Bad Science: A Review

Ben Goldacre opens his book ‘Bad Science’ with the promise that by the end of the book, you will be able to win any science-y argument you choose, from vaccinations to preventing cancer with super vegetables.
This is a big ask!  Too big perhaps? However, given the level of understanding of the scientific method in the general population, he has a point.  When the standard is so low, a crash test in these topics will put you well ahead of the game.  Especially the game played by many celebrity “experts” or over passionate and tipsy dinner companions.  One of the so-called “experts” Goldacre takes a serious swipe at got her PhD off the internet.  To prove his point Goldacre got one for his dead cat.
Science and meBad Science covers some great science basics such as: what is a controlled experiment, the importance of blinding, randomization, the placebo effect, causation (does the rooster cause the sun to rise?), confounding variables, what is a meta-analysis and much more.  He builds these explanations into the text so it doesn’t read like a dry methods 101 textbook.

Snake Oil Anyone?

Perhaps, more importantly, Goldacre helps the layperson spot the tricks which snake oil salespeople use to make their wares sound super science-y.  Which FYI they have been doing for eons.
A classic snake oil trick is to get carried away with extrapolation.  For example fairy liquid will kill cells in a test tube – but that doesn’t mean it might be the next cancer wonder drug eh?

Cherry’s then?

Another classic trick of the pseudoscience quacks is cherry-picking.  There are thousands-upon-thousands of articles published each year.  Sadly the quality varies.  Hence if you want to tell a ‘science-backed’ story that supports your mad ideas or latest product to market – you can almost certainly build most any case about most anything, as long as your potential buyers do not clearly understand the principles discussed in this book.
Do I have criticisms of Bad Science? Sure.  Accusing homeopaths/nutritionists of being idiots, is not helping get them onside.  The accusation is especially misplaced when humans are not logical. Our beliefs are not driven by logic or, as it happens, intelligence.  I seem to remember something about smart folks being worse at drawing dumb conclusions – ouch!
Note to Ben – Attack the message not the messenger Ben. Seriously.
Goldacre is nothing if not a man of equality – so big pharma gets a beating too.  He does warn that just because big pharma are bad – don’t be childish and illogical (there goes the hippy bashing again) and make that mean homeopathy is great and vaccinations cause autism.
Regardless of where you stand on these and other issues; if you are going to enter into any debates on anything involving science you should read this book.
I would go further and say all high school students (and their parents) should read this book and then talk about it – with much vigour and enthusiasm over their paleo, vegan, traditional or whatever meal.
As for me, I am going to trust Goldacre ahead of Gwyneth Paltrow’s opinion in a heartbeat on all and any matters of science.  However, I shall endeavour to be a bit more careful about how I put my thoughts across at parties full of Gwyneth lovers (who haven’t heard of Goldacre – prolly because he is not nearly so pretty, rich or famous).  If stuck in such a nightmare situation, I will revert to Goldacres catchphrase.
… “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”… 
Which is also, rather conveniently, the title of one of his other books.  Simply proving you don’t need to be a quack to sell your wares.

Links and all that JAzz

Photo Credit
Art by my Daughter when she was about 9yo
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. (2009)  Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York.

Part 2 of 4. How to Negotiate Like a Scout: Be Prepared!


When Robert Barden-Powell, the founder of Scouts was asked the question,

“Prepared for what?”

he replied, “Why, for any old thing,”  

Successful pay negotiations is a perfect time to be like Barden-Powell and be prepared for anything.

Preparedness begins with thoroughly and as objectively as possible doing your research.

Know what you are worth.

Know the market value of your skills.  What do others in your field earn? What do their competitors pay?  How many people with your skills are available in the current market? 

Not sure where to find this information? Here are are few places to start:

  • Look at local job sites (trick to try – change the dollar value in the search criteria and seeing when jobs like yours appear and disappear), 
  • Ask recruitment consultants specialising in your industry or profession, 
  • Look to the guides published regularly by the big recruitment brands e.g Hays, or Hudson,
  • Look to government statistics like these ones
  • Ask friends in the industry. 

Also consider other factors that might influence pay e.g. is the organisation not-for-profit or government? If so, how might this influence expectations?

Now, get specific and see what you can understand about exactly how your skills might add to the organisation’s bottom line. Then get even more specific and research what challenges or current benefits are affecting the organisation and their market.

Know what you are entitled to

Understand your legal entitlements.  Avoid being seduced by false offers, especially if you are new to a country or state.  We have heard of candidates being ‘sold’ basic legal entitlements as if there were bonuses e.g. four weeks annual leave or matching your retirement savings up to 3% of your salary (these are New Zealand based examples).  

Be clear on your own bottom line

What are your top and bottom figures/conditions?  Remember top figure is what you would ideally like and the bottom figure is the point at which you will walk away from the negotiation.

If you are not prepared to walk away, it is not your bottom line.

Back up your expectations with reasons.

Be prepared to share your research information and its sources.

To be able to say, 

“I believe the position is worth $X as it involves similar skills, attributes and level of experience to X position as currently assessed by X  organisation” 

is likely to be more persuasive than, 

“I believe I am worth $X”

In sum

Be like a Scout.

Show up to negotiations as prepared as you would for a mountain trek, albeit with slightly different provisions i.e. don’t bring a thermos of tea to the negotiations, even if you expect them to be long and cold.

Good luck out there in the wilderness of pay and conditions negotiations.

See you next time,

Claire (aka The Barefoot Consultant)

Links and all that Jazz

This is part of a larger series; here are the parts

Photo credit


Part 1of 4: How to negotiate like a man: Just do it!

I knew that opening might ruffle some feathers.

It is a tad sexist.

Unfortunately, the reality is, #MenDoItBetter when it comes to wage negotiations.

A recent USA study shows that only 7% of women attempt to negotiate pay and conditions compared to 57% of men.  Local studies show more NZ women negotiate but local men get better results.

This is only one factor in why the male-female wage gap is unacceptably high.  But, it is a factor that women can influence! 

The 2018  male-female wages gap was  9.2 %.  Do not despair, some progress has been made.  In 1988 the difference was much higher.  When I started work in 1970 it was considered acceptable that women were paid half a ‘man’s wage’ and it wasn’t even questioned.

Maybe 9.2% doesn’t sound too bad on your starting salary out of study.  Stop!  Let’s look at that long term.  If Jane is on $30 per hour then John is on $ 32.80.  Did I hear you say $2.80 who cares?  But John gets $5,740 per year more, that is not so trivial.  In ten years he will have earned $50,000 more than Jane and that is only if he doesn’t get higher annual increases.  Unfortunately, the data tells us, this is not likely to happen.

Add this to the fact that if  Jane works hard and moves up to the higher income brackets then John will be 20% ahead of her, as the gap is even wider in more senior positions. 

Despite what we have discussed above in turns our 80% of the reasons for the gender pay gap are unexplained. 

What this means is we cannot immediately fix everything.  But we can and should improve the things we do know.  The other impacts are likely to become clearer over time.  

For now.

Let’s just do this: Let’s start negotiating!

To follow in this series will be discussing;

See you there.

Claire Lichtwark McInnes

The Barefoot Recruiter

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels