Bad Science

It’s ironic that after five years of running Leeds Skeptics, it is only now that I have stepped down that I have had time to sit down and read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. It is, after all, somewhat of a Skeptics bible.

I think I am a poor judge of how good this book is. Having spent so much time in skeptics, I knew everything in it. Literally almost everything. Not just the topics but a lot of the anecdotes and examples too.

It is a journey into what is wrong with medicine, science, the media and society’s inability to filter out the crap. Quite a big area to cover. Goldacre uses specific examples so show you what is wrong with the prevailing opinion generally.

He dedicates an entire chapter to rubbishing Brain Gym. He discusses how the media’s MRSA expert was working from a free standing wooden structure with household-quality fittings. That would be a garden shed then. He goes into detail about how ageing creams. It’s a mixture of chemicals that actually work in trace amounts, vegetable matter that provides a short term benefit only, and a bunch of other substances thrown in their on the off chance.

He also provides a reminder that we don’t really know how general anaesthetic works. Coupled with Dan Denett pointing out that anaesthetics also contain a memory eraser in case things go wrong, I felt rather uncomfortable with all that. Almost certainly better not to think about…

We also levies some criticism at the research behind antidepressants. This is similar to what Irving Kirsch said in The Emperor’s New Drugs. To be clear, I’m not saying Goldacre says SSRIs don’t work, but Kirsch doesn’t say that either, just that it is difficult to know given the data has not been made clearly available and thus may provide nothing more than an enhanced placebo.

Goldacre also discusses p values. Very important for science. A p value of 0.05 for example would mean that for every 100 times you do the test, you would get an anomalous result 5 times. He finishes up by discussing the MMR vaccine. He is quite kind to Andrew Wakefield and points the finger squarely at the media.

In summary, if you’re not familar with how evidenced-based evidence works and why it is so important, this is definitely worth a read. If you’re already familiar with all this stuff, you probably won’t learn anything new.

Bad Science

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 27th, 2015 at 10:37 am and is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.