UCL have just issued a smashing statement on Prof Colquhoun’s de-excommunication.
posting this from my phone, more to follow…
Joint statement by Professor Colquhoun and UCL
13 June 2007
UCL was recently contacted by Dr Alan Lakin on behalf of his wife, herbal medicine practitioner Dr Ann Walker, in relation to comments made about her, on a website hosted by UCL, by Professor Colquhoun, a distinguished UCL pharmacologist.
Dr Lakin complained to the Provost about comments on the website about Dr Walker which he maintained were â€œincorrect, misleading and defamatoryâ€, and asked for them to be removed forthwith. The Provost refused and invited Dr Lakin to furnish proper substantiation of his allegations, undertaking that he would then review the matter. Dr Lakin also complained of breach of copyright and data protection requirements, and issued various requests to UCL under the Freedom of Information Act, and a request to have a paper circulated to all UCL Council members concerning an alleged misuse of IT resources and possibly office space and secretarial facilities by Professor Colquhoun.
Solicitors acting on behalf of Dr Lakin and Dr Walker wrote some three weeks later in response to the Provostâ€™s letter, specifying statements on the website which they alleged to be defamatory, and also alleging malicious falsehood against UCL. They enclosed with their letter a pre-action protocol for defamation proceedings. Acting on legal advice, UCL asked Professor Colquhoun to remove his personal website from UCLâ€™s servers as a mitigating measure and to allow UCL to take further advice.
On his website, Professor Colquhoun questioned the validity of claims made by Dr Walker for the â€˜blood cleansingâ€™ properties of red clover and also criticised Dr Walker for making public statements as to the benefits of vitamin supplements without disclosing her role at the Health Supplements Information Service, a lobbying body for the supplements industry. Dr Walker has not complained to Professor Colquhoun and in her complaint to UCL has not addressed any of the scientific arguments made by Professor Colquhoun.
UCL has a long and outstanding liberal tradition and is committed to encouraging free and frank academic debate. The evidence (or lack thereof) for the claims made for health supplements is a matter of great public interest, and UCL supports all contributions to that debate. The only restriction it places on the use of its facilities is that its staff should use their academic freedom responsibly within the law.
To this end, the Provost and Professor Colquhoun have taken advice from a senior defamation Queenâ€™s Counsel, and we are pleased to announce that Professor Colquhounâ€™s website â€“ with some modifications effected by him on counselâ€™s advice – will shortly be restored to UCLâ€™s servers. UCL will not allow staff to use its website for the making of personal attacks on individuals, but continues strongly to support and uphold Professor Colquhounâ€™s expression of uncompromising opinions as to the claims made for the effectiveness of treatments by the health supplements industry or other similar bodies
This is extremely good news and the robust nature of this statement is a great testament to the good will and right thinking nature of the UCL Provost, as well as the long and honourable traditions of UCL.
Prof Colquhoun has also posted a brief note:
There is a more serious issue in the background, however. It strikes me that there is a sizeable cohort of people who sell themselves and their wares by making scientific claims, but then use bullying and legal threats when their claims and ideas are criticised. This to me is completely unacceptable.
I suspect that in the case of Dr Lakin and Dr Walker their efforts in this case may backfire, and a great deal more attention will now fall on their work. EDIT: This has already begun. Are we about to see a festival of Ann Walker?
I am also reproducing for your delectation below the piece from Prof Colquhoun’s site on Dr Ann Walker, as it currently appears there.
Red Clover and herbal spin
The Health Supplements Information Service (HSIS) is a spin organisation for the supplements industry. It was mentioned below, when they attempted to discredit a report that suppplements could actually increase mortality. In that case Ann Walker spoke for HSIS.
The same Ann Walker wrote an editorial for the British Journal of General Practice (January 2007), “Potential micronutrient deficiency lacks recognition in diabetes”. The conclusion is “Although still considered to be controversial by some, taking a daily multinutrient supplement would bridge the gap between intake and requirements and ensure that nutrient target intakes are met”. The affiliation given is senior lecturer in nutrition at the University of Reading, where she has a one-tenth full time appointment. No competing interests are declared. The University of Reading tells me that she has “consultancies for two supplement companies and for the Health Supplement Information Service. Dr Walker has also declared a private patients clinic”.
Ann Walker is also course director for an organisation called New Vitality. And she “operates a Clinic from her home on two days a week, using a combination of nutritional therapy and herbal medicine to treat patients with a wide variety of conditions.” All this sounds rather less academic. And so it is. Take red clover. New Vitality’s view is shown on the right What on earth is a “blood cleanser” or a “cleanser of the lymphatic system”. This is so much meaningless gobbledygook. The term “blood cleanser” means nothing whatsoever.
An enquiry about what “blood cleanser” means has yet to produce a reply.
The description of red clover on the New Vitality site
And is red clover really good for “symptoms of the menopause”? There is quite a different view on Medline Plus. This is an information service run by the US National Librery of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. They say, of red clover for menopausal symptoms,
â€œmost of the available human studies are poorly designed and short in duration (less than 12 weeks of treatment).As results of published studies conflict with each other, more research is needed before a clear conclusion can be drawn.â€
Medline Plus lists six other indications for red clover that have been suggested by herbalists. The conclusion in all seven cases is “Unclear scientific evidence for this use”
Likewise, New Vitality says of elderflower
â€œThe primary use of elderflowers is for colds and influenze where its anti-viral properties come into play.â€
But Medline Plus says
â€œit remains unclear whether there is truly any benefit from elder for this condition. Additional research is needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be reached. Elder should not be used in the place of other more proven therapies, and patients are advised to discuss influenza vaccination with their primary healthcare provider. It should be noted that the berries must be cooked to prevent nausea or cyanide toxicity.â€