Microbiologists raising doubts? It must be a cover-up

November 5th, 2005 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, mirror, MRSA, scare stories | 72 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday November 5, 2005
The Guardian

There are times when it’s just great to be alive: you’re running through the archives, the wind’s in your hair, suddenly you stumble on a gem from last year’s Sunday Mirror and it just makes you bless the day you decided to become a sarcastic and hateful campaigning science journalist.

If this is going to make any sense we’ll need a quick recap. For the last three weeks we have been following the sorry affair of MRSA in the tabloids. Every major tabloid newspaper in Britain – Sun, Mirror, Mail, Evening Standard and more – has sent undercover journalists in to take swabs from hospitals which were proven to be positive for the “deadly superbug MRSA” in laboratory testing by an expert.

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These results all came from Dr Chris Malyszewicz, and his Northamptonshire-based Chemsol Consulting. He is not a microbiologist; in fact, he is not a doctor, and has only a “correspondence course” PhD from a non-accredited distance learning institution in the US.

His laboratory, a shed in his garden, is not accredited, unheard of for any lab doing NHS work; he makes his living producing disinfectant and other products targeted at people worried about MRSA; his methods were unable to distinguish MRSA from other bacteria; and this was proven when he finally released slides that he believed contained MRSA, and it turned out six out of eight did not contain even the smallest trace.

Not one paper has retracted its story. But how did the papers respond to the concerns, raised by senior microbiologists all over the country at the time, that this man was providing bogus results? Two days after Malyszewicz allowed a couple of real microbiologists in to examine the Chemsol “shedquarters” in his garden, the Sunday Mirror wrote a long, vitriolic piece about them.

“Health secretary John Reid was accused last night of trying to gag Britain’s leading expert on the killer bug MRSA.” That’s Britain’s leading expert who has no microbiology qualifications, and runs his operation from a shed in the garden. “Dr Chris Malyszewicz has pioneered a new method of testing for levels of MRSA and other bacteria,” they go on. Clearly he has. Malyszewicz adds: “They asked me a lot of questions about my procedures and academic background.”

By now you can picture them in the newsroom, shouting: “This story is dynamite! It’s a government cover-up!” And yes: “Tony Field, chairman of the national MRSA support group, said: ‘It was an outrageous attempt to discredit and silence him’.”

Now I’m going to put my chips on the table: I believe there has not been a single positive swab for MRSA found in any hospital by any undercover journalist to date that did not come from Chemsol. I believe this so strongly I will give a free “MMR is safe: tell your friends” T-shirt to the first person who can send me a clipping demonstrating otherwise.

· Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk


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72 Responses



  1. MostlySunny said,

    November 15, 2005 at 7:07 am

    I think Ben sounds a bit like a young Tony Blair…. 😉

  2. Michael P said,

    November 15, 2005 at 8:48 am

    For some strange reason I was expecting an Andrew Lincoln type voice. Absolutely no idea why. I think ‘girly’ is a bit much though.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 15, 2005 at 12:40 pm

    This is really out of hand.

  4. MikeTheGoat said,

    November 15, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Any idea if the BBC are going to post a transcript of the MRSA discussion? I don’t have speakers on my work computer and streaming via realplayer is just too painful on dial-up at home.

  5. Mark Gould said,

    November 15, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Just been listening to the Y&Y discussion (even though I hate the programme as a rule). Mr Chemsol’s reference to his accounts made me wonder…

    So… a quick trip to the Companies House website (www.companieshouse.gov.uk). Check the Chemsol companies. Hmm.

    The companies called Chemsol {Group | Labs | Research} Limited, with a registered address in Northamptonshire, have all failed to submit their accounts for the last year. Incidentally, they have only been registered since July 2004, so this isn’t a particularly good start.

    Keep up the good work, Ben.

    Cheers,
    Mark.

  6. Mark Gould said,

    November 15, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    In the interests of fairness, I should report that a further check on Chemical Solutions Consultancy (UK) Limited reveals that at least one of the relevant companies has met its obligations to file accounts.

  7. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 15, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    Well I never knew you could do that. I am having a total Companies House party here, is there anything else really obvious that I’m missing on how easily you can stalk companies? And is there anyone business savvy enough to give me a few pointers on not misinterpreting the stuff, maybe a good book on the subject, so I don’t fall into any “bad finance” traps? Just enough that I don’t sound like a total vagina when I talk to some city journos, you know.

  8. Mark Gould said,

    November 15, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    More oddness. Mr Chemsol’s claim that he wasn’t really au fait with MRSA is somewhat at odds with a posting he made on 26 May to an MRSA discussion board (www.robprince.net/mrsa/forum-usa.asp?action=replies&forumID=837):

    On Y&Y: “MRSA is something I was bludgeoned or pushed into..”

    On the web: “…it was my work over 4.5 years ago that brought this whole issue to media attention, otherwise this would not probably be here today as it is…”

    Turning to the Australian connection, he admits in the web posting that his lab was visited by “the Government” in July 2004. (I’m afraid I have an image of Blair, Brown, Prescott, Blunkett, Clarke, et al blundering around in his garden shed.) It is not clear from the Y&Y discussion when his samples were tested.

    On Y&Y, in response to a question about working for an Australian company and the risk of cross-contamination: “…I don’t work for an Australian company, no. We have only ever done one run — for Sydney which was prior to that anyway and those isolates were autoclaved prior to any work being sent to Colindale.”

    On the web: “At present I am culturing Strains from California USA and Melbourne, Australia.”

    Perhaps Geography is not his strong point.

  9. amoebic vodka said,

    November 16, 2005 at 2:25 pm

    “The companies called Chemsol {Group | Labs | Research} Limited, with a registered address in Northamptonshire, have all failed to submit their accounts for the last year. Incidentally, they have only been registered since July 2004, so this isn’t a particularly good start.”

    Beat you to it: www.badscience.net/?p=179#comment-371

    Checking Companies House is always a good idea when buying stuff off Ebay. Along with checking the website. Chemsol’s website is particularly funny. If a company website doesn’t contain any contact information, the name and address of the person owning the domain name can usually be found with a WHOIS search.

    Which, for chemsolconsultancy.com, reveals it is also called “Chemical Solutions Consultancy” in addition to the Chemsol {Group | Labs | Research} Limited already mentioned.

    Perhaps some of the teachers who post comments here might like to use the questionaire on the site as an example of how to write loaded questions:

    Q1: Are We Being Led Into a False Sense of Security By Insincere Chemical Manufacturers?

    Q2: Is Information provided by Product Suppliers Always Correct?

    Q3: Are the Public Always Provided With The Truth about Products they buy?

    Q4: Is Advertising about Fact, or a vehicle to promote sales at the expense of the Public’s ignorance?

    www.chemsolconsultancy.com/research.htm (scroll to the bottom)

    As we see it, Chemsol manufactures chemicals (it sells anti-MRSA disinfectant kits) and on the same page as the questionaire says a whole lot of things that are clearly wrong (antibiotics kill viruses etc). It advertises its products by doing the MRSA testing for various tabloids. It appears the questionnaire is referring to its own way of doing business.

    We didn’t think Ben’s voice sounded girly.

  10. MostlySunny said,

    November 16, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    oi Amoebas – when are you updating your blog??

  11. amoebic vodka said,

    November 16, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    When we can think of something that doesn’t involve bird flu or copying and pasting from Bad Science. And when we stop posting stuff here instead of in our blog…

    Update on Ben’s voice: we think he sounds a bit like….one whois search later…yep, that explains everything…

  12. Mark Gould said,

    November 17, 2005 at 7:41 am

    My apologies, amoebas. I can’t even claim that I hadn’t seen your original comment — when I went back to look at it, it did look familiar.

    To answer the question you raised there. It is possible for a business to have existed since 1986, but only be registered as a company more recently. It is not obligatory to register a business as a company. However, not doing so means that you would personally be liable for all the business’s debts and so on, and would not benefit from the limitation of liability that company law can offer.

  13. MostlySunny said,

    November 17, 2005 at 9:57 am

    ie a sole proprietarship which is not obliged to file its accounts as a matter of public record.

  14. Ray said,

    November 17, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    and would not benefit from the limitation of liability that company law can offer

    As in Utopia Limited:

    As a Company you’ve come to utter sorrow–
    But the Liquidators say,
    “Never mind–you needn’t pay,”
    So you start another company to-morrow!

  15. Dave F said,

    November 19, 2005 at 6:57 pm

    Does this explain the voice?

    www.scienceawards.org/science/past/2003/gallery/cat2-L.htm

  16. Leo said,

    November 29, 2005 at 9:39 am

    Can you please post a link so that I can hear CM interview. When I try to listen to the link it goes to Monday 28th Nov. Thanks

  17. Michael P said,

    November 29, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    Sorry Leo, as far as I know the ‘listen again’ things’s only available for 7 days :-(

  18. Richard said,

    December 4, 2005 at 10:27 am

    But there is a programmes listing “listen again”, which has an alphabetical listing of programmes. What was the programme title and it could probably be found there.

    I want to hear Dr BEliNda Goldacre.

  19. Richard said,

    December 4, 2005 at 10:36 am

    No that doesnt work with the l in Belinda…. update:

    Dr BENigale Goldacre…. that ought to do it!

  20. thejeanproject said,

    January 23, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    hi, i might have missed something but in one of your articles Ben you said that “An academic paper by eminent microbiologists describing this process in relation to one hospital has been published in a peer reviewed academic journal, then loudly ignored by everyone in the media except little me.”
    Which journal and microbiologists was that please?
    Ta
    J

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 23, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    already elsewhere:

    www.badscience.net/?p=179#comment-370

    but here it is again:

    J Hosp Infect. 2004 Mar;56(3):250-1.
    Isolation of MRSA from communal areas in a teaching hospital.
    Manning N, Wilson AP, Ridgway GL.

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