Blame the drug companies… and yourself…

April 14th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, references, regulating research | 19 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday April 14, 2007
The Guardian

[oh, I love the subs, but there was a slightly bonkers headline in the paper today on this column, as sometimes happens... this is why I don't mock people for what's written by someone else in their headlines...]

So here’s an interesting question. Lots of us wander around quite happily with a “dolphins good, drug companies bad” morality in our heads; and this is entirely reasonable, they are quite bad. But how easy is it to show that drug companies kludge their results, and to explain what they’ve done to a lay audience?

On an individual level, it is sometimes quite hard to show that one trial has been deliberately rigged to give the right answer Read the rest of this entry »

Doctors behind the headlines

April 6th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, media, references | 10 Comments »

Another BMJ column, forgot to post this when it came out recently, it’s a bit doctory mind…

Ben Goldacre
BMJ 2007;334:613 (24 March)
doi:10.1136/bmj.39160.566285.47
Observations – Media watch

With real evidence, we are all better placed to communicate the truth behind the news

Few things can make a doctor’s heart sink more in clinic than a patient brandishing a newspaper clipping. Alongside the best efforts to empower patients, misleading information conveyed with hyperbole is paradoxically disempowering; and it’s fair to say that the media don’t have an absolutely brilliant track record in faithfully reporting medical news. Read the rest of this entry »

Reefer Badness

March 24th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, drurrrgs, references, statistics | 51 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 24, 2007
The Guardian

The more I see of the world [looks pensively out of window] the more it strikes me that people seem to want more science, rather than less, and to deploy it in odd ways: to abrogate responsibility; to validate a hunch; to render a political or cultural prejudice in deceptively objective terms. Because you can prove anything with science, as long as you cherry pick the data and keep one eye half closed.

The Independent last Sunday ran a front page splash: “Cannabis – An Apology” was Read the rest of this entry »

The Truth About Nutritionists

February 10th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, references | 37 Comments »

Crikey, I’ve got a column in the BMJ!

BMJ 2007;334:292 (10 February), doi:10.1136/bmj.39118.546308.59
Observations
MEDIA WATCH
Tell us the truth about nutritionists
Media nutritionism distracts us from social inequality and the real causes of ill health

They’re certainly keen to praise themselves, but if you really wanted to do some primary prevention work in the community, would you start with the media nutritionists? The answer, for reasons of increasing seriousness, is no. Read the rest of this entry »

The Price Is Wrong

February 10th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, references, regulating research | 77 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 10, 2007
The Guardian

There are some things which are so self-evidently right and good that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could disagree with you. The “open access” academic journal movement is one of those things. It’s a no-brainer. Academic literature should be freely available: developing countries need access; part time tinkering thinkers like you deserve full access; journalists and the public can benefit; and most importantly of all, you’ve already paid for much of this stuff with your taxes, they are important new ideas from humanity, and morally, you are entitled to them.

But with old school academic journals, Read the rest of this entry »

The Internal Examiner

February 3rd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, references | 85 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday February 3, 2007
The Guardian

As the awful poo lady goes into her fourth series on Channel 4, I can’t stop thinking about that PhD. I’m talking about Dr Gillian McKeith PhD, of course. It’s from a non-accredited correspondence college in the US, so no trustworthy government body attests to their standards. But I’m open minded, and it was always perfectly possible that Read the rest of this entry »

Doctoring the records – Patrick Holford and Fuel PR

January 6th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, fuel pr, ITV, nutritionists, patrick holford, references | 85 Comments »

Read more on “Professor Patrick Holford” here, there, here, there, here and here.

Ben Goldacre
Saturday January 6, 2007
The Guardian

It’s just not cool to anonymously edit your own Wikipedia page. It’s an online encyclopaedia, free to access, a tribute to the powers of the hive mind, and anyone can edit any page. This makes it a valuable resource in the hands of those who know its limitations, but it has certain vulnerabilities, certain rules, and certain moral codes. It’s even less cool to get your hip young PR agent to anonymously edit your Wikipedia page for you.

Patrick Holford is a self styled “nutritionist”. Since anyone can use the title, I am a nutritionist too, so take this as one nutritionist to another, Patrick: you have been the subject of justified public criticism – in my case, with references to back me up – and for a long time. Holford’s only academic qualification is an undergraduate degree in psychology from York in 1976. He set up the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in 1984, and as the director of his own institute, it must have been a particular honour for Patrick in 1995 to confer his “Diploma in Nutritional Therapy” upon himself. This remains his only qualification in nutrition, since he failed to complete a masters in nutrition from Surrey 20 years ago.

There is an awful lot more to be said about Patrick Holford. I have studied his work meticulously, and I can tell you that this is someone who plays very fast and loose indeed with research data: cherry picking studies, misrepresenting them, or misunderstanding them. If one person writes in to genuinely doubt me, then I will campaign tirelessly to get the space a careful appraisal of his work would require.

So far, I have only published one example of this behaviour, and it was referred to on his Wikipedia page. Alongside the lavish biographical praise, this page had an element of criticism, with a lot of references in nice parentheses:

“In the UK, “Nutritionist” is not a title covered by any registered professional body, so some have questioned Patrick Holford’s qualifications and expertise. [1] The accuracy of Holford’s claims re. health and nutrition has also been questioned: for example, Dr Ben Goldacre has responded critically to Holford’s The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. [2] Holford used a non-clinical study where “you tip lots of vitamin C onto HIV-infected cells and measure a few things related to HIV replication” as the basis for his conclusion that “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than vitamin C”. [3] [4] For Goldacre, “Holford was guilty of at least incompetence in claiming that [this paper] demonstrated vitamin C to be a better treatment [for HIV/AIDs] than AZT” – “[t]he paper doesn’t even contain the word AZT. Not once.” [5] [6]”

Now, on December 22nd all criticism of Holford was deleted, in its entirety, by a user called “Clarkeola”. A mystery. Normally, on Wikipedia, people will make modifications to the page and explain why, using the discussion page associated with the entry, especially if the issue is contentious.

So who is this user “Clarkeola”? He’s obviously keen on Holford, as he has created pages for other Holford projects, including his private clinic (although one was recently deleted by a Wikipedia editor, after the appropriate process, because the subject was not notable enough for an encyclopaedia entry: a common problem when people make their own entries).

And who is Clarkeola? It’s not a common username. In fact it only seems to be used in one other place: a travel website, where the name Clarkeola is used by a man called Stephen Clarke (I’d post the link but it feels a bit intrusive). He seems to live in Queenstown Road. Amazingly, there is a man called Stephen Clarke who works at Fuel PR who, in another coincidence, are based in Queenstown Road, and extraordinarily, that Stephen Clarke at Fuel PR does the PR for Patrick Holford, and his Food For The Brain Foundation, and his private clinic. Could they by any chance be related? Indeed they are, and it has now been explained to me that the deletion was a mistake (Holford says what he actually asked his PR to do was add a defense of the criticism against him).

Now this isn’t Watergate. But it does show once again how closely celebrity nutritionists try to control brand information – because sometimes it’s all they have – and more than that, how wiki autobiographies are a tricky area. Peter Hitchens edits his own Wikipedia page, for example; so does Cory Doctorow, editor of uberblog BoingBoing. I sympathise. There is no excuse for abuse, imbalance, or libel.

But Hitchens and Doctorow both edit explicitly, openly, and under their own names, justifying changes, and discussing them: because Wikipedia is a collaborative project that belongs to us all, and it edges towards accuracy and completeness through goodwill; not through the anonymous accidental deletion of all criticism by PR agents.

· Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk

EDIT: “Clarkeola” Banned 6th Jan 2007 13:30

“Clarkeola” has been banned from Wikipedia, here is the entry from the page:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Clarkeola

“I’ve banned this account indefinitely under our “Meatpuppets” policy. “These newly created accounts, or anonymous edits, may be friends of another editor, may be related in some way to the subject of an article under discussion, or may have been solicited by someone to support a specific angle in a debate”. The policy states that these can be delt with in the same way as “sockpuppet” accounts i.e. indefinate bans. –Robdurbar 10:57, 6 January 2007 (UTC)”

This is from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatpuppet

“A sockpuppet (sometimes known also as a mule, glove puppet, alternate account, or joke account) is an additional account of an existing member of an Internet community to invent a separate user. This may be used for fictional support of separate people in a vote or argument by falsely using the account as a separate user, or for acting without consequence to one’s “main” account. It is often considered dishonest by online communities, and such pretending individuals are often labeled as trolls.

“The term meatpuppet is used by some as a variation of a sockpuppet; a new Internet community member account, created by another person at the request of a user solely for the purposes of influencing the community on a given issue or issues acting essentially as a puppet of the first user without having independent views and actual or potential contributions. While less overtly deceptive than sockpuppetry, the effect of meatpuppetry and sockpuppetry on the community as a whole may be similar.”

The Wikipedia policy page is also very interesting on the subject:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:MEATPUPPET

This is the Holford page before “Clarkeola” deleted the criticism:

en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Patrick_Holford&oldid=95376610

This is the page after “Clarkeola” deleted the criticism:

en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Patrick_Holford&oldid=95905010

This is the page as it looks now, it appears there have been some more unwikipediaesque edits since I contacted Stephen Clarke:

en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Patrick_Holford&oldid=98462659

Here is the current page, whatever it may be when you click it:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Holford

And here is Hitchens discussing on his own entry’s discussion page, it’s really interesting process to watch, he posts as “Clockback” and is open about his identity, there is also interesting discussion on Clockback’s talk page.

en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Peter_Hitchens&oldid=98535687

The core Wikipedia values include, at the risk of encountering the scorn of wiki nerds for oversimplifying: NPOV (“neutral point of view”), no original research, verifiable information only, and citing sources. It’s a fascinating and important project, here’s a good link, it deserves out support and nurturing (moving music please), and it’s our collective responsibility to help prevent it being inaccurate, or abusive, or anything not NPOV:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view

EDIT: Equazen! again…
6th Jan 2007 23:10
Oh, and hilariously Equazen are in on this one too. Small world, huh. They have sent out a big press release in which Holford says he thinks all the extraordinary benefits he produced in children in a rather bizarre Tonight With Trevor McDonald program last night (a revolutionary experiment etc etc) are because of the Equazen Eye-Q pills. Nothing to do with the placebo or hawthorne effects which he worked tirelessly to maximise. I think it’s very interesting that Holford thinks all the benefits were because of these expensive Equazen pills, and yet this view was not reflected at all in the program (they may have learnt their lesson).

EDIT: Holford under attack..
7th Jan 2007

Sheesh, all these edits. But it looks like there are some other people who think Holford is a bit dodge too:

news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article2132558.ece

EDIT:

Holford is now actively soliciting subscribers to his newsletter to edit his wikipedia page, with the inevitable consequences.

www.badscience.net/?p=364

Just… Show… Me… The… Data…

November 11th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, equazen, fish oil, references, statistics | 190 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday November 11, 2006
The Guardian

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried using the Freedom of Information Act: it’s an excellent trouble making tool, and you do feel quite James Bond, but the act has its flaws. One being that if you ask for too much, as one lone, obsessive, disproportionately pedantic science columnist, they turn you down on grounds of cost. Quite spuriously and unfairly, to my mind. So now I’m offering a kind of skills swap: I’ll teach you all how to do an FoI request (it’s easy) if you help me get a bunch of data. Read the rest of this entry »

Dore – The Miracle Cure For Dyslexia

November 4th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym, dore, mail, mirror, references, space | 71 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday November 4, 2006
The Guardian

Wouldn’t it be great if there really was an expensive proprietary cure for dyslexia? Oh hang on, there is: paint tycoon Wynford Dore has developed one, with NASA space technology. It’s only £1700, it has celebrity endorsements, it involves some special exercises, but it has been proven with experts. “A revolutionary drug-free dyslexia remedy has been hailed a wonder cure by experts,” said the Mirror on Monday, in fact. And in the Mail: “Millions of people with dyslexia have been given hope by a set of simple exercises that experts say can cure the disorder.”

This most recent wave of publicity was prompted by a paper on Dore’s miracle cure published in the academic journal Dyslexia. The story of why they should publish such a flawed study is, perhaps, for another day. But what Read the rest of this entry »

All men will have big willies

October 21st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, cash-for-"stories", evolutionary psychology, references | 57 Comments »

This article was cut to a deflating wiffle in the paper, 650 down to 400 words, here is the last version I touched.

Ben Goldacre
Saturday October 21, 2006
The Guardian

“All men will have big willies”, said the headline of the Sun. This was the story of Dr Oliver Curry, “evolution theorist” from the Darwin@LSE research centre. “By the year 3000, the average human will be 6½ft tall, have coffee-coloured skin and live for 120 years, new research predicts. And the good news does not end there. Blokes will be chuffed to learn their willies will get bigger – and women’s boobs will become more pert.”

Where did this story come from? And does it stand up? Well, what has been represented as important Read the rest of this entry »