Originally published September 9th, 2015
Bad Pharma may be the most terrifying, important book I have ever read. That wasn’t what I was expecting. Since reading Bad Science earlier this year, I’ve become a fan of Ben Goldacre. I enjoyed his first book, and I wanted to read more of his work. Bad Science was great! Funny, informative, well-laid out. I thought Bad Pharma was going to be the same! They both have “Bad” in the their two word titles! Suffice it to say they are nothing alike. Bad Pharma is staggering. Surreal. I had always assumed that, because I was reasonably educated about health care, attentive to my diet and fitness, and – when I was sick – considerate about my options, I could be assured of bypassing the sticky traps laid out by a for-profit pharmaceutical industry. I read the fine print that came along with my prescriptions. I knew what I was putting in my body, and what it would do.
Except apparently I didn’t. Except apparently no one does. Goldacre opens the doors to a whole hidden world: missing data, flawed testing, a broken regulatory system, biased reporting in journals, a universe where industry funding has seeped into every single corner of what we believe to be an impartial, rigorous system of testing and analysis. Except it’s not. He painstakingly lays every inch of the pharmacological field out and dissects it. The data, the trials, the regulators, the marketing are all filtered down to their essences and then the filter paper is spread out for us so that we can see the difference between what we’re drinking and what we think we’re drinking. What we should be drinking.
And then he tells us how we can change it. Who to write to. What kinds of questions to ask. What not to take for granted, and how to see through the spin. He’s specific and unflinching about wrongs, positive about what seems to be right. And will credit both to the same company. His impartiality and equality are impressive. This book isn’t a ream of grudges and bile. It’s angry, but logical and articulate and Goldacre makes every farcical scintilla comprehensible for you no matter your background. Which is good, because there’s a lot that needs changing and the more people who pick up this book and are outraged by the sheer backwardness of the health system we all rely on the better chance there is that we will all band together to change it. Because it desperately needs to change.