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Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

I picked this up in Waterstones, after a quick browse.  It is more or less a book version of Ben’s blog, which in turn is related to his column in the Guardian.  It’s a reasonably entertaining exposé of newspaper journalism concerning health stories.

The main topics covered are: nutritionists, MMR, and homeopathy.  In order: he dislikes them, stupid scare story by ignorant journalists, and it doesn’t work – at all.  There is some exposition explaining the wonders of the placebo effect and the workings of newspaper publishers.  He is also considerably influenced by good old C P Snow’s two cultures idea.  In other words, newspapers are run by arts graduates who prefer authority figures, and ignore educated science graduates, who understand scientific theory and are capable of reading papers and interpreting them.

As a literate science graduate myself, I can sympathise to a large degree.  However, interpreting papers is a damn sight harder than he makes out, although he does at least give strong references to two other books that are medical course textbooks on the topic.

Ben also writes somewhat as if he has a chip on his shoulder about this, and is rather inclined to commit the same sins: referencing a paper and citing conclusions from it as authority, and not always presenting the results as he would have the newspapers do.

I can’t and won’t disagree with anything he presents – I strongly suspect he is absolutely correct in his main themes, even though his writing style leaves me a very little bit cautious about accepting all his conclusions.  Which is no doubt as he would prefer it.

Currently reading: The Compleat Angler, Isaac Walton.

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