I have been forced to say to myself, I must eat my words. I've certainly made factual mistakes and then corrected them. I think that's okay; I'd never write critically about someone just because they said something wrong. It only gets interesting when someone's whole approach to being right or wrong seems broken — when they misuse evidence systematically.
I think the benefits of medical marijuana are often overstated, because medical marijuana attracts attention from people outside the mainstream and because medical marijuana is often a cover for talking about legalisation. But there are bigger fish to fry here than a few marijuana activists over-egging things in a blog post. Recreational drug use is risky, but prohibition is one of the most harmful and least evidence-based areas in the whole of policy. Clumsy prohibition of drugs has created health and criminal harms, both locally and globally, on a huge scale, without clear evidence of benefits to counteract those harms. So if I was going to get cross about people misusing evidence on cannabis, I'd start with the people who ignore the unintended consequences of their policy choices: imprisoning low-level dealers, ruining lives disproportionately, and putting production and distribution into the hands of criminals who inevitably use violence to enforce financial contracts businesses that live outside conventional legal remedies.
When you write critically about misuse of science, people can get angry. I've been sued, smeared, threatened, lied about, all the usual stuff. I'm not sure it's right to say that it feels like heat, once you've been around the track a few times these things start to feel pretty normal. Or rather, the abuse comes to feel like it's part of your professional life, rather than your personal emotional landscape. In the same way, when you're a doctor, sometimes you get, say, a drunk patient shouting at you. That's just part of the job. At the same time you have to be careful not to ignore all criticism. Martin Amis says you need a bulletproof jacket, but just before the bullets hit, take a quick look at what's written on the outside of them, in case it's useful. That's good advice.
My heart constantly leads my head. Science is an approach to specific technical
problems, like "how do you know if this pill works?" Science is not a personal disposition, a character trait, or an emotional stance.
I don't believe in fairies but I'm soppy as anything about real life. As a doctor I've been, I hope, a helpful bystander to some of the biggest moments in strangers' lives: births, deaths, the best and worst news from a scan. People are the miracle. When we love each other and do the right thing, especially when it's difficult, we are amazing.
If I told you what phobia I have, my enemies would inflict it on me.
I live and work in the town I grew up in. If you can arrange that, I highly recommend it. The park I eat my lunch in, it's the same one I played in as a toddler. I might be over-analysing, but I really do think this gives you a slightly different view on how projects, institutions, skills, and people change over time. A lot of people move jobs, relationships, or city, because they're trying to change. Moving isn't the key.
I'd like to be more organised but over time I've become a little more understanding about shortcomings in myself and other people. Often someone has a core feature that drives both what's good about them and what's infuriating. I'm distractible. It's truly crippling, but it's also the main reason I write or do anything — so that's life.
Any kind of friendliness or flattery from strangers, and I'm lost. I have no script, and end up looking arrogant rather than embarrassed. This disparity is one of the things that makes me tolerant of other people's weird social behaviour. The outside appearance is often wildly discrepant with the internal ticker-tape. Though I realise this isn't news to most people.
At the other end of the spectrum, I'm not made uncomfortable by conflict. I don't seek it out, certainly not in my own workplace, but I'm not slowed down by it. I'm also fascinated by how some people use everyone else's fear of conflict and disagreement as a practical tool to get what they want.
Dr Ben Goldacre is coming to New Zealand for the first time this September and the Herald has five double passes to give away. He will inform — in his unique comical nature — the dangers of spreading scientific misinformation. Join us for this one-off event, An Evening With Ben Goldacre, on Saturday, September 24, at Mercury Theatre, Auckland.
Go to winwiththeherald.co.nz and use the keyword GOLDACRE to enter. Competition closes 11.59pm, Wednesday, August 31. Terms and conditions apply, see website for details.