Some bad science can make you laugh, and some kills

By Phil Plait | December 23, 2010 7:00 am

Ben Goldacre is a gift to skepticism. He writes for The Guardian and attacks all manners of bad science (which is why he calls his column "Bad Science"), from alt-medders to pharmaceutical companies. He doesn’t let any misuse of science in the medical field stand, and that’s why I love him.

And now you can too: watch this video of Ben at the Pop!Tech conference held in Camden, Maine in October.

Ben’s book, oddly enough titled Bad Science, is great as well, and I highly recommend it. There’s a chapter he had to take out due to litigation by a guy named Mathias Rath, who says vitamins can cure AIDS. Yes, you read that correctly. Ben posted that chapter on his website, and it may be one of the most important things ever written in the area of critical thinking. Lack of proper treatment for AIDS kills hundreds of thousands of people in Africa alone. Hundreds of thousands.

When people like Ben win, lives are saved. The more people who know about him, the better. He’s a true hero of skepticism.


Related posts:

Diluting Homeopathy
Science blogging versus journalism
Slamming UK antiscience


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Debunking, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: AIDS, Ben Goldacre, Pop!Tech

Comments (31)

  1. Nodakian

    Did you mean to have a link to the chapter on his website?

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Ben Goldacre is a gift to skepticism. He writes for The Guardian and attacks all manners of bad science (which is why he calls his column “Bad Science”),..

    Hmm .. I wonder where Ben Goldacre could possibly gotten the idea for that name from? ;-)

  3. Messier Tidy Upper

    Ben’s book, oddly enough titled Bad Science, is great as well, and I highly recommend it.

    So wait … Ben’s got a blog *&* a book with the “Bad ____” meme in it as well?! When did that happen? Next thing you know, he’ll be doing a similarly named TV series! Do you feel flattered or worried, BA? ;-)

    There’s a chapter he had to take out due to litigation by a guy named Mathias Rath, who says vitamins can cure AIDS. Yes, you read that correctly.

    Well bad as that is, at least it beats Lord Monckton’s original AIDS plan featured here at the very beginning :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duxG4lyeSlc&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    Plus probably also Monckton’s second supposed “cure-all” solution noted (7 minutes & 50 seconds mark) in that clip too . :roll:

  4. Lee

    “Ben posted that chapter on his website,” linky no worky. By the way, love your blog. I’ve never posted before so thought I’d go ahead and let you know. :)

  5. Mike G

    Here’s the link to the chapter, but FWIW, Ben covers all the same points, mostly word for word in the video.

    http://badscience.net/files/The-Doctor-Will-Sue-You-Now.pdf

  6. James

    The excised chapter is now back in new editions of the book, as the litigation has been settled (in Dr Goldacre’s favour).

  7. MadScientist

    Most editions of Ben’s book which have been on the shelves the past year or so have had the Matthias Rath chapter (“The Doctor Will Sue You Now”) in them. But for those folks who haven’t read the book yet, go ahead and get the chapter about Rath’s scam.

  8. Joseph G

    Does anyone know where I can read about the Rath lawsuit? I’d like to know how on earth he managed to get a whole damn chapter taken out of a book that was exposing his nonsense, legally?

    I’m reading about it now. I’ve heard that libel charges in the UK are more difficult to fight then in the US, does anyone know if that’s the case?

  9. Joseph G

    Another thing that really ticks me off about guys like Rath is that they make research on nutrition look bad. Nutritional supplements CAN help certain medical conditions (assuming you’re taking the right dose for the right condition and there’s peer-reviewed clinical research to support it), but f***wads like Rath make it harder for people to get support for nutritional supplement research.

  10. Joseph G

    Just read the “missing” chapter. Good freakin’ God, man!!! I need a word to describe how I feel. Disgangry? Angrusted? Grr.

  11. This video left me bawling. As a queer identified person the AIDS epidemic is something I pay attention to, and the deep EVIL of AIDS denialism brings me very close to giving up on humanity as a whole.

  12. Monkey

    Ben is quite the man – straight to the point. Of the many ‘vocal’ pro-science people out there, he is the one I jump on right away and listen to. Cuts right to the issue, sharp like a knife but subtle and articulate. I wish I could see/hear more….but I suppose he also has a day job!!

  13. Monkey

    He’s definitley not being nice to the people he is discussing, though. He’s almost being a dick, eh?

  14. Monkey

    @Joseph G

    Totally!! It is one of those situations where you read, you digest and think to your self “this cant be real…this actually happened??…where was the news coverage?!?”.

    But it was real, and it did happen.

  15. Tribeca Mike

    Just the other day, I put an order in from the library for Goldacre ‘s book and look forward to reading it. Until then, thanks for the video. Seems like a cool down to earth guy. Reminds me a bit of a terrifically clever biology teacher I had in high school.

  16. Lynn Wilhelm

    Okay, I’m in love. Great talk. Nice accent and hair, too.

    as per Monkey @15: He’s almost a dick, but the accent makes him sound so nice (at least from this side of the Atlantic) how could anyone call him one?

  17. Monkey

    :)
    @17

    I wasnt, really. I was just poking the embers trying to get the “DBAD” flames revived! I think he was spot on and perfectly in order to say everything he said.

  18. Monkey

    @16

    I remember the day I walked into one of the few english bookstores here in Taiwan…hit up the science section and, among the regular hawk/ein/bryson selection I saw it. So …so..surprised. Bought, read, re-read, shared and want part 2!!

    There is also a chinese version in print and being hyped pretty big around here last spring. In a land of chinese medicine, utter irrationality and major supersition, its nice to see it getting some local coverage!

  19. Ginger Yellow

    “I’m reading about it now. I’ve heard that libel charges in the UK are more difficult to fight then in the US, does anyone know if that’s the case?”

    It certainly is, although legally speaking, if not economically, things have got a little better in the last 5 years. The details are for too complex to go into here (though I have discussed some of them on previous threads). I recommend going through Jack of Kent’s blog archives or checking out the Libel Reform campaign site.

  20. I just wish I could understand what English people are saying better. I have real trouble with the accent and have to rewind all the time until I figure out what the words are.

    Once I got it all (actually, well before the end) my disgust of humans was all the more intensified.

    People trying to do real good for the right reasons are so out-numbered.

  21. @Joseph G,

    I think Rath, and people like him, take a small truth and exaggerate it, claiming it is a bigger truth. In this case, the small truth is “Vitamins and other nutrients are required by the human body. Not having the right amount of them can cause you to become ill.” For example, if you don’t have enough iron, you can become anemic.

    Some folks see people who are ill taking vitamins/nutritional supplements and getting better. (e.g. Taking iron pills and no longer being anemic.) Then they reason that this should work for any illness, you just need to find the right vitamin.

    The problem is, of course, that the vitamins/nutritional supplements cure ailments caused by a deficiency of that nutrient. AIDS, however, is caused by a virus. Yes, lacking the proper nutrition can be a complication (causing you to be sicker than you would have been had you been properly nurished), but all the vitamins/nutritional supplements in the world won’t kill a single HIV virus. For that you need anti-virals.

    By actively keeping anti-virals out of the hands of people who need them, Rath is hastening their deaths and the deaths of anyone they spread the illness to. My favorite part of the chapter was when the health minister, who bought into Rath’s “cure” 100%, was questioned about the fact that all of his star patients died from AIDS. She said “It doesn’t necessarily mean that if I am taking antibiotics and I die, that I died of antibiotics.” Yet, if someone is taking an anti-viral and winds up dying, who wants to bet on how quickly Rath will claim that the anti-viral killed the patient?

  22. Todd Boughn

    Terrific stuff. Am I the only one who could see this guy playing the Doctor (as in Doctor Who)?

  23. Joseph G

    @#2 TechyDad: Hah, I almost yelled at my computer screen when I read that part of the chapter. Gotta love his logic. Lots of people die in hospitals, therefore, hospitals are deadly! Also, firetrucks tend to show up around burning buildings, so avoid them whenever you can.

  24. The sad fact is, most people will believe what makes them feel good. Facts, science, or evidence to the contrary be damned. This accounts for politics, religion, the WWE, and probably NASCAR. ;)

    After all, that is a lot easier than thinking.

  25. mateo

    I really like this guy but I wish he would maybe turn the speed of his delivery down a few notches from coke fiend to make it easier for his listeners to take in what he is saying.

  26. Phil E. Drifter

    Great news about curing AIDS with regular vitamins, but… i couldn’t give a sh*t less about the *thousands* of people in Africa dying of AIDS.

    Logical conclusion: article fails the logical fallacy of appeal to compassion.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »