Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Bad Science book is out

A brief recommendation: Ben Goldacre's Bad Science (Fourth Estate, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0007240197) is in print. For the benefit of the unconverted: Ben Goldacre is a writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor who writes the regular Bad Science column in the Guardian (the accompanying Bad Science website has a full archive and discussion forums).

The book's targets include health charlatans, dishonest advertising, media propagation of poorly-evidenced health factoids, drug manufacturers' medicalisation of problems of the human condition, and so on. The style promises to be like Goldacre's newspaper column - witty, aggressive and accessible (the description "tiggerish" has been used of his persona) but unafraid to tackle complex scientific issues such as double-blinded controlled trials, the statistics of evidence, and the placebo effect. His view is that the public is not stupid, merely steered toward wrong conclusions by a flood of media misinformation (such as a popular newspaper's crusade - documented here - "to divide all the inanimate objects in the world into those that cause or cure cancer") and the media's pull toward formulaic stories (a breakthrough or a controversy sells better than a report of the generally tentative and provisional results that scientific research usually provides).

See The Medicalisation of Everyday Life and The media’s MMR hoax for extracts from the book. Goldacre is interviewed here in the Daily Telegraph, where he argues that CP Snow's "Two Cultures" sciences vs. humanities miscommunication still exists, and has even worsened: "At least in Snow's era, science was just ignored - now people feel entitled to wade in and pass comment. It seems that science is being deliberately misrepresented and undermined".
- Ray

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