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

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

“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.

Patrick Holford, solicits wikipedia changes. again. inevitable consequences

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

85 Responses

  1. Dr Aust said,

    January 10, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    And he appears also, by implication, to be an academic.


    If you don’t feel like expending those years getting a PhD, working in a University or hospital or institute doing research, publishing, teaching and all that Professor-y sort of stuff….

    …simply open your own Institute of Nutri-flannel and give yourself a Professorship.

    Which gives me an idea…..

    Incidentally, I hate to labour this, but in much of Europe claiming an academic or professional title you don’t have is illegal, mainly because you are assumed to be doing it to deceive the gullible. Wonder what could have given them that idea?

  2. pv said,

    January 10, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    “Incidentally, I hate to labour this, but in much of Europe claiming an academic or professional title you don’t have is illegal, mainly because you are assumed to be doing it to deceive the gullible.”

    Cultural priorities? In the UK I believe that kind of person is recognised as an entrepreneur, and only one step short of sainthood.

  3. Registered Dietitian said,

    January 11, 2007 at 9:01 am

    no 40 – wewillfixit Your GP is probably right. The medical and dietetic professions haven’t really made their minds up on how useful the skin prick tests and RAST IgE tests commonly done in NHS clinics are. Having extensively read up on it i came to the conclusion they weren’t useful for delayed food allergy/intolerances – because you can have strong positive reactions for foods you are ok with and negative reactions for foods you definately react to. They are useful for children who have had strong immediate reactions to foods to see if their risk of reaction has been reduced, and so they might be safe to retry the offending food. However, as i said, other professionals may disagree with me. The best thing is elimination, and them reintroduction. If you are not sure if you felt better on cutting out the food, and didn’t feel worse on reintroducing it, you probably aren’t reacting to the food. Note that some people report feeling worse for a few days after the elimination, but then feel much better – this is supposed to be like a cold turkey response. It is all a really grey area.

  4. Dr Aust said,

    January 11, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    “As for it being unique, in many ways ts seems just like what Jamie Oliver did with improved food and no supplements.”

    The difference being, of course, that the Cheeky Chappie is not styling himself as an “expert” (let along a Professor), surrounding the commons sense with a mystique of pseudo-science, plugging magic pills or branded supplements, and offering you salvation at a price (£ 40 / hr upwards for most alt-nutrition types, I suspect)…

  5. j said,

    January 11, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    interesting info about different allergy/sensitivity tests – thanks 🙂

    re. ‘Prof.’ Holford – to be fair, do we know whether he’s decided to promote himself to Prof., or if the Telegraph just made it up?

    btw, re. the independent article – it looks like Holford and Collins have disagreed previously – see

  6. stever said,

    January 11, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    hahaha Prof Holford!

    oh what a tangled web etc.

  7. andy705 said,

    January 11, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Holford is dangerous! People who are suffering look to anyone for answers to get a little relief, he offers them his advice but packages it like it is some new cutting edge area of research stifled by the evil medical establishment. I do not blame him so much as the irresponsible television producers who book him. What I do not understand is how he gained sufficient money/credibility to establish an Institute?

  8. David Mingay said,

    January 11, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Looks like he’s been passing himself off as a Professor for a while. This was quoted on (of all places) as having orginally appeared in The Guardian (of all places), and it even has the “Prof” criticising someone else’s diet!

    Bestselling diet criticised
    Source: The Guardian
    Date: 29/12/2005
    Today in the Guardian, it is reported that the journal Nature has criticised the Total Wellbeing Diet for marketing itself as “scientifically proven” and branded it a “recipe for trouble” due to health fears in the long term. The controversy lies on the book’s emphasis on eating lean red meat, after Prof Patrick Holford of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition warned that the diet may be dangerous in the long term and could result in higher levels of breast and prostate cancer, along with stressed kidneys and reduced bone mass from over-consumption.

  9. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 11, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    £40ph Dr Aust ? (post 51). Try £80-120ph plus the lucrative vitamin and mineral sales on top (“just tell the supplement company I recommend that I have devised this very special package of supplements for you” = 20% back-commission for nutritionist) plus commission on dodgy intolerance-but-we-will-infer-this-is-an-allergy test (a snip at £100-250,depending on how persuasive the nutritionist).

    And when it doesn’t work – well, another raft of tests – Candida sensitivity, Homocysteine levels (what is your ‘H level’?), stool parasites with another range of supplements (yeast ‘probiotics’, B group vitamins, blah blah).

    It’s basically a marathon exercise of marathon expenditure – as long as your finances hold out, you can go on indefinitely.. yet when you finally submit, having failed to achieve the “100% improvement ” you had been promised – then the blame is on YOU. Only YOU have failed to complete the diet/ take the supplements/ change your diet paying attention to the dietary minutae for the nth time, because rest assured, had you fully paid attention, then your health would have been completely and utterly improved whilst your nutritionist/ therapist/ gardener/ whatever undertakes another lecture tour funded by fellow believers who are travelling down exactly the same path – just haven’t reached your state of realisation yet……

  10. Crispy Duck said,

    January 12, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Browsing the Holford site, I came across this glowing example of bad science:

    (Caution: string stomach required).

    I think Dr Ben has had trouble with the ‘electrosmog’ nutters before, so I guess it’s no surprise that Holford is involved, even plugging an ‘Electrosmog detector’. Some highlights:

    “Much like the colour spectrum, there is also a spectrum of different kinds of electric radiation, going from high frequency to low frequency. At the high-frequency end, there are gamma rays in deep space, then x-rays, ultraviolet radiation (UV), visible light, infrared, microwaves (the stuff that cooks your dinner and powers your mobile phone), radio waves, then finally extremely low frequencies (ELFs) that radiate from your computer and other similar electrical devices.”

    “So, what is EMR (electro-magnetic radiation)? Anything that radiates – from the sun to your radio – has a certain amount of electricity. This travels as a frequency, and from this traveling electricity emanates a magnetic field. While electric radiation is measured in Volts and Watts, magnetic radiation is measured in microTesla (µT).”

    “The reason this [the pulsed signal from a mobile] may be such bad news is that the light-sensitive cells in your brain can’t tell the difference between light and microwave signals. Lights turn off melatonin production in the pineal gland.”

    “If you stand three feet away from a microwave oven when it’s on, you’ll be exposed to 2 µT, but that’s only short-term exposure. However, that doesn’t take into account what it’s doing to the food.”

    I’m particularly concerned about the ELFs radiating from my computer.

  11. apothecary said,

    January 12, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Re 54. Surely that’s why we have a National Elf Service

  12. bootboy said,

    January 12, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    No 54: that’s shockingly poor stuff. Whoever wrote it obviously made some attempt to understand the concept of electro-magnetic radiation though, just failed miserably – “traveling electricity”. Jeepers creepers. Why bother with all those power cables at all, you can just suck electrons out of the ether from the sun, a nearby radio or a microwave oven. I mean there’s no particular reason for them to get this stuff wrong, I assume that it’s not intentional and they’re just morons.

    The second bit about the “light sensitive cells in your brain” is, on the other hand obviously cynical and made up. The only light sensitive cells in the brain are the retina and they can certainly tell the difference between microwaves and visible light.

  13. Andrew Clegg said,

    January 12, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    The link on the side of that page to an article called “Are vaccinations necessary?” scares me more.

    Sadly I can’t be arsed filling in an enormous reg. form in order to read past the intro and get mired in yet more nonsense — maybe someone with more dedication than me can check it out and see if it really is as sinister as the first paragraph you get for free suggests?

    Hands off our herd immunity you freak!


  14. Dr Aust said,

    January 14, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Anyone still reading this thread?

    Don’t suppose anyone but me is sad enough to read the “Work” Section of the Saturday Guardian (the same day, of course, as the Bad Science column). Anyway, imagine my astonishment when I read the following:


    Tricks of the trade

    What’s the best way to detox?

    David Nicolson and Dilys Gannon-Bone
    Saturday January 13, 2007
    The Guardian

    David Nicolson Director of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition ( NB !)

    If you are in good health I would kick off with a one-day fast, just drinking water and herb tea. This is a fairly stringent approach, and you shouldn’t fast unless you’re under the supervision of a doctor or nutritional therapist. ( !! – Dr Aust)

    On the second day I would introduce simple organic foods – preferably grown in this country – such as apples, pears and plums.

    The next day I would add wholegrains, such as brown rice with some steamed vegetables. The day after that I’d introduce some protein and essential fats, such as almonds, walnuts and brazils. On the fifth day I’d introduce some oily fish such as salmon or mackerel.

    By the time you finish your energy levels will be so much better. Detox is nothing more than just returning to a natural diet. We have stone-age bodies, so the body’s priority is to store as much energy as it can. If you go without food, your body slows the metabolism down and tends to burn muscle rather than fat. So, it’s important that you keep exercising; this will keep your metabolism up and your body will burn fat.

    When you fast, your body releases toxins into the bloodstream on the way to the liver, so expect to feel a bit headachey and drowsy. Be brave and carry on.


    Dilys Gannon-Bone Naturopath

    You don’t need to go on a long detox programme. You can detox in a day by having vegetable juices and by eating a warm vegetable soup at night. The body requires nourishment. Detoxification comes from the nutrition that you take in on a daily basis.

    We get toxicity from the environment in which we live. We also get it from eating an awful lot of toxic substances such as processed food. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a strict fast of just lemon juice or water, although it’s probably fine for a day.

    People who work under stress should not necessarily go on fasts. Their adrenal systems may not be able to cope. They should cut out processed food and cut down on alcohol and coffee. Long fasts can upset the adrenal system. It’s better to work on a regular cleansing programme in which you just take liquids one day a week.

    Colonic hydrotherapy also helps. People think they’re going to have a hosepipe shoved up their backside but nothing goes into the body that is going to upset it. Warm water goes into the colon and gradually the waste material is drawn away, so there’s no smell or nastiness. You really feel fantastically light and cleansed after it.

    I have fantastic energy, I work about a 12-hour day and I’m 72. My motto is: “Those who do not find some time every day for health must sacrifice a lot of time one day for illness.”

    Interviews by Melissa Viney


    I love the idea of only fasting under the supervision of a “qualified nutritionist”, as advised by the director of the Holford Institute of Nutri-Tosh. The bit about “released toxins” during fasting is a hoot, as is the stuff about your adrenals. And our old friend (?) colonic irrigation makes a come-back in the second one.

    Dontcha just love the meejah’s need to fill space with any old bollocks?

  15. askakeyboardninja said,

    January 15, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Anyone still reading this thread?

    yep me


    i’m beginning to think that a diet of pop tarts would have more nutritional value than anything the Holford Institute recommends

  16. used to be jdc said,

    January 15, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Re the link @ #60 – there is a link on the left of that page that refers to the BS column Ben wrote on Holford.

  17. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 15, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Hmm. So Mr Holfords ‘award’ of an Hon Diploma from his own institute was awarded by the trustees,not him. so who are his trustees? not listed on the website, but assuming they’re the same as FFTB franchise, find them here

    1 teaching rep
    1 prof of hospitality management
    1 business manager with good brand development
    1 lawyer
    2 ION ‘graduates’
    .. and a couple of others.

    guess that demonstrates their knowledge in imparting ‘honorary diploma’s’. Just imagine if medical degrees were awarded similarly…….

  18. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 16, 2007 at 1:12 am

    more doctoring

    seems that the link in post #21 regarding dodgy diet gurus and Food for the Brain ‘trial that is not research’ seems mysteriously to have fallen off the Indy’s website into the Internet equivalent of a black hole. Thank goodness for Bens posting of the full text…
    How fortunate for Mr Holford. His peeved comments about the dietitian being ‘professionally jealous’ of his self-styled qualification/ dietary interventions/ ‘whatever ‘is now removed from public scrutiny, whilst he can continue to undermine the dietitian (called Catherine Collins) on his website. Er – just how professional is that Mr Holford. And The Independent. It is. ….Really??

    In Response To The Article Titled ‘Doctors Warn Against Food Fad Dangers’

    The following letter has been sent to the editor of the Independent on Sunday for publication:

    Dear Sir

    Re: IoS, 7th January 2007 – Doctors Warn Against Food Fad Dangers

    I write in response to the article titled ‘Doctors warn against food fad dangers’ in last Sunday’s paper.

    This was a British Dietetic Association-led article expressing concern about people adopting ‘faddie diets’ and it took, as an example, commentary from Catherine Collins about one child in a large school project in which I am involved. She was quoted as being “extremely concerned” about the weight loss of an autistic child.

    I wish to object strongly to the comments made, which were incorrect and misleading to the reader, and would like to set the record straight with the true facts of this particular case.

    In the article Catherine Collins claims that the autistic child ‘suffered sleep problems and her weight dropped as a result of the advice Mr Holford gave’ and that ‘her parents were told to remove soya milk and cow’s milk from her diet’. In fact, before we even started this project, the child had been diagnosed by her doctors as milk allergic and was already on a dairy-free diet, additionally refusing to have soya milk. She was also a very poor and fussy eater and was sleeping very little, waking up throughout the night. Consequently, Ms Collins is utterly wrong to claim I restricted the girl’s diet by elminating cow’s and soya milk.

    Since the project started we have expanded the foods she’ll eat, improved her diet and given her supplements. As a result of our intervention she is now less hyperactive, sleeping much better, has reduced her asthma and consequently her need for asthma medication.

    Behaviour-wise she has, on independent behavioural tests, made significant improvements in her ADHD, social difficulties, shyness and anxiety. Her mother is extremely pleased with the results. “Before she woke up a lot in the night. Now she sleeps the whole night without waking.” she says. “She is behaving better and has calmed down a lot. She is more confident and independent. Her asthma has improved a lot. She doesn’t real cough or wheeze anymore. Her health is better. She hasn’t had a cold for a long time. I’m not worried about her weight. I think the Eye Q essential fats and the other supplements helped. I don’t give her Weetabix anymore. I’ve noticed she gets very hyperactive.” Her psychiatrist actually called us to find out what specifically we had been doing to bring about these obvious improvements.

    The temporary weight loss may have occurred when we agreed, with her dietician, to put her on a gluten-free diet following an IgG food intolerance test which identified that she was gluten sensitive. Unfortunately she wouldn’t eat the gluten-free options so we put her back on pasta, for example, which she would eat. Wheat gluten and dairy allergy is quite common in autistic children. She has since regained the weight she lost.

    Catherine Collins, the accusing dietician, is not the girl’s dietician and, as far as we know, has never met her, nor is in any way involved with the school or with this project and therefore is really not in a position to have an informed opinion. The results of the project, which is proving highly successful, can be found on our website.

    Yours sincerely

    Patrick Holford – Food for the Brain Foundation

  19. Dr Aust said,

    January 16, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Well, of course the Nutri-balls fraternity’s income depends on their “public credibility” – i.e. that their buddies in Meejah-land keep booking them on TV, and treating them as authorities.. So they will of course try to refute, or gag, criticism. A letter to the paper is fair right of response – better that than the threatening lawyers’ letters some people have got when they diss Ms McKeith.

    What annoys me is that the criticism always comes just from courageous individual dieticians, doctors or scientists – it takes guts to speak out when you are aware that people like TAPL are quick to get on the phone to M’Learned Friends – and not the medical or scientific establishment. It should be the British Dietetic Association or similar professional body that should be speaking out about things like the Durham Nonsense, or the fatuous Woo and fleecing of the public promoted by the Nutri-balls gang. Not just the odd individual.

    I suspect the professional bodies keep shtum for a range of reasons: “giving them the oxygen of publicity”, not wanting to “come out” as slagging media-darling types, It’ll all just go away, “some of the advice is sensible” etc. etc. But I think all the professional associations and learned societies are far too craven about this.

    What would be so hard about a factual statement from the Brit Dietetic Association pointing out that, while parts of the advice given by Holford, McK et al.might be sound, many also promote, or are associated with, loads of thoroughly discredited nonsense, they have no proper qualifications or real professional accreditation in the field they profess to be expert in etc etc.

  20. stever said,

    January 17, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    holford says this:

    “In Ben Goldacre’s column on Saturday he once again reiterates a statement in one of my books that ‘AZT is potentially harmful and proving less effective than vitamin C’. What he fails to mention is that the author of the research I referred to – Dr Raxit Jariwalla – wrote to the Guardian (20/1/05) the last time Goldacre made this claim to confirm that my statement is correct on the basis of two studies on HIV infected cells, thus he is guilty, once again in misleading readers. The real crime here is that no full scale human trials have been funded on vitamin C to follow up Jariwalla’s important finding because it is non-patentable and hence not profitable.

    Goldacre, who only left university in 1995, further accuses me of being unqualified to call myself a nutritionist. I have spent the last thirty years researching, teaching, writing and practising nutrition. I am not sure what else I can call myself. I did not confer my own diploma, as he states. The Board of Trustees of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), which is an educational trust that I founded in 1984, awarded me an honorary diploma. I am not, nor have ever been on the Board of Trustees. ION offers a fully accredited Foundation Degree in Nutritional Therapy, upgradeable to a BSc with a further year’s extra study. The British Association of Nutritional Therapy, which is the self-regulating organisation that represents this profession, made me an Honorary Fellow. I am unclear about his qualifications for dismissing these professional standards or his patronising comment that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.

    Both ION and I have previously invited Goldacre to debate the science behind any nutritional claims he wants to take issue with. So far he has not accepted the challenge, seeming to prefer to use his column to defame health professionals with a non-drug approach, rather than expose the numerous examples of distorted and poor quality research used to support the use of drugs whose side effects kill more than 10,000 people a year in the UK.”

    you could do a point by point rebuttal of all the silliness in this letter but i dont suppose its really worth it. The last point is especially ludicrous.

    Id be interested to know if ben has actually had any invites to debates from Holford.

    NB. on the same page we are offered:

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  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 17, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    yeh it’s pretty funny isnt it, especially where Holford says:

    “Both ION and I have previously invited Goldacre to debate the science behind any nutritional claims he wants to take issue with. So far he has not accepted the challenge”

    he offered

    and i said yes.

    as far i can tell from searching my emails he never got back to me.

    i’ve asked him to confirm that i chickened out as he says – since all the evidence i can find says i was up for it – but he hasn’t even replied.

    what a total loser.

  22. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 18, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Holfords website fails to mention the email alert inviting paranoid parents to complete the FREE!!!! online questionnaire about your childs diet and if you’re quick enough you’ll be one of the 5000 to receive a FREE!!!! pack of Equazen.

    first the Optimum Nutrition Bible…..

    then the feeding of the 5000 – er, with something fishy!

    The Bible allegories just keep on coming.
    next ?

    the nature of the beast suggests a big PR puff! EXPERT NUTRITIONIST has DATA on the BIGGEST SURVEY OF OUR KIDS DYSFUNCTIONAL STATE caused by POOR DIET, and contributing to POOR RESULTS.

    Guess it’l be launched around Easter – just in time to get the GCSE brigade rushing for the supplements….. watch this space!

  23. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 18, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    ahahahah i bet you’re right, it is a data collection exercise. that’s so so funny.

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    i’ve emailed holford, his PR, the “Institute for Optimum Nutritioni” front desk, and three leading people from the ION, to ask about this invitation that i’ve failed to take up.

    at least two days later and not one single one of them has replied to me.


  25. used to be jdc said,

    January 22, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Maybe they’re just really busy. *cough*

  26. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 24, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    hahahahahhahaaaaaaa the abuse from holford’s fans is trickling in

    I see from Patrick Holford’s site that you have refused to debate him. It is obvious that you don’t know what you are talking about with nutrition, Patrick Holford is one of the world’s leading experts and he has very clearly shown the flaws in your so-called science. Now that it has been proved that you are wrong I have no doubt you will never debate him. You are nothing but a coward.

    this is the most childish thing anyone has ever done, i’ve been through all my past emails with holford, i’ve been through my past emails with ION, i’ve found one thread, he suggested a debate, i said yes, he never got back to me.

    i have tried to find out what he’s on about here. i’ve emailed him and his PR, twice, and all the ION people I can think of,,,,, it’s a week later now, not one single one of them has had the gumption to reply.

    absolutely bizarre.

  27. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 24, 2007 at 12:55 pm


    i must say, i’d never really given much thought to the “Institute for Optimum Nutrition” before this, but what seems to me like complicity, ignoring emails etc, has certainly alerted me to the possibility that they may be a little different to most other “” institutions. i honestly can’t think of a proper college or university that would just ignore emails for a week like that. like i say, absolutely bizarre.

  28. Barnacle Bill said,

    January 24, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Holford? Is that Holford in the photo? It looks more like that ex footballer who markets crisps and commentates on football matches.

  29. Dr Aust said,

    January 24, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    Have you considered threatening them with M’learned Friends to get them to take down their “he refused to debate us” line from their website, Ben, since it is clearly untrue? Aren’t they impugning your reputation, and so on?

    Or how about this – do a Michael Moore, turn up at the IoN with a film crew some day when you know Paddy baby is in and ask him to debate, on camera, including why he is saying you wouldn’t debate him. Then send the film to Tonight with Trevor McDonald.

    Seem to remember Brian Deer once tried to “doorstep” Andrew Wakefield at a conference, but apart from that I can’t think of any obvious examples of putting BadSciencers on the spot. . Madeleine Portwood of Durham “fame” is another one crying out to be doorstepped, since she has “gone dark” every time Ben has tried to ask her anything

  30. evidencebasedeating said,

    January 24, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Whatever makes you consider ION supporters,and the ‘therapists’ to be in any way scientific – or even knowledgeable to the variances of nutritional theory? If they truly had any grounded knowledge in the subject and the current level of (bona fide) evidence they wouldn’t be Patrick supporters, being able to deconstruct his sweeping inaccurate statements on nutrition immediately.

    Lets examine a current example- this time int he the HOLFORD (TM) LOW GL DIET – Patrick states that if you want to ‘optimise’ GL – you need HCA supplements – er, NO, Patrick – you don’t. But don’t let excellent research by Dr Stephen Heymsfield, a REAL world renowned leading clinical nutritionist specialising in energy expenditure (at, and oodles of other similar references) get in the way of your pseudomedical recommendations. Its surprising that Patrick relies so much on pills for his ‘Optimum Nutrition’ – seeing as another recent book vilifies the ‘Big Pharma’ pill-popping approach to dealing with modern illnesses…
    Nay, Patricks supporters are usually middle aged, affluent and educated (but not in nutrition) females, usually with some tragic experiences of life/ health/ other, trauma who have suddenly seen the light and paid the (therapist/ supplement company) price and have been taken in with the Lineker Looks – and the fact he is always pictured about to eat some tempting food (funny how you never see a picture of him actually taking a bite out of that damned strawberry – perhaps its just too toxic – and better leave it to the supplements for nutritional benefit).

    Think blonded females with borderline eating disorders and gym bunny tendencies, with little darlings just desperate to get into a selected entry school, and you’ve got the genre of Patricks People. Guess they aren’t drawn to your serious Oxbridge Ninja medical status, Ben. Damned if they can make their pretty little brain cells ponder the big (nutritional) science arguments….

  31. used to be jdc said,

    January 25, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Ignorant people and stupid people are taken in by Holford. I’m both ignorant and stupid and consequently I was taken in quite easily. Plus if you want to believe in something it is very easy to convince yourself it’s true (just ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit your point of view).

  32. pv said,

    January 25, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Smacks of desperation by Mr Holford and his “people”. Is he so afraid his reputation and business will go down the toilet if he is exposed? Doesn’t seem unlikely to me because so much of his success, along with that of the obnoxious McTeeth, is based on his being in favour with the meeja. And if anyone is fickle, the meeja certainly is (are)!
    As the the recent Big Brother debacle has shown, things are not so secure in the vacuous world of media celebrity. If things get too uncomfortable, if he finds himself and his nutritional expertise to be exposed for the sham is appears to be, might he not find himself slightly out of favour and occupying the ejector seat on the media gravy train?

  33. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 2, 2007 at 11:19 pm

    listen to the evidence!
    BBC R4 Womans Hour today concluded a series of articles promoting nutritional myths given daily by Suzi Grant, a ‘nutritional therapist’ and ‘BANT’ accredited member. A showcase piece of how little nutritional therapists know.

  34. used to be jdc said,

    February 9, 2007 at 8:14 am

    Ben – he hasn’t got time to debate you, he’s too busy selling £19 tickets for seminars.
    Apparently, “There have been some fascinating quantum leaps in our understanding of how to maximise mental performance over the last year”.

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