Does your Doctor Know It’s Safe to Take That?

The Scientific Method is the backbone of research worldwide. With its origins in Greek science and philosophy, science is founded by this process both less formally with Sir Isaac Newtown and more formally today with the full panoply of government regulatory vigor.

Although not so popular in practice or even notorious for its possibilities, Big Data can and should challenge that perspective. Big Data can be used to prove hypotheses, but the true capability of Big Data is in finding patterns within the data without preconception of what the results could or should be.  This debunks the institution.

Why should this ancient practice be questioned?

Ben Goldacre is a epidemiologist with very much to say about how current scientific means effect individual lives, as well as population health.


As individuals in society, we hold others in regard for accomplishments that give them authority, such as doctor for their medical degree. Although with the internet at our fingertips we have gained access to ever-greater amounts of information, we have also learned some skepticism, but still retain some sheep mentality.

Goldacre points out we still have a retained awe for authority. With a simple example, he explains how authority can be accepted by a large, popular audience when the authority is actually less than ideal.

Then the plot thickens.


Goldacre expounds upon how cause and effect studies are “published” with basic flaws in even the simplest cases. The testing environment does not accurately, or sometimes even remotely, simulate the results touted. In addition, the plethora of factors involved is rarely accounted.   The test sample sets are representative of general or specific populations, but are these representative of YOU?


Goldacre somberly explains then that these simple examples are just that – simple. Drug studies that are the basis of doctors’ “knowledge” of treating YOU and society are based upon far more complex … and jaded processes.

Our beliefs and expectations of a drug’s efficacy shape the outcome. He gives several examples of how data is effectively rigged to produce a carefully prepared outcome. Thus making the result look … like what they want you to see.


Goldacre’s final, sobering point was actually the jumping off point for his next Ted Talk.


NEXT POST: how Big Data addresses these short falls