Blame everyone but yourselves

July 25th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, BANT, dangers, detox, media, nutritionists, regulating nonsense, telegraph | 55 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday July 26 2008

image Like many professions who kill people with some regularity, doctors have elaborate systems for seeing what went wrong afterwards, and the answer is rarely “Brian did it”. This week the papers have been alive with criticism for quack nutritionism after the case of Dawn Page, a 52 year old mother of two who ended up being treated on intensive care, with seizures brought on by sodium deficiency, and left with permanent brain damage, after following the advice of “nutritional therapist” Barbara Nash. She denies liability. Her insurers paid out £810,000.

I will now defend the nutritional therapist Barbara Nash. Read the rest of this entry »

You are hereby sentenced eternally to wander the newspapers, fruitlessly mocking nutriwoo

July 19th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, badscience, nutritionists, telegraph | 41 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday July 26 2008

The newspapers are so profoundly overrun with pseudoscience about food that there’s no point in documenting it any longer. They will continue with their Sisyphean task of dividing all the inanimate objects in the world into the ones that either cause or cure cancer, and I will sit at the sidelines, making that joke over and over again.

This week, however, the Telegraph, which has lost its science editor and its science correspondent in two months, deserves special attention, because two of its food stories went beyond stupid, and managed to give actively harmful information. Read the rest of this entry »

The amazing disappearing reappearing finger

May 3rd, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, ITV, miracles, sun, telegraph, times | 17 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday May 3 2008

Traditionally on May Day the fool plays at pratfalls and buffoonery around local morris dancers, brandishing his fool’s bauble, an inflated pig’s bladder on a stick, with which he bewitches and controls the crowds. To the uninitiated it looks like chaos, but for his own safety the fool must know the dances as well as anyone, so that his weaving tomfoolery meshes perfectly with the intricate pattern of kicks, handkerchief waving, and stickbashing.

In the newspapers on May Day, meanwhile, journalists were earnestly reporting the news that pig’s bladder extract had been used by scientists in a major breakthrough allowing one man to magically regrow a finger. “‘Pixie dust’ helps man grow new finger,” squealed the Telegraph’s headline. “‘Pixie dust’ makes man’s severed finger regrow,” said the Times. “Made from dried pig’s bladder,” they explained, this magic powder “kick-starts the body’s healing process”. Read the rest of this entry »

“Pixie Dust helps man grow new finger”

May 1st, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, mail, sun, telegraph, times | 34 Comments »

Very briefly – because this kind of thing irritates me so much that I can’t be bothered to devote a great deal of time to it – in almost every single newspaper and media outlet today you will read about the Pixie Dust which helped a man’s finger grow back: “The man who grew a finger” [BBC], “‘Pixie dust’ helps man grow new finger” [Telegraph], “Man’s finger ‘regrown using pig extract’” [ITN], “Sliced finger grows back” [The Sun], etc.

Allow me to explain why I have good grounds to believe that this is nonsense, and that the journalists concerned have failed in the most basic regard.

[NB I gave this story some chat on the Today programme at 7:43am May 2, listen again here]

Read the rest of this entry »

Trivial Disputes

February 2nd, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in badscience, bbc, climate change, drurrrgs, independent, telegraph | 46 Comments »

There are no difficult ideas in this column. Like, for example, when I tell you about the Daily Telegraph front page headline which says “Abuse of cannabis puts 500 a week in hospital”, and it turns out they’re actually quoting a figure from a report on the number of people having contact with any drug treatment service of any variety. The colossal majority of these, of course, are outpatient appointments for drugs counselling, not hospital admissions. So there are not 500 people a week suddenly being put into hospital by cannabis. But this is not a news story: like their recurring dodgy abortion figures, it is the venal moralising of a passing puritan, dressed up in posh numbers.

Similarly, there’s nothing very complicated about a report from CNW Marketing in Oregon, which the Independent’s motoring correspondent has now quoted (twice) in his attempt to demonstrate that Hummers, Jeeps, and various other cars the size of a small caravan are – “in fact” – greener than smaller hybrid cars like the Prius. Because readers love a quirky paradox.

CNW, a car industry marketing firm, manage to do this by making calculations over the lifetime of a car. They decide that about 90% of the environmental cost of a car’s lifetime environmental impact is from its manufacture and recycling, not the fuel it burns whilst tootling around. This is the polar opposite of all other life-cycle analyses. CNW include all kinds of funny things to make their numbers work, like the erosion of the road surface of the people who travel to the car factory.

They also decide, for the purposes of their calculation, that people will keep their giant, cyclist-killing Jeeps for twice as long as their green hybrid cars, and if you think that is a leap of faith, they also decide that Prius drivers will travel about half as many miles a year as Jeep drivers.

This may be true if you observe the behaviour of people who choose to buy these cars. But it’s hard to see how it is a factor for anyone making a new purchasing decision, since you’re probably going to drive as much as you’re going to drive, and buying a 4×4 is not suddenly going to turn you overnight into a chubby, middle-class parent driving your children 400 yards to school. Read the rest of this entry »

The Huff

January 19th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, religion, statistics, telegraph | 45 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday January 19 2008

In 1954 a man called Darrell Huff published a book called “How to lie with statistics“. Chapter one is called “the sample with built in bias” and it reads exactly like this column, which I’m about to write, on a Daily Telegraph story in 2008.

Huff sets up his headline: “The average Yaleman, Class of 1924, makes $25,111 a year!” said Time magazine, half a century ago. That figure sounded pretty high: Huff chases it, and points out the flaws. How did they find all these people they asked? Who did they miss? Losers tend to drop off the alma mater radar, whereas successful people are in Who’s Who and the College Record. Did this introduce “selection bias” into the sample? And how did they pose the question? Can that really be salary rather than investment income? Can you trust people when they self-declare their income? Is the figure spuriously precise? And so on. Read the rest of this entry »

Even… more… ludicrous teleology from evolutionary psychologists

November 9th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, evolutionary psychology, mail, telegraph, times | 40 Comments »

If academic funding was determined by newspaper coverage we would never research anything but MMR and evolutionary psychology.

Which is fine. Read the rest of this entry »

A Quantitative Analysis Of The Frequency With Which One Company Is Promoted, And By Whom, In UK National Newspapers UPDATED 30/9/06

September 19th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, express, mail, statistics, telegraph, times | 48 Comments »

“A Quantitative Analysis Of The Frequency With Which One Company Is Promoted, And By Whom, In UK National Newspapers”

Updated 16th September 2006.

Dr Ben Goldacre (Corresponding Author)
Bad Science Research Institute,


Susan Clark is an alternative therapy columnist who recently made a cheeky attack on her critics. It was subsequently noted that she promotes one company, Victoria Health, with some regularity in her writing. There is a large pool of alternative therapy writers in the UK, who all regularly promote specific products and companies. No background data was available on how frequently this one company is promoted in newspapers, and therefore it was impossible to assess whether Clark’s promotion of them represented an anomaly. This brief pilot study was aimed at providing further background data.
Read the rest of this entry »

MMR Is Back

June 2nd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, mail, MMR, scare stories, telegraph, times | 67 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
3rd June 2006
The Guardian

[Mmmm uh-oh I’ve just found out the Guardian newsdesk have cut this by 200 words while I was having an afternoon snooze. I can’t bear to look. Anyway, here’s what I wrote…]

MMR is back. “US scientists back autism link to MMR” squealed the Telegraph. “Scientists fear MMR link to autism” roared the Mail. “US study supports claims of MMR link to autism” croaked The Times, a day later.

Strap me to the rocket and print my home address in the paper, I’m going after them again. So what was this frightening new data? Well it’s hard to tell, since it hasn’t been properly published anywhere yet, so you can’t actually read it and Read the rest of this entry »

“Cocaine Floods The Playground”

March 31st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, mirror, scare stories, statistics, telegraph, times | 124 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday April 1, 2006
The Guardian

Nothing comes for free: if you can cope with 400 words on statistics, we can trash a front page news story together. “Cocaine floods the playground,” roared the front page of the Times last Friday. “Use of the addictive drug by children doubles in a year.”

Doubles? Now that was odd, because the press release for this government survey said Read the rest of this entry »