I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m an overly sensitive person, but sometimes I get a bit upset by Dr Gillian McKeith PhD. There she is on the television, talking about science, making an obese woman cry, in her own back garden, by showing her a tombstone with her own name on it, made out of chocolate. And here she is, in an article headed Read the rest of this entry »
I feel dirty just linking to it.
We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics … Ben Goldacre on why writing Bad Science has increased his suspicion of the media by, ooh, a lot of per cents
Thursday September 8, 2005
OK, here’s something weird. Every week in Bad Science we either victimise some barking pseudoscientific quack, or a big science story in a national newspaper. Now, tell me, why are these two groups even being mentioned in the same breath? Why is science in the media so often pointless, simplistic, boring, or just plain wrong? Like a proper little Darwin, I’ve been Read the rest of this entry »
Promo article for McKeith in today’s Observer describes me as a “journalist” and then goes off to find some scientists
to quote. Entertainingly unattributed Bad Science stories throughout. By “Rachel Cooke”.
So where did she train? McKeith’s CV has been the subject of some debate in the press. Her PhD, for instance, was gained via a distance learning programme at a non-accredited college, the American College of Holistic Nutrition, now known as the Clayton College of Natural Health. The fact that this college is non-accredited means that the US secretary for education does not recognise its degrees for the purpose of educational grants. In some states, the holder of a degree from such an establishment would not be allowed to practise as a clinical nutritionist. McKeith has never published any properly evaluated scientific research, not even her PhD thesis. As the journalist Ben Goldacre pointed out in his Bad Science column in the Guardian, McKeith’s much-vaunted certified membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants is also a peculiar boast. Ben Goldacre managed to buy the same membership for his dead cat via the internet for the bargain price of $60.
Of course, none of this would matter if all the advice that McKeith was handing out was based on scientific fact. But this is not always the case. Much of what she says is patent nonsense. In the past, she has informed us that a seed contains ‘all of the energy necessary to make a fully grown plant’, that ‘chlorophyll is high in oxygen’ which means eating green leaves will ‘really oxygenate the blood’, and that ‘the colours of foods represent vibrational energies… foods which are orange in colour have similar vibrational energies and even similar nutrient make-up’. “
Thursday June 9, 2005
Â· Talk about fans in high places. Two weeks ago, I said I was going to start giving references, and suddenly Dr Gillian McKeith PhD is writing this in her newsletter: “You will note that I deliberately include scientific sourced references [sic] which correspond to the numbers in the text.” Read the rest of this entry »
Thursday April 21, 2005
Â· That poo lady gets everywhere. Now let’s get this straight: I like organic food, alternative therapies are OK by me, and scare stories are often great fun. What I don’t like is made up bollocks. And there’s only one thing I’m disappointed with the Soil Association for, which is giving its 2005 Consumer Education award to Dr Gillian McKeith PhD. Who can forget the time she educated us all about photosynthesis on national television, explaining that chlorophyll is “high in oxygen” and that the darker leaves on plants are good for us because they contain “chlorophyll – the ‘blood’ of the plant – which will really oxygenate your blood”.
Â· Of course, if you want real nonsense, you’re best generating it yourself. The three prankster geeks at MIT who had their phony paper, Rooter: a methodology for the typical unification of access points and redundancy, accepted for an academic conference this week, have released their random text-generating code to the world: just type in the author names of your choice, and you too can generate your own computer science research paper of grammatically consistent but meaningless gibberish. For example, at tinyurl.com/8b2bw you can find a paper entitled On the Analysis of Robots that appears to be written by “Dr Gillian McKeith PhD, Ben Goldacre, and the staff of Penta water”. Although the next time you visit it might be On the Synthesis of Neural Networks or Permutable, Fuzzy Epistemologies for Semaphores. Don’t tell McKeith or she might use it to write her next series.
Â· But I digress. The trouble here is that the Soil Association is an independent body, whose little kitemarks only mean anything if we believe that it knows what it’s doing. I’ve even been kind enough in the past to not write about the “organic salt” packet someone posted me, featuring the Soil Association kitemark. Disappointed, I got in touch with its press office, and blow me if they weren’t lovely. “The Soil Association believes it is very important to give the public sound advice on issues of health and nutrition and for our licensees to do the same. I hope that we are an organisation people trust because we take this responsibility seriously.” And? “I was not aware of the specific concerns you have raised when judging the awards. The matters you highlight are clearly important, and I will be discussing them with Gillian McKeith and her representatives directly and in detail.” Contrite surprise or PR fudge? We’ll know by next week.
This article is a rough transcript of the most excellent Bad Science Awards 2004 that were held in the Asylum Club on Rathbone St W1, a tiny basement club with a fire safety license for 150. We were expecting 20 people but to general astonishment there were queues down the street, and an unruly crowd who were drunkenly, loudly, and at one point quite violently baying for Gillian McKeith’s blood. Also performing were the excellently frightening and dangerous Disinformation presents “National Grid”, performance terrorism with victorian electrical equipment and rubber gloves, featuring Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor and Guardian Far Out fame.
Thursday December 16, 2004
Ben Goldacre on the gongs nobody wants to win…
Andrew Wakefield prize for preposterous extrapolation from a single unconvincing piece of scientific data
With its place at the kernel of Bad Science reporting in the news media, this was bound to be a hotly contested category. Were there any Read the rest of this entry »
Thursday November 4, 2004
Â· For a bloke who looks a lot like a monkey, George W Bush has a strange disdain for evolution. Now, this might all seem very trivial to you, but the Bush administration has decided, just before this week’s vote, to stand by its approval for a book that’s being sold in National Park museums and bookshops. This book explains to young minds that the Grand Canyon is only a couple of thousand years old, and was created by Noah’s flood, rather than by geological forces.
Â· Lo! Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston heroically intervened and referred the sale of the book to his superiors but they sinisterly kept it on the shelves. They also appear to have ignored a letter from the presidents of the Palaeological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the American Geological Institute, the Geological Society of America, and more, all pointing out that the book was nonsense. And they told Congress that they’d have a review of whether they were going to sell the book, and then calmly didn’t bother.
Â· Verily you may now laugh at the Americans in a smug European way, for truly they are in the grip of religious freaks: or, alternatively, you can go to the City of Bristol’s Festival of Nature, which includes an extensive exhibition from Bad Science repeat-offenders The Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, Britain’s own creationist outfit, which specialises in targeting children, and advertises in its festival blurb that “huge educational mazes are part of these displays”. I think that might be a reference to the Intelligent Design argument.
Â· But if it’s back doors to enlightenment you’re after, you need look no further than Bach Flower Remedies’ new Yoga in a Bottle, which has several marketing advantages over real yoga: mainly, it requires the deployment of absolutely no exercise. Its only side effect is to eradicate the opportunity for meeting nice women at yoga class, but if you’re so physically non-viable that you’ve decided to buy yoga in a bottle, then you probably gave up any hope of action between the sheets several years ago, you decadent, obese, lazy, pathetic, unfit, feckless, unmotivated moron. Sorry, I think I’ve got low blood sugar this afternoon. And I always get bad-tempered if I haven’t mentioned Dr Gillian McKeith PhD for a while. “To avoided bloated tummy,” she writes, in this month’s Heat, “try not to eat when you’re tired, hungry, or upset.”
This letter followed a week later:
I’m not convinced that Darwinian evolution comes across as that flattering for monkeys (Bad Science, November 4). They are often portrayed as a “rung down the evolutionary ladder”, which could be taken as an insult – especially now Bush (to mix metaphors) is “top dog” again.
Thursday October 14, 2004
Â· I’m in a difficult position. You may remember Dr Bannock PhD: he is a Channel 4 TV doctor and a certified professional member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, like Dr Gillian McKeith PhD (and my dead cat Hettie). In fact, pretty much the only thing my cat doesn’t have is a PhD and a Channel 4 show. Now, I had all kinds of awful things to say about Dr Bannock, but he’s written me such a nice collection of emails, and put such an earnest retraction of hisPhD from the Open International University of Complementary Medicine (OIUCM) on his website (www.doctorbannock.com/about_me.html) after I contacted him with my concerns, that I can’t bring myself to speak ill of him. I honestly think, regardless of the fact that he describes himself as having seven memberships, three fellowships, six diplomas, and eight certificates, the odd lectureship, and isn’t quite sure if he might have claimed for a while to have a PhD from Brunel (which has never heard of him) and continued to call himself a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine even after his membership had lapsed – despite all this (deep breath), despite the fact that he has qualifications in “Scenar” and live blood analysis, both of which I’m looking forward to writing about in the future and despite the fact that he’s been written about positively in the Daily Mail, the Express, the Sunday Times Style, and other repeat offenders … I seriously like the guy. And pseudoscientific new age nonsense aside, I’m sure he’s done a lot for Sting’s wife, Madonna, and all the other celebs he associates himself with. I mean it. It’s not my fault if I have a naturally unearnest prose style.
Â· But Dr Bannock is important to me for two reasons. First, he’s our second “doctor” on Channel 4 with highly questionable qualifications, and I want to know how many more there are. I thought about asking Channel 4, but the last time I rang its PR department I was treated like a naughty schoolboy. So here’s the deal: just send me the name of everyone on Channel 4 you see who describes themselves as a doctor, and I’ll do the rest.
Â· Second, and more important, the PhD that Dr Bannock got from OIUCM only costs $850. I’m told there are lots of people on Harley St with OIUCM PhDs. Now listen: the editor of Life is on holiday at the moment, and while he’s away we run the budget. So 850 emails, that’s all I need, and we might just be able to buy a PhD for my dead cat before the boss gets back.
Thursday September 30, 2004
Â· I once saw a bloke at the opening of a Jackson Pollock exhibition in the Tate, wearing a T-shirt that said: “my cat could do better”. What, you may be wondering, has that got to do with Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD)? Well now. Besides her PhD, which we have already discussed, there were a few other interesting entries on her CV. For example, she is proud to announce under “Professional Associations” that she is a certified member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC), which certainly sounds impressive. I bet you get a little certificate and everything.
Â· In fact, I know you get a certificate, because I’m holding it in my hand right now. It’s in the name of my cat, Henrietta. I got it in return for $60, and it’s a particular honour since dear, sweet, little Hettie died about a year ago. So, coming in a bit cheaper than Gillian’s non-accredited correspondence course PhD and Masters degrees (although she will have got a discount from “Clayton College of Natural Health” if she ordered them both at once), it looks as if all you need to be a certified member of the AANC is a name, an address, and a spare $60. You don’t need to be human. You don’t even need to be alive. No exam. No check-up on your qualifications. And no assessment of your practice. I guess that could be embarrassing for some of their certified professional members. Presumably, the diploma is there to certify that you have $60.
Â· If you know anyone else who is showing off about being a Professional Certified Member of the AANC, I’d like to hear about it. The only one I can find so far is a man called Dr Bannock who presented Why Weight on Channel 4 and Fat Academy on Discovery. No, I’d never heard of him either. He says he is a “Member of the American Association of Nutrition Consultants (Board Certified Nutrition Consultant)”. Glad you added that bit at the end, Dr Bannock. His website mentions his PhD in Nutritional Physiology, but he doesn’t say where it’s from; his website also features the odd photograph of a stethoscope, although to my disappointment, unlike Hettie, he’s not gone as far as dressing up in it endearingly.
Â· But back to the money: if anybody wants nutritional advice from the decomposing corpse of my ex-cat, I shall be setting up a small shrine at the bottom of the garden, where you can leave chewed mice, ready cash, and offers of a primetime TV series on Channel 4.