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Bad Science


View 'Bad Science' at Amazon.com  

View 'Bad Science' at
at Amazon.co.uk

Reviewed by Roger Greenaway in Active Reviewing Tips 11.1

The review is copied below.



BOOK REVIEW by Roger Greenaway

BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre

Discover the scandalous ways in which stories about science are constructed by the media: Ben Goldacre shows how even a rudimentary knowledge of statistics and the scientific method can help you see through it all.

Bad Science is humorous, angry and very helpful guide to sorting true science from the 'sciency'. It is also a wonderfully topical introduction to the use and abuse of statistics - especially for non-scientists and humanities graduates like myself.

I am reviewing it here because Goldacre starts by investigating (and ridiculing) a particular approach to 'active learning': Brain Gym. He also takes a critical look at the Durham Fish Oil Trials in which fish oil supplements were claimed to improve the performance of school students.

Bad Science shows how big stories in health, medicine and education have been flagrant distortions of the truth. These distortions are frequently promoted by those who stand to profit by hiding the truth. Most of Goldacre's targets are in the health sector - from pharmacetical companies to homeopaths and nutritionists.

So I have been wondering what else a Ben Goldacre might find in the worlds of education and training. What are the scams, hoaxes and frauds in education and training that could be laid bare by someone applying a basic knowledge of science and statistics? In the medical world, the Cochrane committee carries out extensive reviews of research findings in specific medical fields. I wonder if there is an equivalent in the worlds of education and training?

Actually, I didn't have to look too far. Ben Goldacre himself has made a start for us by putting 'Brain Gym' and 'Fish Oil' under the microscope (Goldacre can find no reason to recommend either intervention). But we do not need to rely on a medic to examine educational research on our behalf...

Professor John Hattie has sifted through 500 research reviews or 'meta-studies' of teaching methods from around the world. His summary of findings from 'effective control group research' is presented in a top twenty list of the teaching methods which have the greatest effect on achievement ('feedback' comes top). His analysis included 253 of the most rigorous studies on active learning.  His findings show that students in the experimental group perform (on average) a grade and a half better than if they had been placed in the control group. Active Learning adds a grade and a half to achievement!

Professor John Hattie's study is referenced below. You will not find it referred to in Bad Science, but I am mentioning it here because it demonstrates how respectable control group studies have demonstrated substantial benefits of active learning.

Unsurprisingly, 'Brain Gym' and 'Fish Oil' do not appear in Hattie's list of top teaching strategies. To be included, teaching strategies need to have had control group studies published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The consequences of continuing to use strategies that are discredited is that even if they are harmless and ineffective, they will be diverting time and resources from the development of more successful strategies. (This is one of Goldacres's arguments.)

On the other hand, a demand for proper testing could really slow down innovation - if, for example, teachers are only allowed to use strategies and resources from a scientifically proven list. We expect teachers (and trainers) to make professional judgements. Making informed judgements is easier if you have access to peer-reviewed research (of Brain Gym, Fish Oil etc.)  together with an ability to distinguish between 'science' and 'sciency'. Ben Goldacre's mission is to show you how even a basic knowledge of science and statistics can equip the lay reader to see through the various scams, hoaxes and frauds ...

So how does this professional duty to interrogate the evidence apply to the practices that I promote in active learning and active reviewing? Well - the Hattie study is a solid start. But, unlike the fish oil pill for which there is a very clear formula, the world of active learning is a little more complex. It is harder to define.

Reading 'Bad Science' started me on a journey of enquiring more deeply into the foundations of active learning. It is taking many twists and turns which I will be reporting on in future issues of Active Reviewing Tips - looking a little more closely at whether the tips are floating on sciency fish oil or have a scientific foundation.

Buy the book? I recommend it if you want a readable,  entertaining and passionate introduction to statistics and the scientific method. Bad Science is mostly about health and medicine stories. Check the Bad Science blog if you want a flavour of what to expect.

References

Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Blog
<http://www.badscience.net>

Professor John Hattie's study is reported on by Geoff Petty at: <http://www.geoffpetty.com/activelearning.html>

Brain Gym on Newsnight: Jeremy Paxman's interview with Paul Dennison, the founder of Brain Gym
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5rH7kDcFpc>

A shorter version of this book review first appeared on my Linkedin page at: <http://www.linkedin.com/in/reviewing>



Bad Science


View 'Bad Science' at Amazon.com  

View 'Bad Science' at
at Amazon.co.uk

Reviewed by Roger Greenaway in Active Reviewing Tips 11.1



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