Homeopathy gives you Aids

September 15th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in homeopathy, MMR, placebo | 49 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
September 15th, 2007

Okay now look: there’s nothing wrong with the idea of homeopaths giving out sugar pills. The placebo effect can be very powerful, because it’s not just about the pill, it’s about the cultural meaning of the treatment: so we know from research that four placebo sugar pills a day are more effective than two for eradicating gastric ulcers (and that’s not subjective, you measure ulcers by putting a camera into your stomach); we know that salt water injections are a more effective treatment for pain than sugar pills, not because salt water injections are medically active, but because injections are a more dramatic intervention; we know that green sugar pills are a more effective anxiety treatment than red ones, not because of any biomechanical effect of the dyes, but because of the cultural meanings of the colours green and red. We even know that packaging can be beneficial. Read the rest of this entry »

Alternative therapists struggle with the placebo and hawthorne effects once more

June 15th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, placebo | 35 Comments »

I just wanted to draw your attention to a pair of rather entertaining papers from the current issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, edited by Professor Kim Jobst (the man who endorses the Qlink pendant, amongst other things).

The abstract from the experimental paper is here: Read the rest of this entry »

Forty years of miracle cures. Now it’s homeopathy’s turn

May 26th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, homeopathy, mail, placebo | 64 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday May 27, 2006
The Guardian

“I hope you get cancer and then look in the mirror.” That’s a pretty representative sample from the Bad Science mailbag last week, so I shan’t be writing about mobile phone masts again until you all calm down. But it’s in the backlash that you can find the truth. This week, some fabulous elderly scientists came out loudly against homeopathy on the NHS. A maelstrom ensued, and critics focused mainly on the failures of modern medicine: the side effects, and the disappointments, as if these problems could somehow be subtracted from medicine and given to alternative therapies as a benefit. In that backlash, you can Read the rest of this entry »

Magnetic Sex Appea… Shhhh

March 4th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, magnets, placebo | 91 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 4, 2006
The Guardian

If there’s one thing that irritates a scientist, it’s not knowing. This week, the Prescription Pricing Authority decided to authorise magnetic bandages for ulcer treatment on the NHS: and I have no idea why. They won’t tell me what the presented evidence was, because that’s not their policy. Shhh. It’s a secret. Read the rest of this entry »

Magnet Therapy On The NHS

February 26th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, magnets, placebo | 85 Comments »

Amusing to see that the NHS Prescription Pricing Authority have apparently put Magnet Bandages on the formulary:


(Even more amusing to see the Times mentioning that old “iron in blood is magnetic” chestnut again Read the rest of this entry »

Letters in Guardian about the Placebo piece

August 31st, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, homeopathy, letters, placebo, quantum physics, very basic science | 58 Comments »

Letters: Observing the benefits of placebos
Wednesday August 31, 2005
The Guardian

Ben Goldacre’s thought-provoking piece (A tonic for sceptics, August 29) moves forward the debate about Read the rest of this entry »

A tonic for sceptics

August 29th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, homeopathy, placebo, statistics | 40 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Monday August 29, 2005
Comment, The Guardian

Sceptics, and the placebo effect, are easily misunderstood. Since I’ve made a modest second career out of rubbishing alternative therapies (or rather the pseudoscience of the claims behind them), you might expect me to be pleased with a new analysis of 110 placebo-controlled randomised trials of homoeopathy, published 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 »

Sperm counting

July 14th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, placebo, statistics | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday July 14, 2005
The Guardian

Talk about bad science here.
· And so our highly improbable Popular Statistics with Sperm series continues: I’ve locked myself in the Bad Science office with two weeks’ worth of baked beans and they haven’t been able to sack me yet. This week we look at Read the rest of this entry »

Brain sensitising

October 28th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, letters, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, placebo, references | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday October 28, 2004
The Guardian

· Generally, I don’t go for the little guys. But when the seventh copy of the Brain Respiration leaflet arrived in the Bad Science mailbag, I knew it was a serious moneyspinner: a multimillion dollar operation, in fact, with four centres in the UK, and headed by spiritual leader Dr Ilchi Lee, who runs international conferences, attended, he claims, by Al Gore. I don’t know if his doctorate is in neurosciences but he’s certainly made some breakthroughs with his “brain sensitising, brain versatilising, brain cleansing, brain re-wiring, and brain mastering”. Especially since it can “refresh the brain’s energy and help it create new brain cells for stronger brain function”, which is amazing given the conventional wisdom that you don’t make any new brain cells after you’re born. So you might want to protect the few you have left from brain respiration, especially since “this process goes beyond the anatomical layer of the neo-cortex … into the realm of the brain stem (where innate universal awareness is present)… the creativity of the neo-cortex is fully realised through an infinite current of energy”. No way is Dr Ilchi Lee putting an infinite current of energy through my neurons, but he can send me some of those cool brain-shaped gold vibrators off his website for only $90. They’re top of my Christmas list.

· So is there any peer-reviewed journal evidence to back up Brain Respiration? Yes! It’s from the Korea Institute of Brain Sciences (proprietor Dr Ilchi Lee), and it’s published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine. It measured the EEG of children meditating (in the special brain respiration way), and found that meditating kids had EEG findings characteristic of meditation, when compared with a bunch of kids just sitting “relaxing” with some electrodes on their heads, presumably baffled, certainly not meditating, and therefore producing EEG recordings characteristic of kids sitting around in a room. Which goes to show the importance of choosing your control group carefully. There is another paper, which claims to show the effect of brain respiration on stress hormones, but it’s only published in the Korea Institute of Brain Sciences journal, which, little surprise, isn’t carried by my usual academic libraries.

· Just to clarify: meditation is good, Herbert Benson’s excellent papers on the Relaxation Response, the opposite of fight-or-flight, absolutely rule, and you miss out at your peril. But trademarked pseudoscientific nonsense meditation schools are bad, just like all the other backdoors to enlightenment.


People love to write in and point out that I don’t go after Bad Science in The Guardian, as if I can somehow go over there and force them to publish whatever I want, perhaps following a brief hostage siege. And to the colossal delight of at least 50 people who emailed, Sally Weale, the editor of the Guardian health pages, published the following article a few weeks later:


Under the headline “It Works!” they gush extensively about how fabulous and scientifically well proven Brain Respiration is, and these ringing endorsements from The Guardian now prominently adorn the advertising material for Brain Respiration. The article includes the memorably untrue line: ” a number of independent studies have also been conducted on BR and the results published in peer-reviewed science journals.”

This, as many of you pointed out, is a demonstrably false fact in a newspaper (rather than, say, a matter of opinion) and deserves a simple correction. I think it’s as weird as you do, I wrote a letter to the letters page, it was ignored. What can I say?