Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is a book about the misrepresentation and portrayal of Scientific subjects at both the media and national level. As a medic, Goldacre concentrates mainly on the area of Health and how misrepresentations can effect the national discourse and zeitgeist. But he also covers a wide variety of topics. He begins with homoeopathy and alternative medicines, moves onto nutritionists and the claims they make; then lampoons the standards of Science and Research in the Pharmaceutical industry. Finally, he finishes on the media and its role in healthscares and the reaction to them.
From rubbishing the claims of homoeopaths and their healing water dilutions to criticising the media storms concerning MMR, Goldacre is pragmatic and reasoned with his approach. He manages to argue coherently for an open and rational approach to science and scientific reporting. This is not a simple feat. Explaining this level of detail without being patronising or losing your audience is hard and even harder to make look easy. For example, in the statistics section he contrasts the differing approaches that can be used to describe cannabis potency. A classic tabloid statistic used to illustrate failing drug policy. He uses the quoted numbers across the decades to illustrate how having a knowledge of the actual facts to put them into context is important. The oft quoted figure of Cannabis being 25 times stronger than it was decades ago relies on comparing extreme outliers rather than an average. He is especially good, because that is his day job, at describing the controversy concerning MMR, the types of testing and research that was done and how the claims were exaggerated and ridiculously distorted by the tabloids.
A thoroughly enjoyable and readable book and I really cannot exaggerate the value of it anymore than others already have on the internets. If you want a sample of his work just go to his blog (www.badscience.net). A lot of his work and analysis is on there. But I have a criticism and please bear in mind that this is probably just my own bug bear. He has a tendency to blame arts and humanities graduates and to a lesser amount Polytechnic graduates, like myself. He literally blames people for coming from lesser institutions than his exalted ones and for not doing the same quality degree. It comes across as snobby and fairly arrogant (which he does not normally). It is the type of juvenile crap you see and hear happening between the different subjects in university bars throughout the world. It’s uncalled for when the actual problem is people talking about things they have no idea about. It’s an inelegant and blunt way of trying to say something that he would normally tackle with much more nuance. But this is a minor criticism of an informative and interesting book that is well worth a read and then a ponder.