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 »

Craig Sams of Green and Blacks gets angry

April 17th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, chocolate, craig sams, gillian mckeith, hate mail, nutritionists, onanism | 104 Comments »

Craig Sams is the founder of Green and Blacks. He made his money from chocolates, ice cream, and biscuits, and he is very angry with me for questioning the science behind Dr Gillian McKeith PhD and their corporate world.

This gem is from Natural Products magazine, the in-house trade publication of the nutritionism industry. I’ve included the original advertising from the page it appeared on, so you didn’t miss out on the context. That’s correct, by the way, your eyes do not deceive you: a whole page of the leading trade publication from this billion pound industry is devoted to me. Read the rest of this entry »

Trivial Disputes

December 17th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, chocolate, mail, references, statistics | 26 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 17, 2005
The Guardian

Christmas is a time for pedantic family disputes, and newspaper stories about how alcohol and chocolate are good for you. Imagine, if you can, how Christmassy life would be if we could combine these two elements.

This week, the Daily Mail reported on Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t dumb me down

September 8th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, cash-for-"stories", channel 4, channel five, chocolate, dangers, express, gillian mckeith, independent, letters, mail, media, mirror, MMR, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, scare stories, statistics, telegraph, times, very basic science, weight loss | 85 Comments »

We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics … Ben Goldacre on why writing Bad Science has increased his suspicion of the media by, ooh, a lot of per cents

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 8, 2005
The Guardian

OK, here’s something weird. Every week in Bad Science we either victimise some barking pseudoscientific quack, or a big science story in a national newspaper. Now, tell me, why are these two groups even being mentioned in the same breath? Why is science in the media so often pointless, simplistic, boring, or just plain wrong? Like a proper little Darwin, I’ve been Read the rest of this entry »

Chocolate love

January 8th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, celebs, chocolate, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, weight loss | 12 Comments »

Chocolate love

Ben Goldacre
Thursday January 8, 2004
The Guardian

Talk bad science

· With painful inevitability, that old chestnut about chocolate’s health-giving properties popped up on the health and women’s pages of almost every newspaper, as is traditional at Christmas. The Daily Express eagerly pointed out that it’s “a good source” of flavanols, antioxidants, magnesium, zinc and iron. And in the Telegraph: “Chocolate is good for you,” says Chloe Doutre-Roussel, chocolate buyer at Fortnum & Mason. “It has minerals such as fluoride for the teeth and potassium, like bananas.” Doutre-Roussel is, we are told, “an ultra-slim Frenchwoman… Although she eats 1lb of chocolate a day, she weighs a mere 7st 12lb.” Mars, which has been lavishing money on research into the benefits of chocolate for 10 years now, started this tradition five years ago, employing PR consultancy Grayling Healthcare to send out press releases such as “Media Alert: News for Chocolate Lovers this Christmas”.

So, whatever the truth is about minerals, the manufacturers of Galaxy and Milky Way must have been disappointed by recent research showing that what few antioxidants there are in cocoa beans are hardly absorbed from milk chocolate at all. Manufacturers first flaunted chocolate’s healthiness during food shortages after the first world war, and only stopped when we started measuring and labelling the contents. Just as that process got going, the 1930 Food and Drug Review said: “The magic words ‘health giving’ are today the most overworked and loosely applied in the advertising lexicon.” – 74 years ago.

· The Mail on Sunday’s “integrated health expert” Dr Ali was busy this week writing about headaches. “The skull,” he claims, “contracts and expands a dozen times or so each minute to push the [cerebrospinal] fluid round, but tight neck muscles and misaligned skull bones can disrupt this process.” You don’t need to be a doctor like Ali – whose clients include Prince Charles and Geri Halliwell – to know that the skull is a rigid box of bone and, since you asked, the fluid is kept moving by the waving movements of cilia lining the ventricles, respiratory and arterial pulsations, postural changes and the pressure gradient between the places where it’s made and reabsorbed. Ali, despite qualifying in Delhi and Moscow, is not registered with the General Medical Council because, his website informs us, “the treatment which he personally provides uses massage, diet, yoga and natural supplements and oils which do not need prescription”. Why not rob a bank and visit him anyway, at his “Integrated Health Centre”, just off Harley Street.

Chocolates and homeopathy

April 24th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in acupuncture, bad science, chocolate, nutritionists | 1 Comment »

Chocolates and homeopathy

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 24, 2003
The Guardian

New: Talk about Bad science

· I was delighted to see that the government has given £1.3m to the pseudo-scientists marketing alternative therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture. This money will go towards research projects to determine whether their money-making scams really help people, and whether they should be available on the NHS. I can think of nothing better, though why an industry reported this week to make £130m a year out of the British public can’t be bothered to spend 1% of that on sorting out its own research is another question. And how they plan to help an underfunded NHS, in which GPs can offer only six-minute appointments, get round the fact that people prefer alternative therapists because they are privately employed to spend an hour listening to people talk about themselves without calling it counselling, is another matter.

· What you might not know, because it’s so much less newsworthy, is that the government has given an equal and opposite gift to the noble bad science hunters of the world, having arranged for everyone to have free access to the Cochrane Library online. This is the best single source of reliable evidence about the effects of health care in the world. It is built up from statistical reviews of the available experimental evidence, combining the results from lots of different trials to make one big one, and offers the best chance of getting at the reality of what works and what doesn’t. Being a trouble maker, the first thing I did was go to their site (link below) and look up acupuncture. Oh look, there are 22 studies already on smoking and acupuncture. Hang on: “There is no clear evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation are effective for smoking cessation.”

The Cochrane Library

· Lastly, it was good to see that in these godless times, with church attendance dropping yearly, we have at least managed to maintain the traditional Easter ritual of stories in the news about chocolate being good for you. Speculative laboratory studies about antioxidant flavonoids, and their possible effect on the immune system and bone metabolism, were gaily reported in more places than I could count as if the patient population studies on osteoporosis and coronary heart disease were already in the bag. But if you really think you need more of vitamins A1, B1, B2, C, D, and E, why not skip the chocolates and get your fat arse down to the market to buy some fruit for a change?

Dr Goldacre will be back next week. Please send your favourite Bad Science to: bad.science@guardian.co.uk