Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #24: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

You guys. YOU GUYS. This book is amazing. I started reading it Sunday morning. Now it’s Monday night, and I’ve finished all 258 pages, and I’m sad that it’s over.

I found out about this book thanks to Cannonball Reader Mei-Lu, and picked up a copy on that same trip to Powell’s that netted me an okay and a good book (so far – more reviews to come). As a background, I do have about two years of graduate-level statistics training, and took a philosophy of science class that focused exclusively on evidence, objectivity, and how that all interacts with policy, and I still found things in this book that I’d not been exposed to before. Frankly, I’d love to see it be required reading for freshman in college (or seniors in high school) to help them become better informed citizens.

The book is extraordinarily well written. At times Dr. Goldacre sounds a bit arrogant, but that’s really only relevant if that’s something you find it difficult to get past, which in this case I did not. What is more relevant is that he has great information, strong examples to illustrate his points, and an overall way with words that makes this book feel more like an outstanding novel than a science non-fiction. It reminded me a bit of Mary Roach’s works, which makes sense – she even provided a supporting blurb for the back of the copy I purchased.

The biggest point I took away from this reading is frustration that the people we expect to be providing good information to us often aren’t. And that isn’t just the scientists (or I guess “scientists”) engaging in all manner of deceit to bend data their way; it’s the newspapers and members of the media who either choose not to engage in serious examination of the data and papers themselves, or frame the issue in ways not supported by the evidence. Not everyone has time to read through all the supporting evidence on an issue; that’s why we have the scientists and the science reporters (or sadly, the general reporters tasked with reporting on science issues). When one or more of those folks aren’t providing good information, or willing to do their jobs, those of us who rely on them are taking a huge gamble.

Please check this book out. I’m so glad I purchased a hard copy of it; I can tell I’ll be re-reading it and referencing it a lot in the future.