Lab that finds bugs where others do not

October 15th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, media, mirror, MRSA, news of the world, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, scare stories, sun | 78 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 15, 2005
The Guardian

A while ago an investigative television journalist friend rang me up. “I just went undercover to take some MRSA swabs for my filthy hospital superbug scandal,” he said, “but they all came back negative. What am I doing wrong?” Always happy to help, I suggested he swab “my arse” instead. Ten minutes later Read the rest of this entry »

Cranky to fashionable in five iffy claims

October 8th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, media, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, statistics | 19 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 8, 2005
The Guardian

I think I’m being stalked by a famous media naturopath. First he taunts me through Newsnight: “When Michael van Straten started Read the rest of this entry »

Tangled Webs

October 2nd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, magnets, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, very basic science | 46 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 1, 2005
The Guardian

The plot around a BBC online health correspondent gets thicker. Last week, you will recall, we were pondering the ethics and wisdom of Jacqueline Young dishing out preposterous, made-up, pseudoscientific Read the rest of this entry »

Imploding Researchers

September 24th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, magnets, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, very basic science, water | 31 Comments »

The Guardian | Saturday September 24 2005
Ben Goldacre
The au pair said something very funny about my dinner parties the other day: oh hang on, wrong column. Didn’t they tell you? We’re all written by the same person. So I’ve been reading the BBC’s Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t dumb me down

September 8th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, cash-for-"stories", channel 4, channel five, chocolate, dangers, express, gillian mckeith, independent, letters, mail, media, mirror, MMR, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, scare stories, statistics, telegraph, times, very basic science, weight loss | 85 Comments »

We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics … Ben Goldacre on why writing Bad Science has increased his suspicion of the media by, ooh, a lot of per cents

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 8, 2005
The Guardian

OK, here’s something weird. Every week in Bad Science we either victimise some barking pseudoscientific quack, or a big science story in a national newspaper. Now, tell me, why are these two groups even being mentioned in the same breath? Why is science in the media so often pointless, simplistic, boring, or just plain wrong? Like a proper little Darwin, I’ve been Read the rest of this entry »

Hard to swallow

August 18th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, homeopathy, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, placebo | 4 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 18, 2005
The Guardian

· Pity the sensible alternative therapist, for they are in a unique and impossible position. On the one hand, they want to be scientific, evidence-based and conservative in what they say. On the other, they have to talk up the myths around their Read the rest of this entry »

Vital statistics

June 23rd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, statistics | 12 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday June 23, 2005
The Guardian

· Of course, the past two years of Bad Science was nothing more than a cover for the “popular statistics” lecture series I really wanted to give, but knew I could never sell to a newspaper. So, on to Professor Roy Meadows and Meadows’ Law, that: “One sudden infant death is Read the rest of this entry »

Protect your boundaries with agate

April 14th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, express, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, very basic science | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 14, 2005
The Guardian

· After years of hand-wringing about the decay of post-enlightenment rationalist values I’m beginning to wonder whether all is well, and the choice of alternative health guff in the Daily Express is deliberate parody. There is no other explanation for this week’s article entitled Embrace the power of crystals (“the special structure of a crystal lets it absorb, strengthen and transmit electromagnetic energy that can heal and energise”). It offers such useful nuggets as:”Protect your boundaries with agate” (read aloud for optimum effect) and what must be the prototypical Daily Express headline, combining as it does its obsession with Asbo tomfoolery and New Age nonsense: “Silence noisy neighbours, with white moonstone.”

· Meanwhile, if there was any doubt that Bad Science readers represent the definitive research tool, Dave Forbes wrote in, after I pointed out that Doctor Who had miscalculated the rotational speed in Britain of the Earth on its own axis in the first episode of the new series, to point out a precedent for this. “You might like to check out Paul Saint’s Doctor Who novel The Suns of Caresh,” he suggests. “In one scene the Tardis’s destination is unexpectedly diverted from Israel to Chichester. Since the settings had not been adjusted to take into account the different rotational speed of the Earth’s surface at this latitude, the Tardis leaves a wake of destruction across the English countryside.”

· Lastly, it was good to see one of the more bizarre untruths from the Terri Schiavo “right to die” case crossing the Atlantic and popping up in the Scotsman. In line with much of the US media, it refers to her parents’ doctor in the case, William Hammesfahr, as “a Nobel prize-nominated neurologist who has an international reputation for treating brain-injured patients”. Now, Hammesfahr was “nominated” for the prize by a Republican congressman, Michael Bilirakis, though he might just as well have been nominated by my dead cat Hettie, since the Nobel committee only takes nominations from 3,000 or so invited people, mostly previous winners and big-arse professors. My favourite detail from the grandiose letter (masl.to/?X1E723FDA) is where he is nominated for the “Nobel peace prize in medicine”. Even if such a prize existed, it would be unusual for a science Nobel to be won by someone like Hammesfahr who, according to Pubmed, has published no papers in peer-reviewed journals. But don’t let that stop you nominating Hettie.

“Nutritionism”

March 3rd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, dangers, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications | 3 Comments »

Nutritional information

Ben Goldacre
Thursday March 3, 2005
The Guardian

I hereby take the credit for coining the term Nutritionism: “The practice of promoting flimsily unevidenced assertions about the benefits of expensive supplements, or shortlived and unhelpfully overcomplicated eating fads, in healthy or ill individuals.” I accused Angela Dowden of just this. “Where have you seen me promote these?” she replied, indignantly.

Here is the first Google result for ‘Angela Dowden nutritionist': www.healthspan.co.uk/articles/article.aspx?Id=112, a pill-pusher with a dubious “select your condition” way of selling tablets. Here’s Angela: “Eye strain: Which fruit? Bilberries. How they help: These European cousins of American blueberries contain anthocyanin antioxidants which strengthen the blood vessels supplying the retina in the eye. Bilberry extracts have been shown to treat visual fatigue caused by prolonged reading and working in dim light.” There is nothing, in 84 bilberry references on medline or pubmed, to support this. Having had to read 84 extremely boring abstracts to prove my point, I’m in the mood to cause trouble.

Then I remember. She’s “one of Britain’s most high-profile nutritional experts,” says the Mail. She’s a “registered nutritionist”, says the Mirror. Registered? With whom? The Nutrition Society: Angela tells me she thinks the register and the term “registered nutritionist” (or RNutr) have official status as a protected term. In fact they have none. But there might still be a register, which enforces some professional accountability. I go to the society’s website. I’d like to see the regulations, and make a complaint about Angela Dowden (RNutr) peddling invented nonsense, please. Nothing. I contact the “registrar”. Eleven emails later, we establish that no information is available to the public on how to complain, and no single document describes the regulatory process, standards expected of registrants, or how complaints are dealt with. My dead cat could do better.

So, I’ve submitted my complaint. I just put a stamp on it and hoped for the best. The society has decided not to make its “inquiries” public, except, of course, that I’ll be telling you everything I can wring out of it on this one; because my real accusation of incompetence is not about the fool Dowden, but about the Nutrition Society, which gives these fools their authority. This is not a one-off. This is “nutritionism”. Who watches the watchdog? Bizarrely, I think it might be you and I.

Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk

A varying degree

February 10th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications | 12 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday February 10, 2005

Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus. Not only did this thesis shift 30m books for Dr John Gray, PhD, it has also provided the branding for his new, exciting diet plan based on Mars and Venus Supershakes. Gray’s PhD, meanwhile, is from Read the rest of this entry »