Here comes the science bit …because you’re worth it!

On this bank holiday morning, your correspondent is reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (is there something else we should be doing?)

Enjoying it hugely, and wondering how I have managed to miss it in the 3 years since it was first published. Well-written, tackling serious subjects in an informative and entertaining way: what more could one ask? (If you want a more considered review, there is one from the British Medical Journal here.)

In discussing his theme, Goldacre uses examples that include one of this blogger’s pet hates – pseudo-scientific explanations in TV adverts for cosmetics – as well as a more serious area that we have advised institutional clients on – the MMR vaccine saga.

Another of Goldacre’s targets is the inability of most journalists to explain scientific issues in their articles, and their tendency to present opposing points of view on scientific subjects as if they have equal validity, when one might be complete tosh.

Although it is not part of his theme, Goldacre might have mentioned another of this blogger’s pet peeves: the tendency of journalists to treat patents, copyright and trade marks as synonyms, and to vary the term used for stylistic effect. In this context, what are we to make of the sentence on page 18 of Bad Science: “…you might also wonder whether the primary goal is something much more cynical and lucrative: to make common sense copyrightable, unique, patented and owned.” It is difficult to tell whether he has fallen into this linguistic trap in the quoted sentence, but he should have the benefit of the doubt when the argument is so strong. As chapter 2 demonstrates, some bad science is deployed as part of a commercial package that seeks to create property from common sense or thin air. The use of intellectual property to bolster that package is a separate issue, and one which might merit a book in its own right.

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