Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks"

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If you’re searching for one last gift for the nerdy, science-y type who’s hard to please, it’s not too late to get British physician-journalist Ben Goldacre’s book, “Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks.” I just finished reading it and recommend it to readers of this blog. Even for the non-nerdy. It’s a fun read. And it’s really meant for the non-nerdy to help them “win – or at least understand – any argument you choose to initiate, whether it’s on miracle cures, MMR, the evils of big pharma, the likelihood of a given vegetable preventing cancer, the dumbing down of science reporting, dubious health scares, the merits of anecdotal evidence, the relationship between body and mind, the science of irrationality, the lexicalization of everyday life, and more.”

Goldacre, who writes a “Bad Science” column in The Guardian and publishes a “Bad Science” blog, helps readers analyze evidence in clear, understandable language.

Bad Science book cover.jpgIn the book, he criticizes “how the media promote the public misunderstanding of science, their single-minded passion for pointless non-stories, and their basic misunderstandings of statistics and evidence.”

He slams homeopaths, nutritionists, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and the South African health minister.

He does a brilliant job explaining “regression to the mean” and placebos.

And way back in the book, he even cites my 2008 analysis in PLoS Medicine, “How Do US Journalists Cover Treatments, Tests, Products, and Procedures? An Evaluation of 500 Stories.

Here’s what some other reviewers wrote:

“Ben Goldacre is exasperated . . . He is irked, vexed, bugged, ticked off at 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 . . . There’s more here than just debunking nonsense. The appearance of `scienceiness’: the diagrams and graphs, the experiments (where exactly was that study published?) that prove their efficacy are all superficially plausible, with enough of a “hassle barrier” to deter a closer look.” —- The New York Times

“He particularly loathes (most) nutritionists, especially Scottish TV personality Gillian McKeith. To prove that her American Association of Nutritional Consultants membership isn’t so impressive, Goldacre describes registering his dead cat Hettie for the same credentials online. Goldacre shines in a chapter about bad scientific studies by writing it from the perspective of a make-believe big pharma researcher who needs to bring a mediocre new drug to market. He explains exactly how to skew the data to show a positive result. ‘I’m so good at this I scare myself,’ he writes. ‘Comes from reading too many rubbish trials.'” —- The Washington Post

“While it is a very entertaining book, it also provides important insight into the horrifying outcomes that can result when willful anti-intellectualism is allowed equal footing with scientific methodology.” —- The Boston Globe

“Goldacre … has been a star in the effort to set the record straight on woowoo `nutritionists,’ doctors who claim that AIDS can be cured with vitamins, and vaccination/autism scares. Bad Science is more than just a debunking expose (though its that): it’s a toolkit for critical thinking, a primer on statistics and valid study design, a guide to meta-analysis and other tools for uncovering and understanding truth . . . The book should be required reading for everyone who cares about health, science, and public policy.” —-BoingBoing.net

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