Bad Bio-Medical Science... Good Gospel?

I'd never read one of Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" column in the Guardian on a Saturday before, but will probably seek it out in future and his blog has now been duly entered in my blogroll. I had been recommended this book, however, by a couple of friends who, I think, saw that I and Dr. Goldacre are of a similar mindset. Nothing sets me off in a "white flecks of foam flying from my mouth" kind of way, as much as the incompetent handling of science in the modern media... Not even the incompetent handling of theology in the modern media, which is almost as bad.
The book should really be called "Bad Bio-Medicine" as it is largely about evidence based medicine and the modern world's/media's total inability to understand how it works. Actually my casual observation is that many doctors don't know how it works either, leading to them blindly jumping onto bandwagons along with everyone else, but then, in my more annoying moments I remind some of my medical doctor friends that they aren't sceintists at all, just skilled technicians and mechanics of the human body!
En route through the pages of this book Goldman takes a well-aimed potshot at homeopathic "medicine" and nutritionist charlatans like the poo "doctor" McKeith. But he is no apologist for the "boffins" of the pharmaceutical industry... indeed he rails against the tendency to try to solve everything with a pill, be it a homeopathic sugar pill or big Pharma product... including the fact that in force-feeding children fish-oil capsules to make them smarter, we are teaching them that to get ahead they need a tablet! There's a good life lesson.
He also throws light on the appalling profiteering by both homeopaths and the pharmaceutical industry in the African AIDS crisis as well as the scandalous media fuelled hoax surrounding MMR... I look forward to a new volume with a chapter devoted to pandemic flu!
He suspects that a major problem is the role of humanities graduates in the media wearing their ignorance of all things scientific like a badge of honour... a suspicion I have had for years...
From time to time he makes sideswipes at religion, and I was half-expecting a fully fledged chapter on the old canard of the conflict of science and religion... the medieval holding back of the scientific endeavour of people like Galileo (more of whom in a day or two), its modern equivalent in the faux-science of creationism (meat and drink to the so-called "New Atheists"), the unthinking superstition of New Age pick and mix religion, and the disasterous effects that the edicts of mullahs, missionaries and ministers have had on the physical and mental well-being of people. Of course, my argument would be that these are examples of bad religion, that I would have as much difficulty with as he has with bad science. But that chapter never came... perhaps he is keeping his powder dry for another book...
But there was one thing he did raise in relation to the inappropriate medicalisation of problems that raised issues for me theologically. He suggested that the tried an tested method of selling us pills (of whatever variety) is first to persuade us that we have a problem and then provide the solution in an easy to take tablet form...
And it made me wonder, is that what we do with the "bad news - good news" approach to Jesus' message?
If it is, is that a legitimate expression of the gospel... or is it a technique that has come down to us from 19th century evangelicalism, where the traveling preachers learned many of their techniques from the quacks selling patent medicines?
Is there a good news without bad news?
But back to the book... my humble opinion is that this should be compulsory reading for every parent before they're allowed to have children... but being realistic it will probably only be read by those of a similar conviction... to use a religious analogy, he is preaching to the converted... Most who have already given up on conventional medicine will have given up on him too because he's a doctor after all...
But you'd never find us religious types just preaching to the converted...



Anonymous said…
I read this book a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed the rant, but his constant carping about humanities graduates got to be rather tedious (speaking as a humanities grad: Biblical Studies BA/Theology MTh). Moreover, his snarky comments about religion were often good demonstrations of his own ignorance about those issues! And you're right, I also kept expecting a full tirade along the lines of Dennett/Dawkins which didn't come.

snauzer said…
Snauzer say's

Having read yer blog I tried hard to understand how you could be so bold or self conceited to criticize an author of a science column when you specialize in fiction of the theology kind.
I note your use of the term "new atheist"
I suppose some would call me an atheist, in fact they do.

Idon't believe any god exists, but I'm not an atheist any more than I am an "asantaclausist" or an "aeasterbunnyist".
Not believing in Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny dosn't commit me to an ideology or belief system shared with others who reject the notion that such creatures exist. My disbelief in leprechauns doesn't unite me with millions of other aleprechaunists.

The label of 'atheist' is one that theists use to create the illusion that their belief in "SPIRITS" has some substance.
I don't mind that theists devote themselves to illusions and delusions as long as they don't do me any harm.
But they fill their concept of atheists with falsehoods that attempt to denigrate those of us who don't share their belief in the existance of spirits?
The fact that I don't believe in angels who watch over us and grant us wishes from time to time doesn't mean that I think life is meaningless and might as well just kill my neighbour.

What really gets up my jumper is the fact that theists think they are relieved from self-examination and leave all there ills with the "LORD".to wash them clean again.and commit the same acts again and again.

At a meeting the other night it was said that "if by atheist one means someone who believes that rationality and science are better than irrationality and faith when it comes to improving life and understanding the world, then count me in. Unfortunately, the theists rule the world, and they control the language. Maybe that won't always be true.

Regards Snauzer
Snauzer, not sure you read me correctly if you think I'm being overly critical of Ben Goldacre... in fact I agree with 90% or more of what he writes... and remember, my first degree was in a scientific discipline, in which my speciality was the very field that Prof. Dawkins excells in... indeed there was a while when I had considered the possibility of a phD under him...
My reference to the "New Atheists" is always shorthand, and generally encapsulated by " " because I acknowledge that this is not primarily a self-designation... although some have worn the badge proudly and have vocally been anti-God as an idea, not, of course as a person... more on that next week...
As for defining my own beliefs in opposition to those I would term atheists, well, I no more do that than I define my maleness as being "not female" or my political beliefs in terms of what parties I do not vote for. I believe in focussing on the positive not the negative, both in myself and in others...
When you say that theists absolve themselves of self-examination, do you believe that of me? Or that I falsely attribute to you "falsehoods" in the attempt to denigrate you, or any other professed non-theist (to avoid the a-theist term you seem to object to)?
I actually think that the debate is largely a dead end... I am a scientist and a theist (as well as many other things if you want to try to pigeonhole me) and I find no absolute conflict in that, yet so many on both "sides" want to turn this issue into a battle ground, fuelled by some deep anger and hurt. I already spend a lot of my time dealing with the hurt and anger of the conflict in this wee province of ours... I don't really want to spend the rest of it dealing with the same in the false debate between science and religion. said…
Snauzer says,

Thanks for your comment but in this case I feel I have to reply.

One of my favourite writers is Joseph McCabe ex priest turned atheist and thought to be the most prolific writer ever known, sure you have heard of him, he says "the attempt to draw a parallel between religious faith and our faith in the authority of scientific men is an elementary failure.

Take the fundamental religious issue, the existence of God. Who are the experts or authorities on it? Not theologians, since they acknowledge that the existence of God must be rationally or philosophically proved before theology begins. Nearer to the position of experts therefore, are the philosophers; but few of these believe in the personal God of the theologians, all of them flatly deny the validity of the arguments which the theologians use, and hardly any of them now ever notice the question of the existence of God.

In truth,if we conclude that since it is entirely a question of rational argument the philosophers ought to be the best experts, we then find that all of them who do believe in a God {a minority} prove his {or its} existence by appealing to an order of realities,ideals or values [chiefly moral], which the man of science who is generally atheistic interprets in a totally different way. In point of fact, no one does or could accept the existence of God on the authority of others. But it is even worse when you turn to the second basic doctrine, the immortality of the soul, and almost as bad when you turn to the question of Jesus and the Gospels.

There is no consistent authority to follow. The only valid use of faith in the religious sphere is, or would be, if you could persuade yourself that, as the Catholic professes, there is one aspect(or whatever it is )of God with the title of Jesus who (or which)founded a Church,and another aspect (etc.)of God with the title of Holy Ghost who or which speaks through the Church. If all this rigmarole were demonstrated, you might legitimately accept statements on the authority of the might in theory. Unfortunately,you would first have to reconcile this Holy Ghost theory with the history of the Church and its crimes, vices,and blounders during 1500 years.

Consider how SCIENCE and FAITH works!

Science¬Get an Idea,

Perform Experiment,Does the evidence support the idea? ¬ Theory Created.¬
Use the theory to better understand the universe¬Discover new evidence¬Can the theory be modified to explain the new evidence.¬Improve theory.
Start¬Get an idea,
Ignore contradicting evidence¬Keep idea for ever¬

(I could include the thoughts of Bertrand Russell but hey don't think I need to.)

the idea of having "faith in the authority of scientific men" is a fallacious approach to science... It is the PROCESS of scientific investigation that carries the authority NOT the men or women (see Goldacre who makes this point at length). And equally faith does not mean holding on to an idea blindly (that is what produces the worst type of religion) but, as Wesley advocated using tradition, reason, experience and scripture...
Anonymous said…

"Exactually" ie: Let me say,"the idea of having faith in the Authority of a man who claims he is the son of God is a fallacious approval of a person who is either mad or really really mad.
I would suggest to you that without the scientists the process of scientific investigation would not be known nor have taken place in the first place????

Its like wanting to drive a car without knowing what a car is until a scientist or designer created one?????

With regard to faith we have been asked to hold onto a idea. that's all religion is and it can't prove otherwise,

There is no point to religious belief it's all speculation, produced by uneducated or in the case of Paul, power mad Paul, lets tell lies Paul.

We know the history of the scriptures with Constantine, Clement Origin and the gang of 100. and then the Ezra guy, you know Ezra lets tell it my way. We know the Gospels were not written by who ever.but you say don't have faith in the scientific men who have to present proof that can be put to the test, examined again and again when new evidence appears and altered to suit the truth.

WE know the bible is a figment of a lot of imagination which has been challenged found wanting time and time again but nothing is ever changed---WHY. Frankly I don't think anybody cares enough, do you

Oh forgot there are many different bibles ar'nt there, change abit to suit yer church and make a new one OH! and claim it is the word of GOD.

Good job scientists don't do that, you would be afraid to take a drink of water. But you can trust a scientist. You can test or challenge their ideas.

As to holding onto a idea blindly can't recall many changes being made. can you?
Science has destroyed the sole basis of philosophic Theism by showing that moral law is social law and has not a scrap of transcendental significence.

The world is tired of this shifting of the ground of belief in each succeding decade.
The one I like is the modernist practice of taking something that Paul or Jesus or the Father said, confessing that as they meant the words they are obviously false, remember that one,"The Ark",
but that an ingenious Modernist can read into them some meaning which the original authors would have cursed with all the their oriental fluency (ship yard language)

Simply let on you don't understand,

you never really meant that stupid,

That's not meant to be taken as read

Blame a scientist for goodness sake.

I don't belive that either. But! But! But!

They believe that but we don't--- I think. Lets read that again.

END regards snauzer.
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