Okay, you lot are seriously on a roll. Following a complaint from a badscience reader, the ASA have found that Patrick Holford made untruthful, unsubstantiated claims in a leaflet he was sending out. Pasted below is the full adjudication and also the original advert in question, so that you can decide for yourself about the content, and I’ve also pasted my brief guide to making ASA complaints about dodgy adverts for a rainy afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a bit of a data dump of some of the critical news coverage that Patrick Holford’s “Food Is Better Than Medicine” tour of South Africa has picked up. They’re not very impressed in Africa by his claim that vitamin C is better than AZT, and Holford seems a bit conflicted over it himself. Here’s a typical news quote…
He has also denied news reports which he said implied he had been saying vitamin C was more effective in treating Aids than the ARV medication, AZT. “This is not true,” he said at the weekend. “I have never made this claim. “What I have said in the latest edition of my book, the New Optimum Nutrition Bible… is that ‘AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C’.”
And reassuringly, meanwhile, Rath researcher Raxit Jariwalla seems to have backed down somewhat. Here is his Read the rest of this entry »
Patrick Holford has now solicited his subscribers to write positively about him on his wikipedia page, in a mailout earlier today:
“Weirdness on Wikipedia – Ideally, debates on issues of scientific and medical contention should stick to the facts, but unfortunately those in the front line of paradigm shifts are usually subject to personal attacks, of which I’ve had many. I noticed a few on Wikipedia, which is meant to be the ‘people’s encyclopedia’ meaning that anyone can edit an entry. Unfortunately, some of the people who have been editing appear to be part of the pro-drug lobby. I did write to the moderator to straighten out some facts, but have had no reply, so I’ve decided to stay out of it. Of course, if you think there’s anything said that is wrong, or anything you’d like to add, feel free to do so.”
I think that means it’s likely to be vandalised on and off for a good long while to come. I’m perfectly serious when I say I don’t think it’s appropriate for readers of this to get involved.
As you can see, Holford’s wikipedia page is currently about a third full of material he has written attacking me, of all things. Read the rest of this entry »
From the letters page today: Read the rest of this entry »
Saturday January 6, 2007
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.  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.  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”.   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.”  ”
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 â€“ because sometimes itâ€™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.
Â· Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org
EDIT: “Clarkeola” Banned 6th Jan 2007 13:30
“Clarkeola” has been banned from Wikipedia, here is the entry from the page:
“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:
This is the Holford page before “Clarkeola” deleted the criticism:
This is the page after “Clarkeola” deleted the criticism:
This is the page as it looks now, it appears there have been some more unwikipediaesque edits since I contacted Stephen Clarke:
Here is the current page, whatever it may be when you click it:
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.
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:
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:
Holford is now actively soliciting subscribers to his newsletter to edit his wikipedia page, with the inevitable consequences.
Thursday January 20, 2005
Here’s an interesting question, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Can a published research paper ever be Bad Science? I think not. This week, we publish a letter from Raxit Jariwalla, the author of a study on vitamin C and HIV, who feels done down for being mentioned here two weeks ago. He wasn’t singled out, but Patrick Holford, of the branded vitamins, misrepresented the paper in his Optimum Nutrition Bible. Holford said: “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than vitamin C,” and referred to the paper as proof. In fact, the paper was a lab study on what happens if you tip lots of vitamin C onto HIV-infected cells and measure a few things related to HIV replication. It did not compare vitamin C with AZT and was not a clinical trial where tablets were given to people to see how well they did. Read it here: tinyurl.com/4l7vz.
Patrick Holford was guilty of at least incompetence in claiming that this study demonstrated vitamin C to be a better treatment than AZT. But is the Jariwalla paper Bad Science? No. I don’t think a paper ever can be. The meat of a paper is the methods and results section. In the discussion at the end, granted, things sometimes go a bit weird. But the meat of a paper honestly and accurately describes an experiment and its results. We all know that all experiments could have been done better or worse, to a greater or lesser extent. That’s the point of critical appraisal, of learning to pick papers apart. Maybe the sample size could have been bigger; maybe what you measured, the surrogate marker, turns out not to be as valid as you thought. Scientists know this. And by scientists, I mean people who know a bit about science and are capable of thinking it through, no white coats required.
A paper, an experiment, is merely one bit of evidence, and how you choose to interpret it, how you fit it into your understanding of whether a theory holds, with lots of other evidence, is a thing that a person does, with varying degrees of fallibility: you weigh it up, come to a verdict, personally, on the evidence, accounting in your own imperfect way for the flaws in all the bits of evidence you happen to know.
Jariwalla’s paper is useless as supporting evidence to Holford’s statement. It is excellent evidence for lots of other statements. So Jariwalla I have no opinion on, his paper is just a paper, and Holford is a fool or worse. Or am I wrong?
Follow up to this.
Thursday January 6, 2005
You’ll be pleased to hear that my new year’s resolution is to stop going on about nutritionists and find some new targets to bait. However, due to the curved nature of spacetime in newspapers I’m writing this in 2004, so by my reckoning I get one more pop, not at dear Gillian McKeith, but at Patrick Holford. Lots of people seem to like him. He’s a clever guy. I thought I’d grab his book, The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, because it would be handy to have a desk reference, instead of always going to Medline to check wacky claims.
Now, I absolutely swear blind, the first thing I did was open it at a random page: HIV Infection and Aids. “Leading researcher Dr Raxit Jariwalla … found that with continuous exposure to ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) … the growth of HIV in immune cells could be reduced by 99.5%.” That’s 99.5%. Wow. But there’s no reference. You’d have thought, in a book with no less than 241 academic references, that this astonishing fact would be something worth referencing, but hey, it’s Christmas.
So I hunt through the references section at the back, and finally find one paper by Jariwalla. Then, like a young Sherlock Holmes, I find the place in the book, sorry, the “Bible”, where this mysterious paper is referred to. Holford’s sentence, on page 208 reads like this: “AZT, the first prescribable anti-HIV drug, is potentially harmful, and proving less effective than Vitamin C.” Then there’s a little superscript 23, referring you to this Jariwalla paper. Just like in a proper academic article! So, vitamin C is better than AZT. Obviously I had to read that paper. The abstract is at tinyurl.com/4l7vz. The paper is free online. It doesn’t compare vitamin C to AZT for efficacy. It’s a laboratory study. It doesn’t look at whether Vitamin C treats HIV in humans. It measures a few jolly complicated things like extracellular reverse transciptase activity, p24 antigen, giant cell syncytia formation. It has nothing to do with AZT. If anyone can read that paper and tell me how it backs up Holford’s sentence about AZT, then I would like to know how. The paper doesn’t even contain the word AZT. Not once.
Everything Holford writes is plastered with references. He’s almost impossible to argue against, because he’s constantly pulling these references out of the bag. Each one takes about an hour to check – so if you’d like to join the struggle, his book is only Â£12.99. I hope some of them are better than this one.
Followed up here.
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 5 June 2010
“Fish oil helps schoolchildren to concentrate” was the headline in the Observer. Regular readers will remember the omega-3 fish oil pill issue, as the entire British news media has been claiming for several years now that there are trials showing it improves school performance and behaviour in mainstream children, despite the fact that no such trial has ever been published. There is something very attractive about the idea that solutions to complex problems in education can be found in a pill. Read the rest of this entry »
Wednesday 29 July 2009
Today the Australian magazine Cosmos, along with a vast number of other blogs and publications, reprinted an article by Simon Singh, in slightly tweaked form, in an act of solidarity. The British Chiropractic Association has been suing Singh personally for the past 15 months, over a piece in the Guardian where he criticised the BCA for claiming that its members could treat children for colic, ear infections, asthma, prolonged crying, and sleeping and feeding conditions by manipulating their spines. Read the rest of this entry »