Bad Science

Ben Goldacre is one of my favourite writers, I turn to his column in the Guardian each Saturday before anything else. I read his excellent book “Bad Science” over Christmas, and I really recommend it. He looks primarily at the reporting of science in the media but also about the science (lack of) in everyday life. He discusses for example homeopathy, the placebo effect and the MMR vaccine “hoax”. He writes really well, the book is funny (while at the same time being a bit scary) and its actually an important book. Important? Well, its more likely than anything I have seen to get people thinking about how we know what we know. That leads to a consideration of evidence, the scientific method and reduces the likelihood of been taken in by trendy but vacuous rubbish that can actually (as he discusses) be very dangerous.

It isn’t an academic text its a general book, but Bad Science is informative and interesting (and fun) even if you are a “proper” scientist who already knows about the scientific method, statistics and evidence.

One of his themes is that while science journalists are usually OK, when ridiculous “science” headlines appear in newspapers they are usually determined by an editor with a background in humanities who steers the story away from the trained science journalist to a general newspaper hack.

He is critical of humanities graduates who are journalists and know nothing of evidence and the scientific method. But I really wonder if modern biology graduates are so different, do they really learn this stuff on modern degree programs, or are they just sort of expected to assimilate it independently somehow? I have a colleague who was suggesting that we entirely abandon the first semester curriculum of the usual first year courses (diversity of life, ecology and evolution etc) and just teach the scientific method and experimental design. A very interesting idea.

Ben Goldacre’s blog http://www.badscience.net/

“Bad Science”
Ben Goldacre
Fourth Estate, London, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-00-724019-7

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