More than 60 children saved from abuse – small update

August 7th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre Tags:
in bad science, government reports, media, numerical context, politics | 33 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 7 August 2010

According to the Home Office this week, Sarah’s law – where any parent can find out if any adult in contact with their child has a record of violent or sexual crimes – has “already protected more than 60 children from abuse during its pilot“. This fact was widely reported and was the headline finding. As the Sun said: “More than 60 sickening offences were halted by Sarah’s Law during its trial”. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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Will a hung parliament undermine fiscal discipline? Here’s some data.

May 8th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, politics | 36 Comments »

Lots of people have been explaining that a hung parliament would be unable to rein in public spending. Do the figures support this idea? I’m sitting in my kitchen with a political data nerd who’s just pulled this gem out of his back pocket. It’s from this document on this page of the Institute for Government website, and it’d be nice if someone like this could make a less ugly version. The y-axis is how much you borrow, the x-axis is the size of your biggest party, and it seems to show that countries with single powerful parties tend also to have worse government debt. Just a piece of the puzzle, but I give it to you for free. Read the rest of this entry »

The real political nerds

May 8th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, politics, structured data | 27 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 8 May 2010

Data matters. We use it to understand what has already happened in the world, and we use it to make decisions about what to do next. But in among the graphics and electoral cock-ups lies a terrible truth: a small army of amateur enthusiasts are doing a better job of collecting and disseminating basic political data than the state has managed. Read the rest of this entry »

Keep Evan Harris in parliament, Oxford West and Abingdon

May 5th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, politics | 55 Comments »

It’s the election tomorrow and I want to ask your help to get one MP re-elected for the good of science in the UK. In an era when so many of our elected politicians have acted out of self-interest, dipping their fingers in the till, Evan Harris has stood out by being smart, hard-working and informed, but more than that, by being genuinely brave in taking on causes in science and human rights that many believe in, but few would have the guts to stand up for. Read the rest of this entry »

Evidence based smear campaigns

May 1st, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, irrationality research, politics, smears | 41 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 1 May 2010

Elections are a time for smearing, and the Mail’s desperate story about Nick Clegg and the Nazis is my favourite so far. Generally the truth comes out, in time. But how much damage can smears do?

A new experiment published this month in the journal “Political Behaviour” sets out to examine the impact of corrections, and what they found was far more disturbing than they expected: far from changing peoples’ minds, if you are deeply entrenched in your views, a correction will only reinforce them.

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Evidence based voting

April 24th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, politics, structured data | 53 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 24 April 2010

What can science and evidence bring to an election? First there are the micro-issues: we can assess the validity of claims made by politicians by seeking out the evidence. David Cameron, for example, claimed that UK cancer services were bad because fewer people die of cancer in Bulgaria than in the UK, which many have already debunked: he used death data from a country with inferior monitoring standards, and a far lower life expectancy, but more than that, he used death data, which is driven not just by treatment success, but also by the number of new cases to start with, which can vary widely for all kinds of reasons. Read the rest of this entry »

If you want to be trusted more: claim less

January 9th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, politics, spin, statistics | 55 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 8 January 2009

“Public sector pay races ahead in a recession” shouted the front page of this week’s Sunday Times. “Public sector workers earn 7% more on average than their peers in the private sector — a pay gulf that has more than doubled since the recession began.” The Telegraph followed up with a copycat story a few hours later.

In reality, this is one of those interesting areas where anybody who makes a firm statement is wrong, because there is not sufficient evidence to make a confident assertion in either direction.

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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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