Saturday, 9 January 2010

More on the Bad Numbers in The Sunday Times

We reported here on this blog about the recent Sunday Times report that misrepresented statistics to allegedly show that “public sector workers earn 7% more on average than their peers in the private sector — a pay gulf that has more than doubled since the recession began.”

The TUC Touchstone had a
blog post demolishing the flawed basis on which the Sunday Times had used its statistics to make its argument.

Now Ben Goldacre has weighed in with a damming criticism of the Sunday Time story in his Bad Science column in the Guardian.

Ben is a medical doctor and all round good egg, who campaigns relentlessly to debunk quackery, bad science and misused statistics. His excellent book Bad Science exposes the quackery that passes itself off as science. An extract from the description on Amazon is:

Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and informative journey through the bad science we're fed by the worst of the hacks and the quacks! When Dr Ben Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an 'Aqua Detox' footbath, releasing her toxins into the water and turning it brown, he thought he'd try the same at home. 'Like some kind of Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General', using his girlfriend's Barbie doll, he gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: 'before my very eyes, the world's first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend's immorality.'

In his book, Ben exposes the way that the mainstream media misreport science either through ignorance, or deliberately just to get sensational headlines. Amongst other things, he exposes quacks who use pseudo science, debunks claims that omega-3 capsules will make your children smarter and explains how drug companies fiddle drug trials so they can sell more of their drugs.

If you've not read it, you really should. It will make you howl with laughter and gasp in horror in equal measure. His Bad Science blog is a great read too.

Exposing drug companies who fiddle drug trials for their own gain may seem a long way off from a newspaper article about the public sector pay. But both relate to powerful vested interests who are working for the benefit of the privileged few at the cost of the majority.

It's heartening to see Ben's scientifically trained, incisive mind cut through the nonsense of the Sunday Times article with surgical precision.


  1. Don't think Ben's a GP ...

  2. Mike

    Thanks for pointing out our error. In the spirit of Ben's crusade to ensure the truth prevails, the blog post has now been corrected.