Bad Science: Cannabis Casualties, Hybrid Cars, and Cubic Litres

Ben Goldacre debunks the 'Hummers-are-greener-than-Prius' propaganda.

Published: 02-Feb-2008

There are no difficult ideas in this column. Like, for example, when I tell you about the Daily Telegraph front page headline which says "Abuse of cannabis puts 500 a week in hospital", and it turns out they're actually quoting a figure from a report on the number of people having contact with any drug treatment service of any variety. The colossal majority of these, of course, are outpatient appointments for drugs counselling, not hospital admissions. So there are not 500 people a week suddenly being put into hospital by cannabis. But this is not a news story: like their recurring dodgy abortion figures, it is the venal moralising of a passing puritan, dressed up in posh numbers.

Similarly, there's nothing very complicated about a report from CNW Marketing in Oregon, which the Independent's motoring correspondent has now quoted twice in his attempt to demonstrate that Hummers, Jeeps, and various other cars the size of a small caravan are - "in fact" - greener than smaller hybrid cars like the Prius (because readers love a quirky paradox).

CNW, a car industry marketing firm, manage to do this by making calculations over the lifetime of a car. They decide that about 90% of the environmental cost of a car's lifetime environmental impact is from its manufacture and recycling, not the fuel it burns whilst tootling around. This is the polar opposite of all other life-cycle analyses. CNW include all kinds of funny things to make their numbers work, like the erosion of the road surface of the people who travel to the car factory.


The Small Hybrid Sports Concept is a sports car that features advanced hybrid technology - proving stylish design and driving enjoyment can be combined with low environmental impact. It was designed by Honda R and D Europe, based in Offenbach, Germany.

A UK government challenge to produce a medium/small vehicle with CO2 emissions of less than 100 g/km has seen engineering company Ricardo team up with PSA Peugeot Citroen and UK research group QinetiQ to develop an innovative diesel full-hybrid.

Concept car may sport unusual air intakes since 'a hybrid battery needs a lot of cooling.'


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