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Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks Hardcover – International Edition, October 12, 2010
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"For sheer savagery, the illusion-destroying, joyous attack on the self-regarding, know-nothing orthodoxies of the modern middle classes, Bad Science can not be beaten. You'll laugh your head off, then throw all those expensive health foods in the bin."
— The Observer (U.K.)
"One of the essential reads of the year."
— New Scientist
"If you were to pick up just one non-fiction book this year, you'd do well to make it this one."
— Daily Mail
"Thousands of books are enjoyable; many are enlightening; only a very few will ever rate as necessary to social health. This is one of them."
— The Independent
"It should be on the national curriculum."
— Time Out (five stars)
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Aside from all that, for the rest of us it's still a very worthwhile read, because we can never hear too many times that we should use the scientific method and embrace evidence-based medicine, and we rarely hear it in a voice as entertaining as Goldacre's. Like some of the less-favorable reviews point out, the book is a bit repetitive and shrill at times (Goldacre seems to have a particular ax to grind with yuppies with humanities backgrounds), and very Brit-centric, so some might say five stars is a stretch. If the subject matter were less important I'd probably agree, but taken as a whole package the combination of importance and readability makes it a standout. Strongly recommended.
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". He lays bare the alternative realities in which live detox treatments, ear candling, anti-aging cosmetics, homeopathy, diet experts, antioxidants, pharmaceutical companies with large advertising budgets, vaccine opponents, and most frightening of all, people who oppose antiretroviral therapy for AIDS and argue that HIV does not cause this disease.
In my opinion, the author is utterly fair in his arguments. But he is not always nice. (Is there a reason why he should be?) Ben Goldacre is my new hero, slaying dragons of ignorance and going head-to-head in intellectual combat with some of the most hysterically irrational elements in society today.
Along the way as you read this entertaining book, you'll learn what you need to know about clinical trials, about the power and limitations of statistics, and about how to think critically, to become a little Ben Goldacre yourself.
My favorite quote from the book is one of the best science quotes of all time:
The plural of "anecdote" is not "data".
Overall, I almost put this book down permanently a handful of times, but I'm a masochist when it comes to bettering myself.
Certainly there is a lot of data here, and it is not a book you are going to fly through and come out the other end with a complete understanding of the issues. At least if you are not a 'rocket scientist to begin with'. I had to work my way through some of the statistical analysis parts, which, by the way, are one of the keys to understanding the issues, and had to take my time to ensure I fully grasped the implications of the data presented.
That's not to say this isn't a good read, just that it will make you think.
Much of what is presented in this book finds its way into the follow up where the focus is sharper and perhaps more cutting. While it is not necessary to read this one before Bad Pharma it certainly sets the scene.
Poor science, poor study design, poor analysis and very poor reporting all contribute to the problem. Credibility clearly is the looser and self interest the driver.