Book Review, Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

Can there be “Bad Science”? Well, if something is promoted as science, even though it has nothing to do with science, it is bad science. The author, Ben Goldacre exposes unscientific practices promoted and passed as evidence-based medical practices. This includes but is not limited to homeopathy, cosmetic advertisements, vitamins, acupuncture, and as the author calls it “mankind’s vexed relationship with toxins”. By this, he means our obsession with various forms of “detox” available and promoted by the wellness industry.

In terms of basic human biochemistry, detox is a meaningless concept. It doesn’t cleave nature at the joints. There is nothing on the ‘detox system’ in a medical textbook. The burgers and beer can have negative effects on your body is certainly true, for a number of reasons; but the notion that they leave a specific residue, which can be extruded by a specific process, a physiological system called detox, is a marketing invention.

The author talks about evidence-based medicine and trial design and how it works. He further explains how these trial designs are misused by many in the business. Ben Goldacre explains how Complimentary and Alternative Medicine uses “sciencey-sounding framework”, without scientific evidence to demonstrate its veracity. Homeopathy and acupuncture are prime examples of it. They are nothing more than a placebo and still, a significant population of the world believes it to be evidence-based medicine.

Having a degree in science and having a scientific temperament are two different things. A person with a scientific temperament asks questions and doesn’t believe anything without evidence. As science gives legitimacy, many a product, ideas, and medicines are marketed and sold as scientifically proven. This is scary as many people believe and take these medicines based on how they are advertised.

The author takes the readers into a word of how evidence-based science works, and what goes into medical trials and experiments. He gives us a glimpse of the world of nutrition, the vitamin industry, and big pharma companies.

Because they cannot find new treatments for the disease we already have, the pill companies instead invent new diseases for the treatments they already have. Recent favorites include Social Anxiety Disorder (a new use for SSRI drugs), Female Sexual Dysfunction (a new use of Viagra in Women), night eating syndrome (SSRIs again) and so on: problems in a real sense, but perhaps not necessarily the stuff of pills, and perhaps not best conceived of in reductionist biomedical terms. In fact, reframing intelligence, loss of libido, shyness and tiredness as medical pill problems could be considered crass, exploitative, and frankly disempowering.

This book serves as a warning against pseudo-scientific medicines, celebrity-endorsed miracle cures, alternative medicines, and refined quackery. The author breaks many common myths and throws light on how big pharma companies work. He talks about the malpractices used by pharma companies and the challenges faced by them. In a world of too much information, the author warns us to be conscious and mindful of the products and services sold to us in the name of science.

A very informative and insightful read. I recommend this book to everyone, this should be a part of high-school carricullam.

About The Author

Ben is a best-selling author, broadcaster, campaigner, medical doctor and academic who specialises in unpicking the misuse of science and statistics by journalists, politicians, quacks, drug companies, and more. Ben is currently a Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine in the Department of Primary Care in the University of Oxford, and a Research Fellow in Epidemiology at LSHTM.

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