He tried it on me once, and confidently told me that I had some back pain, which I told him was not the case, and cheerfully asked him why he’d missed the fact I had a blinding near-migraine headache which was rendering me half-blind in one eye. Hmph. He also claims to be able to heal people over the phone, so he doesn’t even need to be in the same place as them. I don’t know if he’s genuinely deluded or lying to extract money from the unwary, but I think that on any reasonable assessment of, y’know, facts, it’s pretty clear what he’s saying isn’t true.
Mind you, I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m equating belief in such matters with idiocy – he’s an idiot in many other regards, but as that rather strays into personal stuff I needn’t share here, I won’t go into any more details; suffice to say people who know me well, and of some of the events of the past five years, will know who I’m talking about.
Anyway, as hot is matched by cold and day is twinned with night, so such idiocy is balanced by intelligence; nature, they say, abhors a vacuum, and I guess it also dislikes a prevalence of empty brains, for there are people in the world who are very happily married to the accumulation of knowledge through verifiable experimentation and the accretion of provable facts.
Such a person is Ben Goldacre.
Ben – and I’ll call him that so he doesn’t sound like a Bond villain – writes on the subject of Bad Science in various newspapers and his blog of that title, and is frequently a clear voice of sense in an area which is all too often (and, it seems, all too easily) rendered indistinct and vague by all sorts of new-agey woo-woo. If you haven’t visited his blog before, I recommend a look.
And it’s because of a recent update to his blog that I’m posting; some time ago, Ben suggested it wasn’t right that vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was taking out adverts denouncing the use of AIDS drugs in South Africa, and promoting his vitamin pills at the same time. Mr Rath took umbrage with this, and sued Ben and the paper that his comments were published in, claiming libel. The case went on for over twelve months, until Mr Rath withdrew the case – but by this time the costs involved in fighting the action were around half a million pounds. Steps are being taken to recover this money, but in the meantime, the removal of the legal action means that Ben’s free to add his chapter on Rath to his book – also called Bad Science – but in order to get the information ‘out there’ to as many people as possible, he’s also put the entire chapter on the web.
I’m ashamed to admit that, whilst I’ve always enjoyed his blog and print work (and he came over well on some TV consumer-thing I saw him in the other week), I don’t yet own a copy of Ben’s book. Methinks I should set about remedying that…