Oh, hang on, now they are releasing some results from the Durham fish oil "trial"?

September 25th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 32 Comments »

I think it’s clear now that Madeleine Portwood and Dave Ford, the leading figures behind the Durham fish oil "trial", will be providing us with comedy and teaching opportunities for many years to come.

First they said they were doing a "trial".

Then when everyone pointed out it was incompetent research, they said that didnt matter, because it wasn’t a "trial", it was an "initiative" (and even retrospectively changed the wording of their press release online…).

Then when people asked for details of what they were doing, how they were going to measure success, they refused to say, even when hundreds of people asked, using the freedom of information act.

Then when the GCSE results came out, everyone could see a slowing in the rate of improvement.

Then Durham announced that they weren’t going to release the results after all, and claimed – defying all reason – that they’d never said they were doing to, and it was never their intention to analyse the results, or tell anyone what they were.

Now they have released the results.

You really, seriously, couldn’t make this up.

Initially they said they were going to measure GCSE performance of individual children against what they predicted the children should have attained (ingenious!). Their current analysis is even more incompetent. I’ve got to run out of the door, will add links later. Below is what I sent to the Northern Echo, and Barry Nelson, after he sent me their press release. I’m posting it so you can see what happens behind the news. After receiving it he wrote these two articles:

www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/3702388.___Proof________fish_oils_make_you_smart/
www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/3702440.Food_for_thought___/

www.durham.gov.uk/durhamcc\pressrel.nsf/Web+Releases/9B151A656B3FD9AB802574CF002D51F1?OpenDocument

 

 

SCHOOL FISH OIL STUDY GIVES SCIENTISTS FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A north east council’s study into the effects of a fish oil dietary supplement on pupils’ GCSE exam results may have given scientists food for thought.

Detailed analysis of the outcome of the initiative, launched by Durham County Council in advance of last year’s GCSE exams, shows that pupils who took the Omega-3 supplement did better than those who did not.

First they said they were doing a trial, then when it was over they refused to release the results, and claimed – in defiance of everything they’d already said at the time – that it was never their intention to do a trial. Now they claim to have some results. This is extraordinarily irresponsible and unprofessional, Durham Council have performed an experiment giving 6 capsules a day to thousands of children, and they have a responsibility to behave ethically and transparently. They have failed in this regard.

And the council’s education chiefs believe that although the results of the study are not definitive, they could now justify more clinically-based scientific trials

This is a meaningless term, a revealingly incompetent "jargony" misuse of basic scientific terminology.

to determine once and for all whether fish oil supplements can and do boost educational attainment among young people.

They could easily have determined if fish oil capsules are beneficial in this "trial", if they had performed it competently, which they chose not to, despite all offers of help and criticism at the time.

Dave Ford, Head of Achievement for Durham County Council’s Children and Young People’s Services said : " We have always maintained that if the outcome was positive, it would then be for the scientists to examine in more detail.

Dave Ford said he knew the results would be positive before it even began. I’m not surprised: this "trial" was flawed by design from the outset.

" The findings of our study suggest it may now be worth them following it up in more depth through proper clinical trials."

Durham could very easily have performed a proper trial were it not for the incompetence of Dave Ford and Madeleine Portwood.

Initially, just over 3,000 Year 11 pupils began the study, taking the Omega-3 tablets at school and at home.

By the time GCSE examinations came around, 832 pupils had 80 per cent or greater compliance.

This is appalling. 2,168 of their subjects dropped out of the trial. They must count these people in the results. It is incompetent not to do so. This makes the rest of their claimed results even more meaningless.

Mr Ford and his colleagues then sought to identify the same number of Year 11pupils who had not taken the supplement and match them to those who had, according to school, gender, prior attainment and social background.

This is completely different to what they claimed they were going to do and measure two years ago.

Mr Ford and his colleagues repeatedly refused all requests from myself and dozens of other academics and interested members of the public, including under the freedom of information act in exasperation, where we simply asked what they were planning to do and what they were going to measure in their experiment on thousands of Durham children. They refused to tell us.

It is vitally important that people performing experiments on children are clear what they are doing to them, and what they are measuring, before they begin, otherwise they can move the goalposts and get a false positive result afterwards, simply by measuring things lots of different ways until they get the positive result that they want.

We gave them every opportunity to do the right thing and describe what they were going to do, and what they were going to measure. They refused to tell us, entirely as predicted, they have moved the goalposts and are measuring a "positive result" in a completely new way. Perhaps they have done this because the way they initially said they were going to measure outcomes did not give them the result they want?

This is incompetent and means that the results are entirely meaningless.

The GCSE results of 629 ‘matched pairs’ – fish oil takers and non-fish oil takers – were then analysed.

In selectively only looking at the results from pupils who were highly adherent to the capsules regime, they have skewed their sample, and are simply measuring children who are likely to be more adherent to work at school, harder working, better performing, different backgrounds, from completely different families, and so on. This is laughably incompetent science, in an experiment performed on thousands of Durham children.

" To reach comparative levels of their attainment prior to the study, we used a nationally accepted system which took into account the results for each pupil at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3," said Mr Ford.

" At both stages, the difference in predicted GCSE outcomes between the groups was on average less than three points.

" However, following the fish oil initiative, the difference in Key Stage 4 (GCSE) results between those who had taken the supplement and those who had not rose

to 17.7 points.

They are not comparing like with like, so their results are meaningless in any case, but it is impossible to understand from this statement what they have measured, how they have matched samples, and so on. That is the problem with incompetent people doing science as PR, and communicating their results in press releases. I will be contacting them to clarify.

" If there had been no difference in attainment between the two groups, we would be tempted to dismiss the benefits of Omega-3," said Mr Ford.

I very much doubt that Mr Ford will ever dismiss the benefits of omega-3.

" However there seem to be some very clear indications that pupils taking the supplement do significantly better."

Rubbish. Mr Ford has produced meaningless data from an incompetent "trial" performed on thousands of children. I believe it is unethical to perform incompetent research on children, as it wastes goodwill, exposes people to risks unnecessarily, and misleads parents and children into believing that they are participating in a project which will produce useful information for everyone. In reality this was nothing more than a marketing project for some pills and, I’m sorry to say, a vanity project for some people in Durham council. It is scientifically worse than worthless, because it has been used, and will be used, to mislead the public.

Mr Ford said the Council made no claim that the results of its GCSE study could be attributed only to Omega-3 supplementation.

This is laughable. Everything Mr Ford has said in public for several years now has been to promote the use of Omega-3 supplementation.

" Other factors may be responsible for the difference in performance – for instance, the benefit may be a placebo effect, or it may be that those students who achieved 80 per cent compliance were better organised and had families who provided support at home and so might have done better anyway," he added.

Glad to see he acknowledges this. Then why did he decide to perform his experiment on thousands of Durham children incompetently in this way? He was told before he began that this experiment was wasteful and scientifically meaningless. He could have done a proper study for no more money, he chose not to. Why?

" But taking all this into account, it is our view that this study has produced some interesting and possibly exciting issues for further investigation that could be the basis for future scientific trials, and that is all we ever set out to achieve.

" The road to determining whether there are education benefits to be had from taking fish oil supplements was always going to be a long one, but I hope the findings of our study have taken the journey one step further."


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32 Responses



  1. Lemonade Lily said,

    September 25, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Glancing (only 5 minutes) at Durham’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee papers (infact the Scrutiny Sub-Committee for the Development Lifelong Learning) -I am clearly a few fish oil tablets short myself – ‘cos I can’t see fish oils mentioned – www.durham.gov.uk/durhamcc/usp.nsf/pws/8025694D002ACDA4802571C3003C7E23?opendocument.

    The key stage 4 document (bottom of webpage) is singularly unhelpful on the subject.

    Here is a report to the venerable committee in Sept 2007 – again no fish oils….but it does say (talking about KS4 results): “John Dellar pointed out the improvements that had been made were so good
    that it was now difficult to make further significant improvements. He
    explained that in addition to the hard work by pupils and parents these
    improvements were down to the investment by the County Council in key
    stage 4 over the last 4/5 years, the focus from the BETT Team, and the
    unique approach of schools in working together.
    The Chairman expressed his delight at the results, and members recognised
    the improvements that have been”
    www.durham.gov.uk/durhamcc/etech/DCCMinutes.nsf/375078fce317fabb80256aef003c01ac/2E0A6A204096C082802573590046E1D9/$FILE/minutes+240907.pdf

  2. chltx said,

    September 25, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Most so-called “studies” in nutrition that I have read would not get a passing grade in any science class that I taught. The vast majority of them completely ignore two fundamental rules of science, namely:

    1) If you aren’t measuring, you are guessing.

    2) If you are measuring the wrong thing(s), the answer(s) you get will be meaningless.

    The study of nutrition seems to be more closely related to religion than to science.

  3. kim said,

    September 25, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Good work. There was an interesting piece on Radio 4 the other day (PM, I think) in which someone was proposing an experiment with fish oil supplements for young prisoners. A woman from the Howard League came on and said very robustly that a pill wasn’t a solution and what young prisoners needed was not to be locked up all day but to have some decent food (prison food for young people is appalling, apparently), fresh air, exercise etc.

  4. Lemonade Lily said,

    September 25, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Blimey – I had not noticed that DCC were actually ‘advertising’ eye q in their uber-positive press releases back in September, 2006:

    At least Newcastle CC, watching their near neighbours closely, were more circumspect about fish oils (1st Nov, 2006)

    WRITTEN 3 From Councillor Lambert: Question
    “Nearby Durham County Council has recently brought in fish oil supplements for 5,000 GCSE pupils with the aim of boosting concentration levels and educational performance. Given the promising results of this experiment will Newcastle City Council (LEAS) consider a similar scheme for the city’s GCSE students?”

    Written Reply from Councillor Cott, Executive Member for Children and Young People:
    “The City Council is greatly interested in ways in which outcomes can be improved for children and young people and we have watched with interest the initiative which has been put in place by Durham County Council. However, professional opinion seems to be divided as to whether fish oil supplements do in fact help to improve outcomes and it would therefore be sensible to wait until evaluation can take place before looking at this further.
    It goes without saying that any discussion around providing fish oil supplements would require consultation and working in partnership with health services, schools, parents and students (probably through the Food in Schools Group). This is not an initiative which the City Council could pursue without widespread consensus.”

    BTW what happened to the Norfolk Fish Oil Study? www.norfolk.gov.uk/consumption/idcplg?IdcService=SS_GET_PAGE&ssDocName=NCC042303&ssSourceNodeId=&ssTargetNodeId=3018

  5. j said,

    September 25, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Oddly, in April Durham Council said that “it was never intended that there would be scientific analysis of the data. All that was being sought was the number of children taking up the offer of capsules and a comparison of GCSE results from the previous year.”

    I wonder how they got from this to an approach where “[t]o reach comparative levels of their attainment prior to the study, we used a nationally accepted system which took into account the results for each pupil at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3″.

    Blogged here holfordwatch.info/2008/09/25/the-durham-fish-oil-zombie-rises-again/

  6. Bob O'H said,

    September 25, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    What happened to the 200 pupils who achieved 80% compliance, but weren’t used in the analysis? Couldn’t they find good matches for a quarter of their pupils?

  7. McCruiskeen said,

    September 25, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Lemonade Lily – Glancing (only 5 minutes) at Durham’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee papers (infact the Scrutiny Sub-Committee for the Development Lifelong Learning) -I am clearly a few fish oil tablets short myself – ‘cos I can’t see fish oils mentioned – won’t find any scrutiny of this trial/study/initiative (delete as currently applicable) because the DD (Durham Defence) is:

    “This initiative was planned by Officers of the Authority as an opportunity for our autonomous schools and as such did not require formal council approval.”

    So, the centrally planned, implemented and managed “Brainchild” of David Ford, involving 3,000 pupils and £1m (allegedly at retail value)worth of fish oil caspsules, with press releases and subsequent (flawed and laughable) statistical work by DCC, required no scrutiny by members.

    And we trust this lot to run education for our children in Durham?

    DCC should publish David Ford’s original plan – he must have surely had one, even if it was never scrutinised by members – musn’t he??????

    Only by comparing what his intentions were in the form of the project’s aims, objectives, methodology and evaluation criteria, will we ever understand what actually went on here.

    At the moment, we are playing intellectual tennis without a net. Our critical serves are being made with the net of rational scrutiny up. DCC’s returns of serve are with that net down!

    They say what is politically expedient for them and expect to be believed.

    Show us the plan and let us judge!

  8. drunkenoaf said,

    September 25, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Well Ben, it looks like they skim-read your book and have tried to retro-shoehorn in some panache. Or at least some terms that made it sound more like a trial and less like a total farce.

    But what can be done to counter the moronic miracle fish oil pill stories that will appear in the Telegraph now?

    I think everyone hates seeing councils wasting money (damn council tax rises to pay for joke science using kids a guinea pigs etc etc), especially money that should be spent on textbooks for our kids that want to learn. Quick, someone get in a scathing piece that hangs on that premise into the papers…

  9. used to be jdc said,

    September 25, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Durham’s position has changed so many times now that I’m not sure what they were (or were not) planning. Nor am I sure what they have released and what they have hung onto. Maybe that was the plan once you’d got hold of the story? Release enough contradictory public statements to ensure that no-one can tell what their position actually is. Or was.

    Did it go something like this?

    ‘We’re running a trial. And we’re going to analyse the results to see if fish oil pills solve complex social problems.’
    “This trial hasn’t been planned properly – you won’t get any meaningful results”
    ‘No, wait – it is not a trial, it’s an initiative.’
    “What are you doing and how are you doing it?”
    ‘Not telling you.’
    “What are you going to measure?”
    ‘Pupils’ scores compared with their expected grades’

    “The GCSE results are out. How well did the fish oil pills work?”
    ‘Not telling you. We never planned to tell anyone what the results were. Equazen supplied us with thousands of capsules purely so we could have a look at their effects for ourselves. Secretly. In private.’
    ‘No, wait – don’t go away. We’ve changed our minds and we are going to release the results.’
    “Did you measure children’s actual grades against their predicted grades like you said you were going to?”
    ‘Uh, no. For some reason (which we are not disclosing at this time) we measured something completely different.’
    “Where’s the data?”
    ‘Erm.’

    Which means it both is and is not a trial. The results are being published and are not being published. They always and never meant to analyse the data (which they aren’t going to show you). The measurement was actual versus predicted grades – except when it wasn’t and they changed it to measuring the performance of pupils who took the pills versus the performance of those who didn’t. [Which made me think of an article by Gary Taubes which referred to the Bias of Compliance – NYT.

  10. PSD said,

    September 25, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Let me get this right. Children who received what we might term a more “homeopathic dose” of fish oil did significantly worse than those who swallowed the pseudoscientific cobblers (and\or fish oil). We can therefore make several conclusions:

    1) GCSE results appear not to measure intelligence and\or susceptibility to woo.

    2) Homeopathic quantities of fish oil reduce academic achievement by 17.7 points on average

    3) Ford and Portwood seem to think that GCSEs are measured in “points” instead of being graded – or are arbitrarily assigning “points” to grades. Am I cynical enough to think it’s possible to assign 1,000,000 points per grade and then tease out a tiny difference to something that sounds huge? You bet I am.

    4) Furthermore, as there is no evidence that fish oil improves academic performance (Durham’s GCSE results were no better than the national average, and below a simple extrapolation of previous trends) it seems clear that whilst fish oil does not improve exam results, being involved in a psuedo-scientific “trial” is genuinely bad for your performance. Portwood and Ford should resign for their disastrous effect upon Durham’s GCSE results forthwith.

    Whilst I have performed no statistical analysis upon the results – nor had any idea what the hell the methodology was meant to be – I believe the same is true of Portwood and Ford. Therefore my analysis deserves at least equal credence – eg print it out and wipe your arse on it.

  11. BobP said,

    September 25, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    It is no coincidence that this press release comes only a few days after the announcement of the fish oil study funded by the Wellcome Trust which hit the news about a week ago.

    I assume that Portwood and Ford had been reluctant to attract more adverse publicity for their effort. However, the involvement of the Wellcome Trust – in a trial with completely different design and objectives – gives them an opportunity to bathe in reflected limelight and duck criticism.

    I would be fascinated to know how the wheels turn in Durham Education Department. If I was a native of Durham I would be asking tough questions about what Ford and Portwood have been doing during company time.

    I assume that they will now release complete details of their methodology on the website and publish their work in a peer reviewed journal?

    Ooh, near miss from flying pig!

  12. Weirdbeard said,

    September 26, 2008 at 12:59 am

    I reckon they’ve fooled us all. If, as used to be jdc says, this both is and is not a trial then what Durham have really been undertaking is an experiment to test the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory. Yes folks, this is their attempt to actually carry out a variation on Schrodinger’s thought experiment on his cat but without using a cat and thus avoiding the attention of the moggy lobby. Unfortunately, the results have been confusing (it both has and hasn’t worked) and they are attempting to obscure the real purpose of the experiment by making us all thoroughly confused.

  13. Lemonade Lily said,

    September 26, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Found the link to Norfolk CC fish oil ‘trial’ in Eaton Hall Special School in 2006

    “Results of Fish Oil and Healthy Diet Study Revealed”

    www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=182885

    www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/kids/fish_oil_study.shtml

    The BBC article does say that the trial is not a scientific study as there was no control group….

    This is clearly just marketing for the fish oil company and councils are the dupes.

    Council officers are under huge pressure to hit targets. That is their primary aim – the performance data – nothing else matters.

  14. boro_dave said,

    September 26, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I was surprised and interested when this popped up on Look North local news after BBC1 10pm News. The headline carried Durham’s claim that the trial was a success, so I feared the worst. But then up popped a clip of Dr Ben saying how useless the trial was and how it was unethical. This was followed with clear explanation of three reasons why the trial could be biased (as per Mr Ford’s comments above).

    There was a clip of (I think) Mr Ford, trying to explain how they’ve not been incompetent and how it was never meant to be a scientific trial. But overall, I was thinking the report was pretty well balanced and informative….until the very last comment of the reporter – “it’s now down to parents to decide who to believe”!!! Noooooo.

    This is the whole point! This isn’t a debate, Durham have made a claim about the efficacy of fish oil, they’ve tested it (incompetently & maybe unethically) and haven’t come up with anything like the standard of proof required. To claim a positive outcome is therefore plain wrong.

    Equally, the ‘scientists’ on the other side can’t say definitively that fish oil doesn’t offer a benefit – it’s just that nothing Durham have done supports their claim.

    The Look North report had done pretty well in explaining part of the complex issue but then ruined it by reducing it to a nice black and white, Durham vs ‘scientists’ popularity poll.

  15. gazza said,

    September 26, 2008 at 9:02 am

    @ Kim and BobP

    I mentioned the planned Welcome Trust Omega 3 trial on young offenders to Ben a couple of weeks ago, and he is aware of it. I daresay he will cast his critical eye over any progress as it emerges – early days yet.

    It does seem to be better planned (double blind, placebos, etc) than the Durham mess. The only thing that worried me was the degree of belief in a positive outcome by the organiser (John Stein, an academic at Oxford but also the brother of the famous TV chef, Rick!).

    Of course every experimenter must have some reason for believing something positive would come from a study or you wouldn’t bother in the first place but I do worry that there is a danger that a rationally based belief in a positive outcome could become faith! And that’s when the integrity of a trial may come under pressure as at Durham.

    So something to keep an eye on for the future though some years away yet.

  16. K9 said,

    September 26, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Its been picked up by the Beeb, with the most famous living author prominent in the piece.

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7635661.stm

    If my kids were involved in this sham, I would be asking serious questions about Ford and Portwood’s jobs. There’s no plaice for this kind of behaviour.

  17. McCruiskeen said,

    September 26, 2008 at 10:53 am

    David Ford has made quite a few statements during this farce of the “I/we believe” variety. In some cases he has qualified these with “and many of our parents believe.”
    The BBC Look North feature misled to some extent with all their footage of primary school children and shot themselves in the foot by saying that in the end it all came down to who you believe. That is bad journalism, because it completely trivialises the important substantive issue – the appropriate use of science and rational thinking.

    David Ford has on many occasions sounded, to me, rather like the creationists. He seems to think that if he and enough other people believe something to be the case, then that’s it sorted!

    BBC Look North transmitted two different video clips of David Ford in their lunchtime and evening editions. If you want to see cynicism personified, check out the lunchtime clip!

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7635988.stm

  18. bagpuss said,

    September 26, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    “David Ford has on many occasions sounded, to me, rather like the creationists. He seems to think that if he and enough other people believe something to be the case, then that’s it sorted!”

    That reminds me of something I heard on television last night (some programme about American girls vowing to remain virgins until marriage, I happened on it while channel surfing and watched for a few minutes, mostly in horror). The father of one of the girls in question said:

    “It’s not about what I believe, it’s about what God has told us”.

    I almost choked on the glass of water I was drinking at the time.

    Back on subject, following this whole saga, I’ve been furious about what those responsible for children have been able to get away with, all for the benefit of commercial enterprise. That alone would be bad enough, but to claim it all as being done in the name of science and for the benefit of the children concerned is even more outrageous. Keep up the good work, Ben.

    PS, finally got round to buying THE book and looking forward to several hours of enlightening reading over the weekend.

  19. JQH said,

    September 26, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    McCruiskeen (post 7)

    If David Ford had an original plan, he never showed it to Councillors. In my FOI request to Durham (the saga can be found at various points on jaycueaitch.wordpress.com/) I asked for copies of sreports to senior officers and elected members.

    They claimed that it would be too burdensome to comply with this request. When I appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office, they claimed that no such reports were ever written. Obviously, they would not lie to or otherwise mislead the ICO so obviously elected members never saw any such reports.

    The impression Durham appear to be trying to give is that the idea just growed in Ford and Portwood’s minds.

    I wonder what the Durham electorate think about unelected officials deciding to experiment on their children?

    WILL NOBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

  20. shortdoug said,

    September 26, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Good work dr ben, and completely agree with boro_dave and the other comments above.

    dunno if you’re touchy about this kind of thing dr ben, but the reporter on look north last night referred to you as mr goldacre.

  21. MataHari said,

    September 26, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    If you swallow fish oil capsules you suffer stale fishy burps for a few hours. Yuk. I therefore think the drop-out was higher than recorded, and some docile pupils pretended to take it ans spat it out later.

  22. Groinhammer said,

    September 26, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    BBC link to the Proffesor Stein trial on Fish Oil

    “One thousand young offenders from three prisons in England and Scotland are being recruited for a major trial to see if nutritional supplements can improve behaviour.

    The study is being organised by neuroscientist Professor John Stein, of the University of Oxford, whose brother is the chef Rick Stein.

    Professor Stein believes that food supplements – Omega 3 fish oils in particular – can improve reduce the anti-social behaviour of prisoners”

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7618888.stm

  23. Groinhammer said,

    September 26, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Apologies for typo.

  24. Groinhammer said,

    September 26, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Book arrived from Amazon yesterday, and already I’m looking forward to “Bad Science 2: More Bad Science.

  25. adamcreen said,

    September 26, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    And of course the final volume in the trilogy: “Bad Science 3: Die, McKeith, Die!”

  26. evidencebasedeating said,

    September 27, 2008 at 12:03 am

    Not forgetting the ‘prequel': “The Holfraud Identity”

  27. peterd102 said,

    September 27, 2008 at 1:19 am

    Bad Science
    Bad Science 2: Worse Science
    Bad Science with a Clinical Trial
    Bad Science 4.0

    “Ill be back (to publish my results)”

    “Do you you feel lucky? Is the p value less than 0.05 Punk”

    Bad Science Episode I: The Pharma Menace
    Bad Science Episode II: The Attack of the Rath
    I could go on, so i shall

    Bad Science Episode III: Revenge of the SoH
    Bad Science Episode IV: A New Holfraud
    Bad Science Episode V: The Evidence Stikes Back
    Bad Science Episode VI: The Return of the TAPL

    Sorry bout this, i got bored.

  28. ossian said,

    September 27, 2008 at 9:12 am

    I have a rather serious question about this. I perhaps haven’t been following this closely enough however their is one aspect of the experimental design that concerns me. Did they at the very least check the “subjects'” (for subjects read children’s) for interactions with other medicines?

    I realise that it’s not as common for children to be on Warfren as adults however Evening Primrose Oil does interact with Warfren for example. Even doctors frequently struggle to spot interactions, resulting in Pharmacists spending much of their time pointing out interactions in drug regimes that patients are already on when they arrive in hospital.

    Anyway, my question is did they design the experiment to ensure interactions were avoided? Was this picked up during ethics approval for the study?

    Thanks,
    Ossian

  29. McCruiskeen said,

    September 27, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Ossian, you clearly haven’t been following this and you certainly don’t understand David Ford and Durham County Council. Ethics? To Ford, that’s a county near London.
    This travesty of an experiment was never put before county councillors for scrutiny. Whether this was to avoid that scrutiny or they simply didn’t bother (I subscribe to the latter) remains to be seen. They would not have dared involved the local Health Trust’s ethics committee, because they would have encountered people who knew what they were talking about and that would have ruined the show!
    There is a simple truth behind all of this. If you are upfront and have played something straight, you have nothing to hide. If you know that you are vulnerable because what you have done is unethical, incompetent or worse, then you cover up, dissemble, obfuscate and stonewall. But the more you continue to do those things, the more people ask “what have you got to hide?” It seems to me there is a great deal to hide here and that what has actually emerged (generally dragged out of them) is only the tip of the iceberg. They are not even any good at information control. For example, I have documentary evidence of David Ford and his Boss contradicting each other in this affair!
    I think another aspect is that certain people have been a law unto themselves for so long and treated sycophantically, that they were taken by surprise when this one actually blew up in their faces. I suppose that there is always a time when people like that get too confident or greedy and go one step too far. That’s what I think happened here. David Ford has been, proudly, toughing it out ever since (and smiling!)
    Check out the end of the clip:

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7635988.stm

    Cynicism personified?

  30. peterd102 said,

    September 27, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    The comments on the next post from this one talk about ethics committie approval, it appears that there was no ethics committie approval. The ‘trial’ appears to just be give pupils fish oil tablets then look at pass rate for exams. I highly doubt anyone considered interactions with pharmaceuticals or even thought about any other adverse effects that some pupils might have to fish oil.

    This tale is going to last for a long time as how NOT to do a study.

  31. Sili said,

    September 27, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Well, it did give you food for thought, innit?

    Admittedly those wellnourished thoughts were less “fishoil, yay!” and more (decidely more) “what utter incompetence!!”.

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