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Home » Features, Health Issue, Viewpoint

Viewpoint – Health: Furious Crusade Against Bad Science

Submitted by on December 27, 2012 – 6:22 pmNo Comment

 

A foot detox.

Ben Goldacre, medical doctor and Guardian journalist is the father of Bad Science a collection of books, hundreds of articles and videos with one goal: challenging myths, rumours and shady businesses in the medical world.

Goldacre’s work is rife with aggression and challenges against other “experts”, with his book Bad Science getting new chapters both in print and online as lawsuits against him finish, something his newest book Bad Pharma will undoubtedly also feature.

The cases he debunks and attacks generally fall into two categories. People who prey on the ignorance, spirituality or hope of customers with alternative medicine, detoxes and other remedies which rely on “energies” or “ancient” techniques without bothering to apply any science to their methods at all. And pseudo-scientists who either use fancy sounding terms just complicated enough for the average person to be impressed, but not confused or doctors who either refuse to admit they are wrong or simply don’t care or understand the consequences of their trade.

Detox, alternative medicine and homeopathy:

Goldacre: “My views on detox: meaningless, symbolic, gimmicky short-lived health gestures with a built-in expiry date.” A sub-culture in itself, alternative healing gets an almost neutral treatment by Goldacre, he simply pits them against science and most of the techniques fall apart. He has a recipe for debunking anti-toxin foot baths (pictured) using a-level chemistry. He sums up most beneficial effects from these ideas as either placebo effect, the body sorting itself out without help or psychological theatrics.

Nutritionists, cosmetics and vaccinations

Goldacre:  “They like to make health claims about their products, which often turn out to be unsupported by the evidence. Regulating that mess would be tedious and long-winded.” What is the difference between oxidation and oxygenation, do you believe antioxidants are good for you, yet can’t explain why? From parents being misled about their children’s health to directly scared by medicine this is what brings Goldacre to the boiling point most. Misunderstandings can be harmless, but when it comes to medicine and health it can be fatal. Goldacre has been involved numerous lengthy battles with for example nutritionist Gillian Mckeith who describes his work as a bunch of lies.

The old journalistic saying “if you aren’t getting people riled up, you aren’t doing it right” fits Goldacre to a hair. It is refreshing to see a journalist or indeed anyone involved in campaigns to speak their mind clearly, intelligently and without fluff. His rage is fuelled by the deaths of innocents or worse; people who put their lives in the hands of “experts” who either don’t know what they are doing or care more about profit than suffering. In the end he is trying to save lives and he is doing it with a passion.

(Note: while Goldacre himself was not available for comment, he does have an amazingly detailed forwarding service in his standard email reply. 700 words of links and FAQ-style hints pre-empting any and all inquiries.)

 

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