Book Review : Bad Pharma

I’m finding it hard to describe ‘Bad Pharma’ – the book I’m reviewing today. It’s a science book but also a scathing expose of the pharmaceuticals industry, It’s both in parts highly amusing but also totally enraging and it describes the futility of good people aiming for greater transparency within the companies who make our drugs as well as glimmers of hope. Welcome to Bad Pharma…

Bad Pharma (32)

by Ben Goldacre

It’s no surprise, especially if you’ve read Ben Goldacre’s first book Bad Science, that this shines a light on the often morally ambiguous (I’m being incredibly polite) techniques used by the pharmaceutical industry.

You see Ben is a doctor, a writer and a firm believer in shining a light into the murkier areas of his particular profession (the book focuses on both medicine and journalism at certain points) and the results of this ‘light shining’ might shock you.

Much of the book talks about trials…and why many of the trials we see which ‘prove’ a drug is right to take for a particular ailment are fatally flawed. Either they’re intentionally designed to make a drug look good, or poorly designed, or the ones which don’t promote a drug get binned half way through.

In fact there’s so much poor practice that the majority of Goldacre’s 400+ page work is a clear exposure of poor practice not only in within the pharmaceutical industry but also via their partnerships with medical professionals, publishing houses and everyone else in between.

There’s a few particularly scary facts including how much gets spent on research compared to marketing, how influential Drug reps (the guys and girls who visit Doctors to persuade them to use their particular companies drug) are and why getting data which could be used to find better solutions to medical problems is so difficult.

However the biggest thing to come out of this book for me is that some of the drugs doctors have prescribed have been given to patients which have been only slightly better than a simple placebo (but often with side effects are far worse) and a lot less effective than another drug.

In his book Ben Goldacre makes it clear.

Better data, more impartial testing and some simple rules which restrict foul play would make the available drugs better for all.

However when these objectives don’t fit into the goals of a industry which is worth billions of dollars a year and where many of the money spent is unnecessarily (because, and to quote a Verve song, the ‘drugs don’t work’, or at least as well as they should) you might have a battle on your hands.

This book is a game changer.

It’s well researched, full of insight and often highly amusing. It’s an also incredibly frustrating read (although in a good way)…as you’ll delve deeper into some of the more nefarious actions undertaken by pharma you’ll slowly become increasingly angry.

However it’s not perfect…

The book, i’d suggest, is 30 – 40 pages too long. It’s conclusions are hammered home in a frequency which gets the message across but also becomes repetitive.

Also, some of the issues are confusingly complex. This can’t be helped and the book warns you that some elements of the book may require some ‘mental gymnastics’

I’m sure this is done to remove any avoidance of doubt but it does become frustrating after a while.

However apart from this minor point…

Bad Pharma is a very good read! 

You can pick it up here


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