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 | 35 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 »

Stylish correction from the Observer readers’ editor

October 14th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in danie krugel | 70 Comments »

I went to a lecture by the Freakonomics guys a while ago, and someone asked about the routine inaccuracy of news stories in the media. Look, said one of them (although I’ve got no idea who): the thing about journalism is, people expect it to be a true account of the world, but we’ve forgotten what the nature of journalism is. A reporter isn’t a superhuman essayist researcher, they are your surrogate, your proxy. When there is a fire on your street at two in the morning, and you can’t be bothered to go out in the rain, a reporter goes along in your place, and tells you what’s going on, but he only does what you’d do: gossips with the neighbours; gets a word or two from whichever member of the emergency services happens to be walking past; and passes that on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Madeleine McCann, the Observer, and their special magic quantum DNA box (with secret energy source)

October 7th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in media | 66 Comments »

Madeleine McCann is a 4 year old girl who went missing from her parents’ holiday hotel room in Portugal 5 months ago. Danie Krugel is an ex-policeman in South Africa who believes he can pinpoint the location of missing people anywhere in the world.

He does this using his special magic box, which works by something to do with “quantum physics”, “complex and secret science techniques”, a secret energy source which nobody is allowed to know about, and a strand of the missing person’s hair or some other source of DNA. His secret method can miraculously pinpoint the missing person’s location anywhere in the world on a map, using their DNA and international GPS technology, so he says.

This might sound ridiculous to you, but today Krugel is featured in a completely serious news story in the Observer newspaper about the hunt for Madeleine McCann, where Read the rest of this entry »

Observer MMR story disappears from archives – updated

July 24th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in MMR | 44 Comments »

Lots of people have emailed in to say that the Observer’s spectacularly misleading MMR story has been removed from the archive and is no longer available online.,,2121521,00.html

For obvious reasons of propriety I have studiously avoided having an inside track on anything to do with this piece from the beginning, so I have no idea what is going on here.

From the comments:

A clue about the removal of the Observer piece?

“A paragraph regarding concern about MMR overseas, extracted from a piece in the Observer now deleted from the website due to concerns about its accuracy, has been removed from this article until the information can be verified”

The Observer makes another hash of “clarifying” and persists in trying to cover up its mistakes

July 22nd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in MMR | 52 Comments »

They still don’t seem to understand the problems with the one in 58 figure, and they still don’t seem to be able to understand the report they keep going on about (but won’t let anyone see because they think their scientific evidence is top secret), and they are still covering up their mistakes. Read the rest of this entry »

MMR and The Observer – a nation waits

July 21st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in MMR | 7 Comments »

I’ve been told by Dr Fiona Scott that the main news editor of the Observer phoned her today, and she has been promised that there will be a large article in tomorrow’s Observer [EDIT it’s up now, here] reproducing in full and unedited the comments that she ended up posting, in desperation, in the commentisefree thread beneath their previous and rather incomprehensible non-retraction. In those, she explained that they had repeatedly misrepresented her views, and had consistently failed even to ask her what they were, despite her protesting. Read the rest of this entry »

“Try Me, Sh*thead” – the strange case of Carol Stott, Wakefield, and the Observer – including bizarre update

July 8th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, MMR, scare stories | 40 Comments »

Update 10:30pm Sunday 8/7/07:

Just got this reply from Dr Scott, in response to my email below: she seems to say the Observer have concocted something, but it’s certainly vague. Have asked her for clarification, but no response (still none as of 17:15 9/7/07 despite various emails and phone call). [i should clarify that sincec then its become clear that scott is definitely one of the good people]

NOTE: It’s worth following up this story, it turned out Fiona Scott was indeed grotesquely and repeatedly misrepresented by the Observer Read the rest of this entry »

Unfavourable Mention in Observer

June 12th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists | 3 Comments »

Promo article for McKeith in today’s Observer describes me as a “journalist” and then goes off to find some scientists
to quote. Entertainingly unattributed Bad Science stories throughout. By “Rachel Cooke”.,,1501833,00.html

So where did she train? McKeith’s CV has been the subject of some debate in the press. Her PhD, for instance, was gained via a distance learning programme at a non-accredited college, the American College of Holistic Nutrition, now known as the Clayton College of Natural Health. The fact that this college is non-accredited means that the US secretary for education does not recognise its degrees for the purpose of educational grants. In some states, the holder of a degree from such an establishment would not be allowed to practise as a clinical nutritionist. McKeith has never published any properly evaluated scientific research, not even her PhD thesis. As the journalist Ben Goldacre pointed out in his Bad Science column in the Guardian, McKeith’s much-vaunted certified membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants is also a peculiar boast. Ben Goldacre managed to buy the same membership for his dead cat via the internet for the bargain price of $60.

Of course, none of this would matter if all the advice that McKeith was handing out was based on scientific fact. But this is not always the case. Much of what she says is patent nonsense. In the past, she has informed us that a seed contains ‘all of the energy necessary to make a fully grown plant’, that ‘chlorophyll is high in oxygen’ which means eating green leaves will ‘really oxygenate the blood’, and that ‘the colours of foods represent vibrational energies… foods which are orange in colour have similar vibrational energies and even similar nutrient make-up’. “

Jeremy Laurance gets angry about scrutiny for journalists’ claims

June 8th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, hate mail, independent | 62 Comments »

You might be amused by this piece from the Independent’s health reporter Jeremy Laurance today. It’s about what a bad man I am for pointing out when science and health journalists get things wrong. Alongside the lengthy ad hominem – a matter of taste for you – there are a number of mistakes and, more than that, a worrying resistance to the idea that anyone should dare to engage in legitimate criticism. He also explains that health journalists simply can’t be expected to check facts. This worries me. Read the rest of this entry »

“We are more possible than you can powerfully imagine”

July 29th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, legal chill, libel | 37 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Wednesday 29 July 2009

Today the Australian magazine Cosmos, along with a vast number of other blogs and publications, reprinted an article by Simon Singh, in slightly tweaked form, in an act of solidarity. The British Chiropractic Association has been suing Singh personally for the past 15 months, over a piece in the Guardian where he criticised the BCA for claiming that its members could treat children for colic, ear infections, asthma, prolonged crying, and sleeping and feeding conditions by manipulating their spines. Read the rest of this entry »