The Medicalisation of Everyday Life

September 1st, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, big pharma, celebs, equazen, fish oil, medicalisation, nutritionists | 45 Comments »

As the pace of medical innovation slows to a crawl, how do drug companies stay in profit? By ‘discovering’ new illnesses to fit existing products. But, says Ben Goldacre, in the second extract from his new book, for many problems the cure will never be found in a pill.


Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Monday September 1 2008

When you’ve been working with bullshit for as long as I have, you start to spot recurring themes: quacks and the pharmaceutical industry use the exact same tricks to sell their pills, everybody loves a “science bit” – even if it’s wrong – and when people introduce pseudoscience into any explanation, it’s usually because there’s something else they’re trying desperately not to talk about. But my favourite is this: alternative therapists, the media, and the drug industry all conspire to sell us reductionist, bio-medical explanations for problems that might more sensibly and constructively be thought of as social, political, or personal. And this medicalisation of everyday life isn’t done to us; in fact, we eat it up. Read the rest of this entry »

“Manufacturing Doubt”: Sir Cliff Richard weighs in on the Cochrane review.

April 26th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, manufacturing doubt, nutritionists, references, statistics | 36 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday April 26 2008

And so our ongoing project to learn about evidence through nonsense enters its sixth improbable year. This week, the assembled celebrity community and vitamin pill industry will walk us through the pitfalls of reading through a systematic review and meta-analysis from the Cochrane Collaboration, an international not for profit organisation set up 15 years ago to create transparent, systematic, unbiased reviews of the medical literature on everything from drugs, through surgery, to community interventions. Read the rest of this entry »

Epistemological Indulgences

December 22nd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, chocolate, nutritionists | 14 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday December 22 2007

Christmas is a time for harmless lies, the chocolatey indulgences of the thought world. We know when to stop, because if we all acted on our belief in Santa there would be no presents: and then Christmas would be meaningless.

My favourite Christmas traditions are the “red wine is good for you” and “chocolate is good for you” stories, which have Read the rest of this entry »

What’s wrong with Dr Gillian McKeith PhD?

February 18th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, channel 4, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, stifling criticism | 312 Comments »

For years, ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith has used her title to sell TV shows, diet books and herbal sex pills. Now the Advertising Standards Authority has stepped in. Yet the real problem is not what she calls herself, but the mumbo-jumbo she dresses up as scientific fact, says Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre
Monday February 12, 2007
The Guardian

Call her the Awful Poo Lady, call her Dr Gillian McKeith PhD: she is an empire, a multi-millionaire, a phenomenon, a prime-time TV celebrity, a bestselling author. She has her own range of foods and mysterious powders, she has pills to give you an erection, and her face is in every health food store in the country. Scottish Conservative politicians want her to advise the government. The Soil Association gave her a prize for educating the public. And yet, Read the rest of this entry »

Science and Fiction

January 27th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, nutritionists | 13 Comments »

New audience, this can’t last. From their New Years Diet and Detox Special.

Ben Goldacre
New Statesman
22nd January 2007

Eating your greens, just like your mother told you, is
very sensible. You don’t need a doctor, a diet guru, or a
journalist, to tell you; and that kind of broad brush
guidance is fairly well supported by research data. But
increasingly we are subjected to an entirely new category
of dietary advice: wilfully overcomplicated, Read the rest of this entry »

The Two Headed Food Monster

June 30th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references | 40 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday July 1, 2006
The Guardian

Last year I noticed that lots of the lifestyle bunnies in the press and on the internet were suddenly showing off about being “RNutr” or “Registered Nutritionists”. Registered with whom? Imagine a two-headed monster called “The Nutrition Society”. On the one hand, they are a respectable and august research body, representing some of the sharpest academics in the country, doing research work on nutrition in both people and laboratories, publishing academic journals, and so on. That’s science. On the other hand, they “run” a “register” that I suspect consists mostly of those commercial “nutritionists” who make good money peddling lifestyle advice to the public. That’s inviting trouble. I am trouble.

I found a prominent nutritionist on their register who was doing exactly the kind of thing that nutritionists in mainstream media like to do – extrapolating rashly from research data – and I decided to complain, just to see whether Read the rest of this entry »

Evidence Based Prejudice

June 23rd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, nutritionists, references | 58 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday June 24, 2006
The Guardian

It can sometimes seem like there are two competing ways to make a decision about any complex matter of evidence based medicine. One is to purchase and digest “How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine” by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (BMA Books, a life changing experience if you have a week to spare), and then find, read, and critically appraise every single published academic study independently and in full for yourself. The other more common method is to rely on “experts”, or what I like to call “prejudice”.

But there is a third way: what we might call “Evidence Based Prejudice”. I can’t possibly debunk every single Read the rest of this entry »

References Required

June 9th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, references | 8 Comments »

References required

Ben Goldacre
Thursday June 9, 2005
The Guardian

· Talk about fans in high places. Two weeks ago, I said I was going to start giving references, and suddenly Dr Gillian McKeith PhD is writing this in her newsletter: “You will note that I deliberately include scientific sourced references [sic] which correspond to the numbers in the text.” Read the rest of this entry »


March 3rd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, dangers, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications | 3 Comments »

Nutritional information

Ben Goldacre
Thursday March 3, 2005
The Guardian

I hereby take the credit for coining the term Nutritionism: “The practice of promoting flimsily unevidenced assertions about the benefits of expensive supplements, or shortlived and unhelpfully overcomplicated eating fads, in healthy or ill individuals.” I accused Angela Dowden of just this. “Where have you seen me promote these?” she replied, indignantly.

Here is the first Google result for ‘Angela Dowden nutritionist’:, a pill-pusher with a dubious “select your condition” way of selling tablets. Here’s Angela: “Eye strain: Which fruit? Bilberries. How they help: These European cousins of American blueberries contain anthocyanin antioxidants which strengthen the blood vessels supplying the retina in the eye. Bilberry extracts have been shown to treat visual fatigue caused by prolonged reading and working in dim light.” There is nothing, in 84 bilberry references on medline or pubmed, to support this. Having had to read 84 extremely boring abstracts to prove my point, I’m in the mood to cause trouble.

Then I remember. She’s “one of Britain’s most high-profile nutritional experts,” says the Mail. She’s a “registered nutritionist”, says the Mirror. Registered? With whom? The Nutrition Society: Angela tells me she thinks the register and the term “registered nutritionist” (or RNutr) have official status as a protected term. In fact they have none. But there might still be a register, which enforces some professional accountability. I go to the society’s website. I’d like to see the regulations, and make a complaint about Angela Dowden (RNutr) peddling invented nonsense, please. Nothing. I contact the “registrar”. Eleven emails later, we establish that no information is available to the public on how to complain, and no single document describes the regulatory process, standards expected of registrants, or how complaints are dealt with. My dead cat could do better.

So, I’ve submitted my complaint. I just put a stamp on it and hoped for the best. The society has decided not to make its “inquiries” public, except, of course, that I’ll be telling you everything I can wring out of it on this one; because my real accusation of incompetence is not about the fool Dowden, but about the Nutrition Society, which gives these fools their authority. This is not a one-off. This is “nutritionism”. Who watches the watchdog? Bizarrely, I think it might be you and I.

Please send your bad science to

Bin the pills, eat your greens

May 6th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, express, nutritionists, references | 5 Comments »

Bin the pills, eat your greens

Talk about Bad science here

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 6, 2004
The Guardian

· It’s a simple universe for nutritionists, with a small number of fundamental laws from which all other facts derive. Antioxidants are good; stimulants are bad; laboratory studies on rat metabolism are proof of the need to spend £50 a week on pills. The only problem is, there’s practically nothing in the huge body of contradictory research on nutrition to recommend anything other than “eat your greens”, and you don’t need a journalist, or a scientist, or an expensive nutritionist to tell you that. Meanwhile, John Triggs in the Daily Express was riffing off this week, telling children to “boost their brain” for exams, using iron: “premium brain fuel”.

· I doff my hat to anyone who can make out that iron-deficiency anaemia is a greater cause of poor concentration in young people than lack of exercise and too much TV; and I’m delighted to be receiving nutritional advice from a man who tells us that thiamine – otherwise known as vitamin B1 – is a “mineral”. Perhaps it’s a special alternative thiamine mineral, mined from the viscous thiamine mountains in south India. Either way, it “helps build concentration” so get chewing. Or try “Marmite, peas, bread, oranges, eggs and pasta.” Thanks John; it never occurred to me to eat any of that stuff until you mentioned the thiamine.

· If you want to pass some exams, forget the Marmite and have a cup of evidence-based coffee. I realise any nutritionist would look at me like I’d just suggested injecting cocaine and PCP into the veins on my penis, but hey, if you want to play selective paper quoting, a recent Norwegian study found that coffee contributed 11 millimoles (mmol) of their subjects’ 17mmol daily intake of antioxidants: 1.8 mmol came from fruit and 0.4 mmol from vegetables. And a paper this week showed that antioxidant vitamin supplements (taken by 10m Britons) interfere with liver function and might cause heart attacks. Bin the pills and eat your greens.

· Don’t believe anyone who tells you caffeine is bad. Just makes you a bit bad tempered. Better than those ridiculous pills anyway. Decadence, I tell you. Lazy fat westerners, who know deep down that their lifestyles are predicated on the exploitation of people in countries where there really are nutritional deficiencies, bleating on about how they too are deficient, in, “umm, selenium and thiamine”, and stuffing their faces with pills when they should be ordering a salad. I’ll say it again: eat your greens. Er, and maybe avoid too much coffee.