Bad Science review

Bad ScienceBad Science by Ben Goldacre

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bad Science is a book that I should have liked more than I did. He basically looks at a bunch of different pseudo-medical fads (detox baths, homeopathy, etc.) and explains that there’s no real science to back them up by looking at the studies they cite and tearing them apart. He also writes a bit about the placebo effect, which is often not corrected for in said studies. Then he goes on to discuss more ways that studies are poorly conducted, and takes the media to task (rightfully so) for their coverage of the MMR vaccine (which does not cause autism).

Another interesting part was the section on antioxidants (especially because I had bought into the fact that they’re good) – they do counteract free radicals when they come into direct contact with them, but there’s no proof that a) free radicals are responsible for aging and various diseases b) eating more antioxidants will help, since the body already has a system for counteracting free radicals; maybe eating more antioxidants will cause the body to produce less, or something. Anyway, it goes to show that the body is complicated and really a reasonable-sounding biological theory isn’t enough to prove that something is helpful – you need to do a real randomized placebo-controlled study. And in this case, there was a study done over a decade ago showing that people taking beta-carotene (an antioxidant) pills were more likely to die of lung cancer and other causes. So…yeah.

Another neat thing I learned was about the Cochrane Collaboration which focuses on evidence-based medicine and doing meta-studies of all the available literature.

I totally agree with the message here, but I think the book was a bit meandering which may be why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have.

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