Here’s a free chapter from Ben Goldacre’s excellent book Bad Science. It wasn’t included in the original edition of the book because at the time Matthias Rath was suing both Goldacre and The Guardian for libel over the issues covered within. After Rath dropped the case, this chapter was swiftly and meticulously written up and given out free on a creative commons licence.
I definitely want to add more posts on critical thinking (and thinking skills generally) to this blog, because they are integral to not only doing well on a psychology degree, but also evaluating the masses of bullshit that gets thrown at you in the glorious information age. This chapter fits in nicely with that. Plus, it buys me some time to write up a proper post!
The chapter covers a really important question. When it comes to pseudoscience and alternative therapy, a common argument for is: “What’s the harm?” And it’s a deceptively difficult question to answer in some ways, because, like the good little Westerner that I am, I believe that people should be free to choose their own beliefs and form their own opinions. If they want to believe that a lump of crystal will bring them wealth or that a vial of water will cure their acne, what’s the harm? I mean, placebo effects do happen right?
Well, maybe so, but although the usual consequences are just Joe Bloggs getting ripped off in Holland and Barrett (or wherever), sometimes they are far, far worse. The chapter explains what happened in South Africa when anti-retroviral drugs for HIV were rejected in favour of, if I remember correctly, a mixture of lemon, garlic and beetroot. I know it sounds ridiculous, but this really happened (with severe consequences). And that’s not even the half of it. I won’t spoil the surprises, but you will be truly shocked and probably outraged.
As for the author:
I highly recommend his book, Bad Science. It’s not sufficient alone as a critical reasoning book for a psych degree, but it covers a lot of technical points about research methods, stats, etc., all explained with real-world stories and examples. It’s an entertaining read although be warned that it might stir up the debunker in you!
You can also follow Ben on twitter here.