The year in bad science

December 30th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 41 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 30, 2006
The Guardian

The funny thing is, now that I’m in a symbiotic relationship with the bullshit industry, I’d be stuffed if they all went straight. Although in 2006 there was no sign of it happening just yet. It was a particularly good year for anyone wanting to make money shovelling dodgy science into the innocent minds of young schoolchildren. The ludicrously pseudoscientific Read the rest of this entry »

Mawkish Christmas Filler

December 23rd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 38 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 23, 2006
The Guardian

Christmas isn’t an easy time of year when you’re employed to say horrible things about people. I too have feelings of warmth towards my fellow man, and that’s why I’d like to take a special moment, to try to understand anti-science sentiment, not to attack it. Clearly my brain has gone soft.

The key mistake Read the rest of this entry »

Lionel Milgrom – Quality Homeopathic Debate

December 16th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, hate mail, homeopathy | 131 Comments »

Bit of a ramble, so feel free to bypass this post, but this is quite odd to me. When a chap receives a communique from one of the Directors of the Society of Homeopaths, that august representative body, it only seems fair to give it some thought and some space. This charming email from Lionel Milgrom Read the rest of this entry »

(MediaSlut – Ideas) + Money = CorporateWhore

December 16th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, blue monday, cash-for-"stories" | 31 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 16, 2006
The Guardian

Ok, look, it’s Christmas, so we really ought to learn to let things go and move on with the important business of being happy and civil, and divert all our bitterness into contriving divisive racist stories about local authorities banishing the baby Jesus from shopping centres. But in amongst all the usual hatemail I’m still getting from the electromagnetic hypersensitivity anti-phone-mast lobby, I received something this week that triggered, I freely admit, something deep inside me that I could only describe as a feeling. This is most unusual.

Cliff Arnall

You might remember Dr Cliff Arnall. He is Read the rest of this entry »

Homeopathy Debate Video Stream

December 14th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 75 Comments »

The video for the homeopathy “debate” at the Natural History Museum two weeks ago is up, it’s me and Dr Peter Fisher, Clinical Director of the NHS Royal Intergalactic Homeopathic Hospital in Queen’s Square. It feels to me as if some of the discussion might be missing, looking at the timebar, but I haven’t had a chance to watch it all yet.

As I remember it, Peter’s talk involves rather a lot on how Dawkins said something a bit stupid about homeopathy once in an introduction to someone else’s book 7 years ago, and there was Read the rest of this entry »

Take that, you pesky microfascists…

December 12th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, postmodernist bollocks | 90 Comments »

You may remember this little skirmish with the post-modernist posse, where evidence based medicine and the Cochrane library were described as fascist projects.

It’s not entirely clear to me if this is a very elaborate joke, but it would appear that someone has bravely published responses to blog commenters in a scholarly academic article. In fact, as far as I can tell from the abstract below, someone has taken it upon themselves to respond to you blog commenters, in a scholarly academic article. [Edit: oh my god, somebody has sent me the pdf, they quote you and they use your silly made up screen names, it's like reading academic critique in a parallel fairy tale universe]

Archie Cochrane (left, with stylish Spanish gentleman) as a captain in the International Brigade c.1936.

Read the rest of this entry »

Crystal Balls… and Positive Predictive Values

December 9th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, statistics | 45 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 9, 2006
The Guardian

Basically all those childish columns about Dr Gillian McKeith PhD are just a cover, so that every few months I can lay some viciously complicated maths on you, as background to a major news issue. This week, after a major government report, we heard that one murder a week is committed by someone with psychiatric problems. Psychiatrists should do better, the newspapers told us, and prevent more of these murders.

It’s great to want to reduce psychiatric violence. It’s great to have a public debate about the ethics of preventive detention (for psychiatric patients and other potential risk groups, perhaps). Before you career off and have that vital conversation, you need to understand the maths of predicting very rare events. Read the rest of this entry »

Maths Professor Divides By Zero, Says BBC

December 7th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, statistics, very basic science | 93 Comments »

As an infinite number of people have emailed in to tell me over the past 15 minutes, there’s a maths professor in Reading who reckons he’s been teaching schoolchildren to divide by zero. I’m not saying this is necessarily unbridled nonsense, but it’s interesting, for starters, that this spectacular breakthrough has only been picked up by a local TV newshound, and is being peer reviewed by schoolchildren.

It mainly seems to involve saying that the answer to a sum where you divide by zero is “not a number”, which is, as several people have pointed out, “not a breakthrough”. Computers can tell when they’re about to get a divide by zero error, and they are generally programmed to catch it. Even Excel has this feature. Planes do not drop out of the sky. Pacemakers do not stop firing. Anyway, not entirely my field but some entertaining commentary coming in. The BBC news story is archived below (they do have a tendency to change their stories after they appear on badscience…):

1200-year-old problem ‘easy’

Schoolchildren in Caversham have become the first in the country to learn about a new number – ‘nullity’ – which solves maths problems neither Newton nor Pythagoras could conquer.

Dr James Anderson, from the University of Reading’s computer science department, says his new theorem solves an extremely important problem – the problem of nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Natural Home of Silliness

December 2nd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 34 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 2, 2006
The Guardian

What does it mean when the shadow chancellor of the exchequer is using graphology to attack Gordon Brown? Just to backtrack: Gordon and George, squabble, Gordon threw papers across the floor – that’s how adults resolve conflict – George scooped them up, saw hand-written notes, and sent them off to a graphologist to discover the secret inner Gordon.

Now you don’t need me to tell you that graphology is quack nonsense on a par with astrology or tarot. “The writer is not shy. The writer shows unreliable Read the rest of this entry »