think this book delivers an important message that should be widely distributed, and I still couldn't get past his tone.You can be right and explain how you're right without being an ass.more
I love this kind of non-fiction, so I found this book to be incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. I really enjoy anything that challenges my ideas and teaches me useful things at the same time, which is certainly what this book did. An excellent book, and pretty much everyone in the first world needs to read it.more
A book that is definitely worth reading for all the insights it gives you into the incredible amount of rubbish that is described as 'science' in the media. Goldacre gives a wide variety of examples of stories and personalities from the last few years (the book was published in 2008) in regards to the 'health' industry etc etc but what is really important is that he provides you with the methodology to apply to anything you might read in today's newspapers, magazines, television - as Sherlock Holmes would say "you know my methods Watson, apply them"One slight niggle (and it is slight and rather petty of me) is the frequent references to 'Humanities' graduates and their lack of interest or understanding of science, especially in regards to their position in the media and the trouble this causes in the public understanding of science. While I must sadly agree that in regards to the media it is probably true ( I recently read an embarrassing review of a Horizon Special television programme where the reviewer said that she only became really interested when she misheard 'fairies' instead of 'theories'!), there are many of us from 'The Arts' who do have shelves full of popular science books - and who knows we have even occasionally read them....However, this is just a slight moan on what is otherwise a very good book with an important point to make that should be read by everyone.more
In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre shares his one man crusade to debunk the misapplication of science by those who claim scientific knowledge and the media who all too frequently take the wearing of a white lab coat as the assurance that whatever crazy idea is proposed, immutable scientific fact has underwritten it.Beginning with softer targets and working to a crescendo, chapter by chapter Goldacre makes a compelling argument that widespread misapplication of scientific thinking, is rife throughout medicine. He debunks numerous health scares and fashionable treatments and aims to help readers better understand where science has been misapplied, or should never have been applied at all.He exposes the systematic misapplication of pseudo scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the widespread inability of the media or the public at large to see through the myths created by those selling their cures and potions, from the herbalist to the multi-national pharmaceutical corporation.The early chapters use simple everyday examples, and having established the mechanism by which illusions are perpetrated and maintained, the later chapters reveal these same abuses applied on far grander scales.For example the detox footbath, in which feet are emerged in an inonising unit which magically changes the ‘energy field of water’, is revealed not to turn the water brown with toxins released from the feet, but simply by the formation of rust. This would be revealed by the simplest imaginable test. Switch on the machine without placing your feet in it, and the water turns just as brown.Goldacre goes on to reveal a suite of approaches, from cherry picking data, to sifting through trial results before deciding what the trial was meant to prove, to the exploitation of the placebo effect.The book builds towards more widespread and large scale abuses, including an alarming dissection of the hysteria surrounding the MRSA vaccination program which is a sobering read.As with ‘Reckoning with Risk’, the focus of the book is on medical science. This is not because it is an area any more susceptible to scientific abuse, but rather because its potential personal impact on each of us, draws our attention more readily. Barely a day goes by without a headline of a wonder cure or an identified cause for disease hitting the front pages. Goldacre has not far to look for a second volume of this work.There is an irony in this book. As his title suggests, Goldacre is a firm believer in good science. The charlatans he exposes are revealed for their misapplication of science and this obscures the fact that there are other ways of seeing the world than through scientific eyes. There is a great danger that in exposing bad science, we sweep aside everything that fails the ‘good science’ test.more
We're on the same side Mr. Goldacre.That being said, I was a little disappointed in the way the author presents the subject. For example, his knocking of homeopathy and charlatan "science" frequently devolves into ad hominem. This is wholly unnecessary; we have the upper hand because science is on our side. Additionally, the author's style of writing is abrasively arrogant, which, is distracting. Most importantly, though, this book does little to promote critical thinking skills. The author spoon-feeds us the secret to the "magic" of those ludicrous detox foot pads without properly explaining why it sounds fishy, and the consequences of taking similar products' claims on its word. The reader may be left skeptical of homeopathy and the like (a good start) but lack the ability to personally assess *why* its claims are bogus and the science behind it. Overall, however, the book was a interesting read. The reason I had to give 3.5 stars is the subject matter is *so* important that I have to hold this work to a very high standard. If you're interested in the *value* of skepticism and how to apply it generally, might I suggest "The Demon-Haunted World" (Sagan)? If you want to learn more about how statistics can be misleading... well, I'm currently reading "How To Lie With Statistics" (Huff) and a review is forthcoming.more
This book, by its own admission "a light and humourous book about science" [p.216], sits nicely on my shelf next to How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World and Counterknowledge. It earns a cheerful four stars reminding us "that you should look at the totality of evidence rather than cherry pick, that you cannot overextrapolate from preliminary lab data, that referencing should be accurate and should reflect the content of the paper you are citing" [p.171] whilst having a pop at the scientifically unfounded claims of purveyors of health food supplements and homeopaths and their total lack of medical credentials, and examining the natural wonders of the placebo effect.There is a decent rant at the vacuousness of the majority of science reporting in the mainstream media perpetrated by "humanities graduates with little understanding of science" [p.224] along the lines of 'guess what those wacky scientists have come up with now'. Indeed, in his final analysis, the author lays the lions share of the blame of public misunderstanding of science at the feet of the media "which has failed science so spectacularly, getting stuff wrong, and dumbing down" [p.338]. Partly this is because of the incompatibility of scientific discovery and the news agenda: "The media remain obsessed with 'new breakthroughs'. ... But if an experimental result is newsworthy, it can often be for the same reasons that mean it is probably wrong: it must be new, and unexpected, it must change what we previously thought; which is to say it must be a single lone piece of information which contradicts a large amount of pre-existing experimental evidence" [p.236]. Sometimes this misreporting has drastic consequences, as in the case of the MMR vaccination scare described as a "the media's MMR hoax" [p.290].But there are three chapters in particular where Bad Science earns its fifth star for me by opening my eyes and teaching me something new. 'Is Mainstream Medicine Evil?' deals with 'big pharma' and how they can manipulate trial data to get a positive outcome for their drug [p.209]. 'Bad Stats' shows how to present statistical data in a way to sound more dramatic or impressive by using probabilities and percentages instead of natural frequencies, and the error of finding a hypothesis in the results that you were not testing for beforehand. The misunderstanding of statistics by laymen has resulted in some tragic miscarriages of justice. And 'Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things' has some neat examples of cognitive illusions and why we have a natural bias towards positive evidence that reinforces our prior beliefs. All in all a good entertaining read that has changed the way I read and appraise the reporting of 'science' stories in the mainstream media.more
Really good. Lots of fun, and quite informative. Now I can lecture my mom about the statistics of cannabis use!more
It's difficult to review this book. On one hand it makes some very important points about media coverage and popular perception of science. It also covers a valid point in the discussion of media coverage and marketing; it is necessary to be cautious and to question what is being said. The author also makes a huge effort to equip the reader with the tools to do this. On the other hand, I like many other readers of this book got a little tired with the fact that Goldacre sometimes seems a little smug to say the least. The relentless bashing of humanities graduates seems like a strange strategy as well (why alienate a clear target audience?). Overall the value of this book is that it highlights the fact that many people in modern society have come to idolize scientists and that this, together with a penchant for scandal has been exploited by the press with very detrimental consequences. Perhaps the book has not perfectly finessed the problem but it has clearly brought it to the table and does offer some very valid solutions. This book is worth reading and I'm sure even Goldacre would welcome criticism!more
Very convincving - if sometimes too forceful.more
Bad Science uncovers the bad reporting of science and medicine in the media. It is written in a humorous and very readable style. The author, Ben Goldacre, has a talent for explaining complicated concepts in a way that is interesting to the general reader. He is up there with Malcolm Gladwell as a non-fiction writer who produces page turners you can't put down. Anyone who cares about science, ethics and informed citizenship should read this book.more
Surely a 'must-read' if ever there was one, 'Bad Science' looks at all the ways people misinterpret science, and the results of these misunderstandings. From the so-called alternative therapy field all the way to big pharma and the media's MMR hoax, Goldacre explains clearly and concisely just what exactly is the problem, and how any one of us could easily come to a better understanding of the world around us. Terrific stuff.more
Excellent! Easy to read, weighty contentmore
The title is perhaps a little too broad: there's nothing about bad astrophysics here, or bad geology. It's all about the healthcare side of science: medicines, pseudo-medicines, nutritionists, health fads and scares, and the role of the media in dumbing down the communication of scientific research. Mostly clear and understandable, often scathing and occasionally hilarious, this is recommended reading for anyone who gives a fig about the difference between fact and flim-flam.more
I love the way Ben just manages to keep his anger in check. I think this is a very important book, not something to say lightly. I think it's important to understand how science is done, and the shortcomings of the way it's reported in the press. As the T-shirt you can get from his website says 'I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that'. I'm impressed how he manages to do all this research and digging, while being a full-time doctor. I'm glad he does manage it.more
A fantastic book, that not only has an interesting topic but is very well written. Goldacre has a humourous flair that is at its best when he's clearly biting back his anger at badly portrayed results, for example, or when his best attempts at holding back sarcasm aimed at Gilliam McKeith fails. Brilliant stuff.more
This is simply brilliant and should be compulsory reading in schools - for the teachers as well as the pupils. Goldacre is standing ready to give us all a sharp lesson - tempered by humour and compassion - in critical thinking. Meanwhile... If you've ever got annoyed at a sloppy newspaper report that dumbs down or completely miscontrues a recent scientific development or discovery, this book is for you. If you've ever asked yourself why the government pays scientists to do studies into which celebrity has the wiggliest bottom, this book is for you. If you've ever found yourself wondering why the NHS still aren't funding complementary therapies, or the latest miracle drug, this is the book for you.more
I occasionally read Ben Goldacre's column in the Guardian, so had an inkling of what to expect, and the book is very much in the same vein as that column if you've ever come across it. Ben Goldacre very simply and clearly explains how 'evidence' is manipulated by pharmaceutical companies, vitamin pill peddlars, and various quacks and TV 'doctors'. I usually pride myself on my healthy cynicism and my intelligence, but this book made me realise how much I accept claims made in the media, and trust what I read in supposedly respectable newspapers. I found the book is easy to read , apart from a section on statistics which had me drifting off elsewhere - but thats not his fault, it needs expalining as part of the book. Quite simply this book quickly and effectively demolishes many of today's widely held beliefs (such as vitamins prevent cancer), and educates the readrer in how to look at things objectively. After reading this I felt liberated, and want to spread the word by buying everyone I know a copy - especially the hardcore homeopaths & crystal healers among them... Highly recommended for anyone who values rational thought over hysterical ignorance.more
It was no surprise to me to read how "scientific research" is routinely twisted, abused, ignored, cherry-picked or simply made-up by people with something to sell. However, this book gets specific and really shows you what is going on... how the results of this casual abuse of "science" can be far from harmless. Some parts of the book will make you seethe with anger... others will make you laugh... others will fascinate you (for example the real and mysterious power of the placebo). It's a book for anyone, and Goldacre tries to stay clear of overwhelming the reader with too much detail, but in some cases (like demonstrating how statistics can be misused) things get quite deep.For me, this book is to encourage people to OPEN THEIR EYES AND THINK. Don't accept unquestioningly the words of anyone who claims to speak with scientific authority if they are trying to sell you something. Whether thats pills, ranges of food, magic crystals or just newspapers, books and TV shows.* When you hear another "scientists have discovered..." story in the news you might Google it yourself and find it's just a clever marketing company getting a free ad for some dubious product. * You might start to see through the vitamin pill salesman and authors of diet books, who somehow manage to get themselves presented in the media as serious medical authorities. * You might stop thinking there is some David and Goliath battle going on between evil pharmaceutical companies and heroic alternative medicine practitioners and realise they are all as bad as each other (except that pharmaceuticals are regulated)* When some tabloid newspaper reports some new massive health scare or miracle cure, remember their job is to sell newspapers - and those kind of headlines are simply the ones that work the best.and so on...more
Read all 47 reviews

Reviews

"Just as the Big Bang theory is far more interesting than the creation story in Genesis, so the story that science can tell us about the natural world is far more interesting than any fable about magic pills concocted by an alternative therapist." Well, no. Stories are important. They tell us what people's preoccupations are, what people want and what they're scared of. Scientifically, Goldacre's right -- but science isn't the only thing to be concerned about. I'm sure he'd think this reaction typical of an arts student who has a belief system that, wishy-washy, may or may not involve a god, and who rather defends people's right to believe whatever damn fool thing they want to as long as they don't force it upon me. That's very much Goldacre's style -- flippant, funny, but at the core you get the sense that he'd like to hit you over the head with the book to batter the concepts into you. Science Is The Only Thing. If You Can't Test It, It Isn't Real.

For what he's talking about -- "brain gym", which I was subjected to, for example, or homeopathy -- he's totally right, but the way he talks just sets my teeth on edge. I'm quite sure we couldn't get on if we got onto questions with subjective answers. So yeah, his writing about science is good, and perfectly clear to a relative layman (I did a biology AS level, and my mother's a doctor, though), but something about his attitude just narks me.

I mean. "The people who run the media are humanities graduates with little understanding of science, who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they have denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of Western thought from the past two hundred years..."

That's a direct quote from Goldacre. And watch! I can do it too: "The people who [write books like Bad Science] are [science graduates] with no understanding of [the important things in life], who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they [do not understand the power of stories, and resent their limitation of thinking that Western thought is the pinnacle of human achievement]."

Oh, and SSRIs: to be honest, I do subscribe to the theory that if they work for me, I'd rather not question it. (And they do. I haven't reacted to them in the exact way I'd been told I would: I had no side-effects, for example, and they began to work fairly quickly. Within a couple of weeks, all the major symptoms of my depression were gone, and though I wept when my grandfather died while I was on antidepressants, my feelings were in proportion to the event, unlike when my dad's mother died and I took to my bed for a week. I have not experienced any increase in anxiety, or that much trumpeted criticism that SSRIs make people want to kill themselves.) So I'm probably too biased to accept a word that Goldacre says on the subject, even forgetting the fact that a close relative has done research into antidepressants and I typed up their results! Of course it would be galling to accept that SSRIs are rubbish and I've been duped. But still, even trying to keep my own bias in mind, that doesn't sit right with me.

I wonder -- has Goldacre written anything about his own biases? My humanities degree has at least taught me that no one acts without some kind of stimulation. If you're looking at post-colonialism in literature, it's probably because the theory speaks to you (in my case, because I'm Welsh and some postcolonial theory can be applied; for others it's the issue of kyriarchy, the way that all kinds of things intersect, so that racism sometimes looks and acts a bit like sexism or homophobia, and so the theory can be applied elsewhere). If you're a feminist, you can find sexism in every text you read (and I'm not saying it isn't there, or you don't experience it as there). More harmlessly, perhaps, I'm a lover of Gawain, and I can interpret any given text as sympathetic to Gawain based on the social mores of its time -- or it's a shitty book, of course.

So yeah, watching Ben Goldacre froth in this book made me sort of want to know why it's so important to him. That's a bit of an ad hominem attack on his work, I suppose, but I do wonder how careful Ben Goldacre is to make sure he doesn't just find the results he's looking for, as he accuses other people of doing, or if he assumes that because he's debunking it in other people, he's immune.more
Very good, very readable, very worthwhile. Will need to remember various choice snippets - I already knew the one about standard homeopathic dilutions being to the level that if you had a sphere of water 8 light seconds in diameter then there would be just one molecule of the active ingredient in it, but there are plenty of others in there. Lots of lovely outrage and information, too, which is cool.

Less cool is an infelicity of language that he needs to look at. There's a couple of places where he either refers to the reader as "he", or to doctors as being male. Somewhere else he says that the Toys R Us microscope can amusingly be used to look at "your sperm". None of it is egregious, but there's enough that I noticed it in the first place and then noticed more of it. And FFS, he's only mid-thirties - no excuse for not either paying attention to this or already doing it reflexively.more
Not much unfamiliar here- but then, this is the sort of debunkery I enjoy, so it stands to reason that I've come across most of the examples here. Goldacre's got a whimsical tone that I enjoyed, a matter-of-fact "you're not stupid, your brain just isn't trained to deal with this sort of obfuscation and complexity" attitude. Recommended, especially if you have ever believed anything presented in the media as a staggeringly important, health-affecting statistic.more
10-star book

Edit - I have edited the review as the book is now available in the US. Truly a worthwhile read, one up for us against big Pharma!

Until recently this book was not available in the US as books that attack big Pharma, alternative medicine gurus (especially the tv variety) and sacred cows like the MMR-Autism myth get sued just to stop publication even if there is no hope of winning the suit.

This is an important book and illuminates the part the media plays in the dissemination of information - truths, half-truths and outright (but very profitable) lies in the medical, health and nutrition fields and why we are taken in. Why the truth is both deliberately and in a very cavalier manner hidden from us by all that stand to make a buck, even peripherally like some columnist for a news rag.

It also explains, after a fashion, the still not properly understood placebo effect and why therapies that can have no possible physical effects whatsoever, particularly homeopathy with its dilution of the active ingredient to the nth degree, still work! We are amazing! The book is too.more
An entertaining and scientifically solid look at critical thinking. The author discusses a number of places where people go wrong in critical thinking, and uses examples from contemporary society to illustrate them. His writing style is casual enough to be accessible without talking down to readers and it has enough meat to still be interesting to someone who is already steeped in the information he's detailing (I did get a bit of a laugh toward the end when he says in a footnote that he'd be intrigued to know how far you would have to go to find someone who could tell you the difference between mean, median, and mode - he obviously didn't gear this book at those of us who have years of statistics under our belts). The book was fun and informative, and gives a pretty good rundown of the dispute over vaccines. I do feel, however, that he tends to downplay the risks of sloppy thinking throughout much of the book, and seems to think that homeopathy isn't really that serious a problem. I know too many people who are taking their kids strictly to homeopaths to buy into that. Otherwise, a good, solid, entertaining outing.more
I wish all doctors, scientists, and (especially) journalists could write like this. Unlikely, I know, but they could at least read Goldacre to see how it's done. A fine, inspiring piece of work, recommended for anyone who has to weight up the claims of medical researchers and alternative-medicine practitioners (and that's al of us these days).more
Brilliant. Funny, educative, committed, deeply informed. The clinical trial - blind, controlled, randomised, peer-reviewed - is the hero of the book. I was familiar with it in outline but Ben really makes clear how it works and why it matters; and far from blinding us with science he shows it to be common sense pursued to the utterance. There are tricksters aplenty and some villains, the most egregious being the guy who persuaded Mbeki to torpedo the the South African AIDS programme . We also learn how the media, especially it seems the British, swallow fistfulls of alarmist nonsense and ignore anything resembling real science. He explains not just what happens but how and why. Ben tells great yarns with good jokes (getting "Dr" McKeith's degree for his dead cat is one of the best) but an underlying high seriousness. Appreciate how he does not blame us ordinary folk for credulousness, but calls on both the scientists and the media to take proper responsibility for their communication.more
The sort of book which makes you feel a little smarter after reading it, a bit more confident in your ability to see through the bunk that gets published in the popular press. It's also the sort of book which makes me feel that there is a real gap in the literature between scientific papers and the sort of things that regular people read every day. I will go and look at journal articles if I'm particularly interested in a topic, but they're inevitably filled with statistical jargon which is hard for a non-specialist to interpret. As Goldacre points out, science journalists aren't often given the big stories that they are best placed to explain.I found the tone of the book rather condescending and self-satisfied in places, but generally it's an interesting read and a good introduction to the important of rigorous experimentation and analysis.more
This is a great read for the lay person wondering why scientist get their pants in a twist about alt-med and various health scare-stories put out by the press. I would also strongly recommend this to people studying their A-levels as it would make a good basis for many essays in General Studies. It is a witty, informative read, covering some pretty heavy academic stuff without getting bogged down in a load of statistical nitty-gritty.more
I thought I'd like this book because I consider myself a scientific person, and I agree with most of the fundamental points the author makes. But I was disappointed, mainly because of the presentation and style rather than the factual content.The first half of the book is the worst: the author makes snide comments about professions he doesn't like. For example, he says "[nutritionists] lack ... intellectual horsepower". He also indulges in ad hominem attacks against specific individuals who he disagrees with. I think he has a good argument, and is probably right about most of what he says. But he should really let the argument speak for itself rather than bashing the professions and individuals who oppose it.I can't imagine this book doing much to convince people who believe in "bad science", and that's a shame because a lot of the points are valid.I found the second half better. This covers how the media distorts findings, heath scares like MRSA and MMR, and how big pharma manipulates results.more
Three and a half stars.I really wanted to like this book. I went through the first four chapters highly entertained and thinking this was going to be a four or even five star book, but Goldacre's tone started to grate on me in the second half of the book.Goldacre is a science writer with a background in both medicine and psychiatry. This book exposes ridiculous claims in the medical world and explains the importance of the scientific method and its nuances. "Well, I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that" is the theme throughout the book. He covers homeopathy, the placebo effect, nutritionists, the MRSA scare, and the MMR vaccine drama. He also really hammers the media for its biased and sensational coverage of health news, its lack of understanding of science, and how it perpetuates that lack of understanding in the general population. He talks about cognitive illusion, how drug companies can skew results of studies, and statistical tricks. All of this was highly enjoyable and insightful.Here's the thing. This book will appeal to people people who fancy themselves a bit smarter than everyone else who are interested in (but not immersed in the world of) science in general and health & medicine in particular. This book was clearly written for people who already agreed with Goldacre--it could not have been for those who disagree with him because those people would be too highly offended. And the trouble is that I agree with Goldacre. I think he's right and I think this book delivers an important message that should be widely distributed, and I still couldn't get past his tone.You can be right and explain how you're right without being an ass.more
I love this kind of non-fiction, so I found this book to be incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. I really enjoy anything that challenges my ideas and teaches me useful things at the same time, which is certainly what this book did. An excellent book, and pretty much everyone in the first world needs to read it.more
A book that is definitely worth reading for all the insights it gives you into the incredible amount of rubbish that is described as 'science' in the media. Goldacre gives a wide variety of examples of stories and personalities from the last few years (the book was published in 2008) in regards to the 'health' industry etc etc but what is really important is that he provides you with the methodology to apply to anything you might read in today's newspapers, magazines, television - as Sherlock Holmes would say "you know my methods Watson, apply them"One slight niggle (and it is slight and rather petty of me) is the frequent references to 'Humanities' graduates and their lack of interest or understanding of science, especially in regards to their position in the media and the trouble this causes in the public understanding of science. While I must sadly agree that in regards to the media it is probably true ( I recently read an embarrassing review of a Horizon Special television programme where the reviewer said that she only became really interested when she misheard 'fairies' instead of 'theories'!), there are many of us from 'The Arts' who do have shelves full of popular science books - and who knows we have even occasionally read them....However, this is just a slight moan on what is otherwise a very good book with an important point to make that should be read by everyone.more
In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre shares his one man crusade to debunk the misapplication of science by those who claim scientific knowledge and the media who all too frequently take the wearing of a white lab coat as the assurance that whatever crazy idea is proposed, immutable scientific fact has underwritten it.Beginning with softer targets and working to a crescendo, chapter by chapter Goldacre makes a compelling argument that widespread misapplication of scientific thinking, is rife throughout medicine. He debunks numerous health scares and fashionable treatments and aims to help readers better understand where science has been misapplied, or should never have been applied at all.He exposes the systematic misapplication of pseudo scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the widespread inability of the media or the public at large to see through the myths created by those selling their cures and potions, from the herbalist to the multi-national pharmaceutical corporation.The early chapters use simple everyday examples, and having established the mechanism by which illusions are perpetrated and maintained, the later chapters reveal these same abuses applied on far grander scales.For example the detox footbath, in which feet are emerged in an inonising unit which magically changes the ‘energy field of water’, is revealed not to turn the water brown with toxins released from the feet, but simply by the formation of rust. This would be revealed by the simplest imaginable test. Switch on the machine without placing your feet in it, and the water turns just as brown.Goldacre goes on to reveal a suite of approaches, from cherry picking data, to sifting through trial results before deciding what the trial was meant to prove, to the exploitation of the placebo effect.The book builds towards more widespread and large scale abuses, including an alarming dissection of the hysteria surrounding the MRSA vaccination program which is a sobering read.As with ‘Reckoning with Risk’, the focus of the book is on medical science. This is not because it is an area any more susceptible to scientific abuse, but rather because its potential personal impact on each of us, draws our attention more readily. Barely a day goes by without a headline of a wonder cure or an identified cause for disease hitting the front pages. Goldacre has not far to look for a second volume of this work.There is an irony in this book. As his title suggests, Goldacre is a firm believer in good science. The charlatans he exposes are revealed for their misapplication of science and this obscures the fact that there are other ways of seeing the world than through scientific eyes. There is a great danger that in exposing bad science, we sweep aside everything that fails the ‘good science’ test.more
We're on the same side Mr. Goldacre.That being said, I was a little disappointed in the way the author presents the subject. For example, his knocking of homeopathy and charlatan "science" frequently devolves into ad hominem. This is wholly unnecessary; we have the upper hand because science is on our side. Additionally, the author's style of writing is abrasively arrogant, which, is distracting. Most importantly, though, this book does little to promote critical thinking skills. The author spoon-feeds us the secret to the "magic" of those ludicrous detox foot pads without properly explaining why it sounds fishy, and the consequences of taking similar products' claims on its word. The reader may be left skeptical of homeopathy and the like (a good start) but lack the ability to personally assess *why* its claims are bogus and the science behind it. Overall, however, the book was a interesting read. The reason I had to give 3.5 stars is the subject matter is *so* important that I have to hold this work to a very high standard. If you're interested in the *value* of skepticism and how to apply it generally, might I suggest "The Demon-Haunted World" (Sagan)? If you want to learn more about how statistics can be misleading... well, I'm currently reading "How To Lie With Statistics" (Huff) and a review is forthcoming.more
This book, by its own admission "a light and humourous book about science" [p.216], sits nicely on my shelf next to How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World and Counterknowledge. It earns a cheerful four stars reminding us "that you should look at the totality of evidence rather than cherry pick, that you cannot overextrapolate from preliminary lab data, that referencing should be accurate and should reflect the content of the paper you are citing" [p.171] whilst having a pop at the scientifically unfounded claims of purveyors of health food supplements and homeopaths and their total lack of medical credentials, and examining the natural wonders of the placebo effect.There is a decent rant at the vacuousness of the majority of science reporting in the mainstream media perpetrated by "humanities graduates with little understanding of science" [p.224] along the lines of 'guess what those wacky scientists have come up with now'. Indeed, in his final analysis, the author lays the lions share of the blame of public misunderstanding of science at the feet of the media "which has failed science so spectacularly, getting stuff wrong, and dumbing down" [p.338]. Partly this is because of the incompatibility of scientific discovery and the news agenda: "The media remain obsessed with 'new breakthroughs'. ... But if an experimental result is newsworthy, it can often be for the same reasons that mean it is probably wrong: it must be new, and unexpected, it must change what we previously thought; which is to say it must be a single lone piece of information which contradicts a large amount of pre-existing experimental evidence" [p.236]. Sometimes this misreporting has drastic consequences, as in the case of the MMR vaccination scare described as a "the media's MMR hoax" [p.290].But there are three chapters in particular where Bad Science earns its fifth star for me by opening my eyes and teaching me something new. 'Is Mainstream Medicine Evil?' deals with 'big pharma' and how they can manipulate trial data to get a positive outcome for their drug [p.209]. 'Bad Stats' shows how to present statistical data in a way to sound more dramatic or impressive by using probabilities and percentages instead of natural frequencies, and the error of finding a hypothesis in the results that you were not testing for beforehand. The misunderstanding of statistics by laymen has resulted in some tragic miscarriages of justice. And 'Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things' has some neat examples of cognitive illusions and why we have a natural bias towards positive evidence that reinforces our prior beliefs. All in all a good entertaining read that has changed the way I read and appraise the reporting of 'science' stories in the mainstream media.more
Really good. Lots of fun, and quite informative. Now I can lecture my mom about the statistics of cannabis use!more
It's difficult to review this book. On one hand it makes some very important points about media coverage and popular perception of science. It also covers a valid point in the discussion of media coverage and marketing; it is necessary to be cautious and to question what is being said. The author also makes a huge effort to equip the reader with the tools to do this. On the other hand, I like many other readers of this book got a little tired with the fact that Goldacre sometimes seems a little smug to say the least. The relentless bashing of humanities graduates seems like a strange strategy as well (why alienate a clear target audience?). Overall the value of this book is that it highlights the fact that many people in modern society have come to idolize scientists and that this, together with a penchant for scandal has been exploited by the press with very detrimental consequences. Perhaps the book has not perfectly finessed the problem but it has clearly brought it to the table and does offer some very valid solutions. This book is worth reading and I'm sure even Goldacre would welcome criticism!more
Very convincving - if sometimes too forceful.more
Bad Science uncovers the bad reporting of science and medicine in the media. It is written in a humorous and very readable style. The author, Ben Goldacre, has a talent for explaining complicated concepts in a way that is interesting to the general reader. He is up there with Malcolm Gladwell as a non-fiction writer who produces page turners you can't put down. Anyone who cares about science, ethics and informed citizenship should read this book.more
Surely a 'must-read' if ever there was one, 'Bad Science' looks at all the ways people misinterpret science, and the results of these misunderstandings. From the so-called alternative therapy field all the way to big pharma and the media's MMR hoax, Goldacre explains clearly and concisely just what exactly is the problem, and how any one of us could easily come to a better understanding of the world around us. Terrific stuff.more
Excellent! Easy to read, weighty contentmore
The title is perhaps a little too broad: there's nothing about bad astrophysics here, or bad geology. It's all about the healthcare side of science: medicines, pseudo-medicines, nutritionists, health fads and scares, and the role of the media in dumbing down the communication of scientific research. Mostly clear and understandable, often scathing and occasionally hilarious, this is recommended reading for anyone who gives a fig about the difference between fact and flim-flam.more
I love the way Ben just manages to keep his anger in check. I think this is a very important book, not something to say lightly. I think it's important to understand how science is done, and the shortcomings of the way it's reported in the press. As the T-shirt you can get from his website says 'I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that'. I'm impressed how he manages to do all this research and digging, while being a full-time doctor. I'm glad he does manage it.more
A fantastic book, that not only has an interesting topic but is very well written. Goldacre has a humourous flair that is at its best when he's clearly biting back his anger at badly portrayed results, for example, or when his best attempts at holding back sarcasm aimed at Gilliam McKeith fails. Brilliant stuff.more
This is simply brilliant and should be compulsory reading in schools - for the teachers as well as the pupils. Goldacre is standing ready to give us all a sharp lesson - tempered by humour and compassion - in critical thinking. Meanwhile... If you've ever got annoyed at a sloppy newspaper report that dumbs down or completely miscontrues a recent scientific development or discovery, this book is for you. If you've ever asked yourself why the government pays scientists to do studies into which celebrity has the wiggliest bottom, this book is for you. If you've ever found yourself wondering why the NHS still aren't funding complementary therapies, or the latest miracle drug, this is the book for you.more
I occasionally read Ben Goldacre's column in the Guardian, so had an inkling of what to expect, and the book is very much in the same vein as that column if you've ever come across it. Ben Goldacre very simply and clearly explains how 'evidence' is manipulated by pharmaceutical companies, vitamin pill peddlars, and various quacks and TV 'doctors'. I usually pride myself on my healthy cynicism and my intelligence, but this book made me realise how much I accept claims made in the media, and trust what I read in supposedly respectable newspapers. I found the book is easy to read , apart from a section on statistics which had me drifting off elsewhere - but thats not his fault, it needs expalining as part of the book. Quite simply this book quickly and effectively demolishes many of today's widely held beliefs (such as vitamins prevent cancer), and educates the readrer in how to look at things objectively. After reading this I felt liberated, and want to spread the word by buying everyone I know a copy - especially the hardcore homeopaths & crystal healers among them... Highly recommended for anyone who values rational thought over hysterical ignorance.more
It was no surprise to me to read how "scientific research" is routinely twisted, abused, ignored, cherry-picked or simply made-up by people with something to sell. However, this book gets specific and really shows you what is going on... how the results of this casual abuse of "science" can be far from harmless. Some parts of the book will make you seethe with anger... others will make you laugh... others will fascinate you (for example the real and mysterious power of the placebo). It's a book for anyone, and Goldacre tries to stay clear of overwhelming the reader with too much detail, but in some cases (like demonstrating how statistics can be misused) things get quite deep.For me, this book is to encourage people to OPEN THEIR EYES AND THINK. Don't accept unquestioningly the words of anyone who claims to speak with scientific authority if they are trying to sell you something. Whether thats pills, ranges of food, magic crystals or just newspapers, books and TV shows.* When you hear another "scientists have discovered..." story in the news you might Google it yourself and find it's just a clever marketing company getting a free ad for some dubious product. * You might start to see through the vitamin pill salesman and authors of diet books, who somehow manage to get themselves presented in the media as serious medical authorities. * You might stop thinking there is some David and Goliath battle going on between evil pharmaceutical companies and heroic alternative medicine practitioners and realise they are all as bad as each other (except that pharmaceuticals are regulated)* When some tabloid newspaper reports some new massive health scare or miracle cure, remember their job is to sell newspapers - and those kind of headlines are simply the ones that work the best.and so on...more
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