Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
by Ben Goldacre
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010.
304 pp. $13.86 (paperback).

In order to lead healthy and productive lives, we have to make all manner of health-related decisions. But often we are buried under an avalanche of claims—many of which contradict one another. In Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, Ben Goldacre outs many of the most heinous sources of misleading health-related claims and provides scientific and statistical tools that readers can use to understand those claims and come to their own conclusions. The book is loaded with examples from schools, courtrooms, medical journals, newspapers, and doctor’s offices, all illustrating how science can be twisted and used against us. Goldacre cuts through the noise in a range of debates, from the popular education program known as Brain Gym to the “MMR [mumps, measles, rubella vaccine] causes autism” scandal. And he teaches readers how to evaluate claims about supplements, nutrition, homeopathy, prescription drugs, and more.

Goldacre relays that he enjoys speaking with people who disagree with him; however, as he bemusedly explains, “repeatedly I meet individuals who are eager to share their views on science despite the fact that they have never done an experiment” (3). Toward eliminating the possibility that his readers might be or become such individuals, within the first few pages he teaches us how to conduct several experiments using “kitchen chemistry.”

“Dismantling our early, more outrageous pseudoscientific claims is an excellent way to learn the basics of science,” he writes, “partly because science is largely about disproving theories.” Goldacre teaches readers how to debunk several claims about “detox,” and his dry British humor makes for some hilarious science lessons. “The detox phenomenon is interesting because it represents one of the most grandiose innovations of marketers, lifestyle gurus, and alternative therapists: the invention of a whole new physiological process. In terms of basic human biochemistry, detox is a meaningless concept (11).” . . .

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