A new and interesting form of wrong

November 27th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, numerical context, statistics, survey data | 32 Comments »

Ben Goldacre. The Guardian, Saturday 27 November 2010

Wrong isn’t enough: we need interestingly wrong, and this week that came in some research from Stonewall, an organisation for whom I generally have great respect, which was reported in the Guardian. Stonewall have conducted a survey, and their press release says it shows “the average coming out age has fallen by over 20 years”.

People may well be coming out earlier than before – intuitively that seems plausible – but Stonewall’s survey is flawed by design, and contains some interesting statistical traps. Read the rest of this entry »

The power of anecdotes

August 28th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in anecdotes, bad science, big pharma, media, statistics | 53 Comments »

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 »

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 »

Righteous mischief from Archie Cochrane

April 14th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, heroes, heroes of bad science, statistics, uncertainty | 10 Comments »

imageWorking 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 »

Lucia de Berk – a martyr to stupidity

April 9th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, numerical context, statistics | 53 Comments »

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 »

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 »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

By me in the BMJ: the dodginess of drug company trials

December 1st, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, big pharma, hiding data, regulating research, statistics, subgroup analysis, systematic reviews, trial registers | 73 Comments »

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, ben@badscience.net. 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 »

Lloyds and Carbon Monoxide

March 17th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, cash-for-"stories", churnalism, statistics | 29 Comments »

Just looked this up myself and saw that for some reason it never got posted on the blog, so here it is.

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
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 »

Datamining for terrorists would be lovely if it worked

February 28th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evidence based policy, politics, statistics, surveillance | 79 Comments »

The Guardian
Saturday February 28 2009
Ben Goldacre

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 »