Ben Goldacre

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Ben Goldacre
Ben Goldacre TAM London 2009.JPG
Speaking at TAM London, October 2009
Born Ben Michael Goldacre[1]
1974 (age 40–41)
London, United Kingdom
Residence United Kingdom
Nationality British
Alma mater
Occupation Physician, science writer, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine
Known for Bad Science (2008), Bad Pharma (2012)
Parent(s) Michael Goldacre
Susan Goldacre (née Traynor)[1]
  • ABSW best feature (2003, 2005)
  • Honorary DSc, Heriot-Watt University (2009)
  • Honorary DSc, Loughborough University (2010)

Ben Michael Goldacre (born 1974)[1] is a British physician, academic and science writer. As of March 2015, he is a Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, part of the University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.[2] He is a founder of the AllTrials campaign to require open science practices in clinical trials.[1]

Goldacre is known in particular for his "Bad Science" column in The Guardian, which he wrote between 2003 and 2011, and is the author of three books: Bad Science (2008), a critique of irrationality and certain forms of alternative medicine; Bad Pharma (2012), an examination of the pharmaceutical industry, its publishing and marketing practices, and its relationship with the medical profession,[3] and I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That, a collection of his journalism. Goldacre frequently delivers free talks about bad science—he describes himself as a "nerd evangelist."[4]


Early life and education[edit]

Goldacre is the son of Michael Goldacre, a professor of public health at the University of Oxford, and Susan Traynor (a.k.a. Noosha Fox) lead singer of 1970s' pop band Fox, both of whom are Australian.[5][6] He is the nephew of Robyn Williams, a science journalist, and the great-great-grandson of Sir Henry Parkes, politician and journalist who is considered the father of the Australian Federation.[7] He has two children.

Goldacre was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford.[8] He studied medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford,[1] where he obtained a first-class honours degree in his preclinical studies in 1995.[9] He edited the Oxford student magazine, Isis.[10]

Goldacre was a visiting researcher in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Milan, working on fMRI brain scans of language and executive function. Following his studies at the Universities of Oxford and Milan, Goldacre studied clinical medicine at UCL Medical School, qualifying as a medical doctor in 2000.[11] He also received an M.A. in philosophy from King's College London.[12][13]

Medical and academic career[edit]

Goldacre passed the MRCPsych Part II examinations in December 2005 and became a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.[14] He was a research fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry in London in 2008,[15] and a Guardian research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 2009.[16]

In 2012, Goldacre became a Wellcome Research Fellow in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.[4][17][18][19]

In 2015, Goldacre moved to the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, joining a project funded by a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.[20]


"Bad Science" column[edit]

Goldacre is known for his weekly column, "Bad Science," in the Saturday edition of The Guardian, which he started in 2003 [21] and wrote until November 2011.[22] Devoted to criticism of scientific inaccuracy, health scares and pseudoscience, the column focuses on the media, marketing, problems with the pharmaceutical industry, and its relationship with medical journals and alternative-medicine practitioners.[23][24][25]

He has been a particularly hardline critic of the nutritionist Gillian McKeith,[26] anti-immunisation campaigners (particularly followers of Andrew Wakefield such as Melanie Phillips[27] and Jeni Barnett),[28] Brain Gym,[29] bogus positive MRSA swab stories in tabloid newspapers,[30] publication bias,[31] and the makers of the product Penta Water.[32]

While investigating McKeith's membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, Goldacre purchased a "certified professional membership" on behalf of his late cat, Henrietta, from the same institution for $60.[33]

In February 2007 McKeith agreed to stop using the title "Dr" in her advertising, following a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority by a "Bad Science" reader.[34] In an interview with Richard Saunders of the podcast Skeptic Zone, Goldacre said, "Nutritionists are particularly toxic because they are the alternative therapists who, more than any other, misrepresent themselves as being men and women of science."[35]

In 2008, Matthias Rath, a vitamin entrepreneur, sued Goldacre and The Guardian over three articles,[36][37][38] in which Goldacre criticised Rath's promotion of vitamin pills to AIDS sufferers in South African townships.[39] Rath dropped his action in September 2008 and was ordered to pay initial costs of £220,000 to The Guardian.[39] The paper is seeking full costs of £500,000, and Goldacre has expressed an interest in writing a book about Rath and South Africa, as a chapter on the subject had to be cut from his book while the litigation proceeded.[40] The chapter was reinstated in a later edition of the book, and also published online.[41] Goldacre continues to cite Rath as a proponent of harmful pseudoscience.[42]

Bad Science (2008)[edit]

Main article: Bad Science (book)

Goldacre's first book, Bad Science, was published by Fourth Estate in September 2008.[43] The book contains extended and revised versions of many of his Guardian columns. It was positively reviewed by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and The Daily Telegraph, and reached the Top 10 bestseller list for Amazon Books.[44] It was nominated for the 2009 Samuel Johnson Prize.[45][46] In an interview in 2008, Goldacre said that "one of the central themes of my book [Bad Science] is that there are no real differences between the $600 billion pharmaceutical industry and the $50 billion food supplement pill industry."[47]

Bad Pharma (2012)[edit]

Main article: Bad Pharma

His second book, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, was published in the UK in September 2012 and in the United States and Canada in February 2013.[48] In the book he argues that:

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug's life, and even then they don't give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion. In their forty years of practice after leaving medical school, doctors hear about what works through ad hoc oral traditions, from sales reps, colleagues or journals. But those colleagues can be in the pay of drug companies – often undisclosed – and the journals are too. And so are the patient groups. And finally, academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people who work directly for the companies, without disclosure.[49]

Other writing[edit]

Goldacre contributed to The Atheist's Guide to Christmas (2009), a charity book featuring essays and anecdotes from 42 well-known atheists and apatheists, on the subject of "the power of ideas".[50] He describes himself as an apatheist.[51] He also wrote the foreword to the reprint edition of Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare by Imogen Evans, Hazel Thornton, Iain Chalmers and Paul Glasziou, published by Pinter & Martin in March 2010. He has had several articles published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on the MMR vaccine,[52] science journalism,[53][54] and related topics.[55][56]

In June 2012, he collaborated with the Behavioural Insights Team of the UK government on a policy paper on the use of randomised controlled trials,[57] and in May 2013, he wrote the foreword to the 'Official Guidebook' of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.[58] In March 2014, he worked on a systematic review of the side effects of statins compared with placebos, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.[59] Although many newspapers that covered the review said that it found that statins have "virtually no side effects",[60] Goldacre criticized this coverage as inaccurate. For example, he noted that the study relied on data from trial reports, which are likely to be incomplete.[61]

Several of Goldacre's articles were assembled into the October 2014 release I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That.[62][63]



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  3. ^ "Pick your pill out of a hat",, 29 September 2012.
  4. ^ a b Kmietowicz, Zosia. "Health minister agrees to meet academics to discuss access to clinical trial data", British Medical Journal, 23 October 2012.
  5. ^ Ian Fairlie (2009). "Book Reviews: Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre". Medicine, Conflict and Survival 25 (3): 255–257. doi:10.1080/13623690902943552. 
  6. ^ Petridis, Alexis (29 May 2011). "Was 1976 pop's worst year? Yes – and this singer was one of the culprits". The Guardian. 
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  11. ^ "List of Registered Medical Practitioners (The online Register)". General Medical Council. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
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  13. ^ Baggini, Julian (19 May 2010). "My philosophy: Ben Goldacre". TPM: The Philosophers’ Magazine. Archived from the original on 22 May 2010. 
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  18. ^ Staa, T. P.; Goldacre, B; Gulliford, M; Cassell, J; Pirmohamed, M; Taweel, A; Delaney, B; Smeeth, L (2012). "Pragmatic randomised trials using routine electronic health records: Putting them to the test". BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 344: e55. doi:10.1136/bmj.e55. PMC 3934788. PMID 22315246. 
  19. ^ Haynes, Laura; Service, Owain; Goldacre, Ben; Torgerson, David. "Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials",, Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team (UK), June 2012.
  20. ^ Laura and John Arnold Foundation announces funding support to create open online database clinical trials,; accessed 27 July 2015.
  21. ^ Goldacre, Ben (27 July 2007). "Bad Science (weekly column)". The Guardian. 
  22. ^ Goldacre, Ben (24 February 2015). "What eight years of writing the Bad Science column have taught me". The Guardian. 
  23. ^ Goldacre, Ben. (2008). A quick fix would stop drug firms bending the truth, The Guardian.
  24. ^ Goldacre, Ben. (2008). The danger of drugs … and data. The Guardian.
  25. ^ Goldacre, Ben (8 September 2005). "Don't dumb me down". The Guardian. 
  26. ^ Goldacre, Ben (7 February 2007). "Brought to book: the poo lady's PhD". The Guardian. 
  27. ^ "The MMR sceptic who just doesn’t understand science". 2 November 2005. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 
  28. ^ Goldacre, Ben (3 February 2009). "Bad Science Bingo, with Jeni Barnett". Bad Science. 
  29. ^ Goldacre, Ben (25 March 2006). "Exercise the brain without this transparent nonsense". The Guardian. 
  30. ^ Goldacre, Ben (19 November 2005). "How many microbiologists does it take to change a tabloid story?". The Guardian. 
  31. ^ Goldacre, Ben (2008). Missing in action: the trials that did not make the news. The Guardian.
  32. ^ Goldacre, Ben (10 February 2005). "Troubled water". The Guardian. 
  33. ^ Goldacre, Ben (30 September 2004). "Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD) continued". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  34. ^ Gibson, Owen (12 February 2007). "TV dietician to stop using title "Dr" in adverts". The Guardian. 
  35. ^ Saunders, Richard (6 February 2009). "The Skeptic Zone #16". The Skeptic Zone. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  36. ^ No way to treat an Aids hero, The Guardian, 20 January 2007
  37. ^ 'Gambia's president may be weird, but Aids superstitions strike closer to home’, The Guardian, 27 January 2007.
  38. ^ 'How money is not the only barrier to Aids patients getting hold of drugs’, The Guardian, 17 February 2007.
  39. ^ a b Boseley, Sarah (13 September 2008). "Fall of the doctor who said his vitamins would cure Aids". The Guardian. 
  40. ^ Goldacre, Ben (12 September 2008). "Matthias Rath drops his million pound legal case against me and the Guardian". Retrieved 13 September 2008. 
  41. ^ Goldacre, Ben. Matthias Rath – steal this chapter,, 9 April 2009.
  42. ^ Saunders, Richard. "The Skeptic Zone #16 – 06.Feb.2009". The Skeptic Zone. Retrieved 2014-05-14. There are bad things happening in medicine and academia but people talk about them, people criticize them, you know, and in the world of alternative therapies, you can be as far out as Matthias Rath and nobody will say a word. 
  43. ^ Goldacre, Ben (2008). Bad Science. Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0-00-724019-7. OCLC 259713114. 
  44. ^ Smith, Richard (1 October 2008). "Becoming Ben". BMJ 337 (337): a1856. doi:10.1136/bmj.a1856. 
  45. ^ Goldacre, Ben. "Bad Science (Fourth Estate)". Samuel Johnson Prize. Retrieved 24 June 2013. 
  46. ^ Lake, Ed (26 September 2008). "Review: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre". The Daily Telegraph. 
  47. ^ Ben Goldacre interviewed, The Science Show, Part 2, Australian Broadcasting Company.
  48. ^ "The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal", The Guardian, 21 September 2012.
  49. ^ Bad Pharma, p. xi.
  50. ^ Atheist Bus – Official Website » The Atheist's Guide To Christmas (AKA The Atheist Book Campaign),; accessed 27 July 2015.
  51. ^ Five Minutes With: Ben Goldacre. BBC. (Interview). Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  52. ^ Goldacre, B. (2007). "MMR: The scare stories are back". BMJ 335 (7611): 126–127. doi:10.1136/bmj.39280.447419.59. PMC 1925159. PMID 17634177. 
  53. ^ Goldacre, B. (2007). "How doctors can get behind the headlines". BMJ 334 (7594): 613–613. doi:10.1136/bmj.39160.566285.47. PMC 1832019. PMID 17379907. 
  54. ^ Goldacre, B. (2007). "Journalists: Anything to declare?". BMJ 335 (7618): 480–480. doi:10.1136/bmj.39328.450000.59. PMC 1971144. PMID 17823189. 
  55. ^ Goldacre, B. (2007). "Behold the Christmas miracle of antioxidants". BMJ 335 (7630): 1124–1124. doi:10.1136/bmj.39413.403750.59. PMC 2099529. PMID 18048537. 
  56. ^ Goldacre, B. (2007). "Beware of mentioning psychosocial factors". BMJ 335 (7624): 801–801. doi:10.1136/bmj.39370.657130.59. PMC 2034685. PMID 17947783. 
  57. ^ Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials
  58. ^
  59. ^ Finegold, J. A.; Manisty, C.H.; Goldacre, B.; Barron, A.J.; Francis, D.P. (12 March 2014). "What proportion of symptomatic side effects in patients taking statins are genuinely caused by the drug? Systematic review of randomized placebo-controlled trials to aid individual patient choice". European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 21 (4): 464–474. doi:10.1177/2047487314525531. PMID 24623264. 
  60. ^ Knapton, Sarah (13 March 2014). "Statins have virtually no side-effects, study finds". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  61. ^ Goldacre, Ben (13 March 2014). "Statins have no side effects? What our study really found, its fixable flaws, and why trials transparency matters (again)". Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^ Goldacre, Ben (11 December 2003). "Never mind the facts". The Guardian. 
  65. ^ Goldacre, Ben (8 September 2005). "Don't dumb me down". The Guardian. 
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  67. ^ "2007 Award for statistical excellence in journalism". Royal Statistical Society. Retrieved 14 August 2008. 
  68. ^ Goldacre, Ben (1 April 2006). "When the facts get in the way of a story". The Guardian. 
  69. ^ Heriot-Watt University Graduations: Honorary Graduates,; accessed 27 July 2015.
  70. ^ Loughborough University News and Events: Honorary Graduates,; accessed 27 July 2015.

External links[edit]