Monday, 10 September 2012

Five Minutes with Ben Goldacre

After yesterday's post about an interview with Richard Dawkins, author of two of my favourite books - The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion - it seemed appropriate to post today about an interview with the author of another of my
"must read" books, Bad Science.

A bit shorter than the Dawkins interview, Five Minutes with Ben Goldacre is a quick-fire tour of:
"bad science", dealing with critics, the importance of randomised trials, whether God exists and Twitter.
I particularly liked Ben's description of himself as an "apatheist". Due to my background, I have quite an interest in religion and think quite a lot about my atheism (although I don't quite consider myself as a "New Atheist") but I think it is always useful (for strident atheists and religious types alike) to remember that there are people out there who really don't care and don't consider it to be that important.

Ben's real passion is clearly science and how to do it properly - particularly in relation to medicine - and I really cannot recommend Bad Science highly enough. Although bordering on ranting at times (but always in "righteous anger"!), the early chapters in particular provide an excellent and accessible introduction to why science - and proper use of statistics - is so important. It is the number one book I recommend to my first year tutees studying Biomedical Sciences, as well as A-level students at Open Days.

Ben now goes beyond being a sterling advocate of evidence-based medicine, however, and also has some interesting ideas regarding "evidence-based policy" and how randomised trials can be applied to government policy. My reading list is quite long at the moment (particularly with the recent ENCODE release) but I think I will be adding his Cabinet Office paper: Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials.

The whole Five minutes with series is really good and Matthew Stadlen is an excellent interviewer. I am surprised by the breadth of topics they manage to cover in five minutes without it actually feeling superficial. I guess there is often something to be said for "cutting to the chase".

I only recently discovered the series (thanks to my lovely wife) but another notable episode is that with my most recently discovered heroine in Five Minutes with Caitlin Moran. There's a whole host of others, though, and I look forward to working my way through (most of) the list! (Another BBC triumph!)

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