Risk of infection

May 26th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, express, independent, mail, mirror, MMR, telegraph, times | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 26, 2005
The Guardian

· I’d like to open with a sanctimonious moment. I don’t expect anyone else in the world to follow suit, but from now on, if I refer to published academic research, I’ll be giving the full reference, at the foot of the column if there’s space, or at least on the web version. Why this is not standard media practice has always mystified me. “Science communicators” do read original papers and critically appraise them before writing about them, don’t they?

· Anyway, we’ll come back to testicles later. Meanwhile, there are two outbreaks of polio in Yemen and Indonesia. The strain of poliovirus originated – pay attention – in the Kano province in northern Nigeria. What, you may ask, has this got to do with your gonads – or indeed those of the man you love? Well, a couple of years ago Kano was the focal point of a Nigerian Muslim boycott of polio vaccination. Imams claimed that the vaccine was dangerous, poisoned, contaminated and part of a US plot to spread Aids or infertility in the Islamic world. Five Nigerian states boycotted it. Because, as any trendy MMR-dodging north London middle class humanities graduate couple with children would agree, just because vaccination has almost eradicated polio – a debilitating disease which as recently as 1988 was endemic in 125 countries – does not mean it is necessarily a good thing.

· This brings us back to testicles. Because, sadly, the natural world does not quite share my sense of retributive justice, nor does the paramyxovirus that causes mumps. If it were infecting only the innocent unvaccinated offspring of humanities graduates with no understanding of risk, I’d pretend to be sad on their behalf. But no. There were 8,104 cases of mumps confirmed in the UK last year, up from a combined total of 3,907 for all the previous five years, chart fans.

· But mumps cases last year were predominantly in young adults, because young adults as a herd have the lowest immunity. And one in five young men who get mumps can expect orchitis, a new joy for fans of infected and inflamed testicles. If your balls hurt and you’re infertile, you might wish to thank, for their peculiar interpretation and eulogising on the dangers of MMR: Andrew Wakefield, Nigella Lawson, Libby Purves, Suzanne Moore, Lynda Lee-Potter, The Daily Mail, Leo Blair’s tight-lipped parents, and, let’s be fair, every single national newspaper.

BMJ 2005 May 14;330: 1119-20

Published Letter

May 26th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, letters | 5 Comments »


Thursday May 26, 2005
The Guardian

Court out

Bad science is compulsive reading, but is there no redress against the ridiculous claims Ben Goldacre exposes? I would like to see a Lawyers Against Bad Science (Labs) group set up to test these misleading ads in a court of law.
Kurt Weithaler

Big question time

May 19th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, quantum physics, religion | 7 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 19, 2005
The Guardian

Talk about bad science

Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? I want answers. Because with answers like these up my sleeve, I’d have solace and a bigger house. And what more could a boy wish for? But science is the last place I’d look.

So, this boring film, What the Bleep do we Know!? plays the new-age trick of mixing up quantum physics with the meaning of life, consciousness and healing. It includes the notion that saying nice things to water can alter its molecular structure. And they’re not the first.

Scientists routinely barge in on weird stuff, such as consciousness and quantum phenomena, and usually at the end of a career, once they’ve got your attention. If you ask me, it’s slightly grotesque.

Roger Penrose: brilliant maths, name made, Oxford, set up for life, then suddenly, big heave, out pops the book on quantum consciousness. Francis Crick, genius boy, discovers DNA, suddenly it’s 30 years later and he’s knocking out books on consciousness too.

Penrose and Hameroff’s hypothesis that microtubules might have something in them that precipitates a wave function collapse, and that this might have something to do with consciousness, is OK. It’s a nice idea. It smacks of the minimisation of mystery, the idea that quantum is weird, consciousness is weird, and we can’t have too much weird stuff going on in the universe so we’d better collapse the two together. It’s an indulgence, although to be fair it’s a fun one.

But compare Darwin and suddenly it all looks a bit trite. No nonsense for that boy. His last manuscript – contain your excitement – was called The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.

So what’s the difference between Penrose shooting off about quantum consciousness and these cheap new-age quantum truth peddlers? Like all scientists, although he was shooting at the stars and having fun, he still had the decency to label, clearly and separately, what was evidence and what was conjecture.

And more than that, like Darwin, he knew his stuff, which is probably why he didn’t feel the need to go off on one about self-help spirituality.

Read the last chapter of Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman for the real story on the outrageous weirdness of quantum phenomena – the bit where the waves turn into particles is particularly scary – and I defy you to still be worried about your place in the universe.

There are much stranger and more important things going on out there, and it is a lot more interesting than making stuff up.

dont fuck with chaz

Literate Molecules

May 12th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in channel 4, quantum physics, telegraph, water | 7 Comments »

Literate molecules

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 12, 2005
The Guardian

• Nobody is inviting me to any premieres for the US hit docudrama What the Bleep Do We Know!? — in cinemas next week — so all I know about it is the Telegraph magazine article that reader Ken Joy sent me. The film features the work of Dr Masaru Emoto, who, the article reports, has a PhD from the Open International University; it doesn’t mention that Read the rest of this entry »

More Than Molecules

May 5th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, times, very basic science | 2 Comments »

Bad style

Talk about bad science

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 5, 2005
The Guardian

· In light of the ever present danger that I am tragically killed in a revenge attack, or indeed a sexual experiment that goes horribly wrong, I thought I ought to explain how to write a Bad Science column. First, decide who you’re going to bang on about. This week it had to be Susan Clark, of course. This means buying the Sunday Times. Turn to the Style section, that’s where the science is. Ignore the article about “oxygen plasma potion”. Just leave it. Also ignore the slightly hysterical article about Read the rest of this entry »