Resistance is worse than useless

February 11th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, africa, alternative medicine, bad science, dangers, herbal remedies, times | 63 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 11, 2006
The Guardian

Let me take you back to 2005, and one of several Bad Science stories about Susan Clark and her What’s The Alternative column in the Sunday Times. She’s no longer in that post – if you’re lucky we’ll have room to talk about her successor soon – but she stood out on account of her penchant for giving advice on the bigger diseases: MRSA, malaria, that kind of thing.

Anyway, she also liked to recommend that plants whose constituents had recently been discovered to have antibiotic properties should be taken prophylactically, that is, to stop you getting a disease. She suggested, for example, that pau d’arco should be taken by patients to prevent themselves from getting MRSA in hospital, and artemisinin to prevent malaria.

Now my objection to this at the time was, in some ways, a subtle point. Think about how “superbugs”, bacteria resistant to antibiotics, come into existence: they are exposed to antibiotics in lower doses, but killed off incompletely, some survive, and so, by a process of mutation and natural selection, the bacteria evolve to be resistant to the drugs. The bacteria that survive the battle are the ones that are most resistant.

Now I realise evolution may be a problem area for some of you, but this really is an incredibly clever process: for example, once new resistance genes have evolved, bacteria can then share these genes with completely different bacteria nearby. They literally swap genes between each other. This is happening right now, in your body. They are clever, clever little buggers. To prevent resistance to antibiotics, you want to keep your best antibiotics out of farming, and away from pushy patients with viral coughs, to give a couple of examples.

But this kind of thing doesn’t occur to alternative therapists. And the problem is that malaria, for which Clark was recommending artemisinin, prophylactically, without any evidence, to travellers, isn’t a decadent westerners’ playground. Malaria kills more than a million people a year, mostly children. As recently as 2004, in the Lancet, there was hope that artemisinin could be used to eradicate malaria for good, if used carefully to treat people with the disease.

And now, here is the punchline. Just this month the new chief of the World Health Organisation’s malaria programme warned that the growing misuse of artemisinin – which you can still buy from the usual “health food” outlets – could create an incurable strain. The same thing happened with resistance to chloroquine, our magic bullet for malaria in the 1940s, of course: it’s now virtually useless. Dr Arata Kochi from WHO says any drug companies even selling the drug artemisinin alone, instead of with other drugs in the same tablet – which ensures a cleaner kill of the malaria in your blood – will face boycotts of their other products. This kind of threat is almost unheard of.

Now let’s be clear. I’m not saying Clark is a mass murderer, although if anyone followed her advice, clearly they would be contributing to resistance to the drug, as the artemisinin-exposed malaria bugs are sucked out of her travelling readers’ blood by mosquitoes and then deposited into the arms of the picturesque natives. No. Susan Clark is merely a tiny cog of a huge system: and this whole system, of perpetuating and disseminating the beliefs of alternative therapy fantasists, of flattering them that they have a valid perspective and contribution to make, simply because it is commercially and politically expedient to do so, in our decadent, healthy western countries, is dangerous, stupid, shortsighted, and flawed.

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


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

63 Responses



  1. Drew Mayo said,

    February 11, 2006 at 3:32 am

    Excellent point, and I agree with you, but I was very amused to see the google ads for this post advertising ‘Demal200′, “an alternative treatment that comes from the homoeopathic system of medicine”… which …”can never create a new strain of resistant malaria”

    I guess if they read your previous posts they’d understand why :)

  2. burrahobbit said,

    February 11, 2006 at 8:57 am

    Probably the only good thing about Homeopathy!!

  3. lecanardnoir said,

    February 11, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Are you sure that a strain of superbugs could not arise that are immune to the placebo effect?

  4. Briantist said,

    February 11, 2006 at 10:05 am

    Have you seen what’s on the Bad Science page of the Guardian today? I can only assume that someone in the advertising sales department is having a laugh?

    “New Skin Rescuse Cream Discovered” www.cashmerebeauty.com
    “Supercharge your Internet for only £24.99 a year” www.onspeed.com
    and “Comet: Your choice with Sky”

  5. pv said,

    February 11, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Ben, Ms Clarke has the same access to the information about drug resistant strains of bacteria as you or anyone else. Surely if she is giving advice about malaria treatment, or any other medical advice for that matter, then she has an obligation to be informed. What’s more, doesn’t she have a duty of care (as would a qualified GP) towards not only those who follow her advice but those who choose not to but are, nevertheless, affected by it – which is everyone else? Why is it that proponents of “alternative” medicine think they shouldn’t be subject to the same strict regulations as anyone working in the field of real medicine? Why shouldn’t they be held accountable for the consequences of their actions? What Ms Clarke is really saying is, fuck all those malaria sufferers, she has a living to make. You might not like call her a mass murderer, but wouldn’t you say her activities are likely to achieve the same result – lots of dead people?

  6. Fred said,

    February 11, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    While the article is excellent, the use of “They are clever, clever little buggers” is erroneous and deceives the unwary. The process might be clever, but the bacteria themselves posess no intelligence at all. I call “Bad science!” on it.

  7. pv said,

    February 11, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Just looked at the Herbal Malaria Treatment advertised on this page. It’s homeopathic. It doesn’t work and contravenes the Trades Descriptions Act, does it not. Someone needs to tell these people that if a substance produces no side effects, it does nothing. Anyway the Blue Turtle “Remedial Sciences” (SCIENCES!!! I ask you! They should be prosecuted just for using the word “science”) are just as guilty as Ms Clarke in their complete disregard for human health and welfare. What make this Google advertising so remarkably pathetic is the complete lack of intelligence in its application. Advertising organised by someone with shit for brains.

    And while were about it, to further demonstrate the insanity of this advertising, remember MRSA anyone? www.bioquell.com are advertising on the page on my screen. Is this connected in any way to the infamous, self-proclaimed leading expert in Microbiology, Dr Chris Unpronounceable-ski?

  8. Profnick said,

    February 11, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    “New Skin Rescuse Cream Discovered”
    Obviously doesn’t rejuvinate (sic) spelling ability!! See www.cashmerebeauty.com

  9. Paul said,

    February 11, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    pv: “What’s more, doesn’t she have a duty of care (as would a qualified GP) towards not only those who follow her advice but those who choose not to but are, nevertheless, affected by it – which is everyone else?”

    My guess is that they can skip any responsibility by having, in small letters at the foot of their column, something like “all advice should only be followed under the guidance of your GP” or something (see Emma Mitchell’s weekly crap-fest in the Guardian).

    As for the ATs being willing to submit to standard guidelines, I recollect the furore over the new EU regulations governing herbal remedies (or something like that). Loads of them started squeaking and whining about how awful it was to impose such regulations on them and their gentle little sugar pills. Once again, they were all victims of a massive conspriacy presumably headed by Government plus pharma. Poor little souls.

    Great column Ben

  10. Profnick said,

    February 11, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    This is the Directive referred to by Paul
    pharmacos.eudra.org/F2/eudralex/vol-1/DIR_2002_98/DIR_2002_98_EN.pdf

  11. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 11, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    It’s pretty obvious there are no legal controls over issues like this, only practical and moral ones.

    I guess my broader point would be that the people who grandiosely appoint themselves to be experts in complementary and alternative medicine, as it is clunkily called, are so incompetent they are incapable of assessing their own incompetence, and so incapable of policing their own safety. The amusing phenomenon of being too incompetent to assess your own incompetence is discussed in this excellent paper by Kruger and Dunning from 1999.

    web.archive.org/web/20050322085946/http://www.phule.net/mirrors/unskilled-and-unaware.html

    Without any genuine background knowledge in the areas in which they claim expertise, CAM therapists have no way of knowing when they cock up like Clark has above. And those who pander to them, who pretend that because occasionally a plant constituent has a beneficial clinical effect, this must mean that the vast army of fantasists are somehow experts, as if mainstream medicine was somehow unaware of the rich source of active compounds the plant world represents… those who pander to them, and reinforce their sense of professionalism and competence, are collectively responsible for the harm done.

  12. pv said,

    February 11, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    My favourite quote, apart from the story of McArthur Wheeler’s attempts at bank robbery, is the eloquent, “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”. A very amusing read. And I do like the disclaimer regarding the competence of the study’s authors at the end.
    But it’s not just fake (sorry, I mean alternative) medicine that churns out self-appointed expert nutcases like Susan Clark and Fatty Van Stratten by the score. The whole area of nutrition and dieting should be included here as well. Just look at all the “diets” and food fads that have been touted by so-called heath experts over the years. But of all those who realise they’ve been duped by incompetent, self-appointed experts, who’s really going to complain?

  13. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 12, 2006 at 2:51 am

    i’m really not bothered about the fate of willing customers of quackery, it’s only episodes like this, or MMR for example, where the people who suffer are different from the people who make the duff decisions, where i get a bit disappointed.

    more importantly, i think that paper on incompetence may have distilled out the very essence of comedy: it’s a serious, straight faced inquiry, into people cocking stuff up whilst thinking they’re doing fine.

    here’s a pdf of it, which you can print out and savour:

    www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf

  14. Chris L said,

    February 12, 2006 at 10:02 am

    I’m reminded of a member of the public I heard on Radio 4 earlier this week, giving his opinion on the debate over the continued use of randomly-selected juries in exceedingly complex trials. He stated (with as straight face, I imagine, though he was on the radio) that just because some people are more intelligent or better educated than others, that doesn’t make them better qualified to assess complex evidence. I almost crashed my car whilst shouting at him.

    Now, there are perfectly good arguments for maintaining randomly-selected juries as the least-worst option. However, the speaker’s attitude is, I think, at the heart of a lot of the problems in modern society. We have, for various reasons, arrived at a situation where people believe that all opinions are qually valid, regardless of the source, and that experts may be ignored at will. I blame democracy.

    The current education debate amuses me. Blair bemoans the fact that all educations are not equal, acknowledges that some people receive much better educations than others, and wants to do something about it. Cameron went to Eton, which by the same logic makes him one of the best educated people in the country, yet this is considered to disqualify him from high office.

    As the saying goes: if you can believe that, you’ll believe anything. And they do.

  15. Janet W said,

    February 12, 2006 at 10:34 am

    This is very upsetting.
    Does the problem (breeding resistant strains) only apply to this particular herbal remedy, or to other malaria preventatives (chloroquine and so on)? Everyone going to India will be taking something..

  16. Mojo said,

    February 12, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Susan Clarke may not be writing her Times column any more, but:

    observer.guardian.co.uk/woman/story/0,,1705134,00.html

    I’m surprised that Ben is still allowed to mention her.

    Note how she advises patients to badger their GPs to prescribe them melatonin, but then tells them to ignore the GP’s advice if the GP thinks melatonin is inappropriate, and obtain it by other means. Doesn’t this to some extent negate the “consult your GP” disclaimer at the end of the column?

  17. Rowan said,

    February 12, 2006 at 11:50 am

    This bit is hilarious. First, the assumption that the “patient” wants something cutting-edge rather than something that works, then the seeming inability to tell the difference between stress and depression.

    My doctor has advised me to take a course of antidepressants but I am worried about the side-effects. I know St John’s wort is good for this but is there anything else on the market?

    If you want something brand new then you cannot get more pioneering than StressAssist; a supplement made by American company Futurebiotics which provides a therapeutic dose of L-theanine.

    This is an amino acid that has been shown to stimulate alpha brainwaves – the same type of brain activity detected during meditation and relaxation.This formulation is so cutting edge it includes the Ayurvedic (Indian) mood-enhancing herb, ashwagandha, a European herb called rhodiola (which works in the same way as St John’s wort to bolster levels of the brain’s feelgood hormone, serotonin), plus a good dose of anti-stress B vitamins.

    It costs £15.95 for 60 veggie capsules from US supplement specialist Victoria Health (as before).

  18. Chris L said,

    February 12, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    Janet W,

    The same argument applies, not just to other anti-malarials, but to just about any pathogen. MRSA is similarly the result of the original bug (the ‘SA’) developing methicillin resistance (the ‘MR’) through overexposure.

  19. Chris L said,

    February 12, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Oh, and…. I saw a great cartoon on this recently, from an American newspaper. An anti-evolution Christian Fundamentalist is diagnosed with TB, and his doctor asks him “so, would you like the old drug that we used to use for TB, or the new one that we developed after evolution made the old one useless?” :-)

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 12, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    not only does the same go for all bugs, susan clark has also recommended squandering a potential new treatment for MRSA, again by telling her readers to take low doses of it prophylactically (prophylactically meaning, again, as a preventive measure, when they do not have have an illness caused by the bug).

    www.badscience.net/?p=160

  21. Michael Harman said,

    February 12, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Is this a significant admission for alternative health advocates?

    “… the problem you face is that if you are trying to get pregnant we generally advise avoiding herbal remedies since we cannot be sure these remedies would be safe to take if you are successful.”

    But she’s surely spot on with this:

    “Homeopathy will not interfere with any medications you may be advised to take and poses no risk to your baby should you fall pregnant.”

  22. Misty said,

    February 12, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    I cannot believe that The Observer really have employed this woman Susan Clark.

    Apparently, according to the editorial at the beginning of their new woman section, she and her ilk are what women really want.

    observer.guardian.co.uk/woman/story/0,,1683901,00.html

    What do women want? Frankly, heaven only knows, but here at The Observer we hope we’ve got something of an answer, and you’re looking at it right now. Welcome to the first issue of Observer Woman, our fourth monthly title – a new kind of woman’s supplement, with the range and depth to appeal to women of all ages, and equally fascinating to men.

    Our world-class line-up of contributors includes international beauty expert Kathy Phillips, Vogue’s former health and beauty director; the brilliant style gurus at Grazia, Britain’s first weekly fashion magazine; Susan Clark, the most-knowledgable alternative health journalist…

    Sure, that’s what women want, women love that…

  23. Janet W said,

    February 12, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    … then what should the ethical tourist do?

    Even if they are prepared to take the risk and travel to India completely unprotected, they are presumably then putting UK people at risk on their return.

    (and don’t just say “avoid mosquitoes”..it’s pretty well impossible)

    I do some voluntary work for a small organisation providing exposure trips to development projects in rural India, and so obviously we’d be particularly concerned to avoid any behaviour which makes life worse for local people.

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 12, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    the ethical tourist, if they want to take any malaria prophylactics, should just take the normal recommended malaria prophylactics, instead of squandering a new lifesaving anti-malaria treatment by taking it as a prophylactic just because a sunday columnist thinks it sounds a bit herbal.

  25. Frank said,

    February 12, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    How DDT, which could have safely wiped out malaria, was rendered useless through misuse is retold by Desowitz in The Malaria Capers.

    It’s a geat book, if you dig reading about the big budgets, big egos and misbehaviour that lie behind the austere face of science.

  26. Janet W said,

    February 12, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    ..but Chris L seemed to be saying that *any* malaria prophylactic would have the effect of encouraging the development of resistant strains, hence my confusion…

  27. Tessa K said,

    February 12, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    Homeopathy poses no risk to the baby – is gullibility not hereditary then?

    When I’ve travelled abroad, I’ve just covered myself in DEET and I’ve always been fine (although it’s better to put it on your clothes than your skin). The little buggers don’t attack on the beach.

    In Saturday’s Weekend section, there is a letter from a woman claiming that Gerson therapy cured her metastasised malignant melanoma in 1981 ‘for which orthodox medicine had nothing to offer’. I know of someone who died using it. So does my anecdote cancel out hers?

    Having a good education doesn’t make you a better or nicer person and doesn’t necessarily mean you are bright (if you have the money) but when did it become unfashionable to be intelligent? Why is it socially unacceptable to show your intelligence? People who have worked their way to success without a good education play down their smarts as much as the well-educated smarties in many situations. I suppose if you’re being governed by mediocrity it doesn’t help. Should you also apologise for having good teeth, standing up straight and not being spotty?

  28. Chris L said,

    February 12, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    Janet W,

    I’ll admit I’m getting slightly out of my depth now, but I believe DDT would have been effective against malaria because it would have wiped out, or at least significantly reduced, the number of mosquitoes, rather than by affecting the plasmodium parasite directly.

    My earlier comment is a general prediction of evolutionary theory – any environmental factor that puts pressure on a given population will cause the population to evolve a response, and, within limits, the higher the environmental pressure, the faster the response. The worst possible thing to do is to adopt a half-hearted measure that puts severe stress on the population but doesn’t wipe it out entirely, because that will lead to the fastest development of resistance. Far better to keep the battle at the level of a small skirmish, and save the big guns for when they’re really needed.

    The old Domestos adverts always reminded me of this. It killed 99% of the germs – fair enough – but the 1% left were the ones the absolute elite, the ones that would be best able to survive the next attack.

  29. Mojo said,

    February 12, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    Misty said: “I cannot believe that The Observer really have employed this woman Susan Clark.”

    They didn’t seem to have any trouble with the idea of employing Emma Mitchell.

    Or “The Barefoot Doctor”, for that matter…

  30. Sockatume said,

    February 13, 2006 at 9:14 am

    Is Susan Clark working on commission from “alternative” medicine manufacturers or something? Her replies to queries read like advertising copy.

    What we really need to do is push more real scientists into alternative medicine. A debunking spliter cell, if you like.

  31. Teek said,

    February 13, 2006 at 9:17 am

    “This is very upsetting.
    Does the problem (breeding resistant strains) only apply to this particular herbal remedy, or to other malaria preventatives (chloroquine and so on)? Everyone going to India will be taking something..”

    people going to India are advised to take Malarone or Lariam (this isn’t an advert for either, I go to India very often).

    www.mdtravelhealth.com/destinations/asia/india.html

    the chloroquine story is worth bearing in mind. i went to India in 1998, and had to extend my stay by a couple of weeks. i ran out of prophylaxis, which at the time was a combination of paludrine (daily) and chloroquine (weekly). i went to a really well-respected pharmacist in Gujarat state (hot-bed for malaria in the monsoon), and asked for two weeks’ worth of paludrine/chloroquine.

    he laughed me out of the shop, saying ‘we haven’t used that combination in India for 25 years, IT DOESN’T WORK!!!!’

    for shame, the NHS’s prophylactic regime hadn’t changed the next time i visited – in 2000. i took paludrine/chloroquine. i got malaria.

    altho we all know that the plural of anecdote is not data, i’d advise taking prophylaxis that is PROVEN TO WORK, and is, as Ben rightly points out, THE LATEST DRUG COMBINATION RECOMMENDED BY THE WHO.

    beware of quacks recommending weak ‘preventetive’ drugs, they simply do not work.

    Ben, is there any legal recourse for saying that advice such as this bullshit that Clarke is peddling is putting travellers’ and others’ health at risk, and that they ought in fact to be held accountable?

  32. Paul said,

    February 13, 2006 at 10:36 am

    “Ben, is there any legal recourse for saying that advice such as this bullshit that Clarke is peddling is putting travellers’ and others’ health at risk, and that they ought in fact to be held accountable?”

    My suspicion is that the paper’s legal team will have ensured that the disclaimer at the foot of the column (“Before following advice, consult GP” or words to that effect) absolves her (and the paper) of any responsibility. I am speculating though and would be very interested to hear from anyone who understands the legal position.

    (An aside – a letter published in the Saturday Guardian a year or so ago came from a GP who had a neat response to the disclaimer attached to Emma Mitchell’s column (“before following my advice, consult a GP”). He wrote something like “I’m a GP and I advise you not to listen to a word Emma Mitchell says”).

  33. jon said,

    February 13, 2006 at 11:04 am

    “I guess my broader point would be that the people who grandiosely appoint themselves to be experts in complementary and alternative medicine, as it is clunkily called, are so incompetent they are incapable of assessing their own incompetence, and so incapable of policing their own safety.”

    That would explain a lot :) You do wonder, though – the legal disclaimer that comes with all these publications suggests that *someone* has an inkling that this advice could be ineffective/dangerous…

    Hadn’t noticed the Emma Mitchell column – interesting that most of the Observer seems to have been cleansed of ‘alternative’ medical advice, to shift this into the ‘Woman’ section. What women really want, apparently… Nice the way that Emma advices complicated ‘alternative’ remedies rather than the glaringly obvious – I mean, if your gums bleed when you brush your teeth then things like flossing, brushing correctly (and/or getting an electric toothbrush), seeing hygienist as often as you should etc. would seem a better place to start than odd herbal remedies…

    Jon

  34. Martin said,

    February 13, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    A little off topic, but the issue of hiding your intelligence was mentioned above.

    About a year ago the government was complaining about a report which stated that 50% of all teachers were “below average”.

    Well, yes…

    That’s sort of what “average” means.

    BTW, I’m not sure I want to take any drug combination recommended by The Who. Look what happended to Keith Moon.

  35. JohnHankinson said,

    February 13, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Ben – regarding your comment:

    “Now I realise evolution may be a problem area for some of you” with the link to the Guardian article with regards to the BBC poll for teaching ID etc.

    I think you might be praticing some bad science here yourself. That poll was deeply flawed and shouldn’t really be taken as evidence for anything. For example, whereas ID is a well understood (and exposed) concept amongst skeptics, many scientists, science teachers etc., it really hasn’t got wide exposure in the UK public yet (far less than in the US for example).

    I would suggest that the fact that so many people said it should be taught reflected more on their desire to look smart in front of the survey taker than anything else!

  36. Robert Carnegie said,

    February 13, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    In the particular case of jury selection, I am not sure whether I’d want to be tried before a jury of more intelligent people or just ordinary. And for one thing, things being what they are, the jury selected to be more intelligent is liable to be whiter, and, paradoxically, less likely to suspect police evidence. May or may not be richer… I think we are best sticking to just ordinary.

  37. Mike Griffiths said,

    February 13, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    We need a major effort to update our language and the way we think so that we can clearly differentiate between facts and belief systems.

    That way people could go on believing what they liked and it would be clear to their readers (or whatever) that they were expounding their beliefs and that what they had to say was not based upon any substance. We need to wrest (for instance) the scientific meaning of the word “theory” away from those that use the word to bolster their belief systems.

  38. Deetee said,

    February 13, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    Susan Clark recommends people travel to London for fertility advice from Dr Neil Slade.

    Turns out he is both a homeopath and a proper doctor (PhD) and not medically qualified at all. Perhaps his PhD was in the area of reproductive biology then…? Er, No – Infectious disease. Highly relevant, one presumes.

    He also happens to be the primary writer for the “Homeopathy Zone” on Susan Clark’s website, What really works.
    So no problem with any cronyism then, either.

  39. Yogini said,

    February 13, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    I am really, really shocked by the ‘advice’ that Susan Clark has given in her column.

    How do I complain?

  40. Tristan said,

    February 13, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Sorry, but…

    …YAY – Ben’s finally sorted the clock out on this thing. It was a nightmare trying to figure out when things were posted before!

  41. Tristan said,

    February 13, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    …oh bugger. Ignore the above. I was getting this confused with the forum.

    Ben, can you please sort out the clock in there? It’s driving me crazy. I can never tell when stuff was posted!

    Anyway, back to the topic…

  42. jon said,

    February 13, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    “I am really, really shocked by the ‘advice’ that Susan Clark has given in her column.

    How do I complain? ”

    here – observer.guardian.co.uk/readerseditor/0,8221,464507,00.html

    They tend to be quite good at correcting errors, at least (though some might suggest that the Grauniad and its sister paper make a fair few of them ;) )

  43. Teek said,

    February 13, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    jon, thanks for the link – but complaining to the newspaper’s hardly likely to put an end to the phenomenon that Ben describes in the article i.e. people with no scientific or medical background spewing advice on major killer diseases that contrdicts or jeapordises widely accepted clinical practice.

    this would need to be addressed at a level other than that of the individual paper/publisher.

    not sure where tho – maybe an open letter to all newspaper editors, telling them to ensure that ‘health advice’ is based on sound evidence-based publications rather than the bollocks that Clark and her ilk are keen to disseminate…?

  44. jon said,

    February 13, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Sorry, I thought you meant one specific piece of advice…

    You do wonder what the editors are doing – ffs, some of this advice screams out at me that it is dodgy, and that’s having studied biology to all of GCSE-level.

    Jon

  45. Brian G said,

    February 13, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Robert Carnegie said:

    And for one thing, things being what they are, the jury selected to be more intelligent is liable to be whiter, and, paradoxically, less likely to suspect police evidence.

    I presume you’ve over in the UK, but over here in the States, the issue is perhaps even more sinister. For instance, I’m absolutely certain I’ll never be allowed to sit jury for a case involving any biological evidence whatsoever–I’m a professional biologist (microbiology/immunology, to be precise) with significant molecular bio experience, and so your typical forensic data is exceedingly clear to me. Also, as a practicing and trained scientist, it’s my job to suspect biological evidence.

    I don’t know what’s more frustrating: that the defense attorneys would have me thrown out for how much I already understand, or that the prosecuting attorneys would have me thrown out for daring to question extant forensic procedures.

    And I’m just the kind of person that *both* sides need on the jury–someone who understands and appreciates the issues both for and against the type of evidence employed. Fie on both sides, for promoting stupidity and ignorance.

  46. CB said,

    February 13, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    kind of related to the ‘intelligence’ debate – are you better off believing something different to everybody else and being in fact correct, or erroneously believing the same as everybody else – and therefore having the whole of the rest of the world believe you’re right?

    For example – in a job interview, you could say something that is, in fact, correct – but if the interviewers disagree you’ll be disadvantaged, even though its them that are actually wrong.

  47. RS said,

    February 13, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    “Even if they are prepared to take the risk and travel to India completely unprotected, they are presumably then putting UK people at risk on their return.”

    Not really. Malaria doesn’t spread over here, we don’t have the mosquitos.

  48. Janet W said,

    February 14, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    oops. yes. silly of me.

  49. TB said,

    February 15, 2006 at 10:23 am

    ‘Not really. Malaria doesn’t spread over here, we don’t have the mosquitos.’

    see

    pmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/80/949/663

    eg

    “Five species of anopheline mosquitoes (the only species capable of transmitting human malaria) are indigenous to the UK, of which only Anopheles atroparvus breeds in sufficient numbers and in close enough association with humans to act as an efficient vector for malaria.”

  50. Delster said,

    February 15, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Tessa, re post 27

    I only caught this on the radio when on my way into work but apparently in a pole that was taken the (slight) majority of women stated they would rather be physically attractive than intelligent. Which depresses me no end!

    It’s not impossible that malaria could become a problem in the UK but (if memory banks are working) the malaria causing organism has problems dealing with our climate. not warm enough for a start.

    can anybody confirm that one for me?

    and there’s another reason to worry about global warming! :-)

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 15, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    yeah thats true, the anopheles mosquito doesnt live in the uk. having said that, does anyone know why you dont see anopheles mosquitoes and malaria in the USA? did they just DDT everything in sight?

  52. Chris L said,

    February 15, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    From the Wikipedia entry on DDT (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DDT)

    “DDT was responsible for eradicating malaria from Europe and North America. Though today malaria is thought of as a tropical disease, it was more widespread prior to an extensive malaria eradication program carried out in the 1950s. Though this program was highly successful worldwide (reducing mortality rates from 192 per 100,000 to a low of 7 per 100,000), it was less effective in tropical regions due to the continuous life-cycle of the parasite and poor infrastructure. It was not pursued aggressively in sub-Saharan Africa due to perceived difficulties, with the result that mortality rates there were never reduced to the same dramatic extent, and now constitute the bulk of malarial deaths worldwide, especially following the resurgence of the disease as a result of microbe resistance to drug treatments and the spread of the deadly malarial variant caused by Plasmodium falciparum.”

    It seems that allowing the use of DDT in Africa would be extremely beneficial, on balance. One suspects that the environmental problems it causes would not stop its use in the first world if it was our children that were dying in their thousands.

  53. Janet W said,

    February 15, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    “….For three centuries, malaria plagued the United States, from the deep south up to Michigan. When falciparum malaria entered the colony of South Carolina in the 1680s, the area developed an international reputation for “unwholesomeness.” “Those who want to die quickly, go to Carolina,” ran an English saying. “Carolina in the spring is a paradise, in the summer a hell, and in the autumn a hospital,” commented a German traveler. As late as 1914, 600,000 people in the United States suffered from locally transmitted malaria.

    Mosquito abatement measures, such as draining wetlands and using pesticides, effective drugs, and lifestyle changes ended malaria’s grip on the U.S. The disease still occasionally appears in the United States, though.”

    www.nationalreview.com/comment/zambone200404260850.asp

  54. Janet W said,

    February 15, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    the problem with Google is it’s so distracting…

    “Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmonds(1841-1898) Union Soldier.Sarah Edmonds, a Canadian by birth, assumed the alias of Franklin Thompson and enlisted as a private in the Second Michigan Infantry in Detroit on May 25, 1861. Her regiment participated in the Peninsula campaign and the battles of First Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Antietam. In April 1863, Edmonds deserted because she acquired malaria, and she feared that hospitalization would reveal her gender”

  55. Nat said,

    February 15, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    Actually there used to be a lot of malaria in the UK.
    www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/malaria/MalariaAndControl/chist1.html

    It’s mainly been modern public health measures (draining swamps, DDT etc) and improvements in housing that have practically eradicated malaria from developed countries.

    There are still outbreaks of malaria which occur every year, but they’re usually caught fast and prevented from spreading.

    Lots of useful info here too: www.cdc.gov/travel/malinfo.htm

  56. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 15, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    “the problem with Google is it’s so distracting…”

    yup. and interestingly, as in the lady soldier example, it also demonstrates the very human frailty of ascribing more significance to anomalies than to the everyday… it’s… almost like… its a huge collective human mind…

  57. Terry Hamblin said,

    February 16, 2006 at 9:19 am

    Outbreaks of malaria occurred in Kent after the first world war. It was thought to have been brought back by returning soldiers.

    Don’t write off intelligent design too easily. The resistant TB may have evolved, but the new drugs were produced by intelligent design. A current car advert shows a new model with the tag, “Don’t you believe in evolution?”

    Once more the designer fails to get the credit

  58. Hatter said,

    February 16, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Regulation of some herbal remedies and medications is fine if their use can cause harm to others, particularly large-scale harm like misuse of antibiotics. Otherwise potential users should simply be warned of potential negative consequences. See the stupid kav-kava and ephedrine scares of recent years for typical examples of overreaction and unacceptable interference by our nannies in government.

  59. Adam said,

    February 19, 2006 at 9:20 pm

    I couldnt agree more!

  60. Playground Equipment said,

    February 24, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Do you provide a blog feed subscription for this blog so I can get it via email?

  61. Why Dont You…Blog? » Bad Science said,

    March 22, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    […] For those fighting the eternal crusade against the madness of “alternative medicine” there is a good article at www.badscience.net/?p=211   […]

  62. jiangjiang said,

    December 8, 2009 at 3:37 am

    ed hardy ed hardy
    ed hardy clothing ed hardy clothing
    ed hardy shop ed hardy shop
    christian audigier christian audigier
    ed hardy cheap ed hardy cheap
    ed hardy outlet ed hardy outlet
    ed hardy sale ed hardy sale
    ed hardy store ed hardy store
    ed hardy mens ed hardy mens
    ed hardy womens ed hardy womens
    ed hardy kids ed hardy kids ed hardy kids

  63. Max01 said,

    December 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    What a lot of crap. Everyone gunning for Susan Clark when she has done nothing that the entire medical establishment has not been doing for the last 50 years. What about all the GPs who are still prescribing antibiotics for virus conditions? How can you pick her out for criticism and ignore the rest? A blatant case of bias