Bad Science

Posted on Tue 03 November 2009 by alex in general

I finally finished Bad Scienceimage0 last night, written by the excellent Guardian science reporter Ben Goldacre. It's a tour-de-force of rage against the combined forces of exploitative quacks, big pharma and of course the media. Throughout the book he lays down the basics of the scientific method and how it related to epidemiological research while debunking the many quack claims that get dredged up by the alternative medicine brigade. Topics covered include homoeopathy, chiropractors, faux nutritionists as well as the failings of real scientists that should have known better. It's all written in a calm measured style that doesn't come across nearly as hectoring as someone like Dawkins can do. While a lot of the basic science concepts were already familiar to me the additional details on things like selection bias and other biases less prevalent in the pure physical science experiments was concisely explained. I feel his suggestion of representing all risks in the media as natural frequencies (i.e. 1 person dies for every 100,000 horse rides*) is worthy of a campaign.

All in all I can highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the way medical science is reported in the media. I look forward to what he has to say in The Atheist's Guide to Christmasimage1 :-)

* I have no idea what the actual risk is, it just seemed a pertinent example given recent events