Dr Ben Goldacre
A typical skeptic.
Dr Ben Goldacre (admittedly looking quite cute here)
Father and son skeptics (they were rather sweet actually).
The evening didn't start well. My friend bought me a glass of red wine. It was placed on the bar. It had a frothy top, thick sediment and was cloudy.
"I'm not drinking that" I said to the barman.
"That's the house red. It'll settle." he said airily.
"I'm not drinking that" I repeated.
Bristling slightly, the barman said: "It's the house red. I asked you if you wanted the house red."
"No you didn't" I replied "You asked me if I wanted large or small. I said large."
Caught out, the barman poured out a fresh glass from a new bottle. The house red was probably from a plastic barrel.
We were at "Skeptics in the pub" a monthly talk which critically examines anything 'New Age'. The place was packed and I unfavourably compared the poor seating and sound to the comfortable private room where The Moot with No Name takes place.
The speaker was Dr Ben Goldacre, an Oxford graduate(1) who has written a column for the Guardian. Promoting his new book, Bad Science, he can be described as pale with small blue eyes and frizzy hair. His talk was ill-prepared and he obviously decided to wing it. Dr Goldacre was under the mistaken impression that he is a stand-up comedian, but this was partly due to the craven reaction of the audience who chortled uproariously to every unwitty remark.
Skeptics are, I must say, a rather unprepossessing bunch physically, consisting mostly of middle-aged men with beards.
Goldacre's main point seemed to be that science as a subject is under-represented in the media, which is fair enough. Unfortunately he also felt the necessity to pick on easy targets, say nasty sexist things and generally be arrogant and unpleasant. He slagged off Dr Gillian McKeith, Patrick Holford, homeopathy, healers, humanities graduates, the idea that women might have sexual dysfunctions.
The latter particularly annoyed me; he believes that female sexual dysfunction is a myth. It's more likely down to the fact that the woman sufferer is no longer "a vixen" i.e.: sexy and attractive. Come again? So women cannot orgasm because they don't fancy themselves? Is that what he was saying? Surely if this argument is to hold any water it's more likely to be the fact that their men are no longer sexy and attractive.
He was unpleasantly bitchy about Dr Gillian McKeith saying that she lived in a "witchy" mansion in Hampstead (a bit of envy there methinks). Now it's true that she doesn't have a proper Phd, her science may be dodgy and she is obsessed with people's poo. But does Dr Goldacre believe that encouraging people to eat more vegetables is a bad thing? That having a quick look in the toilet bowl after you go is not a good idea? The message she delivers is a good one ultimately.
Ben Goldacre compares the fuss about 'big pharma' (the commercialism of the legal drugs industry) with 'big quacka' (the commercialism of selling unnecessary health supplements).
Judging from Ben Goldacre's unhealthy pallor perhaps he doesn't eat many vegetables, nuts and seeds. I do agree that Patrick Holford (of Optimum Nutrition) et al's emphasis on taking dietary supplements and vitamins is ridiculous. If you have a balanced nutritious diet, you shouldn't need vitamins.
However I have read Patrick Holford's books on Optimum Nutrition and in many ways they make a lot of sense. Equally Linus Pauling's research (another of Goldacre's victims) of Vitamin C is of interest.
As for homeopathy, Lynne McTaggart of What the Doctors don't tell you likens homeopathy to quantum physics in her book The Field. She is also cautious about vaccinations. Ben Goldacre denounced the MMR scare as the biggest scam of the last 100 years.
I confronted Ben Goldacre in the interval. To be honest I was fuming. He said that he used to live in a council flat in Kentish Town with his girlfriend who had just left him. He said that most people in Kentish Town were white and working class and had a short life expectancy. I lived in Kentish Town for 15 years. Most of the houses there are worth well over a million pounds. Kentish Town is full of middle class professionals with the odd council estate.
I said to him bitchily: "No wonder your girlfriend left you, you are so horribly sexist. Plus, just because you lived in a council flat doesn't mean that everybody does."
I also asked if he had children which of course he didn't. Because that would change everything. He might actually become a fully rounded human being.
It's amazing that when you have a child with a health problem and G.P's (who are not terribly bright or imaginative for the most part) keep giving you the same allopathic drugs which don't work, you find yourself turning to homeopathy. Which does work. Especially on children and animals. I don't know how, but it does.
Also when I came back from Malawi with a tropical disease, noone at Guy's hospital could diagnose it. My homeopath diagnosed it within seconds as Bilharzia. Which was eventually confirmed, weeks later, by tests. My homeopath, the brilliant and sensible Carole Ingram, will tell me when I need normal allopathic medecine.(2)
Then, losing it slightly, I told him he was a wanker and that all of his audience were idiots with beards.
Just then a voice piped up:" You mean us?".
I turned around and saw a row of bearded men of varying heights (like something out of Snow White and the 7 dwarves) lining up to get a signed copy of Ben's book.
Feeling angry and frustrated, I stole a copy of his book.
Next it was the Q & A session. One woman put her hand up: "Ben, you don't like humanities students. But we aren't all idiots."
Ben Goldacre replied: "Humanities students, sorry let me rephrase that, fuckwit humanities students....(pause for massive laugh, oh what a wag!) are fine unless they start writing about scientific or medical subjects which they know absolutely nothing about."
Afterwards I went up to him and again asked why were you so rude to that woman. He said that she was a friend of his and that she didn't mind. He then turned his back on me. I confessed guiltily to a friend that I had stolen the book. The friend said "Hmm, bad karma"
I immediately returned it to Ben Goldacre. After all, I wouldn't want that would I?
(1) What is it about Oxbridge types? They really do think they are God's gift don't they? Just because they are good at sums or whatever.
(2) Ben Goldacre also attacked homeopaths for giving homeopathic remedies as opposed to anti-malarial drugs, saying that they put people's lives at risk. The homeopaths I have seen have all been cautious about homeopathic remedies for this purpose. However anti-malarials can often mask symptoms, delaying diagnosis. I know one woman that has had long term health problems from taking Larium (similar to Gulf war syndrome). I never took anti-malarials; chloroquine interferes with my eyesight. I packed a supply of chloroquine in case of infection (the treatment they give you anyway). Old Africa hands don't take anti-malarials either, they recommend covering up, using nets, prevention rather than cure.