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 »
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 »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 11th July 2009
This week I have attempted to engage in meaningful disputes with morons who have misled their readers using untrue facts. I will rise above it, because I am a nice guy. More importantly, I don’t want to end up being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, the new mental health problem being debated at the American Psychiatric Association conference.
Giving it some chat on the Today Programme, Radio 4, about dumbing down and why scientists often don’t like media scientists
I was just on the Today Programme on Radio 4 talking about dumbing down science in response to this piece in New Scientist by Kathy Sykes (who I like, and regard with some hope as a bit of a mate by the way).
I won’t talk about it too much here since I’m hopefully going to write something on the subject for either New Scientist (if Graham Lawton gets back to me: hello Graham!) or elsewhere writing a piece on the same subject which will hopefully come out in the 9th May edition of New Scientist.
You’ll remember the Durham fish oil “trial” story, possibly the greatest example of scientific incompetence ever documented from a local authority.
Initially they said – to blanket media coverage – that they were running a trial on fish oils, giving pills to 3,000 children to see if it improved GCSE performance. I pointed out, along with several academics, that their experiment was incompetently designed, for no good reason, and so would only produce false positive results. They responded that this was okay, as they hadn’t called it a “trial”. This was very simply untrue: Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday September 22 2007
So you will remember the fish oil pill stories of last year. For the new kids: pill company Equazen and Durham Council said they were doing a trial on them with their GCSE year, but it wasn’t really a proper trial, for example there was no control group, and they had lots of similarly dodgy “trials” dotted about, which were being pimped successfully to the media as “positive”. When asked,
I’m very much looking forward to this important press release, of a study in 4 children, making massive international news. The experiment is part of the promotional activity for another omega-3 pill called VegEPA, and a Channel Five documentary on children and diet to be broadcast later this week: it is unpublished, and this time the study, amazingly, was funded by the TV production company Endemol. They love these stories so much, they’ve started paying for the research. This represents a really interesting new development in the interplay between commercial companies making seductive claims about pills solving complex social problems, and the media who love them. They’ll be giving out their own degrees next.
For more on the dangers of making great leaps of faith on the real world abilities of a treatment using a theoretical surrogate outcome, I’d always recommend reading the excellent Trisha Greenhalgh, here on “Evidence and Marketing”:
This is taken from her book â€œHow to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicineâ€, a highly Read the rest of this entry »
For years, ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith has used her title to sell TV shows, diet books and herbal sex pills. Now the Advertising Standards Authority has stepped in. Yet the real problem is not what she calls herself, but the mumbo-jumbo she dresses up as scientific fact, says Ben Goldacre
Monday February 12, 2007
Call her the Awful Poo Lady, call her Dr Gillian McKeith PhD: she is an empire, a multi-millionaire, a phenomenon, a prime-time TV celebrity, a bestselling author. She has her own range of foods and mysterious powders, she has pills to give you an erection, and her face is in every health food store in the country. Scottish Conservative politicians want her to advise the government. The Soil Association gave her a prize for educating the public. And yet, Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday November 11, 2006
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried using the Freedom of Information Act: it’s an excellent trouble making tool, and you do feel quite James Bond, but the act has its flaws. One being that if you ask for too much, as one lone, obsessive, disproportionately pedantic science columnist, they turn you down on grounds of cost. Quite spuriously and unfairly, to my mind. So now I’m offering a kind of skills swap: I’ll teach you all how to do an FoI request (it’s easy) if you help me get a bunch of data. Read the rest of this entry »