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Fig 1. Obscure

Ben Goldacre's observations

Ben Goldacre is a British medical doctor and journalist, and the author of the The Guardian newspaper's weekly Bad Science column. He works full-time as a junior doctor for the National Health Service] and is a registered psychiatrist. His first book, also called Bad Science, was published in 2008. See VIDEO CLIP below.

educational background

Goldacre studied medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford where he obtained a first class degree in his preclinical studies in 1995. While at Oxford he also edited the student magazine Isis. Before going on to clinical medicine at University College London, he was a visiting researcher in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Milan, working on fMRI brain scans of language and executive function. He received a master's degree in philosophy from King's College London. He is a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and is a research fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.

Bad Science column

Goldacre writes a weekly column, Bad Science, in the Saturday edition of The Guardian newspaper, and publishes expanded versions of the columns with reader comments on his website badscience.net. Devoted to satirical criticism of scientific inaccuracy, health scares, pseudoscience and quackery, it focuses especially on: examples from the mass media; consumer product marketing; problems with the pharmaceutical industry and its relationship to medical journals; and complementary and alternative medicine in Britain.

On the controversial topic of water fluoridation, he stated in 2008 that "anyone making any confident statement on fluoride speaks way beyond the evidence".

He has been a particular critic of the claims of television nutritionist Gillian McKeith, anti-immunisation campaigners (particularly followers of Andrew Wakefield such as Melanie Phillips and Jeni Barnett), Brain Gym, bogus positive MRSA swab stories in tabloids, antidepressants, publication bias, and the makers of the product Penta Water.

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. 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.

In 2008, vitamin entrepreneur Matthias Rath sued Goldacre and The Guardian over three articles in which Goldacre criticised Rath's promotion of vitamin pills to AIDS sufferers in South African townships. Rath dropped his action in September 2008 and was ordered to pay initial costs of 220,000 to the Guardian. 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. The chapter was reinstated in a later edition of the book, and also published online.

Bad Science book

Goldacre's book Bad Science was published in 2008. The book contains extended and revised versions of many of his Guardian columns. It has been positively reviewed by the BMJ and Daily Telegraph and has reached the Top 10 bestseller list for Amazon Books. In an interview in 2008, Goldacre stated that "one of the central themes of my book is that there are no real differences between the $600 billion pharmaceutical industry and the $50 billion food supplement pill industry".

video clip

Ben Goldacre on MMR, autism and media mendacity on London Tonight