Did you just call me a slag?

March 10th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, onanism, scare stories | 25 Comments »

One of the funny things about my hobby is that people you previously considered to be mates and colleagues can cheerfully denounce you as a media whore. Until today I could parry that accusation by suggesting – tenuously mind you – that the whole Bad Science project represents some kind of moral crusade. As of today that excuse no longer holds water.

At 11:00pm on Radio 4 you can share in my dubious and rather poorly thought-through views on infidelity.

How did it come to this?

I’m also on You and Yours talking about mobile phone stalkers at midday. In fact, I was on Greek telly talking about stalkers yesterday. Greek telly. They offered me a cheque when they left. This is completely out of control. I feel dirty.

You can “listen again” until next Friday:


Anyway, now I come to think of it, there is one bit of this pre-recorded Radio 4 thing tonight which I’m kind of intrigued to see if they cut, because I think it speaks to the conflicted media whore problem. When I arrived, the presenter had no idea I was a doctor: I was surprised, and I’d just bombed over on my bike from clinic, but in many ways I was pleased, because I deliberately don’t write as “Dr Ben Goldacre”, I’ve never thought it was very relevant, and it somehow feels a bit crass to trade on some supposed authority or rep. It is possible that I’m just a bit weird about this issue. So.

The first piece in the show was a genuinely moving essay – and you know I wouldn’t say that very often – from someone my age who’d been screened, and had discovered she was going to get Huntington’s Chorea. I think because she was my age, and went to Cambridge, and reminded me a lot of a lot of some of my friends, and was clearly a really solid decent person, I have to say I was a bit choked. After the essay, there’s a discussion, and the host turned to me, and said: “as a doctor, you must encounter this kind of thing all the time, what would your advice be in the surgery?”

Now, I can’t fully explain why, and I would hope I wouldn’t need to, but I’ve always thought there’s something unbelievably nauseating and inappropriate about TV doctors, charging around making phony normative pronouncements on peoples’ relationships with their sister, or whether their mattress is bad for them, or whether they should have a breast cancer screen, or the right way to die, or any of that stuff, but suddenly, in that studio, I found myself in a situation where I was being invited and expected and cornered into fulfilling that role myself.

So stop me if I’m boring you, but this precipitated an absolutely colossal internal freak out – I was a bit on the hoof as I was kind of lost in my own thoughts about the very human story I’d just heard from the person I was sitting next to – and I just found myself blurting out something like “look, I have to say, I’ve always thought that people who talk like that about their work as doctors are really sick-making, so, yes, I am sorry, I didn’t know you were after that kind of thing, I can only really speak for myself, as a, umm, person.”

I’m thinking this was not the kind of insightful commentary they were looking for.

Now I freely confess, you could argue, this was a slightly melodramatic and egocentric response. But what else was I going to do? I’d rather slam my cock in the door than be a media doctor who talks about what he gets up to in the consulting room, and more than that, I feel very strongly that they are a corrosive and unhelpful force for the perception of doctors as a whole and are in so many ways a “bad thing” (it’s a long argument). There was genuinely no other way to work my way out of this uniquely strange corner. I could have just given a “speaking only for myself” type answer (which I had to do later, anyway, when he doggedly tried for a second time to get me to give an “as a doctor…” answer), I could have ignored what he’d said, rambled into something else, but I don’t know, I just couldn’t think about anything other than disassociating myself from the grim media archetype of “doctorly arse on sofa”. Am I so wrong?

Anyway, I’ll be interested to see if they cut that bit. The rest of the show is much more interesting than this trivial personal quandary.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

25 Responses

  1. interbreeding said,

    March 10, 2006 at 6:24 am

    you are dirty, Ben, you are

  2. martin said,

    March 10, 2006 at 8:16 am

    and on BBC Four last night. Or were you hoping that nobody would notice that one?

  3. superburger said,

    March 10, 2006 at 9:28 am

    Wanting desperatley to appear on TV is not unusual to scientists with doctorates.


    But I hope you didn’t chase after the peoducer saying

    ‘Why not? Why can’t I host the show? I know I’m the health person, but there’s more to me than that. Don’t you run away from me. You stop.’ Just like TVs number one ‘Doctor’ Mrs Gillian McKeith.

  4. Astatine said,

    March 10, 2006 at 9:47 am

    Inevitably there will be a behavioral study of penguins, chimpanzees and pandas showing many species’ predispositon to become media whores.

    I expect the gene to be isolated by 2009 at the latest; it will subsequently be used to scan the population for potential Big Brother contestants or victims of “makeover” shows.

  5. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 10, 2006 at 9:51 am

    in my defense this happened by accident, and organically, at least. you wouldn’t have caught me prancing about on “famelab”.

  6. stever said,

    March 10, 2006 at 11:04 am

    only because you werent invited

  7. John A said,

    March 10, 2006 at 11:06 am

    To think that when you’ve reached the heady heights of adverts for “good bacteria” health drinks that actually lower cholesterol, shampoo science voiceovers and perhaps even a slot in Steve Wright’s posse, I’ll be able to say I’d read you first in the Guardian before all my mates. ;-P

  8. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 10, 2006 at 11:19 am

    imagine the power i shall wield when i turn to the dark side.

  9. stever said,

    March 10, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Im listening btw – and its some bollocks about submarines.

  10. drk said,

    March 10, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Don’t do it … the thin end of the wedge and all ..

    I now worry that the next thing we know .. Bad Science will be promoting smoking as an antidote to asthma and cancer … LOL

    Keep up the good work – and if you are lucky enough to earn your expenses and costs of running this site – you’ve earned it.

  11. Mork said,

    March 10, 2006 at 12:58 pm


    I see from your link that you’re on with Sarah Winkless. That’s not the Olympic rower is it? I was at University with her. A rather poor claim to fame I know but there you go…

  12. ACH said,

    March 10, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    stever – were you listening at 11am instead of 11PM, which I think is when Ben is on?

  13. Very True Things - Warning said,

    March 10, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    […] Oddly enough, the top to items in my newsreader this morning were about celebrity physicists and the media whoredom of a scientist. Not that this has any relevance to any close personal friends… Very True Mood: still icky, it’s so not fair! Leave a comment Name (required) E-mail (required)(will not be published) Website Your Comment […]

  14. Pete said,

    March 13, 2006 at 12:53 am

    meh, everybody has bad days, I wouldn’t have been reading this site for so long if I didn’t think you were worth reading.

    I didn’t actually catch the programme, was it as bad as you feared?

  15. MostlySunny said,

    March 14, 2006 at 11:13 am

    I think the trick is that you don’t wind up believing your own press… ie a certain totally self deluded “eccentric brilliant doctor” who is a regular on these pages…

  16. DrKatypoo said,

    March 17, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    Don’t see anything wrong with sensible scientists doing media stuff. It seems to me that the more sensible ones there are doing this the less room there is for the crackpots…..

  17. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 20, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Oh, whore away. Of course you’re looking at someone who isn’t your patient and you haven’t examined them and you probably aren’t being paid BMA scale, but you can role-play.

    You weren’t ever on that panel game with Hillary Jones and Struck Off & Die, I think it was only them and comedians, not other proper doctors? And of course before that it was Instant Sunshine. I think Richard Stilgoe took them off once marvellously.

  18. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 20, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    i’ve got something great on hillary jones i reckon, is he known for saying flaky things? i thought he was ok until i found this one classic…

  19. JMS said,

    March 21, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    Ben, you’re a medic. You’re no more a proper doctor -one with a Phd- than Liam Fox is a real fox.

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 21, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    i dont quite follow where that outburst came from JMS, who said “proper doctor”?

  21. thirdparty said,

    April 9, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Most dictionaries define the word doctor as a person licensed to practice medicine aswell as other definitions, including a person who possesses a PhD and one of a variety of gaudy, artificial flies (angling).
    I can’t find a definition for “proper doctor”.
    I haven’t met anyone yet who thought that because I am a doctor, that I was a gaudy, artificial fly. One lives in hope.

  22. mikew said,

    April 12, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Why must I BEE logged in to post a comment ?

  23. mikew said,

    April 12, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Incidentally I believe Ben is an MD and hence a ‘proper’ doctor as well as an ‘honorary’ medical doc. PhD is not the only doctor – what about LLD as well ?

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