Bad Science

Nonsense is one of my favourite words and Ben Goldacre uses it with vim as he exposes media hoaxes, suspect statistics, fake doctors and pill peddlers. He expounds the misuse and misrepresentation of science in a truly compelling way. Always accessible, he explains the detailed science and statistics progressively and logically so that his evidence is easy to follow. I also liked his use of graphs. I would contend that there are few non-fiction texts that could not be improved by a scatter-graph.

Instantly recognisable issues, including the MMR vaccine ‘hoax’ and the de-doctoring of the notorious Gillian McKeith, are well chosen to provide a narrative that necessitates the reader’s engagement with the bad science behind the issues. I was particularly interested in his comment on the media’s role in the dissemination of bunkum. The following exemplifies this nicely:

‘The Daily Mail in particular has become engaged in a bizarre ongoing ontological project, diligently sifting through all the inanimate objects of the universe in order to categorise them as a cause of – or cure of – cancer.’

Well observed and neatly put by Ben Goldacre.

My only criticism of the book is that at times I felt that some of his examples and pronouns suggested that he expected a male audience. Also, he uses ‘humanities graduates’ like it’s a swear-word.

That aside, I definitely recommend it: I’ve learnt a lot from it. Make sure you get the updated 2009 edition for the extra chapter on the unbelievably awful (and surprisingly litigious) Patrick Holford. It really sums up why it’s important that real, evidence based medicine is not undermined by dangerous, self-promoting nonsense-peddlers.

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