The least surrogate outcome

April 5th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, evidence based policy, politics, statistics | 12 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday April 5 2008

There’s this vague idea – which has been going around for the past few centuries – that statistics is quite difficult. But in reality the maths is often the least of your problems: the tricky bit comes way before the number crunching, when you are deciding what to measure, how to measure it, and what those measurements mean.
Read the rest of this entry »

Foreign substances in your precious bodily fluids

February 9th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, references, scare stories, statistics | 48 Comments »

You’ll find fluoride in tea, beer and fish, which might sound like a balanced diet to you. This week Alan Johnson announced a major new push for putting it in the drinking water, with some very grand promises, and in the face of serious opposition.

General Ripper first developed his theories about environmental poisoning and bodily fluids when he experienced impotence, fatigue, and a pervasive sense of emptiness during the physical act of love. 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 »

Screen test

January 12th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in regulating research, statistics | 38 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday January 12 2008

So we’re all going to get screened for our health problems, by some geezers who’ve bought a CT scanner and put an advert in the paper maybe, or perhaps off Gordon Brown: because screening saves lives, and it’s always good to do something rather than nothing. I think you’ll find – and I fancy having this on a t-shirt – that it’s a tiny bit more complicated than that. Read the rest of this entry »

The data belongs to the patients who gave it to you.

January 5th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, big pharma, regulating research, statistics, systematic reviews, trial registers | 19 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday January 5 2008

It is rare that a bad pharma story is left untouched by the British media, but this one unfolded while everyone was drunk in December, and perhaps it was just too geeky. Luckily, you share my taste for details. Ezetimibe is a best-selling cholesterol drug with sales of more than £2bn last year. It can modify cholesterol levels but no one knows whether it cuts the incidence of real outcomes such as heart attacks, or, you know, death. Is that the bad thing? Read the rest of this entry »

Meaningful debates need clear information

October 27th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in badscience, references, religion, statistics | 42 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Saturday October 27 2007

Where do all those numbers in the newspapers come from? Here’s a funny thing. The Commons committee on science and technology is taking evidence on “scientific developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967”.

Scientific and medical expert bodies giving evidence say that survival in births below 24 weeks has not significantly improved since the 1990s, when it was only 10-20%. But one expert, a professor of neonatal medicine, says survival at 22 and 23 weeks has improved. In fact, he says survival rates in this group can be phenomenally high: 42% of children born at 23 weeks at some top specialist centres. He is quoted widely: the Independent, Telegraph, Channel 4, on Newsnight, by Tory MPs, and so on. The figure has a life of its own. Read the rest of this entry »

Imaginary numbers

September 1st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in cash-for-"stories", evolutionary psychology, statistics | 36 Comments »

[This piece got massively cut for space in the paper, fair enough but personally I can’t bear to look. Here’s the last version I saw, with added email action from Professor Weber at the bottom.]

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
September 1st, 2007

“Jessica Alba has the perfect wiggle, study says”. You have to respect a paper like the Telegraph, especially when they report an important piece of science news like this on their news pages, especially when it gets picked up by other people like Fox news, and especially when it’s accompanied by a photograph of some hot totty. “Jessica Alba, the film actress, has the ultimate sexy strut, according to a team of Cambridge mathematicians.” Read the rest of this entry »

Testing Social Policy

July 21st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in statistics | 34 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday July 21, 2007
The Guardian

There is no sense in which I am a hardliner on trials, and I’m totally down with the idea that there can be many different kinds of evidence, but one thing has always puzzled me: in these days of “evidence based thinking” in Whitehall, why don’t we do randomised controlled trials on social policy? Read the rest of this entry »

No seriously, I felt the p-values, in my soul…

April 21st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, statistics | 35 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday April 21, 2007
The Guardian

So this week in the papers a man was allergic to his own hair, bee colonies were collapsing because of mobile phones, and more. Speaking as the veteran of a great many squabbles, on MMR, phone masts, drugs, and more, I can tell you: facts are not entirely welcome. When all the evidence goes against someone’s beliefs, they will tell you, quite plainly, that they just know it to be true. They sense it. They intuit it. Nobody will ever listen to an explanation of why intuitions can be flawed – presumably because their intuitions have told them not to.

But we have an innate human ability to make something out of nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

Losing the lottery

April 6th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, statistics | 34 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday April 7, 2007
The Guardian

It is possible to be very unlucky indeed. A nurse called Lucia de Berk has been in prison for 5 years in Holland, convicted of 7 counts of murder and 3 of attempted murder. An unusually large number of people died when she was on shift, and that, essentially, along with some very weak circumstantial evidence, is the substance of the case against her. Read the rest of this entry »