Mixing medicines

November 11th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, dangers, death, herbal remedies, times | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday November 11, 2004
The Guardian

· Ah, Susan Clark of the Sunday Times (What’s the Alternative?), how I love her. This time she’s giving advice about which natural substances are safe to take with warfarin. First, she bemoans the dearth of research on the subject. Then she ignores the useful stuff in what we do know. “As a simple guideline, patients who are taking warfarin should avoid any natural remedies that have an action on the cardiovascular system.” I have no idea where that idea came from: but warfarin is famous for being interfered with by other drugs. St John’s Wort, for example, is a very popular drug – herb, collection of drugs in a plant, whatever – that reduces the plasma concentration of warfarin, along with phenytoin and rifampicin: that’s not because they’re active on the cardiovascular system, that’s probably because they interfere with liver enzymes, which means it makes them work harder. Those enzymes also break down warfarin, so if they’re working harder, they break down the warfarin more too, so there’s less of it around in your blood, and you’re more likely to have another nasty clot and die. Likewise, ginseng reduces the plasma levels of warfarin, so they shouldn’t be mixed either. And lots of others.

· So: stand by for the kind of nerdy, and usefully boring science story you’ll see in a paper when I am prime minister of the world government. In a recent study, 2,600 patients on warfarin were sent a questionnaire on what alternative therapies they took: 1,360 responded (believe me, that’s a high response rate) and a whole 19.2% of those responders were, it turned out, taking one or more complementary therapies. Ninety-two per cent of them hadn’t thought to mention this to their doctor. Only 28.3% of all respondents had even thought that herbal medicines could interfere with prescription drugs. Because hardly anybody’s telling them. And, the patients who were taking the complementary therapies – the ones you’d hope would be aware of the risks – were even less likely to think they might interfere with prescription drugs (at a statistical significance of P<0.001, which means there’s a one in 1,000 possibility of that finding occurring by chance).

· Now, doctors have a responsibility to ask about alternative therapies. Patients have a responsibility to themselves to volunteer the information. And the PR arm of the alternative therapy industry, the ones who write articles in national newspapers, have a responsibility to know their onions, and share their knowledge.

Behold the jot of evidence

October 17th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, legal chill, libel | 65 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, Saturday 17 October 2009, The Guardian

For those with the finances to try to silence their critics, this has been a week of spectacular own goals. Trafigura has loudly advertised the report on the dumping of toxic waste in Africa by taking out a super-injunction through Carter-Ruck. And on Wednesday Simon Singh, the science writer being sued by the British Chiropractic Association, won his right to an appeal. Read the rest of this entry »

Magnificent torrent of canards in parliament from David Tredinnick MP

February 20th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in africa, bad science, homeopathy | 50 Comments »

David Tredinnick is conservative MP for Bosworth (he was suspended without pay during the cash for questions scandal) and very keen on alternative therapies. Here is a fabulous speech from him in parliament yesterday. As you can see, he talks up the use of homeopathy as a treatment for HIV, malaria, and a whole host of other problems, including TB, urinary infections, diarrhoea, skin eruptions, diabetes, epilepsy, eye infections, intestinal parasites, cancer, Read the rest of this entry »

BMJ Column – Beware of mentioning psychosocial factors

November 8th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in acupuncture, medicalisation | 34 Comments »

How doctors describe the many interactions between a person, their illness, and society has little purchase in the crudely dualistic world of popular culture. 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 »

The year in bad science

December 30th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 41 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 30, 2006
The Guardian

The funny thing is, now that I’m in a symbiotic relationship with the bullshit industry, I’d be stuffed if they all went straight. Although in 2006 there was no sign of it happening just yet. It was a particularly good year for anyone wanting to make money shovelling dodgy science into the innocent minds of young schoolchildren. The ludicrously 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 »

Atomic tomatoes are not the only fruit

December 16th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in africa, alternative medicine, bad science, celebs, channel 4, channel five, cosmetics, dna, express, gillian mckeith, herbal remedies, independent, letters, mail, MMR, nutritionists, oxygen, penises, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, quantum physics, references, space, statistics, telegraph, times, very basic science, water | 9 Comments »

This article is a rough transcript of the most excellent Bad Science Awards 2004 that were held in the Asylum Club on Rathbone St W1, a tiny basement club with a fire safety license for 150. We were expecting 20 people but to general astonishment there were queues down the street, and an unruly crowd who were drunkenly, loudly, and at one point quite violently baying for Gillian McKeith’s blood. Also performing were the excellently frightening and dangerous Disinformation presents “National Grid”, performance terrorism with victorian electrical equipment and rubber gloves, featuring Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor and Guardian Far Out fame.

Thursday December 16, 2004
The Guardian

Ben Goldacre on the gongs nobody wants to win…

Andrew Wakefield prize for preposterous extrapolation from a single unconvincing piece of scientific data

With its place at the kernel of Bad Science reporting in the news media, this was bound to be a hotly contested category. Were there any Read the rest of this entry »

Channel 4’s ‘doctors’ continued

October 14th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, channel 4, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, weight loss | 3 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday October 14, 2004
The Guardian

· I’m in a difficult position. You may remember Dr Bannock PhD: he is a Channel 4 TV doctor and a certified professional member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, like Dr Gillian McKeith PhD (and my dead cat Hettie). In fact, pretty much the only thing my cat doesn’t have is a PhD and a Channel 4 show. Now, I had all kinds of awful things to say about Dr Bannock, but he’s written me such a nice collection of emails, and put such an earnest retraction of hisPhD from the Open International University of Complementary Medicine (OIUCM) on his website (www.doctorbannock.com/about_me.html) after I contacted him with my concerns, that I can’t bring myself to speak ill of him. I honestly think, regardless of the fact that he describes himself as having seven memberships, three fellowships, six diplomas, and eight certificates, the odd lectureship, and isn’t quite sure if he might have claimed for a while to have a PhD from Brunel (which has never heard of him) and continued to call himself a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine even after his membership had lapsed – despite all this (deep breath), despite the fact that he has qualifications in “Scenar” and live blood analysis, both of which I’m looking forward to writing about in the future and despite the fact that he’s been written about positively in the Daily Mail, the Express, the Sunday Times Style, and other repeat offenders … I seriously like the guy. And pseudoscientific new age nonsense aside, I’m sure he’s done a lot for Sting’s wife, Madonna, and all the other celebs he associates himself with. I mean it. It’s not my fault if I have a naturally unearnest prose style.

· But Dr Bannock is important to me for two reasons. First, he’s our second “doctor” on Channel 4 with highly questionable qualifications, and I want to know how many more there are. I thought about asking Channel 4, but the last time I rang its PR department I was treated like a naughty schoolboy. So here’s the deal: just send me the name of everyone on Channel 4 you see who describes themselves as a doctor, and I’ll do the rest.

· Second, and more important, the PhD that Dr Bannock got from OIUCM only costs $850. I’m told there are lots of people on Harley St with OIUCM PhDs. Now listen: the editor of Life is on holiday at the moment, and while he’s away we run the budget. So 850 emails, that’s all I need, and we might just be able to buy a PhD for my dead cat before the boss gets back.

You’ve been tangled

September 25th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy, quantum physics | 2 Comments »

You’ve been tangled

Ben Goldacre
Thursday September 25, 2003
The Guardian

Talk bad science

· I don’t mean to be a suspicious soul, but ever since the great Sokal scam, when a professor of physics managed to sneak a hoax paper called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” into a cultural studies journal, pretending that quantum electrodynamics somehow proved the veracity of postmodernist textual critiques, I’m always a bit wary of far-out articles in unlikely journals. But here at the Institute of Bad Science I’m feeling very good about our latest find: “The Entanglement Model of Homeopathy as an Example of Generalised Entanglement Predicted by Weak Quantum Theory,” published last month in Research in Complementary Medicine and Classical Naturopathy.

· This might be a German journal, but it is by no means invisibly obscure: its impact factor, the figure used by academics to measure whether a journal has a high profile or not, derived from the average number of citations per article published, was 0.63 in 2001. To give you some idea of what this means, the stellar Nature got 28, and Biochemistry, a good journal, came in at 4.1.

· I could quote the whole abstract, but it’s so barking that if I did you’d all stop reading immediately, and, as my editor helpfully says, the first rule of feature writing is never file anything that nobody will read. So check it out for yourself at www.tinyurl.com/oc6t.

But basically, their brilliant entanglement model is based on the concept of “Weak Quantum Theory”, which has only 24 entries on Google and is authoritatively referenced to, er, another paper by the same guys. They seem to take the ideas of complementarity and entanglement from quantum physics, usually used to describe things like position, momentum, and spin of particles, and then reinterpret the whole game, saying that “epistemic complementarity can produce entanglement”.

Which is to say, similar, or complementary, ideas can produce quantum entanglement. Or as they put it: “It transpires that homeopathy uses two instances of generalised entanglement: one between the remedy and the original substance (potentiation principle) and one between the individual symptoms of a patient and the general symptoms of a remedy picture (similarity principle). By bringing these two elements together, double entanglement ensues, which is reminiscent of cryptographic and teleportation applications of entanglement in QM proper.” Indeed.