Meaningful debates need clear information

October 27th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in badscience, references, religion, statistics | 42 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Saturday October 27 2007

Where do all those numbers in the newspapers come from? Here’s a funny thing. The Commons committee on science and technology is taking evidence on “scientific developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967″.

Scientific and medical expert bodies giving evidence say that survival in births below 24 weeks has not significantly improved since the 1990s, when it was only 10-20%. But one expert, a professor of neonatal medicine, says survival at 22 and 23 weeks has improved. In fact, he says survival rates in this group can be phenomenally high: 42% of children born at 23 weeks at some top specialist centres. He is quoted widely: the Independent, Telegraph, Channel 4, on Newsnight, by Tory MPs, and so on. The figure has a life of its own. Read the rest of this entry »

The Blairs’ Witch Project

May 12th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, dangers, MMR, religion | 69 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday May 12, 2007
The Guardian

So normally you just wouldn’t bother with the New Age stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus Camp Footage

March 3rd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, religion | 134 Comments »

I find creationism in the UK pretty peripheral and irrelevant, but this film is off the scale. These clips are from the jaw-dropping Jesus Camp, the full feature length film is truly unbelievable. I have never been so wide-eyed in my life. It also stars evangelical preacher Ted Haggard before the, er, gay sex & meth thing.

Wacko Creationist Indoctrination Footage

February 17th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, religion | 105 Comments »

Superb. From a documentary called Read the rest of this entry »

World Wide Weirdness Shootout – updated

January 27th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in africa, alternative medicine, bad science, matthias rath, MMR, nutritionists, religion, scare stories | 59 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday January 27, 2007
The Guardian

I’m not a complicated man – as my girlfriend could happily tell you – but I do get a bit worried about these stories I’ve been emailed, where African people say something stupid about the science of Aids and we all laugh at them. To be fair, the facts don’t make it easy for me to be this sanctimonious. The Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, has just this week disclosed that he can personally cure HIV, Aids and asthma, using charisma, magic and charms. “The cure is a day’s treatment” he says: “asthma, five minutes”. HIV and Aids cases can be treated on Thursdays, and within three days Read the rest of this entry »

Big question time

May 19th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, quantum physics, religion | 7 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 19, 2005
The Guardian

Talk about bad science

Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? I want answers. Because with answers like these up my sleeve, I’d have solace and a bigger house. And what more could a boy wish for? But science is the last place I’d look.

So, this boring film, What the Bleep do we Know!? plays the new-age trick of mixing up quantum physics with the meaning of life, consciousness and healing. It includes the notion that saying nice things to water can alter its molecular structure. And they’re not the first.

Scientists routinely barge in on weird stuff, such as consciousness and quantum phenomena, and usually at the end of a career, once they’ve got your attention. If you ask me, it’s slightly grotesque.

Roger Penrose: brilliant maths, name made, Oxford, set up for life, then suddenly, big heave, out pops the book on quantum consciousness. Francis Crick, genius boy, discovers DNA, suddenly it’s 30 years later and he’s knocking out books on consciousness too.

Penrose and Hameroff’s hypothesis that microtubules might have something in them that precipitates a wave function collapse, and that this might have something to do with consciousness, is OK. It’s a nice idea. It smacks of the minimisation of mystery, the idea that quantum is weird, consciousness is weird, and we can’t have too much weird stuff going on in the universe so we’d better collapse the two together. It’s an indulgence, although to be fair it’s a fun one.

But compare Darwin and suddenly it all looks a bit trite. No nonsense for that boy. His last manuscript – contain your excitement – was called The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.

So what’s the difference between Penrose shooting off about quantum consciousness and these cheap new-age quantum truth peddlers? Like all scientists, although he was shooting at the stars and having fun, he still had the decency to label, clearly and separately, what was evidence and what was conjecture.

And more than that, like Darwin, he knew his stuff, which is probably why he didn’t feel the need to go off on one about self-help spirituality.

Read the last chapter of Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman for the real story on the outrageous weirdness of quantum phenomena – the bit where the waves turn into particles is particularly scary – and I defy you to still be worried about your place in the universe.

There are much stranger and more important things going on out there, and it is a lot more interesting than making stuff up.

dont fuck with chaz

Letters on the Pope

April 13th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, religion | 2 Comments »

Unholy criticism

I’m not a strict Roman Catholic, but I still find Ben Goldacre’s article (Bad Science, April 7) somewhat in bad taste. Being a scientist myself, I agree that the stance of the Vatican on issues such as contraception, HIV and family planning is indefensible. Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Dope

April 7th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in africa, alternative medicine, bad science, religion | 1 Comment »

Bad science

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 7, 2005
The Guardian

• Pope of Popes, the People’s Pope, Pope John Paul the Great. But to many he will perhaps be remembered as the African Aids Victims’ Pope. Who could forget Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, telling us all that HIV could pass through impermeable latex condoms? “The Aids virus is 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon,” he said. “The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ formed by the condom.” The devil sent Read the rest of this entry »

Monkey business

November 4th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, religion | 5 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday November 4, 2004
The Guardian

· For a bloke who looks a lot like a monkey, George W Bush has a strange disdain for evolution. Now, this might all seem very trivial to you, but the Bush administration has decided, just before this week’s vote, to stand by its approval for a book that’s being sold in National Park museums and bookshops. This book explains to young minds that the Grand Canyon is only a couple of thousand years old, and was created by Noah’s flood, rather than by geological forces.

· Lo! Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston heroically intervened and referred the sale of the book to his superiors but they sinisterly kept it on the shelves. They also appear to have ignored a letter from the presidents of the Palaeological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Geological Institute, the Geological Society of America, and more, all pointing out that the book was nonsense. And they told Congress that they’d have a review of whether they were going to sell the book, and then calmly didn’t bother.

· Verily you may now laugh at the Americans in a smug European way, for truly they are in the grip of religious freaks: or, alternatively, you can go to the City of Bristol’s Festival of Nature, which includes an extensive exhibition from Bad Science repeat-offenders The Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, Britain’s own creationist outfit, which specialises in targeting children, and advertises in its festival blurb that “huge educational mazes are part of these displays”. I think that might be a reference to the Intelligent Design argument.

· But if it’s back doors to enlightenment you’re after, you need look no further than Bach Flower Remedies’ new Yoga in a Bottle, which has several marketing advantages over real yoga: mainly, it requires the deployment of absolutely no exercise. Its only side effect is to eradicate the opportunity for meeting nice women at yoga class, but if you’re so physically non-viable that you’ve decided to buy yoga in a bottle, then you probably gave up any hope of action between the sheets several years ago, you decadent, obese, lazy, pathetic, unfit, feckless, unmotivated moron. Sorry, I think I’ve got low blood sugar this afternoon. And I always get bad-tempered if I haven’t mentioned Dr Gillian McKeith PhD for a while. “To avoided bloated tummy,” she writes, in this month’s Heat, “try not to eat when you’re tired, hungry, or upset.”

This letter followed a week later:

Monkey puzzle

I’m not convinced that Darwinian evolution comes across as that flattering for monkeys (Bad Science, November 4). They are often portrayed as a “rung down the evolutionary ladder”, which could be taken as an insult – especially now Bush (to mix metaphors) is “top dog” again.
Ella Smith
Edinburgh

Bushwhacked

July 15th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, religion | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday July 15, 2004
The Guardian

· Pointing out that the current American government is manipulative, deceitful and interventionist is hardly news: although it hadn’t occurred to naive little me that it’d started meddling in science. The Bush administration has decreed that the World Health Organisation must clear US government-funded researchers with the health and human sciences department, before they can speak at conferences. Nice. The editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the largest US academic journal, has already criticised the ban on authors of papers on Aids going to conferences, talking about their work and sharing knowledge, just because they have ideas counter to the Bush administration.

· The man who decides who can speak is William Steiger. His qualifications are a PhD in Latin American history and having George Bush Snr as godfather. He was behind the attack on WHO’s reasonable suggestion that no more than 10% of people’s energy intake should come from sugar: he said there was no supporting scientific evidence. The US has a 25% guideline. That’s a quarter of your dietary intake of energy “safely” coming from pure sugar.

· It gets worse. The American “Union of Concerned Scientists” has collected the signatures of dozens of Nobel prizewinners, in protest at government interference in “independent scientific review panels”. You can read the full report at www.ucsusa.org, but it’s pretty depressing. It includes examples of the Bush administration blocking research and twisting evidence on issues as diverse as safe levels in lead poisoning, the environmental impact of mining, farming, drug abuse and patterns of infectious diseases. It’s practically impossible to research a lot of these things without being part of government infrastructure.

· Funny things happen when political ideologies start interfering with science. Trofim Lysenko was the top Soviet biologist for decades: he thought natural selection was too individualistic, and spent his career growing plants really close together, in the hope they would develop collectivist tendencies. Challenge him and you were out of a job. Governments that interfere with science, with the lies of alternative therapists, the fluff of cosmetics adverts, and childish dramatisations of science stories in the news, all contribute to the popular impression that it is nonsense concocted by boffins pursuing their own peculiar agendas. And that’s bad.