Matthias Rath – steal this chapter

April 9th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in africa, alternative medicine, bad science, BANT, book, death, matthias rath, nutritionists | 127 Comments »

imageThis is the “missing chapter” about vitamin pill salesman Matthias Rath. Sadly I was unable to write about him at the time that book was initially published, as he was suing my ass in the High Court. The chapter is now available in the new paperback edition, and I’ve posted it here for free so that nobody loses out.

Although the publishers make a slightly melodramatic fuss about this in the promo material, it is a very serious story about the dangers of pseudoscience, as I hope you’ll see, and it was also a pretty unpleasant episode, not just for me, but also for the many other people he’s tried to sue, including Medecins Sans Frontieres and more. If you’re ever looking for a warning sign that you’re on the wrong side of an argument, suing Medecins Sans Frontieres is probably a pretty good clue.

Anyway, here it is, please steal it, print it, repost it, whatever, it’s free under a Creative Commons license, details at the end. If you prefer it is available as a PDF here, or as a word document here. Happy Easter!

This is an extract from
BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre
Published by Harper Perennial 2009.

You are free to copy it, paste it, bake it, reprint it, read it aloud, as long as you don’t change it – including this bit – so that people know that they can find more ideas for free at www.badscience.net

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The Doctor Will Sue You Now

This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don’t own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow.  Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents.

On this last point there is, however, one small consolation, and I will spell it out as a cautionary tale: I now know more about Matthias Rath than almost any other person alive. My notes, references and witness statements, boxed up in the room where I am sitting right now, make a pile as tall as the man himself, and what I will write here is only a tiny fraction of the fuller story that is waiting to be told about him. This chapter, I should also mention, is available free online for anyone who wishes to see it.

Matthias Rath takes us rudely outside the contained, almost academic distance of this book. For the most part we’ve been interested in the intellectual and cultural consequences of bad science, the made-up facts in national newspapers, dubious academic practices in universities, some foolish pill-peddling, and so on. But what happens if we take these sleights of hand, these pill-marketing techniques, and transplant them out of our decadent Western context into a situation where things really matter?

In an ideal world this would be only a thought experiment. AIDS is the opposite of anecdote. Twenty-five million people have died from it already, three million in the last year alone, and 500,000 of those deaths were children. In South Africa it kills 300,000 people every year: that’s eight hundred people every day, or one every two minutes. This one country has 6.3 million people who are HIV positive, including 30 per cent of all pregnant women. There are 1.2 million AIDS orphans under the age of seventeen. Most chillingly of all, this disaster has appeared suddenly, and while we were watching: in 1990, just 1 per cent of adults in South Africa were HIV positive. Ten years
later, the figure had risen to 25 per cent.

It’s hard to mount an emotional response to raw numbers, but on one thing I think we would agree. If you were to walk into a situation with that much death, misery and disease, you would be very careful to make sure that you knew what you were talking about. For the reasons you are about to read, I suspect that Matthias Rath missed the mark.

This man, we should be clear, is our responsibility. Born and raised in Germany, Rath was the head of Cardiovascular Research at the Linus Pauling Institute in Palo Alto in California, and even then he had a tendency towards grand gestures, publishing a paper in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine in 1992 titled “A Unified Theory of Human Cardiovascular Disease Leading the Way to the Abolition of this Disease as a Cause for Human Mortality”. The unified theory was high-dose vitamins.

He first developed a power base from sales in Europe, selling his pills with tactics that will be very familiar to you from the rest of this book, albeit slightly more aggressive. In the UK, his adverts claimed that “90 per cent of patients receiving chemotherapy for cancer die within months of starting treatment”, and suggested that three million lives could be saved if cancer patients stopped being treated by conventional medicine.  The pharmaceutical industry was deliberately letting people die for financial gain, he explained. Cancer treatments were “poisonous compounds” with “not even one effective treatment”.

The decision to embark on treatment for cancer can be the most difficult that an individual or a family will ever take, representing a close balance between well-documented benefits and equally well-documented side-effects. Adverts like these might play especially strongly on your conscience if your mother has just lost all her hair to chemotherapy, for example, in the hope of staying alive just long enough to see your son speak.

There was some limited regulatory response in Europe, but it was generally as weak as that faced by the other characters in this book. The Advertising Standards Authority criticised one of his adverts in the UK, but that is essentially all they are able to do. Rath was ordered by a Berlin court to stop claiming that his vitamins could cure cancer, or face a €250,000 fine.

But sales were strong, and Matthias Rath still has many supporters in Europe, as you will shortly see. He walked into South Africa with all the acclaim, self-confidence and wealth he had amassed as a successful vitamin-pill entrepreneur in Europe and America, and began to take out full-page adverts in newspapers.

˜The answer to the AIDS epidemic is here,” he proclaimed. Anti-retroviral drugs were poisonous, and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money. “Stop AIDS Genocide by the Drugs Cartel said one headline. “Why should South Africans continue to be poisoned with AZT? There is a natural answer to AIDS.”  The answer came in the form of vitamin pills. “Multivitamin treatment is more effective than any toxic AIDS drug. Multivitamins cut the risk of developing AIDS in half.”

Rath’s company ran clinics reflecting these ideas, and in 2005 he decided to run a trial of his vitamins in a township near Cape Town called Khayelitsha, giving his own formulation, VitaCell, to people with advanced AIDS. In 2008 this trial was declared illegal by the Cape High Court of South Africa. Although Rath says that none of his participants had been on anti-retroviral drugs, some relatives have given statements saying that they were, and were actively told to stop using them.

Tragically,Matthias Rath had taken these ideas to exactly the right place. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the time, was well known as an “AIDS dissident”, and to international horror, while people died at the rate of one every two minutes in his country, he gave credence and support to the claims of a small band of campaigners who variously claim that AIDS does not exist, that it is not caused by HIV, that anti-retroviral medication does more harm than good, and so on.

At various times during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa their government argued that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and that anti-retroviral drugs are not useful for patients. They refused to roll out proper treatment programmes, they refused to accept free donations of drugs, and they refused to accept grant money from the Global Fund to buy drugs. One study estimates that if the South African national government had used anti-retroviral drugs for prevention and treatment at the same rate as the Western Cape province (which defied national policy on the issue), around 171,000 new HIV infections and 343,000 deaths could have been prevented between 1999 and 2007. Another study estimates that between 2000 and 2005 there were 330,000 unnecessary deaths, 2.2 million person years lost, and 35,000 babies unnecessarily born with HIV because of the failure to implement a cheap and simple mother-to-child-transmission prevention program. Between one and three doses of an ARV drug can reduce transmission dramatically. The cost is negligible. It was not available.

Interestingly, Matthias Rath’s colleague and employee, a South African barrister named Anthony Brink, takes the credit for introducing Thabo Mbeki to many of these ideas. Brink stumbled on the “AIDS dissident” material in the mid-1990s, and after much surfing and reading, became convinced that it must be right. In 1999 he wrote an article about AZT in a Johannesburg newspaper titled “a medicine from hell”. This led to a public exchange with a leading virologist. Brink contacted Mbeki, sending him copies of the debate, and was welcomed as an expert.

This is a chilling testament to the danger of elevating cranks by engaging with them. In his initial letter of motivation for employment to Matthias Rath, Brink described himself as “South Africa’s leading AIDS dissident, best known for my whistle-blowing exposé of the toxicity and inefficacy of AIDS drugs, and for my political activism in this regard, which caused President Mbeki and Health Minister Dr Tshabalala-Msimang to repudiate the drugs in 1999″.

In 2000, the now infamous International AIDS Conference took place in Durban. Mbeki’s presidential advisory panel beforehand was packed with “AIDS dissidents”, including Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick. On the first day, Rasnick suggested that all HIV testing should be banned on principle, and that South Africa should stop screening supplies of blood for HIV. “If I had the power to outlaw the HIV antibody test,” he said, “I would do it across the board.” When African physicians gave testimony about the drastic change AIDS had caused in their clinics and hospitals, Rasnick said he had not seen “any evidence” of an AIDS catastrophe. The media were not allowed in, but one reporter from the Village Voice was present. Peter Duesberg, he said, “gave a presentation so removed from African medical reality that it left several local doctors shaking their heads”. It wasn’t AIDS that was killing babies and children, said the dissidents: it was the anti-retroviral medication.

President Mbeki sent a letter to world leaders comparing the struggle of the “AIDS dissidents” to the struggle against apartheid.  The Washington Post described the reaction at the White House: “So stunned were some officials by the letter’s tone and timing during final preparations for July’s conference in Durban that at least two of them, according to diplomatic sources, felt obliged to check whether it was genuine.  Hundreds of delegates walked out of Mbeki’s address to the conference in disgust, but many more described themselves as dazed and confused. Over 5,000 researchers and activists around the world signed up to the Durban Declaration, a document that specifically addressed and repudiated the claims and concerns–at least the more moderate ones–of the “AIDS dissidents”. Specifically, it addressed the charge that people were simply dying of poverty:

The evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV-1 or HIV-2 is clearcut, exhaustive and unambiguous… As with any other chronic infection, various co-factors play a role in determining the risk of disease. Persons who are malnourished, who already suffer other infections or who are older, tend to be more susceptible to the rapid development of AIDS following HIV infection.  However, none of these factors weaken the scientific evidence that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS… Mother-to-child transmission can be reduced by half or more by short courses of antiviral drugs … What works best in one country may not be appropriate in another. But to tackle the disease, everyone must first understand that HIV is the enemy. Research, not myths, will lead to the development of more effective and cheaper treatments.

It did them no good. Until 2003 the South African government refused, as a matter of principle, to roll out proper antiretroviral medication programmes, and even then the process was half-hearted. This madness was only overturned after a massive campaign by grassroots organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign, but even after the ANC cabinet voted to allow medication to be given, there was still resistance. In mid-2005, at least 85 per cent of HIV-positive people who needed anti-retroviral drugs were still refused them. That’s around a million people.

This resistance, of course, went deeper than just one man; much of it came from Mbeki’s Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. An ardent critic of medical drugs for HIV, she would cheerfully go on television to talk up their dangers, talk down their benefits, and became irritable and evasive when asked how many patients were receiving effective treatment. She declared in 2005 that she would not be “pressured” into meeting the target of three million patients on anti-retroviral medication, that people had ignored the importance of nutrition, and that she would continue to warn patients of the sideeffects of anti-retrovirals, saying: “We have been vindicated in
this regard. We are what we eat.”

It’s an eerily familiar catchphrase. Tshabalala-Msimang has also gone on record to praise the work of Matthias Rath, and refused to investigate his activities. Most joyfully of all, she is a staunch advocate of the kind of weekend glossy-magazine-style nutritionism that will by now be very familiar to you. The remedies she advocates for AIDS are beetroot, garlic, lemons and African potatoes. A fairly typical quote, from the Health Minister in a country where eight hundred people die every day from AIDS, is this: “Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon–not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease.”  South Africa’s stand at the 2006 World AIDS Conference in Toronto was described by delegates as the “salad stall”. It consisted of some garlic, some beetroot, the African potato, and assorted other vegetables. Some boxes of anti-retroviral drugs were added later, but they were reportedly borrowed at the last minute from other conference delegates.

Alternative therapists like to suggest that their treatments and ideas have not been sufficiently researched. As you now know, this is often untrue, and in the case of the Health Minister’s favoured vegetables, research had indeed been done, with results that were far from promising. Interviewed on SABC about this, Tshabalala-Msimang gave the kind of responses you’d expect to hear at any North London dinner-party discussion of alternative therapies.

First she was asked about work from the University of Stellenbosch which suggested that her chosen plant, the African potato, might be actively dangerous for people on AIDS drugs. One study on African potato in HIV had to be terminated prematurely, because the patients who received the plant extract developed severe bone-marrow suppression and a drop in their CD4 cell count–which is a bad thing–after eight weeks. On top of this, when extract from the same vegetable was given to cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, they succumbed to full-blown Feline AIDS faster than their non-treated controls. African potato does not look like a good bet.

Tshabalala-Msimang disagreed: the researchers should go back to the drawing board, and “investigate properly”. Why?  Because HIV-positive people who used African potato had shown improvement, and they had said so themselves. If a person says he or she is feeling better, should this be disputed, she demanded to know, merely because it had not been proved scientifically? “When a person says she or he is feeling better, I must say ‘No, I don’t think you are feeling better’? I must rather go and do science on you’?” Asked whether there should be a scientific basis to her views, she replied: “Whose science?”

And there, perhaps, is a clue, if not exoneration. This is a continent that has been brutally exploited by the developed world, first by empire, and then by globalised capital. Conspiracy theories about AIDS and Western medicine are not entirely absurd in this context. The pharmaceutical industry has indeed been caught performing drug trials in Africa which would be impossible anywhere in the developed world. Many find it suspicious that black Africans seem to be the biggest victims of AIDS, and point to the biological warfare programmes set up by the apartheid governments; there have also been suspicions that the scientific discourse of HIV/AIDS might be a device, a Trojan horse for spreading even more exploitative Western political and economic agendas around a problem that is simply one of poverty.

And these are new countries, for which independence and self-rule are recent developments, which are struggling to find their commercial feet and true cultural identity after centuries of colonisation. Traditional medicine represents an important link with an autonomous past; besides which, anti-retroviral medications have been unnecessarily – offensively, absurdly – expensive, and until moves to challenge this became partially successful, many Africans were effectively denied access to medical treatment as a result.

It’s very easy for us to feel smug, and to forget that we all have our own strange cultural idiosyncrasies which prevent us from taking up sensible public-health programmes. For examples, we don’t even have to look as far as MMR. There is a good evidence base, for example, to show that needle-exchange programmes reduce the spread of HIV, but this strategy has been rejected time and again in favour of “Just say no.” Development charities funded by US Christian groups refuse to engage with birth control, and any suggestion of abortion, even in countries where being in control of your own fertility could mean the difference between success and failure in life, is met with a cold, pious stare. These impractical moral principles are so deeply entrenched that Pepfar, the US Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has insisted that every recipient of international aid money must sign a declaration expressly promising not to have any involvement with sex workers.

We mustn’t appear insensitive to the Christian value system, but it seems to me that engaging sex workers is almost the cornerstone of any effective AIDS policy: commercial sex is frequently the “vector of transmission”, and sex workers a very high-risk population; but there are also more subtle issues at stake. If you secure the legal rights of prostitutes to be free from violence and discrimination, you empower them to demand universal condom use, and that way you can prevent HIV from being spread into the whole community. This is where science meets culture. But perhaps even to your own friends and neighbours, in whatever suburban idyll has become your home, the moral principle of abstinence from sex and drugs is more important than people dying of AIDS; and perhaps, then, they are no less irrational than Thabo Mbeki.

So this was the situation into which the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath inserted himself, prominently and expensively, with the wealth he had amassed from Europe and America, exploiting anti-colonial anxieties with no sense of irony, although he was a white man offering pills made in a factory abroad. His adverts and clinics were a tremendous success. He began to tout individual patients as evidence of the benefits that could come from vitamin pills – although in reality some of his most famous success stories have died of AIDS. When asked about the deaths of Rath’s star patients, Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang replied: “It doesn’t necessarily mean that if I am taking antibiotics and I die, that I died of antibiotics.”

She is not alone: South Africa’s politicians have consistently refused to step in, Rath claims the support of the government, and its most senior figures have refused to distance themselves from his operations or to criticise his activities. Tshabalala-Msimang has gone on the record to state that the Rath Foundation “are not undermining the government’s position. If anything, they are supporting it.”

In 2005, exasperated by government inaction, a group of 199 leading medical practitioners in South Africa signed an open letter to the health authorities of the Western Cape, pleading for action on the Rath Foundation. “Our patients are being inundated with propaganda encouraging them to stop life-saving medicine,” it said. “Many of us have had experiences with HIV infected patients who have had their health compromised by stopping their anti-retrovirals due to the activities of this Foundation.”  Rath’s adverts continue unabated. He even claimed that his activities were endorsed by huge lists of sponsors and affiliates including the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS. All have issued statements flatly denouncing his claims and activities. The man certainly has chutzpah.

His adverts are also rich with detailed scientific claims. It would be wrong of us to neglect the science in this story, so we should follow some through, specifically those which focused on a Harvard study in Tanzania. He described this research in full-page advertisements, some of which have appeared in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune. He refers to these paid adverts, I should mention, as if he had received flattering news coverage in the same papers. Anyway, this research showed that multivitamin supplements can be beneficial in a developing world population with AIDS: there’s no problem with that result, and there are plenty of reasons to think that vitamins might have some benefit for a sick and frequently malnourished population.

The researchers enrolled 1,078 HIV-positive pregnant women and randomly assigned them to have either a vitamin supplement or placebo. Notice once again, if you will, that this is another large, well-conducted, publicly funded trial of vitamins, conducted by mainstream scientists, contrary to the claims of nutritionists that such studies do not exist. The women were followed up for several years, and at the end of the study, 25 per cent of those on vitamins were severely ill or dead, compared with 31 per cent of those on placebo. There was also a statistically significant benefit in CD4 cell count (a measure of HIV activity) and viral loads. These results were in no sense dramatic – and they cannot be compared to the demonstrable life-saving benefits of anti-retrovirals – but they did show that improved diet, or cheap generic vitamin pills, could represent a simple and relatively inexpensive way to marginally delay the need to start HIV medication in some patients.

In the hands of Rath, this study became evidence that vitamin pills are superior to medication in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, that  anti-retroviral therapies “severely damage all cells in the body–including white blood cells”, and worse, that they were “thereby not improving but rather worsening immune deficiencies and expanding the AIDS epidemic”. The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health were so horrified that they put together a press release setting out their support for medication, and stating starkly, with unambiguous clarity, that Matthias Rath had misrepresented their findings.

To outsiders the story is baffling and terrifying. The United Nations has condemned Rath’s adverts as “wrong and misleading”. “This guy is killing people by luring them with unrecognised treatment without any scientific evidence,” said Eric Goemaere, head of Médecins sans Frontières SA, a man who pioneered anti-retroviral therapy in South Africa. Rath sued him.

It’s not just MSF who Rath has gone after: he has also brought time-consuming, expensive, stalled or failed cases against a professor of AIDS research, critics in the media and others.

But his most heinous campaign has been against the Treatment Action Campaign. For many years this has been the key organisation campaigning for access to anti-retroviral medication in South Africa, and it has been fighting a war on four fronts.  Firstly, TAC campaigns against its own government, trying to compel it to roll out treatment programmes for the population. Secondly, it fights against the pharmaceutical industry, which claims that it needs to charge full price for its products in developing countries in order to pay for research and development of new drugs – although, as we shall see, out of its $550 billion global annual revenue, the pharmaceutical industry spends twice as much on promotion and admin as it does on research and development. Thirdly, it is a grassroots organisation, made up largely of black women from townships who do important prevention and treatment-literacy work on the ground, ensuring that people know what is available, and how to protect themselves. Lastly, it fights against people who promote the type of information peddled by Matthias Rath and his ilk.

Rath has taken it upon himself to launch a massive campaign against this group. He distributes advertising material against them, saying “Treatment Action Campaign medicines are killing you” and “Stop AIDS genocide by the drug cartel”, claiming–as you will guess by now–that there is an international conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies intent on prolonging the AIDS crisis in the interests of their own profits by giving medication that makes people worse. TAC must be a part of this, goes the reasoning, because it criticises Matthias Rath. Just like me writing on Patrick Holford or Gillian McKeith, TAC is perfectly in favour of good diet and nutrition. But in Rath’s  promotional literature it is a front for the pharmaceutical industry, a “Trojan horse” and a “running dog”. TAC has made a full disclosure of its funding and activities, showing no such connection: Rath presented no evidence to the contrary, and has even lost a court case over the issue, but will not let it lie. In fact he presents the loss of this court case as if it was a victory.

The founder of TAC is a man called Zackie Achmat, and he is the closest thing I have to a hero. He is South African, and coloured, by the nomenclature of the apartheid system in which he grew up. At the age of fourteen he tried to burn down his school, and you might have done the same in similar circumstances. He has been arrested and imprisoned under South Africa’s violent, brutal white regime, with all that entailed. He is also gay, and HIV-positive, and he refused to take anti-retroviral medication until it was widely available to all on the public health system, even when he was dying of AIDS, even when he was personally implored to save himself by Nelson Mandela, a public supporter of anti-retroviral medication and Achmat’s work.

And now, at last, we come to the lowest point of this whole story, not merely for Matthias Rath’s movement, but for the alternative therapy movement around the world as a whole. In 2007, with a huge public flourish, to great media coverage, Rath’s former employee Anthony Brink filed a formal complaint against Zackie Achmat, the head of the TAC. Bizarrely, he filed this complaint with the International Criminal
Court at The Hague, accusing Achmat of genocide for successfully campaigning to get access to HIV drugs for the people of South Africa.

It’s hard to explain just how influential the “AIDS dissidents” are in South Africa. Brink is a barrister, a man with important friends, and his accusations were reported in the national news media –and in some corners of the Western gay press–as a serious news story. I do not believe that any one of those journalists who reported on it can possibly have read Brink’s indictment to the end.

I have.

The first fifty-seven pages present familiar anti-medication and “AIDS-dissident” material. But then, on page fifty-eight, this “indictment” document suddenly deteriorates into something altogether more vicious and unhinged, as Brink sets out what he believes would be an appropriate punishment for Zackie. Because I do not wish to be accused of selective editing, I will now reproduce for you that entire section, unedited, so you can see and feel it for yourself.

APPROPRIATE CRIMINAL SANCTION

In view of the scale and gravity of Achmat’s crime and his direct personal criminal culpability for ‘the deaths of thousands of people’, to quote his own words, it is respectfully submitted that the International Criminal Court ought to impose on him the highest sentence provided by Article 77.1(b) of the Rome Statute, namely to permanent confinement in a small white steel and concrete cage, bright fluorescent light on all the time to keep an eye on him, his warders putting him out only to work every day in the prison garden to cultivate nutrient-rich vegetables, including when it’s raining. In order for him to repay his debt to society, with the ARVs he claims to take administered daily under close medical watch at the full prescribed dose, morning noon and night, without interruption, to prevent him faking that he’s being treatment compliant, pushed if necessary down his forced-open gullet with a finger, or, if he bites, kicks and screams too much, dripped into his arm after he’s been restrained on a gurney with cable ties around his ankles, wrists and neck, until he gives up the ghost on them, so as to eradicate this foulest, most loathsome, unscrupulous and malevolent blight on the human race, who has plagued and poisoned the people of South Africa, mostly black, mostly poor, for nearly a decade now, since the day he and his TAC first hit the scene.

Signed at Cape Town, South Africa, on 1 January 2007

Anthony Brink

image

The document was described by the Rath Foundation as “entirely valid and long overdue”.image

This story isn’t about Matthias Rath, or Anthony Brink, or Zackie Achmat, or even South Africa. It is about the culture of how ideas work, and how that can break down. Doctors criticise other doctors, academics criticise academics, politicians criticise politicians: that’s normal and healthy, it’s how ideas improve. Matthias Rath is an alternative therapist, made in Europe. He is every bit the same as the British operators that we have seen in this book. He is from their world.

Despite the extremes of this case, not one single alternative therapist or nutritionist, anywhere in the world, has stood up to criticise any single aspect of the activities of Matthias Rath and his colleagues. In fact, far from it: he continues to be fêted to this day. I have sat in true astonishment and watched leading figures of the UK’s alternative therapy movement applaud  Matthias Rath at a public lecture (I have it on video, just in case there’s any doubt). Natural health organisations continue to defend Rath. Homeopaths’ mailouts continue to promote his work. The British Association of Nutritional Therapists has been invited to comment by bloggers, but declined. Most, when challenged, will dissemble.”Oh,” they say, “I don’t really know much about it.”  Not one person will step forward and dissent.

The alternative therapy movement as a whole has demonstrated itself to be so dangerously, systemically incapable of critical self-appraisal that it cannot step up even in a case like that of Rath: in that count I include tens of thousands of practitioners, writers, administrators and more. This is how ideas go badly wrong. In the conclusion to this book, written before I was able to include this chapter, I will argue that the biggest dangers posed by the material we have covered are cultural and intellectual.

I may be mistaken.

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Please distribute

This work is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works License described here, you are free to copy it wherever you like as long as you keep it whole, and do please point people back here to badscience.net so that if they like it, they know where to find more for free.

Legal docs on the case:

http//www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2008/398.html


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127 Responses



  1. kinginsan said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    This chapter is absolutely stunning. I really didn’t know the extent of this madness. Brink’s statement on “appropriate criminal sanction” is so utterly repulsive, I’m speechless. Thank you Ben for taking this fight and getting the word out. We need more people like you.

  2. William M. said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    This is one of the sickest things I’ve ever read or seen on the Internet, and that includes 2 Girls 1 Cup… I’ve just published it on my own weblog, I’m pretty confident that some of my fellow students will read (and copy it)

    PS: I guess the “You are free to bake it” bit was your idea? ;)

  3. matt4444 said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Its a shame this isnt in the original copies of the book it is an interesting read but it made me angry that Anthony Brink and the rest of them have ‘gotten away with it’.

  4. JFM said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks a lot for the excellent chapter, I wish more people had the courage to stand up to this sort of stupidity backed by litigation.

  5. brainduck said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Wooo-hooo thank you very much for using a creative commons licence :D :D :D
    We WILL take over the world!

  6. katem said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Magnificent. *applause*

  7. Seth Kalichman said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for such a great Chapter! I will rebind my copy of Bad Science to have it included! I will also post the link at denyingaids.blogspot.com so that everyone I know who cares about AIDS denialism will see it!!
    Thanks again!!
    Seth Kalichman

  8. lenny law said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Brilliant as ever and very, very chilling. It will be fascinating to read the court proceedings.

  9. chatsubo said,

    April 9, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    superbly written and very powerful. And kudos for standing up to such an odious bully.

  10. jenniferp said,

    April 9, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Stunning. It amazes me to see such unapologetic ignorance. Congrats on your win though, hopefully a few more people will now be aware of the dangers of these horrific people.
    Thanks

  11. sophiedb said,

    April 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Wow, if cancer treatments are so fatal, how the hell am I still alive? I didn’t take any multi-vits, so it must be the chocolate chip cookies!

    Regards the rest, how sad to see that unscrupulous quacks still can and do toy with people’s lives. Even sadder that these lies will do the rounds of public conciousness for years to come, just like a hoax email, and many will continue to be taken in.

    Now.. off to buy a book!

  12. peajay said,

    April 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Gosh, I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of this case, well done for fighting through all this! Shame its not in the book but hopefully it will get to even more people this way. V. scary and upsetting that this kind of rotten pseudoscientific thinking can get so far.

  13. biggerpills said,

    April 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    @chatsubo #9 Very powerful indeed, like Ben’s talk on the subject at Nine Lessons And Carols last year which probably got the night’s biggest round of applause (to Ricky Gervais’s chagrin, no doubt). It was inspiring to see that someone on our side could take on a vicious bully and win.

    Just miniblogged this to help spread the word. I bought the book last week but it’s good to have something to send to people who would never pick up a hard copy. I once tried sending some of the Rath and Holford articles to a Holford-loving acquaintance of mine who is training to become a naturopath, only to get “I can’t read these, they’re too long” in reply. Hopefully this chapter will reach more of the people who really need to see it.

  14. EleanorC said,

    April 9, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Bravo.

  15. j said,

    April 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Yes – Treatment Action Campaign actually do a rather good nutrition factsheet for people living with HIV www.tac.org.za/Documents/Literacy/NutritionFactSheet.pdf (it also serves as a nice example of how concisely one can get across important info on nutrition).

  16. used to be jdc said,

    April 9, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Huzzah! [Too busy reading the chapter to comment further.]

  17. misterjohn said,

    April 9, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Excellent. Congratualtions, and thank goodness you won the case.
    What appalling people are Rath and his motley crew, committing genocide with vitamin pills.

  18. inseiffolliet said,

    April 9, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    speechless.

    I did read the shorter, original version and your allusion to darker forces currently at work was unnerving.

    illegitimus non carborundum

  19. decium said,

    April 9, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Brilliant. Funny isn’t it how instead of just providing us with the evidence for their claims they resort to threatening with lawsuits.

  20. nrv0us said,

    April 9, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    This is great stuff, Ben, and I will be spreading it far and wide.

    My dad is beginning to get into nutritional supplement sales as a means of making money (yeah, it’s a pyramid scheme) and has already waxed lyrical to me about all the various ailments (eczema! hay fever!) that can be cured by these miracle fruity drinky powders. He seems to feel that it’s all very inocuous and touchy-feely, but Rath would appear to be the thick end (in every sense) of the same wedge, and the body count is hard to deny.

    I wish I could say that stupidity is its own Criminal Sanction, but the likes of Rath seem to have a way of bouncing back from their every setback. What will he try next?

  21. tim walker said,

    April 9, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Ben, thanks. At my age it takes a lot to make me speechless, but you managed it. We’ve met several times, at TAM, at Skeptics in the Pub and suchlike. Next time I’ll buy you a drink.

  22. Crooky said,

    April 9, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Absolutely fantastic, I can’t wait for your big book on this crook. I’d love to hear your account of the trial as well.

    Thanks!

  23. NuclearChicken said,

    April 9, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Great chapter. I’ll see what I can do about getting the newly completed version of your book reviewed in my little publication.

  24. The Biologista said,

    April 9, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    The conclusion of that complaint is chilling. The hatred in it. It’s simply shocking. We talk about how vicious science can be- assertions are attacked and tested until only the truth remains, life’s works may be reduced to nothing and reputations ruined. But this anti-science movement stops short only of calling for murder. It’s rather frightening to think that this is the movement that Ben has tangled with.

  25. stever said,

    April 9, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    fucking brilliant. BRAVO. I rarely wish ill on anyone but really I hope this ruins him.

  26. Dr Aust said,

    April 9, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Given the amount Rath is rumoured to earn from his worldwide supplement sales I suspect it would take more than this to ruin him – but every bit helps.

    This all reminds me that I had been translating some of the German press and online material about the Herr Dr Med, but had not got around to posting any of it. Perhaps I will dig it out and try to finish it.

    BTW, if you had been wondering what Rath’s response was to losing the court case, the answer is that, according to his websites, he didn’t lose – he really won. Appearing to lose was just a part of his cunning plan. No, really. Summary and links on the post Keepin’ it Unreal.

  27. thepoisongarden said,

    April 9, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    I haven’t followed this so I’m now playing catch up and thought I should have a look at Rath’s side of it so I’ve visited a couple of his websites.

    I now feel I need to have a long shower.

    I’ll try Seth Kalichman’s suggestion of adding this to the book but I’ll probably end up buying the paperback so I’ve got it all together.

  28. abdapo said,

    April 9, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    That “punishment” is ridiculous – sounds like it was written by a primary school student. The ICC should throw it out just because of that and the so-called lawyer disbarred.

  29. Tony Sidaway said,

    April 9, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    I’ve reset the text for readability (no content changes of course) and republished here.

  30. warhelmet said,

    April 9, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Nice.

    The story of Matthias Rath is South Africa has moved on a bit from what is described in the article. I suggest that people do check out some of the South African news websites because there are lots of things going on…

  31. hairnet said,

    April 9, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    well said. Excellent journalism.

  32. DaveGodfrey said,

    April 10, 2009 at 12:16 am

    I heard you read this at the 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People, and it among the comedy it was probably the best thing that evening. Thank-you for writing this. Thank-you for bringing this to the attention of people. Thank-you for reminding everyone there about why rationality matters.

  33. Amaris said,

    April 10, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Hope you don’t mind I’ve just linked this article on to the Bad Psychics forum.
    moh2005.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=homeo&action=display&thread=6602

  34. Amaris said,

    April 10, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Sorry just thought, am I allowed to leave links! Please excuse me if I’ve made a mistake.

  35. Jammydodger said,

    April 10, 2009 at 2:17 am

    Ben

    Truly Inspirational work. Thankyou.

    Trying to comprehend the scale of avoidable human suffering here is beyond my capability.
    When history inevitably judges the whole African AIDS pandemic for the modern-day Nazi-holocaust it really is, you can know that you made a difference.

    Bad Science kills people, but Good Science is a truly noble art.

  36. podblack said,

    April 10, 2009 at 8:54 am

    If you wish to hear Dr Goldacre talk about this, the show Skeptic Zone podcast interviewed him about a month earlier on the topic:
    www.skepticzone.tv – episode #18- 20.Feb.2009.
    cdn3.libsyn.com/skepticzone/the_skeptic_zone_18_090220.mp3?nvb=20090410084327&nva=20090411085327&t=097b79758a2a6d77debea

  37. casimiro said,

    April 10, 2009 at 10:14 am

    I am a Spanish Psychiatrist writing from the Canary islands, Spain.
    I’ve just read the previously unpublished chapter of your brilliant book and I am absolutely astonished and horrified by this guy. I’ll recommend your book as one of the “musts” amongst the residents in psychiatry of my institution (Hospital Universitario de Gran Canaria Dr Negrín).

    Un saludo cariñoso y enhorabuena… (Junto al blog de Vaughn Bell, éste es uno de los mejores que he leído).

  38. mikewhit said,

    April 10, 2009 at 11:17 am

    On the subject of HIV/AIDS, just heard the Catholic bishop on the R4 Today programme dodging the question about condoms.

    I can quite see how there might be “ethical issues” for the church about abortion, but having a problem with condoms use, especially in the context of HIV, just seems stupid.

    As someone said, “what would Jesus do ?”

  39. T said,

    April 10, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Do you think he beieves in what hes doing and that he can help people? Or do you think he is just a pure evil individual?

    I’m voting for the pure evil.

    Why isnt this on the BBC news? If I didnt read this blog I would not have heard about this?

  40. mikewhit said,

    April 10, 2009 at 11:28 am

    PS. Just re-read the chapter above – I luuurve the Dr. Gillian sideswipe !

  41. jodyaberdein said,

    April 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    A small point, but I have just re-emailed BANT asking them about their position with respect to Mathias Rath, as they failed to reply to a previous request.

  42. Synchronium said,

    April 10, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks for that, Ben.

    Republished here: www.synchronium.net/2009/04/10/matthias-raths-bad-science-finally-catches-up-with-him/

  43. CarlottaVance said,

    April 10, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Brilliant! And chilling…..and someone has already linked the chapter on Rath’s Wikipedia entry……

  44. Fighting_Sailor said,

    April 10, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Brilliant, keep up the good work – you are gaining traction.

  45. biggerpills said,

    April 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Fighting_Sailor- looks like it: this week a friend told me she was recommended the Dore programme for her dyslexia, but decided against it when her research brought her to this site… a smaller victory but the skeptical voice is being heard.

    Hopefully Simon Singh will have another victory to report soon.

  46. kolb said,

    April 10, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Thank you for this.

  47. SubMoron said,

    April 10, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Ben, When does the book complete with new chapter come out in print? I bought/distributed 8 copies of the first edition and want to do better on the unexpurgated edition… No I can’t afford it, but some things matter too much.

  48. trigfa said,

    April 10, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Well this page currently comes up as number 6 if you type “Matthias Rath” into Google. With a few more links to it hopefully it will get to the top.

  49. Jessicathejourno said,

    April 11, 2009 at 6:36 am

    Superb! THIS sort of thing is why I show up every week.

  50. ACH said,

    April 11, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Not really your style, Ben, but could you counter-sue Rath for loss of income (both through your own time and the impact on the book? Or defamation, which seems to be the charge of choice for most CAMmers. It would be very satisfying to take a huge chunk of money off him to a) leave him less for taking out anti-ARV adverts in Eastern Europe, as I think he is now doing, b} donate to the TAC and c) gather even more publicity about what a lying piece of shit he is.

    Great piece of work.

  51. Mojo said,

    April 11, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Suing over lost time, income etc. is not an option. All that can be claimed for is the legal expenses (which is what the Grauniad is pursuing). As far as suing for libel is concerned, I’ll just mention the “defamation FAQ” that used to be on a site I sometimes visit. It said, in full:

    “Should I…”
    “No.”

  52. Lemonade Lily said,

    April 11, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Awed and shocked
    Just read it
    Will spread it

  53. stewie griffin said,

    April 11, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I am so pleased to see the outrage that this new chapter has provoked. As the husband of an HIV+ African I can’t help but take this very personally. Fortunately we live in a country where we can access anti-retrovirals free of charge. We know we’re the lucky ones. The unlucky ones need someone like you in their corner. Tell everyone you know about this. Please.

  54. oliver said,

    April 12, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I would like to thank you for providing this chapter for free for people who already purchased your book rather than trying to extract further money out of them by trying to extract money from the same loyal readers on a barely-updated new edition. It really is appreciated.

  55. Grendel said,

    April 12, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    “every recipient of international aid money must sign a declaration expressly promising not to have any involvement with sex workers”

    Oddly enough that declaration itself would appear to be totally inconsistent with Christian values. I understand that the Bible describes interaction between Jesus and prostitutes. Odd that his followers should reject his example so utterly.

  56. T.J. Crowder said,

    April 12, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Oh
    My
    God

    That “Appropriate Sanction” excerpt is just…chilling. He couldn’t simply say “forced to take” the medications, he had to spell it out in detail, including contingency plans in case of biting. He couldn’t simply say he should have to work daily, he had to specifically mention working in the rain (always a good idea for someone with a compromised immune system). The hatred is palpable, visceral. It comes across as unbalanced, as though written by someone in need of serious and urgent psychiatric care. This is not a commercial dispute, or a disagreement over appropriate public policy. He seems to want the man dead, and right now.

    I can’t find any mention of the complaint on the ICC website, which I hope means that they gave it every bit as much credence and attention as it deserved.

  57. warhelmet said,

    April 12, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Ah, Rath is off to Malaysia…

    www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/newsgeneral.php?id=403518

  58. Seye said,

    April 13, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks again Ben. It restores a bit of faith in humanity when there are people like yourself backed by organisations like Guardian Media raising awareness about these things.

    Lets just hope that common sense also prevails in Simon Singhs court case.

    I’ve posted quite a few links back to here and have been told that people who have read it have done the same. Maybe you could pitch this to the BBC / Channel 4 as a documentary? It would definitely bring this absurd situation to a wider audience.

  59. lucifee said,

    April 13, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Well done Ben. Will continue to post links & bang on about how right you are to everyone i know.

  60. alibim said,

    April 14, 2009 at 8:10 am

    Great stuff, Ben. I’ve posted & linked to it on my own blog.

  61. mikewhit said,

    April 14, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Ben,

    The “Appropriate Criminal Sanction” bit is an image file – any chance you could insert the actual (computer-readable) text too as an HTML Alt/Label or whatever the standards-compliant tag is ?

    That means it shows up on text-based site searches / Google indexing, as well as being available to screen-reading software.

    Apols if this is already in place and I am insufficiently advanced to detect it …

  62. heavens said,

    April 14, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Ben,

    I love this chapter, and it’s an issue near to my heart. But may I suggest that you consider a slightly more circumspect way of discussing deaths “prevented” by ARVs? ARVs do not actually prevent very many deaths from HIV in HIV+ people, especially in developing countries. HIV+ people will eventually die from AIDS. It is somewhat more accurate to say that the drugs dramatically *postpone* deaths from HIV.

    I know: half the readers’ IQs are below average, and you need to be intelligible to non-experts. But I think that nearly anyone can grasp the extreme importance of a country’s workforce and parents “only” postponing their deaths from HIV for “only” five or ten years of relatively good health (in the developing world; longer in wealthy countries).

  63. heavens said,

    April 14, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    @38 (mikewhit):

    What would Jesus do about condoms?

    Jesus would very probably say (just like the Roman Catholic Church does) that if the use of a condom is advisable to protect your health in a given sexual situation, then you ought not be in that situation in the first place. STIs are not acquired by people in lifelong monogamous relationships.

    Jesus would doubtless have similar views on other harm-reduction measures: e.g., free taxi rides should be utterly unnecessary for drunk drivers, because there ought never be any one too drunk to drive.

  64. pv said,

    April 14, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    What I find almost as shocking as the despicable Rath is the legions of sCAM supporters that are either stony silent on the issue or the feel obliged to support him. These hideous people are seriously deluded. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s the comparison with the British aristocracy’s pre-war support of a certain Teutonic water colour painter seems inevitable.

  65. Azkyroth said,

    April 15, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Anyone know offhand if those convicted of Crimes Against Humanity are still eligible for the death penalty?

    Because the willful dissemination of medical disinformation, resulting in preventable deaths, absolutely meets the criterion of “demonstrating such a cold-blooded indifference to human life that no prison term is likely to reform them” and there doesn’t seem to be any rational doubt that this guy promoted what he is accused of promoting…

  66. Dr Aust said,

    April 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    pv wrote:

    What I find almost as shocking as the despicable Rath is the legions of sCAM supporters that are either stony silent on the issue or the feel obliged to support him.

    Agreed 100%, pv. You might remember I wrote something about what I saw as the likely reasons for this silence back in the Autumn:

    What say the nutritionistas?

    - I know you read it, since you left a comment at the time, but being me I obviously can’t resist another shameless self-plug (which makes two on this one thread, so doubly shameless).

    Anyway, my view is that the Alties have tended to view Herr Dr Matthias as a kind of Alt.Reality Elvis, or perhaps a cross betweem Elvis and Superman. Now that he has been subjected to a nasty dose of reality, they wish to pretend they were never fans in the first place.

  67. biggerpills said,

    April 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Dr Aust: I sent this and this to the Patrick Holford fan I mentioned above. I asked why no nutritionists seemed to be distancing themselves from him, and the ex-PR scumbag in me suggested that being the first to speak out could get some great free publicity for her naturopathy business. Did she do it? No: she replied “well, er, vitamin C *is* good for the immune system, so maybe there *is* something in his research…” It was clear she would be prepared to defend him to the death and nothing would sway her.

    pv: I don’t think we need to break Godwin’s law to describe these scarily loyal supporters. I think Dr Aust is right, they seem more like fanclub members: emotionally involved and with more than a bit of pride. If they’re anything like the CAM supporters I know they wouldn’t want to believe their heroes are capable of wrongdoing, and would actively avoid reading negative coverage. They’d rather pretend the events aren’t happening so they can go on in blissful ignorance. Their approach to following media coverage is certainly comparable to the cherry-picking of evidence.

  68. funty said,

    April 16, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Please don’t use the word “steal” when you mean “share”. I realise this is a bit pedantic as everyone knows what you mean. But associating the act of sharing information with a criminal activity is counter-productive. There’s a lot of big businesses that would like people to think that sharing information for free is somehow naughty. Reinforcing that myth is only going to hurt us in the long run.

    Despite my grumpiness, I do truly appreciate you sharing this chapter with us. It’s a very interesting read. Thank you

  69. Groinhammer said,

    April 16, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Heavens :

    “HIV+ people will eventually die from AIDS.”

    I was under the impression that deaths were down to opportunistic infection or malignant tumours. Please feel free to correct me as I must be of sub standard IQ.

    “STIs are not acquired by people in lifelong monogamous relationships.”

    Are you discounting Candidiasis from this rather sweeping statement? I have always considered Thrush to be an STI, but it may have been re-categorised while I was distracted with a Peter & Jane book.

  70. Bradford said,

    April 16, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you Ben! Many of us living with hiv/aids are aware of this; and now, thankfully many more will be!

    I have included The Doctor Will Sue You Now on my website www.PositivelyPositive.ca in the HIV/AIDS news section. See: www.positivelypositive.ca/hiv-aids-news/index.html with links back to Bad Science.

  71. Jono said,

    April 17, 2009 at 4:56 am

    @Funty
    Relax. Ben is referencing a relatively well known meme:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steal_this_book

    Granted, the dusty “big businesses” who get uptight about intellectual property aren’t known for their sense of humour, but then they aren’t known for applications of common sense either. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use either in our own business.

  72. used to be jdc said,

    April 17, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    @66
    DrAust, I remember your post and (in particular) the four things that you thought nutritionistas should be doing. I thought it was worth repeating them. The nutritional therapy community should have been:
    -Speaking out about what a bad example Rath has set;
    -Admitting how what has been happening in South Africa bears out almost everything the sceptics and bad science watchers have said about the worst excesses of unlicensed nutritionists and nutrition companies;
    -Setting out how they would devise codes of practise for nutritional supplement manufacturers and nutritional therapists that would try and prevent these kind of abuses.
    -Insisting on open debate, on the scientific facts, and condemning the use of defamation law as a gagging tactic in matters of science and medicine, real or “alternative”.

    Insead, there was silence. I, and others, tried to prompt some of the representatives of this field to respond.

    I wrote to the Institute of Optimum Nutrition, British Association of Nutritional Therapists, European Health Product Manufacturers, and Patrick Holford. Between ION, BANT, EHPM, and PH, I received one response – from BANT. They said “The association has no opinion to offer on Dr Raths vitamin trials.” I also asked them whether a Fellow of their association (such as Patrick Holford) would be allowed to lead the public to believe that nutritional therapy can replace medical care (for example, by publicly suggesting that nutrition is superior to medical intervention [in] claiming that food is better medicine than drugs or that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than Vitamin C”) and got a one line response: “No practitioner should encourage an HIV client to change their medication.” So between three industry bodies and one leading practitioner, I only had a response from one – and that was wholly unsatisfactory.

    Link to BANT’s response.

  73. used to be jdc said,

    April 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Sorry, I should have linked to this post from Holford Watch – “An open invitation to the ‘alternative’ medicine community: comment on Matthias Rath’s tactics”.

    David Colquhoun’s Improbable Science blog noted that the Prince of Wales’s project, the Foundation for Integrated Health, was silent and (like Holford Watch, who referred to it as “a truly, truly shameful response on behalf of the ‘alternative’ health industry”) also noted the reaction of the Alliance for Natural Health ["It contains not one word of condemnation for Rath’s murderous activities. It’s hard to believe how low they will sink."] – dcscience.net.

  74. pv said,

    April 17, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Why don’t we just say outright that their silence is simply because their desire for their customers’ money is so much greater than their concern for their customers’ health. That’s the real alternative of alternative medicine, surely, because it does bugger all else other than lighten the pocket. And I’m sure the act of parting with cash is of some importance in producing the sCAM variety of placebo effect.
    I say it again, they’re all charlatans.

  75. Jammydodger said,

    April 18, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Heaven:

    Fair play for trying to defend the indefensible.
    And honest respect to you.

    I am a Catholic (albeit not a very good one) and a Scientist (albeit not a very good one) and unlike many I don’t see a natural conflict between Science and Religion. They are not mutually exclusive and can make for constructive bedfellows. Both strive towards high ideals, and they both try to answer the same fundamental questions, albeit by different approaches.

    But the stance taken by our Church here (like that on the Crusades, the Nazis, the Borgias, not eating meat on Fridays, persecution of the Jews in the middle ages) is quite simply wrong.

    The Christian “ideal” is as you say “abstinance”. But the message of Catholic Christianity is that of perpetual striving for moral betterment, but the acceptance and forgiveness of the inevitable human failing. My old RE tecaher summed it up as “God has extremely high ideals for us, but extremely low expectations of us!”

    Howvere, by putting ourselves on a pedestal and taking the elevated view of actively trying to dissuade the use of Condoms in Aids stricken Africa is a bit like denying Seatbelts to car thieves & joy riders,or denying access to clean needles to heroin users.

    This is what the moralising Pharisees and Saducees would have done 2000 years ago. A compassionate Christ would take a very different view.

    The condoms in Africa are not about prevention of conception. The contraceptive effect of these condoms is incidental and that old chestnut of a Catholic philosphical debate is therefore completely irrelevent in these circumstances.

    This is about the best way to prevent the spread of a killer disease. Jesus might well promote abstinence. But he would never force the stark choice between abstinence and death for those who fail to abstain, whether by choice or circumstances, where a realistic alternative was easiuly accessible.

    Spreading killer viruses is evil. Having the power to act to limit the spread of killer viruses and failing to do so… well you decide in your own conscience.

    No one is asking the Catholic Church to promote condoms for contraception.
    But the Catholic church has a clear duty to promote abstinance as an ideal, and the use of condoms purely as a disease prevention measure for those who fall short in this regard. Any consequential contraceptive effect is a separate (and – by comparison – academic) debate.

    Black and White. No conundrum. No grey.

    At best, our failings here are as bad as the Church’s failure to speak out against the Nazis. In practice, this could be far worse.

    Thank God for those low expectations Eh!

    Aplogies to all you rationalists for hijacking a Science blog with what will inevitable be conisdered ‘woo’ by many of you, but I personally believe ‘ethics’ trumps even ‘evidence’ any day of the week.

  76. pv said,

    April 18, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Jammydodger said,
    April 18, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Heaven:
    Fair play for trying to defend the indefensible.
    And honest respect to you.

    Er, to whom is this addressed and about what exactly?
    And

    ethics triumphs evidence

    . ???
    Did you dial a wrong number and leave a message on the wrong answer machine or something?

  77. Jammydodger said,

    April 18, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Sorry PV. Was responding to posts 62 and 63 in response to post 38.

    Appreciate this may not have been clear.

  78. Jammydodger said,

    April 18, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    … and the thrust of what I was arguing (ineloquently) was that Jesus’ view might, in fact, have been AT ODDS with that of todays Catholic Church – and that there may be other precedents where this was the case this Catholics should consider, rather than simply toeing the party line an such an important subject!

    Being a member of a religion does not absolve individual consciences.

  79. Jammydodger said,

    April 18, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=19561

    And here’s a source that deals with the topic more ably than I can.

  80. Robert Carnegie said,

    April 19, 2009 at 1:16 am

    @69, according to www.enwei.com.cn/b2b_en/page.asp?title=dt-9 where you can buy “Chinese Medicine Universor Tablet Resisting HIV/AIDS” and many other traditional Chinese medicine products, “92% of death cause of AIDS is related to opportunistic infection” according to an article dated 2001. And that’s not counting cancers and stuff. But evidently these causes commonly are things that a person without AIDS can be exposed to without significant danger.

    A doctor of some kind, but in South Africa, writes in Sept 2007 in www.aidscentre.sun.ac.za/notice_board_death_certificates_and_hiv_aids_insurance.html wwrites about death certificates specifically,
    “HIV/AIDS is not classified as a cause of death – a person could have died from pneumonia, cancer, meningitis, TB, etc. Following this, there is a part about the underlying cause of death, where one can write HIV. I usually write severe immune suppression or retroviral disease (RVD).”

    According to www.health24.com/news/HIV_AIDS/1-920,38426.asp a South African doctor who -did- write AIDS as cause of death was in serious trouble in late 2006, but the outcome isn’t shown.

    I was searching in Google for the phrase “AIDS on the death certificate”, which is part of the title of at least one apparently popular scientific paper, but, of course, would include “underlying cause of death”.

  81. bsardi said,

    April 19, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Dr. Ben Goldacre turns the argument around in a false fashion. He asks where are the alternative medicine advocates who should be taking Matthias Rath to task? But pray tell, Dr. Ben, when studies show maybe 11% of conventional medicical practice is backed by adequate science, from which platform do you speak? Certainly not high scientific ground.

    And what should it bother others (certainly, it bothered you, since you were sued) that a few vitamin pills, which you claim are of worthless value, were advertised to HIV patients who universally are in a state of poor nutrition? I’m appalled for all who have fallen for your misleading dialogue.

    Why conventional medicine is so anti-vitamin, when Dr. Rath shakes a study in the face of pharmaceutical-minded therapists which showed vitamin pills are of value, the researchers who published the study denied their own findings. For all of you who have chimed in here at this forum to express your horror over Dr. Rath and his “peddling of vitamins,” have you fallen for the false notion that only man-made patentable molecules are of any value in treating disease?

    At the very least vitamin pills are of value in preventing co-infection (i.e. TB), weight loss and side effects posed by anti-HIV drugs. Yet, in the South African ban on vitamin advertising, even this cannot be said. This is vitamin censorship masquerading as consumer protection.

    It appears most if not all HIV patients will be found to exhibit less than optimal vitamin D levels, particularly blacks who produce less vitamin D from sun exposure. Should modern medicine embark upon anti-retro viral therapy when HIV infected patients have low vitamin D levels? Vitamin D is necessary for proper activation of macrophages and neutrophils, the first-responders of the immune system.

  82. fagin said,

    April 19, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    bsardi, I think you may have missed a few points. Try reading it again.

  83. fagin said,

    April 19, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    ps There is no such thing as ‘conventional’ medicine. There is medicine (ie. proven to be beneficial) and other stuff (sCAM) which isn’t. If it was, it would be medicine. Plain and simple.

  84. montyford said,

    April 20, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Correction Fagin, I thnk Bsardi missed the whole point…

    “This story isn’t about Matthias Rath, or Anthony Brink, or Zackie Achmat, or even South Africa. It is about the culture of how ideas work, and how that can break down.”

    Dr Goldacre is not dismissing the importance of nutrition in immunocompromised patients, or indeed any person. Nor is he suggesting that the supplementation of vitamins in persons with HIV is inbeneficial. He is, correctly, making the point that vitamin tablets on their own, (along with the African potato) are not going to reduce the impact of this terrible virus on the country of South Africa.

    Dr Goldacre, however, does dispute the insubstantial evidence that Matthias Rath uses as propaganda for his own financial gain.

    The inadequacies of the paper with which Rath bases his views are fundamentally flawed.

    Firstly, the paper is comparing vitamins with a placebo, not with the anti-retrovirals which Rath claims are “poisonous, and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money.”

    Secondly, the trial was performed in a cohort of pregnant women. Although this does not dispute the fact that vitamins may be beneficial in this group of patients, this is NOT randomisation and these results cannot be applied to a population as a whole. Pregnant women are physiologically very different to non-pregnant women (and obviously to men and children) including in their immune response and their nutritional status.

    Finally, “Conventional” medicine is certainly not “anti-vitamin”, which is why dieticians and their vitamin- enriched enteral and parenteral preparations are invaluable as part of the multi-disciplinary approach to the care of all sick patients, not just the immunosuppressed.
    “Conventional” medicine recognises that both nutrition AND pharmacology is necessary in the fight against HIV /AIDS as it is against many other life-threatening diseases. Perhaps “Conventional” medics look at the bigger “evidence-based” picture. (When I say evidence-based I clearly mean Level 1 or 2 evidence, rather than 4 or 5)

    Hopefully, influential figures in south Africa will also realise this before its too late.

  85. mikewhit said,

    April 20, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    @bsardi:
    I also refer you to the recent TV programme (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00k1273) in which it was pointed out that the RDA of vitamins can be obtained in a handful of food – examples were vitamin C: a handful of green beans (IIRC) and vitamin B: a smear of marmite … etc.

  86. lasker said,

    April 21, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I don’t know how Rath sleeps at night.

    Unless of course his unspoken belief is that the world is overpopulated and that viruses are the solution.

    Also Heavens said:
    “It is somewhat more accurate to say that the drugs dramatically *postpone* deaths from HIV.
    I know: half the readers’ IQs are below average, and you need to be intelligible to non-experts.”

    But if you prevent vertical transmission of HIV from mother to newborn using AZT then you are saving lives.

    Personally I have always thought it worthwhile to postpone death for as long as possible.

  87. lasker said,

    April 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I dont beleive in IQ but if I did i would judge readers of this blog to be well above average in this respect.

  88. mikewhit said,

    April 21, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    BLOG MALFUNCTION !

    When I am logged in, I have a posting at #85.
    When I am logged out – that comment is not there !!

    oooEEEEEoooooo ….

  89. scienceftw said,

    April 22, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Dear Mr. Mbeki,

    If you are so sure that HIV is harmless, and does not cause AIDS, then surely you’ll have no objection to infecting yourself with it.

    Or maybe you’re not so sure? In which case, give public health in South Africa a chance.

  90. lauranimist said,

    April 23, 2009 at 12:09 am

    I agree that vitamins don’t cure AIDS, but as a scientist I have to point out that a bunch of statistics about how many people are “estimated” to have HIV/AIDS doesn’t prove that vitamins don’t cure AIDS. Nor does criticism of political decisions.

    To SCIENTIFICALLY prove that vitamins don’t cure AIDS (and that prescribing them is therefore criminally negligent), one must first prove:

    1. that AIDS can be cured or even effectively treated by ANY substance

    2. that AIDS is the true disease for these millions of African people – the vast majority of whom have not undergone AIDS testing. One must compare tuberculosis, dysintery, cancer and other statistics before assuming that all these people have AIDS. What about the fact that poor people in Africa with horrible nutrition are more prone to not just AIDS, but many other diseases including tropical parasites?

    3. that AZT is actually an effective treatment for AIDS, and therefore not taking this drug is bad for AIDS patients

    Once all these things are conclusively proved – which they have not been, even the existence of retroviruses has not been proved! – then scientific statements about the use or non-use of vitamin therapy in AIDS can be made.

    Until then, to be properly scientific, the issues have to be separated. Medical science, along with agricultural research, tends to be particularly poorly done in order to push through highly-profitable therapies which, sometimes, turn out to be not only useless, but quite harmful. I would definitely put the widespread prescription of AZT on a poorly-nourished population of human beings who for the most part have not even been tested for AIDS (let alone cancer, tuberculosis, dysintery, syphilis, etc) squarely in the category of “harmful.”

    And I know very well this is an unpopular position to take on the issue. But, as I said, I’m a scientist.

  91. radar said,

    April 23, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Well done to Ben Goldacre and everyone involved. Excellent work!

  92. JoanCrawford said,

    April 23, 2009 at 10:23 am

    #90

    Lauranimist, for you to claim that:

    “cancer doesn’t kill people, chemo does.
    newmedicine.ca”

    suggests that we might have different ideas about what makes a scientist.

  93. jodyaberdein said,

    April 23, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Re: 91 lauranimist

    So were one to define AIDS, choose any way you like, say PCP pneumonia, oesophageal candidiasis, or indeed getting a positive result on a test which is claimed to detect antibody to the HIV virus, or indeed on a test which actually detects an HIV protein.

    Were one to do this, and take a bunch of people who fulfill the chosen criteria, then one could randomly, without knowing which group was which give half of them vitamins and half of them tablets which looked exactly like the vitamins except they had just sugar in them.

    One could then measure whether people got ‘cured’, again by any standard you choose, e.g. by still being alive in a years time.

    Surely no difference between the two groups would constitute ‘proof’, were the numbers big enough to assuage doubts about the role of chance?

    Let us perform the thought experiment that we have actually done this and got no difference. What extra evidence would you need? In what way would this evidence require ‘proof’ of :the existence of retroviruses, the effectiveness of AZT, the prevalence of AIDS in Africa, or the existence of other cures?

  94. Delster said,

    April 23, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I can’t help but feel that the various organisations should be fighting fire with fire.

    The researchers who he misrepresents and the organisations he claims back him (WHO, UNICEF etc) should be bringing him to court for defamation, fraud or whatever else can be made to stick.

    I’m fairly sure that various charities who are having to fight him tooth and nail every step of the way would throw in a few bob towards a lawyer or two…as indeed would most of the regular readers of this page.

    Spend the money on bringing this kind of person to heel rather than continually defending the best treatments we currently have against media campaigns run by people with their own “treatments” to sell.

    As for no.90 lauranimist

    As a scientist do you recommend taking high dose vitamins to cure say pneumonia or TB or possibly smallpox?

    Sure, good nutrition is important for general good health…see scurvy and rickets for example….and contribute to a healthy auto immune system as part of that general well being. However vitamins are not going to cure a viral infection on their own no matter what type of virus you look at.

    As for saying that proving one treatment works will prove another does not work….well lets just say that it blows out the water any claim you have to understanding science. To quote you:

    “To SCIENTIFICALLY prove that vitamins don’t cure AIDS (and that prescribing them is therefore criminally negligent), one must first prove:” then your points 1,2 & 3

    So does this mean that if asprin works to remove a headache that Ibuprofen doesn’t?

    All proving something works does is to prove that that works. It doesn’t prove something else doesn’t work.

  95. pv said,

    April 24, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    I’d like to see the research that shows good nutrition prevents the transmission of HIV.

  96. damonfreemanza said,

    April 27, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    This article of Goldacre is really a very good example of “bad science” including questionable premises, ‘cherry picking’ and a host of others. If ever I had to choose a piece to exemplify the HIV = AIDS bias by people who are either unaware of or ignore the many contrary studies by prominent scientists in the field, then this is it. This article is really just a hatchet job and, if you read it through carefully, the tone of the language used already shows its bias.
    Take the following paragraph that he provides as ‘the opposite of anecdote’, that is, as fact as a typical ‘bad science’ example:
    “..In South Africa it kills 300,000 people every year: that’s eight hundred people every day, or one every two minutes. This one country has 6.3 million people who are HIV positive, including 30 per cent of all pregnant women. There are 1.2 million AIDS orphans under the age of seventeen. Most chillingly of all, this disaster has appeared suddenly, and while we were watching: in 1990, just 1 per cent of adults in South Africa were HIV positive. Ten years later, the figure had risen to 25 per cent.”
    Goldacre does not mention that peoplewere dying in their thousands long before the advent of AIDS from identical diseases that have now been redefined as AIDS-related. His figure of 6.3 million people was arrived at not by using the Elisa or Western Blot test on those individuals but by statistical manipulation of tests done on a fraction of this number at various clinics. In fact, many of these “tests” were simply clinical observations that were then interpreted as “HIV-positive”. The change from 1% in 1990 to 25% now is similarly based on a redefinition of HIV/AIDS defining illnesses during the period and NOT because more people were suddenly testing HIV-positive – bad science at its best. Brink and Rath have criticized these methods on numerous occasions.
    Goldacre is very critical of Adv. Brink. However, Richard Beltz, the person who invented one of the main antiretrovirals (AZT)wrote the following to him in May 2000: “..you are justified in sounding a warning against the long-term therapeutic us of AZT, or its use on pregnant women, because of its demonstrated toxicity and side effects. Unfortunately, the devastating effects of AZT emerged only after the final level of experiments was well underway. ..your effort is a worthy one.. I hope you succeed in convincing your government not to make AZT available.”
    Goldacre writes: “The founder of TAC is a man called Zackie Achmat, and he is the closest thing I have to a hero.” Achmat, who eventually conceded to start using antiretrovirals, had a heart attack within a few months after starting on Nevirapine. This is a well-known side effect of Nevirapine although the HIV = AIDS lobby have been denying that, in this case, it had anything to do with it.

    The use of both AZT and Nevirapine is based on questionable “Studies” done in Africa and this was one of the reason Thabo Mbeki was reluctant to introduce them here. The following is from my PhD thesis:
    AZT, a failed cancer drug was approved in 1987 as the first antiretroviral treatment for AIDS. The approval for AIDS treatment was based on a single highly flawed study. Both the FDA and Burroughs Wellcome, the pharmaceutical owner of the drug, admitted weaknesses in the study. Patients admitted that they knew whether they were getting the placebo or the real drug and that they then obtained the drug on the underground market. The study was thus not double-blinded. It was also not completed. Seventeen weeks into the study, all the patients were put on AZT. Ellen Cooper, a director of the FDA who was aware of the problems in the study, remarked that approval would be a “significant and potentially dangerous departure from our normal toxicology requirements” (as cited in Farber, 2006, p. 116). In spite of the reservation of many people, political pressure prevailed and the head of the FDA’s Center for Drugs and Biologics intervened personally to have the drug approved, faster than any drug in the organization’s history. All the patients who had taken part in the 1986 AZT study had died by 1989. Farber reports that several follow-up studies on the clinical effects of AZT found that although AZT was effective for a few months, its effects drop dramatically thereafter. A study conducted at the Claude Bernard Hospital in France by Dournon et al. showed that AZT had no lasting effect on HIV levels, that it left people with fewer CD4 cells than when they started the study and that it was too toxic for most people to tolerate (Dournon et al., 1988). This was confirmed by the 3-year Anglo-French “Concorde” study. The results of a study by Dr. Jens Lundgren and his co-workers suggested that the use of AZT shortens the lives of AIDS patients. The study involved 4,484 patients over a 5-year period. Their study indicated that the death rate [of those who took AZT] in the third and fourth years was higher than for those who never took the drug (Lundgren et al., 1994). In spite of its ineffectiveness in the long-term survival of AIDS patients, AZT is nowadays used extensively to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV through some unknown mechanism. Farber condemns this usage on the basis of the many false positives that HIV tests produce in the case of pregnancy as well as the possible long-term adverse effects of an extremely toxic drug like AZT. AZT used to be classified as a mutagenic agent, similar to thalidomide, and is therefore not a substance that one wants a fetus to consume. The study on which the FDA’s AZT approval for pregnant women was based, showed that HIV transmission during birth was reduced from 25.5% for the placebo group to 8.3% for the mothers who received AZT throughout their second and third trimesters. However, the authors of the study admitted that due to the small number of infected babies involved, the efficacy could not be quantified with a reasonable measure of accuracy (Vadrevu et al., 2002). At the same time, a Malawian study showed HIV transmission to be closely related to Vitamin A levels of the mother. In that study, mothers with the lowest Vitamin A levels had a transmission rate of 32.4% while those with the highest Vitamin A levels had a transmission rate of only 7.3% which is LOWER than that of the mothers receiving AZT (Semba et al., 1994). Preliminary results from a Thailand study showed no difference between transmission rates of AZT treated mothers and a placebo group ( cited in Farber, 2006). The more disturbing fact is that the use of AZT on animals show anemia, bone marrow depletion, leukemia, T-cell depletion, atrophy of the thalamus gland, lymphotoxicity, nephrotoxicity, cell death, lung, liver and vaginal cancer, retarded development, and fetal death (Farber, 2006). Farber also mentions the interesting fact that it takes from 6 to 18 months for babies born to HIV-positive mothers but who are NOT infected with the HIV virus themselves, to revert to a negative status. HIV tests on babies during this period can thus often return false positives – an aspect that is not taken into account when conducting studies on mother to child transmission.

    Another example of a flawed study is the HIVNET 012 Nevirapine trial sponsored by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and conducted in Uganda. Nevirapine had been rejected twice by Canada in 1996 and 1998 after it had shown no effect on CD4 count and viral load and because of its high toxicity. The FDA, however, gave it conditional approval in 1996 for use in combination with other drugs and according to the initial protocol, a randomized, placebo controlled trial to study the safety and efficacy of the drug on pregnant women was started in Kampala, Uganda in 1997. The Phase I trial on 21 pregnant women that preceded it was not very promising. Four of the 22 babies that were born died. There were 12 serious adverse events and no lowering in the viral load of the mothers. The subsequent Uganda trial was to be conducted on 1500 HIV-positive pregnant women with 500 receiving AZT, a further 500 receiving Nevirapine and two placebo groups of 250 each. The safety of and tolerance to the two drugs would be tested and the HIV mother to child transmission would be measured by checking the number of babies alive and HIV free 18 months after birth. The trial ended up being no placebo, no double-blind or even single-blind with only 626 mother/infant pairs. Eventually the study simply compared AZT with Nevirapine. The published preliminary results of the trial clearly show how flawed results can be massaged to present a rosy picture. Nevirapine was shown to be much more effective than AZT and the percentage of infected infants was reduced from 25% to 13%. On the basis of the published preliminary results, the owner of the drug, Boehringer, applied for licensing of the drug for pregnant mothers. The FDA, to its credit, decided to do an on-site inspection to confirm the published data. Boehringer did its own inspection first and discovered that the trial was in total chaos in respect of both management and reporting of serious adverse events. A private company, Westat, was hired by the FDA to also do an inspection and their findings confirmed the problems of lost data, mixing up of records, drugs given to wrong babies, altered documents, a down-grading of serious events and deaths or still-births reported as serious adverse events. Additionally, they found that half of the HIV-positive babies were also on a Vitamin A trial which made their drug-data totally invalid. However, director Tramont of DAIDS (the AIDS division of the NIH) brought out a report that ignored all the safety and incorrect data problems and as Farber remarks “thus saving HIVNET 012 from the scrapheap of failed scientific studies” (Farber, 2006, p. 302). During this period of connivance, a medical officer of the NIH, Betsy Smith, noticed a problematic increase in liver enzymes with the babies who had received AZT. She forwarded her safety report to her superior, Mary Anne Luzar, who sent the report to the FDA. Director Tramont rewrote the safety report and ordered Jonathan Fishbein, a recently appointed staff member at the NIH with duties to oversee staff and clinical trials, to chastise Luzar for insubordination. Fishbein checked the records himself and decided that she was quite correct in doing what she had done. The result of this was that Fishbein himself was sidelined and he eventually had to seek whistle-blower protection against intimidation from his superiors. In the end, in spite of the two reports on the faulty nevirapine/AZT study and the discovery of the later liver toxicity symptoms in the infants, Nevirapine was approved as an effective drug to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV (Farber, 2006).

    Now, nowhere in his article does Goldacre mention the above background as influencing Thabo or Manto’s decisions. Instead, he tries to portray them as buffoons who uncritically supports Rath. He then tries to show that Rath’s criticism of chemotherapy is an example of his total irrationality. However, he does not mention the fact that a recent mega-study by 3 Australian Oncologists had confirmed Rath’s contention that chemotherapy is ineffective (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630849).

    The real cherry on the top is the following statement of Goldacre: “The evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV-1 or HIV-2 is clearcut, exhaustive and unambiguous.” This is simply nonsense and indicates to me that he has not read any of the recent findings by prominent scientists nor the reasoned criticism of some “denialists’, many of whom are well-respected figures in the scientific community, often with Nobel Prize credentials.

    Goldacre has really not done himself a favour by writing this article. Anyone with a reasonable background on the issues will take him to task for including this in a book on “bad science”.

    Sent by Damon Freeman with permission from the author, Marc Swanepoel, PhD

  97. jodyaberdein said,

    April 28, 2009 at 5:41 am

    So let me just check.

    Damonfreemanza, are you saying that combination antiretroviral therapy for HIV positive people does not extend life, and for pregnant women antiretroviral therpay does not reduce vertical transmission?

    Jody

  98. Em said,

    April 28, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    “Sent by Damon Freeman with permission from the author, Marc Swanepoel, PhD”
    It’s funny how people think that adding ‘PhD’ after their name somehow gives their opinion weight, when a brief google shows they are just trying to sell something – in this case ‘herbs’ as cures for cancer and AIDS (www.mnwelldir.org/docs/cancer1/altthrpy3.htm) :

    “Marc Swanepoel is a naturopath who is completing his PhD in Africa working with people with AIDS and Cancer….Marc’s research on AIDS and Cancer has been very successful, and once his PhD thesis has been accepted, he’s promised us a copy. With cancer he is realizing a success rate upwards of 70%. Marc has recently found a company to help him process and bottle his product which has brought down the price considerably.”

    www.mnwelldir.org/docs/cancer1/anvirzel_update.htm: “Unfortunately, I do not have time to keep track of all the patients. They just collect the mix from me and phone me from time to time to say that they are doing well.”
    Sounds very ‘scientific’.

  99. damonfreemanza said,

    April 28, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I know Marc Swanepoel very well. He started looking into potential herbal remedies when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years ago. She underwent chemo which was very traumatic and painful. Ultimately she stopped going for chemo, and Marc looked into less drastic herbal alternatives. To cut a long story short, this led to an interest in herbal therapies and many years of research, and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent (his own money).
    Your second quote there is somewhat disingenuous and taken out of context. A small-scale clinical trial has taken place, with verifiable results. When a larger trial can be done, it will be. Nevertheless those results are available at www.brandftp.co.za/marcswan.pdf
    I will try to get hold of the full trial detail and thesis and post a link.
    The sales of a natural health product has nothing to do with his comments above. In fact it’s not even mentioned anywhere. I sent him Goldacre’s article, since I know he’s read the book, and the comments above were his response to me.
    PS. His wife is happy, healthy and cancer-free, which may or may not be related to chemo or any other medications, herbal or otherwise, just an observation.

  100. damonfreemanza said,

    April 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    @jodyaberdein

    I’m not the expert here – just passing on comments (although I suspect antiretroviral therapy does work, if it doesn’t kill you first). Perhaps we should be looking at options with less side effects?

    But, as I said, I’m not the expert – that’s just my opinion. I’ll pass on any comments to Marc Swanepoel.

  101. damonfreemanza said,

    April 28, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    No opinions on the first part of his comments?

    “This article of Goldacre is really a very good example of “bad science” including questionable premises, ‘cherry picking’ and a host of others. If ever I had to choose a piece to exemplify the HIV = AIDS bias by people who are either unaware of or ignore the many contrary studies by prominent scientists in the field, then this is it. This article is really just a hatchet job and, if you read it through carefully, the tone of the language used already shows its bias.
    Take the following paragraph that he provides as ‘the opposite of anecdote’, that is, as fact as a typical ‘bad science’ example:
    “..In South Africa it kills 300,000 people every year: that’s eight hundred people every day, or one every two minutes. This one country has 6.3 million people who are HIV positive, including 30 per cent of all pregnant women. There are 1.2 million AIDS orphans under the age of seventeen. Most chillingly of all, this disaster has appeared suddenly, and while we were watching: in 1990, just 1 per cent of adults in South Africa were HIV positive. Ten years later, the figure had risen to 25 per cent.”
    Goldacre does not mention that peoplewere dying in their thousands long before the advent of AIDS from identical diseases that have now been redefined as AIDS-related. His figure of 6.3 million people was arrived at not by using the Elisa or Western Blot test on those individuals but by statistical manipulation of tests done on a fraction of this number at various clinics. In fact, many of these “tests” were simply clinical observations that were then interpreted as “HIV-positive”. The change from 1% in 1990 to 25% now is similarly based on a redefinition of HIV/AIDS defining illnesses during the period and NOT because more people were suddenly testing HIV-positive – bad science at its best.”

  102. pv said,

    April 29, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    damonfreemanza said,

    April 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    @jodyaberdein

    I’m not the expert here

    Obviously not.

  103. Em said,

    April 30, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    @damon
    I stand corrected. Apologies for jumping to conclusions. Best wishes to you.

  104. Delster said,

    May 1, 2009 at 10:35 am

    I find a 70%+ cure rate for cancer using only herbs very hard to believe (from Em’s comment in 98)

    Cancer is a huge killer in all countries. If simply using herbs did the trick then i’m fairly sure that countries such as China, with 2000+ years of traditional herbal medicine, would have found it long ago.

    I’m not saying the herbs / plants have no medicinal value as i’m well aware that many main stream drugs have been developed from plant origins but that i doubt this particular claim….esp in view of his “scientific” research methods that Em also quotes.

  105. djinn said,

    May 2, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Marc Swanepoel – Graduate of the ‘esteemed’ Clayton College of Natural Health, a correspondence college with high school as it’s only prerequisite.

    Excuse me if I don’t hold his ‘studies’ in extremely high regard

  106. paranite said,

    May 6, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you Ben for taking this fight and getting the word out, great chapter. I put backlink on the post.

  107. petesmith said,

    May 14, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Damon
    Your argument -that the perceived impact of AIDS is simply statistical manipulation and ‘disease re-classification’ has one serious flaw. Since 1990 to 2006 life expectancy in South Africa has dropped from 63 to 51 (MRC SA). I would be most interested in your explanation.

  108. bigspinflip said,

    June 6, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    @lauranimist #90

    “I’m a scientist”??

    I’m highly suspicious of someone who justifies those comments with such a vague and meaningless term.

  109. Chucky said,

    June 25, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    “Jesus would doubtless have similar views on other harm-reduction measures: e.g., free taxi rides should be utterly unnecessary for drunk drivers, because there ought never be any one too drunk to drive.”

    oh dear! In other words what would Jesus do if he/we lived in a vacuum?

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    This article has really depressed me. I recently spent my medical school elective in Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital in Cape Town and was overwhelmed by the lack of money invested in health services (it’s all been spent on glittering football stadiums). It is no surprise that Mbeki backed personal diet change instead of state-funded drugs.

    I have recently read about the use of Statins in primary prevention for cardiovascular heart disease in women. I hear they have absolutely no proof that Statins have any effect in women, but British GPs still prescribe them. I thought we lived in an advanced evidence-based society, but perhaps both South Africa and the UK are all under the corporate thumb of drugs companies.

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  120. Kamagrian said,

    September 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Very overdue comment here, I realise, but this is a fantastic piece – thanks for making it available to those who bought “Bad Science” without it.

    For the record, I’m a qualified holistic therapist and I’ve taken every chance I can to spread the word about how despicable and frankly murderous this man’s “work” is.

  121. homedesignfit said,

    November 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    good…as I hope you’ll see, and it was also a pretty unpleasant episode, not just for me, but also for the many other people
    Home Design Cozy

  122. A. M. Bowman said,

    February 25, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    A friend of mine sent this to me this morning as a link. I have not read the whole book. I am greatly saddened to think of the lives that were cut short by Matthias Rath and a belief that lemon peels and African potatoes could prevent HIV infection and death by AIDS. I will spread news of this chapter as widely as I can so that others will read it and the dead can be honored by hopefully this kind of nonsense coming to light and preventing greater suffering and more deaths.

  123. Popkin said,

    April 11, 2011 at 12:51 am

    This was one of the most harrowing things I ever read. Incidentally I found Matthias Rath’s theories of nutrition and health quoted on the wikipedia page about atherosclerosis, right next to some real science. Heartbreaking.

  124. Dragon said,

    June 27, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Unless of course his unspoken belief is that the world is overpopulated and that viruses are the solution. drm removal, burn itunes to dvd

  125. Hannagrace023 said,

    July 7, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Gosh, I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of this case, well done for fighting through all this! Shame its not in the book but hopefully it will get to even more people this way. V. scary and upsetting that this kind of rotten pseudoscientific thinking can get so far.

    Hanna Grace Connor
    IT Courses

  126. shellywoo said,

    December 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    thanks for sharing this nice passage

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  127. spike1138 said,

    May 25, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

    Gallo stole the virus from the French, faked the data and his findings and his findings have never been replicated – however, Gallo has been found guilty of Scientific Misconduct twice since (and kept his job at NIH).

    Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier, who discovered HIV in 1982 at the Institute Pasteur says “one can be exposed to HIV many times without becoming chronically infected” – and furthermore than someone receiving good nutrition with a healthy immune system can be cured of AIDS.

    Meanwhile, AZT is a highly toxic chemotherapy, which is a killer.

    Rath’s ideas are not quacknish, they are in line with the best Scientific thinking on the causes, origins and treatment for acquired immune deficiency.

    And then there’s Project Coast – Presidents De Klerkk and Mandela indeed deserved to be in jail for Genocide, President Mbeki is the greatest African leader since Lamumba and Nkrumah.

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