Bad Pharma was a new genre of nonfiction for me, and one that I’m glad I explored.
‘Bad Science’ hilariously exposed the tricks that quacks and journalists use to distort science, becoming a 400,000 copy bestseller. Now Ben Goldacre puts the $600bn global pharmaceutical industry under the microscope. What he reveals is a fascinating, terrifying mess.
Doctors and patients need good scientific evidence to make informed decisions. But instead, companies run bad trials on their own drugs, which distort and exaggerate the benefits by design. When these trials produce unflattering results, the data is simply buried. All of this is perfectly legal. In fact, even government regulators withhold vitally important data from the people who need it most. Doctors and patient groups have stood by too, and failed to protect us. Instead, they take money and favours, in a world so fractured that medics and nurses are now educated by the drugs industry.
The pharmaceutical industry spends more on marketing than it does on research and development. New diseases are invented in order to swell profits. It distorts and suppresses the results of clinical trials if they are unfavourable. Patients’ pressure groups are covertly sponsored by pill manufacturers. Its offences are countless and the consequences are felt by us all. What we trust to cure us may be ineffectual or actually harmful. Patients are harmed in huge numbers.
Ben Goldacre is Britain’s finest writer on the science behind medicine, and ‘Bad Pharma’ is a clear and witty attack, showing exactly how the science has been distorted, how our systems have been broken, and how easy it would be to fix them.
The first thing you need to know about this book is Goldacre doesn’t shy away from the fact that it is an attack on the pharmaceutical industry, he’s here to tell the reader some home truths: problems, fixes, and suggestions on what we can do. The issues Goldacre is addressing have evolved over time, and now it’s fair to say:
“Medicine is broken.”
Medicine is one of those topics that you may know bits and pieces about, may have heard rumours and chatter, but, unless you’re in the field of medicine, it’s really hard to know where to begin when it comes to separating the facts from the myths. Bad Pharma is a great place to begin!
Expect to be shocked and outraged! Let me give you an example: there were seven studies conducted into the effectiveness of an antidepressant drug – five had negative outcomes, only two had positive outcomes, and those were the two which were published. Those two positive studies form the research that is influencing prescribing, but the true effects of said antidepressant are unknown because the other five studies never saw the light of day! These are the practices that exist. Also, it cannot be overlooked that drug companies own some major journals so it’s hard to establish what’s reputable and trustworthy data to begin with. These, and so much more, are the topics Goldacre breaks down in an easily understandable way.
What’s really good about this book is Goldacre doesn’t just tear the industry apart, he offers solutions and fixes. Solutions and fixes that are realistic, and quite frankly baffling as to why they are not already in practice.
Reading this book, you’ll come across subject specific terminology, and acronyms; Goldacre explains these where necessary. Where not knowing the acronym or terminology will have no impact on your understanding, it is not explained, and this may be frustrating to those who are easily annoyed if they don’t know the meaning of specific jargon . As a trainee mental health nurse, a lot of the terminology was familiar, and the subject itself is of great interest me. To read, or listen, to this book in its entirety, I believe you have to have an interest in the subject beyond a casual chat with friends where you put the ‘world to rights’. You have to want to know and understand, and have a strong interest in the flaws of the industry, or I fear you’ll lose interest in this book once the shock-factor wears off.
Goldacre raises so many valid points in this book, it is extremely well researched. It doesn’t read like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist – you just know it’s rooted in truth; it makes too much sense not to be. In book form, while the topic interests me, I don’t know if I’d have picked it up for fear of it being too dense, and statistical. I’m glad I listened to it – Jot Davies is an excellent narrator – it wasn’t as dense as I thought it’d be (but that might be because I listened to it, rather than read it), it was detail-heavy, but in an accessible way, and it’s an audiobook I absolutely recommend if the topic interests you.