Democracy of a sort in action kind of

October 12th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 31 Comments »

very briefly, for the jury: can i be bothered to write about fish oil again this week, or is it boring now? i mean i kind of feel like it hasnt really been understood, quite why uncontrolled trials where you get the cameras in are a stupid idea, and i could do that, with some other bits. on the other hand i’ve got a good mmr story (am i actually a parody of myself?) or a fun schools gcse story. or some silly qlink type thing i guess. just a quick question for the jury, that’s all… this thread will self destruct in a few hours…

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31 Responses

  1. saintstreaky said,

    October 12, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    It’s not boring, Ben, if you’ve got more hard information. Why not leave it a week or two, see if you get anything out of FoI (or a trip if you can manage it).

    Depending on what the GCSE story is (this week’s criticism of the new syllabus, or something else?) is there any clever link? I quite like the idea of the students participating in the fish oil trial having to discuss it in a critical manner in their own new style science GCSE lesson… (Probably couldn’t actually happen, if the fish oil is for final year GCSE students, but don’t you love the idea?)

  2. zooloo said,

    October 12, 2006 at 9:02 pm

    Fish oil and a “what have you done to stop this” thing

  3. hinschelwood said,

    October 12, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    I’m enjoying the way you’re pursuing this company. If they’d got anything worthwhile to say, they’d have said it by now. It’d be nice to see their “PR masquerading as science” exposed for what it is.

    That said, if you’ve got nothing really exciting on it at the moment, go for something else. But I’d like to see more of this story in the future.

  4. doctormonkey said,

    October 12, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    difficult problem Ben

    you can return to fish oils if it fails to go

    there has been some rather high level criticism of the new “science” GCSE such as from the boss of Imperial

    plus i always love a good mmr story… as a medical student i actually read the origional paper and even then it was such bad science ™ – claims made in the conclusion with no evidence in the rest of the paper

  5. coracle said,

    October 12, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    A good MMR story is always fun to read.

  6. Dr Aust said,

    October 12, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    And, DrM, even THOSE claims were nothing to what “Saint Andy” Wakefield said at the press conference.

    If you haven’t already discovered it, Brian Deer’s website

    – is a rich source of MMR / Wakefield-related material. My personal highlights

    (i) the internal Royal Free memos ontained under FoI revealing the murky history of the “study” and its inception in anti-vax litigation:

    (ii) the judge’s ruling on Wakefield’s attempt at a gagging / delaying /spoiling libel lawsuit:

    (Read points 31-38).

    Brian Deer’s recent Dispatches programme about the TGN1412 trial was a bit of a let-down, but with Wakefield he really hit the bullseye. Pity it didn’t happen years earlier, but there you go.

  7. Dr Aust said,

    October 12, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    If you haven’t got a column ready, Ben, you could always just reprint “Don’t dumb me down”. It should probably run once a year, in big print.

  8. le canard noir said,

    October 12, 2006 at 11:13 pm

    Well, I guess you know what I would root for Ben. That qlink is not just bad science, nor is it ‘unconventional’ marketing. Its plain fraud using pseudoscience – and many journalists (like Sunday Mail’s Sarah Stacey are completely hoodwinked) along with people who really ought to know better like Dr Wendy ‘Compl-I-mentary’ Denning and Patrick Holford DipION.

  9. nohassel said,

    October 12, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    …and I would root for the emdrive taking taxpayers money. But physics rarely has the human interest that the medical sciences have.

  10. dolfinack said,

    October 12, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    Yeah dude enough already with the fish oil. Bordering on the pedantic me thinks.

  11. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 13, 2006 at 12:11 am

    with fish oil all i would say right now is “can i just point out to you losers that the hawthorne effect and the placebo effect are going to ruin your little observational trials even more when you get the cameras in at the beginning not the end” and maybe a dig on even more undisclosed industry rep “stories” appearing in the past week.

    i’m going to be very very very interested indeed to see what comes of my FoI request, and i’ve also not heard back from equazen yet, who were going to look at whether they could give me anything on their research.

    yeah. mmr. or maybe a surprise.

  12. phayes said,

    October 13, 2006 at 12:39 am

    The emdrive could be good for a laugh. It’s easily understood and it is arch crackpottery.

  13. Filias Cupio said,

    October 13, 2006 at 1:07 am

    My opinion is that the newspaper readers have had enough doses of fish oil for now. It may be worth revisiting in a month or two.

  14. imagineyoung said,

    October 13, 2006 at 2:09 am

    It’s a pity u can’t finish them off with a coup de grÃ¥ce. Any way you can get an interview with heads of department or chief bullshitter (not that there isn’t alot of competition there)?
    Values and principles – they should learn there’s a reason public officials are expected to have them, they are not pick’n choose.

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 13, 2006 at 5:08 am

    it’s difficult to leave it alone when you see this:

  16. lexmith said,

    October 13, 2006 at 8:52 am

    That is going to endear you to your colleagues at the Guardian, slagging them off in their own paper :-). No reason to let it lie, though.

    Try to keep some variation going, us cheerleaders may not mind a third Fishy story in a row, but the Great Unwashed might. Give it a week with something different and hit them again next week, is my advice.

    Even better the fish oil peddelers may think they are off the hook, only to be hit again the next week.

  17. cath having fun said,

    October 13, 2006 at 9:01 am

    go on, MMR it should be. the original ‘i think therefore it must be’ scenario. and another of the ‘daily mail believes it to be a conspiracy theory therefore it must be true’ subject. oh, and it involves children, and its another case of why does the press always assume the maverick to be correct?

  18. jdc325 said,

    October 13, 2006 at 9:37 am

    I’d agree with lexmith – a week with something different and then back on the fish oil. How about doing Qlink? I’d never heard of it before, but having looked at one of the websites selling Qlink it looks like something you could have fun with.

  19. Dr Aust said,

    October 13, 2006 at 10:21 am

    Does Qlink work better or worse for people worried about “mind-reading rays” than the traditional hat made of tinfoil?

    Is there an observational study?

  20. jdc325 said,

    October 13, 2006 at 10:38 am

    I went to and clicked on a link to the following ‘pilot study’:
    Page 16 reveals who paid for the study.
    I think I’ll stick with the tinfoil hat, personally.

  21. apothecary said,

    October 13, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Presumably you’ve done stuff before on the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide (aka hydric acid). After all, as the website says

    The dangers, uses and potential threats posed by this chemical, Dihydrogen Monoxide, are widespread, and some feel, terrifying. Here is just a small taste of what Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is:
    Some call Dihydrogen Monoxide the “Invisible Killer”
    Others think dihydrogen monoxide should be Banned
    Dihydrogen Monoxide is linked to gun violence
    Dihydrogen monoxide was found at every recent school shooting
    Athletes use DIHYDROGEN MONOXIDE, or DHMO, to enhance performance
    Dihydrogen Monoxide has been found in our rivers, lakes, oceans and streams
    Dihydrogen Monoxide is a major component of acid rain
    Thousands die each year after inhaling dihydrogen monoxide
    Dihydrogen Monoxide can be deadly

    and it goes on to relate how surveys have shown that high proportions of the (US) population support a ban on DHMO.

    Might be illustrative of a recurring theme. It might be a crap idea for an article as well, but I enjoyed the DHMO website

    (BTW, I did do undergraduate chemistry so, though no expert, I am familiar with DHMO. I have also to admit I have a beaker of the stuff, with added cognitive enhancer on my desk right now. Only hope the natural origins of the cognitive enhancer – hand-picked in the Andes, roasted and ground by age-old traditional methods and comparable in price, gram for gram, with gold – outweighs the harm from the DHMO)

  22. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 13, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    done it, may 2003, god i’m like OLD…

  23. pseudomonas said,

    October 13, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    I’d say take a break from the fish for a week or so to accumulate more material on it. You could always chuck in a sentence to the effect that you’ll return to the matter, so your victims know they can’t just relax.

  24. mrstrellis said,

    October 13, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    Do the Q-link, please. I’ve just come back from a cruise and one of the fitness instructors/algal food supplement salesmen wore a Q-link pendant. It failed to protect him from my withering stares and easily overheard sarcastic comments to friends.

    There are a lot of overweight people on cruise ships, and it seemed they were being preyed upon by this guy. He kept running “seminars” in order to tell the passengers that they weren’t fat and ill because they ate too much: oh, no, it’s the *toxins* that are making them fat and ill. And the cure? Magic algae tablets, yours at a mere $600 for six months’ supply. You can throw your statins and blood pressure drugs away and stop dieting. Maybe the Q-link pendant gives off special rays that enhance gullibility.

  25. jdc325 said,

    October 13, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    The Qlink doesn’t seem quite so funny after reading #24 – just depressing.

  26. apothecary said,

    October 13, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    re 22 – I’d completely forgotten about that, would have sworn I’d never read anything by you about it. But reading the article via the link reminds me that, err, yes I had read it before and it was probably there I first heard about DMHO. Sorry and all that. (but good to know that, through a hole in the space-time continuum and retrospective telepathy, you thought my idea for an article was not crap. Go on, prove it wasn’t retrospective telepathy. Were you wearing a tinfoil helmet in 2003? 🙂 )

    I would agree with others that it’s time to rest the fish, or it might seem at best monomaniacal or at worst like you have a personal grudge/vendetta going.

    I suppose MSD’s suspension from ABPI for dodgy marketing tactics,,2-2385569,00.html is out of your remit (this is the company that, promoting the same drug, modified the British Hypertension Society guidance to suggest that BHS endorsed it). That’s the sort of thing that makes me cross!

  27. mrstrellis said,

    October 13, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    re 25 – Before I saw this guy I assumed Q-link wearers were just gullible fools like Oprah and her Philip Stein watch (also heavily plugged on the ship – – and touted as a magic cure for kids with ADHD in the promotional literature).

    But I don’t think that anyone selling magic algae pills *believes* the stuff really works, and so I wonder if he wears it to give himself extra credibility in the eyes of his customers.

    Still, as the good doctor says, this is more pseudoscience than bad science.

  28. becca600 said,

    October 13, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    fish oil and mmr are both beginning to be boring. too much like conspiracy theory with no evidence. is there no real science to comment on? or what about the mis-use of statistics by the media and government as in obesity stuff this week?

  29. Dr Aust said,

    October 13, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    Unfortunately mis-use of statistics by pundits and (especially) politicians is so time-honoured as to be utterly predictable.

    In this connection, Darrell Huff’s “How to lie with statistics”

    published more than half a century ago in 1954, includes in its 100-odd pages all the standard dodges that politicians are still using.

    “How to lie with statistics”, is apparently the best-settling stats book ever, but this doesn’t seem to have made people much more knowledgeable about how sundry people use bogus stats to con us.

  30. Dr Aust said,

    October 13, 2006 at 10:24 pm

    Apothecary wrote:

    “I suppose MSD’s suspension from ABPI for dodgy marketing tactics,,2-2385569,00.html is out of your remit (this is the company that, promoting the same drug, modified the British Hypertension Society guidance to suggest that BHS endorsed it). That’s the sort of thing that makes me cross!”

    I doubt it will get much play, Apothecary.

    As Private Eye’s MD column reported this week, when Abbott Labs was suspended from the ABPI for “at least six months” for taking doctors to, inter alia, the dogs (racing) and to a lapdancing bar, hardly anyone noticed, and the ABPI let them back in after five months anyway. I am not desperately convinced being sanctioned by the ABPI amounts to anything apart from a token dressing-down.

    At least the MSD suspension got one write-up in the national press.

    The excellent Mike Fitzpatrick has written about this, contrasting the abundant coverage of other Pharma-related issues (e.g. the TGN trial and its aftermath) with the lack of interest (at least in the mainstream media) in the industry’s marketing tactics:

  31. McCruiskeen said,

    October 17, 2006 at 12:26 am

    Durham County Council’s “Magazine for People in County Durham” entitled “Countywide” published bi-monthly, offers prizes of panto tickets and a food hamper in the October/November issue’s competition. It also announces the winners from the last edition’s cmpetition, including Mrs M Bleasdale from Seaham who won, “the three month supply of fish oils.” Lucky Mrs Bleasdale!