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When "Teaching Yourself Statistics" is No Match For Being a Doctor

The Toronto Star ran a medically irresponsible story on their front page, then Heather Mallick doubled down on the story. What she didn't expect was the invocation of Dr Ben Goldacre's name would cause a firestorm.


  1. The Toronto Star, Canada's largest circulation newspaper is the paper that broke the Rob Ford crack story and the Jian Ghomeshi story, so there is an expectation that their investigative journalism is held to a high standard.

    The science community was in for a rude awakening last week, however, when this article about the "perils" of Gardasil made the front page of the Star:
  2. The reaction to this story by the scientific community was incredulity and anger. Many tweeted to the Toronto Star to voice their complete bafflement, disappointment, and desire to cancel their subscriptions.
  3. Some doctors didn't just get mad. They got scientific. One such doctor was Dr. Jen Gunter, who posted this response:
  4. Dr Gunter's point by point takedown is not only an example of evidence-based medicine, but evidence-based journalism.

    Dr Gunter's article deftly called into question both of the Star, and their Editor in Chief who defended the piece.
  5. One of the Star's writers who immediately jumped into the fray was Heather Mallick, who seemed personally hurt by the allegations that the Star did a poor job in their reporting. She decided to take matters into her own hands, penning a baffling, citation free "rebuttal:"
  6. You'll notice there are 2 important points Mallick discloses in this article: 1) She is "teaching herself statistics," for which she seems to ascribe some sort of gravitas to, despite her detractors having hundreds of years of medical credentials and work in the field to counter her, and 2) She has an interest and appreciation for the work of Dr. Ben Goldacre.

    As it happens, I have corresponded with Dr Goldacre before during his promotion of his original book, Bad Science. Knowing enough about the man from his 2 blogs, his Twitter timeline, and his 3 books, including his most recent one, I Think You'll Find It's A Bit More Complicated Than That, which deals with (among other topics) poor science journalism.

    I decided to send him the original article, Dr. Gunter's response, and Heather Mallick's piece.

    To say he was not pleased is a grave understatement. It turns out, he sided with science and not the ad hominems and pleas to emotion which riddled Mallick's piece.
  7. Mallick's response to this question was an attempt to have the discussion with Dr. Goldacre privately. This was not a good decision on her part.