Pharmacists may already be familiar with the work of Ben Goldacre, doctor and professional debunker of bad science practice and reporting, pseudoscience and quackery. His previous popular science paperbacks ‘Bad science’ and ‘Bad pharma’ told the stories of bad science reporting in the media, and bad research and recording of research in the pharmaceutical industry, respectively. His new book ‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that’ is a compilation of his writings from various publications over the past 20 years, although the majority are from his column in The
As with his previous books, Goldacre’s unashamed arrogance emanates from his writing. It is the self-assured tone of one who knows he is right. Although at times he can be patronising (“this stuff is tricky but important. If you pay attention you will understand it,” reads a column from 2009), he is clear, engaging and amusing. In the introduction, he describes the book as a “collection of fun fights” and an “epidemiology and statistics toilet book” — and this seems a fair summary. It is easy to dip in and out at different points in the book, although the chapters into which he has arranged the columns are also cohesive.
Many of the arguments will be familiar to those who are acquainted with Goldacre’s previous work but the book is still interesting. It contains a host of detailed anecdotes about bad science and reporting practice, providing an excellent insight into the evils of cherry-picking, hiding trial results and “churnalism”, the practice of writing news directly from press releases. It makes for somewhat bleak reading, particularly because many of the issues dating back over at least the past ten years are still relevant today. When there has been an update on a case, Goldacre has added information after the article, including instances where the party concerned has responded.
Despite the important and troubling subject matter, the book is enjoyable and largely light-hearted. Whether readers are interested in or adept at statistics or not, the articles provide them with the tools to analyse crudely the validity of scientific papers, newspaper reports and advertisements — or, at least, be more aware that just because something has been published does not necessarily mean it is accurate.
‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that’ by Ben Goldacre. Pp xxii+472. Price £14.99. London: Fourth Estate; 2014. ISBN 978 0 00 746248 3