Woolworths was the new Stonehenge

January 16th, 2010

Apparently, the now-defunct Woolworths store network may have been planned by extraterrestrials. Possibly as an aid to navigation for their flying saucers.

[Via Bad Science]

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Kill or cure?

July 23rd, 2009

Kill or cure?

Help to make sense of the Daily Mail’s ongoing effort to classify every inanimate object into those that cause cancer and those that prevent it.

[Via Ben Goldacre]

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Liars and the lies they tell

June 6th, 2009

Further to last week's claim that illegal downloading costs the UK economy billions of pounds per year, Ben Goldacre tracked down the report's sources and discovered that – surprise, surprise – the calculations were based on some very dodgy assumptions.

What's worse, Goldacre noted that the original versions of the executive summary and press release accompanying the report were in error, inflating the report's claim as to the value of the files 'illegally shared' from £12 billion to £120 billion. As plenty of journalists had quoted the original, erroneous figures, Goldacre asked the report's publishers what they'd done to get word out about their having inflated the value of 'illegally shared' content by an order of magnitude:

I asked what steps they took to notify journalists of their error, which exaggerated their findings by a factor of ten and were widely reported in news outlets around the world. SABIP refused to answer my questions in emails, insisted on a phone call (always a warning sign), told me that they had taken steps but wouldn't say what, explained something about how they couldn't be held responsible for lazy journalism, then, bizarrely, after ten minutes, tried to tell me retrospectively that the whole call was actually off the record, that I wasn't allowed to use the information in my piece, but that they had answered my questions, and so they didn't need to answer on the record, but I wasn't allowed to use the answers, and I couldn't say they hadn't answered, I just couldn't say what the answers were. Then the PR man from SABIP demanded that I acknowledge, in our phone call, formally, for reasons I still don't fully understand, that he had been helpful.

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LBC are bullies – pass it on

February 6th, 2009

Ben Goldacre's post critiquing LBC presenter Jeni Barnett's broadcast about MMR and vaccination in general has caused quite a storm:

It is my view that in this extended broadcast Jeni exemplifies every single canard ever uttered by the antivaccination movement. It's a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry. Science always changes so you can believe what you like. It's a debate and a controversy. Measles was never that bad anyway. Immune systems are damaged by being understimulated. Immune systems are damaged by being overstimulated. And so on.

The original version of Ben's post included a recording of the entire vaccination-related segment of the show, as he felt that he'd be accused of cherry-picking damning phrases and presenting them out of context if he posted shorter excerpts. This led to legal threats from LBC, ostensibly on the grounds of copyright infringement.1 Given that Ben Goldacre was neither charging for access to LBC's material, trying to pass his site off as LBC's, nor competing with LBC in any sense whatsoever I think it's a pretty safe bet that LBC are exercising their intellectual property rights in order to silence a critic, as opposed to their trying protect their commercial interests by stopping someone else from making money on the back of their content.

You'd think by now that media companies would know that trying to bully online critics can backfire horribly: a first draft of a transcript of the LBC broadcast can be found at SciencePunk, and links to recordings of the broadcast are popping up at Wikileaks and on YouTube. Never mind about the MMR issue; I'd like to think that LBC are about to be taught a very public lesson about how to deal with online critics. I'll be very disappointed if The Guardian fails to run with this story about an attempt to silence one of their columnists, even if this particular story wasn't one of his columns for the paper.

  1. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I suspect that they have a point that posting an entire 40-minute segment of a show is at the very limit of acceptability as far as quotation-for-the-purposes-of-criticism goes.

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Complicated

December 18th, 2008

Ben 'Bad Science' Goldacre brings us the "I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that…" t-shirt:

First up, much awaited, we have possibly the finest all-purpose political t-shirt slogan ever conceived. Better still, they only reveal their true powers when you are standing next to someone who is also wearing a slogan t-shirt. Recent favourites from my bus journey include "Drop beats not bombs" and "I need a hug".

Marvellous.

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Are Down's syndrome births up?

November 29th, 2008

Ben Goldacre bangs his head against the brick wall one more time:

As usual, it’s not Watergate, it’s just slightly irritating. “Down’s births increase in a caring Britain”, said the Times: “More babies are being born with Down’s syndrome as parents feel increasingly that society is a more welcoming place for children with the condition.” [List of further feel-good newspaper headlines follows…]

Their quoted source was no less impeccable than a BBC Radio 4 documentary presented by Felicity Finch (her what plays Ruth Archer), broadcast on Monday. “The number of babies with down syndrome has steadly fallen, that is until today, when for the first time ever that number is higher than before, when testing was introduced.” I see. “I’m keen to find out why more parents are making this decision.” They’re not. “I was so intrigued by these figures that I’ve been following some parents to find out what lies behind their choice.” Felicity. Wait a second. The entire founding premise of your entire 27 minute documentary is wrong. […]

The sad thing is, the core point being made in the documentary – that there's more widespread knowledge about the sort of support required by children born with Down's syndrome nowadays – is quite possibly correct; it's just that the statistics quoted by the press don't address that point.

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