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Book Review: ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre

read this - stop believing stupid news stories

“Thousands of books are enjoyable; many are enlightening; only a very few will ever rate as necessary to social health. This is one of them.”
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

That’s right. Necessary to social health. Not an exaggeration.

Plus, it’s hilarious.

The book is: Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, the author is Dr. Ben Goldacre. Check out his blog at www.badscience.net.

I wish I could just re-write this book in it’s entirety for everyone who visits this site. Then you would understand why I don’t talk about every single trend in health/fitness/therapy on this site.

But that would be plagiarism.

I will, however, explain why this book is not only a great, entertaining read, but also one that is necessary. Necessary? That’s bold. Well, yes. It should be considered required reading before you even touch a diet or lifestyle book written by some health guru, no matter how nice and smart (or ‘natural’ and ‘holistic’) they seem.

Health care professionals should also read it, and I’ll explain why.

Of course, this is a book review, so I will have to criticize it a little to be fair.
So don’t worry, I will say something mean about it near the end.

Bad Science is about:

On Monday, the news might cover a story explaining how coffee is bad for you and causes cancer. Wednesday, science proves coffee is good for you and lowers cancer risk.


There is a lot of bad science out there. Bogus therapies and ridiculous nutrition gurus are tricking everyone with ‘testimonials’. Big pharmaceutical companies are tricking doctors with deceitful statistics. Celebrities endorse things they know nothing about. The media writes about whatever is juicy, not accurate. And the government doesn’t seem to understand any of this.

Enter ‘Bad Science’. This book educates you on good science by debunking examples of ridiculous pseudo-science along the way. You’ll learn what’s wrong, and you’ll also learn how to tell what’s wrong in the future.

By the end, you’ll understand the mysterious ‘placebo effect’, what a ‘randomized controlled trial’ is, and how important ‘double-blinding’ and ‘sample size’ is. You’ll also understand all the ways our own perception and logic can fail us into believing silly things – no matter how smart we are.

Best of all, you’ll learn all of this while laughing at Dr. Goldacres charming British wit.

Here’s a TED talk by Dr. Goldacre – if you like it, then you’ll love the book:

It’s important because:

  • The general public:

There’s a lot of bullshit out there. Most people probably know this. They already think ‘big pharma’ is evil, corporations are ruining the world, the government is corrupt, and they’re all in control of the media. So what are we to think of the health stories?

But it’s not all bad: there are good news stories out there about health and science. But there are many more bad ones. This book will help you tremendously in deciding which are good, which are bad, and why.

If you are interested in your health at all, this is stuff you need to know – so you can read these health stories as an informed consumer; so you aren’t mislead in to believing in, or being afraid of, non-sense. This is why I think this book is so important.

  • Healthcare professionals:
    (yes, including physicians – he wrote this book for you)

I know… you probably think you “know this stuff already”. But this book is a fun, entertaining reminder of the important things you learned during your training (if you had a good program, that is). These are things that may have fallen to the back of your mind since you started your career and have had to face the realities of the “real” world.

I’m not saying you’re guilty (and that I am completely not), but you would do well to remember why you should stop jumping on trendy therapies just to get more patients… or clients… or customers (however you want to say it). There is a lot of ‘guru-ism’ in healthcare, and not enough good science.

And yes, there is harm to be done peddling non-sense, even when things seem to work. I won’t go on, but I assure you, this book will be an entertaining wake up if you’ve lost yourself in the ‘business’ side of things, and forgotten your nerdy science roots.

The ‘least’ good thing about this book:

Now for my ‘criticism’.

I have mixed feelings on the ‘level of reading’ required for this book. There were times when I had to re-read some of the sentences (yes, I consider myself a good reader, especially of sciencey stuff – but maybe I’m not). Plus, the book is rather high-brow.

The problem with this (in my opinion) is that many of the very people who are taken advantage of by ‘health gurus’ and ‘big pharma’ are also people who probably don’t read many science type books. They may find it difficult to read, and maybe even a bit snobby. That’s unfortunate, because it’s these people who should read this book. I don’t think Dr. Goldacre did this on purpose. He is a brilliant writer, very smart, very funny, and therefore his book simply comes off this way.

However, it really isn’t that complex. Dr. Goldacre did a fantastic job making exceedingly complex and boring things – like statistics – seem interesting… even entertaining. If things get a little confusing, then “Google it”. A book like this is supposed to educate you!

Remember, this book was written to improve your intellectual capacity, help you ward off the bullshit news stories in the media, and become a smart, informed consumer of information. Plus, it’s funny.

Where can you get it?

Any bookstore… it’s a popular book!

Even easier: amazon.com. Fellow Canadians: get cheaper shipping at amazon.ca.

I loved this book. Read it.

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