Science fiction and fantasy
by Ben Goldacre
Goldacre's targets include self-styled nutritionists, the Durham "trials" of fish oil, the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, MRSA and MMR scares, and flaky science reporting. He includes detailed explanations of how the perpetrators of various scandals manage to get away with it, and why we tend to believe what they tell us. There's an overview of experimental method, with examples of what happens when experiments are badly designed and controls like randomisation and blinding aren't put in place.
The author's tone is often sarcastic, but there is a serious side to all of this. Some of these issues adversely affect thousands or even millions of people, and it can be a matter of life or death. Goldacre argues convincingly about the importance of accurate science reporting, particularly when it comes to the results of medical trials. The media comes under fire for being full of humanities graduates who are at a loss to understand or explain science to their audiences, and for its over-emphasis on scare stories and sensationalism.
No-one is exempt from the author's savage pen, however. Our problems with science are rooted in human nature, so we're predisposed to believe all manner of rubbish. There's a fascinating discussion of the psychology behind this, as well as the ways we commonly misunderstand statistics.
Bad Science reveals the flaws that lead us all astray, as well as exposing some of the villains who have tried to profit from our blind spots. It's sometimes sensational and often very funny, but these are topics that matter to us all. If you've ever had the suspicion that people in white lab coats were just making things up, this book gives you the tools to sort sense from scam. It's essential reading.
24th September 2010
If you like this, try:Junk Science by Dan Agin
A look at how scientific truths are under attack from pressure groups, corporations, and other interested parties.
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