Now with audio, and in stereo: I am an arsehole and a prick…

November 29th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, postmodernist bollocks, roland kapferer | 12 Comments »


Remember poor old Roland Kapferer, the man who told everyone that he’d proved Agatha Christie affects your neurotransmitters, and then backtracked loopily into pomo nonsense when I pointed out that he’d done no such thing?

Well it seems it still hurts. Here he is on the radio last Sunday giving his first response to my criticisms since the article was published:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I think he makes some excellent points very early on.

And some cheeky scamp, in the course of today, it would seem, has contacted Google, and asked them to remove their link to the posts here on Roland. Heh.

Anyway, here’s the tip off email if you can’t be bothered to listen to the audio:

Hi Ben,

The other day I was listening to one of my favourite radio shows,
‘Sunday Night Safran’ here on Australian radio (specifically last
Sunday’s show, which you can hear via the podcast here: They were talking to Roland
Kapferer, a semi-regular guest that they talk to about world politics
and the like. He mentioned his latest TV show ‘The Agatha Christie
Code’ and how it was panned by “a real arsehole guy from the Guardian”
who accused it of being bad science… I knew immediately the
“arsehole” he was referring to 🙂 He went on to say:

“He just had some kind of silly positivistic notions of science, he
doesn’t know what science is. I mean, according to his principles,
Galileo was bad science. We were at the forefront of knowledge there,
we were testing new boundaries, and that’s what scientists do. … I’m
not saying we proved anything conclusively, but then it’s not proven
conclusively that the sun will be there tomorrow.”

Classic. If you want to hear it for yourself it’s freely available on
that website. Of course, don’t discount the entire show based on that
one moron (who I should disclose was a producer of one of the host’s
TV shows). The show is generally about religion, politics, and art,
which it does quite well.

So there you go. By the way, great website!



You can read the article Kapferer is so upset about here:

I think what’s interesting about this is that Kapferer pranced about in the media telling everyone about the brilliant neuroscience research breakthrough he’d made, and then when he got caught out, he retreated into esoteric social theory arguments to explain what was clearly a rather embarrassing situation.

He also claimed he’d been misrepresented by a foolish media, although unfortunately for him, as you will see if you follow the link, I got hold of his program’s press release, in which his grand claims were perfectly clear in black and white.

Of particular interest is how this “science” was, once again, commercially funded PR “scientific research” to promote a product, was not published, and the work that was done very clearly did not support the clear assertions made in either the press release, the media quotes, or the extensive news coverage that followed.

I particularly recommend Kapferer’s letter in response to my queries, reproduced in full at the bottom of the link. It’s a classic of the genre!

Here’s a longer version of the audio too:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

12 Responses

  1. tideliar said,

    November 29, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    I honestly don’t know how you have the patience Ben. I’d be screaming and pulling my hair out with frustration with this recidivistic wankery. Two-faced weasles, all of them!! I have to state the obvious: You call him on his bollocks (sounds painful!), he gives you P.M.A&H.G*. nonsense, then on a radio show 15000 miles away he bad mouths you as a scientist and journalist. Seriously mate, give him a slap.

    (*postmodernist, arts & humanities grad)

  2. Will said,

    November 29, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    I think you should be proud! If there is anything to be said for fame, being slagged off by some nonsce* [sic] on the other side of the globe because he’s been made to look a bit silly, has got to be one of the more highly scoring in the kudos stakes!


  3. doctormonkey said,

    November 29, 2006 at 5:44 pm

    I find it all (re-reading the article from January, I am too much of a luddite to understand how to get a podcast at 25) rather depressing as Kapferer has a good sounding PhD in philosophy and a background in anthropology and other things

    I think we need more philosophers in science (on ethics and steering committees etc) but Dr Kapferer seems to be more a TV exec and to be trying to use science as a tool to make more TV programmes by dressing them up in scientific language – for instance one of his two scientific sources for claims about “language patterns which
    stimulate higher than usual activity in the brain and release neurological opiates” is Paul McKenna making a possibly educated guess or maybe just a playful one!

    On the other hand, the use of language patterns is interesting because to compare Christie’s small vocabulary in the books to Shakespeare’s vast one you almost stop trying to work out what every word in Shakespeare means and just go with the flow as it is spoken and Christie might achieve something similar with books… I dunno, brains are a bit complex for me

    So we had some interesting (humanities based) scientific comparisons of popular authors’ vocabularies etc but to “sex up” the programme they tried to guess beyond that as to why Christie is so popular without worrying about any of that “having to prove it…” nonsense.

    Sad really, I find the idea that someone can explain which bit of brain damage explains my fondness for Tom Clancy novels quite interesting!

    I hope I have not re-invented the wheel with this but I needed to go back and look up what had happened in January and felt the need to comment on that and then my disappointment that this gentleman still seems to be banging on the same drum (I also spent January of this year working evil shifts in an A&E department so wasn’t as able to appreciate the BadScience back then)

    oh, and does this count as a citation for calculating the importance of badscience as a journal, can’t remember what the scoring system is called but it is the one where I think JAMA is top along with BMJ, NEJM and Lancet

  4. SciencePunk said,

    November 29, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Why making enemies so much more satisfying than making fans?

  5. Delster said,

    November 30, 2006 at 11:45 am

    I think they picked up one of the main reasons her work is so readable then pretty much ignored it

    They said her writing becomes simpler to read etc the closer to the “climax” you get. This is a simple writers trick that makes things seem to speed up as you get further into the book…. no neuro linguistics involved. (never read one of her’s i have to admit so extrapolating from other books i’ve read that do the same)

    Also the comment about the sun might not be there tomorrow?? let’s see if we apply a bit of science to this one what we get.

    Ok the earth has been around for a while now (i know it’s more than this but go with me) say 500,000,000 years.

    This would give a sample size of 182,500,000,000 day’s (ignoring leap years you pedants)

    So far the sun has been there on each day, apart from say the occasional half hour for eclipses over a small portion of the globe.

    Anybody care to work out the statistical significance of the sun being here tomorrow?

  6. MissPrism said,

    November 30, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    Comparing oneself to Galieleo (or Einstein) should be, and probably already is, an official argument-stopper along the lines of Godwin’s Law.
    Speaking of which, the first result of a Google search with the term “like Galileo” is.. David Irving.

  7. Mojo said,

    November 30, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Missprism said, “Comparing oneself to Galieleo (or Einstein) should be, and probably already is, an official argument-stopper along the lines of Godwin’s Law.”

    It gets 40 points on John Baez’s Crackpot Index (item 35).

  8. Laurence said,

    December 5, 2006 at 10:51 am

    It seems as if this Kapferer guy wants to have his cake and eat it. He goes on about how his detractors are all stuck in some blind positivistic mode, and yet, in the press release, attempts to use present ‘findings’ in clear cut absolutist terms and talks about neurochemical processes as if they were opinions and viewpoints.

    It’s annoying that good non-positivistic social science gets discredited by deliberate confusers and quacks, who seem not to grasp that variety in thinking about method, validity, and evidence means that you have to be careful about being appropriate to what’s being studied – not pick and chose according to your own whims and half baked notions.

  9. pseudomonas said,

    December 10, 2006 at 7:36 pm

    Poor guy, just shove his name into Google on its own:

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