In his book, Bad Science, Ben Goldacre, who used to have a Guardian column of that name, does three things. He:
- targets the shoddy thinking (at best) used to promote ‘alternative medicine’; 1
- targets the even bigger health risk posed by Big Pharma and its abuses, in particular its suppression with seeming impunity of inconvenient drug trial results;
- sets out in lucid prose a grounding in epistemology – without ever, as I recall, using that term – and the scientific approach. (I especially recommend his chapter on the placebo effect, of which our understanding tends to be simplistic.) In my days as an education advisor at Sheffield Hallam I used to say I could build a semester course on ‘critical thinking’ around this book. 2
But one chapter did not appear in early editions of Bad Science. Its subject was the mis-selling of vitamin pills and its publication was delayed because one Matthias Rath – who had gained the idiotic ear of South African leader Thabo Mbeki with his homicidal claims that vitamin pills could effectively treat AIDS – was suing him.
Goldacre won. The chapter is back in the book. It cites other examples to show that, because burden of proof in libel cases lies under UK law with the defendant – and because the costs of defending such cases is extremely high in Britain – London is the go-to destination for litigatory bullies to intimidate, by the depth of their pockets, those who incur their displeasure.
Now see how splendidly an equally incisive thinker addresses the issue. I’m sure Goldacre, if he was watching, applauded this man’s cogency and command of the facts in his response to the bad science of his protagonist on a Freedom of Speech panel with a live audience.
I offer it not only because those virtues – cogency and command of the facts – are on display in spades, but because they afford a glimpse on the humanity of a man who has since been vilified and now sits in a jail cell facing incarceration for life because he told us the truth. An invaluable aid to his tormentors has been the stripping away of that humanity; led, it has to be said, by the Guardian and its delightful lifestyle columnists.
(See the appendix for four samples at the bantamweight end of how the ‘woke’ were dissuaded from supporting him. History will not, I fear, be kind to them. Nor to those who, if only through intellectual laziness of the type Ben Goldacre skewered in Bad Science, were so easily duped.)
Do try to find seven minutes forty-five of your busy life to watch a man at the top of his game, yes, but also a human being – as opposed to the rapist with BO our vile media has successfully smeared him as.3
The irony that he was actually defending the BBC is a foretaste of so many more to follow.
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- As I read it Ben Goldacre has no downer on all alternative medicine per se – though he does hold homeopathy in even lower esteem than I do. We need to distinguish between a treatment which may have merit, and the mix of pseudoscientific claims, litigatory bullying and other bad practices used to market it.
- Any skills component of ‘critical thinking’ I now regard as secondary. To a far greater extent I see it, and any deficiency thereof, as emotionally driven. As our investment in a certain way of seeing things rises, our ability to use reason and evidence with cool impartiality plummets. Be our investment material or egoic – and the two often elide anyway – we’ll lie, cheat, cherry-pick, straw-man and use every dirty trick in the book to help us ‘win’. To cap it all we – teachers of ‘critical thinking skills’ not excepted – will convince ourselves we are interested only in establishing the truth.
- On the question of “Julian the rapist”, I am working on a post which will address this travesty while telling a fuller story of the Wikileaks project. To date my many posts have been reactive, responding to events – an egregious slander here, a perversion of justice there – rather than attempts at comprehensive overview of why Julian Assange matters. (On the desertion of Julian I’m especially given to berating the ‘woke’, and the newspapers which mislead them. But with honourable exceptions – WSWS, for all our differences on other matters, is one pf them – the ‘far left’ has been no better.)