Trading ideas in a toilet

February 18th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in onanism, podcast | 46 Comments »

I met the lovely Conrad Quilty-Harper (true) in a toilet recently. He made a video of our encounter and posted it on the internet. I’ve embedded this below for your amusement and edification: I hope you find it stimulating.

Ben Goldacre of Bad Science talks about Sensationalised Science Reporting from Conrad on Vimeo.

It was the only quiet place in Conway Hall that day.

High definition version here:

Quilty-Harper’s nice blog here:

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

46 Responses

  1. Ennui said,

    February 18, 2009 at 5:23 pm


  2. The Biologista said,

    February 18, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Awesome. I hope you washed your hands.

  3. Shackleford Hurtmore said,

    February 18, 2009 at 5:45 pm


    There is no evidence that hand-washing prevents diseases. In fact, soap is known to cause autism, and is pushed by bully-boy soap companies like Lush and Dove using government propaganda.

  4. Rebecca Watson said,

    February 18, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I hope “interviews in a toilet” is a series, because I would like to sign up for the newsletter and peer over the top of a stall as part of the studio audience during the next live taping.

  5. The Biologista said,

    February 18, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Hmm. Where’s that suggestion form for the Cochrane Library…

  6. Synchronium said,

    February 18, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    To be fair, it costs Lush/Dove around £200 million to get a new soap product from the drawing board and into consumers hands.

    No point taking giant soapy risks when you’d only get a few bubbles in return.

  7. mpulciano said,

    February 18, 2009 at 6:25 pm


    “How dare you tell him I’m a toilet trader!”
    “Tactical necessity.”

    Now we know who bought the cottage.

  8. ekcol said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Ennui said “Hot.”

    QFT. Does anyone know if such as thing as Brian Cox/Ben Goldacre slashfic is available?

  9. fontwell said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Completely right about how easy it is to get a sense of whether a blog is trustworthy or not. And even if it doesn’t link to data directly you can quickly google/wiki and find it yourself.

  10. SteveGJ said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I’m sure encounters in toilets don’t normally end up this way. Did you check to make sure there wasn’t a policeman staking out eh place?

    Having said that, my friends, the incredibly talented Byron Johnston and the lovely and talented Anna Phoebe have been known to rehearse their music in a disabled toilet before appearing on stage together.

    I’m thinking that there’s a reality TV programme possibility there somewhere.

  11. Jammydodger said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Sorry to be pedantic…

    I hope many GPs WOULD talk through treatment options (and Evidenced based medicine) to anyone who came to get antibiotics for their cold.

    I like to think members of your profession would take the opportunity to explain why they were inaapropriate for viral infections and therefore not being prescribed.

  12. Sili said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Does anyone know if such as thing as Brian Cox/Ben Goldacre slashfic is available?

    Damn you!

    Damn you! Damn you! Damn you!

    :goes googling:

  13. biggerpills said,

    February 18, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    *insert proton injector joke here*

    Good to hear more about Response Source. I love Response Source. I want its babies.

  14. RTomsett said,

    February 18, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Careful Ben – toilets can be extremely dangerous places. There’s an entire Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject:

  15. longdehua said,

    February 18, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Oh dear, rule 34 etc.

  16. alansynnott said,

    February 18, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Video interviews in a toilet? Has this become Naughty Science all of a sudden?

  17. zeno said,

    February 18, 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Not Naughty Science, but Dirty Science.

  18. naomimc said,

    February 19, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Response Source Porn *shudder*

  19. Pro-reason said,

    February 19, 2009 at 5:36 am

    I still can’t get over how much Ben moves his face when he talks. It makes one suspect the use of some very good recreational drugs.

  20. GMcP said,

    February 19, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Some of the best things on the web involve two men in a bathroom.

  21. decium said,

    February 19, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Did Ben keep anyone waiting outside who wanted to pee badly?

    And I so want to shave off his sideburns!

  22. not_a_virus.exe said,

    February 19, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    That was amazingly cogent and well composed given how impromptu it seems.

  23. Skeptic Zone Podcast said,

    February 19, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Ha! 🙂 Sometimes you take what you can get.

    By the way – NEW interview with Ben Goldacre on the Skeptic Zone podcast! Taped just after the news of the Jeni Barnett saga and the ongoing issues. We just released it then on iTunes, so see if we get a better reception than the stalls. 😉

  24. Renata Gomes said,

    February 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm


    I had a good laugh, not at what you said but at your facial expressions – I think you do them because you might have the same problem as me…. the brain thinks too fast and the mouth cannot articulate at that speed…. 🙂 🙂

    This is not a clinical diagnosis Ben…. 🙂 🙂

  25. gazza said,

    February 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Very nice piece- maybe more spontaneous pieces like that, via people suitably equipped with the video kit, would be a useful addition to your blog. One a month or so.

    Nonetheless, I was haunted by the vision of half a dozen wheelchair users lined up outside the loo door, with tightly crossed legs….

    And I remember “Private Eye” used the euphemism ‘Ugandan Discussions’ for the sexual act – based on an encounter a 1970’s Ugandan VIP once had in some public toilets. So perhaps ‘Conway Hall discussions’ for science in the toilet?

  26. LizJ said,

    February 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    Ben, you view spending money on quackery as a tax on ignorance, but, slightly less dismissively, it is also a tax on trust. People who spend money on this stuff simply assume there must be truth in it because they (reasonably) assume the products would otherwise be illegal.

  27. biggerpills said,

    February 19, 2009 at 3:00 pm


    “Response Source Porn *shudder*”

    I’ve had plenty of that… last week my inbox was like Bad Science Bingo, I was in heaven

  28. Amanda Hill said,

    February 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Weren’t you good to agree to all that, so off-the-cuff and in a bog? I was only, initially, stumped that you said you don’t care about people getting ripped off. What was your rage over Detox in a Box about then? Was it just the wording of her blurb you were irate about?

  29. mikewhit said,

    February 19, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    “peer over the top of a stall” – I thought those were for horses.

    Don’t we humans have cubicles ?

  30. HolfordWatch said,

    February 19, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    #28 Amanda Hill, the irate response possibly relates to the fact that the misguided Nas Amir Ahmadi said, on air, “Doctor, you must be mistaken” or words to that effect.

    Beyond that, who knows, although the plagiarism was pretty annoying.

  31. The Biologista said,

    February 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    A bit off-topic but has anyone else seen this rather stunning article in the Daily Mail today?

    Did I just slip into a parallel universe or did the last bastion of MMR-scaremongering just join the Wakefield-lynching side.

  32. mikewhit said,

    February 19, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    No Biologista, they are not seen as contradictory, just self-contained news stories.

    In the same way that Ben earlier described the process of the DM and others to divide everything into A: causes … B: cures … cancer, but A and B are not disjoint sets in that media world.

  33. The Biologista said,

    February 19, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Ah but whilst the oncology ontology project is largely arbitrary and fluid (that’s how they see science), the Mail’s anti-MMR stance has been pretty consistent as far as I’ve seen. Just a month ago they published an MMR=brain damaged kid story. Has there been other pro-MMR doublethink before this?

  34. The Biologista said,

    February 19, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Oops, so there has:

    Then followed months later by weasel-wordy talk of the still “controversial MMR” as if they’re afraid to admit something. It would be funny if it wasn’t so totally depressing.

    Anyway, sorry. Derailing over.

  35. wewillfixit said,

    February 19, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Reminded me of Monkey Dust’s “People on the Toilet” reality TV show.

  36. timbod said,

    February 19, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Loved the interview, but I was taken aback by your saying “you read a newspaper story and you … asses the probability of it being true.” Oh dear. And you’ve done so much to help the lay understanding of understanding experimental evidence.

  37. gyokusai said,

    February 19, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    This was really, really good! Is there a transcript in existence? Especially your arguments after “Blogs are potentially more reliable than mainstream media ever was” would be something I’d love to keep handy for close encounters in that ongoing reliabilty row between classical & online media ’round here in Germany. If there isn’t already a transcript in existence I’d love to draw up one myself, of course.

  38. matthewcain said,

    February 20, 2009 at 12:43 am

    There was a really interesting response by Mail readers to the ‘Facebook can cause cancer’ article:

  39. Dr Jim said,

    February 20, 2009 at 1:46 am

    As erudite in video as on the page, despite the impromptu lavatorial expose. I enjoyed this, cheers.

  40. Sarah_D said,

    February 20, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Tres agreable. Better sideys.

  41. Olaf Davis said,

    February 20, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I’d very much like a transcript as well, if you find one or feel moved to write one gyokusai.

  42. cebolla said,

    February 20, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Great bogs in Conway Hall though eh. Haven’t tried the disabled one though.

  43. gyokusai said,

    February 21, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Okay, I tried my best, from 7:20 on. I’m massively unfamiliar with spoken British English, so there are quite some gaps, and certainly some misunderstandings. Could you’all, like, try your hand at editing this, fill in the missing parts, and rectify my errors?

    transcript draft (7:20+)
    Blogs are potentially more reliable than mainstream media ever was. Mainly because you can check each individual blog author how credible they are because bloggers link to primary sources. So, in the newspaper you might say, [??? either it’s in print or it’s not, and so I think it’s true or not, and it’s, like, this percentage chance of being true ???]. With a blog, I can go, allright, he talks about a scientific paper, he links to it, so I can go read the paper and see if he has given an accurate precis of what they did and what they found, he’s got comments, so if there were any really massively obvious holes in his argument apart from, [???] arguments, you know, if there’s serious criticism to be made, then, you will see it written there, but also, if he responded to someone else’s ideas, a blogger will link—she—a blogger will link to that other person’s argument, and then you can see for yourself if they fairly represented it or if they’ve given you a strawman misrepresentation. You can very rapidly develop a sense of whether somebody is an idiot or not. And, I see it, in print it’s impossible to do that. Journalists even now—I find that fascinating—go out of their way to hide the mechanics of how they do their job from the general public. You know, and [???] most of the quotes that you see in a newspaper article, they’re taken from press release. But they write it as if they spoke to the person. In reality, the individual people that journalists have in their stories, you know, like “one woman’s struggle against X,” in reality, they have been sourced, from someone like the [???], it’s like a dating service, a matching system, journalists go to [???] a secret, hidden story behind the rubbishness of the news, journalists go on and say, “Oh, I’m looking for, you know, a … fat person who lost a lot of weight, and then put it all on again, or something. Can you find that for me?” And they always [???] subscribe to that one channel and run around, and go around, and try to find a person who fits the journalist’s requirement for the story. And then they get it to him and place the product in it. And, you know, journalists are desperate to sort of hide the process of what they do, whereas in blogs it’s all entirely transparent. [??? I give up.]


  44. emen said,

    February 22, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Haha, Ben, you seemed to be quite excited about being interviewed in the
    loo… –
    interesting stuff.

    Regarding your
    mainstream-media” misery. I understand what you are saying about the poor
    soul not being stimulated enough, but that is not “AS OPPOSED” to
    literature, trust me.
    I like reading Russian novels, and I don’t find these reviews exciting.
    Either you have read the novel and then it is just somebody else who’s also
    read it telling you what they think about it, or interviewing the author and
    giving you some backround info about how they write with their eyes closed
    in the dark and what they say about their own book. It might be kind of
    “interesting” if you are in the mood, but that’s just it.
    Or you haven’t read the book and then it is completely irrelevant. It might
    “stimulate” you to read the book, but it is not academic or high quality
    stuff: it is the literary equivalent of “beetroot causes cancer”.

    A freshly picked cherry from yesterday’s Guardian:

    “Perrotta isn’t an easy writer to classify. The New York Times described him
    as an “American Chekhov” – “I don’t know what that means,” he grins, “but I
    like it.” Others have drawn comparisons with John Cheever and John Updike.”

    I mean what’s that??

  45. lasker said,

    March 1, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Not good. Does your mum know you meet with other men in toilets? And that shirt. Did you borrow it from one of your patients? Or find it in a homeless shelter? At least you were in the perfect situation to flush it away.

  46. wayscj said,

    November 21, 2009 at 6:18 am

    ed hardy ed hardy
    ed hardy clothing ed hardy clothing
    ed hardy shop ed hardy shop
    christian audigier christian audigier
    ed hardy cheap ed hardy cheap
    ed hardy outlet ed hardy outlet
    ed hardy sale ed hardy sale
    ed hardy store ed hardy store
    ed hardy mens ed hardy mens
    ed hardy womens ed hardy womens
    ed hardy kids ed hardy kids ed hardy kids