Yep, pulling in the reinforcements again as I try to get my act back together for this blogging thing. (Wait, I just implied that I once had my act together, which of course, isn't really true. But whatever.) Thanks again, Annie!
This time I'll be discussing Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Bad Science is a popular science book, so it's fairly accessible and easy to understand - but there's no dumbing down here, either. There's not an abundance of medical jargon, thankfully, but Goldacre is a writer as much as he's a doctor - he knows what he's going to say, and he says it. Bad Science, in the author's words, "follows a natural crescendo, from the foolishness of quacks, via the credence they are given in the mainstream media, through the tricks of the £30 billion food supplements industry, the evils of the £300 billion pharmaceuticals industry, the tragedy of science reporting, and on to cases where people have wound up in prison, derided, or dead, simply through the poor understanding of statistics and evidence that pervades our society." The opening chapter is a short discussion of detox foot baths that claim to draw out "toxins" from one's body, turning the water a murky brown. With a simple experiment and some investigation, Goldacre quickly debunks this claim, showing that the simple natural process of rusting is what's really causing this brown coloration, and not the presence of the ambivalently-worded "toxins," whatever those might actually be. This sets the tone for the rest of the book, where Goldacre moves from tackling fairly minor, more obvious quack products to larger threats to science and society such as self-branded nutritional therapists and alternative medicine proponents advocating against the use of AIDS drugs.
The book is British, as one can probably tell from the quote, so non-British readers may not be entirely familiar with some of the people Goldacre mentions, like Patrick Holford and Gillian McKeith. However, there are surely equivalents of these people wherever the reader may live - nutritionists (not the academic kind, those who study the actual science of nutrition, but the ones who market food supplements with their faces plastered across the packaging and have PhDs from suspicious colleges) are pervasive and have far too much power in our society. Goldacre's book, though not overly simplified, is accessible for any reader with a basic understanding of how science works. Even for those well-versed in science it's sure to be informative, as many people are unaware of how truly pervasive bad science and statistics are in the media, medicine, and everywhere else.