dear "the guardian" ...

today i wrote a letter to the guardian - a first for me. my paper experience is usually the standard one-way variety. however, the thing that moved me to put pen to gmail account was the bad science column by ben goldacre. i really enjoy his column, which exposes a lot of the misguided or sometimes just plain fraudulent writing that goes on in journalism, press releases and marketing/advertising. there was a good explanation of his motives and experiences printed when the guardian moved to it's new berliner format. anyway, he is currently bashing the BBC for a wrong-headed online article about the therapeutic effects of spiraling water implosion electric fields something-or-other alternative rubbish. now, today on pages 78-79 of the weekend magazine, there is a list of ways that you can limit the damage done by cigarettes. one of these is 'too many computers' - apparently those pesky PCs leak EMF radiation, which could KILL you, and your CHILDREN if you're not careful. but, help is at hand. unplugging your computer, rather than just switching it off will (somehow?) make a difference. quite what that would be, i don't know, since a switched off computer uses no power, and unplugging will just mean it uses the same amount of no power. i don't have the complicated medical and scientific background that the author of the holistic therapy file has (available for GBP 14.99 the article helpfully informs me!) i suppose, so who am i to say that the 'evidence' that 'certain plants can help soak up EMFs' is faulty?

it just disappoints me that after all the good work that 'bad science' has done, and the excellent reputation the guardian has for reporting, and good science journalism, they missed this. i don't know whether doctor goldacre is responsible for overall editing or vetting of science content, but if he isn't someone else should be. i think it's all part of our society's tendency to think that scientific ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather something to be proud of. i remember a short article in the paper lamenting the fact that astronomical objects such as planets were defined by 'arrogant scientists' - the nerve! people really need to understand the world around them, and how it works, and science is the tool that we use for that. but these days, it's far trendier to claim an interest in 'alternative' therapies and solutions, as some kind of childish rebellion against authority. the problem is, the authorities are right - that's the definition of the word - scientists are authoritative on matters of, well, science!

you can contact him at bad.science@guardian.co.uk with stories of bad science reporting and other misinformation, or go to his website at http://www.badscience.net/.

update: i got a reply from dr goldacre (speedy, only an hour after emailing him) he says - "what can i do, they wont print a word i say about them" which i'm not sure what to make of? does he mean that he's not allowed to bad-mouth the paper that feeds him, and must leave it's hand unbitten?

update ii: he now suggests i take it up with the reader's editor, which i have done. more to follow...

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