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Review: ‘Bad Science’ – Ben Goldacre PDF Print E-mail
Written by Iain   
Tuesday, 25 August 2009 14:27
I’m not entirely sure why I bought this book, since I was fairly certain it would tell me nothing I didn’t already know.  I already take a dim view of homeopathy and alternative therapy in general, believe that the tactics of big pharmaceuticals are hardly above-board, and, the main focus of the book, that science reporting in the mainstream media is at best a bit thin.

So perhaps I bought it for reassurance, but as it turns out there were some real eye openers.  Of particular enjoyment was the chapter on Dr Gillian McKeith PhD – her titles incidentally are not accredited.  This chapter also contains an amusing brief history of nutritionism – if you eat any Kellogg’s cereal for breakfast be warned that the origins of this company were in creating granola bars and the like “as a route to abstinence”.

McKeith, along with other self-proclaimed nutrition and alternative therapists, promote a seemingly benign approach medicine.  This approach though is certainly lacking should anyone dare to criticise their methods.  For example, apparently a tactic of Professor Patrick Holford (another nutritionist with an un-accredited title) is to throw a hissy-fit at authors of any study finding flaw with his work, questioning their integrity, and accusing them of being pawns of the pharmaceutical industry.

Crucially though both the above and others have been taken very seriously in the mainstream media, demonstrating the lazy and downright wrong journalism that has propagated in the field of science that surely wouldn’t be tolerated in any other topic.  If ever your cynicism alert goes off when you read phrases like “research has shown” or “an expert in [insert subject here]” you may find enlightenment in this book, and turn that alert into a full-blown bullshit detector.

Goldacre himself is a doctor, working full-time for the NHS, so understandably the vast bulk of this book concentrates on examples from the field of medicine.  But his approach can be applied to any scientific field.  As our technology continues to advance at an ever increasing rate, scare stories (some admittedly valid, simply because there are many unknowns, e.g. grey goo) are likely to abound.  Books like this are crucial in helping us assimilate the facts, before the media scare the bejesus out of us unnecessarily. esm69ky57r
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