This is the “missing chapter” about vitamin pill salesman Matthias Rath. Sadly I was unable to write about him at the time that book was initially published, as he was suing my ass in the High Court. The chapter is now available in the new paperback edition, and I’ve posted it here for free so that nobody loses out.
Although the publishers make a slightly melodramatic fuss about this in the promo material, it is a very serious story about the dangers of pseudoscience, as I hope you’ll see, and it was also a pretty unpleasant episode, not just for me, but also for the many other people he’s tried to sue, including Medecins Sans Frontieres and more. If you’re ever looking for a warning sign that you’re on the wrong side of an argument, suing Medecins Sans Frontieres is probably a pretty good clue.
Just so that your visual search strategy is correctly callibrated for bookshops and friends’ living rooms, here is the cover of the new and cheaper edition of Bad Science. It features both an index and a new chapter, which I will post for free on the web in a minute. More below.
If there is one great joy to be derived from scanning the scientific literature over a week, it is the barrage of studies that challenge your beliefs and preconceptions, demonstrating the weakness of intuition: because if we knew all the answers to start with, there’d be no point in doing research.
On an abstract level, there’s a good short report in the journal Cortex, where some researchers in Bologna demonstrate the spectacular hopelessness of memory. One morning in 1980, a bomb exploded in Bologna station: 85 people died, and the clock stopped ominously showing 10.25, the time of the explosion. This image became a famous symbol for the event, but the clock was repaired soon after, and worked perfectly for the next 16 years. When it broke again in 1996, it was decided to leave the clock showing 10.25 permanently, as a memorial. Read the rest of this entry »
Apologies for the exegesis, but I would like to formally introduce this piece as what I hope is my first unambiguous abuse of my position as a “columnist”. I had an acquaintance - the partner of a cherished ex-girlfriend - die in tragic circumstances (not suicide, as it happens) and the details were pored over hideously and unnecessarily by the media for no reason other than prurience and a desire to make a spectacle of someone else’s pain. The media have made it quite clear that they cannot be trusted to report sensibly on coroners’ inquests, and so they have made it quite clear that they should be expelled from them. Read the rest of this entry »
Science is not difficult to explain. Today we will see how British journalists go out of their way to cherry pick which evidence they cover, and then explain the risks and benefits in what has been shown to be the single most unhelpful way possible.
Here’s a video of the bloggers’ session at the totally excellent Convention On Modern Liberty a few weeks ago. My bit starts at 11min:10secs, and I speak in a crescendoingly impassioned manner in praise of chaotic puerile disseminated investigative journalism (press pause and wait for it to load if you’re not into the others, blip.tv doesn’t do random access).
Just looked this up myself and saw that for some reason it never got posted on the blog, so here it is.
Saturday 10th October 2008
What I like about Bad Science is that it’s a game the whole family can play. This month “Lloydspharmacy”, as Lloyds Pharmacy insist on being called, is trying to flog carbon monoxide detectors (for only £12.99). It is a noble calling, so it decided to follow industry protocol for getting its product and brand into the media: it produced a misleading set of superficially plausible survey figures to massage our prejudices, which journalists obediently copied and pasted out of the Lloyds press release email and into their word processors, to make a “news” article. Read the rest of this entry »
Like you, I’ve developed a sneaking respect for all the fun and interesting tricks a person can use to distort the scientific evidence, so Dr Scott S Reuben is a double scumbag: this week, in the biggest fraud case from recent medical history, he has been caught out, rather unimaginatively, just fabricating his data.
Here’s a fun piece I did with Nick Wallis for ITV London on Monday. Bad hair, ridiculous venue changes, and tiggerish over-excitablility aside, I think it’s actually quite good, and the wholesome outro at the end made me want to give Alastair Stewart a great big cuddle.