01/05/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Fourth Estate/HarperCollins. 370 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 2.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-00-728487-0.
check out websites: www.harpercollins.co.uk, www.fifthestate.co.uk and www.badscience.net
This book 'Bad Science' could be called 'Spotting Media Bullshit', as indicated in chapter six but I doubt you could go into a bookshop and ask aloud for it. Ben Goldacre's book covers a lot of issues, especially how pharmaceutical companies cover up results to ensure they sell their drugs. Likewise, how newspapers go for sensationalism - nothing new there - instead of passing on useful information, although not sure about a blanket statement that none don't improve or retract should mean that some might change.
I was recommended to read this book by reviewer Pauline Morgan as a possible candidate for my SF Nomenclature science chapter to show how business companies and the media in their own ways and reasons manipulate science to get the results they want.
With pharmaceutical companies it's to ensure more a new drug has a better profile than an old drug or even that of a competitors to earn back the time and research and development that took for it to be made. If anything, Goldacre could make a good argument to nationalise the pharmaceutical companies, especially considering how much profit they make and control the prices they charge and restore a bit more humanity when a life-saving drug can't be bought by the NHS because it's too expensive. What's the point of having a new drug that no one can afford to use? Cut out the promotion of the drugs would surely bring such prices down. Unfortunately, unless that could be done world-wide, it could some work at a disadvantage. Anyway, that's my gripe more than Goldacre's but any non-fiction book that doesn't make you into a passive reader is always worth a look.
His insight into the press looking for sensationalism first rather than truth is disturbing. More so because, as with the MMR crisis, where people were warned away from the three jab inoculation was putting more kids at risk from measles and mumps based on the results on autism with eleven kids which wasn't even a proper clinical study which would require a far big study group. I mean, that's not even a significant statistical probability against the number of people who have been spared any of those diseases even if it was true.
The information on statistics is very true and easy to change to show any perspective depending on the type of question asked. I notice on TV lately that we're hearing more about standard deviation which is the grey area which information can sway either way in its accuracy. A lot of people are wary with maths let alone statistics yet they will listen to the results. Understanding how the results are put together is vital to make sense of them if you want to make up your own mind.
About the only point I have an issue with regards Omega-3 cos I remember the original Robert Winston TV programme on the subject and its use was never deemed as an intelligence boost but just good for concentration in disruptive children that made them more settled for learning. I was a bit dubious about all the claims for it but the higher concentration pure dose after five days convinced me something was going on when I took it and I have, as you might have noticed, a very high bullshit factor. Then again, a couple of the people Goldacre had a go at hadn't even entered my radar simply because I was dismissive from the start.
Although this book is two years old now, if you want insight into the misrepresentation of science and other such shenanigans by non-scientists then you will come away from this book a lot wiser and maybe have a higher bullshit factor, too. If more people look at the facts and question then the media will have to keep to the facts more than sensationalism and let their science correspondents question such things than bog-standard reporters which has to be seen as a good thing.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA