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According to the doctor-scientist-journalist Ben Goldacre, patients are at the mercy of dubious drug testing and marketing practices. Mark Broatch talks to Goldacre about his shocking, revelatory new book.

It begins:

“If I only pulled half the people out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, when I could have pulled all of them out of the way, then you would rightly say that I was a bit of a bastard,” says Ben Goldacre.

But that, he says, is the problem with modern medicine. That articulated truck bearing down on all of us is the avoidable harm of pharmaceutical drugs. And it is simply not good enough, he argues, that the drug industry is so relaxed about the massive gaps that exist in our knowledge about their effectiveness, safety and potential side effects.

Goldacre, a British doctor, epidemiologist and geek provocateur, attracted plenty of attention with his previous best-seller, Bad Science, a scathing critique of the lack of evidence-based science in the media. But his new book, Bad Pharma, seems to have struck an even bigger nerve by pointing out that, in many cases, humans are being used as guinea pigs by the drug industry.

To the public, it may seem that drugs are exhaustively tested before they go to market. The truth, says Goldacre, is the main judge of their effectiveness is often the manufacturers themselves. And often they are relying on poorly designed trials; on small numbers of unrepresentative patients; and on flawed analysis techniques that tend to produce biased results.

In the week that the Royal Commission reported, Rebecca Macfie writes that the failures at Pike River ran from the top of the regulatory and corporate hierarchy to the bottom, showing New Zealand has failed to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is about to visit New Zealand with her husband, the heir to the British throne. But has she achieved real public acceptance, ask Jane Clifton and Danielle Murray.

Restaurateur Tony Astle this month celebrates the 40th anniversary of the opening of one of Auckland’s most enduring fine dining establishments, writes Karl du Fresne.

Leading the books and arts pages, Claire Allfree talks to DT Max, who explains how his New Yorker profile of David Foster Wallace
turned
into a fully fledged biography.

Plus reviews of new works by Dave Eggers, Kirsten McDougall and Simon Sweetman and young adults’ books reviewed by Ann Packer.

Music by Toy Love, and Delaney Davidson & Marlon Williams is reviewed, and in theatre, The Tigers of Wrath and Little Shop of Horrors.

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