Well, first up are the Bad Science blogs. These people, in my opinion, are providing a public service in fighting against the ignorance and bullshit promoted by anti-vaccinationists, the mainstream media, and homeopaths with healer fantasies (among others). Issues as important as Aids in Africa and MMR vaccines in Britain are addressed by these bloggers. Then there are the books available online – from Trish Greenhalgh’s How to Read a Paper [free registration required] to Chalmers, Evans and Thornton’s Testing Treatments. [You can download this as a free PDF.]
How to Read a Paper includes a section on papers that report drug trials and this has some very useful information on topics such as surrogate end points, while Testing Treatments tackles such issues as whether there should be “Less research, better research, and research for the right reasons”. I would recommend reading both Greenhalgh’s How to Read a Paper and the Testing Treatments e-book, but if you want to read more on Evidence-Based Medicine you could do a lot worse than to visit Holfordwatch and check out the links in the sidebar under that heading. The BMJ editorial on EBM is worth checking out.
Books I have bought include How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff, my favourite bit of the book is possibly the section that introduces the “gee-whiz graph” (a chart that has the bottom cut off to make it seem more impressive). Ben Goldacre is also a fan and there is also a PDF here that looks at the success of the book. It includes this line, which I quite like: “People do lie with statistics every day, and it is to Huff’s credit that he takes the media (and others) to task for having stretched, torn or mutilated the truth.”
Another is Harry G Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. I thoroughly enjoyed this essay, which includes the assertion that “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are” and points out that, despite this, we seem to consider lying to be a worse crime than bullshitting.
A book that may be useful in honing one’s bullshit detector (particularly in terms of marketing tricks to be wary of) is Robert Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice. Cialdini talks of six “weapons of influence” that can be used to persuade you to do something you may not otherwise have done. The points Cialdini makes are well illustrated by the stories he relates (the boy scout selling tickets and candy bars, and the jewellery shop owner are still fresh in my memory).
Finally, there is the Bad Science book itself. Bad Science takes us through all manner of topics, from detoxing one’s Barbie doll to the Media’s MMR hoax. Bad statistics, bad reporting, and bad research are covered methodically and with humour. You can read reviews of this book on Amazon.
EDIT: I should also have mentioned two three further books that I own – the collection of essays by Richard Dawkins, Devil’s Chaplain, and Feynman’s “Surely You’re Joking…” (the chapter on Cargo Cult Science is excellent) and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. I should also have mentioned Francis Wheen’s How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World, which was a present from my dear old mum. Counterknowledge and Flat Earth News have now been reserved at my local library and Holford Watch have linked to this on their miniblog: How to critically appraise an article. To update further: I’ve read Counterknowledge and Flat Earth News now. I’ve also read Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow and Stuart Sutherland’s Irrationality (both from my local library).
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EDIT 19th June: More resources here… http://www.drpetra.co.uk/blog/?p=857.