You vexatious TROUBLEMAKERS!

November 29th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil | 43 Comments »

Hahahaha, well the struggle to get meaningful scientific information out of Madeleine Portwood et al in Durham regarding her famous positive fish oil “trials” continues. To me this is very simple. They talk about positive trial data, at length, for a long time, in the media. We want to see it. Portwood is eager to go on telly and talk about her positive findings to journalists, but the information behind the claims is somehow less forthcoming.

Pasted below is the rejection that a couple of hundred of you have had. Read the rest of this entry »

Just… Show… Me… The… Data…

November 11th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, references, statistics | 190 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday November 11, 2006
The Guardian

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried using the Freedom of Information Act: it’s an excellent trouble making tool, and you do feel quite James Bond, but the act has its flaws. One being that if you ask for too much, as one lone, obsessive, disproportionately pedantic science columnist, they turn you down on grounds of cost. Quite spuriously and unfairly, to my mind. So now I’m offering a kind of skills swap: I’ll teach you all how to do an FoI request (it’s easy) if you help me get a bunch of data. Read the rest of this entry »

Fish On The Radio

October 25th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, onanism | 63 Comments »

Don’t plan your day around it or anything but there is a v v v big fish thing on Radio 4’s You And Yours tomorrow, 30 minutes, focussing on the shenanigans about the trial, no wait, initiative, no, study, we’re measuring, well, we’re, yes, hang on yes we’re measuring results, no, hang on… in Durham.

It should be pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Listen here:

“Pill solves complex social problem”

October 12th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil | 88 Comments »

Hhahahahhahahhahahaaa they can’t help themselves, they love it. Two features Read the rest of this entry »

I’m sure there’s some data in here somewhere…

October 7th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, equazen, fish oil, nutritionists, references, statistics | 67 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 7, 2006
The Guardian

It is often unfairly assumed that I am a tenacious obsessive who refuses to let go. So at Durham council – as reported all over the newspapers and television – they’ve done loads of research on omega-3 fish oils making kids clever. It’s all very well saying that, but I need to see the data, to be sure there are no flaws.

Science has a certain authority, which makes it attractive to journalists and salesmen alike, but the authority comes from the transparency: it’s not about taking things on faith, or newspaper articles, it’s about openly publishing your data and your methods, so everyone can check your working. That’s why papers are published. That’s why Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s not a trial… wait… it is… and the evidence does show… and… and it’s for the KIDS…”

October 3rd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, letters, nutritionists | 53 Comments »

Kelliher’s been busy with

It’s a definite improvement on the really rather revolting blog postings from the Portwood camp but addresses none of the interesting questions, and simply re-states the blander aspects of the case which have already been torpedoed. There are now much more interesting things to say on this than go over old ground, but one thing that amuses me is: if their “initiative” hadn’t been presented as important scientific research, four weeks ago, but instead had been presented merely as a company giving a nice freebie to a council, how many peak time national terrestrial TV news flagships do you think would have put the fish oil tablet story in their running orders?

Durham council’s fish-oil initiative
Tuesday October 3, 2006
The Guardian

Readers of Ben Goldacre (Bad science, September, 9, 16 and 23) might come away with the idea that my company’s collaboration with Durham county council to supply free eye q capsules to all GSCE students for the 2007 academic year is a publicity gimmick aimed at generating bogus research data. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read the rest of this entry »

Big Pharma And Pill Peddlers

September 23rd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil | 50 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday September 23, 2006
The Guardian

So where were we? Oh yes. Durham Council is running a highly dubious “trial” of a food supplement that is methodologically crippled, and largely incapable of giving meaningful data, but in the process Durham Council staff are appearing all over the papers and television in news stories to promote a pill called Eye Q made by Equazen, suggesting it is effective at improving concentration and learning in normal children, an assertion that is not supported by published trial data, as we have discussed (although it might be if Durham simply did their trials properly). Meanwhile Equazen say they have Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Deeper Into My Fishy New Friends

September 16th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, media, nutritionists, references, regulating research, statistics | 79 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday September 16, 2006
The Guardian

Regular readers will have established by now that most journalists are so scientifically inept, and so eager to run with “pill solves complex social problem” stories, that companies like Equazen selling their Eye-Q fish oil tablets for children with blanket media coverage can come out very nicely indeed.

So here’s the background you might have missed. Firstly, it costs 80p a day for you to feed your child these Eye-Q omega-3 fish oil tablets that Read the rest of this entry »

The Trial That Ate Itself

September 9th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, channel 4, equazen, fish oil, ITV, mail, nutritionists, references, statistics | 121 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday September 9, 2006
The Guardian

Fish oil is clearly a matter of huge national importance. Channel 4 and ITV (and the Daily Mail, and the BBC) all report on a plan by education officials in County Durham to give £1 million worth of omega-3 fish oils, to 5,000 children as they approach their GCSE’s, and see how it improves performance.

Contrary to what the pill-peddlers would tell you, the evidence for omega 3 Read the rest of this entry »

Beware alt.therapy

April 28th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, fish oil, nutritionists, times, very basic science | 2 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 28, 2005
The Guardian

· Sometimes I have elaborate and grotesque fantasies about alternative therapists, like the reliably foolish Susan Clark from the Sunday Times’ “What’s the alternative?” column. This week she was lecturing us on Omega-3 oils, in the pseudoscientific, jargon-laden, authoritarian rhetoric typical of the alternative therapies. They like to preserve the mystery, I suppose, though I’d count myself lucky to sneak half as much unexplained terminology onto one science page as the average alternative therapist gets away with – and I’d be using it correctly – but we’re getting carried away. Back to my fantasy.

· I imagine Susan Clark reading about herself once again in Bad Science, and try to picture her response. Does she need to check with a friend whether I’m right and she’s wrong? Do they have a secret giggle at her too? Do I spoil the surprise for her, if I point out what she gets wrong each time? Should I leave it to her to find out, like a kind of GCSE project? Does she ever believe she’s wrong? Or does she believe that we are two intellectual titans, who disagree on a complex issue of advanced science, where it is hard to be absolutely certain who is right and who is wrong?

· Look, it was nothing so big. She just said: “Fatty acids are composed of carbon molecules linked with hydrogen and oxygen atoms.” I mean, maybe it’s a slip that just happened to get past the scientifically literate Clark and all the Sunday Times’s scientifically literate subeditors, maybe she does know the difference between a molecule and an atom (Key Stage 4 science on the national curriculum, incidentally, I just checked, and you do it aged about 14). Maybe I should be ashamed of my pedantry. But as far as I’m concerned, if her sentence doesn’t leap out of the page at you, then you need a new engagement ring and some lead in your pencil; but maybe she’s never heard of graphite, or diamond, or fullerene (the cool, ball-shaped carbon molecule).

· No, hang on, she says the carbon molecules in fatty acids are “linked with hydrogen and oxygen atoms”. Perhaps this isn’t a slip of the tongue, or a misplaced word. Perhaps this is a systematic misunderstanding of the actual subject she’s banging on about like some expert. Maybe the sentence doesn’t even make sense if you swap “atom” for “molecule”; does she mean the carbon is joined together by oxygen and hydrogen? Why even try to write about it, if you don’t understand it? Oh, and we’re back to the first paragraph.