Here’s a talk I did last year that’s just popped up online. The Cochrane Collaboration is a fabulous organisation, producing gold standard “systematic reviews” summarising all the data that’s ever been collected on important questions in medicine. Cochrane have become great by inviting criticism: for example, they run the Silverman Prize, for the best essay or paper pointing out stuff that they’ve got wrong. At their 21st birthday conference, they asked me to do a talk on what they should do next. I said they should get better at talking to patients; better at talking to policy makers; and better at talking to machines. Here’s the talk: Read the rest of this entry »
James Ball sent me the data for the Russian election vote counts this morning and asked me to test whether it deviates from Benford’s law, a test that can give a hint at whether numbers are the product of fraud. Posted below is my analysis, and also a check for last digit preference, which is another method for spotting sneakiness. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 17 September 2011
This week we might bust an entire nation for handing over dodgy economic statistics. But first: why would they bother? Well, it turns out that whole countries have an interest in distorting their accounts, just like companies and individuals. If you’re an Euro member like Greece, for example, you have to comply with various economic criteria, and there’s the risk of sanctions if you miss them. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Ben Goldacre, Saturday 8 August 2009, The Guardian.
Much of what we cover in this column revolves around the idea of a “systematic review”, where the literature is surveyed methodically, following a predetermined protocol, to find all the evidence on a given question. As we saw last week, for example, the Soil Association would rather have the freedom to selectively reference only research which supports their case, rather than the totality of the evidence.
Two disturbing news stories demonstrate how this rejection of best practice can also cut to the core of academia.