After Madeleine, why not Bin Laden?

October 13th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in badscience, dna | 40 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Saturday October 13 2007

Danie Krugel is an ex-policeman in South Africa who believes he can pinpoint the location of missing people anywhere on the map. He does this by using his special magic box, which works through something to do with “quantum physics”, but you aren’t allowed to know any more than that: these are “complex and secret science techniques”, driven by a “secret energy source” driving a “matter orientation system machine“. By simply popping a strand of the missing person’s hair – or some other source of DNA – into his box of tricks, Krugel can pinpoint that person’s location, anywhere.

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Atomic tomatoes are not the only fruit

December 16th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in africa, alternative medicine, bad science, celebs, channel 4, channel five, cosmetics, dna, express, gillian mckeith, herbal remedies, independent, letters, mail, MMR, nutritionists, oxygen, penises, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, quantum physics, references, space, statistics, telegraph, times, very basic science, water | 9 Comments »

This article is a rough transcript of the most excellent Bad Science Awards 2004 that were held in the Asylum Club on Rathbone St W1, a tiny basement club with a fire safety license for 150. We were expecting 20 people but to general astonishment there were queues down the street, and an unruly crowd who were drunkenly, loudly, and at one point quite violently baying for Gillian McKeith’s blood. Also performing were the excellently frightening and dangerous Disinformation presents “National Grid”, performance terrorism with victorian electrical equipment and rubber gloves, featuring Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor and Guardian Far Out fame.

Thursday December 16, 2004
The Guardian

Ben Goldacre on the gongs nobody wants to win…

Andrew Wakefield prize for preposterous extrapolation from a single unconvincing piece of scientific data

With its place at the kernel of Bad Science reporting in the news media, this was bound to be a hotly contested category. Were there any Read the rest of this entry »

Blood’s a bad science magnet

May 27th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dna, magnets, mail | 3 Comments »

Blood’s a bad science magnet

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 27, 2004
The Guardian

Talk about bad science here

· No bad science this week: the world has changed. Only kidding. David Pack sends me a fabulous leaflet he picked up in a Cambridge library recently on Energy Interference Patterning of DNA. “If you find yourself in situations that cause irritated or defensive reactions…” That’s me. “Research confirms that emotions, feelings and belief systems alter DNA… the EIP technique unlocks the mystery of healing quickly and easily … access cellular DNA memory and create a new regenerated and rejuvenated DNA… remove old belief systems permanently.”

· Luckily there was a voice of sanity in the wilderness: Carole Caplin in the Mail on Sunday. “Adidas shoe designer Christian DiBendetto has come up with a computerised running shoe, complete with buttons, magnet and electric motor.” For £170. Sounds right up her street. But no. “Can you imagine anything worse? The foot contains important energy meridians that a magnet and electric motor could seriously interfere with. “Gosh. How dangerous is that, Carole? “DiBendetto says that a shoe that changes shape to suit a hard or soft surface was a fantasy until now. Soon, it will be a nightmare.”

· Meanwhile reader David Bradbury sends us in The Eye Zone Massager, another classic piece of pseudoscience from those folks at the Science Museum gift shop. “At the end of a stressful day, use this special mask for a few minutes. It massages the temples and eye area, reducing stress and energising muscles. Very refreshing, it helps prevent bags and dark rings. Gentle magnets also enhance circulation. Battery included.” No. Again, no. Gentle magnets do not enhance circulation. Blood is not magnetic: and why not try these fun demonstrations at home to prove it. Bleed yourself on to a dish and wave a magnet over it: observe your blood not moving. Hold a magnet over your skin, and watch it not go red. Put yourself in an MRI scanner with a massive magnetic field, and carefully note that you are not hovering, in a dramatic living demonstration of the non-magneticness of your blood. Get a job on a scrapyard, hang out under that big electromagnet they use to pick up the cars, and notice that you do not fly up into the sky, and do not smash your skull into lots of tiny pieces. Regardless of what the Science Museum’s merchandise tells you, kids, blood is not magnetic. Unless, of course, the shop is aware of this and an interactive demonstration of the more cynical commercial applications of science.

Blood’s a bad science magnet

May 27th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, dna, magnets, mail | 2 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 27, 2004
The Guardian

· No bad science this week: the world has changed. Only kidding. David Pack sends me a fabulous leaflet he picked up in a Cambridge library recently on Energy Interference Patterning of DNA. “If you find yourself in situations that cause irritated or defensive reactions…” That’s me. “Research confirms that emotions, feelings and belief systems alter DNA… the EIP technique unlocks the mystery of healing quickly and easily … access cellular DNA memory and create a new regenerated and rejuvenated DNA… remove old belief systems permanently.”

· Luckily there was a voice of sanity in the wilderness: Carole Caplin in the Mail on Sunday. “Adidas shoe designer Christian DiBendetto has come up with a computerised running shoe, complete with buttons, magnet and electric motor.” For £170. Sounds right up her street. But no. “Can you imagine anything worse? The foot contains important energy meridians that a magnet and electric motor could seriously interfere with. “Gosh. How dangerous is that, Carole? “DiBendetto says that a shoe that changes shape to suit a hard or soft surface was a fantasy until now. Soon, it will be a nightmare.”

· Meanwhile reader David Bradbury sends us in The Eye Zone Massager, another classic piece of pseudoscience from those folks at the Science Museum gift shop. “At the end of a stressful day, use this special mask for a few minutes. It massages the temples and eye area, reducing stress and energising muscles. Very refreshing, it helps prevent bags and dark rings. Gentle magnets also enhance circulation. Battery included.” No. Again, no. Gentle magnets do not enhance circulation. Blood is not magnetic: and why not try these fun demonstrations at home to prove it. Bleed yourself on to a dish and wave a magnet over it: observe your blood not moving. Hold a magnet over your skin, and watch it not go red. Put yourself in an MRI scanner with a massive magnetic field, and carefully note that you are not hovering, in a dramatic living demonstration of the non-magneticness of your blood. Get a job on a scrapyard, hang out under that big electromagnet they use to pick up the cars, and notice that you do not fly up into the sky, and do not smash your skull into lots of tiny pieces. Regardless of what the Science Museum’s merchandise tells you, kids, blood is not magnetic. Unless, of course, the shop is aware of this and an interactive demonstration of the more cynical commercial applications of science.

How to increase your staying power

November 20th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dna, penises, religion, times, very basic science | 8 Comments »

How to increase your staying power

Ben Goldacre
Thursday November 20, 2003
The Guardian

Talk bad science

· I’d always assumed that bad science in contraception was limited to delirious ramblings from the Catholic church about the HIV virus being small enough to fit through the gaps between the latex molecules. But perhaps not. As I lay in bed with Mrs Bad Science on a lazy Sunday morning, and our minds turned to thoughts of Barry White, and trains going into tunnels, and absolutely not having any babies at all, we reached hungrily for the reassuring certainty of barrier contraception. “I’ve got something very special for you,” she smiled.

· My treat, it emerged, was an optimistically large packet of Durex Performa: a new kind of condom with a special cream in the teat “to help control climax and prolong sexual excitement for longer lasting lovemaking”. Maybe you’ve seen the adverts. They feature, rather cleverly, a picture of “a very long screw”. And the magic ingredient? Five per cent benzocaine gel, a local anaesthetic related to cocaine: to make your willy go numb. In the spirit of the noblest of Victorian gentleman self-experimenters, I turned it inside out, licked the surface, and immediately lost all sensation in my tongue. It’s either very bad science or very good science – I can’t be sure – but either way, putting local anaesthetic in condoms is just adding insult to injury.

· While I was busy sulking, one of my spies, Tim Eyes, a molecular biologist, was reading about the “secrets of the body” in the Funday Times, the children’s section of the Sunday Times. Hold your breath. “Despite the fact that all humans have similar genes, we are not all the same,” the section revealed. “This is because of slight genetic differences in everyone’s genetic make-up. DNA is made up of four chemical bases – adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine – and each gene is made up of three of these.” Only three, huh? That’s enough to code for, like, one whole amino acid. We’d look a bit like those bodybuilders’ protein drinks, only without the tin. But there’s more. “This means that there are 64 different possible combinations, and when you multiply this by the number of cells in the body, it shows the chances of having the exact same makeup is virtually zero.” Only 64 different genes. And different ones in every cell, too. A planet of biologists stands corrected.

DNA magic

November 13th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, cosmetics, dna, very basic science | 5 Comments »

DNA magic

Ben Goldacre
Thursday November 13, 2003
The Guardian

Talk bad science

· I was delighted to read in the journal Science that researchers from Stanford University in California have successfully created a form of “super DNA” that is larger than normal DNA and easier to study. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t the first time that DNA with amazing properties has been documented.

· Geneticist Dr Ed Hollox of Nottingham University draws my attention to the cosmetics company Valmont, who will sell you a concoction called Cellular DNA Complex, made from “specially treated salmon roe DNA”, at the bargain price of £236 for seven phials. According to the Sunday Times’ style supplement, it “enhances the cosmetic properties (moisturising, regenerating and protecting) of DNA”. “Sadly,” their correspondent continues, “smearing salmon on your face doesn’t have the same effect.” I guess we have to take their word for that, although Dr Hollox, who knows a bit about DNA, doubts whether the specially treated salmon roe DNA stuff would have much effect, either.

· And there was more unusual DNA in Die Another Day, when James Bond came up against a Korean baddy who turned himself into an English gentleman criminal using DNA. As his evil doctor explained: “First we kill off your bone marrow, wipe the DNA slate clean.” Not that we need to worry about the DNA in every other cell in your body. But what happens in phase two? “The introduction of new DNA harvested from healthy donors, orphans, runaways, people that won’t be missed.” Surely a Hollywood scriptwriter should know that one mouth swab from one child would give the doctor all the DNA he could possibly need to carry out his evil plans?

· But the real action is with Kryon, a “supreme being” spiritually and lucratively “channelled” into book form by a human being called Lee Carroll. Kyron informs us that DNA actually contains 12 strands – not two – thanks to which “every single human being has the potential for all knowledge”. Just to keep you worrying, he’s sold more than half a million books, and apparently all this wisdom “resides in the crystalline 12-segmented structure that wraps itself around the encoding [DNA]“, which, er, you can’t actually see. If you’re interested, a woman called Marlana at www.marlana.org will activate your 10 extra strands of DNA remotely, over email, for just $39.

The homeopaths strike back

October 2nd, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, celebs, dna, homeopathy, magnets, placebo, very basic science | 5 Comments »

The homeopaths strike back

Ben Goldacre
Thursday October 2, 2003
The Guardian

· You probably don’t have to be a physics expert like bad science spotter Professor Donald Simanek to spot that the new £2 coin, celebrating our scientific heritage, has an odd number of gears interlocking around the edge, creating a system that could not possibly turn.

· Down at Tower Bridge, illusionist David Blaine has genetically modified supermen working on his security team. They only got worried about people shining laser pointers at Blaine because, as one of them told the Daily Mirror: “In America a dot of light means someone’s aiming a gun at you using an infrared sight.” That’s “infrared” as in below the range of human vision.

· Meanwhile, according to Jack Straw, speaking in parliament last week, Iraq is a difficult place to find weapons of mass destruction in because it’s twice the size of France. That’s presumably the same Iraq that is 437,072 sq km, as opposed to France, which is (according to the, er, CIA World Factbook) 547,030 sq km.

· But there’s more. Writing about the unbelievably excellent Henry Wellcome artefacts exhibition at the British Museum, Time Out tells us about “a lock of George III’s hair that is undergoing DNA analysis to determine whether the king was, in fact, mad”. Looks like psychiatrists are out of a job, then: perhaps his DNA could tell us if he was bad and dangerous to know too?

· And just in case you thought I was going to give complementary therapy bashing a rest this week, may I proudly offer you the fantastic randomised control study from this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association which shows that magnet therapy does not work for heel pain. That’s one quack cure down, only 5,363,672 to go.

· One last thing. I have received, from the director of the Society of Homeopaths, what is possibly the longest letter ever written to any newspaper on any subject. How any alternative therapist who has ever read a newspaper in Britain could possibly claim that they get a bad deal, considering that dark ages superstition has now become the contractually-enforced journalistic norm, baffles me, but in the spirit in which this epic letter was clearly intended I present it here diluted one part in one hundred thousand, in the vain hope that it has more impact on you than it does on me: “Placeb…”

Setting up camp in the healing field

July 3rd, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym, dna, very basic science, water | 3 Comments »

Setting up camp in the healing field

Ben Goldacre
Thursday July 3, 2003
The Guardian

· Doing a New Age Bad Science Glastonbury Special is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Which is not to say I’ve had a change of heart: within five minutes of entering the Healing Field last weekend, I was handed a copy of the “Avalon Rising” leaflet. Pay close attention: “Celtic in your DNA? Cutting edge information has established the possibility that a substrand in our DNA connects us through the energy grid to one of 12 sacred sites, stargates or electromagnetic vortexes to enable the vibrational rate of Mother Earth to be energetically stabilised. Glastonbury is one such site. Its guardians are the time travelling grail lines of Celtic/Gaelic Britain: you!” Pseudoscientists everywhere, please note how easy it is to come across like a white hippy racial supremacist when you splash around with big words you don’t understand.

· Brain Gym has struck a chord with many of you since we covered it last month. You might remember the jargon-heavy “educational kinesiologists” from California, with no peer-reviewed data to back up their grand claims for improving academic performance, who were being employed at considerable expense by UK local education authorities. I was moaning that teachers should be teaching our children how to spot this kind of pseudoscience, rather than peddling it. So I was heartened to receive frontline reports from science teachers of the fun they have teasing Brain Gym tutors visiting their schools.

· One was told that after watching telly your brain goes to sleep for eight hours: “Very precise about that, she was. But don’t worry, as long as you sit with your ankles crossed and make a funny shape with your hands this will ‘protect you from the electro-magnetic rays’. She was even kind enough to post me the handouts detailing the Pace [positive-active-clear-energetic] which ‘increases and balances electrical energy to the neocortex _ allowing reason rather than reaction (choice)’ and ‘increases polarity across cell membranes for more efficient thought processing’,” our source reports. My favourite exercise is Brain Buttons: “While holding the navel area with one hand, rub with the thumb and finger of other on hollow areas just below the collar bone on each side of the sternum.” Why? Because, you heartless cynics, “buttons above carotid artery supply fresh oxygenated blood to brain, helps lung/brain function … and brings attention to gravitational centre of body.”