In praise of chaotic puerile disseminated investigative journalism

March 20th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dore | 16 Comments »

Here’s a video of the bloggers’ session at the totally excellent Convention On Modern Liberty a few weeks ago. My bit starts at 11min:10secs, and I speak in a crescendoingly impassioned manner in praise of chaotic puerile disseminated investigative journalism, this time in relation to the Dore “miracle cure for dyslexia” saga.

Although this was off the cuff, it’s an analysis I absolutely stand by: documenting and indexing your whims, analyses and meandering investigations; following your own passions and fleeting obsessions rather than any commercial imperative; throwing in asides from your own fields and abilities…all of this can painlessly generate novel investigative content of real value, as long as it is online, searchable, and linkable.

Apologies if this was extremely obvious to you already.

Other joys include Brian Eno and Will Hutton, Cohen and Rusbridger, some toffs, my black helicopter friends and much more. I can’t find the video of the final plenary with Billy Bragg and Cory Doctorow which I missed but I’m sure it was great.


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If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

16 Responses



  1. The Biologista said,

    March 20, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Good talk and an excellent point. I think we’re living in a time where significant parts of the traditional media are still struggling to understand this vast immortal hivemind that we’re all becoming a part of. Until they do, we’re going to see many more Streisand Effect Events. Which should be tremendous fun.

  2. biggerpills said,

    March 20, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Interesting points by Phil Booth of NO2ID on “action that gets big numbers… media coverage, and action that has effect”. Followed on nicely from the points on media coverage vs blog posts on DORE.

  3. CDavis said,

    March 20, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    That was splendid, BG. Rich, funny and very informative.

    You’re getting bloody good at this. I look forward to your TED d├ębut.

  4. spititout said,

    March 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Egad Ben, when are you going to splash out on a decent tank top?

    Excellent piece, though. Shame Jenni B didn’t have enough confidence in her stance to take part.

    Loved your book. You really ARE the man! We all owe you a great deal for the stuff you do.

    Sorry for the rather “speak your branes” comment.

  5. Dr Jim said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    This is absolutely right. The cumulative efforts of numerous obsessively interested parties, aiming to understand, document and get to the bottom of “big quackery” (great term by the way) is possibly the best approach that can be taken. It is a united approach, which gives it added value to the wider public, and by acting in an Ant-like unison, helps keep the information in the public domain and prevent any one person from being bullied by the lawyers of Big Quackery.

    In fact, it all sounds like another discipline we all know and love; the way we go about researching science.

    p.s. this seemed like a pretty informal gathering; what was with all the walking around in the audience throughout?

  6. gimpyblog said,

    March 21, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Thanks for the completely unjustified namecheck. Brainduck did the bulk of the work on Dore.
    Interesting point about the obsessiveness on detail that other people just don’t care about. Since you’ve outed me as a molecular biologist I suppose I should explain the similarities between my professional work and my blogging hobby. The nature of my work is that I have to become obsessive about the fine details, at the level of molecular interactions, of certain pathways in a biological system that is only of real interest in my field. My research progresses by the accumulation of tiny detail and working out how these details function together in forming pathways of molecular machines. The blogging is orthologous to this process, but perhaps easiser because detail can be found with less effort because of transparency in government and accounting. Nature is often less amenable to scrutiny.

    Anyway thought you were the most coherent speaker in that clip, although you overstate the power of blogging and understate your role in the Dore story – it’s hard to expand your audience without the help of journalists.

    The silly woman confusing dubious pseudo-bloggers the TaxPayersAlliance manipulating government stats for political means with empirical reasoning represents adangerous strand of investigative journalism though. She neatly encapsulates journalists aims of embaressing people or getting the bold headline through a manipulation of statistics (not that government don’t do the same – but two wrongs don’t make a right).

    PS Nice use of Big Quacka.

  7. Pro-reason said,

    March 21, 2009 at 9:51 am

    It was noticeable that the bald guy was getting all the great body language from Heather until Ben started talking and turned on the wacky charisma. He should get her number. ;-)

    Some great public speaking from Ben as usual!

  8. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 21, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Ben was at a blogging event, everybody’s got his number ;-) (Round The Horne 1965, BBC)

  9. Wikidd said,

    March 22, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Ben, you owe me a new monitor. I just spurted vodka all over this one due to taking a swig at the moment you told the story about how people were emailing in to that dore radio show pointing out they were about to go under!

  10. benv said,

    March 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Brilliant, as ever, Ben. It even drew laughs from my Dad, who is particularly hard to amuse.

  11. brainduck said,

    March 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Puerile? Thanks!

    Oddly enough, one reason I started looking at Dore was ‘cos they’d tried to sue a few of my lecturers for explaining that the research wasn’t all it was being sold as.
    Streisand effect strikes again…

  12. brainduck said,

    March 24, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    To clarify – Dore wasn’t ‘part of my dissertation’, got mentioned in passing during an ‘alternative approaches’ lecture as part of an Ed Psych course. Blog was entirely on my own, the profs didn’t find out ’till Ben wrote it up in the Guardian and put two and two together.

    Having been subjected to all sorts of daft ‘miracle cures’ for dyspraxia as a Duckling, I regard knowing how to debunk as basic self-defence. If Dore are daft enough to go after SpLD, they can expect obsessive relentless nitpicking in return (not unrelated to my actual dissertation topic).

    For all Reynold’s blustering it was this MSM TV programme rather than bloggers which really did for Dore financially: www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2007/s1994872.htm – the administrator’s reports showed takings down in Australia by ~50% after that. They even put up full-text research: www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2007/s1997868.htm
    Hooray, MSM are not *all* stupid. Now, how to improve them?
    Rather fantastically

  13. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 24, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    not your dissertation: noted.

    this is a thing with speaking off the cuff, and in the unspoken rules of engagement you’ll note, i hope, that i’ve deliberately (i think) never gone pedantic / anal on anoyone’s spontaneous spoken utterances, unscripted radio appearances etc, as i think it’s ok to flake on details occasionally there. unless it’s not details obviously. in which case fine. anyway thnks for correction.

  14. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 24, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    incidentally how to improve MSM is something i’ve been thinking about a lot, more to follow and hoping to recruit more thinkers in a month or two for a project.

  15. brainduck said,

    March 24, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Apologies for having to be annoyingly pedantic on that, it’s just that Dore have tried several times to accuse me of having been told to do the blog for coursework / paid, which exposes my lecturers / uni dept to hassle from Dore’s legal flamethrowers :(

    Anyway, apologies for legally-forced annoyingness. At least this is one area where bloggers win over just about any other format. The blog’s all mine, I don’t need anyone’s permission for it. Dore can’t sue me into shutting up, I have no money for them to take, and they can’t stop anything going straight back up :)

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