Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (

Dr. Ben Goldacre. Some kind of doctor or something...
Browsing amazon for irritating reviews (yes I have no life. You got a problem with that?) I stumbled across this 1 star review for Bad Science by Ben Goldacre:
"This book presents polarized thinking of the drugs versus alternative medicine dichotomy. It reads like the author is a medical doctor (He is. He tells you he is. Many times) or has invested heavily in drugs (He hates drug companies. He also repeats this often. Have you actually read this sodding book?). 

I would like to point out that every drug from vaccines to antibiotics exposes every one of us to additional and often unnecessary health risks (What saving people's lives is 'unnecessary' eh?)

The author talks about alternative medicine not being scientific (It isn't. It really, really isn't). The reality is no medicine is scientific because it's never properly tested (Yes it is. You know those big medical trials they have? That's them testing it). Novel drugs released today will react unpredictably with novel drugs released in the future to already demonstrated disasters (I'd like to mock this sentence, but I haven't a clue what it actually means). For example, how long did it take the scientific community to establish that smoking causes cancer (What? Smoking is thousands of years old! They didn't have drug trials back then. And for your information, we realised that smoking was bad in 1964. But I don't see what this has to do with Bad Science)? Or that taking prozac long term makes you more depressed (Prozac causing suicide is incredibly rare. And anyway, it's these sorts of things that Goldacre reserves special venom and hatred for. You should love this book!)

The drugs industry is morally corrupt and its loyalties lie with satisfying its shareholders (This is also something Goldacre is disgusted by). Indeed the only thing good about the drugs industry is the massive profits through contractual and monopolistic tie-ins with health-care organizations. It's funded by venture capital and hedge funds that are only interested in short term profits. This means drugs testing is reduced to its bare minimum before being released to market to regain lost R&D funding (Do you think this is all new to people? This is all well known). Even the popular principle of testing for toxicity in a novel drug [by it's concentration affect on living tissue] is naive at best. Modern toxicological science is revealing that extremely small concentrations of novel and synthetic chemicals used in drugs can have serious detrimental synergistic side-effects through time, like causing cancer. Many of these effects are yet to be discovered and can never be know at the time of market release (Again, Bad Science raises all of these sorts of issues). This is revolutionary science but the links are already emerging and it's prudent for science and the media to report this (Ben Goldacre is. And you hate him for it)

It's important to observe that very few drugs cure (Lots of drugs cure. That's why we give them to people. And many more drugs prevent disease occurring in the first place). The ones that do can cause unknown damage through time (Often, they aren't unknown. We know of many side-effects of medicinal drugs. That's why you only take them if you need them. The good they do outweighs the bad). For example antibiotics, is is now understood, are the main cause of accelerated evolution of pathogens which promote development of super-bugs like MRSA (Yes, it's people not using them properly and stopping before the course has finished that has created them though, not the antibiotics themselves), swine flu and avian flu (They weren't created by antibiotics. They're just influenzas from pigs and birds that cross-over every so often) which unnecessarily kill tens of thousands of people every year through hospital acquired disease (What? An absolute maximum of MRSA related deaths is around 1,000 per year, many of these are older people whose immune systems have been severely weakened by disease. Yes, 16,000 people died of swine flu during the 2009 pandemic around the globe, but again many of these people were old or had underlying conditions that meant almost any disease could have killed them, swine flu just got there first. The pandemic is now over. Bird flu has killed a grand total of 8,600 people or so in the world. Ever. Those naughty, life saving antibiotics...). Like most drugs, they also damage the immune system because they are not targeted (The body replenishes good bacteria very quickly, so this isn't really an issue, plus only some of these bacteria have anything to do with the immune system. I understand that most doctors believe they do no damage to the immune system). The same can be said for chemotherapy which has been shown to be effective in extending human life post cancer by as little as 1.5% of cases (Yes. That's why it is an absolute, last resort. It is, afterall, poison. Chemotherapy is really just used to extend the sufferer's life a little so they can set their affairs in order and such like). Even the drugs that do alleviate symptoms rarely outperform any more impressively than their placebo in double-blind tests (Whilst this is often true, it's not always the case. And, I'm forced to repeat myself once more, this is what Bad Science devotes a whole chapter to at the end of the book. The lies and cover-ups of drug companies are well documented in the final chapter). Many drugs even have to damage the immune system by switching off your livers breakdown enzymes just s othey cna remain intact and gain effective entry into the circulatory system (Again, usually the good outweighs bad. Doctors aren't idiots! They don't prescribe drugs on a whim and a fancy. They research the drugs and see that they often work)."
But fear not dear readers! All is not lost, among the 18 comments to this review most were pointing out the stupidity of this gentleman, for example:
"Even if I assume every claim you make in your review is absolutely true, it is one big entirely irrelevant point because it's based on the assumption that Dr. Goldacre and this book are PRO-pharmaceutical industry, which, if you actually read they book, they are most certainly not. In fact half the content of the book is openly critical of the pharmaceutical industry so your review is essentially an unrelated rant and as such can't really be considered a review at all.

In fact I'd be prepared to give more credit to a review that simply asserted: "Boring. Full of numbers and long words. Not as good as The Da Vinci Code."
Bravo sir! I'd recommend reading the comments on the original Amazon review, there are many more comments along these lines too long, intelligent, well researched and well written to be published here.

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