A Quantitative Analysis Of The Frequency With Which One Company Is Promoted, And By Whom, In UK National Newspapers UPDATED 30/9/06

September 19th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, express, mail, statistics, telegraph, times | 48 Comments »

“A Quantitative Analysis Of The Frequency With Which One Company Is Promoted, And By Whom, In UK National Newspapers”

Updated 16th September 2006.

Dr Ben Goldacre (Corresponding Author)
Bad Science Research Institute,
www.badscience.net
ben@badscience.net

Introduction.

Susan Clark is an alternative therapy columnist who recently made a cheeky attack on her critics. It was subsequently noted that she promotes one company, Victoria Health, with some regularity in her writing. There is a large pool of alternative therapy writers in the UK, who all regularly promote specific products and companies. No background data was available on how frequently this one company is promoted in newspapers, and therefore it was impossible to assess whether Clark’s promotion of them represented an anomaly. This brief pilot study was aimed at providing further background data.

Methods.

Since I couldn’t be bothered to cycle to the newspaper and go through all the newspaper archives systematically, I had a quick look at each newspaper’s archives through publicly available resources, as a pilot study. This data will be imperfect in that it will miss mentions of Victoria Health.

Results.

Victoria Health are promoted in the following newspapers and circumstances:

# by Susan Clark:

– 6 times (once a month so far) in the Observer.

– between 34 and 46 times (in the Sunday Times)

# 31 times by Emma Mitchell in the Guardian.

# Occasionally in “You” magazine (in the context of an explicit commercial relationship)

From this brief survey, several interesting negative findings also arose. No mention of Victoria Health could be found in other newspapers. Specifically, there were:

# no mentions in the Express:

# no mentions in the Independent:

# no mentions in the Telegraph:

# no mentions in the Daily Mail (from google alone) except once briefly in the context of an explicit commercial relationship.


Discussion.

With few and rare exceptions, it seems that all of Victoria Health’s many appearances in newspapers have been by two journalists: Susan Clark (in mulitple publications) or less frequently Emma Mitchell (in the Guardian).

One hypothesis to explain the frequency with which Susan Clark promotes Victoria Health was that they are a large company, who appear regularly in the media, and are written about by many journalists. From the results of the brief survey reported here, however, this seems not to be the case.

The frequency with which Susan Clark promotes Victoria Health in newspapers is therefore an anomalous finding This survey has also produced a second interesting finding, that another writer, Emma Mitchell, also promotes Victoria Health with notable frequency.

Note:

My personal feeling is that although these findings are a little extreme, this may well be, not fluke, exactly, but simply a reflection of the personal preferences of these writers. I contacted Grazia to get in touch with Susan Clark but received no response, if she wishes to get in touch do please email on ben@badsience.net or any of the other email addresses. I contacted both the Sunday Times and the Observer, both were aware of the frequency with which she recommends this company’s products, both said they had mentioned it to Clark and been reassured there was no impropriety.

I contacted Victoriahealth: “Hi there… I wanted to ask you a quick question: what is the nature of your financial relationship with Susan Clark, alternative health columnist for the Sunday Times, the Observer, and Grazia, who often promotes your products?” They replied and were very nice. “Hi Ben Thank you for your email. When Susan Clark left the Sunday Times we invited her to write a weekly column for us and we paid her for those columns. However, she terminated this arrangement after just five columns as she was offered a post at Grazia.”

Update 19th September 2006:

It has been announced that Susan Clark is the newly appointed Editorial Director of “Viva VH”, the inhouse magazine of www.victoriahealth.com. It says she will be writing for them exclusively. Whatever the reasons were before for her promoting VH – I honestly have no idea what was going on there, and again, I believe it’s just as likely that she was merely expressing a personal preference – she is now officially a writer in the pay of the very large industry of pill-peddling.

This to me is the point really. This is an industry, with financial interests, and the fact that it is not seen as such is testament to that industry’s excellent branding.

More Importantly:

There is a modest but genuine and non-trivial prize for anyone who can find any examples from the archives of Susan Clark implying that doctors are somehow in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.

www.victoriahealth.com/vhstore/pc/article.asp?articlefile=default/general/vhclub_loggedout.xml

Update 30/9/06:

I’ve received this email from Susan Clark, she sounds very nice and I hope we do get the chance to chat, I genuinely enjoy talking to alternative therapists who can string a sentence together. As I’ve said, I’ve not been convinced this was a financial thing, but my strong impression is that alternative therapy columnists recommending specific products are industry spokespeople, as one would find for any other industry, and that we are somewhat blinded to this because of the excellent branding of the whole sector as, well, not being an industry.

I don’t have time to write anything right now but she said I could use her letter to update the blog, so over to Susan Clark, and good to hear back from someone for a change, normally people just give me the cold shoulder (this is an extract):

I am very flattered you take such an interest in my work – maybe we should have lunch some time – but I am afraid you will be very disappointed to learn I am not the wicked witch of natural health; just someone who found the topic interesting.

I am not and have never been interested in promoting Susan Clark. For example, I set up the What Really Works website several years ago because I had such a massive back catalogue of material and it made it easier to deal with people asking for information they had missed.

Although we sold links to raise money to pay the teccies and two part-time editorial staff, I never took any income from that site which is now run under a (FREE) license arrangement with those teccies and contributors. I wanted to shut it down but they felt it had a role to play for them.

I decided to stop writing columns and take the job of Editorial Director for the VH Club – which I was only offered at the end of the summer when they decided to include an on-line magazine – because:

(1) I’ve done the Q&As for almost 10 years and so am boring myself!

(2) I wanted to work alongside Shabir Daya because he is a pharmacist and therefore, in my opinion, not peddling crap.

(3) I edited for a long time before I was asked to write What’s The Alternative? and am really pleased to be able to edit again.

….

I tell you this because this is not the behaviour of someone trying to rip people off.

I have never and still do not take any money for recommending products. That would make me some sort of saleswoman. When I accepted the post, I immediately resigned from the columns.

I think the Club is a great idea because it will ensure people are not buying rubbish from fly-by-night cowboys out to make a quick buck.

You may not be a fan of the field but it must have occurred to you and some of your bloggers, perhaps Victoria Health get the recommendations because they are good at what they do i.e. pharmacist advice, good customer care etc.

I am also afraid you will not find a winner for your competition; I have never adopted an “either/or” stance, I don’t care if you go to the doctor or take a supplement. What I cared about was that you were in a position to make an informed choice.


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48 Responses



  1. sockatume said,

    June 12, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    Maybe she’s a Victoria Health fangirl.

    I mean, surely they have fangirls in Altie World?

  2. Nebbish said,

    June 12, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    That would be the same Susan Clark whose Observer Columns carry the standard disclaimer:

    “Before following any medical or dietary advice in this column, please consult your GP if you suffer from any health problems.”

    while at the same time explicitly recommending us to ignore our GP’s opinion:

    “The trouble is, melatonin is not sold over the counter in this country which means you either have to persuade your GP to prescribe it, take your chances by ordering over the internet or ask friends or family who may be visiting America, where it is sold without restrictions to bring it back for you.” [Observer, Feb 12th]

  3. RW said,

    June 12, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    Hardly an alternative practitioner – just googled her column on line and read her pushing pills in near on every response. Maybe shes’ after mainstream cred with the ‘take a pill and fuck off’ approach ;-)

  4. amoebic vodka said,

    June 12, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    There’s no abstract.

    You don’t seriously expect us to read an entire scientific paper, do you? No proper scientists do that.

  5. amoebic vodka said,

    June 12, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    A little digging around Companies House…

    Victoria Health used to be called “Ancient Roots Limited” and changed its name on 8-12-2004. Now how will including that affect the figures?

  6. Sid said,

    June 12, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    Why stop there?

    She’s got plenty of other targets, erm, I mean professionals to comment nicely about.

    www.whatreallyworks.co.uk/start/factsheets.asp?article_ID=861

  7. pseudomonas said,

    June 12, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    The blurb at the bottom of Sid’s page contains the gem:

    If you have an underlying health problem and wish to incorporate some of the recommended measures into your lifestyle, please consult with your doctor. If he or she doesn’t approve of complementary medicine and an integrated approach, find one who does.

  8. tom p said,

    June 13, 2006 at 10:41 am

    Susan Clark seems quite popular with these guys too: www.littleherbal.co.uk/acatalog/Articles.html

  9. JohnK said,

    June 13, 2006 at 10:44 am

    I’m just thinking about how you’d establish this statistically. You could look at the frequency Clarke puffs VH products compared to how often she puffs other companies. You could also contrast her VH-puffing with other journo’s VH-puffing. Or some combination of the two. Ideally you would want longitudinal data on the “mentioning” of these companies by all equivalent journos. Is that available? If you did have a comprehensive dataset (sampled at random of course) you might find some interesting and reliable clustering.

    I always find stats harder at the more obvious end – I mean there’s clearly something unusual here and you don’t need a p-value to see that. But it would be nice to have one just the same!

    As JQH says, we also could do with some evidence of a financial link. It seems unlikely for a person to develop such a particular crush, but without direct evidence she can always claim she just likes their stuff for some reason. She might find they are more efficacious than other makes, for example, due to more convincing placebo-inducing labels.

  10. liverpoolmiss said,

    June 13, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Don’t forget that it’s not just the journalists who promote the companies.

    The companies also promote the journalists.

    For example, Susan Clark is a past winner of the “Health Journalist of the Year Award”, as awarded by the HFMA (Health Food Manufacturers’ Association). HFMA is “the trade association for the specialist health product industry”. www.hfma.co.uk/ It does battle with the EU over regulations for supplements, vitamins, etc

    Other past winners of this award include:

    Michael van Straten, who writes for the Daily Express and Woman magazine. Read about him at www.michaelvanstraten.com/ Alternatively read about him at www.badscience.net/?p=178

    Dr Sarah Brewer, who is a genuine GP. www.drsarahbrewer.com Writes for “What Really Works” alongside Susan Clark.

    Amanda Ursell, a diet expert. www.amandaursell.com/ She has suggested we should increase the silicon in our diet and recommends a product called Silica-OK (£6.95 from Victoria Health).

    Dr Thomas Stuttaford, from The Times.

    Dr Mark Atkinson, a “holistic medical physician” who writes for NOW magazine. www.drmarkatkinson.com/

    Awards like this can be very valuable for a freelance writer, leading to extra publications, extra income and book deals.

  11. awood said,

    June 13, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Have done a quick check on Victoria Health via Companies House online service. The two directors and owners of the shares are Gillian Sinclair (who gives her occupation as a therapist) and Shabir Daya (occupation given as company director but seems to be a pharmacist per Google).

    The last filed accounts were for 8 months to 30 Nov 2004 and the company seemed to be profitable (as it is small it only has to give limited info).

    No obvious evidence of a link from this to Susan Clark

  12. Delster said,

    June 13, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    it might be interesting to see if there are another 3 companies she mentions in the weeks she’s not selling victoria

  13. raygirvan said,

    June 13, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    Anybody got access to a media search engine like lexus nexus?

    Yep. From NewsBank:

    Susan Clark wrote the weekly Sunday Times What’s The Alternative column from May 17th 1998 – Oct 23 2005.

    Ancient Roots Limited got 12 mentions over the period Aug 19 2001 – Apr 20 2003 (with no pattern I can see)

    Victoria Health got 145 mentions over the period Nov 4 2001 – Oct 23 2005 (i.e. 145 out of 207 weeks).

  14. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 13, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    145!!!!!!!

  15. JohnK said,

    June 13, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    Ray, are you sure about those figures – on Lexis Nexis I get the same dates for the Sunday Times, but she only manages 72 articles mentioning Victoria Health. Could your counts be total number of mentions rather than total number of articles?

  16. Spencer said,

    September 19, 2006 at 9:42 pm

    Why pick on poor Victoria? I’m doing the dreaded “Training” on healthy living and a usually very critical journo freind lent me Patrick Holford’s “New Optimum Nutrition Bible.” The first few chapters seemed to have some very dubious arguments and after a bit I checked here and found it had hit the bad science radar with regard to Holford’s suggestion that Vitamin C is the best cure for AIDs.

    I wasnt going to read through the whole thing after that but I did notice something interesting in the bit at the end under “Resources.” The firm “Higher Nature” seemed to come up an awful lot as a reccomendation for various supplements. I did a count and found that of 19 reccomended “Herbal, Food and Nutrient Supplements” for everything from “Colon-Cleansing and detox supplements” to “Supplements for Snoring” amongst the reccomended products, Higher Nature has one for…well, all of them.

    Now a quick Google to Higher Nature reveals that they have a “Patrick Holford” range.

    Spooky or what?

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 19, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    i agree. i think this is a general probelm and what it reflects is not that wrongdoing is widespread – because there is no wrongdoing here- it really just shows that pill-peddling is a commercial industry, and that these people are, in many respects, the spokespeople for that industry.

    if they are perceived otherwise, and if it feels like an interesting thing to point out, it is only because we have been so uncynical in swallowing the carefully constructed brand identities of the apothecary-industrial complex as a whole.

  18. pv said,

    September 19, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    “Maybe she’s a Victoria Health fangirl”

    Henceforth known as Victoria’s Secret!

  19. JohnD said,

    September 19, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    Victoria the Pusher?
    Not “Posh”?
    J.

  20. stever said,

    September 20, 2006 at 12:03 am

    excellent work ray! bloody hell – that takes the dodgy quotient on this analysis through the roof. Im afraid my benefit of the doubt bank is now overdrawn on this lady.

  21. Mojo said,

    September 20, 2006 at 11:05 am

    When I looked into this I was struck by the fact that in 2006 in the Guardian/Observer, both Clark and Mitchell appeared to be plugging VH exactly once per calendar month, Clark on January 15, February 12, March 12, April 9, May 14, June 11, July 9, and August 6, and Mitchell on January 7, February 4, March 11, April 15, May 13, June 10, and July 15 (in Mitchell’s case this also holds for October to December 2005, although the mentions are less frequent before that).

    See:
    browse.guardian.co.uk/search?search=%22Susan%20Clark%22%20%22victoria%20health%22
    browse.guardian.co.uk/search?search=%22Emma%20Mitchell%22%20%22victoria%20health%22

    It’s almost as if there’s some sort of contractual obligation involved; does the Grauniad have a rule that contributors are not allowed to plug a company more often than once a month?

  22. MissPrism said,

    September 20, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Here’s two, if they count:

    “However, for political and probably financial reasons, his findings were ignored and McCully was forced to leave Harvard.”

    and

    “A cynic might suggest the reason this information was suppressed was because commercially, there was less money to be made from a safe and natural supplement than from pharmaceuticals or cholesterol-free foods. ”

    from an article on the What Really Works website,
    www.whatreallyworks.co.uk/start/articles.asp?article_ID=66

    Also,

    “For the record, and just so that I don’t ever have to say this again, you cannot buy your way onto this page. I do not accept any financial remuneration from any of the experts, the products we recommend, or authors that we feature. This would endanger my independent stance, which is important to maintain when you’re acting as the bridge between the experts and the public.”

    from www.whatreallyworks.co.uk/start/articles.asp?article_ID=231

  23. MissPrism said,

    September 20, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    On second thoughts, I can’t work out whether that first article is by her.

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 20, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    mojo: remember, clarks observer column was monthly, although mitchells was weekly so that is still an interesting anomalous finding.

  25. Mojo said,

    September 20, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Ben Goldacre said, “remember, clarks observer column was monthly”

    Ah. I hadn’t realised that.

    So she plugged them in every single column.

  26. lammtron said,

    September 20, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Apparently Susan Clark is ‘Editorial Director’ of the Victoria Health Club (whatever that means):

    www.victoriahealth.com/vhstore/pc/article.asp?articlefile=default/homepages/index.xml

    so all in all sounding like she has more than a passing interest in the company.

  27. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 20, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    remember thats only just been announced tho

  28. Gleamhound said,

    September 20, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    Very good.

    Just playing devils advocate here:

    Is this any different from complaining that Jeremy Clarkson writes about Ferrarri quite a lot?

  29. richardpt said,

    September 20, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Surely there will be a conflict of interest between Ms Clark’s involvement with the VH ‘Health Club’ and her “What’s the Alternative” web site?

    Incidentally, I note that Sarah Stacey also actively promotes VH in her recommendations. Just see latest “Mail on Sunday” healthnotes page for this:

    “Most products are available by mail order from Victoria Health….”

    So, are there any health columninsts who are NOT in the VH club?

  30. Dr Aust said,

    September 20, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    Anyone apart from me noticed that the Guardian Saturday mag “natural health” column has gone orthodox?

    Yes, in place of Emma Mitchell, Susan Clark and their Alt doppelgangers,the column is now written by a Dr Max Pittler, who is 2nd-in-command of Prof Edzard Ernst’s Complementary Medicines Research unit at Peninsula Medical School.

    Presumably Pittler, like Ernst is a doctor interested in the evidence (ot lack of it) for complementary therapies.

    Interestingly, in the half dozen columns thus far he seems to be saying “there isn’t any actual evidence that the stuff you’ve mentioned works” rather a lot. e.g.:

    lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,,1867070,00.html

    A thought – does this conversion moment at the Grauniad owe anything to Ben’s repeated debunking of Altie nonsense elsewhere in their pages? Or to this blog? Can we claim a collective victory over the Forces of Alt.Darkness?

    Forward with the light of scientific evidence..! etc etc

    PS Pittler’s byline in full runs:

    “Max H Pittler is deputy director of complementary medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, and author of The Desktop Guide To Complementary And Alternative Medicine (Mosby).”

    Plus the useful (!) reminder:

    “Before following Max’s recommendations, you should consult your GP about any medical problems or special health conditions”

  31. doctormonkey said,

    September 20, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    Gleamhound (28) – to the best of my knowledge, Jeremy Clarkson owns a variety of vehicles and when his Ford GT went spectacularly wrong he has been at pains to comment on its failings – I believe he comments it has never completed a round trip to somewhere and back without dying and that he must refuel at least once between home and work and home due to its appaling MPG.

    It is also woth noting (and I think this may be relevant as it is a parallel type of column) that motoring journalists review cars they get from companies (no one denies this) and then they list good/bad points. Many will have seperate sections that in effect must be completed on downsides and they will often list similar models. The potential problem is that we have people not saying if they are getting freebies etc, not listing good vs bad points and not giving alternatives or lists of similar products. It is a bad day when “science” is out-ethic’ed (not a real word) by the motor industry!

  32. doctormonkey said,

    September 20, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Dr Aust (30) – Max Pittler is not obviously findable on the GMC register but his qualifications on the Peninsula Medical School website are PhD and MD (link here www.pms.ac.uk/pms/school/details.php?id=136) – I understand that MD is Medical Doctorate and so is a post graduate [or abroad (eg USA) a primary] medical qualification but he does not list an equivalent to the batchelor degrees given to UK graduates, eg I am MB BS and I am sure Ben has some letters like that.

    Also of note, as Prof Ernst has these, there are no professional associations listed for Dr Pittler (eg MRCP/FRCP), the same website I quoted above gives Professor Ernst MD, PhD, FRCP, FRCP (Edin.)

    I will drop Dr Pittler an email and post his reply about his qualifications – I am not attacking him either way and I will tell him why I ask also.

  33. CdrJameson said,

    September 20, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Alternative hypothesis:

    The Observer, Sunday Times and Guardian have more comprehensive searchable archives than the Express, Independent or Telegraph.

    You need a control company for comparison. Microsoft? Apple? British Telecom?

  34. Dr Aust said,

    September 20, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    I suspect Max Pittler might be a medic who trained in Germany, like Ernst, Dr Monkey. Let me know if I’m right.

    In Germany you become a licensed medical practitioner when you pass the final (state-set) qualifying exam at the end of medical school This is why German graduates often list their medical qualification as:

    “State Med Exam (statename)”

    HOWEVER, you do not officially acquire the title Dr, even as a “courtesy” one. To get an MD, and call themselves “Dr”, German medics have to do an additional research thesis while they are at medical school – largely in their spare time! When this is ratified by the Univ, and only then, do they get addressed as “Doktor” rather than “Artzt” (physician). So Max Pittler could be a German graduate with the research thesis, though as you say it could also be a US medical degree

    People in Germany take the correct title very seriously, leading to the odd scenario that you can be a qualified medical practitioner there but NOT feel it appropriate to be addressed as “Doktor”. In fact, a German medic who didn’t do a research thesis but who put “Dr” in front of their name could arguably be disciplined be the German licencing authorities, as it would be regarded as purporting to have a qualification they didn’t possess…!

    Because of the above, you may have met German medical grads working in the Engilsh NHS who find it very odd to be addressed as “Doctor” and take years to get used to it.

    PS I only know this because Mrs Dr Aust falls into this category!

  35. Mojo said,

    September 20, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    lammtron said, “Apparently Susan Clark is ‘Editorial Director’ of the Victoria Health Club”

    Her column this week:

    “Susan Clark Unedited
    The newly-appointed Editorial Director of the VH Club reports on the story-behind-the-story. Telling it like it is; this month, the hidden cost (to your body) of prescription medicines.”

    www.victoriahealth.com/vhstore/pc/article.asp?articlefile=default/general/vhclub_ebulletin_sept06.xml

  36. Mojo said,

    September 20, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    richardpt said, “Incidentally, I note that Sarah Stacey also actively promotes VH in her recommendations. Just see latest “Mail on Sunday” healthnotes page for this”

    They seem to be quite open about the link with the MoS. From this page: www.victoriahealth.com/vhstore/pc/article.asp?articlefile=default/homepages/index.xml

    “Earlier this year, we were invited to team up with the Mail on Sunday YOU magazine so don’t miss Sarah Stacey’s excellent weekly Health Notes column.”

  37. j said,

    September 20, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    “Alternative hypothesis:

    The Observer, Sunday Times and Guardian have more comprehensive searchable archives than the Express, Independent or Telegraph.”

    Interesting hypothesis. However, the Inde and Telegraph are also (since the mid-1990s) archived in the infotrac database – searching this also shows no mentions of ‘Victoria health’ in them. The Infotrac database is very reliable; it doesn’t include the Express or Mail, though, and not sure how good their archive search is.

  38. pv said,

    September 20, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    “Susan Clark Unedited
    The newly-appointed Editorial Director of the VH Club reports on the story-behind-the-story. Telling it like it is; this month, the hidden cost (to your body) of prescription medicines.”

    As opposed to the hidden cost to your health and bank bank balance by forgoing properly tested medicine for the quackery promoted by Susan Clark (aka paid spokesperson for Victoria Helth). She neglects to mention the fantastic benefit by way of financial profit to herself and her employer, or the fact that the she would be the first to complain if a pharmaceutical company were to behave in the same way as Victoria Health.
    Did I hear someone whisper “double standards”, and the familiar hollow echo of a lack of integrity.

  39. Mojo said,

    September 20, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    And of course, there are reasons that prescription medicines are only made available on a doctor’s prescription.

  40. doctormonkey said,

    September 21, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    Dr Aust (And everyone else), I have had a response from Dr Pittler, having explained I would put this on the website.

    The response reads: Dr Freedman, thanks for you interest. I hold an MD in Applied Physiology from the University of Freiburg, Germany and a PhD in Medical Sciences from the University of Exeter, UK. I am not a member or fellow of any of the Royal Colleges.

    Hope that helps, Max Pittler

    (I am Dr Freedman, in case it wasn’t obvious)

    From what Dr Aust has said, I assume this means he is medically qualified AND did the additional research to get the MD and now has a PhD, from my point of view (basic UK medical qualification only) this is certainly approaching fuck-off academic ninja levels

  41. hatter said,

    September 22, 2006 at 11:55 am

    I recall Holford attacking coffee because it contains caffeine, but then recommending tea and attempting to downplay it’s caffeine content. And he’s likely unaware that tea also contains more potent methy xanthines.

  42. Dr Aust said,

    September 22, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    “I recall Holford attacking coffee because it contains caffeine, but then recommending tea and attempting to downplay it’s caffeine content. And he’s likely unaware that tea also contains more potent methyl-xanthines.”

    Yes, another classic instance of buzz-word bollocks-ism outweighing proper science.

    In fact the “how much caffeine (or similar substances) in my three-times-daily cuppa of whatever” question is quite a good one for helping people (from members of the public to medical and science students) deconvolute buzz word bollocks into scientiftic info: to whit

    How much caffeine in terms of CONTENT (e.g. for dry tea / coffee) – the kind of misleading info often quoted by health-guru-istas.
    How much in the actual cup I drink (depends on what, how prepared, how BIG a cup)
    How much of other chemicals that do exactly the same thing- e.g. methylxanthines

    As a scientist or doctor you would probably want to know the actual statistic (e.g. for a study) as “How many mg of caffeine or pharmacologically-equivalent related substances do I consume per day”… but getting this from peoples’ “how many cups of what” info is not entirely straightforward.

  43. Lethe said,

    September 22, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    Doctormonkey: “From what Dr Aust has said, I assume this means [Max Pittler] is medically qualified AND did the additional research to get the MD and now has a PhD, from my point of view (basic UK medical qualification only) this is certainly approaching fuck-off academic ninja levels”

    After the offensive replies Ask Emma used to come up with, reading the Ask Max answers almost brings tears of joy to my eyes – they’re so sensible! And involve things like going to your GP! *sighs happily*

  44. Dr Aust said,

    September 24, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    “After the offensive replies Ask Emma used to come up with, reading the Ask Max answers almost brings tears of joy to my eyes – they’re so sensible!”

    Agreed. Highly sensible – rational evidence-based mainstream medical / common-sense advice. Just like people should (but don’t always) get from the GP.

    Vorwaerts Doktor Doctor Pittler!

    Of course, his column is likely to disappoint lots of people who WANT to be told there is a special ” superfood” or herb to cure everything: “Conjuncitivitis? Just eat lots of blackberries to re-balance your body’s acidity”"

    Sadly, one can find the odd real (i.e. conventionally trained) doctor in this latter camp – see e.g. Dr John Briffa, once tne Observer ‘s resident Natural Health booster and still to be found lurking around the Observer Food Monthly analysing celebrities’ shopping baskets.

  45. Mojo said,

    September 26, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    This week’s Private Eye (No. 1168, p. 5) has the story about Susan Clark’s plugging of Victoria Health in her column every month and her subsequent appointment as editorial director of Viva VH.

  46. richardpt said,

    September 29, 2006 at 10:24 am

    In the YOU magazine (Mail on Sunday), doesn’t Sarah Stacey plug Victoria Health EVERY week?

    Perhaps she’s picked up where Ms Clark has left off…..

    Another Private Eye story in the making?

  47. richardpt said,

    September 29, 2006 at 11:03 am

    A quick glance at the VH web site tells me that Melissa Clark writes for the VH club as well as editing the kids section on Susan Clark’s “What Really Works” site. Are the two Ms Clarks related by any chance?

    A search on “What Really Works” reveals just over 100 mentions of VH (as a supplier) of recommended products in the ‘Q&A’ archive alone.

    Favouritism is rife in business, we all know that. It’s just the continual plugging of one company’s products over others and the “you scratch my back….” ethos that gets me!

  48. Cye said,

    October 13, 2006 at 6:07 pm

    If you get a chance to chat with Susan Clark ask her about the following promotion (Observer Woman, July 2006):

    “Most of the cholesterol in your body – more than 80 per cent – comes not from your diet but is produced by your liver, so you need an agent that will reduce this production without damaging that organ. The herb that does this is called Red Yeast Rice (Hong Qu)” (available from, guess where, Victoria Health at £19.95 for 90 capsules.)

    You could start by asking her how certain she is that red yeast rice does not damage the liver, given that the main cholesterol lowering ingredient in red yeast rice is actually lovastatin. Even if she is very confident why has she neglected to mention this in the light of her aim of making sure “you were in a position to make an informed choice.” Informed choices such as: “do I want to take a tablet containing a known amount of lovastatin as prescribed by my doctor or do I want to take a tablet containing an unspecified amount of lovastatin from a herbal remedy supplier?” or, “I am already taking lovastatin, would it be sensible to add in a herbal product that also contains lovastatin?”

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