Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks

I am a fan of Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" column in The Guardian. Several hundred of his articles are available free online at http://images/pick/ His pieces are always well-researched and well-reasoned, and he writes with flair and wit. This slightly edited collection of his essays has recently been released in paperback in the US, after having been on the market in the UK since 2008. While some of the targets of Bad Science are easy ones like homeopathy (which ignores the lessons of introductory chemistry), he does a public service by pointing out how simple science experiments can show any consumer that toxin-removal patches are bogus. This is just one place where he uses examples from popular culture to explain how science works, and how science-based medicine and pharmacy should work. His arguments are persuasive because he clearly explains how control experiments are essential, how randomized, double-blind clinical trials are done, and the amazing power of placebos. Ben has criticized many powerful institutions but it was his remarks about Matthias Rath, a German vitamin pill entrepreneur that cost The Guardian several hundred thousand dollars for a successful libel suit defense. Rath had convinced South African barrister Anthony Brink and subsequently South African President Mbeki that AIDS is caused not by HIV, but by antiretroviral drugs such as AZT. A chapter in the new edition that did not appear in the British one is "The Doctor Will Sue You Now", describes the circumstances of the suit, which was facilitated by Britain s lax laws about libel. Goldacre is a valuable voice of science and reason in a society that does not effectively monitor herbal remedies, where there is rampant pseudoscience about nutrition, and far more is spent on direct-to-the consumer advertising than on drug research.

Pick Attribution: 

Ben Goldacre

Publication Date: 
Friday, January 1, 2010