You and Yours Radio 4 Friday

December 15th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, homeopathy, onanism, references, statistics | 94 Comments »

I just said this on Radio 4, Homeopath David Spence responds on the show afterwards.

You’ll be able to listen to it again over the internet from 3pm:

Homeopathy is certainly popular, and I have no problem with Read the rest of this entry »

Spot The Difference?

November 21st, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, homeopathy, media | 108 Comments »

Here’s an interesting exercise. For once, the actual academic paper behind a news story is available for free online…

Which means you can see for yourself whether Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s holding the smoking gun on Bioresonance?

November 12th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, references, very basic science | 170 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday November 12, 2005
The Guardian

I know you’re all looking forward to my fifth consecutive week writing about the tabloid’s favourite MRSA “laboratory”, but my Deep Throat keeps teasing me, so the latest explosion will Read the rest of this entry »

Cranky to fashionable in five iffy claims

October 8th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, media, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, statistics | 19 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 8, 2005
The Guardian

I think I’m being stalked by a famous media naturopath. First he taunts me through Newsnight: “When Michael van Straten started Read the rest of this entry »

Tangled Webs

October 2nd, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, magnets, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, very basic science | 46 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 1, 2005
The Guardian

The plot around a BBC online health correspondent gets thicker. Last week, you will recall, we were pondering the ethics and wisdom of Jacqueline Young dishing out preposterous, made-up, pseudoscientific 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 »

Hard to swallow

August 18th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, bbc, homeopathy, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, placebo | 4 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 18, 2005
The Guardian

· Pity the sensible alternative therapist, for they are in a unique and impossible position. On the one hand, they want to be scientific, evidence-based and conservative in what they say. On the other, they have to talk up the myths around their Read the rest of this entry »

Spinning around

March 31st, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, space, very basic science | 4 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday March 31, 2005
The Guardian

· You know that kid who spoils everyone else’s enjoyment of sci-fi movies by sitting there in his glasses saying things like: “Well I don’t see how that force field can stop those laser beams from getting through because you can still see the spaceship on the other side of it, and they’re both just electromagnetic radiation with very similar wavelengths ie the visual range known to earthlings as light …”? That’s you, that is. And we love you for it.

· So a special geeky thanks goes to Steven Wallbridge for his heads up about some Bad Science that even appeared in the trailers for the new Dr Who. And lo, on Saturday, in the first episode of the new series, after a big long speech banging on about that sudden moment of enlightenment when you’re a kid and you realise that the natural world isn’t quite how it seems on the surface, and how he can feel things moving that we can’t, Dr Who announces with an air of wonder and awe: “The ground beneath our feet … is moving at a thousand miles an hour!”

· Now, putting our spectacles on and preparing for a well-deserved kicking from the other people on the sofa, I can vaguely remember that the Earth is about 8,000 miles across. Multiply that by pi, which is about 3.14, and you get about 25,000 miles for the circumference of the Earth, which just about makes sense when you think about how far away Australia is and stuff like that. Anyway, the Earth rotates through 25,000 miles once in every 24 hours, and that’s what gives us day and night. Isn’t the Bible fascinating? Oh sorry, that wasn’t in the Bible. Anyway, divide 25,000 by 24 and you get 1,041 miles an hour.

· You don’t need to be a Timelord to work that out. Except that Dr Who was in Britain when he said it, and the Earth rotates at different speeds at different latitudes: 1,000mph at the equator, but a whole lot slower than that in Shepherd’s Bush, as the average 14-year-old could have told you. In fact, with a quick bit of trig, I make it around 650mph. If I cocked up, I hope I at least get marks for showing my working out. Reader Steven Wallbridge goes on: “I note that Sylvester McCoy has much enjoyed the new Dr Who, and has reacted happily to a return to its ‘Reithian’ ideals of educating as well as entertaining.” Oh yes. I’d like to be educated about science by a bunch of humanities graduates in the BBC Drama Department, please.

Another kind of science fiction

August 26th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 26, 2004
The Guardian

· Of course, I write about science fiction every week, although the authors I review somehow manage to get themselves filed under non-fiction. Like the Independent. Just send in your questionnaire and a lock of hair to the company involved, it explains, and the Food Doctor Weight Loss Plan can perform an analysis to reveal “your biochemical composition”. With a big shiny machine covered in flashing lights, I hope.

· The BBC ran a story this week on a company turning waste wood chips into amazing techno fuel pellets. “The pellets can be burned in industrial and domestic heating boilers without creating carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.” For lo, they have cracked the secret of alchemy, reworked the very structure of the atom, and converted long-chain molecules containing carbon into pure hydrogen. Why not gold?

· See if you can guess which sci-fi author was behind this flight of fancy on the health website “All molecules have an electrical charge and a vibrational energy. Therefore, all foods, which are made up of molecules, contain these vibrational charges. The colours of foods represent vibrational energies … foods which are orange in colour … have similar vibrational energies and even similar nutrient makeup.” Many sci-fi authors like to write under pseudonyms, and Ms Gillian McKeith, you will remember, likes to write under the name “Dr Gillian McKeith PhD”, on account of her non-accredited correspondence PhD. Blue foods are good for “urinary tract infections, kidney problems, fevers”. Do medical doctors agree with colour food therapy, Gillian? “Generally medical doctors are not trained in this area.” How narrow-minded.

· I wasn’t going to write about her again. But, interestingly, Gillian McKeith PhD (who describes people who disagree with her as using bad science, no less) also claims to have “worked with Linus Pauling (PhD), world’s leading researcher in Vitamin C and Nobel Prize winner (New York, USA)”. Her “PhD” course began in 1993. Linus Pauling died in 1994. “He was an incredible inspiration. I was working solidly, but studying for a doctorate is not all sitting in a classroom.” Quite so. Although, of course, it didn’t really involve sitting in a classroom at all. I contacted Max Clifford Associates two weeks ago to ask if this should be filed under autobiography or sci-fi. They haven’t got back to me. Yet. Enough. I promise.

Artificial intransigence

June 24th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, dangers, nanniebots, new scientist | 2 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday June 24, 2004
The Guardian

· You may remember Jim Wightman. He claimed to have written a piece of chat software that could pass itself off as a real child in a chatroom, and identify internet paedophiles by behaviour. To say this was thought highly dubious is an understatement – the software, if it existed, would have been 10 years ahead of everything written by huge teams of AI academics; he offered to let us see the software working, and then refused; and the NSPCC and Barnardo’s distanced themselves from his ideas about monitoring children’s activities himself with no child protection background. Embarrassingly, New Scientist accepted his claims uncritically, and the BBC and others followed suit, although New Scientist did, after two pieces here, remove their glowing article about him from their website.

· Now they’re back with Wightman. Here’s what happened. New Scientist visited Jim at home with two AI academics to chat with the program. In previous “test conversations”, over the web, without experimenters being able to see that the computer was not connected to any others, the program gave highly sophisticated answers after a suspiciously long delay (almost as if someone was typing them). This time it instantly gave rubbish computer-generated responses, nothing like those in the previous transcripts. In fact, it gave the very same answers that Alice, an old and not very sophisticated AI program, written by somebody else, not Wightman, gave in subsequent tests. Then Wightman offered to show them the code … but suddenly, and inexplicably, the power to Jim’s whole house went off. The test was over. Imagine.

· Did New Scientist finally give it up? No. “New Scientist can still provide no definitive proof of Wightman’s claims, but looks forward to a return visit when the complete ChatNannies software is available for testing.” Please. Did they ask Wightman about his unlikely claim to have a seven-figure offer from an American corporation which had “full independent testing performed on the AI and are confident of its validity and effecacy[sic]”? He was apparently quite capable of giving them a proper demonstration. Did they quiz Wightman on his previous false claims about writing software, or any of the other issues Bad Science raised? No. To those of us brought up loving the great institution that is New Scientist it is, as Tibor Fischer said, a bit like bouncing out of the classroom at breaktime, only to catch your favourite uncle masturbating in the school playground.