Brighton Science Festival Tomorrow

February 17th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, onanism | 19 Comments »

If I was any good at pushing myself I might have mentioned this a bit earlier. Should be fun though, lots of good people, I’m on at about 2pm, after Steve Jones (not worthy etc). I’m expecting a picket of angry nutritionists. Any advice on what I should talk about this time?

Don’t Dumb Me Down used to be kind of my talk standard, but it takes an hour, tricky to abridge in some respects. My only real interest in CAM and nutritionism is the misrepresentation of science in the media, so it’s a shame to focus on them too much, when there’s scare stories and wrong media fluff to talk about, but they do make good small sized packages.

So although I’m a bit bored of nutritionism at the mo, I could do that, it encapsulates a lot of issues, from media, through CAM, and into dangers of ignorance (eg Holford and HIV in South Africa). I really fancy doing a “basics of evidence based medicine” piece, built around how to win an argument on homeopathy? That brings in trial methodology, critical appraisal, cultural role of CAM and trials, it’s the greatest idea of modern history and neglected in schools, and best of all, it sounds really boring, so it’s interesting to try and make it interesting, which I think I can. Also it’s a good solid bit of science to explain that people might not already know.

Anyway, audience of everyday folk interested in science stuff, 20-30 mins then 10-20 mins of questions. I prefer conversations to ranting so I might try and up the questions bit. See you there if you come and do say hi etc.

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

19 Responses

  1. censored said,

    February 17, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Looking forward to this tomorrow, Ben!

    My advice, given Brighton is the spiritual (geddit?) home of woo, would be the evidence based stuff. This place is crawling with everything from homeopathy to animal osteopathy (yes, I saw it today) and a talk on evidenced based medicine should sum up the arguments against homeopathy, McKeith and Holford all in one.

    Then you can have a few pints and I’ll point you in the direction of the baby homeopathy clinic…

    Oh and keep a knob gag or two in reserve. Just in case.

  2. censored said,

    February 17, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Oh, by the way. If there’s a particular question you’d like me to ask that will make you look witheringly intelligent and devistatingly funny, let me know…

  3. jackpt said,

    February 17, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Too early in the day on a Sunday. I’m not religious or anything, it’s just that Saturday night will preclude the option.

    I really want to see what medical science has given us pushed. We don’t hear the success stories enough (I have a rough idea), it would be great to start with a major success story (vaccination or advances in knowledge about the body) plus the emotive statistics (lives saved, kiddies particularly), followed by why the same can’t be said conclusively of the new-age/dubious fads. Of course, getting the balance right must be very difficult because certain types in the audience are going to say “he’s a stooge for big pharma”, which could be mitigated somewhat by pointing to some of its weaknesses. The problem then being that people will see the weaknesses as validation of whatever crap they believe in that week. I think the benefits of modern medicine are so ubiquitous people have forgotten just how much things have improved.

  4. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 17, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    well, “how to do and interpret a trial” is kind of the key to understanding the risk-benefit analysis that everyone goes through. outside of the weird holford universe in which vitamin c is better than azt and anyone who disagrees is “pro-drug”.

  5. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 17, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    There are loads of nutritional therapists in Brighton. But they’re so ‘holistically’ flaky that their presence – if any – would be the equivalent of a snowball in hell. So run with EBM plus a touch of critical appraisal on a homeopathy or HIV theme. and you’ll wow the punters -as always

  6. Astatine said,

    February 17, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Get an A-level biology or physics textbook, or possibly something from early in your degree.

    Read it to remind yourself what someone studying at that level is expected to know.

    Find a passage of the book that directly contradicts one of the typical snake-oil suppliers’ claims, and see if you can get them to contradict it before they realise what book you’re referring to.

    Bonus points for using a GCSE textbook.

  7. tomh said,

    February 17, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Re 6: Bonus points for using a GCSE textbook.

    And extra bunus points from me if you can use one of the CGP Key Stage 3 revision guides. (the ones every school boy/girl in the country just loves to hate 😉 and every bookshop in the land stacks in mass quantities…)

    Then again with people like TAPL and her chlorophyll clams, it probably can’t be that hard!

  8. Ken Zetie said,

    February 18, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Better yet, get together with one of the publishers, exam boards or revision guide people to produce material forthe How Science Works component of GCSE that incorporates the unscientific claims and methodology of the likes of Holford and TAPL. An exercise based on vit C vs AZT for example in which one is based on real trials and the other is based on a letter from a dubious ‘research’ institute and self-appointed ‘degrees’. It’s all very pertinent stuff to the new GCSEs and is exaclty what they are meant to know – that science is a methodology, that trials need to be chekced and rechecked, that degrees and names don’t confer knowledge on their own etc.

    It’d be a wonderful opportunity to get students to see for themselves just how awful this non-science nonsense is.

    I’d be tempted to add string theory to the list but that’s my pet hate, and I know Ben has other agendas.

  9. curranhung said,

    February 18, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Shame I didn’t know about this before – I’d have rounded up husband plus a few friends for a day out in Brighton. Not just to hear the world-renowned Dr Goldacre either – there are several other interesting speakers to make it worth a day trip.

    From the look of the publicity, I doubt Ben will have the same kind of audience he had at the Natural History Museum debate on homeopathy where loopiness and eccentricity were the two main characteristics. I expect there’ll be less hostility and that he’ll be talking to people who are more receptive to evidence-based medicine. I’d be very surprised if there were many angry holistic nutritionists. One or two maybe – but that would make for a very entertaining event.

  10. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 18, 2007 at 11:04 am

    actually i’ve already done that, its somewhere on NESTA science teachers resource site,

    i’ll puff it here soon.

    on a more important note, as the time to leave approaches, what should i wear? uptight work clothes shirt and jacket like the approachable young fogey i am during the week, or untogether vaguely ex alternative hipster weekend clothing? feels absurd to specially dress up smart to go to brighton…

  11. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 18, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    oh, perhaps an outfit suitable for wearing at a yummy mummies cafe in Wimbledon village. Nothing too frightening. Definitely not the Elvis outfit.

  12. censored said,

    February 18, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Piercings! You need piercings!

    This is Brighton, my friend…

  13. Matt Black said,

    February 18, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    I think go with the Cameron/Blair look. Suit, shirt with top button undone and no tie. Smart but friendly. Good luck!

  14. mus said,

    February 18, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    if you’re doing the evidence-based stuff, please lay a heavy emphasis on the placebo-effect and the importance of (double-)blind tests. that’s imho the most crucial point the homeopaths do not get at all. apart from that: have a good time. wish i could be there =)

  15. curranhung said,

    February 18, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    So, Mr/Ms Evidencebasedeating, what would a yummy mummy wear in a Wimbledon Vilage café? I’m a Wimbledon mummy (not so sure about the yummy) and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that Ben wears what I wear!!

    Break a leg, Ben, whatever you wear, and let us know how it went. I’m sure you’ll be fine. You were great at the NHM debate.

  16. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 18, 2007 at 5:26 pm


    Usually Phase 8/ Jigsaw/ Kew with a touch of Gap and something eclectic jewellery/ scarf from Monsoon??

    Bit of an in-joke. Quite unfair. Once had the pleasure of meeting Ben (in a professional capacity) over some detox products in a Wimbledon cafe – he didn’t dress strangely enough to scare the children………
    and for an added bonus was pleased to find said cafe so close to LK Bennetts discount shop!

  17. martino said,

    February 18, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Good to meet you again. I think the “science” label put off all the woowoo crew – am I correct in counting only two or three people who believe in homoeopathy in the audience? It was a good talk and good to hear Steve Jones too.

  18. Deano said,

    February 19, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Far from being a ‘cafe’ the venue was more of a seedy rock club – Ben had clearly made the right decision to ‘dress down’ (judge for yourself)- and I suspect he enjoyed his rock star moment – especially when he had to do a bit of Mick Jagger’ microphone readjustment.

    Ben was great – as was Steve Jones – the whole thing had the feeling of a meeting of a skeptic underground movement while the sea of woo washed around the streets above.

    The fire brigade also organised some good bangs which topped the day off nicely.

  19. Lurkinggherkin said,

    February 19, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Ken Zetie said:

    “I’d be tempted to add string theory to the list”

    I think string theory’s only crime is to call itself a ‘theory’, really. And I wonder how much of the ‘theory’ labelling comes from journos rather than people working in the field.

    If we’re going to take pot shots at string theory then we shouldn’t really complain when fundies do the same for terrestrial abiogenesis.