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Bad Science

Top of the Sunday Times best sellers list this week is a book by Ben Goldacre called Bad Science in which he challenges and debunks much medical nonsense. From homeopathy to buying your Ph.D. from dodgy universities that have just mail boxes for addresses, Goldacre shows that even with junior cert science or just plain common sense you can spot bad science a mile off. The book is eminently readable with sections on how bad statistics can be used to support all sort of dubious health promoting claims for supplements. The role of double blind clinical trials so crucial in providing unbiased data in helping us decide whether a particular drug has a real medical benefit or not is explained in plain English .

Goldacre also looks at the thriving business of health supplements and how slick advertising combined with references to scientific publication that appear to support their claims (which they really don’t), can con Joe Public into buying expensive health supplements that do absolutely no good at all. Just look at the range of health supplements that are for sale not only in our pharmacies, but also in specialized ‘health food stores’ in Ireland at the moment. Most of these products have little or no real science to back up their claims and yet people buy them with hard earned money. More about this later….

The book is a wake-up call to those of us you know a little about science and why we seem to be failing to communicate even basic scientific principles to the man in the street, so he/she can make informed decisions rather than being mis led by dodgy advertising claims. Perhaps a lot of us are a little too concerned with turning out laboratory based cutting edge research rather than spending time educating the public on a broad range of subjects that affect everyday decisions.

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