Teaching science with bad science: resources for teachers

July 24th, 2014 by Ben Goldacre in teaching resources | 7 Comments »

People often wring their hands over how to make science “relevant” to the public, or to young people. For me, this is an open goal: we are constantly barraged with health claims in popular culture, and evidence based medicine is the science of how we know what does good, and what does harm. Every popular claim is an opportunity to learn about the relative merits and downsides of randomised trials, systematic reviews, cohort studies, laboratory work, and more.

I got together with Collins, the people who make the biggest selling GCSE textbooks, and we’ve made some resources for teachers who are interested in covering these kinds of things at school.  

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For each topic, there is a lesson plan, hand-outs, and so on. Everything is laid out to make it as easy as possible for teachers to just get stuck in. You may also be amused to see that Collins were too shy to call Brain Gym by name.

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I hope you find these useful. They’re not perfect, and we’re keen to improve them. As it happens, I’m at a meeting today in Oxford organised by the mighty Iain Chalmers on what we can do to get epidemiology and evidence based medicine taught in schools. The Testing Treatments website which he set up is a fantastic, ever-growing resource for people interested in evidence based medicine more broadly. If you’re a teacher, and you want to get involved, or you have suggestions for improvements, my email is ben@badscience.net as ever.

Lastly, if you’re interested in more: here are some very old resources for teachers that I made with NESTA; and here is something I co-authored in the Lancet last year, about why we should have an epidemiology GCSE.


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

7 Responses

  1. gaurav8955 said,

    July 29, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    here is all the stuff. and i like it very good

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  2. Daemonax said,

    July 31, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Thanks. This is the kind of thing that I’ve tried to get discussion going about in the small corner of the skeptic community I’m active in. Unfortunately I haven’t found much interest from others, but it seems to me that getting such stuff presented to students in school would be a massive benefit to society. Not everyone goes to university, and even those who do often graduate without having learnt how to think critically. My own brother who has a Masters in physics often displays poor critical thinking skills outside of the narrow field he has studied and works in.

    Using medical science to show school kids how science should be done, seems like a really easy task, though perhaps that’s because I’ve read so much about it and have had people tell me that I’m really good at explaining things clearly. And the presentation of bad science can make the topic incredibly amusing for students.

    And thanks for reminding me of the Testing Treatments book. The doctors clinic I’m registered with here in New Zealand has a lot of Chinese patients, and there is a Chinese version of the first edition of this book. I wonder if the clinic would be happy to have some copies on their front desk for people to take. Even some of the doctors there would benefit from it. They offer the option of acupuncture for patients that want it at the clinic I attend. I asked one of the doctors, a European, what his thoughts were on that policy and he basically said that it could help, this belief was based on his own experience and having taken a course on acupuncture for a year, unfortunate, though he did say he almost never suggests it. Yesterday I spoke to another doctor there who was from Taiwan, he was more careful about giving an answer, getting me to explain the hidden reasons for my question, he then said that they do always try to provide evidence based medicine, but when nothing seems to be helping they might suggest acupuncture based on their own experience. I realise that doctors often have to rely on their own experience which can often be highly unreliable, he said this is more common for problems for which there aren’t any known solutions. With treatments which haven’t been studied enough I can understand suggesting them based on experience and currently weak but encouraging evidence, but acupuncture seems to be one treatment that has been studied extensively and shown to provide only weak benefit for some issues, and no benefit for the majority of health problems.

  3. bia2music said,

    August 1, 2014 at 12:48 am

    good article,…

  4. Tabla Backer said,

    August 6, 2014 at 3:17 am

    This is great – I can only remember one or two teachers throughout my schooling that questioned what passed for science journalism.

  5. fionaaleksoska said,

    August 20, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Well it’s about time Ben! I’ve been saying for years that your bad science book should be taught as part of the school curriculum. Now that you’ve influenced the English textbooks how about making sure the other countries in the UK are not left out? Scottish, Irish and Welsh kids would all benefit from teaching about bad science in their schools too! If kids are taught about this in school then hopefully it will make those future generations more scientifically literate and not so willing to fall for pseudoscience and dangerous quackery.

    I run a facebook page for parents against pseudoscience because there seems to be such a big ‘alternative’ movement just now in the parenting world -with things like anti-vaccination, homeopathy and organic living – it’s scary just how many people believe in these things and their actions, especially when it comes to things like vaccination, can have dangerous effects on the whole of society. I don’t want my kids to be at risk because a growing number of flaky parents are refusing to vaccinate theirs. I think education at a young age would make a huge difference in how people interpret evidence in the world around them.

    Well done Ben, and keep it up!

  6. rblake said,

    September 9, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Excellent news! I kept thinking while reading Bad Science that there must be some way to get this on the curriculum… Here’s to a better informed generation

  7. TexasB said,

    October 9, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Ha! True, but how can science not be relevant to anyone? Anyhoo, dissecting frogs and such (back in the day) sort of help stem the tide of disinterest, but since video games show(ed) more guts that the frog did, interests soon waned. I like getting this website into the heads of people who can’t focus on science.