Another kind of science fiction

August 26th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications | 1 Comment »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 26, 2004
The Guardian

· Of course, I write about science fiction every week, although the authors I review somehow manage to get themselves filed under non-fiction. Like the Independent. Just send in your questionnaire and a lock of hair to the company involved, it explains, and the Food Doctor Weight Loss Plan can perform an analysis to reveal “your biochemical composition”. With a big shiny machine covered in flashing lights, I hope.

· The BBC ran a story this week on a company turning waste wood chips into amazing techno fuel pellets. “The pellets can be burned in industrial and domestic heating boilers without creating carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.” For lo, they have cracked the secret of alchemy, reworked the very structure of the atom, and converted long-chain molecules containing carbon into pure hydrogen. Why not gold?

· See if you can guess which sci-fi author was behind this flight of fancy on the health website “All molecules have an electrical charge and a vibrational energy. Therefore, all foods, which are made up of molecules, contain these vibrational charges. The colours of foods represent vibrational energies … foods which are orange in colour … have similar vibrational energies and even similar nutrient makeup.” Many sci-fi authors like to write under pseudonyms, and Ms Gillian McKeith, you will remember, likes to write under the name “Dr Gillian McKeith PhD”, on account of her non-accredited correspondence PhD. Blue foods are good for “urinary tract infections, kidney problems, fevers”. Do medical doctors agree with colour food therapy, Gillian? “Generally medical doctors are not trained in this area.” How narrow-minded.

· I wasn’t going to write about her again. But, interestingly, Gillian McKeith PhD (who describes people who disagree with her as using bad science, no less) also claims to have “worked with Linus Pauling (PhD), world’s leading researcher in Vitamin C and Nobel Prize winner (New York, USA)”. Her “PhD” course began in 1993. Linus Pauling died in 1994. “He was an incredible inspiration. I was working solidly, but studying for a doctorate is not all sitting in a classroom.” Quite so. Although, of course, it didn’t really involve sitting in a classroom at all. I contacted Max Clifford Associates two weeks ago to ask if this should be filed under autobiography or sci-fi. They haven’t got back to me. Yet. Enough. I promise.

Letters – McKeith

August 26th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, gillian mckeith, letters, nutritionists | 3 Comments »

Gillian McKeith means well

Thursday August 26, 2004
The Guardian

Your criticism of Dr Gillian McKeith is scientifically correct, but medically hazardous (Bad science, August 19).

In criticising her discussion on chlorophyll, and her other moments of “bad science”, are you suggesting that to eat whole, unprocessed foods is potentially damaging? Are you suggesting that the suffering obese people she is trying to help might be better off without her advice? Should they continue to eat chemically ridden, processed, nutrient-less foods?

McKeith is one of the only people on primetime (or anytime) television who advocate a diet that is not based on profit. If you want to criticise someone in the food industry, why not have a go at the companies promoting kids’ cereals with fortified vitamins as a nutritious start to the day, when they are packed with sugar, refined carbohydrates and chemicals?
Marissa-Catherine Carrarini
By email

How right you are that the whole human biological system is beautifully elegant and balanced: I too cannot understand why people feel the need to contrive a crude (and fallacious) alternative. So many seem to be in a rush to return to mediaeval superstition and scholasticism.
Richard Parker
Kew, New Zealand

Gillian McKeith, round 2

August 19th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, channel 4, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, very basic science | 9 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 19, 2004
The Guardian

· Where were we? Oh yes. “Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD)”, who has a peaktime Channel 4 series on “clinical nutrition”, got her PhD from a non-accredited correspondence school in America and has never published any properly evaluated scientific research.

· Several of you are fans of Ms McKeith, and wrote to express how upset you were that I had childishly attacked her reputation, and not her theories. Well. Let’s pick a quote at random. Chlorophyll is “high in oxygen”. And the darker leaves on plants are good for you, she explains, because they contain “chlorophyll – the ‘blood’ of the plant – which will really oxygenate your blood.” Here we run into a classic Bad Science problem. It may be immediately obvious to you that this is pseudoscientific, made up nonsense (and from the TV personality the Radio Times described as “no nonsense”, no less). If it’s not obvious nonsense to you, then, OK, just this once: the real science. Chlorophyll is a small green molecule that uses the energy from light to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. Plants then use this sugar energy to make everything else they need, like protein, and you breathe in the oxygen, and maybe you even eat the plants. You also breathe out carbon dioxide. It’s all so beautiful, so gracefully simple, yet so rewardingly complex, so neatly connected, not to mention true, that I can’t imagine why you’d want to invent nonsense to believe instead. But there you go. That’s alternative therapists all over.

· It’s very dark in your bowels. There is no light there. Nor are there gills in your bowels. Even fish do not have gills in their bowels. Consequently the chlorophyll will not create oxygen, and even if it did, even if Dr Gillian McKeith PhD stuck a searchlight up your bum to prove a point, you would not absorb any even slightly significant amount of oxygen with your bowel. And in case you think I’m being selective, and only quoting her most ridiculous moments, there’s more: the tongue is “a window to the organs – the right side shows what the gallbladder is up to, and the left side the liver.” Raised capillaries on your face are a sign of “digestive enzyme insufficiency – your body is screaming for food enzymes.” Thankfully, Gillian can sell you some food enzymes from her website. “Skid mark stools” (she is obsessed with faeces and colonic irrigation) are “a sign of dampness inside the body – a very common condition in Britain.” If your stools are foul smelling you are “sorely in need of digestive enzymes”. Again. Her treatment for pimples on the forehead – not pimples anywhere else, mind you, only on the forehead – is a regular enema. Cloudy urine is “a sign that your body is damp and acidic, due to eating the wrong foods.” The spleen is “your energy battery”.

· Now will somebody please explain to me how this woman can be on television, every week, wearing a white coat, talking authoritatively about “treating patients”, sticking irrigation equipment into people’s rectums, and coming out with sentences like “each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a full grown healthy plant” which are just simply wrong (the plant gets the energy from sunlight, using chlorophyll, like we said earlier). She is a menace to the public understanding of science, and anyone who gives her a platform should be ashamed of themselves.

Eccentric, brilliant, bollocks

August 12th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, channel 4, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references | 4 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 12, 2004
The Guardian

· Right. Who shall we pick on this week? How about Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD): she is number one in the bestseller charts, after all, and she does have a weekly show on Channel 4 where “the eccentric but brilliant doctor”, as her management firm calls her, examines people’s faeces, in test tubes no less, and gives them technical nutritional advice, for dealing with their health issues. “Gillian holds certificates, degrees and a doctorate (PhD) from top colleges and universities,” says her website ( She has claimed to have a PhD from the American College of Nutrition. In fact, she does not have a PhD from there. Her PR says this was an isolated, accidental error and an intern might have got the name of the college wrong. This is not an isolated error: she also claims to have a degree from the ACN in her book, Dr Gillian McKeith’s Living Food for Health. Where is her PhD actually from? The same place as her Masters degree: the Clayton College of Natural Health. The cost of the course is currently $5,300 (nearly £3,000), online or by post. There is, if you’re interested, a discount if you pay for your Masters at the same time. It’s a non-accredited correspondence course, which is not recognised by the US secretary for education for the purpose of educational grants.

· What about the rest of her CV? It has been removed from the web. But, fortunately, you can still see it, in Google’s cache ( or on other sites such as How about her research projects? As she says, “Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD), conducts key clinical research, publishes findings.” “Studied effects of aphanizomenon-flos aqua on childhood learning disabilities and behavioural problems (Nebraska, USA; and El Salvador school system)” is particularly impressive. It goes on. “Studied effects of stressors on ageing and immunity with Dr Robert Pollack (MD), Temple University Medical School (Philadelphia, USA).” She may well have published findings, but none of these feature on Medline, the universally-used database of academic peer-reviewed research publications, which also, since you ask, includes alternative medicine and nutrition journals.

· According to her PR (Max Clifford Associates) Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD) is “enormously proud” of her PhD, and feels that it is equivalent to any other PhD. By the way, Channel 4 has commissioned another series from her.

You can still read Dr Gillian McKeith’s original CV here:

A number of people have contacted me to suggest I was misrepresenting the contents of the CV. I have no interest in correcting them one by one, so to prevent any confusion, here is Gillian McKeith’s original CV as it appeared on her management site in 2004.

Dr Gillian McKeith is a world-renowned nutritionist with her own range of products, who, from June 2004 is presenting a new prime-time series on Channel 4 called “You Are What You Eat”.

The show literally gets to the bottom of some of the country’s worst eaters as Dr McKeith revamps their eating habits, changes their lives and does for them what “How Clean Is Your House” did for homes!

It will be accompanied by a Penguin book, already tipped to be a best-seller, which will offer non-nonsense nutritional advice by the eccentric but brilliant doctor.
IPrior to this, Dr McKeith presented a TV strand series “Dr Gillian McKeith’s Feel Fab Forever” on Granada TV. She went on to present a strand called “Hollywood Health” on ITV’s “This Morning”. She was then the Healthy Living Expert for two years on BBC1’s “Good Morning”.
She is also widely acclaimed in the United States and she was the Celebrity Health Reporter for the network “Joan Rivers Show” for more than two years as well as being host and Executive Producer of “Healthline Across America”, a nationally syndicated radio show, which aired for five years. On that programme, Gillian interviewed celebrities about their health and lifestyles.

Dr McKeith is a best-selling author. As well as her forthcoming book “You Are What You Eat”, she has also written “The Miracle Superfood: Wild Blue-Green Algae” and “Dr Gillian McKeith’s Living Food for Health”. She is a regular columnist for the magazine “Slimmer, Healthier, Fitter”.

Dr McKeith is a practising Clinical Nutritionist and Director of the McKeith Clinic in London where she conducts key clinical research, publishes findings, and consults with patients at her busy practice. Born and raised in the Highlands of Scotland, Dr McKeith spent more than 15 years in the USA.


* PhD, Doctorate in Nutrition; American College of Nutrition (Birmingham, USA)
* MSc Nutrition, Masters Degree in Nutrition; American College of Nutrition
* BA, Bachelors Degree in Neuroscience Linguistics & Language; University of Edinburgh (Scotland, UK)
* MA, Masters Degree in Health Systems Management; University of Pennsylvania – Ivy League (Philadelphia, USA)



London School of Acupuncture (London, UK)

Kailish Centre of Oriental Medicine – Kampo Herbology (London, UK)

East West College of Herbs – (San Diego, USA)

Australasian College of Health Sciences (Portland, USA) – pending Diploma in Herbal Medicine



American Naturopathic Medical Association (ANMA)

American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC)

American Herbalist Guild (AHG)



Worked with Linus Pauling (PhD), world’s leading researcher in Vitamin C and Nobel Prize winner (New York, USA).

Studied effects of aphanizomenon-flos aqua on childhood learning disabilities and behavioural problems (Nebraska, USA; and El Salvador school system).

Studied effects of stressors on aging and immunity with Dr Robert Pollack (MD), Temple University Medical School (Philadelphia, USA).

Minneapolis, USA – 6,000 people in attendance. Sofia, BULGARIA – 7000 in attendance. London, ENGLAND Vitality Show (UK’s largest health conference), which is sold out every year to packed public audiences. Natural Products Europe Expo (Britain’s largest trade event). Invited to speak each year.





BEST NEW PRODUCT OF THE YEAR for nutritional formulation –Natural Products Europe

Dr Gillian McKeith writes regular columns for national health magazines including:


Here’s Health Magazine

The Health Store Magazine

Healthy Magazine (Britain’s largest circulation health magazine)

Go Healthy Magazine

Natural Lifestyle Magazine

Living Food Magazine

Slimmer Healthier Fitter

Number crunching

August 5th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, mail | 2 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 5, 2004
The Guardian

· Strap me to a rocket and print my home address at the bottom of the column: I’m clearly far too meek to make any sensible comment on animal experiments. Although I have found great joy in being lectured, by social commentators, on the appropriateness of human and animal models for research. “MRI scanners can tell you more about what’s going on in a human’s brain than you find out by opening up a marmoset’s head,” says Tony Banks MP, championing the exclusive use of a newly invented brain imaging technique – developed and validated in experiments on animals, no less – with low spatial and temporal resolution, over all other forms of experimental neuroscience.

· Of course, it’s difficult to explain to some people why empirical observation is important; where instead of taking the experience of one person as gospel, you take lots of experiences, from lots of different perspectives, and count them all up together. You can pick up some handy tips on collecting observational data in the “Four essential exercises to boost your psychic powers,” the Daily Mail offered this week. “If you have experienced even one of the following you probably have psychic ability: you decide on impulse to change your route to work only to discover later that there was an accident or heavy traffic on your customary route; you suddenly think of someone you haven’t heard from in years and the next day receive an email or call from them … ” Yes, that’s happened to me! Although if a miracle is a one in a million coincidence, and things and thoughts happen at a rate of about one a second, then by the calculator in my Casio watch I’m disappointed to experience a miracle less than once every three weeks.

· Which just goes to show the importance of carefully collecting large sample groups to establish causal links where possible. “Is creosote a potential killer?” asks the Daily Mail, divining good from evil, and still sifting slowly through every category of inanimate object in the world, to decide if they are either a miraculous cure or a scandalous cause for cancer. It must be one or the other. The matter is settled on its letters pages. “Yes” says the headline over a letter from a woman who once saw one person develop a rash from it. “No” says a letter written by someone whose parents used to paint chicken runs, and both lived to 85. Nullius in verba, as they say in the Royal Society: “on the word of no one”. Keep doing the statistics.