Tuesday, 17 July 2012

REVIEW: 'Bad Science' by Ben Goldacre

I have just finished reading 'Bad Science' by Dr Ben Goldacre, and I wanted to review it straight away.

Ben Goldacre writes the 'Bad Science' column for the Guardian newspaper each week. The Guardian website has the following to say about the 'Bad Science' column: 'Each week Ben Goldacre skewers the enemies of reason. If you're a journalist who misrepresents science for the sake of a headline, a politician more interested in spin than evidence, or an advertiser who loves pictures of molecules in little white coats, then beware: your days are numbered.'

I think this is a very good introduction to what to expect from the book!

What's it about?
'How do we know if a treatment works, or if something causes cancer? Can the claims of homeopaths ever be as true – or as interesting as the improbable research into the placebo effect? Who created the MMR hoax? Do journalists understand science? Why do we seek scientific explanations for social, personal and political problems? Are alternative therapists and the pharmaceutical companies really so different, or do they just use the same old tricks to sell different types of pill? We are obsessed with our health, and yet – from the media’s ‘world-expert microbiologist’ with a mail-order PhD in his garden shed laboratory, multiple health scares and miracle cures, to the million pound trial that Durham Council now denies ever existed – we are constantly bombarded with inaccurate, contradictory and sometimes even misleading information. Until now. Ben Goldacre masterfully dismantles the dodgy science behind some of the great drug trials, court cases and missed opportunities of our time, but he also goes further: out of the bulls---, he shows us the fascinating story of how we know what we know, and gives us the tools to uncover bad science for ourselves.' summary from Amazon.

What did I think of it?
'Bad Science' was a fascinating read! Although I had some knowledge of  problems with several of the topics discussed, I was still constantly amazed at what the media is allowed to get away with in terms of reporting science, what individuals could do with their own crazy ideas, what poor trials are conducted and what the pharmaceutical and nutrition industries really get up to.  Goldacre does a great job of teaching us to spot the failures of Big Pharma, alternative medicine, dodgy statistics and journalism. He manages to do this in an entertaining way using real life examples from the the newspapers, television and scientific literature. 

Goldacre begins by describing some totally bogus science that has infiltrated into society, and it's such a great example to give you a taste of this book, I'll summarise it here. Goldacre saw someone on daytime TV dipping her feet in an 'Aqua Detox' footbath, releasing her toxins into the water, turning it brown, he thought he'd try the same at home, but instead of using his own feet- he used his girlfriend's Barbie doll. He gently passed an electrical current through the warm salt water. It turned brown. In his words: 'before my very eyes, the world's first Detox Barbie was sat, with her feet in a pool of brown sludge, purged of a weekend's immorality.'  A clear demonstration of some of the nonsense people will believe when they can't spot bad science or simply do not have any common sense. 

I think this anecdote also helps to illustrate the easy, witty and humorous writing style of Goldacre. You are learning in this book as Goldacre takes a fair amount of time and effort to truly explain what makes a good, fair scientific trial, and how to spot bad science yourself, but the learning is very easy to understand and follow, and it never felt like a chore. The book is clearly laid out, easy to understand, and doesn't assume you're an idiot. Goldacre takes the attitude that if you explain something difficult clearly enough, you'll be able to understand it. 

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on homeopathy, Gillian McKeith and nutrition. It was hard to pick just a few as the whole book was incredibly engaging and interesting. The book is filled with examples of stupidity that made me cry out in horror (Brain Gym for instance!) and examples of events that are truly evil (Matthias Rath- this chapter is available  on the Bad Science website hereI recommend you read it! You will be disgusted).  Actually, it's worth pointing out that all of Goldacre's newspaper columns from 2003 are on his website if you want to read more about any of the particular topics I've mentioned, but haven't time to read the entire book. 

I really recommend this book, it was a real eye opener and it also made me laugh! One thing to note, is that I think several of the examples used to illustrate points in the book may only be known to the British audience, but there are plenty of chapters where this is not the case, and the book has something to teach people worldwide. 


Goodreads Reading Challenge
This book is number 7 out of 50

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

WWW Wednesday (July 11)

This is a meme hosted by MizB- I thought I'd play along this week.

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading? Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. - This is a non-fiction book which is unusual for me- it criticises mainstream media reporting on health and science issues and is very interesting, and even amusing in parts.
• What did you recently finish reading? Alex Rider: Crocodile Tears by Anthony Horowitz. Yep, I'm aware this book is a children's book, but been reading the Alex Rider books for years and this one has been on my shelf waiting to be read for quite a while, and after finishing 'The Song of Ice and Fire' series I hit a serious reading slump- all I wanted was more books for that series. I eased myself back into reading with Alex Rider! 
• What do you think you’ll read next? The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.  I bought this awhile a go, and I think it's time to give it a whirl. It's won lots of awards so should hopefully be good. Wikipedia describes it as BioPunk science fiction, and that's something I reckon I'll enjoy reading.

Join in and tell me your WWW for this week either on your blog or in the comments.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

'The Maze Runner' by James Dashner

I got bored with reviewing my goodreads list in order, so I thought I'd jump ahead to 'The Maze Runner' by James Dashner, as this was a very different reading experience for me, as I don't usually gravitate towards slightly frightening thrillers, despite the fact I always enjoy them. I really should learn to pick them up more often!

What's it about?
'When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them, open. Every night they are closed tight. And that every 30 days a new boy is delivered in the lift.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets that are buried within his mind.' Goodreads summary. 

What did I think of it?

I was really surprised by this book. It was not what I was expecting at all. The booktube community kept recommending this book for fans of 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins, and saying that is was a brilliant book. I was looking for something similar to 'The Hunger Games' so I thought I'd give it a go. Personally I wouldn't compare the two. Okay, the concept of being trapped in an arena/maze idea can be considered similar, but the feel and ideas of the books were very different. 

I started reading 'The Maze Runner' about 10:30pm and I only planned to read until midnight, then I would get some sleep. This did not happen! I had to keep reading as I found it a little scary and I couldn't sleep until I knew what happened. Plus, once I got past the fear, I was hooked on the plot. I just had to find out what was going on, and how the Gladers were going to resolve the situation. I found this an incredibly addicting read, and I was left feeling rather worn out after this book. It is a great thriller! 

Dashner creates a creepy yet enthralling world that the Gladers live in. The book has a real sense of urgency, and continually builds the suspense, revealing small plot points whilst at the same time creating even more mysteries as the book goes on. I think Dasher does an excellent job in describing the forbidding maze, and letting you picture the dark and foreboding place in your head. 

I thought the characters were a little under developed and that the remembering memories at convenient moments was a slightly contrived plot device but none of these things ruined the book for me.  I am very much a plot driven reader, I empathise and get attached to characters fairly easily so it doesn't usually matter too much to me if characters aren't as developed as they could be, as long as the plot interests me. I was so intrigued by the plot of 'The Maze Runner'- what was outside the maze? Why were they in the maze in the first place? Where did the monster Grievers come from? Why does the Changing occur? Why is the maze stepping up a notch? Who are the 'Creators'? 

It is a fairly cheerless, unrelenting and dark book in many respects but it drags you in, and compels you to read more.  From reading other people's reviews, I have found that it splits the jury- a lot of people seem to have gripes with the made up slang, and 2D characters, though everyone seems to love the idea of the maze runner. I personally thoroughly enjoyed 'The Maze Runner' and I would recommend it to my friends. 


Goodreads Reading Challenge
This book is number 6 out of 50

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Inside & Out tag

Time for another tag post. I saw this on elizziebook's youtube channel but it was created by Mathom Books. Both great channels and booktubers.   I thought it was a fun idea for a post and a great way to understand reading habits.

Let's get started! 

I Inside flap/Back of the book summaries: Too much info? Or not enough (Discuss) 
I think it really varies. Most books I think the blurb is usually sufficient to give enough information to make me read a book. Occasionally I do come across books, which people have recommended to me, that I am at first reluctant to read based on the blurb as the blurb didn't entice me. That said, I don't like to know too much before I begin a book, I like it to be a nice surprise when I'm reading.

N New book: What form do you want it in? Be honest: Audiobook, E-Book, Paperback, or Hardcover?
Paperback! I prefer paperbacks. Hardcovers look nicer on the shelf but I find are more awkward to read. They are often heavier and more difficult to hold. Audiobooks- great for the car, but not a huge fan as I read so much faster than the audiobook reads.. I really should get some for the car though. I used to love listening to Harry Potter in the car with my friend's family. E-books - I don't have an e-reader, otherwise I would consider buying the e-book version if I knew it wasn't a book I would re-read a lot and really adore, as those I like to have on my shelf

S Scribble while you read? Do you like to write in your books, taking notes, making comments, or do you keep your books clean clean clean? (Tell us why)
No I don't write in my books. It never occurs to me to make a note of anything, I am too busy enjoying the plot. During 'The Fault In Our Stars' by John Green I did have a few moments where I found beautiful quotations that I wanted to make a note of, but didn't as I wanted to keep reading! I think when I re-read it (which I will soon) I'll pop a few page markers in. Perhaps I should start jotting down a few thoughts on paper as I read though, as could be useful for reviewing. 

I In your best voice, read for us your favorite 1st sentence from a book.
 This is more a video question... and I haven't the foggiest idea what my favourite first sentence is otherwise I would record it and post it.

D Does it matter to you whether the author is male of female when you're deciding on a book? What if you're unsure of the author's gender?
To me it's completely irrelevant. I'm choosing on the plot and the genre, not the gender of the author. Maybe if it was a chicklit book like the ones that Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella write, but I don't think I've ever seen one written by a male author.  

E Ever read ahead? or have you ever read the last page way before you got there? (Do confess thy sins, foul demon!) :)
Occasionally. I may skip ahead a few chapters and skim a line or two if I'm fearful of something happening to the characters and I want to know they are still alive. I never read the last page though! If I want to know how many pages it has, I look at the number on the last page but make sure I don't even glance at the text.


O Organized bookshelves, or Outrageous bookshelves? 
Outrageous with some patches of organised -you could argue that my shelves are amorphous in that respect (geeky chemistry joke...). Moving on! I try to put series together but I haven't organised by genre or alphabetically. I would like to organise alphabetically but I've never got around to it.

U Under oath: have you ever bought a book based on the cover (alone)? 
No I don't think I have. I can quite often be influenced the cover when in the shop if I'm just looking around for a book, but I won't buy it if the blurb doesn't interest me.

T Take it outside to read, or stay in?
Stay in usually. I find outside can be less comfortable and bit distracting, apart from on holiday, where I love lounging by the pool and reading a book a day. 

So those are my answers. Leave your own responses in the comments or on your own blog! 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

'Specials' by Scott Westerfeld

'Specials' by Scott Westerfeld is the last in his trilogy, but not the last set in his post-apocalyptic world. There is a fourth novel - 'Extras'- which is set in the same universe but in a different city, with a very different plot premise to the Ugly series. I reviewed the first two books , 'Uglies' and 'Pretties' in previous posts. There will be spoilers for the first books within this review, so if you haven't read the first two books, you may not want to read on.

What's it about?
It is set in a world which has been destroyed by the a bacterium that de-stablises petroleum, and the human race has rebuilt society in a very different manner. It is place where every one is 'ugly' until they reach the age of sixteen.  The Uglies are ordinary human faces, but when they turn sixteeen everyone undergoes a transformation into a 'Pretty'. The operation is to make everyone equal in terms of looks, and it makes everyone 'bubbly'. Once 'Pretty' the teenagers are allowed to cross the bridge and move into Pretty Town, where their only purpose it have a good time.

The novel begins after Tally and Zane have been captured by the Special Circumstance in the Smokies camp. She is turned into a 'Special' - an operation that gives super human powers,  a terrifying appearance, and heightened feelings of superiority, rage and euphoria.  Tally is not just any 'Special', she is part of an elite group called 'The Cutters', led by her old friend Shay. Zane is too sick from the brain lesion cure issue in the previous book to undergo the operation.  After crashing an Ugly party they realise a girl is attempting to deliver the pills that cure the brain lesions to Zane. as well as recruiting the Crims to join the Smokies in a city called the New Smoke (or Diego). Tally and Shay, eager to have Zane join them, help him escape in order for to help them find the New Smoke and be heralded as a hero to the Special Circumstances, who would then have to turn him 'Special'. The Cutters begin to track  Zane and the Crims on their journey to the New Smoke, and Tally must decide what side she truly supports. 

What did I think of it?
I really wasn't as keen on this instalment. There were a two major things that I thought were disappointing. Let's start with The Cutters! The Cutters get their kicks from cutting themselves in a ritual, which makes them 'bubbly' and gives a heightened sense of clarity. I thought this was a very irresponsible plot device in a novel of this type, especially as it is a novel aimed at teenagers. The idea, in the novel, that cutting makes them feel better and helps them deal with issues they may be having, I think is quite inappropriate, and there should be a warning on the book as a possible trigger for those who struggle with cutting. Tally does stop cutting eventually, but I still wasn't keen on this plot idea. 

My second dislike was the character of Tally. In each book it feels like she has a different personality due to the being Ugly, Pretty and Special. Sadly, her Special personality is not likeable. It was hard to identify with her, and she just irritated me thorough out the book. I find that an unlikeable character really puts me off a book. eg. 'The Catcher In The Rye' by J. D. Salinger. In the 'Bartimaeus' series by Jonathan Stroud, the lead character Nathaniel is not a particularly pleasant human being, but you still like him enough to root for his cause. Tally in 'Specials' just doesn't make you like her enough to care and I found myself hoping she'd either be cured a.s.a.p or be killed off. 

This book does make you think about government, humanity, the human race's effect on the planet, society and freedom of speech. So it has interesting concepts to mull over once you've finished the book, or even whilst still reading and experiencing Diego. I found that the plot of the book was slightly less gripping than the previous books, but it was interesting to see how the whole plot of the three novels was resolved, and that keeps you reading.  Learning about the world of the New Smoke was something I particularly enjoyed. Seeing what happens when a whole city is set free and brought to the Smokies way of life, and the effect that had on resources for instance.  I was left severely disappointed by 'Specials'. I expected more, and it was a shame for the series to end with a less satisfying book!  Thankfully 'Extras' is much better and I shall be reviewing that shortly.


I think perhaps this is more of a two and half star occasion, as I felt it was between 'It was ok' and 'I liked it' as I did enjoy the resolving of the plot.  Sadly, I don't have a graphic for 2.5 stars yet. 

Goodreads Reading Challenge
This book is number 5 out of 50