“Exams are getting easier”

August 21st, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence, numerical context, politics, schools | 123 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 21 August 2010

Pass rates are at 98%. A quarter of grades are higher than an A. This week every newspaper in the country was filled with people asserting that exams are definitely getting easier, and then other people asserting that exams are definitely not getting easier. The question for me is always simple: how do you know?

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Boris Johnson and his innovative trial methodology

July 31st, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in evidence, evidence based policy, politics, schools | 95 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 31 July 2010

It’s the near misses that really make you want to shoot your own face off. This week the Centre for Policy Studies has published a pamphlet on education which has been covered by the Mirror, the Mail, the BBC, the Telegraph, the Express, the Guardian, and more. Boris Johnson endorses it.

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The bullshit box

July 10th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence, nutritionists, regulating nonsense | 36 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 10 July 2010

This week the food and nutrition pills industries are complaining. They like to make health claims about their products, which often turn out to be unsupported by the evidence. Regulating that mess would be tedious and long-winded, the kind of project enjoyed by the EU, and so the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation was brought in during 2006. Since then, member states have submitted tens of thousands of health claims on behalf of manufacturers about cranberries, fish oil, and every magical ingredient you can think of. This week it turned out that 900 have been examined so far, of which 80% have unsurprisingly been rejected. Read the rest of this entry »

Fish oil in the Observer: the return of a $2bn friend

June 5th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence, fish oil, guardian, schools, statistics | 33 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 5 June 2010

Fish oil helps schoolchildren to concentrate” was the headline in the Observer. Regular readers will remember the omega-3 fish oil pill issue, as the entire British news media has been claiming for several years now that there are trials showing it improves school performance and behaviour in mainstream children, despite the fact that no such trial has ever been published. There is something very attractive about the idea that solutions to complex problems in education can be found in a pill. Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook causes syphilis, says Prof Peter Kelly, Director of Public Health, NHS Tees?

March 26th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence, media, secret data | 14 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 27 March 2010

After the Mail’s definitive headline of last year “How using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer” (in the same week as a story about a radioactive paedophile, no less) comes a competitor. “Facebook spreads syphilis” was the front page headline in the Sun on Wednesday: “sex diseases soaring due to facebook romps”. The Mail was quick to follow, with “Facebook ‘sex encounters’ linked to rise in syphilis”, while the Telegraph had “Facebook ‘linked to rise in syphilis’: Facebook has been linked to a resurgence in the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis, according to health experts.” It even made the Star.

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Doing nothing

March 19th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, big pharma, competing interests, conflict of interest, doing nothing, evidence | 53 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 20 March 2010

I don’t write about stories where someone has a conflict of interest, in general, because there are no interesting scientific ideas in them: such stories are a way for people who don’t understand the technicalities of science to give the illusion of critiquing it. But it’s still disappointing to see companies being so much better at getting media coverage for their ideas than everyday folk. Read the rest of this entry »

Obvious quacks: the tip of a scary medical iceberg

February 26th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, big pharma, evidence, regulating research | 121 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 27 February, 2010

After the Science and Technology committee report this week, and the jaw dropping stupidity of “we bring you both sides” in the media coverage afterwards, you are bored of homeopathy. So am I, but it gives a very simple window into the wider disasters in all of medicine. Read the rest of this entry »

Guns don’t kill people, puppies do

February 13th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence, numerical context, statistics | 65 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 13 February 2010

Often one data point isn’t enough to spot a pattern, or even to say that an event is interesting and exceptional, because numbers are all about context and constraints. At one end there are the simple examples. “Mum beats odds of 50 million-to-one to have 3 babies on same date” is the headline for the Daily Express on Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »

So brilliantly you’ve presented a really transgressive case through the mainstream media

December 5th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in anecdotes, bad science, evidence | 57 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, Saturday 5 December 2009, The Guardian

Here is a mystery. Rom Houben, a Belgian man, was diagnosed as being in a coma for 23 years, and he has now made a partial recovery. This has been demonstrated with a series of recently developed brain scanning techniques (whose predictive value is not entirely known, but they are promising), and he is also opening his eyes. But the story goes further than that: it is also claimed that he was conscious all along, but simply unable to move, a well-documented phenomena called “locked in syndrome”. This has been reported as a news story around the world, in The Sun, Sky news, CNN, the BBC, the Telegraph (repeatedly), Der Spiegel, Australian TV News, The Guardian (in 4 separate pieces) and hundreds more.

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Blueprint fail

September 19th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence, evidence based policy, politics, schools | 14 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, 19 September 2009, The Guardian

This week at a debate in the Royal Institute I was told off by the science minister for not praising good science reporting, because journalists – famously kind to their targets – are sensitive to criticism. So before we dismantle this Home Office report on drugs policy, can I just say I’m sure they’ve probably produced some other perfectly acceptable reports, and I shouldn’t like any brittle souls in government to be dispirited by the criticisms that will now follow.

The Blueprint programme is an intensive schools intervention to reduce problematic drug use, and a lengthy research project to see if it works – costing at least £6m – finished some years ago. We have been waiting for the results ever since, and this quote from Vernon Coaker, then Minister for Drugs & Crime Reduction, explains what we have been waiting for: “The Blueprint drugs education programme is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of a multi-component approach to school-based drug education… The programme is currently being evaluated to determine its impact on all drug use.”

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