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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 7 October 2008
A thoroughly excellent book from a practising doctor and medical researcher, who is also one of the few science journalists to actually understand scientific method. He is nearly a lone voice in the media, exposing the astonishing journey of 'health news' from the pages of academic journals to the tabloids and broadsheets, without passing through a critical brain in between. Thus, on a daily basis, the papers produce "X CAUSES/CURES CANCER" stories, based on very shaky understanding of experiments done in a petri dish. Whilst these stories may give false hope or fear to thousands of people, which is bad enough, in the case of MMR, they actually caused harm. He also explains how and why science fails to explain itself clearly and loudly in the face of emotionally charged 'my son has autism due to MMR' stories.

Goldacre also lays bare the facts about such 'complementary' therapies such as Homeopathy and Nutritionism, which when stripped of the accolades given them in the media, are revealed to be little more than eccentric ideas which somehow have gained unquestioning credence in the popular mind, and even, perversely, created a deep-rooted suspicion of maninstream medicine which is now taken at face value.

I thoroughly recommend this book, especially for journalists, but it is also essential reading for scientists, doctors and anyone who finds their mouth flapping when trying to put their friends / family straight on why spending 100 quid on dipping their feet in water and watching it go brown is a spectacular waste of money.

Final thoughts - if this book demonstrates how bad science reporting is, what else is being reported badly that we should know about? Finance? Politics? Help!! Also, why is there no organisation with teeth that can bring people to account for irresponsible reporting? A free press is central to our world of course, but not a wild press, trampling all over everyone and everything without so much as a backward glance.
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on 17 January 2011
I would support all the positive comments made by other reviewers of the book itself. However, I feel very short-changed by Amazon over the Kindle edition. If they want to charge more for the Kindle edition (which can't be lent to a friend or donated to Oxfam) than the paperback version, they surely need to do a tiny bit of copy-editing, rather than dumping the OCRed version on their site as if it were a Project Gutenberg freebie. Most pages of this book had one of two simple typesetting errors that could have been corrected with about 30 minutes of a copy-editor's time: "soft" hyphens, which presumably occur at the ends of lines in the print edition, are retained in the mid-dle (sic) of words on the line; conversely, spaces between words areomitted (sic), which presumably reflects line breaks in the print edition. After a while, this annoyance becomes exasperating. To add a final twist, one cross-reference in the text retained its print format, as a reference to a page number in the regular book, utterly meaningless in the Kindle edition.

Come on Amazon! Kindle is a neat bit of technology, but the quality of Kindle editions needs at least to match that of the published book if you're going to charge bookshop prices, or you'll lose your customers.
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VINE VOICEon 20 March 2010
I have been towing this book around with me for some weeks reading a chapter here and there. Sitting in cafes and other public venues, I have frightened passers-by with my screams of laughter at Goldacre's entertaining prose which can make some fairly dry topics not only accessible but downright funny.

I feel that I have a genuine reason for reviewing this book because I am a nurse working in clinical audit and know only too well how easy it is to manipulate statistics to mean exactly what you want. I have thus recommended this to more than one doctor about to embark on audit as a useful insight into the subject.

Frankly, I learned loads from this volume, which actually frightens me because I thought that I had a passing grasp of the power of stats. As a result, I now treat the information that comes up on my pivot tables and graphs with a new respect and query it much more closely.

My favourite part of the book has to be about Goldacre's handling of Gillian McKeith, the food guru (or whatever she is). His handling of her lack of bioscientific knowledge was excellent and made me smile. What I particularly liked was his correct explanations of the science behind the facts. There is something very elegant and beautiful about true science and he brought this out to perfection. He is clearly a great enthusiast and, at the end of the book, he recommends people to adopt a greater spirit of enquiry into the subject. Go for it!

Initially, I, like many, had thought that Mr. Goldacre would just debunk alternative therapies but I was in for a surprise. His comments on mainstream scientific research were illuminating and I must say that I had not realised that responsible minds could skew things this much - through both good intention and mendacity. His chapters relating to the media were also illuminating and, yes, journalists do get things wrong!

Anyway, my recommendation is that you buy this book - not only for yourself but also for your children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends etc.
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on 15 September 2008
Like the very best popular science, this book is patient but fascinating in building up your knowledge of the subject area - in this case medical (and 'alternative' medical) research. However, it goes beyond this in building up to a damning indictment of the media's handling of the MRSA and MMR scares, as part of their wider crimes against the public understanding of science.

In the hands of a polemecist such as Micheal Moore, these frauds perpetrated against the public would be described at a pitch of white hot rage (lkely with almost EVERY WORD IN CAPS). However Dr Goldacre describes the frankly horrifying details of these scares in patient and methodical detail, and is all the more compelling for it.

This book is compulsory reading. It should be forcefully inserted onto every reading list prepared by anyone, for anything.
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on 30 January 2013
Ben Goldacre, a junior doctor, writes about his many criticisms of dodgy science, and particularly the journalists who wrote about it and spread misinformation.

While it's well researched, true, educational and a good presentation of the science and lack of it behind various claims, the aggressive tone grates against the reader and the attempt to make me feel anger just turns into frustration at the book.

Goldacre's writing can Ben come across as egotistic in places, and he certainly doesn't write in a way that's likely to endear him to those who disagree with his views. It seems that he is preaching to the choir. A more relaxed style, even in alternating chapters, might have made the book easier to read, but as it is the continued stress of reading builds up to the point where I just couldn't wait for the final few chapters to finish so I could relax.

I do feel I've learnt a little from this book, particularly from the early sections on clinical trials, but I'm not convinced its the best way to communicate science.
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on 11 September 2008
I bought this book just four days ago, and have finished it already. It's a compelling, fast-paced read which presents all sorts of science--good and bad--in a clear, understandable way and which made me laugh out loud in places (not all of them appropriate).

I love it, my 13-year-old son is enjoying it, and I'm sure that my mother will like it too.

Overall a fantastic, readable, beautifully-researched and presented sciencey book.
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on 27 August 2012
I've been an intermittent reader of Goldacre's articles both online and in the Guardian. In general I find him easy to read and easy to understand, even when talking about something that's potentially quite complicated.

This book is an excellent introduction for the newcomer to his writings. It not only presents the arguments against all sorts of bunkum in a well-ordered manner, it also explains in detail how the scientific method works, and what to look for when presented with so-called "evidence".

To the reviewers that say he is arrogant, I'm sorry, I just can't see it. He lays out the arguments, then refutes the ones that have little or no value. I suspect the perception of arrogance comes from people having their views challenged, but then that is what science is all about.

I actually think everybody should read this, whatever they think about alternative medicine. Best case is that you will gain a lot of extra knowledge on how to think and act critically. Worst case is that you will feel the urge to write a ranty review here on Amazon, which I can't see hurting Mr. Goldacre in the slightest.

Another one in the same vein worth reading is: Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial. There's a lot of overlap between the two, but both are well-researched and well-written.
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on 5 May 2010
Next time you are in the London Science Museum, ask why it is that evidence-based medicine, "the ultimate applied science, [containing] some of the cleverest ideas from the past two centuries, [having] saved millions of lives ... has never had a single exhibit on the subject in the London's Science Museum". This is the thought that occurred to me when this fact was pointed out in Ben Goldacre's book. This glaring fact is a good example of the limited exposure even educated people get to the subject of evaluating evidence for scientific claims and to the more general subject of thinking scientifically.

It is hard to think of the kind of reader who would not benefit from this book. Ben Goldacre is a doctor-journalist-broadcaster who writes the "Bad Science" column in the Guardian newspaper. His goal in both that column and this book is to help people separate scientific wheat from pseudoscientific chaff. Although he spends considerable time going through a myriad of ideas himself, what is most beneficial in this book is that he supplies the reader the tools to think scientifically so that by the time you finish this book, you also should be analyse claims critically for yourself.

The ideas Goldacre tackles head-on include the "foolishness of quacks..., the credence they are given in the mainstream media, the tricks of the £30 billion food supplements industry, the evils of the £300 billion pharmaceuticals industry... [and] the tragedy of science reporting..." At times, this list can seem a little idiosyncratic and his arguments can turn into rants. Generally, though, he is aware of this himself. This flaw, if one can call it that, is easily forgivable as one begins to realize the level of sheer nonsense that markets itself as science. A neat example is the whole field of nutrition where - did you know? - anyone can legally call themselves a nutritionist, this in itself accounting for the deluge of contradictory advice given to the public by these so-called "experts". The last chapter, "The Media's MMR Hoax" should put that whole issue to rest as it reveals how the "controversy" existed purely in the media and not in the science.

A chapter or two are devoted to explaining the cognitive illusions psychologists have discovered that explain why even the smartest of us can see patterns where there really are none. Related to this are misuses of statistics that are sometimes unintentional but which again give the impression of a positive result when really there is no difference from chance. Knowing these things can help us to be on the guard against them when we are confronted with interesting or extraordinary claims.

The parts of the book dealing with statistics and the methodology of experiments are terrific: Goldacre covers simply and clearly both why these things are important and how to understand them. It is the kind of essential information often missing from books that attempt to combat pseudoscience. Concepts covered include how to conduct a scientific trial (the need for randomization, blinding and control), relative risk versus absolute risk, sensitivity, specificity, predictive value and more. Indeed, I wish he had gone into it in more depth. I guess I'll have to follow up this section with "How to Read a Paper" by Professor Greenalgh (Goldacre's recommendation).

This is a book which is incredibly useful for everyone but truly essential reading for anyone who communicates scientific and/or health related information.
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on 15 September 2013
This book is just a teeny bit lazy - it's relatively easy to find charlatans in any field, and "science" is probably no different. Many of the culprits were outed fairly speedily, leaving town with a trail of press clippings in their dust. I doubt that much of this book is original research, and the author's "real doctor" credentials don't seem to be relevant here. An OK read.
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on 5 June 2011
A great read for people who read newspapers especially. I often dismiss articles in the paper as they clearly look like press releases, but this book highlights how far news and science articles can sway towards a shocking headline at the expense of the truth. Read it and encourage others to read it too.
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