Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Wrapped in Data and Diplomas, It’s Still Snake Oil (NY Times Book Review – “Bad Science”)

Excerpt from the book review by Katherine Boutin (NY Times, Nov 1)

Ben Goldacre*** is exasperated. He’s not exactly angry — that would be much less fun to read — except in certain circumstances. He is irked, vexed, bugged, ticked off at the sometimes inadvertent (because of stupidity) but more often deliberate deceptions perpetrated in the name of science. And he wants you, the reader, to share his feelings.

Goldacre’s targets include

  • overpriced beauty and spa treatments
    (for example, Vaseline moisturizes just as well as Almont Cellular DNA Complex (made from “specially treated salmon roe DNA”))
  • diets, dietary supplements, and vitamin regimes that are not based on solid scientific evidence
  • “diploma mills” (where even his cat could get a degree)

Goldacre does teach in this book

  • the importance of evidence-based medicine
    (“Studies show” is not good enough, he writes: “The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not data.”)
  • how to weigh evidence through the funnel plot, meta-analysis, and the Cochrane collection**
  • how to  critically read claims through statistics related questions as who is being tested? what is the control group?

The book is available online at

BAD SCIENCE Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks.By Ben Goldacre. Faber and Faber. 288pages. $15.


*Evidence-based medicine is the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values. (Sackett DL, Straus SE, Richardson WS, et al. Evidence-based medicine: how to practice and teach EBM. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.) Click here for a medical library guide on evidence based medicine.

**The Cochrane collection is a fee (subscription) based collection of systematic reviews (where scientific evidence on specific medical questions (as does Vitamin X help with Condition Y) is gathered and analyzed for effectiveness).
It is available to the public at some medical and hospital libraries. Call ahead and ask for a reference librarian.

Want to learn more about statistics but don’t have the time to take a course? Ask a reference librarian at any library for book and Web site recommendations.  Or email me at

***Ben Goldacre is a writer, broadcaster, and doctor best known for the Bad Science column in The Guardian. Trained in Oxford and London, with brief forays into academia, Goldacre works full-time for the National Health Service.  He has a blog,

November 3, 2010 - Posted by | Consumer Health | , ,

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