You vexatious TROUBLEMAKERS!

November 29th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil | 43 Comments »

Hahahaha, well the struggle to get meaningful scientific information out of Madeleine Portwood et al in Durham regarding her famous positive fish oil “trials” continues. To me this is very simple. They talk about positive trial data, at length, for a long time, in the media. We want to see it. Portwood is eager to go on telly and talk about her positive findings to journalists, but the information behind the claims is somehow less forthcoming.

Pasted below is the rejection that a couple of hundred of you have had. There’s a lot to say about what’s in it which I leave to you. They also sent you all a short and rather uninformative document which they sent me previously (and which is already posted previously on badscience.net, and half of which is made up, rather sweetly, of abstracts of other peoples’ studies copied and pasted from Medline!).

They also sent a Portwood conference presentation on autism which nobody seemed to know had ever happened, they’d never mentioned it, and nobody had asked for it, I guess perhaps they sent it to show that Portwood has been busy.

Just to be absolutely clear, in amongst all the attachments and the bluster, they have not sent any information on the results of the Sunderland or Middlesborough trials.

The only thing they did send was the very thinnest methodological information on the Middlesborough trial.

My personal suspicion, based on what I have seen of Portwood, the website of “results”, the fact that she called the 5,000 subject no control farce a “trial” and expressed the belief that it would produce meaningful results, the reticence to discuss the issue with me, but her eagerness to talk to and bamboozle everyday journalists, and all the rest, all lead me to believe that she has done some kind of work, but that it is methodologically weak in some respect (as a great deal of research is, of course).

However it really is perfectly possible that I am completely wrong, that’s honestly just my hunch, and my opinion.

My strongest concern on this whole issue is that science has some kind of authority in our society, and that this authority, the trust, if you will, that people have in the results that people claim for their research, is predicated on the transparency of the process. That transparency should be preserved, and I do hope it will be in time.

I should also say that I am still more than eager for Dr Portwood – since it seems from the FoI rejection letter that Durham people read this blog, bizarrely – to reply to my phone messages or emails to discuss the methodology. They were perfectly polite. Just a call. A few questions. No panic. I’m not an ogre. Simple questions. It would be more constructive than some of the posts from Durham lurkers that have appeared on this site, such as this one which I felt really was in rather poor taste, especially in the context of the difficulty people have had getting useful information abut these “trials” from Durham:

www.badscience.net/?p=297#comment-7714

It would also be more sensible than the invitation to come and visit. I have to say I found it rather childish that I had to travel all the way to Durham to have a simple conversation, and I found it rather silly that Durham quoted this to me as an example of how reasonable they were being. Just a phone call – not the FoI Act – or an email, to answer some questions, Portwood: you love talking to journalists. You’re famous for it.

In fact I think the most important lesson here is for other journalists who Portwood – the leading scientific light and spokesperson of the enormous Durham fish oil research program – will talk to. Remember, she wouldn’t talk to me. I have friends. I have ears. Journalists have said they felt bamboozled, confused by the scientific detail from Portwood. I’m here, Madeleine. I’m on your level. I know about trials. I can interpret data. We speak the same language…

Anyway, I do think this response raises some very interesting issues.

Firstly, I think it is very interesting that they refused it on grounds of vexatiousness, as does this man here:

www.martinstabe.com/blog/2006/11/29/crowdsourcing-is-vexatious/

They kindly include the official definition:

“Where a request, which may be the latest in a series of requests, would impose a significant burden and:
· Clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;
· Is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;
· Has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
· Can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.”

Secondly, I am deeply touched by the censorious tone.

Thirdly, I am very deeply freaked out that so many of you could be bothered and wrote. It even got messages of support from professors of evidence based medicine. I didn’t feel that this was in any sense a concerted movement or campaign: however, amusingly, I think it might be now that they’ve called “us” one.

There are a lot of ways forward.

I’m off fighting my own battles on this one and I simple don’t think they’re going to produce any meaningful data on the trials. I am chasing this in other ways, and I suppose – perhaps rather absurdly – that I have to distance myself a bit from your organised campaign if I can.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun. I am totally into the idea that you lot represent some kind of sinister organised underground force for good, and I think the quality of insight demonstrated in the posts and the letters on the previous fish oil thread betrayed a phenomenal groundswell of intellect and energy.

You have at your disposal badscience.net/wiki to organise on, the full £750 has been pledged on pledgebank now:

www.pledgebank.com/fishoils

and I have no doubt that many of you will be considering your options after receiving your rejections.

The floor is totally yours. I think the “vexatious” thing was a big mistake on their part. I for one was very much hoping to get some data out of Durham to support their endless dreary claims about positive trial results, when I made my request. They didn’t accuse me of being vexatious but if they had they would have had a pretty amusing struggle on their hands.

Your money is of course there for the using, you cheeky scamps, and you could offer them the £750 and see if it helps. Several people, including one quite senior figure (check my cloak and daggerness) have suggested complaining to Portwoods professional bodies, eg the BPS, on the publicising-of-research parts of the guidelines, but I for one feel very uncomfortable about that, I doubt it would be fruitful, and it feels uncool and vindictive.

Also, if by some perverse miracle there is any kind of energy directed towards some kind of organised BSWatch campaign group beyond this single issue then I’ll happily do what I can to facilitate and help out.

Your efforts already have been, can I just say, both hilarious and stupendous, and if I had feelings, I would have them now.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 – REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

Your request for information on the fish oil trials / studies / initiatives at Durham has been considered.

It has become apparent that the recent influx of requests received by Durham County Council on this subject is as a result of an article by Ben Goldacre, published in The Guardian (11 November 2006) and on the website www.badscience.net. It is also apparent that these requests have been sent by different persons who are acting in concert or in pursuance of a campaign. We consider these requests to be vexatious, and they are therefore refused under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the FOI Act”).

Section 14(1) of the FOI Act states that:
“Section 1(1) does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information if the request is vexatious.”

In his guidance note No. 22 on Vexatious and Repeated Requests, the Information Commissioner gives further detail as to what may constitute a vexatious request:
“Where a request, which may be the latest in a series of requests, would impose a significant burden and:
· Clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;
· Is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;
· Has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
· Can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.”

Between 11th and 26th November 2006, Durham County Council received 106 requests for information as a result of this campaign, along with 18 further emails of support for Ben Goldacre. In 2005 as a whole, Durham County Council only received 165 requests under the FOI Act. This clearly demonstrates that these requests have imposed a significant burden on the Council.

In determining that these requests are vexatious we also had regard to what appeared to be the purposes of these requests, which became evident from comments in the emails themselves and on the Bad Science website:
· As an attempt to circumvent the Fees Regulations, as Ben Goldacre’s second FOI request had been refused as the cost of complying exceeded the appropriate limit of £450. In his article in The Guardian he had suggested that readers might send in parts of his request under their name, as he believed that this might enable the information to be fully disclosed, albeit in small parts to several individuals;
· To pressure Durham County Council into disclosure of information in response to Ben Goldacre’s second FOI request, even though a legitimate refusal notice had been issued and, at the time, no appeal had been received against this refusal notice;
· As the campaign appears to be solely concerned with pressuring the Council into providing information to Ben Goldacre, it is apparent that the requests have been sent in as a form of protest against the decision to refuse Ben Goldacre’s second FOI request. They are designed to cause disruption or annoyance and they have had the effect of harassing the public authority.

It is for these reasons, taking into account the effect of the requests in imposing a significant burden on the Council and the apparent purposes of the requests, that we consider your request to be vexatious. This is therefore a refusal notice under section 17 of the FOI Act.

While we are refusing your request for information under the FOI Act, we do recognise that there is an interest in the disclosure of information relating to these studies. Attached is a document that outlines published scientific studies into dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids. This information was provided to Ben Goldacre on 16 October 2006 in full response to the first of his two requests for information under the FOI Act. This clearly sets out all of the studies that have been undertaken by Durham County Council. You will note from the details that there have been three randomised controlled trials and other open label studies carried out using fatty acid supplements by staff employed by Durham County Council.

The Oxford-Durham Trial – Dr AJ Richardson (a Research Fellow at Mansfield College, Oxford University) published the preliminary results: – Clinical trials of fatty acid supplementation in dyslexia and Dyspraxia: in Glen AIM, Peet M, Horrobin DF. (eds.) Phospholipid Spectrum Disorder in Psychiatry and Neurology. Carnforth: Marius Press, October 2003: 491-500.

The first peer-reviewed results were published by Dr Richardson and Dr Paul Montgomery (Lecturer, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, Oxford University): – The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder. Pediatrics. 2005 May;115(5):1360-6

In accordance with scientific protocol, you should address any requests for further details on this study to the authors of the paper, at Mansfield College.

Sunderland – Dr Madeleine Portwood presented the first paper on 31st October 2006 at the World Autism Conference, Cape Town, hence the details of this study are now in the public domain. Please find attached a copy of the paper.

Middlesbrough – It is intended that details of this study will be submitted for publication next year. In common with accepted scientific practice, we will not release unpublished detailed information, as that would prejudice its ultimate publication in a peer-reviewed journal. We are, however, attaching a copy of the recruitment and trial protocol.

Greenfield / SureStart open label studies – The paper detailing the results of these two studies has now been published (Nutrition and Health, 2006, Vol. 18(3), pp233-247), hence the details of this study are now in the public domain.

Ethical approval was sought before any of the three randomly controlled trials were carried out: the protocol of the Oxford-Durham Study was approved by the Durham Local Research Ethics Committee; the protocols of two further trials completed last year were submitted to the University of Sunderland and Sunderland Primary Care Trust ethics committees, and the Middlesbrough Primary Care Trust research ethics committee respectively. The former was approved by those two committees, and the response of the second was that ‘as this trial was being implemented by the education authority it would not require their ethical approval and that the trial could simply proceed’.

The respective research ethics committees did not at any time instruct the investigators of these trials to make a clinical trial application to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), regarding the use of supposed ‘investigational medicinal products’ in human trials. Therefore as the researchers of the trials believed that they were using safe levels of nutritional supplements, the need for registration to trials databases was not deemed essential at the times that they commenced, as they are in the case of drug trials. In addition, the researchers believe that publications resulting from these trials will be considered for peer-review publication because the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ published policy (2004) states that only clinical trials starting patient enrolment on or after 1st July 2005 would not be considered. Each of the three trials started enrolment before this date and should therefore still be publishable without the existence of a EUDRACT code or equivalent.

In addition to these, Ben Goldacre was also supplied with the details of many other studies that are detailed in the attachment that outline the rationale for Durham’s support and involvement in research and initiatives relating to fatty acids and learning.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request please contact me at the address below, or by telephone (0191 370 8803) or e-mail (peter.dinsdale@durham.gov.uk) to appeal under the County Council’s Corporate Complaints Procedure.

After you have exhausted our internal appeals procedure you also have a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner at:
Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Telephone: 01625 545 745
Fax: 01625 524 510
Email: enquiries@ico.gsi.gov.uk

Most of the documents that we provide in response to Freedom of Information Act requests will be subject to copyright protection. In most cases the copyright will be owned by Durham County Council. The copyright in other documents may be owned by another person or organisation, as indicated on the documents themselves.

You are free to use any documents supplied for your own use, including for non-commercial research purposes. The documents may also be used for the purposes of news reporting. However, any other type of re-use, for example, by publishing the documents or issuing copies to the public will require the permission of the copyright owner.

For documents where the copyright is owned by Durham County Council, please contact me for details of the conditions on re-use.

For documents where the copyright is owned by another person or organisation, you would need to apply to the copyright owner to obtain their permission.

Yours sincerely

Peter Dinsdale
Freedom of Information / Data Protection Coordinator
Durham County Council
Culture & Leisure
Rivergreen Centre
Aykley Heads
Durham
DH1 5TS


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

43 Responses



  1. kim said,

    November 29, 2006 at 8:43 pm

    Vexatious, hey? Which means:

    “would impose a significant burden and:
    · Clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;
    · Is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;
    · Has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
    · Can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.”

    Which of those four do they think the request is? What a shame they don’t say.

    If they just answered the questions – which, under the terms of FOI, they should – then the requests wouldn’t be annoying, or disruptive, would they?

    I guess the next thing is for everybody to go through the appeals procedure. It would be so much easier for all concerned if they just answered the questions now.

  2. superburger said,

    November 29, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    I sent my own FOI request, about other things related to the trial – but the response I got was the same.

    I have asked them to reconsider their opinion, and will appeal to the boss-man in Cheshire.

    The section about the number of FOI requests increasing made me giggle. The fish oil trial is about the most interesting thing Durham CC have done since forever – and Equazen splash the Durham CC name over their pills. Is it any suprise that people take in an interest and make FOI requests.

    The whole things stinks. Worse than rotten fish oil.

  3. Ithika said,

    November 29, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    I agree with Kim. The Powers That Be have spoken, and you are vexatious, but no word on what is vexatious about your (or everybody else’s) behaviour. Surely they are obliged to say how and why they came to their decision, as they seem to be judge, jury and executioner.

    As superburger said, this whole thing stinks. One can only hope that if this gets television coverage it’ll be heavily influenced by BG’s work here and someone – anyone – will ask some extremely tough questions. Any idea what television stations/programmes she’s been selling herself to?

    (Ithika quietly hopes she’ll turn up on Newsnight opposite Jeremy Paxman!)

  4. hinschelwood said,

    November 29, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    So much for freedom of information.

    Ok, will this £750 actually get the information now? I’m signed up for it and more than happy to meet my promise. What’s the next step? I’d love to see what they’ve got.

  5. Gypsum Fantastic said,

    November 30, 2006 at 4:48 am

    What about simpy appealing their decision? Here’s a quick copy and paste from the Department For Constitutional Affairs’ website (www.foi.gov.uk/yourRights/index.htm)

    Your right of appeal
    If your request is refused, you should first ask the public authority for an internal review of their decision. Someone in the authority who was not connected with the initial decision should carry out this review.

    If you have already done this, or the public authority refuses to review their decision, you can appeal to the independent Information Commissioner. He has the power to investigate the way the public authority handled your request and the answer they gave. If he agrees that they have wrongly withheld information, he can order them to disclose it to you.

  6. evidencebasedeating said,

    November 30, 2006 at 9:16 am

    from #1 post:
    Vexatious, hey? Which means:

    “would impose a significant burden and:
    · Clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;
    · Is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;
    · Has the effect of harassing the public authority; or
    · Can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.”

    surely an applicable description of Dr Portwoods ‘virtual’ fish oil trial?

  7. PhilS said,

    November 30, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Well, surely the next step is a complaint to the Information Commissioner. For all those that have had the requests rebuffed, you need the information on this page.

    Enjoy

  8. PhilS said,

    November 30, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Ahh, no html then. Link from “this page” should be:

    www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom_of_information.aspx

  9. icarusfall said,

    November 30, 2006 at 10:24 am

    The letter does specify the rationale behind the “vexatious” claim. It argues that the aim of the email campaign was simply to avoid the fees regulation (by breaking the requests down and distributing them) and in order to bully the council into compliance after a reasonable (in their opinion) refusal had been given.

    So, surely the only option along this line of enquiry is to appeal the original decision officially? It’s probably going to take a really long time, but it’s worth doing for the principle surely. I think the council have been fairly unreasonable in refusing the request, it seems patently obvious that details of the evidence backing a council decision should be publically available.

    The relevant paragraph is:

    “In determining that these requests are vexatious we also had regard to what appeared to be the purposes of these requests, which became evident from comments in the emails themselves and on the Bad Science website:
    · As an attempt to circumvent the Fees Regulations, as Ben Goldacre’s second FOI request had been refused as the cost of complying exceeded the appropriate limit of £450. In his article in The Guardian he had suggested that readers might send in parts of his request under their name, as he believed that this might enable the information to be fully disclosed, albeit in small parts to several individuals;
    · To pressure Durham County Council into disclosure of information in response to Ben Goldacre’s second FOI request, even though a legitimate refusal notice had been issued and, at the time, no appeal had been received against this refusal notice;
    · As the campaign appears to be solely concerned with pressuring the Council into providing information to Ben Goldacre, it is apparent that the requests have been sent in as a form of protest against the decision to refuse Ben Goldacre’s second FOI request. They are designed to cause disruption or annoyance and they have had the effect of harassing the public authority.”

  10. Delster said,

    November 30, 2006 at 11:27 am

    There may be a possible way round this. If there are any lawyers / experts on the FoI please let me know if this is right or wrong.

    People participating in the trial would be entitled to full disclosure of all aspects of the trial, which should include not only dosage etc but also methodology, approvals etc etc.

    So what we need is a pupil (or parent / guardian or same) of one of these schools to make this request and they would have to be forthcoming with the info.

    Also we might be able to use the same to get details of prior trials as under the FoI people are entitled (for a nominal fee) to all information about themselves held on computer.

    Any opinions on this one? or volunteers if your reading this in Durham?

  11. TimW said,

    November 30, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Another tack that some of you vexatious troublemakers could take is: to accept that the info about trials that the FoI Coordinator sent is basically all that was available, and to start asking for information about the decision-making process that led to the new “trial” (/advertising stunt) taking place. Just a thought.

  12. Ithika said,

    November 30, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    The criteria for vexatiousness:

    · Would impose a significant burden

    The requests themselves were never unreasonable, since any scientific report should have all the information requested in one place. Emailing a PDF is hardly the height of exertion…

    · Clearly does not have any serious purpose or value;

    I don’t think this applies. Ben has written several articles on the seriousness of these trial results and the overall value of openness in science. There is no debate on that front.

    · Is designed to cause disruption or annoyance;

    This is clearly not the case either. The FOI request was designed to get the trial data after other, more direct attempts, were made. I hardly think anyone here sent off a request because they wanted to annoy the FOI office staff in Durham…

    · Has the effect of harassing the public authority; or

    This seems to be a rather subjective criterion. If they decide for whatever reason not to grant the request they can put it down to feeling “harassed”. Who defines harassment?

    · Can otherwise fairly be characterised as obsessive or manifestly unreasonable.

    Well, I don’t think anyone can argue with the accusation of obsession (!), but there’s certainly nothing *unreasonable* about knowing why public many is being spent on (what is so far nothing more than) woo.

    In the end the only criteria which fit are the subjective feeling of “harassment” on the part of the FOI people and Ben’s obsession with knowing whether it’s all a scam. I’m not convinced these are just cause for being turned down.

  13. Ithika said,

    November 30, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Oops, that “public many” should be “public money”. Doh!

  14. tg said,

    November 30, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    I do feel rather sorry for the Data Protection Officer here! I’ve asked from stuff from data protection people before and they generally want to do a good job. It’s one thing to count the number of emails, but presumably he has his normal amount of written requests to deal with too.

    As someone above said, the appropriate next step is presumably to ask for the appeal, and for Ben to use the £750. That’s what we signed to pay for. But does Ben’s drawing back suggest that he isn’t able to pursue the original request?

  15. doctormonkey said,

    November 30, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    this is a related question to all of this as I need to bounce the idea off others and my fiancee is out…

    i did not email an FOI request as i had faith that Durham CC would see sense and respond to Ben’s request (if nothing else the badscience.net response should qualify as “public” to have a public interest).

    i am rather disgusted with their response above.

    i think i may (as so far not an interested party) ask under FOI for any and all documents exchanged within Durham CC before the request was rejected for these reasons? who made the decision and who was consulted? was anyone outside Durham CC involved/consulted in the decision? if so, who?

    is this an unreasonable request? should i send it?

  16. apothecary said,

    December 1, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    I wonder if a friendly MP would raise this? It would be more difficult for anyone to obfuscate then, if the MP was clued up on what s/he needed to know and held on like a terrier if anyone tried to dissemble. I suppose the problem is that there is no shortage of lawyers in the Commons, but not many scientists.

    A PQ to the department of education might get a response along the lines that the info is not held centrally – but the MP could still stir things up a bit. Call me naive, but I think some MPs might still do this for the principle of it all, even if there weren’t many votes in it.

    Any MP would do, but I suppose one of the following, who represent Durham constituencies, would be best of all. Don’t hold out much hope for assistance from the last name, though, might have other things on his mind (a Q, an R, an I and an A feature…)

    Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman (Lab)
    Darlington Rt Hon Alan Milburn (Lab)
    Durham, City of Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (Lab)
    Easington John Cummings (Lab)
    North Durham Mr Kevan Jones (Lab)
    North West Durham Rt Hon Hilary Armstrong (Lab)
    Sedgefield Rt Hon Tony Blair (Lab)

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    lordy

    www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmordbk2/61204o01.htm

    85
    Mr David Kidney MP (Stafford): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, what assessment he has made of the effects on educational performance of recent pilots of schools giving pupils omega 3 supplements.

    not perfect question but good to see some thought going on this.

    the answer will be interesting: it can only really be “what is available in the public domain is basically worthless”

  18. apothecary said,

    December 1, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Spooky! notice of question given yesterday I see. As I’m not in the habit of looking through the order book, I’m even more convinced of telepathy now :-)

  19. Delster said,

    December 1, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    I sugest it might be worth an e-mail or two to Dr. Roberta Blackman-woods from that list above. Her biography say’s she’s been on a number of education comittees.

    www.parliament.uk/directories/hciolists/alms.cfm will take you to a list of all MP’s by name where you can find links to her Biog, e-mail and web page.

    Social science degree’s, unfortunatly, as opposed to say chemistry but interested in education so might be worth presenting the arguments to her and hope she run’s with them.

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    what do we think would be the best question to ask?

  21. billgibson said,

    December 1, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    “Does the Secretary of State agree that public money should not be spent on unproven dietary supplementation, and that those who wish to promote the use of such dietary supplements should be prepared to offer all their research data up for public scrutiny?”

    Bill

  22. superburger said,

    December 1, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    “Does the SoS agree that in using children as subjects in studies of the effectiveness of food supplements, it is the duty of the department and the relevant local council to ensure that such trials are conducted in an appropriate scientific manner.

    Does she also agree that any trial not conducted to the most rigorous accepted standards is a waste of valuable classroom time and educational resources.

    If so, what are her views on the scientific methodology employed by Durham CC/ Equazen, which have been questioned by Dr Ben Goldacre and others.

    What steps, if any, does the SoS intend to take to ensure state educated children are not used in trials without significant scientific merit, which may have the effect of being marketing tools for food supplement companies”

    Or words to the effect.

  23. doctormonkey said,

    December 1, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    i think that a reference number was missed off Ben’s post #17, i understood that it should be:

    “85
    Mr David Kidney (Stafford): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, what assessment he has made of the effects on educational performance of recent pilots of schools giving pupils omega 3 supplements.
    (107729)”

    and i think that the number 107729 may be the question’s identity number for tracking it.

    by the way, any news on how the homeopath bashing at the natural history museum went last night?

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 1, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    it was ripper, bit of chatter here, looking forward to the vid

    www.badscience.net/?p=323

  25. doctormonkey said,

    December 1, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    my bad, i then went to double check the posts and…d’oh

    really looking forward to the vid though

  26. doctormonkey said,

    December 1, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    I have just emailed Mr Kidney expressing my support for him in asking his question and my interest in the response he receives.

    Maybe more of us doing this would be good but I worry we could swamp him and annoy him/his staff.

    Maybe just one from Ben would be good (if Ben has not already telepathically picked up on this message and done so…).

  27. amoebic vodka said,

    December 1, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    How about trying to contact Ian Gibson (MP for Norwich North)? He’s been chair of the Science and Technology select committee as well as doing things for the BA so he might be interested.

  28. Dr Aust said,

    December 1, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Ian Gibson is a real scientist – ex Prof of Biochemistry (?) at UEA Norwich – and an all-round good guy – tells it like it is – so he is always a good point man for scientific issues. He is not terribly popular with the government, surprise surprise.

    Another way is to look for MPs who are medical doctors, like Evan Harris. They will know something about trials and equally should have concerns about feeding something to 1000s of kids as a PR stunt.

    Having said that, I think targeting the Durham MPs first is best as this is going on in their constituencies and the kids’ parents (who are being duped) are their constituents.

  29. doctormonkey said,

    December 2, 2006 at 12:22 am

    I’m not sure what sort of response I will get from Mr Kidney – he is a lawyer, Labour 1997 intake and an MP in Stafford so not only is this not happening in his constituency, I am also not one of his constituents and it is mainly his job to represent the people of Stafford but let us live in hope.

    If other MPs table questions on the matter I think they will just be lumped together with Mr Kidney’s (ok, so I find the name a little funny) and I am not sure if it will speed things along or not or if it will add weight.

    Perhaps anyone who is a parent anywhere in the country could ask their MP to raise a question about what evidence there is and should their LEA be providing these? Turn it into a national issue that way and so allow it to be asked about by people from all over the place.

    This still rules me out, I refuse to allow any children to be attributed to me.

  30. le canard noir said,

    December 3, 2006 at 11:40 am

    I think it would be nice to ask what the incurreced costs were for coming up with an excuse to decline these requests. Lawyers must have been involved? They are not cheap.

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 3, 2006 at 11:46 am

    yup, remember their estimate for the costs of providing the information was £750, only very fractionally over the £450 limit for requests. if that was the reason for not giving the information it seems extraordinary to go to such a fuss.

  32. doctormonkey said,

    December 3, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    can we FoI the documents where the estimates were drawn from?

  33. Robert Carnegie said,

    December 3, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    If people can seriously believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked (and what do they think the astronauts were doing during that time if not visiting the moon, given lots of people witnessed them climbing into a big rocket which flew up into the sky, and quite a lot of people witnessed landings) – could we start a campaign of simply denying that the experiments with fish oil ever took place, or that there is any actual fish oil in the fish oil?

  34. doctormonkey said,

    December 3, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    there are no fish oil capsules

    there is no fish oil

    there are no fish

    wait and see and with the over-fishing of the oceans my little twist on #33′s conspiracy theory will come to pass

    [insert sound of "evil genius" laugh]

  35. martyyyn said,

    December 3, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    Oh won’t we all be red in the face if it turns out that the trial was a success?

    On a serious note, surely the question being asked should be the original: what evidence? The whole investigation should be published for at least one independant enquirer to examine (and im not having any problem thinking of one).

  36. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 3, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    Oh won’t we all be red in the face if it turns out that the trial was a success?

    not at all. its not about the trial being a “success”, its about the devil in the detail. i think its perfectly possible they did an okay ish piece of dissertation level work. i think it’s unlikely, knowing what we do now, that they did a five star trial. but its simply wrong that anyone, drug companies, academics, whoever, least of all a public body, should prance about in the media talking about their positive trials if they’re not able to come up with the details.

    its bad form enough to do it ahead of publication, but ridiculous to do it if you simply can’t provide methods and results on request.

    science derives its authority from transparency.

    in any case i would imagine – if i was in their shoes – portwood et al are now in overdrive trying to finesse it up as good as is humanly possible.

  37. Delster said,

    December 5, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Not to mention that fact that it would be very difficult to draw any meaningful data to prove it did or did not work from a “trial” with no control / placebo groups and no “blinding” apparently either.

    I mean what do you compare it to?

    Almost every year we hear that results are getting better (are the exam’s easier?) so if this bunch did do better then it would only be part of the current trend anyway. The only way it could prove anything would be if there was a massive drop in reults which would buck the trend and be meaningful if it only occured at the schools taking part.

  38. simongates said,

    December 5, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    Are the documents that Mr Dinsdale has been sending out (the abstract about the Sunderland trial and the “recruitment and trial protocol” for the Middlesbrough study) posted somewhere? I’d really like to have a look at them.

    I particularly liked the phrase “randomly controlled trials” – possibly a good description of these trials (if only we had the information to tell!)

  39. johnlil said,

    December 7, 2006 at 10:53 am

    Here’s my reply to Mr Dinsdale…….

    Dear Mr Dinsdale,
    Thank you for your reply. I am saddened that you appear to have completely misunderstood the purpose behind my FoI request and regard it as ‘vexatious’. The material you have supplied is peripheral to the central issue which is that the base data for the Durham trial should be available for verification. I have some scientific education (a degree in Geology) which taught me that for any scientific claim, the observations on which it is based must be available for inspection and furthermore we verified what we learned in the lecture room on field trips where we could see the raw evidence and form our own opinion.

    The first entry after a Google search on ‘Equazen’ boldly states:-

    www.equazen.com Omega-3 fish oils including Eye Q Proven in the Durham Schools Trial

    Well — prove it.

    Equazen’s home page contains the following graphic:-

    >

    When you click on the graphic you are taken to marketing material for Equazen’s ‘eye-q’ product. Durham CC activities are being used for marketing purposes in a commercial venture to persuade large numbers of parents to buy products in the hope of doing best by their children. This is not a trivial matter. It is essential that the scientific basis for the Trial is published so that it can be examined independently and parents can then make up their mind from the results of the examinations.

    Accordingly I wish to appeal in the first instance under the Count Council’s Corporate Complaints Procedure,
    Yours Sincerely, J R Lillywhite

  40. him up north said,

    December 7, 2006 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve followed this with interest, not as a science buff but as a parent and school governor. The following persuaded me to post.

    I Googled “Eye Q” and came up with www.netmums.com/lc/fishoils.php

    The netmums site is (seemingly) highly regarded as peddling common sense for parents and has been behind many campaigns. This page however is nothing more than an Equazen advertisement. No other sources of fish oil even get a mention and the testimonials are all for Eye Q. To their credit the site notes that the Durham Thing is an “initiative” and has no control group. Good on `em.

    And yet… the previous page links to this one by saying “Fish oils – we’ve all heard of them but what exactly are they? Read what we found out and how it can help your child.”

    Put another way “hey, we’ve swallowed a brochure” or maybe even, “wow, Equazen gave us wodges of cash!”

  41. sc_ww said,

    December 11, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    Have only lately had time to return to this but wanted to appeal the decision. This was my reply:

    Dear Mr Dinsdale,

    Thank you for your reply. I am disappointed to learn that the request was considered “vexatious” since it addressed an issue of scientific importance that is clearly in the public interest. As far as I can determine, none of the criteria for vexatiousness as defined in the FOI Act apply to my request.

    The central issue is one of scientific propriety. The Durham County Council web-site contains several press releases that trumpet the success of the fish-oil trials. As a case in point, one dated March 2006 reads ‘Further Fish Oil Trials Produce “Stunning” Results’. If the data have been fully analysed more than six months ago so as to properly support this claim, it is astonishing to learn from you that they have not yet been submitted for peer review. A conference presentation is a relatively worthless document since it has not been peer-reviewed.

    As a working scientist, I am concerned to see proper scientific practices maintained and peer-review is a fundamental cornerstone of our discipline. It a vital part of the scientific process that helps to ensure the quality of published information. To be sure it is not a perfect method, but it is far better than publication by press release and any responsible scientist should submit their work to peer-review before any publication. This is all the more vital when it comes to an issue as important as child development.

    Since Durham County Council is a publicly funded body I would hope that it takes its responsibilities to the public seriously. The issue raised by Dr Goldacre is neither trivial nor mischievous. The Council could have avoided the recent FOI requests if it had chosen to respond candidly to his request.

    I wish to appeal your decision.

    Yours sincerely,

    Stephen Curry

  42. stever said,

    January 5, 2007 at 10:05 am

    UPDATE: it looks like the appeals have been successful – (see the forum)

  43. jiangjiang said,

    December 8, 2009 at 2:52 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

You must be logged in to post a comment.