A couple of weeks ago we got a call asking us if we wanted to provide books for an evening with Ben Goldacre at the Oxford Student Union. It was a case of thinking it over carefully, and then trying to remain cool and calm a few milliseconds later whilst answering in a slightly high voice 'yes please'...
Mostly Books sits within the science-heavy triangle of Harwell, Culham and Oxford - and it's fair to say that we get more science readers than the average bookshop. Ben Goldacre's books have done very well for us - Bad Science is a modern classic - and 'Bad Pharma' (a meticulously researched and brilliantly-constructed critique of the Pharmaceutical Industry) is one of the most important - and disturbing - books to have been published in recent years.
So on Monday night - despite rising floodwater - we navigated the great distance between Abingdon and Oxford City Centre safely, and shortly before 8pm there was an impressive queue forming to hear Ben speak:
Here's Ben speaking (photo taken from the slightly disconcerting, creaking wooden balcony in the Chamber). There were between 200-300 students on the night:
This is his biggest weapon. He does not rant. He is not a conspiracy theorist. His speaking style - that of slightly exasperated, ex-doctor-turned-nerdy-science-writer - is because that is what he actually is, knocking on the door of mega-corporations and government regulators, making reasonable requests to see data on drug trials, and refusing to go away as their stalling tactics get ever more bizarre.
This must be extremely irksome to the Pharmaceutical Industry. They are not happy. I asked him, half-jokingly, if he's being followed. But I reckon any efforts to smear or even threaten him will prove ineffectual because he genuinely wants to make things better and get the debate out into the open. You cannot really question his motivations.
(BTW, if you are in any way interested in how drugs company's operate, how they legally 'bury' bad trial data, convince our government to spend 9% of its annual drugs budget on pills with no verifiable efficacy, and hoodwink doctors and patients, read the book. In fact, if you have ever taken prescription drugs in any form, please, please read this book).
Anyway - back to the event. We made a slight miscalculation in where the book stall was set up. Here's the queue for the signing, together with the queue to buy the book...and the queue to get out. Hmm. If we are ever invited back (and we greatly enjoyed the experience) we might make a few changes to positioning...
(A big thank you also to Sarah from Health Press Ltd - who publish Fast Facts from a building round the back of Mostly Books - and who helped out on the bookshop on the night. It was Sarah who enthused about Bad Pharma and got us reading it when it first came out.)
Signed copies of Bad Pharma and Bad Science now at Mostly Books...
(For anyone interested in learning more about what Ben said on the evening concerning the response to his book by Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI: Ben goes head-to-head with Stephen at the Royal Institution on the 26th February. It should be a humdinger...moderated by the great Dr Phil Hammond. Go Ben!)