Bad Science is mainly about health issues, and how they are reported in the press which surprised me as I expected it to be more wide-ranging. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise as Ben Goldacre is a qualified doctor, working for the NHS. He also exposes the ‘tricks of the £30 billion food supplements industry and the evils of the £300 billion pharmaceuticals industry’.
It’s a splendid rant against the lack of education and knowledge about health with the inevitable result that we are unable to understand and judge for ourselves the effectiveness of the various treatments on offer. He describes how placebos work, just what homeopathy is, the misunderstandings about food and nutrition, and above all how to decide what works and what is quackery, scaremongering or downright dangerous. He is scathing about homeopathy, about Gillian McKeith’s lack of scientific knowledge and misleading claims, and dismisses Patrick Holford for the way he cherry-picks the data to suit his case, and makes extraordinary claims without evidence to back them up.
I very rarely read anything scientific but found this easy to understand, apart from the statistics, which cause my eyes to glaze over at the mere sight of a graph, tables or columns of figures. Fortunately there’s not a lot of that in this book.
There are disturbing chapters on such topics as the way some drugs trials are carried out – the distortion of evidence and the way harmful/negative effects are ignored or hidden. His chapters on health scares about MRSA and MMR are particularly interesting. Other topics were not so surprising, as I’ve always been sceptical about the value of taking food supplements and vitamins (even though I’ve taken vitamin C tablets for years).
Overall, even though I thought there was too much repetition and over explanation, I did learn quite a lot and it does provide food for thought.