Sunday, 28 December 2008

Bad Science and a merry christmas to all

I was fortunate enough this year to find a copy of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science on my stocking, since I've had the misfortune of working for a portion of the Christmas period I've found time to turn a few pages of this fantastic book. It really is a pleasure to read.

His analysis of Gillian McKeith is reason enough to buy the book on its own, there's no doubt as to the danger that this kind of ignorant pseudoscience poses to the general population who are often not informed enough to know any better. Take this little extract from Gillian McKeith's website, her symptom of the day is:

"Backache or low back pain

Low back pain invariably involves a degree of dehydration and extra water helps most people in a few days. It is also a call for more Boron and Magnesium in the foods you eat along with Vitamin D and the B Vitamins; B1, B12 and B6."

Personally I find Gillian McKeith to be remarkable stinging pain in the rear end, almost like an anal fissure, it's nothing personal Gillian, I just find you brand of pseudoscience particularly offensive.

Interestingly if you search the medical literature for 'magnesium' and 'back pain' then one gets one paper of interest. Interestingly this study found that 'Plasma magnesium was slightly reduced after the supplementation', so I wonder where this talk of more magnesium comes from? Gillian McKeith's derriere perhaps?

Also if anyone gets inspired to drink lots of magnesium containing antacids a a result of reading Gillian McKeith's advice then I suggest they think again, this may be rather bad for your bones. As regards Boron there is nothing in the literature on this bizarre McKeith claim. In fact Gillian when you say 'You are what you eat', things couldn't be further from the truth, millions of year of evolution mean that we can break down what we ingest and convert it into much more useful bits and bobs.

Anyways I digress, Ben Goldacre is a rare example of someone writing about science who actually has a scientific education and background; sadly the media is full of arts graduates who who have no scientific background or education who feel sufficiently empowered to comment on all matters scientific as if they were experts, they lack the insight to be able to see just how foolish they appear to those with some scientific knowledge and understanding. In fact I remember debating this very point with a broadsheet journalist last year, he/she insisted that a science correspondent didn't need to have any scientific education, something that only an arts graduate with no understanding of science would have the nerve to say.

The BBC's shoddy journalistic standards continue to astonish in this manner, only a few days ago they were presenting a case of 'cortical blindness' as being a new undiscovered phenomenon, it may sound exciting to the lay person to present the old as new, however it's just lazy journalism not to research a story properly and to present something that was discovered over 30 years ago as being discovered this year. This is hardly a one off example, it seems to be routine for the BBC to misinterpret a poor quality study from a dodgy journal in order to spin their own agenda these days. Anyways I am ranting, I'll leave you in peace for now, happy new year and here's to the greater exposure of quacks and bad bad science.


Elaine said...

I am with you all the way; I bought Bad Science following a recommendation and now recommend it widely as it is such an important book

What makes it even easier to digest is that it is well written.

Go on everybody, if you did not get a copy in your Christmas stocking then go out there and BUY ONE!

Dr Aust said...

If you fancy a brief Bad Science laugh, FF, perhaps I could be forgiven for shamelessly plugging my own

"Twelve days of (alternative) Christmas"

..which also points to some choice examples of Bad Science-bollocks from the last couple of years.

PS You will recognise the inspiration of the first/final line of the song.

Malthebof said...

Just to add to your BBC list, their "environmental analyst" one Roger Harrowbin is an arts graduate