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Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Bad Science (edition 2009)

by Ben Goldacre

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,823None3,822 (4.21)99
Title:Bad Science
Authors:Ben Goldacre
Info:Harper Perennial (2009), Paperback, 382 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:medicine, skepticism, journalism

Work details

Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre

  1. 80
    Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine by Simon Singh (edwbaker)
  2. 50
    The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan (gward101)
  3. 20
    Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine (wandering_star)
  4. 20
    Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions by James Randi (MyriadBooks)
  5. 10
    Three Steps to the Universe: From the Sun to Black Holes to the Mystery of Dark Matter by David Garfinkle (nsblumenfeld)
    nsblumenfeld: Although they write about astronomy rather than medicine, the authors share Goldacre's interest in process and methodology as well as results; they make how we know what we know in the field a primary concern and are interested in giving their readers the tools to avoid pseudoscience and bogus "sciencey" claims.… (more)
  6. 21
    Freakonomics: a Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (Rynooo)
  7. 00
    Counterknowledge by Damian Thompson (bertilak)
  8. 00
    The Duck that Won the Lottery by Julian Baggini (vguy)
    vguy: Goes into greater depth on a selected number of issues (eg Homeopathy, MMR vaccine). Helps one understand scientific method, specifically blind controlled randomised trials. For all that, an amusing and popular approach.
  9. 00
    Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media by Nick Davies (peter_vandenbrande)
  10. 00
    Denying Science: Conspiracy Theories, Media Distortions, and the War Against Reality by John Grant (nsblumenfeld)
    nsblumenfeld: Why does bad science get so much exposure?
  11. 00
    Yes, We Have No Neutrons: An Eye-Opening Tour through the Twists and Turns of Bad Science by A. K. Dewdney (bertilak)
  12. 00
    How We Know What Isn't So by Thomas Gilovich (preater)
  13. 00
    De cholesteroloorlog waarom geneesmiddelen zo duur zijn by Dirk Van Duppen (peter_vandenbrande)

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» See also 99 mentions

English (69)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
This book should be required reading for everyone. It teaches essential skills for wading through the barrage of poorly researched media pieces and fiendish marketing ploys that aim to make you make poor and costly decisions about your health. It should be an eye opener for anyone. It is a bit UK-centric, but the lessons are universal.
( )
  StigE | Feb 22, 2014 |

Goldacre explains how scientific trials work, their flaws and strengths, how they can be assessed and how they can be misrepresented; the perils of statistics; the immense shortcomings of media science coverage. At every stage he clearly outlines the reasons why each problem is bad for us (well, the UK, but I'm extrapolating to everyone).

All this he does in language so straightforward that it's hard to think of anyone, no matter how "non-sciencey", having trouble following him. He does it with tongue sometimes in cheek, but also forcefully while remaining polite; no-one is demonised, though many are criticised. He goes out of his way to place the blame largely on the media machine, who amplify the relatively small transgressions of the individuals named in the book.

Bad Science does have a problem with repetition: though the examples are different, I felt at times Goldacre had told me the same thing in slightly different ways four or five times. Perhaps this is no bad thing for his audience, but there were a few times I felt like saying "Yes, Ben, I understand, what's next?" He also makes repeated references to things that come later in the book, especially the media MMR debacle which is covered in the final chapter.

Despite those little things, I recommend everyone who has ever been in an argument about about the safety of immunisation or the effectiveness of alternative medicines - on either side - read this book. You'll be richer for it. ( )
  labcoatman | Feb 6, 2014 |
Ben Goldacre skewers bad science generally, but especially medically related bad science - homeopathy, eccentric nutritionalism, the autism-MMR vaccination hoax etc etc. But perhaps his greatest target is the lazy popular media that glories in the beat-up and distortion of science in the interest of boosting circulation/audience. He has an energetic writing style which is engaging and relaxed, while still successful in getting across complex concepts. At times I found his sentence structure a little convoluted - like he was writing by dictaphone and failed to properly edit, but this is a minor quibble. The issues are sometimes relatively trivial - companies flogging vitamins rather than better diet, but others are supremely tragic - the tens of thousands who died, particularly in South Africa as mental pygmies and science-illiterates pushed the line that retro-viral drugs were poison, and what AIDS sufferers needed was a good dose of garlic! I admire Goldacre's energy in pursuing these nut-cases in spite of the vitriol and law suits - I hope he keeps it up, and maybe more will start to listen.
Read Feb 2014. ( )
  mbmackay | Feb 2, 2014 |
I really liked Goldacre's TED talks and was excited to read this book but was left a little disappointed. Some of the information was really basic (which I expected) and there's significant time devoted to debunking things like homeopathy which I already new was bunk (again, which I expected), but the only real thing that bothered me was how entire chapters of the book were devoted to debunking specific media personalities that are famous only in the UK. Those parts still had good general information, but it's hard to stay interested when he's combating the high and mighty, who I just happen to have never heard of.

The book is still over all quite interesting and gave me a fair deal of good information (his explanation of how stats are manipulated was a particular highlight for me), I just wish it was more generalized for an international audience.
( )
  lizday | Jul 6, 2013 |
A light-hearted lay approach to deconstructing what awful messes journalists and 'humanities graduates' can make of basic statistics and scientific press releases - and actual science papers on the rare occasions that they look at them. The focus is mainly on medicine and health - partly because Dr. Goldacre is himself a medical doctor but also because that is where the media seem to find so many stories on the assumption that people like them.

Other key chapters focus on Homeopaths, Nutritionists and in a rare break from health - children's education. The overall message is quite straightforward. Science isn't difficult, even if the details can be - you test your idea fairly and then faithfully report the outcomes, but exaggeration doesn't help, even if it means the story sounds better. And arranging a non-fair test is just stupid, it's as difficult and expensive to do as a fair test, but doesn't tell you anything and may even mean that you end up believing in something that is wrong.

Ben carefully and patiently takes you through the various ways in which the human brain is capable of fooling itself: much like optical illusions, humans are good at spotting patterns even when they aren't there; and how nature contrives to aid this process via the placebo effect and 'regression to the mean'. He then moves on to looking at what is a 'fair' test through the means of various counterexamples so readily provided by Complementary Alternative Medicine practitioners. It's not that they are lying or deliberate fraudsters - although this may be true too - it's that in the examples he chose it is clear that for whatever claim is made, no evidence exists to substantiate it. It is possible, in contravention of all currently known theory, that some of these practises and products may work - but until you test it with controls against the placebo effect, in sufficient numbers of patients and duration, with 'blinded' and properly randomised procedures, to avoid regression to the mean and bias, you can't know if it is working. It's not the product per se that Ben has a problem with, it's the methods used to claim it works.
Conventional medicine isn't of course immune from this either, and Ben spends a while discussing how they can be even more creative in presenting artificially good news. But just because a pharmaceutical company has presented misleading data doesn't mean therefore that the CAM product is better or vice versa.

Occasionally he gets bogged down in details, and sometimes he skips a few steps that perhaps would be clearer if they fully explained - a tricky line to draw. I'm not sure how much basic understanding is required to read this - some definitely, especially familiarity with logical arguments. So it isn't suitable for just anybody. There are numerous references at the back to the various papers and studies he’s quoting. But because he wants this read easily they are not numbered in the text – which makes them hard to check. 'Humanities graduates' get a few ad hominem attacks levelled against them. I don't know if a newspaper editor is more or less likely to be a humanities graduate, but the practise of assigning high profile science stories to a general reporter rather than a specialist science correspondent does seem to bring out the worst in reporting standards.

What to do about it - this is perhaps the weakest point in Ben's book. Other than calling for a national trials database he makes few suggestions. You should read the method and results sections for the published paper that underlies any story - if you can't find a published paper then the story is probably rubbish to start with. But who has time to read and check such things? Ask searching questions. Or else treat almost everything you come across with a great deal of scepticism.

The light hearted tone prevails though. Although many people are silly, truth and wisdom will out, especially if you read this worthwhile book and think about what underlies some of the assertions the media and CAM are trying to tell you. Besides in many places it's also quite funny.

The differences between this and the latest re-print, is that the new impression contains an extra chapter on the exploits of one Mattias Rath, who was suing Ben at the time of the first printing. All the gory details including the entirety of the new chapter, can be found on Ben's Blog - Ben on Rath ( )
  reading_fox | Jun 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Ben Goldacre is exasperated. He’s not exactly angry — that would be much less fun to read — except in certain circumstances. He is irked, vexed, bugged, ticked off at the sometimes inadvertent (because of stupidity) but more often deliberate deceptions perpetrated in the name of science. And he wants you, the reader, to share his feelings.
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Let me tell you how bad things have become.
The aim of this book is that you should be future-proofed against new variants of bullshit.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the bad science we're fed by the worst of the hacks and the quacks! When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an 'Aqua Detox' footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he'd try the same at home. 'Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General', using his girlfriend's Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: 'before my very eyes, the world's first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend's immorality.' Dr Ben Goldacre is the author of the 'Bad Science' column in the Guardian and his book is about all the 'bad science' we are constantly bombarded with in the media and in advertising. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own 'bad science' moments -- from the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word 'visibly' in cosmetics ads.This book will help people to quantify their instincts -- that a lot of the so-called 'science' which appears in the media and in advertising is just wrong or misleading. Satirical and amusing -- and unafraid to expose the ridiculous -- it provides the reader with the facts they need to differentiate the good from the bad. Full of spleen, this is a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the world of 'bad science'.
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Everyone has their own 'bad science' moments, encompassing everything from the useless pie charts on the back of cereal boxes to the use of the word 'visibly' in cosmetics adverts. Full of spleen, Ben Goldacre takes the reader on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the world of bad science.… (more)

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