Monday, September 20, 2010

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

It took me a while to finish Bad Science, because I got stuck on the homeopathy bit. I've always been into homeopathy and took some time to kind of shift my way of thinking about it. I was able to come to terms with the science of it without disregarding it completely and I'm happy with the compromise. I'm also happy that I was able to get past these chapters, because the rest of the book was simply mind-blowing.

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre deals with the way that the media and other authority figures use scientific facts, research and statistics in incorrect ways. Sometimes on purpose. This includes loads of subjects, including one that hit close to home, nutrition. I was one of the people who bought into the whole nutritionist thing, hoping to find easy weight-loss solutions. I considered myself knowledgeable, but I hadn't actually looked into the science behind some of the claims. This is a good many years in my past and since then I have myself learned to apply a lot more common sense to my life, but the science part of it was still a real treat. If you've read the book, I particularly enjoyed the chapter on anti-oxidants - what a fascinating eye-opener!

There was a lot that was disturbing in Bad Science. It really is disturbing to see how people will lie to achieve their own ends, even if their lies hurt thousands of people. I was shocked by many of the examples given by Goldacre... it's sad that this is the world we live in. It's sad that these sources that we all depend on and believe are the ones that are multiplying the lies. Where can you get trustworthy information from then?

It amazed me to see that even the most obvious nut jobs have huge followings. What does that say about our society? Do we question nothing? Do we really believe so blindly? Is that how desperately we need to belong to a movement, a group, an ideology?

I love ben Goldacre for trusting me with the bare facts. I'm not too stupid to understand the science behind the stories. Why is the science dumbed down for us?

I am recommending this to everyone. It's a book that I hope everyone will read as it has information we should all have. They don't teach this stuff in school but it's crucial to our everyday choices. Plus Goldacre's style is great and you'll get a few laughs out of the experience too!


Alexandra said...

The questions raised in Bad Science are some of the ones I have to face in my job almost every day (I’m a communications consultant), especially when it come to risk-awareness and tolerance.

Imagine that a company used a certain chemical in producing say, baby bottles. Several studies showed that the only way that chemical could pass into the baby's bloodstream is if he sucked on the bottle for 10 hours a day for 50 years. So, there is a risk of contamination even if statistically insignificant. How do you explain this to a mother? How expensive would the "safer" alternative need to be so that the mother can live with the risk?

Glad to see you enjoyed the book! It one of those that challenge you at every step.

joanna said...

Hi Alexandra - wow, it must be hard to advise on how to communicate some of these things. Statistics are tricky things anyway... I even hate the ones that say something will be harmless in 99 out of 100 cases - someone has to be that one right?