Friday, 9 February 2007

you are what you read, you big dummy

I heard on The Today programme this morning that "You are what you eat" has supplanted Stephen Hawking's "A brief history of time" as the most borrowed non-fiction book in British libraries. Is this an indication that libraries, under constant pressure of closure, have bowed to the lowest common denominator and are simply "giving the public what they want"? And if so, what does that say about the Great British Public? That they have been comprehensively duped by the dodgy pseudo-science of "Dr" Gillian McKeith? God, I hope not. McKeith's bogus advice on nutrition was splendidly dissected and discredited by Ben Goldacre in one of my favourite columns - the Guardian's Bad Science slot. Bad Science should have a permanent front page space in The Guardian. The rigorous de-bunking of self-serving, dishonest and sometimes downright dangerous so-called science is an heroic service to us all in this age of mumbo-jumbo (thanks, Francis Wheen). Many of my friends - educated, otherwise rational people - are willing to believe in alls sorts of hokum from homeopathy to the Atkins Diet while harbouring a general suspicion about "scientists". It's enough to make a sane man depressed. But I take comfort in the fact that Richard Dawkins' "The God Illusion" was a Christmas best-seller. Why the disparity between best-seller and best-borrowed? Is it that people can easily buy a book like this from, amongst others Amazon and its "long tail" of choice, while the borrower has to choose from libraries' sadly limited range of stock? Perhaps Google, and the growth of free content, will map the future list-toppers.

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