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 »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 24 September 2011
Last week the Daily Mail and the Today programme took some bait from Aric Sigman, an author of popular sciencey books about the merits of traditional values. “Sending babies and toddlers to daycare could do untold damage to the development of their brains and their future health,” explained the Mail.
These news stories were based on a scientific paper by Sigman in The Biologist. It misrepresents individual studies, as Professor Dorothy Bishop demonstrated almost immediately, and it cherry-picks the scientific literature, selectively referencing only the studies that support Sigman’s view. Normally this charge of cherry-picking would take a column of effort to prove, but this time Sigman himself admits it, frankly, in a PDF posted on his own website. Read the rest of this entry »
Sorry no column this week, I’ve got some fun stuff in the pipe, as they say, and a lot on. In case you miss me, here’s my shouty contribution to Radio 4’s “Moments Of Genius”, a eulogy to the startlingly new idea of systematic reviews.
Other bits and bobs… 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, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 »
Ben Goldacre, Saturday 3 October 2009, The Guardian.
There are some very obvious problems that never seem to go away. Right now I can see 1,592 articles on Google News about one poor girl who died unexpectedly after receiving the cervical vaccine, and only 363 explaining that the post mortem found a massive and previously undiagnosed tumour in her chest. Meanwhile the Daily Mail this week continue their oncological ontology project with the magnificent headline: “Daily dose of housework could cut risk of breast cancer”.
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.
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 1 August 2009
This week the Food Standards Agency published 2 review papers showing that organic food is no better than normal food, in terms of composition, or health benefits. The Soil Association’s response has been swift, receiving prominent and blanket right of reply: this is testament to the lobbying power of this £2bn industry, and the cultural values of people who work in the media. I don’t care about organic food. I am interested in bad arguments. Theirs has three components.
By-the-by I don’t really understand why the Guardian subs gave this piece, about how Tamiflu isn’t so great, a headline saying “the drugs do work”. I mean they kind of do work a bit, and we don’t know if they do in a pandemic since they’ve not been tested in those circumstances (which probably won’t come to pass) but we hope they will and so they’re recommended.
Saturday 2 May 2009
Look I don’t want to freak you out, since Tamiflu is the one thing which everyone believes will save us from Parmageddon, but I’ve been reading through the published trial data on the drug, and I’m not sure it’s all that great. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s not just about Prozac. Our failure to properly regulate testing in the pharmaceutical industry has devastating costs
Wednesday February 27 2008
Yesterday the journal PLoS Medicine published a study which combined the results of 47 trials on some antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, and found only minimal benefits over placebo, except for the most depressed patients. It has been misreported as a definitive nail in the coffin: this is not true. It was a restricted analysis [see below] but, more importantly, on the question of antidepressants, it added very little. We already knew that SSRIs give only a modest benefit in mild and moderate depression and, indeed, for some time now, the NICE guidelines themselves have actively advised against using them in milder cases since Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday January 5 2008
It is rare that a bad pharma story is left untouched by the British media, but this one unfolded while everyone was drunk in December, and perhaps it was just too geeky. Luckily, you share my taste for details. Ezetimibe is a best-selling cholesterol drug with sales of more than £2bn last year. It can modify cholesterol levels but no one knows whether it cuts the incidence of real outcomes such as heart attacks, or, you know, death. Is that the bad thing? Read the rest of this entry »