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Bronze-level articleBen Goldacre

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Dr. Goldacre eschews hairstyling woo.
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Ben Goldacre is a British physician (he used to be a psychiatrist at an NHS hospital and a researcher, but is now an academic specializing in epidemiology) and "nerd cheerleader" who writes an excellent skeptical blog and regular column in The Guardian called Bad Science.[1] He is particularly critical of medical frauds, such as homeopaths and "nutritionists." He is a regular speaker at skeptical events, specializing in the media's portrayal of science. Along with Simon Singh, Goldacre has become one of the main voices for reforming libel laws in the UK.


[edit] Bad Science

Goldacre commonly discusses (and dissects in detail in his book with the same title) the poor science behind homeopathy and other areas of so-called complementary and alternative medicine, prominent British nutritionists such as Patrick Holford and the (in Goldacre's words) "awful poo lady," and, most commonly, the poor standard of science reporting in the media. There are certain examples of the media's distortion of science which Goldacre returns to very frequently; these include cancer scares,[2] 'formula' stories (of which he has a large collection),[3] and the MMR-vaccine-causes-autism scare, which was huge news in Britain for many years and frustrated Goldacre to no end.[4]

He is also not a fan of Big Pharma (he uses the phrase himself), and many of his articles and columns are about the dubious practices perpetrated by large pharmaceutical companies. Most of these columns are around the subject of companies withholding the data from negative or inconclusive trials. Subsequently much of his medical activism comes in the shape of supporting a "trial database" where aims, methods and intent are registered before a clinical trial takes place — thus making the withholding of data more noticeable.

[edit] Matthias Rath

Repeat after me: pharma being shit does not mean magic beans cure cancer.[5]

Matthias Rath is a German businessman interested in pushing his vitamin based pseudoscience on the world. Over the past few years he has been active in South Africa, supporting the government in their outright refusal to administer anti-retroviral drugs to treat AIDS (which infects up to a quarter of the population and kills at least 800 people a day there). Ben Goldacre brought up the point that vitamin pills don't cure AIDS and devoted a chapter of Bad Science to it. Rath's response might have been, in fact, to quietly show Goldacre his convincing research, to be subsequently published with Goldacre as a co-author... actually he sued. The Guardian happily paid for the lawyers to defend Dr. Goldacre, and he won the court case, with Rath paying out around £500,000 in fees due to his massive spanking at the hands of reason. The result of the near 18-month court case was that the chapter on Rath was dropped from the first edition of Bad Science. It is now available in the paperback second edition and free to view online at Amazon.com.[6] Like what happens when most people try to silence people by calling libel and lose (The Streisand effect), the chapter is now much more damning of Rath and his dealings in South Africa.

[edit] Gillian McKeith

Gillian McKeith, the aforementioned "awful poo lady" has had a long running spate of animosity with Goldacre — although they aren't on record exchanging insults in person. In 2007 McKeith was told to stop using her title of "doctor" because of a complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Authority by a member of the Bad Science forums. This was far from the start of it; in 2004, Goldacre showed up McKeith's membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants to be just as shambolic as her qualification when, for the pricey sum of $60, he managed to get a similar membership for his pet cat, Henrietta. That Henrietta was both feline and had been dead for a year at the time didn't seem to damage the ease with which Goldacre secured the certificate and the farce caused a bit of back-and-forth about what the membership actually consisted of; McKeith and her agents insisting that she had a "full" membership, while the dead cat only had "affiliate" membership.

It kicked off again in 2010 when a Twitter message from McKeith called the relevant chapter in Bad Science "lies." This incident became increasingly surreal after Goldacre asked for either clarification or an apology (he was even advised to sue,[7] ironic considering that he is a strong supporter of UK libel law reform). First the tweets were deleted (and this was after the API glitch that allowed Tweleted to work). Then they evolved from "first person" like messages, indicative that there were coming from the women herself, to "third person" PR gumph. The final wriggle came when the same account sent the message "Do you actually believe this is real twitter site for the GM?", implying that the Twitter account was actually a fake, or parody. This would be believable if it weren't for the fact that the account was clearly linked to from McKeith's official website (unless, of course, that's an elaborate prank too...) and that when the link was deleted, close examination of the source code showed that the link wasn't deleted, but merely <!-- commented out --> to be hidden.

[edit] "Criticism"

Goldacre has been "criticised." Quite what these criticisms are is unknown, as they're not defined well in the one book that singles out Goldacre. It's certainly not as good a read as Bad Science, being filled with meaningless quotes that the author no doubt thought were poignant. Many pages are actually half-filled with the footnotes.[8] Wikipedia itself rejects the book as a reference because it's clearly self-published.[9]

Goldacre has also been accused by journalist Steve Connor of being arrogant and lofty in calling journalists "lazy or inaccurate,"[10] although Connor's rant against him actually was both lazy and inaccurate, thus stretching the irony meter to just below its breaking point.[11]

[edit] Books

  • Bad Science (Fourth Estate ISBN 0007240198, 1 Sep 2008) - based on material from his column, which is expanded upon and discussed at greater length.
  • Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients (Fourth Estate, 25 Sep 2012)
  • I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that (Fourth Estate, 23 Oct 2014) - collected journalism

[edit] External links

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

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