What made you decide to expand the chapter on drug companies in Bad Science into a full book with Bad Pharma?
It’s such a huge, important story. Large numbers of people suffer and die unnecessarily due to distortions in medical science. I didn’t want to write a book for the sake of writing a book; it’s only worth writing if it’s a story that can only be told in 90,000 words.
Was there anything in your research that really shocked you or, as a medical doctor, were you aware of what you’d find?
I think a lot of doctors know there’s dodgy marketing behaviour by drug companies and that sometimes drug companies do badly designed trials that are flawed in such a way that it’s an advantage to them. What appalled me most was when I put it together in one place and realised what an incredibly destructive picture it was.
Do you have any fear that some people will use your book as an excuse to avoid all conventional medicines?
There are many childish conspiracy theories out there that say things such as: ‘They’re hiding the cure for cancer’ or ‘Vaccines kill’. But I don’t think we should shy away from writing about these problems just because somebody might misinterpret it or have a childish reaction to it.
Did you exercise any extra caution, given that Big Pharma companies have threatened libel action against published research in the past?
I go to huge lengths to make sure what I say is correct, not because I’m afraid of libel actions but because I want to make sure what I say is correct. This issue has been protected from public scrutiny through fear of libel and because of the complexity of the science. I’ve got a very high opinion of the public: people aren’t stupid, they can follow complex arguments.
You’ve championed a rigorous approach to scientific claims. Do you have any dubious ideas about your own health?
Not about my health but I am a big believer in ritual. I have my own positive creative visualisation strategy. I imagine an enormous beam of energy coming out of my arse and going into the earth and sucking up all the positive energy that’s down there.
Bad Pharma is published by Fourth Estate, £13.99.
NB: This interview first appeared in Metro newspaper on 3rd October 2012. Ben Goldacre was a complete pleasure to interview. The only difference between the interview that appeared in Metro and the one above is that they asterisked out ‘arse’. And didn’t credit me when they ran it online, unlike in the print version. That’s about three facts on newspaper publishing in this note alone: 1. some interviewees are a delight; 2. you have to ask the subs which words to asterisk out; 3. you don’t always get a byline for your work. (Which reminds me: if that’s your photo that I’ve nicked off the tinterweb, please let me know so I can credit you and link to your site. Or take it down if you don’t want me to use it. Ta.)