Bad Science -Ben Goldacre
Bad Science
In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre shares his one man crusade to debunk the misapplication of science by those who claim scientific knowledge and the media who all too frequently take the wearing of a white lab coat as the assurance that whatever crazy idea is proposed, immutable scientific fact has underwritten it.

Beginning with softer targets and working to a crescendo, chapter by chapter
Goldacre makes a compelling argument that widespread misapplication of scientific thinking, is rife throughout medicine. He debunks numerous health scares and fashionable treatments and aims to help readers better understand where science has been misapplied, or should never have been applied at all.

He exposes the systematic misapplication of pseudo scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the widespread inability of the media or the public at large to see through the myths created by those selling their cures and potions, from the herbalist to the multi-national pharmaceutical corporation.

The early chapters use simple everyday examples, and having established the mechanism by which illusions are perpetrated and maintained, the later chapters reveal these same abuses applied on far grander scales.

For example the detox footbath, in which feet are emerged in an inonising unit which magically changes the ‘energy field of water’, is revealed not to turn the water brown with toxins released from the feet, but simply by the formation of rust. This would be revealed by the simplest imaginable test. Switch on the machine without placing your feet in it, and the water turns just as brown.

Goldacre goes on to reveal a suite of approaches, from cherry picking data, to sifting through trial results before deciding what the trial was meant to prove, to the exploitation of the placebo effect.

The book builds towards more widespread and large scale abuses, including an alarming dissection of the hysteria surrounding the MRSA vaccination program which is a sobering read.

As with ‘Reckoning with Risk’, the focus of the book is on medical science. This is not because it is an area any more susceptible to scientific abuse, but rather because its potential personal impact on each of us, draws our attention more readily. Barely a day goes by without a headline of a wonder cure or an identified cause for disease hitting the front pages. Goldacre has not far to look for a second volume of this work.

There is an irony in this book. As his title suggests, Goldacre is a firm believer in good science. The charlatans he exposes are revealed for their misapplication of science and this obscures the fact that there are other ways of seeing the world than through scientific eyes. There is a great danger that in exposing bad science, we sweep aside everything that fails the ‘good science’ test.

Steve Unwin
August 2010