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Bad Science

A behind-the-scenes look at the bogus science used to mislead us every day.

By Ben Goldacre
16-minute read
Audio available
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

We often swallow scientific-sounding language used in advertisements or on the news without any further thought. But if we analyze it a little, we often find that it’s merely pseudoscience. Bad Science shows us that this bogus science can lead to serious misunderstandings, injustice and even death.

  • Anyone worried about science reporting in the media
  • Anyone who thinks understanding science is beyond them
  • Anyone who buys vitamins or homeopathic remedies

Ben Goldacre is a doctor, a journalist and the author of two books. His Bad Science column in the Guardian attacked alternative medicine and was the starting point for this book, which was shortlisted for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction.

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Bad Science

By Ben Goldacre
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Synopsis

We often swallow scientific-sounding language used in advertisements or on the news without any further thought. But if we analyze it a little, we often find that it’s merely pseudoscience. Bad Science shows us that this bogus science can lead to serious misunderstandings, injustice and even death.

Key idea 1 of 10

We buy into the junk science myths used to sell health and beauty products.

Each and every day we are bombarded by advertisements for products that promise to improve our lives in some way. All too often these products are explained in complex and seemingly indisputable scientific language.

We don’t have to do much digging to find examples of this. Just think of the health and beauty industry with their claims of how their products “purify” us and make us look more attractive.

For example, there is a detox footbath called Aqua Detox, which purports to cleanse your body of “toxins,” evidenced by the bath water turning brown after the product is used.

And then there’s an advertisement for a face cream made from “specially treated salmon roe DNA,” which assumes that salmon DNA somehow nourishes and revitalizes your skin.

Surely the brown water left in the detox bath is the toxins our feet leave behind, right? Wrong. These grand scientific claims are based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever!

Upon closer inspection, the brown color of the water has nothing to do with your feet, but is merely the rust coming from the iron electrodes when the device is switched on.

And that salmon skin cream? DNA is simply too large to be absorbed by skin but even if it wasn’t, fish DNA – i.e., alien DNA – isn’t beneficial for your cells, and certainly not beneficial for you. If you really want to reap the benefits of nutrient-rich salmon, you have to actually eat and digest certain parts of it, not rub it on your skin.

So how do these companies get away with it? In essence, they rely on our misunderstanding of science: we tend to think that it’s just too complicated for us. Better to leave that “science stuff” to the people in lab coats, right?

We therefore easily accept the scientific “facts” presented to us without questioning them, leaving advertisers an irresistible opportunity to exploit our ignorance and trust in order to sell their wares.

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