Favourite pick – ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre


Be very, very careful what you put into that head,  because you will never, ever get it out.
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

I am short of words to describe how satisfied I have been with Guardian’s columnist, Dr Ben Goldacre, 38, psychiatrist and science writer, great work entitled Bad Science.  It was short-listed for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2009, its genre being pseudo-science. I have been towing this book around with me for some months, reading a chapter here and there repetitively. While sitting in cafes and other public venues reading it, I have frightened passers-by with my screams of laughter at Goldacre’s entertaining prose, which can make some fairly dry topics not only accessible but downright funny.The quote at its back cover speaks volumes about its contents in a humorous way:

Dr Ben Goldacre dispenses fast and powerful relief from

  • scaremongering journalists
  • pill-pushing nutritionists
  • flaky statistics
  • evil pharmaceutical corporations

Once you skim through the book, you will indeed start to feel the recurring fact by Goldacre that you do not need a science degree to spot ‘bad science’ yourself. Ben Goldacre writes “Bad Science” — unpicking dodgy scientific claims made by scaremongering journalists, dubious government reports, evil pharmaceutical corporations, PR companies and quacks.

The New Scientist suggested why readers should read this great work of genius for the following reasons:

“There are two compelling reasons to read this book. The first is to revel in its systematic dismantling the nonsense put forth by nutritionists, homeopaths, cosmetic companies and the pharmaceutical industry … The second is for the fascinating discussion of why we are so easily duped. Thrown in the book’s sheer entertainment value  and you have one of the essential reads of the year.”

Bad Science abounds and comes in many guises. Goldacre set out to attack well understood phenomena which are persistently presented incorrectly by nutritionists, alternative therapists, journalists and quacks, presumably because they either do not know any better or because they do not really care enough to get it correct. It is just mind boggling to come to terms with the fact that pseudo-science generally know and even understand established scientific thought; they just reject it (for reasons which may have little to do with science itself). By publicizing examples of bad science through a scientific and repeatable approach, he has succeeded to aware students, healthcare professionals, researchers and journalists to the horrors of such glib explanations or representations.

Goldacre himself described his book as:

“This book is not a collection of trivial absurdities. It follows a natural crescendo, from the foolishness of quacks, via the credence they are given in the  mainstream media, through the tricks of the £30 billion food supplements industry, the evils of the £300 billion pharmaceutical industry, the tragedy of science reporting, and on to cases where people have wound up in prison, derided, or dead, simply through the proper understanding of statistics and evidence that pervades our society.”

On top of the numerous awards for his journalism, Dr Ben Goldacre has received Honorary Doctorates, Doctor of Science, from Heriott Watt University and Loughborough University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to scientific journalism and in the promotion of public engagement with and greater understanding of science in 2009,  and in recognition of his outstanding contribution to science and journalism in 2010, respectively.

This entry was posted in Bad Science, Book reviews, Medical issues. Bookmark the permalink.

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