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Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks Paperback – October 12, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 124 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

British doctor Goldacre is funny and blunt as he bashes journalists, nutritionists, homeopaths, politicians, and pharmaceutical companies—his favorite targets. Many supposed experts, he writes, are actually people like Gillian McKeith, who recommends enemas for forehead pimples and whose PhD comes from a nonaccredited correspondence course. Goldacre also criticizes South Africa’s health minister, who turned down antiretroviral drugs for AIDS sufferers, instead advocating for raw garlic, lemons, beetroot, and potatoes. Weaving in medical history, he covers famous mistakes, such as Dr. Spock advising moms to put their babies to sleep on their bellies (now known to increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome) and Dr. Andrew Wakefield erroneously linking vaccines and autism (which led many parents to stop immunizing their kids). No coward, he takes former prime minister Tony Blair to task for refusing to say whether he had vaccinated his son. Some readers may wish for more American examples and institutions because this was supposedly retooled for the U.S. market. But all in all, Bad Science is a fun, informative read. --Karen Springen


“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. Dr. Goldacre (a very boyish-looking 36-year-old British physician and author of the popular weekly Bad Science column in The Guardian) shows us why that closer look is necessary and how to do it . . . You'll get a good grounding in the importance of evidence-based medicine . . . You'll learn how to weigh the results of competing trials using a funnel plot, the value of meta-analysis and the Cochrane Collaboration. He points out common methodological flaws . . . ‘Studies show' is not good enough, he writes: ‘The plural of "anecdote" is not data.'” ―Katherine Bouton, The New York Times

“British physician and journalist Ben Goldacre takes aim at quack doctors, pharmaceutical companies and poorly designed studies in extraordinary fashion in Bad Science. 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.'” ―Rachel Saslow, The Washington Post

“Ben Goldacre, a British physician and author, has written a very funny and biting book critiquing what he calls "Bad Science.'' Under this heading he includes homeopathy, cosmetics manufacturers whose claims about their products defy plausibility, proponents of miracle vitamins, and drug companies and physicians who design faulty studies and manipulate the results . . . 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.” ―Dennis Rosen, The Boston Globe

“I hereby make the heretical argument that it is time to stop cramming kids' heads with the Krebs cycle, Ohm's law, and the myriad other facts that constitute today's science curricula. Instead, what we need to teach is the ability to detect Bad Science--BS, if you will. The reason we do science in the first place is so that ‘our own atomized experiences and prejudices' don't mislead us, as Ben Goldacre of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine puts it in his new book, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks. Understanding what counts as evidence should therefore trump memorizing the structural formulas for alkanes.” ―Sharon Begley, Newsweek.com

“Dr. Ben Goldacre's UK bestseller Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks is finally in print in the USA, and Americans are lucky to have it. Goldacre writes a terrific Guardian column analyzing (and debunking) popular science reporting, and has been a star in the effort to set the record straight on woowoo ‘nutritionists,' doctors who claim that AIDS can be cured with vitamns, 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

“One of the best books I've ever read. It completely changed the way I saw the world. And I actually mean it.” ―Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist

“Ben Goldacre lucidly, and irreverently, debunks a frightening amount of pseudoscience, from cosmetics to dietary supplements to alternative medicine. If you want to read one book to become a better-informed consumer and citizen, read Bad Science.” ―Sandeep Jauhar, author of Intern

“This is a much-needed book. Ben Goldacre shows us--with hysterical wit--how to separate the scam artists from real science. In a world of misinformation, this is a rare gem.” ―Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek

“Smart, funny, clear, unflinching: Ben Goldacre is my hero. Bad Science should be kicking up the dust on every high school science curriculum in America. ” ―Mary Roach, author of Stiff, Spook, and Bonk

“Ben Goldacre uses a brilliant mix of science and wit to challenge and investigate alternative therapists and the big pharmaceutical corporations. Bad Science is an invaluable tool for anybody who wants to protect themselves from the snake-oil salesmen of the twenty-first century. ” ―Simon Singh, author of Big Bang and Fermat's Last Theorem


Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Reprint edition (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865479186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865479180
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Full disclosure: I am an ex-English major who hasn't taken a science class since high school. When I started reading this book (I got my copy when it was released in England), I was scared that I wouldn't be able to follow along. But I was SO WRONG- this book really gets beneath the pseudo-science (and flat out WRONG science claims) and explains everything in such a relaxed, simple, and intuitive way, I never had a problem. I learned so much from this, and I had considered myself pretty well informed BEFORE I read the book! This should be mandatory reading for ANYONE who is anti-vaccination, or pro-homeopathy. Brilliant stuff. (His blog is great too!)
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Bad Science is an excellent entry to the genre of skeptical books that are, in this country, associated with Michael Shermer, James Randi, and Paul Kurtz. It is a pleasure to read, both because Goldacre writes well, and because the books from Shermer, et al, are very similar to each other and this one is in many regards refreshingly different.

Part of this stems from its national origin -- this is a very British book. As a result, it has a lot more about the MMR-vaccine-causes-autism nonsense than would have appeared in an American book, as the media panic in the U.K. was much greater than the one here. It similarly has less on faith healing and other topics that loom larger in the American consciousness.

But the book also differs in approach. In the quintessential American members of the genre, various bits of nonsense are debunked with a combination of common sense and powerful anecdote. American writers are particularly fond of grand gestures, sneaking into the back room and discovering the wizard hiding behind the curtain. That's not Goldacre's style at all. Instead, his favorite tool is the statistical blobbogram. The main targets of his scorn are holistic healers, vendors of pharmaceuticals and vitamins, who lie and abuse statistical techniques to mislead people into buying products that don't work instead of using ones that do. He similarly rails against the journalists who enable these malefactors.

Goldacre is a physician, so he spends most of his time on medical topics, but not all.

I enjoyed and appreciated every chapter of this book, and I hope many other people read it too.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book several years ago, after ordering it from amazon.co.uk, and am very pleased that it's coming to North America. Although many of the examples used will be UK-specific, and thus perhaps unfamiliar to readers, the content remains very pertinent. Science and skepticism are sorely needed everywhere, but most especially in the field of medicine. In this book Dr. Ben Goldacre provides us with a wonderful primer on evaluating claims made in this most important of areas.
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We're on the same side Mr. Goldacre.
That being said, I was a little disappointed in the way the author presents the subject. For example, his knocking of homeopathy and charlatan "science" frequently devolves into ad hominem. This is wholly unnecessary; we have the upper hand because science is on our side. Additionally, the author's style of writing is abrasively arrogant, which, is distracting. Most importantly, though, this book does little to promote critical thinking skills. The author spoon-feeds us the secret to the "magic" of those ludicrous detox foot pads without properly explaining why it sounds fishy, and the consequences of taking similar products' claims on its word. The reader may be left skeptical of homeopathy and the like (a good start) but lack the ability to personally assess *why* its claims are bogus and the science behind it.

Overall, however, the book was a interesting read. The reason I had to give 3.5 stars is the subject matter is *so* important that I have to hold this work to a very high standard. If you're interested in the *value* of skepticism and how to apply it generally, might I suggest "The Demon-Haunted World" (Sagan)? If you want to learn more about how statistics can be misleading... well, I'm currently reading "How To Lie With Statistics" (Huff) and a review is forthcoming.
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I just finished reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, and it's the most important book I've read in a long time. It's not a thriller, it's a nonfiction work of popular science. But that description doesn't do this book justice. Bad Science has the power to change the world (for the better), if people would read it carefully and with an open mind. It rails against the anti-science winds sweeping our culture, and more importantly, empowers ordinary people of reasonable intelligence to think like scientists and protect themselves from so much unscientific claptrap dressed up as science that is for sale, is on the Internet, and even in respectable media such as newspapers.

In fact, I believe Bad Science should be a mandatory part of all high school science curricula, or at the very least, required reading for all medical students (who in my experience are as vulnerable to pseudoscience as other people). Heck, whoever you are, if you haven't read this book, you need to.

Ben Goldacre is a brainy muckraker who, with acerbic wit and unassailable accuracy, attacks anti-scientific BS and clearly explains how it cloaks itself in a scientific aura, and how it's wrong. The beautiful thing is, you don't have to be a scientist or even a particularly scientifically literate person to understand. Anybody with a brain can detect BS if given the proper tools.

Goldacre's targets cover the spectrum from "quacks, hacks" to "big pharma flacks".
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