Politicians can divine which policy works best by using their special magic politician beam

May 22nd, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, crime, drurrrgs, politics | 38 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 22 May 2010

So all good citizens this week are poring over the “Programme For Government”, and it’s true to say that there is much to be pleased with. Labour wasn’t all about unbridled credit and fun public sector spending sprees: they kept all your emails, kept records of the websites you visited, used “anti-terrorism” legislation on people who plainly weren’t terrorists, and so on.

But most interesting are the noises now being made about crime and evidence. “We will conduct a full review of sentencing policy” they say: “to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending. In particular, we will ensure that sentencing for drug use helps offenders come off drugs.”

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The Nutt Sack Affair (part 493)

November 7th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, evidence based policy, politics | 74 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, Saturday 7 November 2009, The Guardian

Obviously it’s pleasing to see, in the storm of commentary over Professor Nutt’s sacking, that everyone outside of politics now recognises the importance of scientific evidence in devising laws. But a strange reasoning twitch has appeared, in the arguments of politicians and right wing commentators. Science can tell us about the molecules, they say, about their effect on the body, and the risks. But policy is a separate domain: a matter for judgement calls on social and ethical issues. Only politicians, they say, can determine the correct way to send out a clear message to the public. It is not a matter for science.

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This is my column. This is my column on drugs. Any questions?

June 12th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre Tags:
in bad science, drurrrgs, evidence based policy, politics | 66 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday 13 June 2009
The Guardian

In areas of moral and political conflict people will always behave badly with evidence, so the war on drugs is a consistent source of entertainment. We have already seen how cannabis being “25 times stronger” was a fantasy, how drugs-related deaths were quietly dropped from the outcome measures for drugs policy, and how a trivial pile of poppies was presented by the government as a serious dent in the Taleban’s heroin revenue Read the rest of this entry »

A rock of crack as big as the Ritz

February 21st, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, statistics, telegraph | 65 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 21 2009
The Guardian

imageIn a week where our dear Daily Mail ran with the headline “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer”, I will exercise some self control, and write about drugs instead.

“Seven hundred British troops seized four Taliban narcotics factories containing £50m of drugs” said the Guardian on Wednesday. “Troops recovered more than 400kg of raw opium in one drug factory and nearly 800kg of heroin in another.” Lordy that is good. In the Telegraph, British forces had seized “£50 million of heroin and killed at least 20 Taliban fighters in a daring raid that dealt a significant blow to the insurgents in Afghanistan.” Everyone carried the good news. Read the rest of this entry »

The least surrogate outcome

April 5th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, evidence based policy, politics, statistics | 12 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday April 5 2008

There’s this vague idea – which has been going around for the past few centuries – that statistics is quite difficult. But in reality the maths is often the least of your problems: the tricky bit comes way before the number crunching, when you are deciding what to measure, how to measure it, and what those measurements mean.
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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 »

Blah blah cannabis blah blah blah

July 28th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in drurrrgs | 67 Comments »

The Guardian
Saturday July 28 2007

You know when cannabis hits the news you’re in for a bit of fun, and this week’s story about cannabis causing psychosis was no exception. Read the rest of this entry »

Reefer Badness

March 24th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, references, statistics | 51 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 24, 2007
The Guardian

The more I see of the world [looks pensively out of window] the more it strikes me that people seem to want more science, rather than less, and to deploy it in odd ways: to abrogate responsibility; to validate a hunch; to render a political or cultural prejudice in deceptively objective terms. Because you can prove anything with science, as long as you cherry pick the data and keep one eye half closed.

The Independent last Sunday ran a front page splash: “Cannabis – An Apology” was Read the rest of this entry »

Laugh? I nearly died.

March 10th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, scare stories | 62 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 10, 2007
The Guardian

Obviously nobody is more worried than I about the hippie crack epidemic: nitrous oxide – better known as laughing gas – has hit the news, after the death of a man with a plastic bag over his head, and a cannister of the drug connected to himself.

Now, I will never speak ill of the dead, and I feel very sorry for this poor man, but equally we must all take responsibility for our actions. Plastic carrier bags are a vital feature of Read the rest of this entry »

Heroin On Prescription

November 23rd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, onanism | 31 Comments »

Suddenly heroin prescription is back in the news, so here’s an archaeological find from the hard-drive: an essay I wrote in praise of heroin prescription, for the “Roger Hole Essay Prize in Medical Scepticism”, as a young undergraduate in medicine, in 1998. The prize was judged by Lewis Wolpert, and winning it netted me the enormous sum of £250 (a month’s rent!) and a signed certificate from Prof Souhami (of Souhami and Moxham fame!).

Bit of background in the box, if you’re interested, otherwise skip to the essay below.

This essay, weirdly, also served up an early insight for me in the lameness of reporting on science and health in the media, and their obsession with quoting “authority”. A friend of mine who worked for a drug law reform pressure group gave my number to somebody working on campaigning journalist Read the rest of this entry »