Alternative National Treasures: Ben Goldacre

We are all aware of those special people in our society that are deemed worthy of the title “national treasure”.  Sir Terry Wogan, Dame Helen Mirren, the late Sir Bobby Robson; these are people who are loved by fairly young and positively old alike, who are highly regarded for their unique contributions to our national life and collective psyche.

An idle conversation recently led me to ponder whether I might be able to make my own ‘alternative’ list of national treasures.  A bit like the nonsense they put on Channel 4 at 3pm on Christmas Day, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but these are people I think Britain should be particularly proud of in the ’10s.

So, number one in a series of however many I bother with, I present: Dr Ben Goldacre.

Who he?

Remember when you were a teenager, there were those music fans who were always fuming about the state of commercialised pop music?  Avid readers of Melody Maker, or the NME if they weren’t so cool, they listened to bands few others were interested in and described music in terms of credibility and integrity.

I was one of those fans.  There were those who were the same with films or comic books (sorry, ‘graphic novels’) and the like.  With time, most of us ran out of puff, realising that the world of music/film/picture stories couldn’t be rescued by our long-winded rants and righteous anger without a bigger platform, a platform we would have to fight for.

Dr Ben Goldacre is a bit like one of those outraged, idealistic youths, except with two rather important differences.  As an adult, he has made himself a national platform ….. and what he is angry about really matters. Rather than inconsequential artsy fluff, he is on a mission to expose lies and nonsense wherever he finds it.  And he finds it in the world of science, particularly medicine, an awful lot.

Oh, he’s an NHS doctor, journalist and author of the supremely indignant masterpiece Bad Science.  The book should be in the curriculum of every GCSE Science course.

National treasure?  Really?

In his time, he has taken on such faux-science powerhouses as ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith, the might of the homeopathic quack army, the rampaging hoards of misled anti-MMR zealots and the ongoing quest of the media to classify all items in the world as to whether they supposedly cause or supposedly cure cancer.  When we read his columns, blogs and book, we become equipped to do it ourselves, even.  Only the other day I was able to talk a furiously confused colleague gently through the reasons why, though it may be ‘well known that electricity pylons cause depression’, it is far from well established this belief is actually any more credible than the Pussycat Dolls (sorry).  Of course the tabloids will tell you otherwise, their writers probably even believe it themselves.  Pity them, don’t believe them.

In a world where we are no longer teenagers and haven’t any more the time or energy to pursue and champion those things outside of our control that we believe deep down to be important, it’s comforting to know Ben Goldacre is out there, hauling some feckless journalist or deceptive quack over the coals for us.  Though we may not notice it every day, the country is a slightly better informed and more truthful place for it.

Now go buy his book.

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