Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks

Ben Goldacre

Created on Friday, September 2, 2011.

An interesting read about pseudoscience, hoax, or the lack of scientific rigor in food, cosmetics, and medicine.

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“It’s quite understandable that newspapers should feel it’s their job to write about new stuff. But if an experimental result is newsworthy, it can often be for the same reasons that mean it is probably wrong: it must be new, and unexpected, it must change what we previously thought; which is to say, it must be a single, lone piece of information which contradicts a large amount of pre-existing experimental evidence.”


“If you visit the academic-sounding website, (registered before the current rules on academic web addresses), you won’t find a list of academics on the staff, or research programmes in progress, in the way that you would, say, for the Institute for Cognitive Neurosciences in London. Nor will you find a list of academic publications. When I rang up the press office once to get one, I was told about some magazine articles, and then when I explained what I really meant, the press officer went away, and came back, and told me that ION was ‘a research institute, so they don’t have time for academic papers and stuff like that.’”


“More than that, these adverts sell a dubious world view. They sell the idea that science is not about the delicate relationship between evidence and theory. They suggest, instead, with all the might of their international advertising budgets, their Micro-cellular Complexes, their Neutrillium XY, their Tenseur Peptidique Vegetal and the rest, that science is about impenetrable nonsense involving equations, molecules, sciencey diagrams, sweeping didactic statements from authority figures in white coats, and that this sciencey-sounding stuff might just as well be made up, concocted, confabulated out of thin air, in order to make money.

They sell the idea that science is incomprehensible, with all their might, and they sell this idea mainly to attractive young women, who are disappointingly under-represented in the sciences.”


“But above all we should pay tribute to the genius of this huge fish-oil project, and every other nutritionist who has got their pills into the media, and into schools, because more than anything else, they have sold children, at the most impressionable time of their lives, one very compelling message: that you need to take pills to lead a healthy normal life, that a sensible diet and lifestyle are not enough in themselves, and that a pill can even make up for failings elsewhere. They have pushed their message directly into schools, into families, into the minds of their worried parents, and it is their intention that every child should understand that you need to eat several large, expensive, coloured capsules, six of them, three times a day, and this will improve vital but intangible qualities: concentration, behaviour and intelligence.”


“For all that you might have learnt something useful here about the experimental method, there is something more significant you should have picked up: it is expensive, tedious and time-consuming to test every whim concocted out of thin air by therapists selling unlikely miracle cures. But it can be done, and it is done.”

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
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