Atomic tomatoes are not the only fruit

December 16th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in africa, alternative medicine, bad science, celebs, channel 4, channel five, cosmetics, dna, express, gillian mckeith, herbal remedies, independent, letters, mail, MMR, nutritionists, oxygen, penises, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, quantum physics, references, space, statistics, telegraph, times, very basic science, water | 9 Comments »

This article is a rough transcript of the most excellent Bad Science Awards 2004 that were held in the Asylum Club on Rathbone St W1, a tiny basement club with a fire safety license for 150. We were expecting 20 people but to general astonishment there were queues down the street, and an unruly crowd who were drunkenly, loudly, and at one point quite violently baying for Gillian McKeith’s blood. Also performing were the excellently frightening and dangerous Disinformation presents “National Grid”, performance terrorism with victorian electrical equipment and rubber gloves, featuring Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor and Guardian Far Out fame.

Thursday December 16, 2004
The Guardian

Ben Goldacre on the gongs nobody wants to win…

Andrew Wakefield prize for preposterous extrapolation from a single unconvincing piece of scientific data

With its place at the kernel of Bad Science reporting in the news media, this was bound to be a hotly contested category. Were there any Read the rest of this entry »

The Bad Science awards

December 9th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, channel 4 | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday December 9, 2004
The Guardian

· We thought it was time for a party, so those of you who like a good bunfight are cordially invited to join us for childishness and chaos at the 2004 Bad Science awards next Monday, December 13, starting at 8pm in the Asylum, 28 Rathbone Place, London W1. All you have to do in order to be invited is to send us your nomination for Bad Science of the year in absolutely any category you can think of, on the usual email address. Current categories include Bad Science product of the Year; Bad Science journal of the year (my money’s on the Daily Mail but it could be a close thing); and Channel 4 Scottish nutritionist PhD of the year.

· TV’s Vivienne Parry, star of Tomorrow’s World (and Life), is our celebrity guest, which excites me more than you could ever possibly understand, and prizewinners will be invited so you may even get to meet some of your nutritionist heroes, although frankly I doubt it. The venue can hold about a hundred, although we’d be astonished if more than 10 of you showed up, and even if you don’t want to come, you’ll be doing us a favour by nominating something, because then we won’t have to think about it too hard.

· Even more excitingly, also joining us will be National Grid, who will perform the kind of live science show you always deserved, featuring big sparks and rhythmic, musical manipulations to the 50Hz oscillation of the National Grid through some large bass speakers, accompanied by an antique static electricity generator, an induction coil, Crookes tubes, and Victorian electromedical violet ray devices.

· The vibrations at their performance in Tokyo brought down parts of the ceiling, but we made friends when they delivered a well-reasoned Bad Science rant about how flaky most art-meets-science projects are, and continued: “Even National Grid is sometimes misinterpreted as a kind of avant-garde protest about the negative health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields. It is, however, conceived from the view that the overwhelming health effect of electrification is to bring light, heat and creative energy into the homes of millions of people (with the obvious ramifications for expectancy and quality of life). When the grid was nationalised in 1926 (by, ironically, Tory PM Stanley Baldwin) the act was described as ‘the most socialist piece of legislation ever known’.” Clearly such heroes of Bad Science deserve a wider audience. Don’t forget the nominations.

Chips with everything

December 2nd, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, nutritionists, weight loss | 4 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday December 2, 2004
The Guardian

· I love Christmas. All those festive news stories planted by industry about how chocolate and booze are good for you, and then the excitement of a season of new year bad science detox stories to look forward to. “According to the British Nutrition Foundation, most adults tend to put on at least 5-7Ib over the four-week Christmas period.” So says the PR department of Phase 2, a white kidney bean extract that’s “the low-carb diet in a pill”. It’s a great idea: an amylase inhibitor that stops your body breaking down carbohydrates, so you can’t absorb them and you presumably poo them out. Whole chips perhaps.

· It’s not a particularly new idea. In fact, in 1983, Professor John Garrow and some colleagues read about a similar product, and came up with an ingenious way of testing it. We eat plants and then break down their carbohydrates, release their energy for our own dubious purposes and breathe out carbon dioxide. There are two isotopes of carbon: carbon-13 and carbon-12. Some plants have a higher amount of carbon-13 in their sugars than others, so if you eat the carbohydrates from them, you soon breathe out carbon dioxide that has more carbon-13 than usual. To measure carbon-13 against carbon-12 you need a mass spectrometer: the joy of being a scientist is that you might have a friend who has one lying around on the day you feel like causing some trouble. They gave five obese women starch meals containing lots of carbon-13, along with a placebo tablet, or Starchex, the amylase inhibitor tablet of the day. The result? Placebo or amylase inhibitor, it made no difference, they still breathed out the same amount of carbon-13; they also had the same blood sugar changes and insulin levels after their meals. As far as you can tell, the pill made no difference to starch absorption.

· But wait: Phase 2 boasts “eight separate clinical trials”. I could find one properly published, in the Alternative Medicine Review. The Phase 2 group lost 3.79lb, and the placebo group lost 1.65lb, on average: but the difference was only statistically significant at p=0.35. That’s not even worth printing, because it means (and bear with me professional statisticians, I only have 400 words to make my point here) that there was a one in three chance that the finding was completely by chance. One in 20 is the traditional cut-off for people to take a finding seriously. And regardless of statistical significance, I leave it to you to decide if a difference of 2lb has any practical significance. Keep eating those chips.