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researchED 2013 Is GO. If you build it, they will come.


So Im running a conference this September….
Beginnings are often noisy: babies delivered in an eruption of clamour and viscera; shuttle launches where a dot of metal balances on a skyscraper of exploding fire and prayers. This firework went off so quickly I didn’t even hear it until my house was on fire.
Last week: I’m invited to the Teach First launch of Ben Goldacres’s ‘Building evidence into education’ at Bethnal Green Academy. As usual he’s fired up and switched on about Bad Science; eloquent, spiky and charging into education. Research in education is one of my hobby horses- mainly because while some of it is excellent (as some of anything usually is) a lot of it is poorly constructed, riddled with bias, and empty of utility. I met some of the usual Baker Day Irregulars, had a coffee, and went back to school to teach year 7s about Jewish food laws, and babysit detentions.
Tuesday evening: I’m watching…well, I’m watching GI Joe, and marking essays. Don’t judge me, I do it so others don’t have to. Ben and a few others like Sam Freedman and Joe Kirby are talking about the need for teachers to talk about research in education in a more structured way: Ben wants RCTs, others want greater rigour, others are concerned with the link between policy and research, particularly cherry picking retrospective justifications. Sam says, ‘Tom should do it,’; Joe, possibly for a dare, echoes. Like Marty McFly I did the obvious, stupid thing, and leapt like a Yahoo into the challenge.
One hour later. An hour is a long time on Twitter, as Sally Bercow knows. Hundreds of tweets from people expressing interest; then I put an email address out, because I’m like that, and a got another hundred. I finally learned how quickly your DM box can become swollen, then auto-emptied by a river of incoming messages. By 1am I had been offered five venues, gratis- all great ones- and had representatives of two dozen organisations that wanted in. Offers of help to set up websites, do admin, design art, host, lend a hand. I went to bed feeling just like that dot of metal I mentioned.
Next morning, it was all still there. Another hundred messages across the platforms, similar to before. I had my first offers of financial support and sponsorship, and more offers of help. People were asking to be put on a mailing list, so I thought I better start one, over coffee and toast.
That lunchtime I spoke to people in the business who advised about logistics; I used to run Soho nightclubs, so I’m not particularly fazed by the thought of having several hundred people under a roof and trying to stop them killing/ mounting each other, while simultaneously feeding them booze and engineering rhythmic proximity like a gang-bang in a lift. Just like your average education conference.
By Wednesday night I was a man, a plan, a canal, Panama. researchED 2013 as it was now called, will be a conference, sometime in early September, where researchers and teachers and interested parties can speak, listen and talk with each other about the role of research in education, and crucially, what needs to happen to improve matters. The difference with this conference from others, is that teachers would have to be involved- have to be, otherwise there would be no point. The abyss between practical experience and dessicated theory born of a Petri dish and tortured until it says what the designer wants, was apparent to me the first day I walked in a classroom. We deserve better; kids deserve better than cargo cult science, or the voodoo pseudo-science created in a few tiny classrooms and scaled up by zealots into universal dogma, often adopted by policy makers.
So: keynote speakers, of course- people need to talk. Panel discussions where debate can happen, with audience involvement. There are arguments to be made and had here. Opportunities for organisations involved in research to recruit teachers, and opportunities for teachers to engage with the research community. I won’t call them workshops, because no one will be working, no one will be shopping, and nobody is wearing dungarees.Frankly I think there should also be music, but I’ll let you know how that goes.
Wednesday and Thursday night were a bit like Tuesday- momentum hadn’t stopped, so neither could I. Two national papers contacted me asking to support, three Universities, four colleges, and a certain Government ministry also expressed interest. More names for the mailing list. Between Tuesday and today I must have logged around two working days answering emails and calling people. In general I’m a bit sceptical about crowd sourcing- as you’ll know if you’ve ever asked a class of year 9s what they want to do on a Friday afternoon- but the expertise offered and the generosity of people this week would melt the most callous of hearts. I asked for help with a logo: done. I asked for help with a website: dozens of offers. I asked for a WordPress blog: done. Live streaming of the event: done. Website address registered: done.
Because so many people have helped already, I’m going to thank them publicly, properly, once researchED 2013 gets rolling a bit more, but I assure you everyone will get their reward, not in Heaven, but in this life.
As I go along, I know I’m going to need more and more help. But somehow I get the feeling that once you build it, they will come. I know that’s an article of faith rather than reason, but the experience so far tells me that they will. The Kids from Fame couldn’t have put together a better, more impromptu show. Like Blanche Dubois, I rely on the kindness of strangers.
I opened a Twitter account (@researchED2013) 18 hours ago; as I write it has over 300 followers. Invitations to speakers start going out this weekend, although some have already been signed, and many have asked if they can take part. I’m visiting venues Monday-Friday, so I should be able to announce this week, but I can honestly say that every one of them is a belter. I’ve had to turn down kind offers of venues I never dreamed I could get, only on the grounds of size, or availability.
But did good win?
This is a pro-bono gig. It’s not for profit, and that’s at the heart of it. Once I’ve costed out the project, I should be able to start ticketing the event- there will be a charge to get in, but only what’s needed to make it happen. I want this to be something that everyone can come to. The exact date will depend on the exact venue, but if you want to get involved, keep early September free, and hopefully the Saturday.
I’ll start using a WordPress blog and a website very soon to keep people updated about this, but for now, my own poor page will have to suffice.
I still have no idea how GI Joe ended. Maybe we need Heroes of Education action figures? Let me know if anyone can help.
 

Thinking in the right direction; just don’t put all your faith in RCTs. Ben Goldacre’s vision for evidence based learning.

But is it outstanding?

Bethnal Green Academy, a soy latte’s throw from both hipster Columbia Road and the surrounding estates, was the venue for the launch of Ben Goldacres’s new advocacy project: Building Evidence into Education. Nice looking school; it’s got BSF written all over every plane and pane. The livery outside the school shouted every second sentence of the latest Oftsed report. Most pleasingly it was styled in the Star Wars font (or as my kids call it, ‘That old film’). 

Hosted by Teach First, the Royal Marines of the teacher profession, we were first treated to an introduction by Dame Gove himself in what was, I thought, a remarkably short set. It was like booking Geoff Capes and asking him to open a jam jar. Goldacre followed;  a passionate and determined thinker and speaker, whose Bad Science series shook me, like Hume did for Kant, from my dogmatic slumber.
It’s a familiar saw for him: the need for Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) to become more prevalent in the social sphere (here represented by education), as they are in the medical profession. He made an interesting comparison: medical practitioners at first resisted RCTs because they were convinced of their own intuition, until it turned out that intuition often led us down the wrong path; eg using steroids for brain inflammation did more harm than help- the reverse of orthodoxy. Now, so are teachers (resisting RCTs, not harming the brain. Oh wait.)

Goldacre’s point is refreshing and disarming: we run trials like this for every pill and potion; why not policies, which in the galactic scale of things, dwarf even pharma for dollar tonnage. And as usual, there is a lot of practical wisdom in what he says. I am delighted that the DfE is looking into ways of conducting research that is robust and real, rather than fanciful and driven by dogma.
So why not have RCTs in the social sciences? One possible objection, the ethical, can be easily dismissed: issues of consent, and issues of knowingly withholding a potentially useful intervention from the control group. But we already introduce dozens of interventions in schools every single day. It isn’t as if we aren’t already drowning our kids in optimistic hoodoo. Why NOT randomise it once in a while? When was the last time we asked a kid’s consent before we popped a Thinking Hat on them, or told them to rub their brain buttons? 
I think there are, however, some serious problems with the use of RCTs in education.
 RCTs aren’t the answer to the question ‘What really works in schools?’ because differences in context can never satisfactorily be ironed out. The causal density of humanity is too high; there are too many factors to establish a reliable protocol that could hope to encompass the variables of the human mind. There are as many factors to juggle as there are grains of sand on the beach. Lazy research is sodden in bias and assumptions, wooly over interpretation and optimism. That said, there is room for quantitative research , some of which will be amenable to RCTs. I’ve heard social scientists say that the problem is merely one of design; I say the problem is the methodology itself. If you’re making quantifiable predictions about the physical world you need to provide unambiguous methods of establishing initial conditions as well as outcomes, possible causal mechanisms, and demonstrate reproducability. That isn’t easy.  

Also, the problems of cognitive bias, the Hawthorne Effect, the John Henry Effect, the Pygmalion Effect and so on are enormous obstacles to appreciating when an intervention is effective and when it is not.

This is definitely thinking in the right direction. Goldacres’s attempt to lasso the spoon bending of social science and pin it down to some kind of methodological rigour, is exactly what I, and many teachers, want to hear, and I absolutely support his attempts to reinvigorate the debate. But there are many obstacles to this, even before considering motivation.
One is time. I work pretty hard. I don’t expect a biscuit, because I bet you do too. I’m also pretty good with my time. And I barely have time to do, well…this kind of thing, and the only reason I do is because I cash in hours of sleep like chips in a casino. Doing research into education is going to be a niche pursuit until workloads go down. Like archaeology in the 19th century, it will remain the hobby of gentlemen.
And let’s be honest, most teachers aren’t scientists. They’re as prone to their pet prejudices and tender perversities as most people. Read the Tooley report if you want to see how badly education research can be conducted even by people who should know better. Now multiply that by 100 and you get, I would say, most of us. Many teachers would love to get involved with what Goldacre sensibly described as driving research.But would research benefit? Not until teachers learn what the scientific method is.

Dating for Nerds
So, what next? From the presentations, and the discussion one thing became apparent: this isn’t the launch of anything concrete yet. At this point, the program is advocacy. There was no funding committed, no projects starting tomorrow. From one perspective, it’s hard to see many education secretaries getting too worked up about RCTs- the average tenure of the Headmaster-in-chief is about 18 months. RCTs can take years; to be efficient, to be meaningful, they have to be as large and long as possible (as the inspector said to the janitor). Why invest in something that a) won’t bear fruit until after you’ve been moved to The Department of Silly Walks and b) Might disagree with your own pet projects? It’s always safer to simply pick research that appears to validate your own objectives.
And yet, and yet. Gove was, at least, there. The Dfe’s involvement with Goldacre shows, at least, a symbolic commitment to better research in education. And let’s not forget the £125 million DfE funding for the Education Endowment Fund (represented here by Dr Kevan Collins) a Sutton Trust start-up devoted to research, some of which involves RCTs. There might be some will there, but it isn’t very full-throated. 
So much in education is an abstract, an artefact of art as much as engineering. We can barely agree as to what educated means. Or learning. Or thinking. Or engagement. Or creativity. These aren’t amenable to metrification.How do we study what we cannot catch?
But to sound a more positive note: anything which seeks to firm up the wiliest of educational research is an asset.  Goldacres’s profile should help turn a search light upon the relationship between research community and Chalkface warriors. He’s absolutely right when he says that there needs to be more communication between the practitioner and the research communities. Teachers make bad researchers, and often, researchers make bad teachers, and the assumptions are apparent in many articles of research I read- where assumptions and biases that would have you laughed out of the physics club are common.
One thing’s clear: it’s a mess. I’m not so sure, as Mark Keary and Ben Goldacre implied, that we’re on the cusp of a Golden Age of research bounty in education. They’ve been saying that about the social sciences since they were invented, and microscopes and abacuses, which had been so generous in the natural sciences, were turned to the human sphere. We’re still waiting for the Industrial Revolution in social science.
One thing teachers need to do, exactly as Goldacre said, is to familiarise themselves with the the principles of science; to arm themselves with at least a basic understanding of what it means to say an intervention is true, or probably true, or probably not. God knows we need to, given the deluge of garbage that we’ve endured, justified by silly hat research.
So I wrote a book about it. It’s called Teacher Proof, and it’s out this June. 

I believe that children are the future. So; no change, then. Brain Gym, Bad Science, and the generational story of stupid.

Excellent article in today’s Guardian from the excellent Ben Goldacre, who writes (again) about the car-crash of stupid that is Brain Gym, and the fact that, despite its reliance on the kind of science normally found in the average Green Lantern comic, it persists in being adopted by schools that really should know better. There’s nothing more I can add about Brain Gym, other than to say that anyone who still believes it has any utility beyond keeping credulous writers in employment deserves to be placed in  a corner wearing a conical hat.

But there’s a point that deserves examination: Goldacre’s optimism that, despite the persistence of- often adult- participants in the kind of moonshine and snake oil that so entrances educational experts, the future holds a possible golden age of intelligence. Why? Because as he puts it:

‘Information is more easily accessible now than ever before, and smart, motivated people can sidestep traditional routes to obtain knowledge and disseminate it’

Bouchard: You BASTARD.

Information certainly is a lot more available these days, oh boy it is. I remember a GCSE (or equivalent thereof) homework where we were invited to either fill in a work sheet, or research a biography of Pierre François Bouchard, the engineer who discovered the Rosetta Stone. Being somewhat friendless and socially gauche, I of course chose the research project, intuitively apprehending its innate complexity, challenge, and geek points. The family picture encyclopaedia was sadly not up to the task; a trip to my local library revealed nothing except for the painful lack of diversity in the Scottish public lending establishment. A further venture to the grand Mitchell Library in the city centre was more helpful. I handed the report in with pride, only to discover that I had carefully recited the life history of another Pierre Bouchard who, unhelpfully, was a contemporary in time and space. Some stories don’t have happy endings.

The point is, that with a few stylish finger flourishes, Dame Google can furnish me with more information about the intrepid French tomb raider than I could possibly digest in a month. Instant, endless raw data is now an axiomatic principle of our daily lives. Pub arguments about statements of fact now last only as long as the time it takes to wave an Iphone. Pub Quiz Masters have to emit EMP pulses just to level the playing field; that, or allow everyone an identical phone and speed recite the questions, testing participants on digital dexterity and search-term efficiency instead of scrappy long-term memory and retention of trivia.

The homework task I described would now perfectly exemplify the IT revolution we have experienced, and surely guarantees Mr Goldacre’s claim that even children- or perhaps especially so- will be the inheritors of a new age of intellectual rigour and penetration; that armed with the facts, reason and empirical scepticism, New Age rhetoric, Religious cant, and superstition will evaporate like fog in a November night, replaced by precision, degrees of certainty and cool, unexcitable reason. In fact, children should surely be the drivers of this intellectual revolution, given the alleged proficiency and taste they show for digital manipulation, and the familiarity they evidence with the online adventure.

Brilliant! You look like a moron!

But not so, not so; if only it were. This reporter is at Ground Zero on Planet Earth, bringing you the latest, and from where I’m standing it isn’t pretty. It pains me to say that, while many children do conform to this description as brave and rigorous denizens of an information superspace, many do not. In fact, you could even say that many of them are just as naive as their slightly older counterparts. They hold beliefs, prejudices and fancies that are just as fanciful, unsubstantiated and unsupported as anything that their generational predecessors could conceive.

For example: t a recent conference for students at a school I was visiting, I showed a group of approximately 100 sixth formers a picture of the 1969 Moon Landing, above which I had written ‘Are we being fooled?’ Now bearing in mind that I had already announced to the audience that this session would be about conspiracy theories, and how most of them were totally unfounded, you might expect a high level of scepticism. Not a bit of it. When I asked the audience to put their hands up if they thought that Neil Armstrong and his fellow possessors of the Right Stuff had really made it to Earth’s little sister, only around a third of the group did so. OK, I reasoned; participant anxiety. So I rephrased the question in the negative: who thought they hadnt really gone, and that the Moon Landings were faked?

Around two-thirds of the group launched their own Apollos into the air, give or take. In my mind, I could hear the Ancient Gods of mysticism laughing at the pretender Reason. When I asked them why they believed such an apparently transparent piece of guano, the usual answers came out: the shadows from the lander; the motion of the flag, and so on and so on. All the usual, cranky suspects. I can’t be bothered to retread the well worn path of dispelling this crap, but the answers are out there- you know, on the Internet. I spent around half an hour blowing each conspiracy to pieces, showing them sources, experts, references.

By the end of the session, I asked them to repeat the show of hands. With a trembling lip I saw that the ratio was now an even 50:50. A victory for rationality? I didn’t think so. Even when I questioned them later, the nays still reverted to their default prejudices and positions: they ‘didn’t trust’ the official story; there was ‘something in’ the conspiracies. I was confused. Had I not explained the perfectly simple refutations of these quack ideas? No; they certainly understood.

I realised what was happening. The conspiracy version of events suited their emotional and cultural appetites; the idea that there is ‘something going on’ behind the scenes of history; that authority narratives are unreliable and manipulative; that doubting the official record enables the powerless to perceive themselves as something powerful; prophets of the truth, discerners of deception, and holders of wisdom. There was, it seemed, at least two worlds: the world as it seemed, and the world as we would prefer to imagine it….even if that world itself contains unpalatable truths, such as the idea that the leaders of every nation state would conspire to conceal the truth of the Moon Landings, or that billions of tax dollars were therefore being diverted to feed…what? The military-industrial complex?

‘This looks well proof, innit?’

It doesn’t just end at the Moon Landings; it couldn’t. Such an attitude has, in my experience, been the foundation of my experiences of working with this Net Generation, these citizens of cyberspace. I teach RS and philosophy, so I understandably attract the conversations of the mystical and counter-rational. That’s fine, and for the best; the oceans of the mind are not charted solely by reason and measurement. Other compasses are necessary to understand the black box of the human psyche. So I know first hand the way that children and teenagers often wrestle with issues of meaning, value and experience, empirical or otherwise. And I also know how many of them turn to ideas and belief systems that are not merely counter-experiential, but counter-rational.

Like the scores- and I mean scores- of serious young men who sidle up to me after lessons and ask me if I have heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and would I be able to discuss it with them? (The Protocols, for the sainted uninitiated is a fraudulent crypto-history/ manifesto, allegedly written by the Jewish Puppet Masters, and ‘accidentally’ reveals their global ambitions. It is as vile a forgery as you could hope to read, and it has existed for over one hundred years. Despite its utter annihilation as a fake many decades ago, it still enjoys a furtive and political life wherever anti-Semitism needs a prop. Ghastly). There are students who have enquired if I know anything about the New World Order; about the assassination of Diana by the Royals, of JFK by the CIA, and more recently, the enormous number of students who apparently believe that 9/11 was the work of a diabolic Israeli black-op. All of these, theories as empty and aimless as a barrel going over Niagara Falls, yet somehow, inexplicably resuscitated in the minds of the credulous child.

The anti-empiricism doesn’t stop there. I teach a unit on ‘War and Conflict’ to year 9 pupils; I thought it apposite to teach about the Iraq war which, to me at last, still feels relatively recent. Every class I have taught for the last few years has, for the most part, believed that the war was started because of a) Al Qaeda and  b) 9/11. Most of my students believed that Hussein and Bin Laden were in some kind of Axis of Evil, and that Desert Storm was the direct response to the fall of the Two Towers.

Now I’d like to point out that these are the same children who are practically hard wired into fibre optic cables, so ubiquitous is their online experience. They could barely be more connected were they to have a wireless connection node implanted in their cerebella. But still, they seem as susceptible to the storm fronts of illusion and nonsense as any of their 8-bit forebears; just as swayed by fantasy and information tricks as anyone else. Why is that?

‘…and if you look closely, you can see a pixie.’

The answer lies in this basic truism: being drenched in facts doesn’t make you any smarter; it doesn’t provide the possessor of an iota more discernment or critical faculty. This is the difference between facts and knowledge. Many educational half-wits have hailed the Google generation as having been liberated from the tyranny of knowledge; that in an age of universal IT suffrage, any fact can be conjured from the ether like a magician’s dove, and we should therefore focus on teaching children skills, not facts. If everyone who thought that was reduced to a single person, I’d spanner them. Our data-rich descendants are fallible after all; the cyber natives are just as liable to err as anyone else.

And why on earth wouldn’t they be? They are human, or so I believe, although from a cursory reading of the over-excited froth that is regularly written about them by progressive educationalists, you could be forgiven for thinking they had developed an X-gene that made them the perfected inheritors of a Golden, Utopian tomorrow. I have some news: they’re just like us. They ARE us. If a student wants to find out if the world really is controlled by a race of Reptilian overlords, or a more mundane segment of the Primate clan, it isn’t as simple as just clicking on a link. Because more often that not, the link will take you a million miles away from anything resembling ‘life experienced’, and into ‘life imagined’, realms of fairy tale so fabulous that they resemble a fever-dream. Try it. Search Google for Who killed Diana? and see what kind of balance you find. May God have mercy on our souls.

Searching for the truth involves more than just asking a question: it involves asking the right questions. Not all questions will lead you to the real answers, or as close to the real answer as our epistemological faculties will permit. Asking ‘When will Satan end the world?’ won’t get you an inch closer to the veracity of that claim’s assumptions, not on Bing anyway.

The ability to tease apart speculation from cautious theory is a skill that has enjoyed varying respectability as the centuries have progressed. Some reliance on the evidence of our senses has always been with us, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it this far. David Hume famously exploded the irrationality, the ‘sophistry and illusion’ as he described it, of believing in anything that could not be experienced or rationally inferred. The growth of the scientific method has transformed our world, physically at least. But how much of it has penetrated the methodology of our everyday analysis?

I, too have attended training courses on Brain Gym (sponsored and paid for, I hasten to add, by the Fast Track, a by-now deceased arm of the DfE’s previous attempt to invite the brightest and best into education. Alas, they got me) and believe me, the first time around, it sounds perfectly plausible. Who’s got the time to go away and dig up the data that reveals it to be a load of shit? Besides, the DfE were paying for it, so surely they must have checked it out, right?

We’re not swimming in information any more. We’re drowning. Children and adults alike are drenched in a deluge of data that takes time, effort and perspicacity to distinguish the dreck from the good stuff. There will always be people patient and stubborn enough to want to get to the bottom of things, and with the advent of the Internet, the resources to do so are now available to more people- children included- to do so. The problem is, not many of them necessarily will bother. We’re lazy; we’re busy; we’re just too damned indifferent to the truth.

And it’s one of the reasons that an enormous intellectual cavern exists in educational theory, and why the charlatans, the hucksters and the spivs have moved in to fill it with empty theory and card tricks. the battle, I might point out, goes on…


I’m off now to pay tribute to my Scaly overlords, and see if the Internet can tell me how to build a tinfoil Fascinator to stop the CIA controlling my brain. If I start blogging about Personalised Learning Styles, you’ll know they got me, in which case put a diamond bullet through my heart and head for the Vatican. End of Transmission.

Help! Homeopaths are stealing my soul

Doctor I have a confession: Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog is one of the best I’ve seen; he writes eloquently and with scorn about the ways in which quacks, medicine men, frauds and hucksters misrepresent science to turn a buck. His book is excellent and I’m a big fan.

http://www.badscience.net/

Education is also full of sham scientific claims; I think it’s more vulnerable to pseudo science than even medicine, because educational theories are informed even more by sociology, psychology etc which are much ‘softer’ sciences than the natural sciences. Basically, it’s easy to verify beyond dispute that water boils at 100 degrees because it’s so easy to test and disprove. It’s much harder to prove that three-part lessons improve child concentration, or that school uniform has a causal link to grade performance, because there are so many factors potentially affecting the outcome that it’s extremely difficult to make any conclusive hypotheses.

But that’s ok. The only problem is when educational con men try to claim that their method is the only way to teach, and all you need to do is sign on the dotted line. A bigger problem is when the Department of Education fall for it and the gullibles try to sell it to us working on the chalkface. But that’s another post, another time.

I never knew I’d run into my own bit of Bad Science bother. It goes like this:

For a while I’ve been doing some freelance writing for the Times Educational Supplement, usually about controlling rowdy classes. The staff journalists at the TES often use me as a rent-a-gob when they want ‘a teacher says’ type quotes. On the 7th May an article appeared called ‘Doctor, Leave Them Kids Alone,’ which was about the issue of Ritalin and do kids really need it. They asked me if I had any experiences.

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6043074

I’d taught a kid a few years back who was bouncing off the walls, until he was prescribed it- at which point he just kind of vanished into the background. It was a really marked change. Now, I’m not a scientist so I didn’t want to say anything other than my personal anecdotal experience. I’m also of the opinion that our culture tends to believe that all manners of social and cultural problems should be solved by a pill, rather than addressing the complex issues surrounding them (something I think you write about very well). But y’know, I’m not Tom Cruise, and I reckon there’s a happy balance to be struck between turning to the Pink Potion, and maybe dealing with stuff that life throws at us. So I contributed a few quotes about how this somewhat mental kid had gone from uncontrollable to Caspar the Friendly Ghost, and that I understood why the parents did it, but it seemed a shame for the poor kid. Nothing too controversial.

I blew cereal through my nose when I came across the following article a few months later on t’web.

http://www.hellolife.net/explore/add-adhd/the-dangers-of-ritalin/

It’s a homeopathic website (you know, that branch of alternative medicine, which claims you can cure arthritis, cancer, gout etc by drinking ….tap water. Sorry, Magic tap water).It quotes me without my permission (which I suppose is pretty small beer), indicating that I in some way endorse their homeopathic gumbo or support the ideas behind it. That’s probably the first problem I have with it. The second is that they then go on to quote from the pupil I discussed, saying, “I know it helps me in some ways, but I hate taking it,” Leon explained, “there are days when I deliberately avoid it. You just don’t feel yourself, you feel so drained out. It makes you feel disgusted and down. Like you’ve got no soul or something.”

Poor Leon. Boo hoo hoo. The only problem is I didn’t give the student’s name (because I like having a job), I’ve taught dozens of kids on Ritalin, and there’s no way they could know I was talking about him. PLUS I’ve never had a kid called Leon Perry. The last problem then is that they imply that the school gave him a ‘drugs or leave school’ ultimatum, which is just so laughable that I can’t imagine a school having the balls saying it to a parent. They’d get sued into the fourth world.

So what have I done? Well, I contacted the Bad Science B’wana himself, Ben Goldacre, because he’s performed a few homeopathic exorcisms in his time. Of course, he might be too busy to offer any advice. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get….

I’m off to drink tap water to get rid of my gout, or something.

PS If anyone reads the homeopathic article, please don’t leave any sarcastic messages for them yet. I need to keep the element of surprise.