Patrick Holford has now solicited his subscribers to write positively about him on his wikipedia page, in a mailout earlier today:
“Weirdness on Wikipedia – Ideally, debates on issues of scientific and medical contention should stick to the facts, but unfortunately those in the front line of paradigm shifts are usually subject to personal attacks, of which I’ve had many. I noticed a few on Wikipedia, which is meant to be the ‘people’s encyclopedia’ meaning that anyone can edit an entry. Unfortunately, some of the people who have been editing appear to be part of the pro-drug lobby. I did write to the moderator to straighten out some facts, but have had no reply, so I’ve decided to stay out of it. Of course, if you think there’s anything said that is wrong, or anything you’d like to add, feel free to do so.”
I think that means it’s likely to be vandalised on and off for a good long while to come. I’m perfectly serious when I say I don’t think it’s appropriate for readers of this to get involved.
As you can see, Holford’s wikipedia page is currently about a third full of material he has written attacking me, of all things. I’ve only written on his science (and now his wikipedia shenanigans). I can understand it must be difficult to see yourself criticised on wikipedia and it can be a very imperfect medium, but I do wonder about this move, again.
Ah, his free-and-easy approach to scientific evidence is also excellently exposed in extremis here for those who are interested.
The copy-and-paste post onto his wikipedia page comes from an earlier mailout to his subscribers today, although we can’t know who posted it on wikipedia, unlike before (also reported in Wikipedia’s in-house newspaper).
The rather personal style of the attack on his critics, as a kind of bullying, is quite interesting. A vitamin salesman himself, he slurs his critics by suggesting they are “pro-drug” and motivated by an interest in the pharmaceutical industry; and as an enthusiastic amateur with no qualifications, he opines that his critics are insufficiently highly qualified to judge him.
This issue of arguing from authority is one Iâ€™ve addressed at length elsewhere (eg Donâ€™t Dumb Me Down) and itâ€™s one of the things that motivated me to engage with the communication of science in the media as a hobby: to me, this is about the evidence. A schoolkid can spot that Holford’s quoted studies of cells in dishes do not justify his claim that vitamin C is more effective than AZT, and that’s very empowering.
People do have to be in full possession of the facts to make judgements, though, and this is the other interesting feature of he â€œinformation managementâ€ strategy in Holford’s post. He links to his online response to my BMJ article (Holford calls it his “letter published in the BMJ”, although I checked the print version, and Iâ€™m afraid I couldnâ€™t find it, so I don’t think they did – the bar for online responses in the BMJ is admirably very low, they almost allow anything that is not obscene).
Interestingly, he doesn’t link to the BMJ site to show his subscribers his response, even though – correct me if I’m wrong – that page is free to access for all (hurrah!). Instead, he has gone to special effort, and made a whole new page on his own website, where he has placed his response in isolation.
The consequence of this is that his subscribers â€“ who may be interested in reading different views – are deprived of seeing the context, deprived of seeing my article (which is neither here nor there really): but crucially, they are deprived of seeing the responses to his online posting, in which his reasoning is criticised in some detail as being characteristic of the nutritionism genre.
If you are interested in the full caboodle, as it were, there is nothing to hide: you can read my article, his responses, and all the others, online here in the BMJ, in full.
In any case it seems he’s riled, and I’m very sorry to see that. I only really noticed him on account of my longstanding interest in HIV denialism and vitamin pushers in South Africa, and I really wouldn’t think any less of him if he just said that, well, he now doesn’t really think that vitamin C is better than the antiretroviral AZT. I was also rather hoping to have him on the podcast interviews (alongside gods like Sokal) as one of the more articulate – if obscure – of the unqualified media nutritionists, but sadly he declined, unless it could be an opportunity to specifically promote his new book. Ho hum.