Saturday April 22, 2006
So here’s a tangled web, and frankly I don’t think anybody comes out of it looking too good, including me. Yes We Can Cure ADHD, read the Daily Mail last week. Now I know what you’re thinking. Like a magnificently drunk girlfriend, you’re shouting: “Leave it, he’s not worth it”.
And yet, something caught my eye. Controversial cures come from controversial people, whereas this was written by “neurologist Dr Robin Pauc”. That authority card really stands out. Authority is so important with health information, and neurologists are so immaculate, so ruthlessly pedantic.
So I check, and “neurologist Dr Robin Pauc” does not appear on the specialist register for neurology held by the GMC. But neurologist Dr Robin Pauc is a doctor of chiropractic, with a career, I grant you, in the neurological aspects of chiropractor stuff.
Now, the General Chiropractic Council’s code of practice says: “Chiropractors who use the title of ‘doctor’ and who are not registered medical practitioners must ensure that they make it clear that they are registered chiropractors and not registered medical practitioners.” And the word chiropractor does not appear in this authoritative 2,000 word promotion for Dr Robin Pauc’s new book and cure for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But is it so bad? By law, unlike “protected titles” such as nurse or physiotherapist, anyone can call themselves a doctor or a neurologist. Amusingly, on the other hand, you cannot call yourself a chiropractor, as Dr Robin Pauc can, because that is a protected term.
So I call neurologist Dr Robin Pauc, upon which he rather pulls the rug out, and simply denies writing the article, which is a further surprise. He says it was written by two people from the Mail, and he had no control over it. So now, not only is the author of this article, “neurologist Dr Robin Pauc”, not a neurologist (to my naive interpretation of the word) but suddenly he’s also not the author of the article.
Was I supposed to just assume all this? Am I preposterously naive? Are newspapers like this outside of the health pages too? You can see how writing the column gets a bit confusing sometimes. Pauc denies ever claiming to be anything other than a chiropractic neurologist. He denies offering any cure for ADHD. Then he gets angry and puts the phone down. Like you would.
But one thing he said sticks in my mind: that I cannot address his theories, because I have not read his book. And on this occasion, I will not. Authority is a shortcut to reliable information. You take stuff on faith because reading, critiquing and checking that academic references are valid and represent the material they refer to, and more, is very time consuming. I started out dubious about his claims. And after an afternoon in this hall of mirrors, I am in no sense motivated to spend my time reading a whole book on them. Like I said, I don’t think anybody comes out of this one looking too good.
: Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ironically, given the question of Pauc’s copy being changed, the Guardian actually changed my article too, cutting it for space reasons, removing the bits where I allude to feeling a bit conflicted about chasing the story which upset Pauc so inevitably. The above version is without those cuts.
You could say this was a minor change, but still I feel slightly uncomfortable reading it myself: partly because writers will always feel like that about cuts that they cannot check or control; partly because it makes me look a marginally more horrible person; but mostly because the most interesting thing to me about this whole situation wasn’t that some bloke’s qualifications were slightly misrepresented (for whatever reason), but rather that these slight misrepresentations of qualification and authority are small but incredibly common, and troubling yourself over tracing them out and trying to dissect right from wrong can feel petty and disproportionate, perhaps because they are now arguably a cultural norm.
I still can’t decide if it was an okay thing to write about, or if I have distressed this man for no good reason.