The Internal Examiner

February 3rd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, references | 85 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 3, 2007
The Guardian

As the awful poo lady goes into her fourth series on Channel 4, I can’t stop thinking about that PhD. I’m talking about Dr Gillian McKeith PhD, of course. It’s from a non-accredited correspondence college in the US, so no trustworthy government body attests to their standards. But I’m open minded, and it was always perfectly possible that she’d done a meaningful piece of work, on top of paying those correspondence course fees.

For many years now I have wanted to read her thesis for myself, just to satisfy my curiosity. This should have been a pretty straightforward affair: PhDs are, by convention, always lodged in a library, in an archive, where they can be seen. Sadly, Clayton College of Natural Health – who also sell their own range of vitamin supplements – refused to show me McKeith’s thesis. Or anybody’s. I drew a blank.

But then came a breakthrough: I was contacted by a rogue nutritionist. She had been told that McKeith’s PhD had been published as “Miracle Superfood: Wild Blue-Green Algae, the nutrient powerhouse that stimulates the immune system, boosts brain power, and guards against disease”. I emailed McKeith Research (under a James Bond assumed name, of course) and they confirmed that this book was, indeed, McKeith’s PhD.

I say book. It’s more like a stapled pamphlet, available at only £1.99, because it’s only 48 pages. Which is quite short for a PhD. And that’s including recipes, title plates, and contents pages.
Maybe this pamphlet is just a shortened and simplified version of the PhD text, but if it is at all based on her thesis it is not a good advert for that as a scholarly work. Inside is what I could only describe as Cargo Cult science: she’s going through the motions, but the content, only closer inspection, is like an eerie parody of an academic text.

There are lots of grand statements about research, with nice superscript numbers relating to references in the back. But when you chase to the back of the book to see what these academic documents are, they include such august periodicals as Delicious, Creative Living, Healthy Eating, and my favourite: Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet.

Some of it is plainly absurd. As we get older, she explains, “the levels of RNA/DNA decrease.” Okay. “If you do not have enough RNA/DNA,” she goes on, you “may ultimately age prematurely”. Stress can deplete your DNA, but algae will increase it. And that’s not all. “Chlorophyll within the algae is a powerful oxygen generator for human beings.” Back to GCSE Biology: it’ll only make oxygen if there’s light inside me, Gillian …

She expands grandly and uncritically – with anecdote, but no data – about her many dramatic treatment successes, like a physician from the dark ages. She talks about her own “clinical research”, with huge claims for its findings, but wherever this clinical research is, all you can find here are her anecdotes.

Sometimes you think you’ve hit some data, but then, like a chimera, it disappears. Only 20% of calcium in supplements is absorbed, she explains, whereas all the calcium in algae is absorbable: there’s a superscript number, go to the references, in the back, number 31 … “Studies with author’s own patients”. That’s all it says.

And that’s just the start of the reference fun. “In laboratory experiments with anaemic animals, red blood cell counts have returned to normal within four or five days when chlorophyll was given,” she says. Her reference for this experimental data is a magazine called Health Store News. “In the heart,” she explains, “chlorophyll aids in the transmission of nerve impulses that control contraction.” A statement which is referenced to the second issue of a magazine called Earthletter.

Scientific terminology is wilfully conflated with fanciful new age waffle and, perhaps worryingly, she talks about blood tests, urine tests, chemicals, stool tests, treatments and diagnoses, with endless scientific terminology, frequently referencing her clinic and her patients, many of them children.

Channel 4 once styled this woman as a clinical nutritionist: she performed in a white coat, surrounded by laboratory equipment. Since people like me started digging, the McKeith industry – worth millions – describes her as a holistic nutritionist. There is no such thing as “holistic nutrition”: if you make statements about food which you suggest are backed up by academic/scientific research, as McKeith does, repeatedly, in her books, her shows, her semi-academic work, and products … then that’s just nutrition. The word “holistic” is at best a piece of branding; but at worst, it’s a cloak for accepting inadequate standards of referencing and evidence.

www.badscience.net


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85 Responses



  1. Barnacle Bill said,

    February 3, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Can’t this woman be prosecuted for fraud?

  2. drdork said,

    February 3, 2007 at 8:45 am

    “She is currently studying with The Australasian College Of Health Sciences, USA to become registered as a medical herbalist. ”

    Last I heard, the US ain’t considered Australasian.

    Dork

  3. ACH said,

    February 3, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Did she get ethical approval for her experiments on children?

  4. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 3, 2007 at 8:52 am

    Wow. I’m now totally wondering how I can squeeze a reference to Creative Living into my thesis.

    BTW Ben — off-topic here but — is there much new material in the book or is it an anthology of the columns?

    Cheers,

    Andrew.

  5. Bob O'H said,

    February 3, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Andrew – just checking your homepage, it looks like an examination of McKeith’s thesis would be right up your street. “…computational-linguistic methods for extracting structured information from unstructured text” and all that.

    Perhaps you could even get a chapter of your thesis published in Creative Living!

    Bob

  6. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 3, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Isn’t it amazing how someone with such little (nutritional) talent can make to the !!!4th Series!!! on a mainstream channel? Guess car-crash TV + ritual humiliation sells well to the masses, tho’.

    But on a more serious note, how do the non-Gaurdian readers know that she may be what she eats, but she’s not what she seems??

    Her ‘professional’ institutes are just as flaky as the members so no brook there. She doesn’t have a PhD from an accredited university to be able to challenge the Dean thereof for lowering the standard of a qualification considered the pinnacle of academic excellence.

    Meanwhile, her ‘Doctor PhD’ status confirms her credibity to the masses even tho’ is the equivalent of an advertorial in a health food shop mag. Perhaps a complain to the broadcasting complaints commission, or something similar should bring this out in the open. I’m off to investigate!

  7. Suw said,

    February 3, 2007 at 9:43 am

    Can’t we organise a campaign to lobby OFCOM to get this awful woman off the TV? I mean, surely she must be breaking some guideline somewhere we can nail her on?

  8. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 3, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Bob, I can’t help thinking Le Canard Noir’s Quackometer has the likes of McTeeth covered already…

    Andrew.

  9. eaton bishop said,

    February 3, 2007 at 10:59 am

    With an academic background in English literature, I feel I am an ideal candidate for Ms Mckeaith’s excellent phd qualification. It can’t be very difficult and I might get a piss poor tv show out of it. Anyone want to fund me? I could knock off 45 badly referenced pages by teatime…

  10. Jut said,

    February 3, 2007 at 11:24 am

    God sometimes it’s so tempting to turn to the dark side and open my own woo clinic….where do I buy my Phd again? can I borrow your cats?
    gah damn these morals:(

  11. Mojo said,

    February 3, 2007 at 11:28 am

    “Holistic” often seems to be used to mean “useless”. For example the adjective “holistic” is routinely applied to any therapy that doesn’t work.

  12. warumich said,

    February 3, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Well, I said it before, but falsely calling yourself a doctor in Germany is illegal under Strafgesetzbuch paragraph 132a. If you’re using the title to sell books, you may even be prosecuted for fraud and unfair competition, as far as I understand it.

  13. Bob O'H said,

    February 3, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Andrew – perhaps the two of you could team up and build the Next Generation of Quackometers.

    I’m sure a learned journal will publish.

    Bob

  14. Tolstoy the Cat said,

    February 3, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    At least she degrades herself by splashing around in other people’s shit, which goes some way towards making up for it all.

    Congratulations on your RSS award, btw.
    www.rss.org.uk/main.asp?page=2721

  15. amoebic vodka said,

    February 3, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    “In laboratory experiments with anaemic animals, red blood cell counts have returned to normal within four or five days when chlorophyll was given,” she says.

    Wow…can they turn lead into gold too? Chlorophyll has no iron in it.

  16. Robert Carnegie said,

    February 3, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Indeed I’m trying to imagine what non-holistic nutrition will be. Perhaps “bad nutrition”. For instance a diet high in fat and sugar is probably good in some ways, not in others. Does fat keep you warm in winter? High blood pressure must be beneficial in some ways, it’s just overall not necessarily so good. Does low calcium diet have any effect besides your bones dissolving? if you look non-holistically at only soft body tissues affected by nutrition then you’d miss that.

    Accordingly, nutritionism that’s worth getting or worth mentioning is holistic nuutritionism.

    As for “Doc” McKeith, with whom no one should play poker, I would like to propose one revision to future coverage; instead of being repeatedly amazed when she recommends chlorophyll to oxygenate the tissues, could a wider selection of her odd ideas be used in rotation? Radio 4′s “Broadcasting House” show had a feature introduced with much pomp of “The Donald Rumsfeld Soundbite Of The Week”, not uttered that week necessarily but -chosen- for that week. And really, could she be or has she been pressed on the point? Oxygen enters the body through the lungs. Tissues (of plants) where significant photosynthesis occurs are green. And of course sugar is produced at the same time. (should diabetics avoid chlorohhyll?) Photosynthesis is not the only conceivable role of chlorophyll molecules of various types. Now there’s an idea – “good chlorophyll” and “bad chlorophyll”?? Let’s ask McKeith which plants have the good chlorophyll, if she isn’t ahead of me. Ask her about diabetics. Watch her clam up when confronted by science – unless she’s good at what she does, which she is. Of course what she does mostly is show people their own poo, which isn’t challenging if you have their cooperation.) So anyway, chlorophyll itself contains a small amount of oxygen, but you couldn’t live off it.

  17. Mojo said,

    February 3, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    BTW, congratulations for getting the phrase “going through the motions” into an article about TAPL.

  18. jjbp said,

    February 3, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I don’t read newspapers much apart from a scan of the broadsheets’ websites so I was wondering whether the UK press has spent any time on this story (apologies I havent read it in the “original” so the reference is to a website):

    “Lavender And Tea Tree Oils May Cause Breast Growth In Boys”

    www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070131204136.htm

    The original paper is in the New England Journal of Medicine. It seemed a small sample to me (3 boys) but I dont understand stats much. Anyway it didnt make any radio programmes or press stuff I came across… I was wondering if the “organic” nature of the cause was at all commented on (because of the common misconception that organic products dont have nasty chemicals in them)…

  19. dolfinack said,

    February 3, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Godamnit!!!!

    This makes my nearing-the-end-of-a-bloody-awful-and-genuine-PhD-blood boil. It kinda detracts from real PhD students slogging their guts out in labs on next to no cash to produce 300 page tomes that could break yer foot. Chlorophyll indeed.

    She should be hung, drawn and quartered. Then fed to herself for nutritional value.

  20. raygirvan said,

    February 3, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    jjbp > whether the UK press has spent any time on this story

    The Sun covered it very briefly, the Guardian in more detail, on Feb 1st. It got to the Times on Feb 2nd. It’s also on the BBC website.

  21. EP said,

    February 3, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    I think most “non-guardian readers” know that Gillian McKeith is a fraud, if only becase she looks at least fifteen years older than she really is despite her healthy diet. She’s got a career as a presenter because of her stern and ruthless demeanour, and because her shows are pure car-crash teleision with a liberal dose of humiliation. Perhaps they make people feel better about themseles when they see how much worse other people’s diets are. It’s just part of the reality show boom. I must admit that I’ve found myself watching her shows a few times and finding them compelling viewing.
    Here’s a little song about the poo doctor and her PhD: www.stablesound.co.uk/mp3/drgillian.mp3

  22. EP said,

    February 3, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    jjbp, that story may seem a little far-fetched but in actual fact a lot of essential oils are very powerful and can even be dangerous- pennyroyal is an obious example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennyroyal
    The point of this article seems to be to remind people that natural products are not necessarily safe.

  23. zeno said,

    February 3, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Just posted a link to this page on Channel 4′s ‘You are what you eat’ discussion forum. It’ll be interesting to see the reaction! The thread is called, um, ‘The Internal Examiner’!

  24. Despard said,

    February 3, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    dolfinack (no. 14): I heartily concur. I’m writing mine at the moment. I’ve already written about 150-200 pages more than the Poo Lady, and with any luck it’s actually on genuine science.

    In fact I’m in the lab writing at the moment.

  25. Ciarán said,

    February 3, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Warumich:
    “Well, I said it before, but falsely calling yourself a doctor in Germany is illegal under Strafgesetzbuch paragraph 132a. If you’re using the title to sell books, you may even be prosecuted for fraud and unfair competition, as far as I understand it.”

    Very interesting Warumich cos McKeith *does* sell her books in Germany, in German no less under the name Dr Gillian McKeith.
    See my personal favourite, “Du bist, was du isst” at Amazon.de

    www.tiny.cc/8mxIA

    Now the question is, if this is illegal who do you complain to?

  26. Roger Macy said,

    February 3, 2007 at 6:52 pm

    There’s always been quacks.
    But shouldn’t we be aiming more at Channel4, who have a Public Service Broadcasting obligation?
    Doesn’t that involve checking major contributors’ credentials and giving due prominence to corrections, when they are discovered?

  27. tomh said,

    February 3, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Just slightly off topic, but what is the shortest legitimate PhD? I mean, surly it’s the content and not the length of the PhD that really matters, and if your subject was say maths, then there can be a limit on how long it takes you to prove 1+1=2, no?

  28. ayupmeduck said,

    February 3, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    It’s true, she does sell under the Dr. title in Germany and in german. I belive that as a medical doctor you are not allowed to promote anything with any hint of implied medical value and use your Dr. title. This means that if you are a medical doctor, and then take up a career selling, for instance, “herbal medicines”, then you cannot call yourself Dr. anymore in relation to your commercial activities. I’ll have to check this out a bit further with some legal people, and I’ll get back if I learn something further.

  29. BobP said,

    February 3, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Off-topic again – shortest PhD? My candidate would be “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper” [A Einstein, Annalen der Physik, 1905] at about 5,000 words. Admittedly, he wasn’t awarded a PhD for this piece of work.

  30. Dr Aust said,

    February 3, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Re. PhD theses, I would expect maths ones to be the shortest, although even there the introduction would pad it our, even if the “results” were 6 pages of mathematical formulae.

    From my ageing academic scientist’s perspective, let me tell you my heart sinks when I get one to examine and it is the standard 250-page potential-foot-breaking mega-door=stopper. When I get a chance to comment in advance I usually ask them to aim for a MAXIMUM 100 pages (1.5 line spacing) excluding the references. Also what I tell my own students…

  31. Ken Zetie said,

    February 3, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Re #30, #29: John “Beautiful Mind” Nash’s thesis was 27 pages long. “Non-cooperatvie games”. As the work also went towards winning him a Nobel prize in economics many years later I’d have to rate it pretty high on the ‘bang for your buck’ scale even it it may not be the shortest ever.

  32. stever said,

    February 3, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    maths ones could be pretty brief, but im not sure how many equations pop up in the poo lady’s.

  33. Beasjt669 said,

    February 4, 2007 at 9:14 am

    @Thomh
    It will however take 7 million years to come up with an answer like 42.

  34. Kess said,

    February 4, 2007 at 9:54 am

    #29
    Oh dear, clearly a hopeless case. How this Einstein chap can expect to make a name for himself as a scientist if he just lazily churns out a few pages I’ll never know.
    Perhaps he should simply buy himself a PhD from the same place as McKeith?
    ;)

  35. BobP said,

    February 4, 2007 at 10:23 am

    BTW, Ben, what was did the Nutrition Society eventually say about Angela Dowden in their gazette?

    www.badscience.net/?p=258

  36. conejo said,

    February 4, 2007 at 10:43 am

    How about starting CARP: “CAmpaign for Real Phds”? This country is probably too wedded to the free market, and generally too ignorant/disrespectful of learning for it to be successful. But is there a way to lobby the EU for harmonization, so that the high standards exercised in Germany (and probably other EU member states – anyone have any info?) could be spread across the EU. The Bologna Declaration/Process:
    (www.bologna-bergen2005.no/Docs/00-Main_doc/990719BOLOGNA_DECLARATION.PDF)

    aims to harmonise undergraduate qualifications and the next summit is in the UK in May (www.dfes.gov.uk/bologna/) and this is the list of so-called Bologna Promoters (www.erasmus.ac.uk/Bologna_Promoters.html) in the UK.

    Any chance of at least getting the topic considered for the future?

  37. mus said,

    February 4, 2007 at 10:54 am

    @ warumich: look at this: www.amazon.de/gp/product/images/3442167566/ref=dp_image_text_0/302-8174929-8975246?ie=UTF8&n=299956&s=books
    so…is this enough to throw a lawsuit at her here in germany? or is a phd of an unaccredited US-institution enough to protect her (and her publisher) from litigation in good ol’ germany?

  38. Dudley said,

    February 4, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Google Gillian McKeith and this site and Wikipedia (which is about as dismissive of her as it can be) come up third and fourth. She’s sufficiently dealt with, surely?

  39. mikew said,

    February 4, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    While I have no time for her spurious credentials or ‘explanations’, I do have a slight degree of commendation for her if she can cajole people otherwise untouched by healthy eating and medical advice into a more healthy diet.

  40. zelta2139 said,

    February 4, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Hey Ben, love the site. I agree with your comments re food supplements etc, but surely there’s some that are fair enough- notably fishoils (omega 3) effect on heart health. As well, it looks like there could be something to green tea – maybe – though studies are required. What do you think?

  41. warumich said,

    February 4, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Ciarán, ayupmeduck, mus:

    I did indeed notice her translated book, and I have already asked some people more knowledgeable than me (joe, if you’re reading this, thanks again!). I’m already on to it.

    You’d normally complain to the science ministry of the “Land” where the defendant lives, though in this case I will write to the ministry of the Land where the publisher is based. Interestingly, the publishers are Goldmann: part of Random House, who published Dawkins’ latest. Ah the irony…

  42. briantist said,

    February 4, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    I’ve updated the Wikipedia page to be a bit more “neutral POV” about this woman!

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gillian_McKeith

    “Gillian McKeith (aka the poo lady[1]) (also passes herself off as Dr Gillian McKeith but does not have an accredited doctorate[2]) (born September 28 1959, Perth, Scotland) is a controversial Scottish television presenter and author. She fronts Channel 4′s You Are What You Eat, Granada Television’s Dr Gillian McKeith’s Feel Fab Forever and has had a number of slots on shows such as ITV’s This Morning and BBC1′s Good Morning.

    Her ‘advice’ focuses on an Alcoholic beverage-free vegan diet of organic fruits and vegetables, with exercise and reducing processed and high-calorie foods. She is a proponent of colonic irrigation and of her proprietary, profitable sideline of promoting ‘living food’ supplements, claimed (but without credible evidence) to aid digestion by providing enzymes.”

  43. briantist said,

    February 4, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    So, will the poo lady go the way of Dr Raj Persaud? Given that her background is in marketing and PR, just like C4 boss Andy Duncan, I wouldn’t hold out that much hope! But they never do anything unless people complain.

    If anyone fancies telling C4, their contact inforamtion is:

    Telephone 020 7492 2222
    Textphone 020 7242 8159
    Fax 020 7242 3696.

    Monday to Friday 9AM-9PM
    Weekends 10AM-7PM

    Channel 4 Enquiries, PO Box 1058, Belfast, BT1 9DU

    Online (doesn’t seem to be working right now!)
    help.channel4.com/tv/contact/

    Or there is Ofcom:

    www.ofcom.org.uk/complain/

  44. ayupmeduck said,

    February 4, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    warumich:

    Great, I’ll be very interested to hear what happens. Thanks for keeping us updated on your progress.

  45. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 4, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Methinks the term ‘holistic’ as used by Ms Mckeith and others of her ilk is the antithesis of the what the public think ‘holistic’ means. Indeed, I think the word holistic – in the non-mainstream clinical medicine sense – is actually a synonym for ‘unhinged’. Only the unhinged would ascribe themselves such a title. Even the suffix ‘leading clinical’ in front of whatever therapy the similarly holistic/ unhinged-but-plausible think they are an expert in should also set off warning bells to the public regarding credentials….

    … and as for using the term ‘natural’ as an alternative to ‘safe’. Well, I always tell my patients who trot out this mantra that theres nothing as ‘natural’ as Salmonella, nor as ‘unnatural’ as a 1g Vitamin C supplement sold to the gullible as a ‘natural extension of a healthy diet’. Nope, not if you call a 4-litre drink of orange juice a ‘natural’ drink containing the equivalent amount of this over-hyped nutrient.

    perhaps 2007 will be the year to ‘Say NO/ NON/ NEIN to the Nut Nutritionists….

  46. Michael Harman said,

    February 4, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Re tomh, post 27.

    Bertrand Russell took well over a hundred pages to prove that 1+1=2. (And I think that’s the summary at the beginning, with the full proof following.)

    On the other hand, J E Littlewood claimed that a mathematical proposition of 2 lines could justify a doctorate. He gave an example, adding that the second line was needed only because a particular function happened not to have a standard name and so needed defining.

    (Littlewood worked closely with Hardy. It was said that in England at that time there were 3 world-class mathematicians – Hardy, Littlewood, and Hardy and Littlewood, and that Hardy and Littlewood exceeded either Hardy or Littlewood. And a German mathematician is alleged to have said, on meeting Littlewood, that he was very pleased to meet him, because up till then he had believed that Littlewood was a name used by Hardy to publish work which Hardy didn’t want to put his own name to; Littlewood’s response was to roar with laughter.)

  47. ruddiger said,

    February 5, 2007 at 1:45 am

    We’ve been having huge problems here in Western Australia with blue-green algal blooms choking the local waterways. About a decade ago, the local government spent a lot of money digging a 2.5km channel to the ocean to flush a large estuary south of Perth.

    We should have just bottled the algae and flogged it off as a “superfood”. We could have cleaned up, both literally and figuratively.

  48. Camp Freddie said,

    February 5, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Bad editing on the Grauniad’s website! The crucial words in square brackets (below) are replaced by the word ‘and’ in their verion of the article. It completely changes the meaning of the conclusion to suggest that poo-woman actually is a bona-fide nutritionist with genuine research.

    “There is no such thing as “holistic nutrition”: if you make statements about food [which you suggest] are backed up by academic/scientific research, as McKeith does, repeatedly, in her books, her shows, her semi-academic work, and products … then that’s just nutrition”

  49. Rakster said,

    February 5, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    On a ‘TAPL’ note, but veering slightly away from her dubious credentials, in a fit of pique brought on by reading through a selection of reports by 1st Year PhD students I took it upon myself to complain to Channel 4 about Ms McKeith’s constant use of the word “bacterias” as the plural to bacterium. I pointed out that since she was obviously highly qualified in her field (!) AND that her only legitimate degree (as far as I can tell) is in linguistics, she should really know that bacteria *is* the plural.
    Channel 4 responded by saying that they would make a note so that this didn’t happen again, which I think means they deleted the email and had a 30 second snigger about the sad old pedant who wasted 2 minutes to tell them that.

    Made me feel better though… Small things etc…

  50. MissPrism said,

    February 5, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Regarding the length of maths PhD theses: a mathematician friend of mine was told “it should contain three ideas, or one good one.”

  51. HowardW said,

    February 5, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I also tried to get info on GM’s “PhD” from Clayton college, but also failed – good to get confirmation that the algae book is closely connected to (or the same as) her PhD thesis. Some of my favourite quotes from this book include:

    “it is not inconceivable that on subtle vibrational levels, unique genetic memories and messages of harmony and peace are stored in algae, which have grown undisturbed for aeons in a pristine environment”

    (see New Scientist feature: tinyurl.com/24k24g)

    Dudley – the Google results show a reasonable amount of balance, but my main GM page was removed from Google.co.uk results after GM’s lawyer’s complained about defamation. At the time they complained my page was at number 2 in the Google results for “Gillian McKeith” – it’s now invisible to people using UK Google (unless you follow the “one result removed” link at the bottom).

    Howard

  52. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 5, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Hah, I never thought of that before — her initials are GM. We should set the anti-GM-foods campaigners on her.

    Andrew.

  53. Fin said,

    February 5, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    I have to agree with mikew (comment 39).

    I’m no fan of the stool-obsessed harridan and I think it’s a shame that, as a population, we seem to prefer Daily Mail headlines and sugar pills to good evidence – but that is the way it is.

    I’m guessing (no evidence here) that her presence in the world mobilises a few more fatties/smokers to get off their arse. So, on balance, why not?

    Also, these loons give me much entertainment via Ben’s excellent column on a Saturday.

    I for one shall be skimming my pond for a nutritious drink this summer and looking forward to looking as healthy as Gillian.

  54. raygirvan said,

    February 5, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    HowardW > it’s now invisible to people using UK Google (unless you follow the “one result removed” link at the bottom

    Since such a removal can’t be done invisibly, they shot themselves in the foot with this, a) because it inspires anyone with a scrap of curiosity to seek it out, b) because it worsens their image – litigious tossers are disliked even more than the plain variety.

  55. BrickWall said,

    February 6, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Re posts 39 and 53.

    The “no harm done” hypothesis is quite spurious in the wider context of the scientific necessity to use evidence.

    Accepting some benefit as legitimising the use of woo is a very dangerous path to go down e.g. Tony Blair’s response to the teaching of creationism in Emmanuel College (academy in Gateshead) – “taught alongside evolution it adds to the diversity of our education system”. Presumably so would teaching about the pixies at the end of the garden?

    Those few people who might respond to TAPL and the Daily Nazi would I suspect be just as likely to respond to anyone charsimatic who offers a more evidential based approach and isn’t selling their own wares!

    For a most excellent read on the dangers of the “no harm done” philosophy see Francis Wheen’s book – “How mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World” – also has a brilliant chapter on the post-modernists.

  56. Gordon said,

    February 6, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    It seems that there are many people hitting back against Ms McKeith. Here are some registered dietitians up in arms about reports describing her as a dietitian:

    www.dietetics.co.uk/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=579

  57. briantist said,

    February 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    The channel 4 complain site seems to be still down, so you can either phone them on the switchboard (020) 7396 4444 or email viewersenquires@channel4.co.uk

  58. ceec said,

    February 6, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Just looked at the GM website and found this gem:

    “She is… a member of several health organizations, including the prestigious National Association of National Professionals in the USA.”

    Needless to say that quite apart from having an extremely unlikely name, this prestigious organisation seems not to come up on Google searches. I wonder why.

  59. Barnacle Bill said,

    February 7, 2007 at 9:50 am

    Here’s a thread from my correspondence with her “people”:

    Read from the bottom up.

    ——————————————————————————–
    From: info@mckeithresearch.com [mailto:info@mckeithresearch.com]
    Sent: 06 February 2007 07:55
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    She doesn’t go around putting letters after her name; publishers of her books make the decisions about how her name is presented and given that she has a PhD they want people to know it.

    ——————————————————————————–
    Sent: 05 February 2007 18:12
    To: info@mckeithresearch.com
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Then why does she put letters after her name that are highly dubious? What is the purpose?

    Rgds
    ——————————————————————————–
    From: info@mckeithresearch.com [mailto:info@mckeithresearch.com]
    Sent: 05 February 2007 17:13
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Personally, I am not interested in the letters after people’s names or their lists of qualifications; the contribution that people make to society is far more interesting and important. Gillian’s most valuable credentials are the thousands of people world wide whose lives she has improved. Not many people can claim to have helped as many as Gillian.

    Best wishes
    Josie
    ——————————————————————————–
    Sent: 05 February 2007 16:34
    To: info@mckeithresearch.com
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    I believe the American Holistic College of Nutrition is not accredited and therefore any PhD from that establishment is suspect, to say the least.

    Rgds
    ——————————————————————————–
    From: info@mckeithresearch.com [mailto:info@mckeithresearch.com]
    Sent: 05 February 2007 16:19
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Hi

    Gillian was educated with a Bachelors Degree from the University of Edinburgh and a Masters Degree from the University of Pennsylvania (Ivy League, USA). After recovering from personal illness, she then went to train in nutrition. She spent almost five years of work on her PhD and dissertation, earning a doctorate from the American Holistic College of Nutrition as well as studying at the London school of Acupuncture.

    I hope that helps.

    Best wishes
    Josie
    McKeith Research Ltd
    ——————————————————————————–
    Sent: 05 February 2007 15:56
    To: info@mckeithresearch.com
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Could you avail me of the name of the college?

    Rgds
    ——————————————————————————–
    From: info@mckeithresearch.com [mailto:info@mckeithresearch.com]
    Sent: 05 February 2007 15:45
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Hi

    Gillian’s PhD is from a nutrition college in America. Part of her thesis has been published by Keats publishing and is called Wild Blue Green Algae – the miracle super food.

    Best wishes

    Josie
    McKeith Research Ltd
    ——————————————————————————–
    Sent: 05 February 2007 15:43
    To: info@mckeithresearch.com
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Where did she get the PhD from, and where can I obtain a copy of her thesis?

    Rgds
    ——————————————————————————–
    From: info@mckeithresearch.com [mailto:info@mckeithresearch.com]
    Sent: 05 February 2007 15:38
    Subject: RE: Qualifications

    Hi

    Gillian has never claimed to be a medical doctor. She has a PhD (ie; a doctorate) thus has the title Dr in the same way that you get doctors of philosophy, literature, statistics etc. I hope that clarifies that for you.

    Best wishes
    Josie
    McKeith Research Ltd
    ——————————————————————————–
    Sent: 05 February 2007 15:13
    To: info@mckeithresearch.com
    Subject: Qualifications

    You’re not a real Dr, are you?

    Rgds

  60. Despard said,

    February 7, 2007 at 11:16 am

    I note that you didn’t get ‘best wishes’ on the last one. :-)

  61. jimothy said,

    February 7, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    “Gillian’s most valuable credentials are the thousands of people world wide whose lives she has improved. Not many people can claim to have helped as many as Gillian”

    Interestingly I know another woooo practictioner who goes for exactly the same line. Every time I see them they tell me gushingly about how many people’s live’s they’ve changed today. Perhaps this is something they teach them in woooo school.

  62. tinyclaw said,

    February 7, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    My good friends,

    At the risk of sounding as conceited as the Poo Lady herself, I think you are all missing the point.

    Whether we question here academic credentials or not, any scientific approach to a branch of inquiry is simply nature being subjected to our methods of questioning. The conventional and revered state of scientific inquiry and established proof may be based on international and traditional condonation, but we do have to face the fact that what is law and conclusive proof at one stage may be considered anachronistic at another. Of course, I would love to knock her off her high and mighty perch by sticking to the maxim of ‘prove it – scientifically!’, but let’s make her perch just a little higher – the fall will be greater and more satisfactory to observe.

    Let’s, for once, leave the area of ‘scientific, conclusive proof’, and imagine that her own methods may be incompatible with our own, but her evidence is just as worthy. Let us try to understand her position by considering her findings as ‘empirical evidence’. Although we are questioning her methods, how about her results? Are the outcomes of her application being questioned as legitimate, or even considered at all in the confusion of pedantic scrutiny? For example, should I find myself with a hideous headache, I resort to a remedy bought from an accredited pharmacist. I take this remedy in light of the fact that previous uses have alleviated the symptoms. Therefore, it works, there’s my proof. I can’t prove how it works. I don’t know what the remedy consists of, and I can’t confirm what parts of my body are being affected and in what way, but so what? It works.

    Now, let’s take a look at the Poo Lady herself, and take a much wider view. Let’s leave academic squabble to one side, look at the empirical evidence, and come to a conclusion. First of all, I would imagine that the Poo Lady was not only the main advocate of her methods, but a strict practitioner. Coupling this assumption with her maxim ‘You are what you eat’, I can see visual evidence thus. I see a shrivelled gait, pendulous folds of skin on the face and neck, hollowed pits for eye sockets, dead looking, yellowish skin, and a semi-cadaverous countenance. I see nothing healthy or desirable in this vision, and I am therefore not inspired to follow her path. I see my own reflection: glowing skin and a healthy appearance. Yes, I’m sticking to chocolate bars, beer, and three sugars in me tea. I am what I eat? Sweet! The Poo Lady is what she eats too:

    Droopy Dog.

  63. bumpkin said,

    February 7, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Barnacle Bill: not sure it’s entirely ethical to post a private correspondence on a public forum without the consent of the other party. Whatever you may think of them.

  64. David Mingay said,

    February 7, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    Re #58, it looks like they’ve misprinted the second National — should be Nutritional. Here’s an inspiring poem from their homepage:

    A bit of inspiration…

    Until one is committed
    there is hesitancy,
    the chance to draw back,
    always ineffectiveness.

    Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)
    there is one elementary truth,
    the ignorance of which
    kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
    that the moment one definately commits oneself,
    then Providence moves too.

    All sorts of things occur
    to help one that would never otherwise
    have occurred.

    A whole stream of events
    issues from the decision,
    raising in one’s favor
    all manner of unforeseen incidents
    and meetings and material assistance,
    which no man could have dreamed
    would have come his way.

    I like the “committed” bit, insofar as they should be…

  65. rhj said,

    February 7, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    What concerns me is that the good “Dr” herself looks so horribly unhealthy. Has anyone else noticed? Hardly a glowing advertisement for the efficacy of the advice she so freely dispenses!

  66. Dr Aust said,

    February 7, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    I think the look is that of caloric restriction – like the people who work on the basis of the animal experiments where animals live longer when restricted to about 50% of the amount they would eat if given food “ad lib” :

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calorie_restriction

    …Reading the page, and a recent article in the Observer magazine about crazed calorie-counting New Yorkers, it sounds pretty grim to do. Think I shall take the various mentions of resveratrol on board and have another glass of red wine instead.

  67. Andrew Clegg said,

    February 8, 2007 at 7:49 am

    I don’t think it takes much science or pseudoscience to establish that one can live longer by not having as much fun, but I know what I’d rather do.

    Andrew.

  68. ayupmeduck said,

    February 8, 2007 at 8:26 am

    warumich:

    I took a look at the German law mayself here bundesrecht.juris.de/stgb/__132a.html

    If I read this correctly, there is a risk of up to 1 year prision sentence for McKeith. Not something to be taken lightly.

  69. warumich said,

    February 8, 2007 at 9:32 am

    That’s the one. Though because McKeith lives in England things are slightly more complicated. Even so, prison sentences are of course only ever handed out in extreme situations – the best outcome we can hope for I think is a juicy fine (and of course public humiliation, if the newspapers run the story.)

    We’ll just have to see what happens. I’ve alerted the authorities to the case. They are obliged to follow it up, so now it’s out of my hand.

  70. fish_eyed_sam said,

    February 8, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Though I don’t normally like scoffing, this was rather fun:
    www.stablesound.co.uk/poo.php

    I found it while googling for “poo lady”

  71. used to be jdc said,

    February 8, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    There’s a bit of a discussion going on at the talk page for her Wiki entry (see also #42 above).

  72. PubPhilosophy said,

    February 8, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Re: 46

    Mr Harman, do you have a ref (online preferably) for the Littlewood story? Someone I know is considering a maths PhD and would be amused by it, but also I’m interested to see what he came up with…

  73. glutam9 said,

    February 8, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    The length of a thesis was never the measure we were interested in when i was studying. Everyone was completely obsessed with the length of time the viva took.

    under 3 hours – you must have been good

    3-4 hours – normalish.

    over 5 hours – having a bad time, we’ll leave a note and they can cacth us up in the pub later.

  74. livferrari said,

    February 8, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Ms McKeith is not the only one whose PhD thesis seems very hard to get hold of.

    Have you, Ben, or anyone else ever read any of Paul McKenna’s PhD theses? I know he sued the Mirror for calling the first one ‘bogus’. Ben told me that the second one was in ‘business studies’ and from a reputable institution, allegedly. Do you think I could get a copy of it from my university interlibrary loan system?

  75. pv said,

    February 8, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    www.badscience.net/?p=359#comment-10310

    “Barnacle Bill: not sure it’s entirely ethical to post a private correspondence on a public forum without the consent of the other party. Whatever you may think of them.”

    It’s legal and, in my view, ethical.

  76. abahachi said,

    February 8, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Re #36 on the Bologna Process – and apologies for tedious pedantry, but part of my job is chairing my university’s working group on this…

    The spirit of creating a European Higher Education Area by 2010 (fat chance) has been ‘tuning’ rather than ‘harmonisation’. This is very clearly the case with discussions on the doctoral level, which have only really got started in the last couple of years; lots of emphasis on the need to avoid excessive regulation, which translates as universities – especially the leading research universities in France, Germany, Scandinavia – being very protective of their own practices and reputation. There may be some movement towards adopting common principles, but it’s pretty clear that universities will insist on retaining the right to control the examination and award of their own qualifications.

    This does mean that they’re *very* protective about who should have the right to award PhDs at all (I wonder if this is one of the reasons behind the German law referred to above) – which is why all the nutters get theirs from dodgy ‘colleges’ in the US. Given that one of the aims of the process is to improve the mutual recognition of qualifications across Europe, this ought to imply the mutual rejection of illegitimate qualifications as well… I wouldn’t bother the Bologna Promotors with this – their main task is to try to persuade UK universities to take any of these issues seriously – but if I get a chance I’ll try the idea out next time I’m in a suitable meeting.

  77. raygirvan said,

    February 9, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    > … Here’s an inspiring poem from their homepage:

    Even the poetry seems to have a bowel-obsessed subtext:

    there is hesitancy,
    always ineffectiveness.

    the moment one definitely commits oneself,
    then Providence moves too.

    A whole stream of events
    issues from the decision

  78. apothecary said,

    February 9, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Is it just a British thing, or more generally Anglo-Saxon to be obsessed with bowel function? Lots of patent meds from years ago to the present have a purgative effect. I’m sure there’s a sociological treatise to be written here (if it hasn’t been already) linking TAPL, colonic irrigation, and such 19th Century delights as Carter’s Little Liver Pills, ENO’s Fruit Salts and, of course, Beecham’s Pills.

    Me, I remember having to learn how to tell the difference between two different species of senna by the shape of the pods (I am not that ancient an apothecary), thus perfectly equipping me for a career in modern pharmacy

  79. Dr Aust said,

    February 9, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Yes, we Brits are very keen on “staying regular”.

    Mrs Dr Aust tells me that when she arrived in the UK from Germany to work in hospital she was given an extensive list of picturesque English-language euphemisms that the patients might use to convey information about their bowels (among other things).

    A favourite related line, taken from Michael O’Donnell’s excellent “Medicine’s Strangest Cases”:

    www.amazon.co.uk/Medicines-Strangest-Cases-Michael-ODonnell/dp/1861055633/sr=1-3/qid=1171038288/ref=sr_1_3/026-2462044-4179618?ie=UTF8&s=books

    - recalls the 60s seaside landlady who would say grace as follows:

    “For what we are about to receive, may it pass through us peacefully”

  80. raygirvan said,

    February 9, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    > Is it just a British thing, or more generally Anglo-Saxon to be obsessed with bowel function?

    Hard to say. Purgatives have been big in the pharmacopoeias of many ancient cultures too: Egypt, Rome, China.

  81. Danivon said,

    February 10, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    I thought that the Dutch were so obsessed that they had little shelves in their toilets so that they could check the state of their business before flushing it away.

    We just like saying words like ‘poo’, ‘bum’ and ‘wee’. Before collapsing in laughter like a 5 year old…

  82. Dr Aust said,

    February 10, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    “I thought that the Dutch were so obsessed that they had little shelves in their toilets so that they could check the state of their business before flushing it away”

    - ditto the Germans – or at least so I used to think. But after living with a German I have now been informed that this is nothing to do with inspection but is instead to ensure that letting go (as it were) does not produce “splashback” onto one’s rear end.

    The ability to inspect is simply an added bonus, although it could explain why TAPL is looking to these continental markets…

    BTW , Aust Jr. (aged 32 months) is totally obsessed with the Scrubs song about Ms McKeith’s favorite “diagnostic” indicator:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QqhW54RBQA

    - we’re hoping it’s just a phase she”ll grow out of.

    - Aust Jr, I mean. I think it’s too late for Gillian.

  83. motmot said,

    February 11, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Howard, what’s your website (post 51)? The page linked to from Google is redacted to the point of uselessness: www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=973. The complainant, the subject, their lawyers and the website address have all been removed. And you can’t even leave comments! You’ll be glad to know that it’s still number two (!) result when searching on Yahoo, though.

  84. indaba said,

    February 14, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    OK I’m new here and came in through the great article on this woman on the Guardian website. I have to say that I find her grotesque and her views alarming. I also detest her use of the “Dr.” title for her spurious PhD unforgiveable as it can mislead certain people into thinking that she knows what she is talking about. If I had my way she would be banned from any television appeareances and if possible from ever talking to anyone again!
    I did some digging for myself into that so-called PhD and found this gem from her website:

    “The College [Clayton] is now accredited by the State of Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education, a government body.”

    errr sorry but no it isn’t. The relevant Alabama website only says that the colelge is licensed (their spelling) and that

    “The license is issued to operate in the State of Alabama AND IS NOT ASSOCIATED WITH ACCREDITATION” (their caps).

    Even clayton college doesn’t say that the State of Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education has accredited them Only that:

    “Clayton College is accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board. These are private, professional associations that offer accreditation in naturopathy and other areas of natural health. Both are private accrediting associations designed to meet the needs of non–traditional education and are not affiliated with any government agency.”

    Doesn’t that mean she’s lying on her website? If so is there anything we can do about it to get this terrible woman out for the spotlight?

    Thanks

    Adrian PhD (That’s a real one, worked for with hard work, study, sleepless nights, worry and coffee. And from a real university. Oh yes and in a real subject (Astronomy))

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