Book Club: Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks


One responsibility I feel that I have as a scientist is to help people understand the science that affects them and their health. Part of this is to explain the difference between good science, bad science (which is just poorly done science resulting in incorrect conclusions) and pseudoscience (which is a set of claims, belief or practice that is touted as being based on scientific fact).  Some recent examples of my blog posts about bad science or pseudoscience focus on homeopathy, the inaccurate connection between vaccination and autism, and how the media propagates bad and pseudoscientific claims.

The task I’ve given myself with this blog is challenging because as well as explaining the science (good, bad and fake), I ultimately want my readers to be empowered to go into the world, read news stories, visit websites and see Facebook posts and be armed with the knowledge to figure out if what they are reading is legitimate or not.  This is difficult because even as a scientist, I often have to look at the primary data from publications and conflicting information to figure out what’s going on.

However, in my ongoing effort, I found that this book “Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks” by Ben Goldacre provides a great primer on bad science, pseudoscience and how the media hypes both. In the book description, they ask ” How can average readers, who aren’t medical doctors or Ph.D.s in biochemistry, tell what they should be paying attention to and what’s, well, just more bullshit?” and this book is a good first start.  With chapters on homeopathy, the placebo effect, the “science” behind nutrition, the absurd story of an MD offering multivitamins to “cure” AIDS, and the media’s role in propagating these “quacks” and “hacks,” you will get an education on how this terrible science is pushed on the the unaware. I think you’ll walk away illuminated, perhaps a little bit disappointed, but much better armed to understand all the science and “science” you encounter every day.

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