Bad Science Quotes

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Bad Science Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
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Bad Science Quotes Showing 1-30 of 63
“You cannot reason people out of a position that they did not reason themselves into.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“You are a placebo responder. Your body plays tricks on your mind. You cannot be trusted.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“These corporations run our culture, and they riddle it with bullshit.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“I spend a lot of time talking to people who disagree with me - I would go so far as to say that it's my favourite leisure activity,”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“George Orwell first noted, the true genius in advertising is to sell you the solution and the problem.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“And if, by the end [of this book], you reckon you might still disagree with me, then I offer you this: you'll still be wrong, but you'll be wrong with a lot more panache and flair than you could possibly manage right now.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
“You will do it because you know that knowledge is beautiful, and because if only a hundred people share your passion, that is enough.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“Homeopathy pills are, after all, empty little sugar pills which seem to work, and so they embody [..] how we can be misled into thinking that any intervention is more effective than it really is.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
“Like most things in the story the natural sciences can tell about the world, it’s all so beautiful, so gracefully simple, yet so rewardingly complex, so neatly connected—not to mention true—that I can’t even begin to imagine why anyone would ever want to believe some New Age ‘alternative’ nonsense instead. I would go so far as to say that even if we are all under the control of a benevolent God, and the whole of reality turns out to be down to some flaky spiritual ‘energy’ that only alternative therapists can truly harness, that’s still neither so interesting nor so graceful as the most basic stuff I was taught at school about how plants work.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“I'd like to submit to Bad Science my teacher who gave us a handout which says that 'Water is best absorbed by the body when provided in frequent small amounts.' What I want to know is this. If I drink too much in one go, will it leak out off my arsehole instead?

Thank you. Anton.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“Nutritionists don't stop there, because they can't: they have to manufacture complication, to justify the existence of their profession. These new nutritionists have a major commercial problem with the evidence. There's nothing very professional or proprietary about 'Eat your greens,' so they have had to push things further. But unfortunately for them, the technical, confusing, overcomplicated, tinkering interventions that they promote - the enzymes, the exotic berries - are very frequently not supported by convincing evidence.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“At school you were taught about chemicals in test tubes, equations to describe motion, and maybe something on photosynthesis—about which more later—but in all likelihood you were taught nothing about death, risk, statistics, and the science of what will kill or cure you.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“What can you do? There's the rub. The most important take-home message with diet and health is that anyone who ever expresses anything with certainty is basically wrong, because the evidence for cause and effect in this area is almost always weak and circumstantial, and changing an individual person's diet may not even be where the action is.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain. Heaven forbid that your blood should dry out.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“[I]t seems to me that a lot of the stranger ideas people have about medicine derive from an emotional struggle with the very notion of a pharmaceutical industry. Whatever our political leanings, we all feel nervous about profit taking any role in the caring professions, but that feeling has nowhere to go. Big pharma is evil; I would agree with that premise. But because people don’t understand exactly how big pharma is evil, their anger gets diverted away from valid criticisms—its role in distorting data, for example, or withholding lifesaving AIDS drugs from the developing world—and channeled into infantile fantasies. “Big pharma is evil,” goes the line of reasoning; “therefore homeopathy works and the MMR vaccine causes autism.” This is probably not helpful.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction…”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“Two large trials of antioxidants were set up after Peto’s paper (which rather gives the lie to nutritionists’ claims that vitamins are never studied because they cannot be patented: in fact there have been a great many such trials, although the food supplement industry, estimated by one report to be worth over $50 billion globally, rarely deigns to fund them). One was in Finland, where 30,000 participants at high risk of lung cancer were recruited, and randomised to receive either ß-carotene, vitamin E, or both, or neither. Not only were there more lung cancers among the people receiving the supposedly protective ß-carotene supplements, compared with placebo, but this vitamin group also had more deaths overall, from both lung cancer and heart disease. The results of the other trial were almost worse. It was called the ‘Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial’, or ‘CARET’, in honour of the high p-carotene content of carrots. It’s interesting to note, while we’re here, that carrots were the source of one of the great disinformation coups of World War II, when the Germans couldn’t understand how our pilots could see their planes coming from huge distances, even in the dark. To stop them trying to work out if we’d invented anything clever like radar (which we had), the British instead started an elaborate and entirely made-up nutritionist rumour. Carotenes in carrots, they explained, are transported to the eye and converted to retinal, which is the molecule that detects light in the eye (this is basically true, and is a plausible mechanism, like those we’ve already dealt with): so, went the story, doubtless with much chortling behind their excellent RAF moustaches, we have been feeding our chaps huge plates of carrots, to jolly good effect. Anyway. Two groups of people at high risk of lung cancer were studied: smokers, and people who had been exposed to asbestos at work. Half were given 3-carotene and vitamin A, while the other half got placebo. Eighteen thousand participants were due to be recruited throughout its course, and the intention was that they would be followed up for an average of six years; but in fact the trial was terminated early, because it was considered unethical to continue it. Why? The people having the antioxidant tablets were 46 per cent more likely to die from lung cancer, and 17 per cent more likely to die of any cause,* than the people taking placebo pills. This is not news, hot off the presses: it happened well over a decade ago.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“We are talking about a programme which claims that ‘processed foods do not contain water’, possibly the single most rapidly falsifiable statement I’ve seen all week. What about soup?”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“There are many ways in which journalists can mislead a reader with science: they can cherry-pick the evidence, or massage the statistics; they can pit hysteria and emotion against cold, bland statements from authority figures.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“Randomisation is not a new idea. It was first proposed in the seventeenth century by John Baptista van Helmont, a Belgian radical who challenged the academics of his day to test their treatments like blood-letting and purging (based on ‘theory’) against his own, which he said were based more on clinical experience: ‘Let us take out of the hospitals, out of the Camps, or from elsewhere, two hundred, or five hundred poor People, that have Fevers, Pleurisies, etc. Let us divide them into half, let us cast lots, that one half of them may fall to my share, and the other to yours … We shall see how many funerals both of us shall have.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“At school you were taught about chemicals in test tubes, equations to describe motion, and maybe something on photosynthesis – about which more later – but in all likelihood you were taught nothing about death, risk, statistics, and the science of what will kill or cure you. The hole in our culture is gaping: evidence-based medicine, the ultimate applied science, contains some of the cleverest ideas from the past two centuries, it has saved millions of lives, but there has never once been a single exhibit on the subject in London’s Science Museum.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“More than that, these adverts sell a dubious world view. They sell the idea that science is not about the delicate relationship between evidence and theory. They suggest, instead, with all the might of their international advertising budgets, their Microcellular Complexes, their Neutrillium XY, their Tenseur Peptidique Végétal and the rest, that science is about impenetrable nonsense involving equations, molecules, sciencey diagrams, sweeping didactic statements from authority figures in white coats, and that this sciencey-sounding stuff might just as well be made up, concocted, confabulated out of thin air, in order to make money. They sell the idea that science is incomprehensible, with all their might, and they sell this idea mainly to attractive young women, who are disappointingly under-represented in the sciences.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“Paul Broca, for example, was a famous French craniologist in the nineteenth century whose name is given to Broca’s area, the part of the frontal lobe involved in the generation of speech (which is wiped out in many stroke victims). Among his other interests, Broca used to measure brains, and he was always rather perturbed by the fact that the German brains came out a hundred grams heavier than French brains. So he decided that other factors, such as overall body weight, should also be taken into account when measuring brain size: this explained the larger Germanic brains to his satisfaction. But for his prominent work on how men have larger brains than women, he didn’t make any such adjustments. Whether by accident or by design, it’s a kludge.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“In the past, [medicalization]has been portrayed as something that doctors inflict on a passive and un-suspecting world - an expansion of the Medical Empire. But in reality, it seems that these reductionist bio-medical stories can appeal to us all, because complex problems often have depressingly-complex causes, and the solutions can be taxing, and unsatisfactory.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“My basic hypothesis is this: the people who run the media are Humanities graduates with little understanding of science, who wear their ignorance as a badge of honor. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they have denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of Western thought from the past two hundred years. There is an attack implicit in all media coverage of science - in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them. The media create a parody of science. On this template, science is portrayed as groundless, incomprehensible didactic truth statements from scientists - who, themselves, are socially- powerful, arbitrary un-elected authority figures. They are detached from reality. They do work that is either wacky, or dangerous, but either way, everything in science is tenuous, contradictory, probably going to change soon and - most ridiculously - hard to understand. Having created this parody, the Commentariat then attack it, as if they were genuinely critiquing what science is all about.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“Transparency and detail are everything in science.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“My basic hypothesis is this: the people who run the media are humanities graduates with little understanding of science, who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour. Secretly, deep down, perhaps they resent the fact that they have denied themselves access to the most significant developments in the history of Western thought from the past two hundred years; but there is an attack implicit in all media coverage of science: in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science. On this template, science is portrayed as groundless, incomprehensible, didactic truth statements from scientists, who themselves are socially powerful, arbitrary, unelected authority figures. They are detached from reality; they do work that is either wacky or dangerous, but either way, everything in science is tenuous, contradictory, probably going to change soon and, most ridiculously, ‘hard to understand’. Having created this parody, the commentariat then attack it, as if they were genuinely critiquing what science is all about. Science stories generally fall into one of three categories: the wacky stories, the ‘breakthrough’ stories, and the ‘scare’ stories. Each undermines and distorts science in its own idiosyncratic way.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“you cannot reason people out of positions they didn't reason themselves into”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“First up, Blackwell [1972] did a set of experiments on fifty-seven college students to determine the effect of colour—as well as the number of tablets—on the effects elicited. The subjects were sitting through a boring hour-long lecture, and were given either one or two pills, which were either pink or blue. They were told that they could expect to receive either a stimulant or a sedative. Since these were psychologists, and this was back when you could do whatever you wanted to your subjects—even lie to them—the treatment that all the students received consisted simply of sugar pills, but of different colours. Afterwards, when they measured alertness—as well as any subjective effects—the researchers found that two pills were more effective than one, as we might have expected (and two pills were better at eliciting side-effects too). They also found that colour had an effect on outcome: the pink sugar tablets were better at maintaining concentration than the blue ones. Since colours in themselves have no intrinsic pharmacological properties, the difference in effect could only be due to the cultural meanings of pink and blue: pink is alerting, blue is cool. Another study suggested that Oxazepam, a drug similar to Valium (which was once unsuccessfully prescribed by our GP for me as a hyperactive child) was more effective at treating anxiety in a green tablet, and more effective for depression when yellow. Drug”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science
“When I go through busy periods of partying, drinking, sleep deprivation and convenience eating, I usually decide—eventually—that I need a bit of a rest. So I have a few nights in, reading at home, and eating more salad than usual. Models and celebrities, meanwhile, ‘detox’.”
Ben Goldacre, Bad Science

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