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Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks Paperback – 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
“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
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Top Customer Reviews
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".
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.
I am a scientist myself, but I still find this book worth each second I spent on it. (I am sure I will read it again many times over!) Ben Goldacre is doing a great service to humanity and science by checking on the bad science.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about sense and sensibility in their day to day life + 'science' news that effect public spending, opinions, and behaviour.