Placebo! Nocebo!

April 17th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in onanism, placebo, podcast | 29 Comments »

Hi, two quick videos… one on the mighty placebo effect, via NHS Choices, one on the nocebo effect from Nerdstock. Read the rest of this entry »

Part two of my Radio 4 show on the placebo effect, 9pm tonight (Monday)

August 25th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, onanism, placebo, podcast | 31 Comments »

image So tonight at  9pm on BBC Radio 4 (Monday) you can hear the second episode of my two-part miniseries on the placebo effect, one of the most effective and neglected evidence based treatments known to man.

In this show we look at the ethical and practical implications of research into the placebo effect, and discuss whether it’s okay – or even necessary – to lie to patients. The answer, from me at any rate, is “no”. Read the rest of this entry »

My Placebo programme on BBC Radio 4

August 18th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, onanism, placebo | 30 Comments »

I’ve been so busy I completely failed to spot that this show went out earlier this evening. It’s a smashing programme I made with Matt Silver from the BBC Radio 4 Science Unit on the placebo effect.

We charge through some of the most fun experiments in the field, and in part two we get all philosophical about what it means for mankind. Read the rest of this entry »

All bow before the might of the placebo effect, it is the coolest strangest thing in medicine

March 1st, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in homeopathy, placebo, regulating research | 31 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian,
Saturday March 1 2008

It was fun to hear universal jubilation over the new meta-analysis showing once again that some antidepressants aren’t much cop in mild or moderate depression: most of all on the Today programme, where a newsreader said the industry was contesting the study on the basis that it was not in line “with patient experience”. I’ve always said that homeopaths mimic big pharma in their marketing spiel, but this is the first time I’ve seen it done the other way around, so bravo to pill peddlers of all shades. 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 »

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 »

What’s wrong with the placebo effect?

April 15th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, placebo | 5 Comments »

What’s wrong with the placebo effect?

Talk about bad science here

Ben Goldacre
Thursday April 15, 2004
The Guardian

· For some strange reason I’ve never understood, pseudoscientists tend to get huffy when you suggest that their cash cow only works through the placebo effect; perhaps they were so distracted by their sea of flawed research into alternative therapies that they missed the excellent crop of good scientific studies on the placebo.

So we know that placebos can affect lots of things, especially stuff with a subjective component, like pain, or mood; and we know that two placebo sugar pills have a bigger effect than one, and that an intramuscular placebo injection is more effective than a placebo sugar tablet. But what grumpy alternative therapists miss is that placebo goes well beyond dishing out sugar pills: it’s the ceremony, and the cultural meaning of the treatment.

Confidently waving an ultrasound machine around someone’s face is effective for post-operative dental pain, regardless of whether the machine is switched on. Likewise, in the 1950s, we used to ligate the internal mammary artery to treat angina: but when someone did a placebo-controlled trial, going to theatre, making an incision, but only pretending to ligate the internal mammary, the sham operation was as effective as the real one. Like morons, instead of applauding the power of the placebo, we just stopped doing the procedure, assuming that it was “useless”.

· It goes on: pinky red sugar pills are more effective stimulants than blue sugar pills, because colours have meanings. And a four-way comparison, with either sugar pills or aspirin, in either unbranded aspirin boxes or mock-up packaging of the Dispirin brand, showed that brand-name packaging, and the wealth of advertising and cultural background material that packaging plays on, had almost as big an impact on pain as whether the pills had any drug in them. So in some ways, it’s not irrational to believe that costly Nurofen is more effective than cheap unbranded ibuprofen, even if they’ve both got the same active ingredient.

· Pseudoscientists, and alternative therapists, being expensive and long-winded, have more time to weave ceremony and cultural meaning, and maximise their placebo effect, than a rushed NHS GP. It’s placebo, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. If you wanted to maximise everyone’s health, then doctors would confidently lie to their patients about effectiveness of treatments, the way they did before we began championing choice and informed consent over efficacy; and people like me would stop debunking placebo alternative therapies. No chance.

Statins have no side effects? What our study really found, its fixable flaws, and why trials transparency matters (again).

March 13th, 2014 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign, bad science, placebo | 23 Comments »

telesillyHi there, sorry to be absent (dayjob!). I was surprised to see a study I’m a co-author on getting some front page media play today, under the headline “Statins ‘have no side effects'”. That’s not what our paper found. But it was an interesting piece of work, with an odd result, looking at side effects in randomised trials of statins: specifically, and unusually, it compares the reports of side effects among people on statins in trials, against the reports of side effects from trial participants who were only getting a dummy placebo sugar pill.  Read the rest of this entry »

FREE! Here is the new “What Happened Next?” update chapter from Bad Pharma 2013

December 19th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 1 Comment »

20130923_200935-MOTIONHere is the extra update chapter from the new 2013 paperback edition of Bad Pharma. It’s a fun romp through the changes that have happened over the past year or so, starring the many ethical professionals in pharma and medicine who have tried to push things forward, and some very shameful denialism from people in positions of “leadership”. There are some very interesting imperfections in medicine, they cost lives, and they can all be easily fixed, where there is common sense and good-will.

It’s all much more fun if you’ve read the book itself. As always, if you like what I do, and want me to do more: buy my books and give them to your friends. Apart from anything else, it scares the enemy. You can find Bad Pharma here on…

… Amazon ……….

…….. Waterstones ……

……………… or Hive.

So, here Read the rest of this entry »

… book me to speak

March 6th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in | No Comments »

A full bio is here.

Upcoming talks:

I’ve just come to the end of a huge number of talks around the UK, US and Canada. Please check back for more shortly, or on twitter for occasional one-offs.

Speaking engagements:

I do talks on the misuse of science and statistics in medicine, business, journalism, government, and more. They are funny and informative, depending on whether it’s after dinner or the beginning of the day, kids, adults, or people in suits. I’ve toured theatres and rock venues and given over 300 talks in the past 5 years, from comedy clubs and music festivals to universities and schools, the Hammersmith Apollo, conferences, and various government departments. I also do very serious talks on evidence based policy and randomised trials.

For private speaking or theatre bookings please contact and

Here is my TED talk. I can also speak slowly.

(If you want more, there are lots of telly clips here, and a talk at TEDGlobal here. Previous bits and pieces include the Today programme, QI, Any Questions, Newsnight, Start The Week, The Now Show for comedy, Loose Ends, PM, Quote Unquote, Watchdog, and so on. You can find plenty of it if you dig around on the site, along with lectures, podcast interviews, maybe start here. I’ve also made various documentaries for the BBC on science, libel, policy, and epidemiology: The Placebo Effect is a two-part series, The Rise of the Lifestyle Nutritionists is another, I like this on trials in government, but it’s jolly grave).