Green Reads: Bad Science

contributed by Raymond Borg

bad scienceBen Goldacre is a British medical doctor and author who advocates for the proper use of science by journalists, politicians, drug companies, and alternative therapists.  In his 2008 book Bad Science, he presents examples of poor scientific practices with an ironic, humorous tone in order to teach proper research, analysis, and interpretation. Though this book does not refer directly to sustainable practices, it contains vital tools—not just for scientists, but for anyone living in our contemporary society.

Dr. Goldacre’s book is designed to illustrate how deeply flawed our society’s perception of science is and who is responsible for distorting this understanding. The book addresses the fallibility of everything from homeopathy to major pharmaceutical companies, showing that the same trickeries are used by people from both extremes of the medical spectrum, and everyone in between. Dr. Goldacre doesn’t spare anyone from the hot seat. He uses specific examples of glaring scientific malpractice to scrutinize entire industries and individuals alike.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading the chapter on the placebo effect. I had previously thought that this was when an individual experienced white noise effects from a sugar pill. After reading the chapter, I’ve learned that the effect is much more powerful and mysterious. The placebo effect is a phenomenon in which the simple process of receiving help or medications, along with an individual’s preconceived notions, can have a profound effect on their psychological and physiological state. The placebo studies summarized in Bad Science were eye-opening, and I found the very real impact of the mind-body connection to be incredibly interesting.

At times it was hard for me to tell if Dr. Goldacre was being serious or sarcastic. He would discredit individuals past the point of humiliation, and then say that he respected them. Also, I would have appreciated some examples of “Good Science” within the book.  Reading it made me skeptical of absolutely everything, which makes it hard to perform research. Skepticism is good to an extent, but it would have been nice to give the readers a solid foundation of good practices that they can take into their work and everyday life.

I recommend Bad Science to everyone, not just people working in scientific disciplines. It equips readers with the tools necessary to see through the highly refined smoke and mirrors of industries and charlatans that are trying to profit from ignorance.

Bad Science is available online at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1rj835d

 

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