Audiobook review: Bad Pharma (Ben Goldacre, narrator: Jot Davies)

I’m not a big listener of audiobooks, and to be honest I only ‘bought’ this because I was able to get it free on a trial, and it was an easy way to ‘read’ one of many books currently simultaneously.

I’ve been interested in Dr. Ben Goldacre for a while as I’ve sporadically followed his articles, read Bad Science, and mostly respected his approach in bringing scientific issues to the masses. I disagree with him majorly on one thing (no need to get into it here), and sometimes his cocksure style can be off-putting, but in general I think he does the public a great service, and that’s enough.

I wasn’t quite shocked by Bad Pharma as I began to see dirt in the industry a number of years ago via a non-specific in-road, and it’s not surprising that science under capitalism leads to corruption; the main problem is not really conspiracy but a lack of working ‘traffic lights’ within the industry: all the problems within it are not illegal but mostly morally wrong.

The book is very long, and like some other reviewers have noted, could easily have been cut down a fair bit and not lose the point. There were too many examples for one thing, and though this was meant to hammer home the breadth of the problems, I often thought “okay, I get the point already”; but perhaps better to over than under-represent.
Unlike Bad Science the tone is a bit more heavy, and also thankfully less arrogant, so it’s not quite a direct sequel in terms of style. But the humour in the former book is mostly because those he criticised were often worthy of tabloid-y ridicule.

Jot Davies narrates the book very well and has tried to capture some of the essence of Goldacre, and probably is more listenable than the author himself who comes off much more striking when he’s seen too. Indeed, the 20 minute interview near the end shows that a relaxed Goldacre is a bit teenager-ish!
From this though, I think I’ve decided that I don’t like listening to non-fiction as you usually sometimes like to have moments to pause after reading a bit to let something sink in. Yes you can press pause but I never felt inclined to do so as I was still engaged by the narration. Plays or fiction or interviews come off better as you let it roll without much thinking.

Would I recommend it? Definitely. However, I won’t say it’s the best book because there are other titles that are equally as good by less high-profile authors. But Goldacre has the ability of reaching the supermarket crowd and they should go for it. Prepare to be horrified (if you haven’t been already) and hear Goldacre’s solutions to many problems.

One of the sentences that Goldacre ends with is this: “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. He wasn’t talking about an obsession of mine, but unknowingly, I think he alluded to another way of downsizing an industry that otherwise has undoubtedly made some great medicines.

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