Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 28 August 2010
For simpletons and amateurs, there are good research methods, and bad research methods. In reality, different tools are valuable in different situations, and sometimes, even very tiny numbers of people can give you a meaningful piece of information: even an anecdote can be informative. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Working on an editorial about the importance of evidence based social policy, I re-discovered this moment of genius from Archie Cochrane which I thought I’d share. It’s 1971, he’s part way through a randomised trial comparing Coronary Care Units against home care, and the time has come to share some results with the cardiologists.
I am not asking you to appreciate the results: this was a long time ago, and the findings will not be generalisable to modern CCU’s.
I am inviting you to appreciate the mischief.
Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 10 April 2010
Lucia de Berk is a Dutch nurse who has spent 6 years in jail on a life sentence for murdering 7 people, in a killing spree that never happened. She will hear about her appeal on Wednesday, and there is now little doubt that she will be let off. The statistical errors in the evidence against her were so crass that they can be explained in one newspaper column. So will the people who jailed her apologise? Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a piece by me in the British Medical Journal this week, published online already, and in the print edition this Friday. It’s a head to head with Vincent Lawton, who until recently was head of Merck in the UK. Briefly, I set out the quantitative evidence demonstrating the scale of the problem, and he says: “oh, we’ve fixed everything now, and anyway some academic trials are dodgy too, here’s one what I found”. That’s a paraphrase, you can read his response for free on the BMJ website here, since they’ve decided that this is an important issue which deserves open access. If you’ve got something really clever to say about these pieces then you might also want to comment in the “Rabid Response” section of the BMJ version of either article.
We were going to have a debate on the Today programme on Monday morning, and then tomorrow morning, but unfortunately it’s been ditched. If you work in mainstream media and would like to cover this issue I’m always keen, and amazingly easy to get hold of, email@example.com. Although I realise that your idea of a meaningful critique of the crimes of big pharma is “chemotherapy hurt my grandma that’s why I love vitamin pills and hate teh vaxxines lol freedom”. Read the rest of this entry »
Just looked this up myself and saw that for some reason it never got posted on the blog, so here it is.
Saturday 10th October 2008
What I like about Bad Science is that it’s a game the whole family can play. This month “Lloydspharmacy”, as Lloyds Pharmacy insist on being called, is trying to flog carbon monoxide detectors (for only £12.99). It is a noble calling, so it decided to follow industry protocol for getting its product and brand into the media: it produced a misleading set of superficially plausible survey figures to massage our prejudices, which journalists obediently copied and pasted out of the Lloyds press release email and into their word processors, to make a “news” article. Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday February 28 2009
This week Sir David Omand, the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, described how the state should analyse data about individuals in order to find terrorist suspects: travel information, tax, phone records, emails, and so on. “Finding out other people’s secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules” he said, because we’ll need to screen everyone to find the small number of suspects.
There is one very significant issue that will always make data mining unworkable when used to search for terrorist suspects in a general population, and that is what we might call Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday February 21 2009
In 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 »