A quick fix would stop drug firms bending the truth

February 26th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, big pharma, hiding data, regulating research, systematic reviews | 43 Comments »

It’s not just about Prozac. Our failure to properly regulate testing in the pharmaceutical industry has devastating costs

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Wednesday February 27 2008

Yesterday the journal PLoS Medicine published a study which combined the results of 47 trials on some antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, and found only minimal benefits over placebo, except for the most depressed patients. It has been misreported as a definitive nail in the coffin: this is not true. It was a restricted analysis [see below] but, more importantly, on the question of antidepressants, it added very little. We already knew that SSRIs give only a modest benefit in mild and moderate depression and, indeed, for some time now, the NICE guidelines themselves have actively advised against using them in milder cases since Read the rest of this entry »

Where’s your ethics committee now, science boy? – updated with letter

February 23rd, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, regulating research | 38 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday February 23 2008

People have done some terrible things, over the years, with science, and with their science skills. I’m talking about Zyklon B, electrocuting gay people straight, torturing people in concentration camps, leaving syphillis untreated in large numbers of black men for an experiment (without telling them, in the US, until the 1970s), and more. Stuff where it’s hard to find any humour. Read the rest of this entry »

Magnificent torrent of canards in parliament from David Tredinnick MP

February 20th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in africa, bad science, homeopathy | 50 Comments »

David Tredinnick is conservative MP for Bosworth (he was suspended without pay during the cash for questions scandal) and very keen on alternative therapies. Here is a fabulous speech from him in parliament yesterday. As you can see, he talks up the use of homeopathy as a treatment for HIV, malaria, and a whole host of other problems, including TB, urinary infections, diarrhoea, skin eruptions, diabetes, epilepsy, eye infections, intestinal parasites, cancer, Read the rest of this entry »

Banging your head repeatedly against the brick wall of teachers’ stupidity helps increase blood flow to your frontal lobes

February 16th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym | 105 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday February 16 2008

As time passes, largely against my will, I have become a student of nonsense. More importantly, I’ve become interested in why some forms of nonsense can lucratively persist, where others quietly fail. Brain Gym continues to produce more email than almost any other subject: usually it is from teachers, eager to defend the practice, but also from children, astonished at the sheer stupidity of what they are being taught.

As you will remember, Brain Gym is a set of perfectly good fun exercise break ideas for kids, which costs a packet and comes attached to a bizarre and entirely bogus pseudoscientific explanatory framework. They tell you to rub either side of your breast bone, in a special Brain Gym way called Brain Buttons: “This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen-carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation. Brain buttons lie directly over and stimulate the carotid arteries.” Through your ribcage. Without using scissors. Read the rest of this entry »

Foreign substances in your precious bodily fluids

February 9th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, references, scare stories, statistics | 45 Comments »

You’ll find fluoride in tea, beer and fish, which might sound like a balanced diet to you. This week Alan Johnson announced a major new push for putting it in the drinking water, with some very grand promises, and in the face of serious opposition.

General Ripper first developed his theories about environmental poisoning and bodily fluids when he experienced impotence, fatigue, and a pervasive sense of emptiness during the physical act of love. Read the rest of this entry »

Trivial Disputes

February 2nd, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in badscience, bbc, climate change, drurrrgs, independent, telegraph | 46 Comments »

There are no difficult ideas in this column. Like, for example, when I tell you about the Daily Telegraph front page headline which says “Abuse of cannabis puts 500 a week in hospital”, and it turns out they’re actually quoting a figure from a report on the number of people having contact with any drug treatment service of any variety. The colossal majority of these, of course, are outpatient appointments for drugs counselling, not hospital admissions. So there are not 500 people a week suddenly being put into hospital by cannabis. But this is not a news story: like their recurring dodgy abortion figures, it is the venal moralising of a passing puritan, dressed up in posh numbers.

Similarly, there’s nothing very complicated about a report from CNW Marketing in Oregon, which the Independent’s motoring correspondent has now quoted (twice) in his attempt to demonstrate that Hummers, Jeeps, and various other cars the size of a small caravan are – “in fact” – greener than smaller hybrid cars like the Prius. Because readers love a quirky paradox.

CNW, a car industry marketing firm, manage to do this by making calculations over the lifetime of a car. They decide that about 90% of the environmental cost of a car’s lifetime environmental impact is from its manufacture and recycling, not the fuel it burns whilst tootling around. This is the polar opposite of all other life-cycle analyses. CNW include all kinds of funny things to make their numbers work, like the erosion of the road surface of the people who travel to the car factory.

They also decide, for the purposes of their calculation, that people will keep their giant, cyclist-killing Jeeps for twice as long as their green hybrid cars, and if you think that is a leap of faith, they also decide that Prius drivers will travel about half as many miles a year as Jeep drivers.

This may be true if you observe the behaviour of people who choose to buy these cars. But it’s hard to see how it is a factor for anyone making a new purchasing decision, since you’re probably going to drive as much as you’re going to drive, and buying a 4×4 is not suddenly going to turn you overnight into a chubby, middle-class parent driving your children 400 yards to school. Read the rest of this entry »