The barefaced cheek of these characters will never cease to amaze and delight me.

January 5th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, detox, nutritionists, onanism | 127 Comments »

Greeetings to listeners of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. About 20 minutes ago I was on the show talking about detox nonsense. Nas Amir Ahmadi of detoxinabox.com denied the rather foolish contents of her own website, and confidently claimed that I must be thinking of the wrong company. I read a quote. She laughed and said I was mistaken.

The audio is here:

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I promised on air that I would double check and post on badscience.net. It will not surprise you to hear that she is completely wrong, and I am completely correct.

EDIT: The Today programme, bless them, share my anality and clarified that I was right and she was wrong.

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nas1.pngHere is Nas Amir Ahmadi, managing director of Detoxinabox (which earns her the soubriquet “MD”):

www.detoxinabox.com/nas.html

And this is her webpage. I read directly from it on the air:

detoxinabox_in_case_they_change_it.JPG

www.detoxinabox.com/diet-a-detox/detox-benefits.html

One of the most complex detoxification functions is against heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadminum, nickel, arsenic, and aluminum.

As I said, they can’t even manage to spell “Cadmium” correctly. The website goes on to explain that their detox programme will expedite the removal of these nasties from the body, without troubling itself to offer any evidence for these claims. Nas explained that she didn’t need to because it had nothing to do with her.

It strikes me that to confidently deny the contents of your own website can only denote a rather careless approach to the facts, or at worst, we might tenuously speculate, in our darkest thoughts, a rather clumsy attempt to obfuscate when caught out.

I have emailed Nas Amir Ahmadi to inform her of her error, in the hope that she will be able to clarify on this issue, and look forward to her apology for misleading the 2 million listeners of the Today programme, and for incorrectly claiming that my research into her absurd website was mistaken. I’ve also rung the Today programme on the one in 5 million chance that they will clarify this on air, partly because I am the most anal person in Britain, and partly because I think it is important to be clear about these things. If it had happened on any subject I would want them to clarify.

Seriously. The barefaced cheek of these characters will never cease to amaze and delight me.

EDIT: And on that comment they have now changed the text of their website. Heh. Note to Nas: changing your website does not change the fact that you were wrong and pwned.

If you enjoyed this dogged anality in the cause of scientific clarity you may also enjoy my vaguely bestselling book. Ignore Amazon, it’s not out of stock, that was just Xmas, there are zillions arriving there tomorrow or something, and if you’re impatient you can click “More Buying Choices” and buy it from elsewhere through Amazon for the same price.


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If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

127 Responses



  1. jonathon tomlinson said,

    January 6, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Housmans, London’s premier radical bookshop (stocking copies of Badscience) is hosting an evening with Herbalist Melissa Ronaldson talking about Detox on Saturday Jan 31st at 5pm. I’ve been to other talks there about the NHS and Anarchism, and though the shop is small and gets quite crowded, there have been stimulating debates. www.housmans.com/events.php
    p.s. Previously Getonyerbike, my new years resolution is to use my real name whilst blogging.

  2. stinkychemist said,

    January 6, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    7:30PM their website now also says:

    “Yet we are helping in anyway to our organs and systems to do their job more effectively.”

    Clearly didn’t study English much, then. Last I heard, this usage of anyway would be wrong, even if the rest of the sentences could be understood!

    Man, I am sooooo anal.

    Hey, I did an online IQ test from a a site in America and they sent me a certificate, even though they said they couldn’t send one to non-USA addresses! That’s what I call service. Modesty, of course, forbids me from putting it on the wall or announcing which larger-than-average number it said. Besides, I’d have to chuck one of Mrs. Stinkychemist’s degrees out or buy a new frame and as an honorary Yorkshireman of 32 years’ standing I can’t do that…..

  3. al heeley said,

    January 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

    www.detox-guide.com/benefits-of-detox.html
    [quote]So what are the benefits of detox? What does detox actually means? Detox is a bodily process that transforms health threatening toxic substances from our environment, diets, as well as our own bodies into something harmless or excreted.

    One of the most complex detoxification functions is against heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadminum, nickel, arsenic, and aluminum. [/quote]

    Copyright (c) 2006-2008 All rights reserved, no reproduction permitted without permission. Detox-guide.com

    !) Looks like some blatant plagarism going on between websites here, particularly poignant is the transplanting of the Cadminum typo,
    !!) Important claim above that detox can also rid heavy metals from our environment. This could be an important new discovery. maybe we could hire a team of nutritionists to quietly excrete heavy metals from infected areas around the country.

  4. Jellytussle said,

    January 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Why don’t you send that in to Right to Reply? If it gets through then someone from Today will be asked to defend their editorial policy.

  5. muscleman said,

    January 7, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    The reason organisations like the Beeb continue to shamelessly have people like Nas Amir on is because, as Ben has pointed out before, they are run by Arts graduates who think all ‘opinions’ are valid. They don’t recognise that someone can be debunked, after all they only lost an argument, nothing more . . .

  6. ACH said,

    January 7, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    And while Nas, “MD” is extolling the properties of detox for health, elsewhere (following a link from the miniblog), detox is being touted as the reason for Christine Maggiore’s (the HIV/AIDS denier’s) death:

    “She had apparently been on a radical cleansing and detox regimen that had sickened her and left her very weak, dehydrated, and unable to breathe”

    so, detox can either cure or kill.

  7. Dr Aust said,

    January 7, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    First rate letter, “NorthernBoy” / Anthony Potts. You should start a blog!

  8. NorthernBoy said,

    January 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I should not have included my name on this post (I copied my entire submission to Today, including my name).

    I’ve asked Ben to remove it from the bottom of my post, and would appreciate it if you could do the same. Sorry, I don’t mean to be anal, but I prefer the opacity that my (now geographically incorrect) pseudonym gives.

  9. rogerhyam said,

    January 7, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    I think Ben’s anal retention may be because he needs to detox. He is probably full of chemicals 😉

  10. emen said,

    January 7, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Muscleman, please.

    The people who think all “opinions” are valid don’t do so because they are arts graduates but because they are wrong.
    Even humanity graduates whose job is to discuss whether “Simone de Beauvoir’s subjective narratism is objective enough to be called subjective” can perfectly understand that things like “antibiotics don’t work on viral infections” or “it is your liver that does the detox” are FACTS, and you can’t have a different opinion about it.

  11. Deborah Powers said,

    January 7, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Perhaps Radio 4 would commision a “Bad Science” series by way of an apology… it has got to be better than “You and Yours”.

  12. Bisto said,

    January 7, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    “The reason organisations like the Beeb continue to shamelessly have people like Nas Amir on is because, as Ben has pointed out before, they are run by Arts graduates who think all ‘opinions’ are valid. They don’t recognise that someone can be debunked, after all they only lost an argument, nothing more . . .”

    This is the one thing that drove me mad about the book!
    For the record I am an arts/humanities graduate and I hate these idiots as much as the rest of you.

  13. The Biologista said,

    January 8, 2009 at 12:50 am

    The humanities graduate ragging is a bit much- even science degree students are rather inadequately taught the philosophy of the scientific method and all that comes with it. I had to go figure most of it out for myself during my PhD studies. The extent of just how bad things are in media reporting of science is lost on most people, including a whole load of people with science degrees and probably a worryingly large chunk with PhDs too…

  14. pseudomonas said,

    January 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

    As emen said, there are plenty of people who’ve trained in the Arts and are well-informed and clear-thinking enough that they can handle these ideas. Gullibility isn’t limited by discipline.

  15. NorthernBoy said,

    January 8, 2009 at 11:09 am

    I don’t think that we are criticising arts graduates for not understanding that there can be objective truth. Rather, we are(or at least I am) criticising them for not knowing, when it comes to actual examples of science stories, what the objective truth is.

    My letter to Today was taking them to task for not understanding, in this example, what the medical facts are. I genuinely do feel that there is a gulf between the average arts and science graduate when it comes to having the basic intellectual tools to handle this sort of thing.

    One reason for this is that much of the reasoning tools in science actually have to be learned. It took a degree course in physics for me to become very comfortable with the practice of carrying out scientific experiments, evaluating the results, and applying this experience to understanding the meaning and areas of validity, for theories and data from the wider world of science.

    To take one part of this, the propagation of errors matters, whenever any results are quoted. I assume that precious few English graduates will understand how a random error will grow through the processing of a result, and be able to understand exactly what a statistical or clinical significance measure is giving. It is not sufficient that they are intelligent enough to do so, as it is also necessary that they have the learned knowledge.

    It is just the same as asking me to fly a plane. I am doubtless clever enough to fly one, but not having had the training, you’d be better off asking a qualified person to do it. With science stories, it is generally going to be better not to hand them over to a team without any scientists in it.

    Arts graduates are perhaps not going to pass the headline “Half of pupils achieving scores below the national mean”, but I would be willing to bet that they would be happy to print a story suggesting that the LHC might destroy the earth…

  16. NorthernBoy said,

    January 8, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    To clarify the above, in my comment on propagation of errors, I am not contending that your average arts graduate will not understand “that” they grow, but rather that they will not actually know by how much, and what the appropriate rules are for combining and propagating them.

  17. Pete Beaudro said,

    January 8, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Northern Boy

    That’s a rather large brush with which you are tarring a substantial proportion of the graduate population, sir. I’m an English Graduate (and, for what it’s worth, qualified – though non-practising – teacher), who doubtless knows considerably less about the calculation of the propagation of errors that you (heck, I couldn’t even fathom the wikipedia summary), but I’m figuring that it relates to a small error at one stage of a process – potentially insignificant in itself and in a specific context – growing exponentially later in the process or when the context is changed. Am I right (I’m essentially rewording your note above)?

    My point is that, as a non-scientist interested in science, I guess I don’t need to understand HOW a random error grows; I mainly need to be aware THAT a random error MIGHT grow; thus to be wary of conclusions given with apparent authority but without clear details of how those conclusions have been reached.

  18. Pete Beaudro said,

    January 8, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    … s o I think we kind of agree, but I’d like you to give us Artists a bit of a break!

  19. muscleman said,

    January 8, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Fine except you do get proud arts graduates crowing about how they don’t understand science and don’t care that they don’t care.

    Michele Hanson in the Grauniad is a case in point:

    www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/25/physics

    And

    www.guardian.co.uk/education/mortarboard/2008/nov/26/girls-science-minister

    It is this which we mean when we refer to ‘arts graduates’ if you do not qualify then well done. Perhaps you could join the scientific types in the comments on pieces like the above.

  20. dr.aardwolf said,

    January 8, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    I like this talk of ‘food voodoo’.

    I propose we henceforth dub it; ‘foodoo’.

    :)

  21. zeno said,

    January 8, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    What? Foodoo woo woo? :-)

  22. Moganero said,

    January 10, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I just came across the blog on the detoxinabox website at www.detoxinabox.com/blog/- interesting that the need to keep running to the loo is said to be a normal reaction to the diet. I’ve been to curry houses where you could say the same – but I don’t go back!
    I’d have considered reporting them to environmental health.

  23. fontwell said,

    January 10, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    NorthernBoy’s OP: Thumbs up.

  24. Amanda Dickins said,

    January 15, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Please let’s not have a debate about arts vs sciences degrees or caricature “arts graduates”. Those who do so run the risk of provoking precisely the irritating, destructive attitudes that Muscleman highlights (comment 38). I agree that such attitudes should be challenged, but let’s do it without making sweeping generalizations about “arts graduates”.

    I think most of the contributors here are on the same side — at least we’re against the same stuff — and we need a combination of skills to fight it. The most important of those skills — spotting bullshit and then communicating an exposé (succinctly and clearly, with evidence) — are found in people with diverse backgrounds. They can also be lacking in individuals with great paper qualifications in arts — or science.

    So let’s celebrate the contribution that we can *all* make to the hunt for bad science. Ben’s excellent column in the Guardian (10 Jan) appears to draw on comments made by several contributors here — hurray, let’s have more of that!

    (Strictly speaking, I’m neither a scientist nor an arts graduate — I spent most of my first two decades obsessed with physics and most of the rest of my life (so far) studying and researching politics, with occasional forays into philosophy and economics. The latter pursuits have taught me a great deal about reasoning (including the scientific variety) and how to use (and misuse) evidence, including some relatively sophisticated statistical techniques.)

  25. marsprobe said,

    February 14, 2009 at 12:46 am

    I know I am a tad late for the main debate but I have read the previous comments with great interest.
    Yes, she has made some sweeping statements regarding the health benefits of her detox products and yes, she charges like a wounded bull for the privilege, but if people want to buy into this to give them hope, why should we sit in judgement?
    This lady is running a business, a British business and bringing money into the economy. She is tapping into a market that focuses on the people that have reached rock bottom, the people that would pay 16 quid a day to be told what to eat.. these are people that would no doubt cost the NHS a fortune when they seek medical intervention for ‘dietary’ related illnesses. If she can help even one person to review their eating habits and alter them for the better, what’s so wrong with that? Surely we should applaud her for taking a few of these people from the NHS queue. Anything that offers hope and some form of change in people, I am all for, whether they pay through the nose for it or not. At least we, the tax payer are not forking out.
    Who are you all to sit in judgement of nutritional therapy and curl your Eton educated noses up at it? Is this the same medical profession that offered my father a wide cocktail of drugs for type two diabetes and high cholesterol and did not mention his diet once during his doctors appointment? Is this the same medical profession that sent Jade Goody home three times before admitting that yes, actually she had terminal cervical cancer(someone topical, thats all!) and is this the same medical profession that sent my boyfriend home twice from A and E, stating he simply had sinisitus, when he was hours away from death with bacterial meningitis? or is this the same medical profession that sneered at acupunture no more then 20 years ago, dismissing it as mumbo jumbo, but I noticed with interest that it is now offered at my local surgery for depression and a host of other illnesses.
    Please remember that nutrients are still a relatively recent discovery and there are many ways that food interacts with the human body that are as yet, unexplained. I’m sure in the years prior to such discoveries, people would have been just as scathing if someone had questioned their existance.
    Just for the record – before anyone questions it, – I have a degree in biology from one of the top ten universities and a degree in nutritional therapy from one of the bottom ten universities.

  26. wildinvention said,

    October 29, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Unbelievable. For heavens sake though, please add a nofollow to the detoxinabox links. This page has a PR of 4 and by linking to the nutrition site you’ve just raised their Google ranking hugely!

  27. stopbadscience said,

    April 21, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    For anyone who wants to see the original version of the site, cached before changes could be made, I’ve found it! Just click on the link.
    bitly.com/fzDxfG
    (I know I’m quite late with this comment but thought I might as well post it).