Bad history done better

Still short on time to generate actual content here, I hope you’ll forgive a second post in a row instead directing you to look at something else; it is good, I assure you. You are, I hope, aware of a column in the UK’s Guardian newspaper by Dr Ben Goldacre called Bad Science, in which he more or less single-handedly tries to take on misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the natural sciences, especially medicine, drugs and clinical trialing, in the media and advertising. (Aha! He is also posting it as a blog. So blogrolled.) It’s a valuable and under-rewarded service, because really I would like there to be a publicly-funded blog or website doing this, a kind of scientific Snopes.com debunking that which needs debunking,* to which people could go and get the, er, straight dope.

Now every now and then I’ve been part of conversations among historians in which someone has said, “We should,” or even, “You should,” with my copious free time no doubt, “start a Bad History site to do the same thing when someone talks rubbish about our stuff!” And well, you know, we do what we can. But, I’m very happy to say (and to thank Bavardess for writing the post by which I learnt it) that rival newspaper The Times has in fact stepped up to this mark with a piece in its Higher Education Supplement by Matthew Reisz, who lately proved so helpful to Terence Kealy in making an ass of himself, in which he gets numerous historians, including some medievalists, to pick a particular mistake they’d like to correct and to ‘get medieval’ on it.** It’s good. Go have a look, and encourage them to do another. Then, if you like (and you should) go have a look at this commentary by Gesta at On Boundaries, who is equally pleased by this turn of events. And meanwhile I must contact Dr Goldacre and see if we can put together a funding bid for the UK Office For Correcting Mistaken Claptrap…


* Hey, Latin? Can I borrow some gerundives of obligation? Yours are so much nicer than ours.

** Yes, that’s right, they assemble a huge council, debate on it in two chambers, one for the laymen and one for the ecclesiastics, submit their findings to the presiding ruler and he issues a proclamation banning all such work from the kingdom.***

*** No, okay, what really happens is, they organise the opening of an IKEA store and then stampede people to death at its doors.****

**** Look, seriously, by now you could have found out the truth for yourself, and Dr Pyrdum wants his footnote style back so I can’t tell you any more.

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11 responses to “Bad history done better

  1. Bad Science rocks. I recently read Goldacre’s book and can now enter well-armed into debates with anti-vaccinating friends. The stuff about HIV/AIDS in South Africa enraged me. I hope the Bad History series will be as successful – there is certainly plenty of material for them to work with!

  2. highlyeccentric

    *giggles*

    Awww, but Carl’s footnote style really flatters your prose… ;)

  3. Pingback: Bad History to continue (announce and CFP) « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. really I would like there to be a publicly-funded blog or website doing this

    See http://www.nhs.uk/News/Pages/NewsIndex.aspx (not the swine flu thing at the top, but anything else on that page) – though being the NHS, this is limited to medical stories.

    • Aha! Yes, that’s very much the sort of thing I had in mind, although fundamentally I wanted more deeply that a funding body would establish a set of state pajandra to do this job. Perhaps NHS anonymity is actually better for freedom from attack…

  5. Pingback: 2:1 against: the misconception about Carolingian cereal yields « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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