Impassioned defender of scientific integrity Credit: communicatescience.com
By James Dacey
“Exhilarated but strangely depressed… without meaning to take anything from any of the previous speakers, I feel that was the best talk we’ve ever had at this Festival.”
These were the sentiments of last night’s host following Ben Goldacre’s presentation at Bristol’s Festival of Ideas.
Medical doctor by day, Goldacre is perhaps best known for his weekly Bad Science column in the Guardian in which he ridicules the mass media’s coverage of science, attacks quackery and debunks pseudoscience. Being a science reporter, I could have found certain aspects of Ben’s 70 minute tirade mildly uncomfortable, but I found myself completely agreeing with the host… it was a pitch perfect rant!
Amongst Goldacre’s many targets were the “churnalists” who simply rehash press material without checking the facts. His pet hate are the “mathematical formula” stories, which are invariably pumped out by corporate giants and invariably contain little or no scientific basis. “News editors love them” he said irreverently. Named and shamed were “the worst day of the year” sponsored by Sky Travel, and the “best day of the year”: an early summer’s day, it turns out, sponsored by Wall’s ice cream.
Had Goldacre curtailed the evening there, he may have come across as a bit of a killjoy for attacking something that is only really a bit of fun after all. However, this background provided a platform for the doctor to expose what sees as more sinister dealings, like those of a European pharmaceutical company who are currently suing Goldacre, The Guardian, and (astonishingly) Medecins Sans Frontiers, for accusations made against them.
“You know you’ve gone wrong somewhere when you wake up and realize you’re suing Meds Sans Frontiers,” Goldacre quipped.
An exceptional rant. This has really raised the bar for Michio Kaku, Freeman and George Dyson, the well-known physicists, who will be coming to Bristol to speak at the festival next week.