How do you judge if an intervention is effective when you hear about it in the media? Perhaps you tot up the balance of opinions. Perhaps you do it unconsciously.
You might have noticed the Dore “miracle cure” for dyslexia, invented by millionaire paint entrepreneur Wynford Dore. It’s hard to ignore. In fact just recently you may have seen “Strictly Come Dancing” star Kenny Logan – a rugby superhero, with 70 caps in 13 years – promoting the Dore Dyslexia Program with his own personal testimonials on the Jeremy Vine Show, Channel Five News, Radio Five Live, BBC London, ITV Central, ITV Yorkshire, in the Daily Mail, the Daily Record, Scotland on Sunday, and many, many more.
One earlier round of “miracle cure” publicity was so bizarre that Nasa, which is quite busy making spacecraft, was forced to issue a press release refuting claims in the Independent and New Scientist that Dore used special Nasa space technology and exercises in the treatment (Dore denies involvement in these claims). And we should remember that the published scientific evidence for Dore consists of an infamous research study (published in two papers) on the “miracle cure”, filled with fascinating methodological holes so serious that there were five resignations from the editorial board of the journal Dyslexia in protest at its publication, and an unprecedented nine critical commentaries from academics (here and here).
But in the media you will only ever see Dore being promoted intensely, glowingly, uncritically, with intimate personal testimonies which many, understandably, consider to constitute evidence. With repetition, after all, they can start to feel eerily quantitative.
And what shameless repetition. The Independent Television Commission upheld complaints about a Tonight With Trevor McDonald program promoting Dore’s miracle cure (with an “information line” at the end which went straight through to Dore). Nothing changed. A year later Richard and Judy did exactly the same thing, because there aren’t any very good treatments for dyslexia, so anyone with a miracle cure is welcome on the sofa. The ITC upheld a complaint again. It changed nothing. Ofcom found Dore’s TV advertisement to be in breach of its rules on evidence, “assessment of medical claims”, and “impressions of professional advice and support”.
How do you make that kind of relentlessly positive media coverage happen? Dore retains Phil Hall Associates, headed by the ex-editor of the News of the World and one of the finest and most expensive PR men in Britain (he’s quite a nice bloke on the phone). You may remember someone called Kenny Logan. He is paid for some of his promotional work for Dore, but he does not declare this fact to journalists or TV producers when he spreads his message of Dore miracles to the nation (“if journalists ask whether he is paid he confirms it,” says Dore, “but he does not volunteer it when it does not seem an issue.”).
You will never hear a negative Dore anecdote in the media. Why not? I spoke with three patients who felt the £2,000 programme didn’t work for them. That’s all. It’s a fairly modest claim about their own experience, and you’d have thought the company might simply wear it. They asked for the names to discuss the cases specifically. I gave them two. In a letter to these patients asking for permission to talk about their cases they mentioned libel in a way that can only be described as threatening.
One was simply outraged. She thinks, incidentally, that the Dore Programme made her son’s seizures and headaches worse. I make no comment on that, as it is simply one mother’s story (but if Dore wants to live by extreme anecdotes, then that is one for them to think about). The other felt he dared not take the risk of speaking out – of simply saying “it didn’t work for me” – as he felt so threatened, he does not have the resources to protect himself legally.
An academic has received a letter threatening legal action, delivered in person to her home, for daring to speak about her concerns over the evidence for Dore when asked by journalists. Dore’s lawyers have sent multiple extensive letters and faxes to this newspaper, warning us against all kinds of things. I get paid the same for this column whether it takes me two hours or a week. This may go some small way to explaining why you will hear only praise heaped upon Dore in the media.
Meanwhile the Australian arm of the Dore business has gone into administration, workers are unpaid, and parents are out of pocket. But you will hear nothing about this in the brave British media. This very week, even as everyday folk in Australia were wondering if they would ever see their money again, Radio 4’s supposedly investigative consumer programme You and Yours was promoting the Dore programme. And as ever, Kenny Logan was the studio guest. Pay now, up front, for the miracle cure!
Update: Dore UK goes under?
This whole issue bas been covered remarkably well, extensively, and in real time, by a wide range of bloggers (extensive symmary of all posts courtesy of gimpy here). I think the most fascinating thing about this story is that the mainstream media has been so fawning, encouraging people to part with their cash even as the programme was going under, while the bloggers have been dissecting the scientific evidence, even dissecting the accounts, predicting the financial problems, and reporting on events as they happen.
So far – and I think I should start keeping a proper score here – that’s mainstream media 0, bloggers 10.
Most amazing is that Dore UK seem also now to have gone under, or rather, into administration. Appointments have been cancelled, and staff sent home. This came in just too late for my column, but no worry: it will be fascinating to see how it is covered by the media. Dore were signing people up even this week. However misguided I feel it was, I sincerely hope their investment is safe. Perhaps You and Yours could reimburse the people they encouraged into the program this week, in the face of the evidence, and after the program was clearly in dire straits.