I have a confession to make about this book, but I’ll make it at the end of this post.
This is one of random cases of me reading a non-fiction book, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I tend to be drawn to books about science and scientists. Maybe because I completely lac scientific background and I find the world fascinating.
Ben Goldacre writes for Guardian, he has a column called ‘Bad Science‘ and this book is an extended version of some of the articles he published there. The book starts light enough, with a description of detox foot-bath, Goldacre describes how to easily conduct an experiment to see if it works. He also analyses what tricks are used to convince us that it works. What I liked about this first part of the book is the fact that he sees science and pseudo-scientific scams in wider cultural context. He goes after people selling ‘detox magic’ under false scientific pretenses, but also notices that fasting has been a rite of passage for ages and there simply no need to repackage it and brand as new shiny detox idea that will work its magic in 5 min.
In the second chapter he moves on to Brain Gym, a series of exercises designed for schools. This chapter was just hilarious, he pretty much tears Brain Gym to pieces and I loved the oxidation vs oxygenation comment. I don’t have children nor am I a teacher, so I found this chapter funny and amusing, but if I was in one of aforementioned groups I think I would be a more than a tiny bit worried.
The further into the book the more angry Goldacre gets he’s annoyed by manipulation, by the fact that homeopaths and nutritionists are using science for their own purpose, giving the impression that science is complicated and inaccessible for ordinary people. This is the main danger that he raises we are made to believe science is too difficult for us and that’s why we need experts to tell us what to eat or what pills to take.We start replying on experts rather than our critical thinking. This book is a crusade for critical thinking.
Homeopaths are bashed here, starting with the fact that there’s no such thing as molecules remembering things all the way to their incapacity to appreciate the effect the actual consultation may have. Goldacre discusses placebo effect and how little we know of it and how difficult it is to completely understand, but he also admits that pure fact of consulting a doctor or a homeopath may have beneficial effects. He also describes how doctors can affect treatment outcomes purely with their attitude.
From aggressive homeopaths Goldacre moves on to nutritionists and the whole antioxidants idea. He gets more and more angry, because he fighting a losing battle. There’s passion in this book, as he describes how test patients should be properly randomized, how important is blinding, what constitutes a fair trial and what is meta analysis he makes science approachable, he actually tries to make it our duty to question things, not to be prone to manipulation.
This book is entertaining, passionate and enlightening, it also makes us feel in control and responsible for what we chose to believe in as a scientific proof.
Time for the confession… I haven’t finished the book. I enjoyed it and then at one point I didn’t, I can’t pin point what happened, I just couldn’t go on. Maybe a non-fiction overdose. I think though I may come back to it at some point, but for now it’s time for Inspector Rebus, before I delve back into proper literary fiction.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska