Saturday May 31 2008
You will remember last week we were talking about the £2,000 Dore “miracle cure” for dyslexia, invented by paint entrepreneur Wynford Dore. It had been pushed unrelentingly in the media, despite multiple Ofcom and ITC judgements, and through personal endorsement by Kenny Logan, who, it turned out, was paid for at least some of his promotional work. This was despite the fact that the evidence base for the programme was spectacularly poor, although the relentlessly positive media coverage might be explicable, since Dore has been known to be heavy-handed with those who speak out.
This week the UK arm of Dore went into administration, and US branches are closing too. Parents are out of pocket, and employees are out of work, although Phil Hall PR is still representing Dore very effectively.
Could anyone have seen this coming? I make no sweeping claims about blogs and mainstream media – both have their roles – but in this case it seems the bloggers win on timeliness, accuracy, relevance, effort, ethics, and stupid names. Gimpyblog broke the news internationally of Dore going bust, following up a comment from a Dore employee. Back in January, he published a detailed analysis of the Dore accounts, flagging up serious concerns about their viability even then. The mainstream media continued to encourage parents to put their money into the “miracle cure”. He has also doggedly covered the scientific evidence, and is now blogging on other dyslexia “cures” that have started to circle like vultures, buying the word “Dore” on Google adwords.
Podblack covered the news of Dore going bust in Australia first and was offering practical rights advice to ex-employees and parents from the start.
Brainduck has been covering Dore’s research for a year now, and explaining the methodological flaws. She also dismantled the evidence when it was reported “the Dore Clinic has achieved massive successes while working with 1,000 patients suffering from the symptoms of high-functioning autism”. This claim was made, not in an academic journal, but in the Leamington Courier.
Jon from the blog Holfordwatch performed an amusing experiment in 2007 when Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology in Oxford, published a paper compiling the concerns about Dore’s “research base” in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. He contacted newspapers who had carried flattering coverage of Dore, including the Daily Mail, Manchester Evening News, Guardian, Times and Telegraph. “I really thought – by putting so much time into this – I would persuade at least some of the papers I spoke to to run the story. [But] the only response I’ve had is an ‘out of office’ autoreply.
“Of course, people talked to me when I phoned them, but they often seemed keen to get me off the phone asap; I could almost hear the boredom in some voices.” I’m not surprised. “Apparently,” says Jon, “‘miracle cure for children’ stories are news; ‘miracle cure lacks evidence of efficacy’ stories are not.”
He even rang Radio 4′s investigative consumer programme You and Yours. You will remember from last week’s column that they were puffing the Dore programme after it went bust in Australia. Before the puff was broadcast Jon got through to the You and Yours office to inform them of the problems. They did not find time to mention his tip, but they did manage to read out emails received during the programme. How very interactive.
Why do they bother? People often paint a black picture of life with specific learning difficulties. These bloggers are themselves living anecdotal evidence that SpLDs need not hold you back.
Jon from Holfordwatch has dyspraxia, and Gimpy has SpLDs and can barely write his own name, but both have (accredited) PhDs and academic research positions.
Brainduck meanwhile is a psychology undergraduate at York with dyspraxia. She’s going for postgraduate positions in psychology at the moment, and if she applies to you (her blog is on her CV) then I suggest you give her a job, because she has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to interpret published academic research of poor quality – and then communicate it in lay terms – better than almost any journalist in the international news media so far.
· Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org
[Lots of refs to come, sorry I'm in Hay lit fest tonight on slow internet, talking on Saturday (hello if you're coming). According to my girlfriend this means I am now one of Britain's leading C-list public intellectuals.]