Bad Science

Ben Goldacre
Ben Goldacre's wise and witty bestseller, shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, lifts the lid on quack doctors, flaky statistics, scaremongering journalists and evil pharmaceutical corporations. Since 2003 Dr Ben Goldacre has been exposing dodgy medical data in his popular Guardian column. In this eye-opening book he takes on the MMR hoax and misleading cosmetics ads, acupuncture and homeopathy, vitamins and mankind's vexed relationship with all manner of 'toxins'. Along the way, the self-confessed 'Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General' performs a successful detox on a Barbie doll, sees his dead cat become a certified nutritionist and probes the supposed medical qualifications of 'Dr' Gillian McKeith. Full spleen and satire, Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and ultimately alarming journey through the bad science we are fed daily by hacks and quacks.


Reviewed: 2016-06-24
This book is both fascinating and frustrating, and illustrates that the only way to get the real info on anything is to be a scientist. Data scientist, research scientist, medical scientist, science scientist, mad scientist...

But the good news is that one doesn't need to be a PROFESSIONAL scientist in order to get to the truth of an issue, but one just has to have the kind of critical thinking that a good scientist applies. After all 87.3% of people know that 77% of statistics can be made to show anything at all, and 31% of statistics are made up on the spot. It's a real problem, because 68% of all people believe 54% of all statistics they encounter, and question only 1.8% of them. And those only because they are less than 45% in agreement with their pre-determined position on the topic.

So, what all that means is that you should dust off your bullshit detector. I know that I've had to pull mine out of storage. (There were birds nesting in it. I've relocated them to a lovely tree in my back yard. They're settling in nicely. ) There is just so much conflicting information out there that it can be hard to know what is real and what isn't, and this book seeks to help you educate yourself on how to find out. And it takes work. You have to be willing to dig for info, and not just fall into line with the first scare-tactic headline you read. You have to be diligent in not only doing your own research but being analytical enough to make sense of it, and open minded enough to accept it as the truth, even if it's not the answer you wanted.

You would think that so much of what is related in this book would be common sense, but it is kinda scary how much stock people put in a sensational headline, or a passionate celebrity with anecdotes to spare. I totally include myself in that, and I don't fault anyone for trying to raise awareness to an issue that they feel passionately about. But manipulating facts to make a claim, or having no facts at all and just going by what sounds plausible or "feels" right is not OK, especially if it means that society is put at risk because of a fear of vaccinations. For example.

This book is kind of a hybrid of [b:The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear|9691004|The Panic Virus A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear|Seth Mnookin||14579109] and [b:Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free|6017788|Idiot America How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free|Charles P. Pierce||6193147] (both of which I highly recommend), but with more scientific method... and bringing more awareness to the bullshit method. And it was great. Enlightening and eye-opening, but there's a flaw in Goldacre's reasoning about some things, and it bothered me just enough to drop a star.

Throughout this book, Goldacre talks about manipulation possibilities for clinical trials, ways that they (drug companies, etc) can make the product they are testing (and spending many millions of dollars to develop) look as beneficial as possible. This runs the gamut from testing them against placebo, or inaccurate doses of a competitor's drug, so that theirs comes out performing better, or the competitor's drug causes side-effects from the inaccurate dosage, or running a trial for longer than originally designed (until the data bears out better results) or shorter (so that the results don't start going downhill after a good start), or selectively choosing people more likely to respond well, or not randomizing, or not blinding the study, or moving the goal posts (drug was developed as a pain reliever, but didn't perform well for that purpose, but people are dropping weight like a bad habit, so now they're calling it a diet pill), or just not publishing (or purposefully publishing the study in an obscure place), etc.

All these methods of manipulating the results or making it hard for people to find out what was actually in the study, and yet Goldacre still puts a lot of credence and trust in published studies in general. While I, the cynical one, am sitting here thinking: Why do you assume that they aren't lying? Why do you assume that they are going to publish that they gave the improper dosage of a competitor's drug in the trials? They have a stake in ensuring that their drug comes out on top, and it's clear that manipulation happens, so why would anyone think that it would then be published in their report? Is it not likely, if they lack ethics enough to manipulate the data in the trial itself, to then report that they did not?

I just felt that assuming that reports are going to accurately reflect EXACTLY what was tested is a stretch, especially when we're talking about people and companies with a financial stake in marketing their product, and questionable, shady ethics.

Anyway... aside from that one thing, this book was great. I really enjoyed it, and felt that it was the right mix of serious and humor, as well as the right mix of science and narrative. I definitely recommend this. The audiobook is pretty great as well. I liked the reader a lot.
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