Just got back from a stats conference – how rock is my life – and I’m trying trying to decide what to say to the IPPR tomorrow? I know very little about politics with a capital P, or thinktanks, and I was rather hoping some of you might know better than me. It’s an informal chat thing, lunchtime, 20 minutes of talking from me, then questions.
20 July 2007 –
The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) is delighted to be hosting an event with Ben Goldacre, Guardian columnist and author of Bad Science. At a time when science is used to prove everything and nothing, everyone has their own ‘bad science’ moments. From the useless pie-chart on the back of cereal packets to the use of the word ‘visibly’ in cosmetics ads, Ben will help people to quantify their instincts; that a lot of the so-called ‘science’ which appears in the media and in advertising is just wrong or misleading.
Ben Goldacre is an award winning writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor who has written the weekly Bad Science column in the Guardian since 2003. He appears regularly on Radio 4 and TV, and has written for the Guardian, Time Out, New Statesman, and the British Medical Journal as well as various book chapters. He has won numerous awards, including “Best Freelancer” at the Medical Journalists Awards 2006, the Healthwatch Award in 2006, and “Best Feature” at the British Science Writers Awards twice, in 2003 and 2005, and the Royal Statistical Society’s first Award for Statistical Excellence in Journalism. To find out more visit www.badscience.net
My first impulse – perhaps thinking too hard about what has a policy angle, and before I saw this puff on their site – was to talk about the ethics of bullshit. I’m a bit bored of quackery at the moment, but there are interesting issues around quackery regulation, and how to manage the risks and benefits of bullshit, like:
* Bending the rules for quacks when its politically expedient makes them think that’s how its done for everyone (I’m thinking of, say, MHRA and homeopathy, or UCLH formulary committee letting through homeopathy on the nod because of the RLHH)
* The placebo effect is ok but it’s in conflict with patient autonomy and informed consent and that needs to be openly discussed and managed
* Regulation for quacks is about professional self-aggrandisement, they get themselves caught up in “little-ender vs big-ender” professional squabbles, when all we really care about with regulation is stopping quacks from sexually and financially exploiting their patients (eg barefoot doctor allegations over shagging patients), and arguably missing medical diagnoses and treatments.
* Quackery at extremes is v harmful, outside a decadent context, eg South Africa nutritionism for AIDS
* As well as direct harm there is indirect harm from bullshit, such as undermining the pub understanding of sci and the nature of evidence
Plenty to talk about – and I am a bit tired – but maybe better to talk about Dont Dumb Me Down type “how the media promote the public misunderstanding of science” stuff. If I had really put some thought into it I could have knocked up something on using RCTs to examine social policy or something, but after unexpectedly staying up all night on Monday to do the BMJ piece I’m a bit knackered with no spare time.
Also I don’t really know what they’ll expect.