Bad Pharma

Goldacre_bad pharmaPUBLISHING YEAR: 2013

SUMMARY: A scathing and exhaustive review of the dodgy practices of the pharmaceutical industry – written by an epidemiologist.

AUDIENCE: This book can be of interest to the motivated behaviour therapist who wants to take a behind-the-scenes look at (psycho)pharma.

02 Professional


The author: Ben Goldacre is a UK epidemiologist/columnist who wrote a popular science segment in the Guardian for years. He is also the poster child of scientific skepticism.

Ben Goldacre is famous for taking misinformation and disinformation to task. His crusade against abuses in science is changing the world of medicine – and research in general – as he forces us to reflect on our current practices, suggests regulatory solutions, and makes the abuses public.

His books, speeches and columns have made such waves that we are now cleaning up our act at institutional level and restoring some integrity to the research publication process.

Style and contents:  Big Pharma tackles the under-the-belt practices of the pharmaceutical industry, and Academia’s/Medicine’s tolerance of them.

Ben Goldacre dares point the finger at the pharmaceutical industry despite this giving naturopaths ammunition for their sweeping rejection of modern medicine. So ten points for intellectual integrity here, especially so shortly after writing a book railing against naturopathy (Bad Science).

But Bad Pharma was brave for another reason: Pharma is not only Bad, it is is also Big. Taking on such lawyered up giants from libel-happy Britain is nothing short of heroic.

The gems

The book was extremely dense: fact-packed to the brim on research methods, statistical subtleties, publication (mis)practices, and pharma salesman tricks. Here are a couple of ‘take-home gems’ that I found particularly striking:

  1. Sobering – and frankly disturbing – passages on the exaggerated role of serotonin in mood disorders and on the limited clinical efficacy of SSRI and other antidepressants.
  2. A depressing chapter on the publication bias plague that is STILL raging in research despite having been a well-documented problem for years, and despite countless institutional/governmental pledges to rid us of it.
  3. He also wrote one of my favorite skeptical sayings: “Problems in medicine do not mean that homeopathic sugar pills work; just because there are problems with aircraft design, that does not mean that magic carpets really fly.”

Possible points for optimization  

Ben Goldacre wanted to inform a broad public about technical points and thus had to explain the basics before handling the technicalities. This burdened the already bulging book unnecessarily in my view. I am willing to bet that Bad Pharma‘s readership was predominantly made of science nerds who didn’t need a statistics 101 refresher.

Being a huge fan of Ben Goldacre’s pithy style, I was disappointed by his penmanship on this one. Reading Bad Pharma read more like a prosecution file than a pop science book. I would love to see another edition sharpen up the style more, to make the fast-paced fact attack more digestible.

The verdict: Don’t read Bad Pharma unless you have a real interest in the pharmaceutical industry (and scientific publication). But if you’d like to arm yourself with facts to address distorted claims and make informed pharmacological decisions, this is your book.

It’ll give you an undistorted (and painfully exhaustive) review of the flaws behind the current system. It may even awaken the activist in you so you too can help lobby about this scandalous state of affairs.

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Author: Goldacre Ben
Genre: pop science
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  • By Mutts on meds - Canis bonus on 13 March 2015 at 11:13

    […] psychopharmacology (Horwitz, Crowell-DaviesHorwitz, Overall – 2013 edition, and Goldacre) to get the facts before you jump on your conspiracy theory […]

  • […] I’ve whet your appetite, check the full review here. Tweet This entry was posted in Dog writing. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a […]

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