Saturday 10 January 2009
Obviously by now you can interpolate my views on detox: meaningless, symbolic, gimmicky shortlived health gestures with a built-in expiry date, when we could be reading about the NHS’s surprisingly useful website to help you stop smoking (do it now: smokefree.nhs.uk/), or lifestyle pieces on the joys of buying a bike, and making a genuine move to integrate exercise into your daily life for the long term. I’m not trying to bore you. But after a few months of concentrating on dodgy reporting in the media, I had genuinely forgotten how far out a proper fruitcake can get.
Fate dealt me Nas Amir Ahmadi, managing director (which earns her the impressive soubriquet “MD”) of a company called Detoxinabox. I discussed detox with her on Radio 4. My interest in Nas’s work was first piqued when she began to deny actual verbatim quotes from her own website. What is the evidence that your detox regime will eradicate cadmium from my body, I asked? You must have the wrong website, doctor. Never heard of the idea, she said. But there it was, bright as day: “One of the most complex detoxification functions is against heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadminum [sic], nickel, arsenic, and aluminum [which isn't a heavy metal].” And so on.
Now, of all the strategies for wiggling out of a foolish statement, simply denying you ever made it strikes me as the least intellectually sophisticated, possibly the most irritating, and certainly the most shortsighted. I’m sure she’s not the first. Nas says she made a mistake. No problem.
In returning to the website to check, I had a look around. There were lots of exciting claims. Here are five. “Pumpkin seeds are a natural depression cure!” “Lemon helps maintain healthy teeth and bones” “Olives help delay the effects of ageing.” “½ teaspoon of cinnamon per day helps lower cholesterol!”, and “Tuna helps lower blood pressure”. I asked Nas if they had any evidence to back up these claims.
No, she agreed. They do not have any “scientific evidence”.
Then she seemed to change her mind, and offered some. The evidence she offered included: a study involving 7 people; a random webpage that says “Lemons build bones and teeth and nourish the brain and nerve cells”; a typically tenuous nutritionist chain of reasoning involving the almost-dead antioxidant hypothesis; weak observational correlations; and so on.
But some of the site, like a page titled “Which Came First – Depression or Diabetes?“, stuck out a mile. It was quite sciencey, quite plausible, and quite interesting, a write up of a proper research paper. Was this really written by Detoxinabox? No. In fact, they simply copied the entire text, verbatim, hundreds of words, from a blog post by a proper pharmacist named Jennifer Gibson, and passed it off as their own, removing only her name, and swapping in their own images. The original image in Jennifer Gibson’s blog post would have given away the actual source. Ownership of ideas is a grey area, but this seems to be a rather clear example of plagiarism, over 500 words from start to finish. The person running the Brainblogger website, where the piece was published, has described detoxinabox as “thieves”. Detoxinabox have not responded to me on this issue, but they have removed the page from their site.
And interestingly, Nas’s difficulty in recalling the claims about cadminum from her own website might also be explained by their original source. The entire sentence “One of the most complex detoxification functions is against heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadminum, nickel, arsenic, and aluminum.” appears, verbatim, on another company’s website, detox-guide.com, complete with that tell-tale mis-spelling of cadmium.
There’s nothing unique about Detoxinabox. What’s amazing is the ratio between their competence and their media penetrance which is unreplicated, I would say, in any field outside science. Let’s just re-examine the crimes. You deny what is plainly true. You make claims without evidence. You admit that, but then you change your mind. Your evidence is magnificently poor. You seem to plagiarise whole articles, verbatim, from real everyday people who’ve actually bothered to spend some time familiarising themselves with science, and write about it online because they’re passionate about it. And finally, crucially, your industry’s nonsense ideas get more – and more favourable – coverage in mainstream media than any piece of actual science, or any meaningful public health intervention.
Nas has explained to me that she is mystified why so many people from the world of science and medicine seem to be annoyed with her. Yup. It’s a mystery.
Advert Break #1:
The Guardian’s ads text-sensitive “context” ads online around my articles are getting properly far out. Anything I write on MMR is accompanied by ads for clinics offering quack treatments or single jabs. And these for today’s piece. Comedy genius:
Mega Hydrate w/ H- Ions will Super Hydrate, Energize & Detox the body!
Fast, Effective Safe Chelation How Do I know? Read My Story
This site guarantees to remove really gross stuff from your gut.
Advert Break #2:
I don’t take ads for my online empire (which is just one of many reasons why it’s probably not worth suing me, the other being that I’m right about you, and if you can show I’m not, I’ll cheerfully clarify anyway). This is from my friend Robin. He has paid me in bumsex. You cannot win Robin’s bumsex by suing me.
I am performing a 52 date tour around the UK. The new show is about crazed fundamentalists, Carl Sagan, intelligent design, the poo fairy, US foreign policy and greedy, pea eating monks amongst other things. Like most comedians, I’ll probably steal some of Ben’s best lines and pretend they’re my own, he likes that. Most of the dates can be found at robinince.com. I will try not to get too cross about Ann Coulter’s book Godless, but you never now.