Speaking at TAM London, October 2009
|Born||Ben Michael Goldacre
May 20, 1974 
London, United Kingdom
University of Oxford (BA)
|Occupation||Author, journalist, physician, science writer and scientist|
Institute of Psychiatry
Bad Science (2008)
Susan Goldacre (nÃ©e Traynor)
ABSW best feature (2003, 2005)
Data is the fabric of the modern world: just like we walk down pavements, so we trace routes through data, and build knowledge and products out of it.
If you put me in charge of the medical research budget, I would cancel all primary research, I would cancel all new trials, for just one year, and I would spend the money exclusively on making sure that we make the best possible use of the clinical evidence that we already have.
There is this peculiar blind spot in the culture of academic medicine around whether withholding trial results is research misconduct. People who work in any industry can reinforce each others' ideas about what is okay.
In an ideal world, you might imagine that scientific papers were only cited by academics on the basis of their content. This might be true. But lots of other stuff can have an influence.
If a scientist sidesteps their scientific peers, and chooses to take an apparently changeable, frightening and technical scientific case directly to the public, then that is a deliberate decision, and one that can't realistically go unnoticed.
When you prescribe a new drug, often you are prescribing something that has only been tested in a few thousand people for a very short period of time, perhaps only six months, and that's not long enough to know whether there are any medium- or long-term side effects.
Science isn't about authority or white coats; it's about following a method. That method is built on core principles: precision and transparency; being clear about your methods; being honest about your results; and drawing a clear line between the results, on the one hand, and your judgment calls about how those results support a hypothesis.
Alternative therapists don't kill many people, but they do make a great teaching tool for the basics of evidence-based medicine, because their efforts to distort science are so extreme.
Doctors and patients need as much data as possible to make an informed decision about what treatment is best.
There is actually quite a lot of crossover between the quacks and drug companies. They use the same tricks and tactics to bamboozle people into buying their pills, but drug firms can afford to use slightly more sophisticated versions.
I agree, the world would be a better place if doctors were less enthusiastic about adopting very new drugs.
Amazing things happen when you pull individual pieces of information together into larger linked datasets: meaning emerges, as you produce facts from figures.
There are many differences between medicine and teaching, but they have much in common. Both involve craft and personal expertise, learned through experience; but both can be informed by the experience of others.
In general, drug companies are reasonably good at developing new treatments, and there's also a lot of good in the industry.
Yes. I'm a doctor, an epidemiologist, and lots of my professional colleagues flip back and forth between industry and medical roles. I know them; they are not bad people. But it is possible for good people in bad systems to do things that inflict enormous harm.
More academics should blog, post videos, post audio, post lectures, offer articles and more. You'll enjoy it: I've had threats and blackmail, abuse, smears and formal complaints with forged documentation.
Bad things happen when problems are protected by a force field of tediousness.
Science has authority, not because of white coats, or titles, but because of precision and transparency: you explain your theory, set out your evidence, and reference the studies that support your case.
The value of a scientific publication goes beyond this simple benefit, of all relevant information appearing, unambiguously, in one place. It's also a way to communicate your ideas to your scientific peers, and invite them to express an informed view.
Teaching needs an ecosystem that supports evidence-based practice. It will need better systems to disseminate the results of research more widely, but also a better understanding of research, so that teachers can be critical consumers of evidence.