What’s wrong with Dr Gillian McKeith PhD?

February 18th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, channel 4, gillian mckeith, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, stifling criticism | 312 Comments »

For years, ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith has used her title to sell TV shows, diet books and herbal sex pills. Now the Advertising Standards Authority has stepped in. Yet the real problem is not what she calls herself, but the mumbo-jumbo she dresses up as scientific fact, says Ben Goldacre

Ben Goldacre
Monday February 12, 2007
The Guardian

Call her the Awful Poo Lady, call her Dr Gillian McKeith PhD: she is an empire, a multi-millionaire, a phenomenon, a prime-time TV celebrity, a bestselling author. She has her own range of foods and mysterious powders, she has pills to give you an erection, and her face is in every health food store in the country. Scottish Conservative politicians want her to advise the government. The Soil Association gave her a prize for educating the public. And yet, to anyone who knows the slightest bit about science, this woman is a joke.

One of those angry nerds took her down this week. A regular from my website badscience.net – I can barely contain my pride – took McKeith to the Advertising Standards Authority, complaining about her using the title “doctor” on the basis of a qualification gained by correspondence course from a non-accredited American college. He won. She may have sidestepped the publication of a damning ASA draft adjudication at the last minute by accepting – “voluntarily” – not to call herself “doctor” in her advertising any more. But would you know it, a copy of that draft adjudication has fallen into our laps, and it concludes that “the claim ‘Dr’ was likely to mislead”. The advert allegedly breached two clauses of the Committee of Advertising Practice code: “substantiation” and “truthfulness”.

Is it petty to take pleasure in this? No. McKeith is a menace to the public understanding of science. She seems to misunderstand not nuances, but the most basic aspects of biology – things that a 14-year-old could put her straight on.

She talks endlessly about chlorophyll, for example: how it’s “high in oxygen” and will “oxygenate your blood” – but chlorophyll will only make oxygen in the presence of light. It’s dark in your intestines, and even if you stuck a searchlight up your bum to prove a point, you probably wouldn’t absorb much oxygen in there, because you don’t have gills in your gut. In fact, neither do fish. In fact, forgive me, but I don’t think you really want oxygen up there, because methane fart gas mixed with oxygen is a potentially explosive combination.

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Musical accompaniment by Doghorse.

Future generations will look back on this phenomenon with astonishment. Channel 4, let’s not forget, branded her very strongly, from the start, as a “clinical nutritionist”. She was Dr Gillian McKeith PhD, appearing on television every week, interpreting blood tests, and examining patients who had earlier had irrigation equipment stuck right up into their rectums. She was “Dr McKeith”, “the diet doctor”, giving diagnoses, talking knowledgeably about treatment, with complex scientific terminology, and all the authority her white coat and laboratory setting could muster.

So back to the science. She says DNA is an anti-ageing constituent: if you “do not have enough RNA/DNA”, in fact, you “may ultimately age prematurely”. Stress can deplete your DNA, but algae will increase it: and she reckons it’s only present in growing cells. Is my semen growing? Is a virus growing? Is chicken liver pate growing? All of these contain plenty of DNA. She says that “each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a full-grown, healthy plant”. Does a banana plant have the same amount of calories as a banana seed? The ridiculousness is endless.

In fact, I don’t care what kind of squabbles McKeith wants to engage in over the technicalities of whether a non-accredited correspondence-course PhD from the US entitles you, by the strictest letter of the law, to call yourself “doctor”: to me, nobody can be said to have a meaningful qualification in any biology-related subject if they make the same kind of basic mistakes made by McKeith.

And the scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of “referenciness”, with nice little superscript numbers, which talk about trials, and studies, and research, and papers … but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it’s shocking how often they aren’t what she claimed them to be in the main body of the text. Or they refer to funny little magazines and books, such as Delicious, Creative Living, Healthy Eating, and my favourite, Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet, rather than proper academic journals.

She even does this in the book Miracle Superfood, which, we are told, is the published form of her PhD. “In laboratory experiments with anaemic animals, red-blood cell counts have returned to normal within four or five days when chlorophyll was given,” she says. Her reference for this experimental data is a magazine called Health Store News. “In the heart,” she explains, “chlorophyll aids in the transmission of nerve impulses that control contraction.” A statement that is referenced to the second issue of a magazine called Earthletter.

To me this is cargo cult science, as the great Professor Richard Feynman described Melanesian religious activities 30 years ago: “During the war they saw aeroplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head as headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas – he’s the controller – and they wait for the aeroplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No aeroplanes land.”

McKeith’s pseudo-academic work is like the rituals of the cargo cult: the form is superficially right, the superscript numbers are there, the technical words are scattered about, she talks about research and trials and findings, but the substance is lacking. I actually don’t find this bit very funny. It makes me quite depressed to think about her, sitting up, perhaps alone, studiously and earnestly typing this stuff out.

One window into her world is the extraordinary way she responds to criticism: with legal threats and blatantly, outrageously misleading statements, emitted with such regularity that it’s reasonable to assume she will do the same thing with this current kerfuffle over her use of the title “doctor”. So that you know how to approach the rebuttals to come, let’s look at McKeith’s rebuttals of the recent past.

Three months ago she was censured by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for illegally selling a rather tragic range of herbal sex pills called Fast Formula Horny Goat Weed Complex, advertised as shown by a “controlled study” to promote sexual satisfaction, and sold with explicit medicinal claims. She was ordered to remove the products from sale immediately. She complied – the alternative would have been prosecution – but in response, McKeith’s website announced that the sex pills had been withdrawn because of “the new EU licensing laws regarding herbal products”. She engaged in Europhobic banter with the Scottish Herald newspaper: “EU bureaucrats are clearly concerned that people in the UK are having too much good sex,” she explained.

Rubbish. I contacted the MHRA, and they said: “This has nothing to do with new EU regulations. The information on the McKeith website is incorrect.” Was it a mistake? “Ms McKeith’s organisation had already been made aware of the requirements of medicines legislation in previous years; there was no reason at all for all the products not to be compliant with the law.” They go on. “The Wild Pink Yam and Horny Goat Weed products marketed by McKeith Research Ltd were never legal for sale in the UK.”

Now, once would be unfortunate, but this is an enduring pattern. When McKeith was first caught out on the ridiculous and erroneous claims of her CV – she claimed, for example, to have a PhD from the reputable American College of Nutrition – her representatives suggested that this was a mistake, made by a Spanish work experience kid, who posted the wrong CV. Except the very same claim about the American College of Nutrition was also in one of her books from several years previously. That’s a long work experience stint.

She even sneaked one into this very newspaper, during a profile on her: “Doubt has also been cast on the value of McKeith’s certified membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, especially since Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre managed to buy the same membership online for his dead cat for $60. McKeith’s spokeswoman says of this membership: “Gillian has ‘professional membership’, which is membership designed for practising nutritional and dietary professionals, and is distinct from ‘associate membership’, which is open to all individuals. To gain professional membership Gillian provided proof of her degree and three professional references.”

Well. My dead cat Hettie is also a “certified professional member” of the AANC. I have the certificate hanging in my loo. Perhaps it didn’t even occur to the journalist that McKeith could be wrong. More likely, of course, in the tradition of nervous journalists, I suspect she was hurried, on deadline, and felt she had to get McKeith’s “right of reply” in, even if it cast doubts on – I’ll admit my beef here – my own hard-won investigative revelations about my dead cat. I mean, I don’t sign my dead cat up to bogus professional organisations for the good of my health, you know.

But those who criticise McKeith have reason to worry. McKeith goes after people, and nastily. She has a libel case against the Sun over comments they made in 2004 that has still not seen much movement. But the Sun is a large, wealthy institution, and it can protect itself with a large and well-remunerated legal team. Others can’t. A charming but – forgive me – obscure blogger called PhDiva made some relatively innocent comments about nutritionists, mentioning McKeith, and received a letter threatening costly legal action from Atkins Solicitors, “the reputation and brand-management specialists”. Google received a threatening legal letter simply for linking to – forgive me – a fairly obscure webpage on McKeith.

She has also made legal threats to a fantastically funny website called Eclectech for hosting a silly animation of McKeith singing a silly song, at around the time she was on Fame Academy.

Most of these legal tussles revolve around the issue of her qualifications, though these things shouldn’t be difficult or complicated. If anyone wanted to check my degrees, memberships, or affiliations, then they could call up the institutions, and get instant confirmation: job done. If you said I wasn’t a doctor, I wouldn’t sue you; I’d roar with laughter.

If you contact the Australasian College of Health Sciences (Portland, US) where McKeith has a “pending diploma in herbal medicine”, they say they can’t tell you anything about their students. When you contact Clayton College of Natural Health to ask where you can read her PhD, they say you can’t. What kind of organisations are these? If I said I had a PhD from Cambridge, US or UK (I have neither), it would only take you a day to find it.

But McKeith’s most heinous abuse of legal chill is exemplified by a nasty little story from 2000, when she threatened a retired professor of nutritional medicine for questioning her ideas.

Shortly after the publication of McKeith’s book Living Food for Health, before she was famous, John Garrow wrote an article about some of the rather bizarre scientific claims she was making. He was struck by the strength with which she presented her credentials as a scientist (“I continue every day to research, test and write furiously so that you may benefit …” etc). In fact, he has since said that he assumed – like many others – that she was a proper doctor. Sorry: a medical doctor. Sorry: a qualified conventional medical doctor who attended an accredited medical school.

Anyway, in this book, McKeith promised to explain how you can “boost your energy, heal your organs and cells, detoxify your body, strengthen your kidneys, improve your digestion, strengthen your immune system, reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure, break down fat, cellulose and starch, activate the enzyme energies of your body, strengthen your spleen and liver function, increase mental and physical endurance, regulate your blood sugar, and lessen hunger cravings and lose weight.”

These are not modest goals, but her thesis was that it was all possible with a diet rich in enzymes from “live” raw food – fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and especially live sprouts, which “are the food sources of digestive enzymes”. McKeith even offered “combination living food powder for clinical purposes” in case people didn’t want to change their diet, and she used this for “clinical trials” with patients at her clinic.

Garrow was sceptical of her claims. Apart from anything else, as emeritus professor of human nutrition at the University of London, he knew that human animals have their own digestive enzymes, and a plant enzyme you eat is likely to be digested like any other protein. As any professor of nutrition, and indeed many GCSE biology students, could happily tell you.

Garrow read the book closely, as have I. These “clinical trials” seemed to be a few anecdotes in her book about how incredibly well McKeith’s patients felt after seeing her. No controls, no placebo, no attempt to quantify or measure improvements. So Garrow made a modest proposal, and I am quoting it in its entirety, partly because it is a rather elegantly written exposition of the scientific method by an extremely eminent academic authority on the science of nutrition, but mainly because I want you to see how politely he stated his case.

“I also am a clinical nutritionist,” began Professor Garrow, “and I believe that many of the statements in this book are wrong. My hypothesis is that any benefits which Dr McKeith has observed in her patients who take her living food powder have nothing to do with their enzyme content. If I am correct, then patients given powder which has been heated above 118F for 20 minutes will do just as well as patients given the active powder. This amount of heat would destroy all enzymes, but make little change to other nutrients apart from vitamin C, so both groups of patients should receive a small supplement of vitamin C (say 60mg/day). However, if Dr McKeith is correct, it should be easy to deduce from the boosting of energy, etc, which patients received the active powder and which the inactivated one.

“Here, then, is a testable hypothesis by which nutritional science might be advanced. I hope that Dr McKeith’s instincts, as a fellow-scientist, will impel her to accept this challenge. As a further inducement I suggest we each post, say, £1,000, with an independent stakeholder. If we carry out the test, and I am proved wrong, she will, of course, collect my stake, and I will publish a fulsome apology in this newsletter. If the results show that she is wrong I will donate her stake to HealthWatch [a medical campaigning group], and suggest that she should tell the 1,500 patients on her waiting list that further research has shown that the claimed benefits of her diet have not been observed under controlled conditions. We scientists have a noble tradition of formally withdrawing our publications if subsequent research shows the results are not reproducible – don’t we?”

This was published in – forgive me – a fairly obscure medical newsletter. Sadly, McKeith – who, to the best of my knowledge, despite all her claims about her extensive “resesarch”, has never published in a proper “Pubmed-listed” peer-reviewed academic journal – did not take up this offer to collaborate on a piece of research with a professor of nutrition.

Instead, Garrow received a call from McKeith’s lawyer husband, Howard Magaziner, accusing him of defamation and promising legal action. Garrow, an immensely affable and relaxed old academic, shrugged this off with style. He told me. “I said, ‘Sue me.’ I’m still waiting.” His offer of £1,000 still stands; I’ll make it £2,000.

But, to me, it’s tempting to dismiss the question of whether or not McKeith should call herself “doctor” as a red herring, a distraction, an unnecessary ad hominem squabble. Because despite her litigiousness, her illegal medicinal products, her ropey qualifications, her abusiveness, despite her making the wounded and obese cry on television, despite her apparently misunderstanding some of the most basic aspects of GCSE biology, while doling out “scientific” advice in a white coat, despite her farcical “academic” work, despite the unpleasantness of the food she endorses, there are still many who will claim: “You can say what you like about McKeith, but she has improved the nation’s diet.”

Let me be very clear. Anyone who tells you to eat your greens is all right by me. If that was the end of it, I’d be McKeith’s biggest fan, because I’m all in favour of “evidence-based interventions to improve the nation’s health”, as they used to say to us in medical school.

But let’s look at the evidence. Diet has been studied very extensively, and there are some things that we know with a fair degree of certainty: there is convincing evidence that diets rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, with natural sources of dietary fibre, avoiding obesity, moderate alcohol, and physical exercise, are protective against things such as cancer and heart disease.

But nutritionists don’t stop there, because they can’t: they have to manufacture complication, to justify the existence of their profession. And what an extraordinary new profession it is. They’ve appeared out of nowhere, with a strong new-age bent, but dressing themselves up in the cloak of scientific authority. Because there is, of course, a genuine body of research about nutrition and health, to which these new “nutritionists” are spectacularly unreliable witnesses. You don’t get sober professors from the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit on telly talking about the evidence on food and health; you get the media nutritionists. It’s like the difference between astrology and astronomy.

These new nutritionists have a major commercial problem with evidence. There’s nothing very professional or proprietary about “eat your greens”, so they have had to push things further: but unfortunately for the nutritionists, the technical, confusing, overcomplicated, tinkering interventions that they promote are very frequently not supported by convincing evidence.

And that’s not for lack of looking. This is not about the medical hegemony neglecting to address the holistic needs of the people. In many cases, the research has been done, and we know that the more specific claims of nutritionists are actively wrong.

I’ve got too much sense to subject you to reams of scientific detail – I’ve learned from McKeith that you need theatrical abuse to hold the public’s attention – but we can easily do one representative example. The antioxidant story is one of the most ubiquitous health claims of the nutritionists. Antioxidants mop up free radicals, so in theory, looking at metabolism flow charts in biochemistry textbooks, having more of them might be beneficial to health. High blood levels of antioxidants were associated, in the 1980s, with longer life. Fruit and vegetables have lots of antioxidants, and fruit and veg really are good for you. So it all made sense.

But when you do compare people taking antioxidant supplement tablets with people on placebo, there’s no benefit; if anything, the antioxidant pills are harmful. Fruit and veg are still good for you, but as you can see, it looks as if it’s complicated and it might not just be about the extra antioxidants. It’s a surprising finding, but that’s science all over: the results are often counterintuitive. And that’s exactly why you do scientific research, to check your assumptions. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called “science”, it would be called “assuming”, or “guessing”, or “making it up as you go along”.

But don’t get distracted. Basic, sensible dietary advice, that we all know – be honest – still stands. It’s the unjustified, self-serving and unnecessary overcomplication of this basic sensible dietary advice that is, to my mind, one of the greatest crimes of the nutritionist movement. I don’t think it’s excessive to talk about consumers paralysed with confusion in supermarkets.

Although it’s just as likely that they will be paralysed with fear, because McKeith’s stock in trade is abuse, on a scale that would have any doctor struck off: making people cry for the television cameras, I assume deliberately, and using fear and bullying to get them to change their lifestyles. As a posture it is seductive, it has a sense of generating movement, but if you drag yourself away from the theatricality of souped-up recipe and lifestyle shows on telly, the evidence shows that scare campaigns tend not to get people changing their behaviour in the long term.

So what can you do? There’s the rub. In reality, again, away from the cameras, the most significant “lifestyle” cause of death and disease is social class. Here’s a perfect example. I rent a flat in London’s Kentish Town on my modest junior doctor’s salary (don’t believe what you read in the papers about doctors’ wages, either). This is a very poor working-class area, and the male life expectancy is about 70 years. Two miles away in Hampstead, meanwhile, where the millionaire Dr Gillian McKeith PhD owns a very large property, surrounded by other wealthy middle-class people, male life expectancy is almost 80 years. I know this because I have the Annual Public Health Report for Camden open on the table right now.

This phenomenal disparity in life expectancy – the difference between a lengthy and rich retirement, and a very truncated one indeed – is not because the people in Hampstead are careful to eat a handful of Brazil nuts every day, to make sure they’re not deficient in selenium, as per nutritionists’ advice.

And that’s the most sinister feature of the whole nutritionist project, graphically exemplified by McKeith: it’s a manifesto of rightwing individualism – you are what you eat, and people die young because they deserve it. They choose death, through ignorance and laziness, but you choose life, fresh fish, olive oil, and that’s why you’re healthy. You’re going to see 78. You deserve it. Not like them.

How can I be sure that this phenomenal difference in life expectancy between rich and poor isn’t due to the difference in diet? Because I’ve read the dietary intervention studies: when you intervene and make a huge effort to change people’s diets, and get them eating more fruit and veg, you find the benefits, where they are positive at all, are actually very modest. Nothing like 10 years.

But genuine public health interventions to address the real social and lifestyle causes of disease are far less lucrative, and far less of a spectacle, than anything a food crank or a TV producer would ever dream of dipping into. What prime-time TV series looks at food deserts created by giant supermarket chains, the very companies with which stellar media nutritionists so often have lucrative commercial contracts? What show deals with social inequality driving health inequality? Where’s the human interest in prohibiting the promotion of bad foods; facilitating access to nutrient-rich foods with taxation; or maintaining a clear labelling system? Where is the spectacle in “enabling environments” that naturally promote exercise, or urban planning that prioritises cyclists, pedestrians and public transport over the car? Or reducing the ever-increasing inequality between senior executive and shop-floor pay?

This is serious stuff. We don’t need any more stupid ideas about health in the world. We have a president of South Africa who has denied that HIV exists, we have mumps and measles on the rise, we have quackery in the ascendant like never before, and whatever Tony Blair might have to say about homoeopathy being a fight not worth fighting for scientists, we cannot indulge portions of pseudoscientific ludicrousness as if they don’t have wider ramifications for society, and for the public misunderstanding of science.

I am writing this article, sneakily, late, at the back of the room, in the Royal College of Physicians, at a conference discussing how to free up access to medical academic knowledge for the public. At the front, as I type, Sir Muir Gray, director of the NHS National Electronic Library For Health, is speaking: “Ignorance is like cholera,” he says. “It cannot be controlled by the individual alone: it requires the organised efforts of society.” He’s right: in the 19th and 20th centuries, we made huge advances through the provision of clean, clear water; and in the 21st century, clean, clear information will produce those same advances.

Gillian McKeith has nothing to contribute: and Channel 4, which bent over backwards to dress her up in the cloak of scientific authority, should be ashamed of itself.

‘With all due respect, you’re wrong’: When McKeith put a cabbie in his place

Here is a bizarre story, which McKeith is evidently proud of, because not only does she recount it in her book, she has also recounted it in other published articles. She is in a cab, and the cab driver has spotted her, and tries to spark up a conversation:

“As I sat down to enjoy the ride and sighed a sense of relief in honour of some quiet time, I barely heard some mumbling from Harry to break a much cherished silence. Ignoring it to soak in the rapidly moving scenery, I heard it again … ‘You know, fish has more omegas than flax,’ he stated. ‘I beg your pardon,’ I said. ‘I said that fish has more omegas than flax seeds,’ he re-stated. The only thing I could think of was: ‘Why was this invasive, somewhat jovial, but truly kind man, talking about flax …’ ‘In all due respect, you’re wrong, Harry.

Flax seeds contain far greater levels of the healthy oils (omega-3 and omega-6) in a properly balanced and assimilable form,’ I explained. ‘No, I disagree,’ he argued. ‘What do you mean, you disagree? Have you spent years conducting clinical research, working with patients, lecturing, teaching, studying the omega oils in flax, obtaining worldwide data, compiling one of the largest private health libraries on the planet, and writing extensively on the topic?’ I asked. Not to mention writing this very article on this very day.

‘No,’ Harry feebly replied. I wondered, ‘Are you a scientist, a biochemist, a botanist, or have you spent a lifetime studying food and biochemistry as I have done?’ ‘No,’ he again replied. ‘So, where do you get such stuff? Where is your scientific authority?’ I demanded. Harry proudly announced: ‘Oh, my wife is a doctor – a gynaecologist – by the way.’ ‘Is she a food specialist or nutritional biochemist as well?’ I quickly retorted. ‘Um, ah, well, no, but she is a doctor,’ he offered.”

Charming. But flax seeds contain oestrogenic compounds, and fibre, so they’re not very “assimilable” unless you crush them, in which case they taste foul, and they’re sold as a laxative in doses of 15g. And you will need a lot of them. When you account for the poor conversion in the body from plant-form omega oils to the animal forms that are most beneficial (called DHA and EPA) then flax seeds and fish contain roughly the same amounts.

But in the real world, rather than the raw figures, it’s very easy to eat 100g of mackerel, whereas it’s tricky to get a tablespoon of flax seed into you. (Similarly, parsley is a rich source of vitamin C, but you’re not going to eat an orange sized lump of it.) As for “properly balanced”, I don’t know if she means spiritually or biologically, but fish is much higher in omega-3, which most people would say is better.

So… O frabjous day. And it’s all thanks to a badscience regular who wishes to remain anonymous. We could do with more of your sort, come and play in the badscience.net forums if you’re in a motivated mood, where there are some fun plots being hatched in the new activism room. Hurrah!

McKeith’s responses:

Lots of bits of media from this, the fun ones are where Max Clifford responds to my 4,500 word research-heavy torpedo of her science and bullying by saying I’m jealous of her money. Lots more of these kicking around, I’ll bung them up when I get the chance, this from Irish radio, another from Radio 4.

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Also I see she’s been suggesting the ASA draft ruling was about her being a medical doctor: this is not so, the ASA draft ruling, of which I have a copy, says very clearly: “We considered that people would expect the term “Dr” in the leaflet to refer to a medical qualification, or to a doctorate from a UK university or accredited insitution [my italics].” I’ll be writing about her responses to this episode too, at some stage, so do keep the clippings and mp3’s coming.

news.independent.co.uk/people/pandora/article2334884.ece

Is it a touchy subject? A source at LBC radio tells me that McKeith pulled out of a scheduled on-air appearance yesterday lunchtime after the station insisted she answer one question on her honorific. “She told us to stay away from the story and stick to listener questions about diet instead. We pleaded with her to answer at least one question on it. She pulled out, saying she had ‘too many meetings today’.”

Says her PR at Max Clifford Associates: “It had nothing to do with the Dr thing. She had a meeting at the last minute that she couldn’t get out of. Hopefully she’ll appear [on LBC] soon.”


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312 Responses



  1. Seany said,

    February 18, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    skepdic.com/johnofgod.html

    www.randi.org/jr/021805a.html

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jo%C3%A3o_de_Deus_%28medium%29
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychic_surgeon

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3RC3M5VKAQdium%29

  2. censored said,

    February 18, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    > people seem to dismiss the effect of mind, emotions and spirituality and our state of
    > health, and are not comfortable with debating it.

    The problem with this is that it lays the responsibility onto the sufferer. Visited the healer and didn’t get better? That’s your own emotions! I find that hugely distasteful, to say the least.

    As I said before, it doesn’t matter *how* a treatment works. If it works, it will be demostrated in a double-blind placebo trial. If it doesn’t, than it’s not worth practising.

    I don’t care whether you can measure crystal energy or not – the fact is that it has no demonstrable effects whatsoever. Couple that with the facts that:

    a) there’s nothing special about crystal structure compared to other materials
    b) everything vibrates on an atomic level, but lumps of concrete don’t heal

    then I think I can safely say that crystal healing doesn’t work. That’s not me being closed-minded, or dismissive or not wanting to look properly. That’s me looking at both a evidence and theory and finding neither.

    There was a recent documentary on BBC2 looking at John of God. It wasn’t the most critical series ever produced, but even compared to the man who claimed around 10% trees actively want to help us, John of God came across as a particularly deluded fraud.

  3. Skeptyk said,

    February 18, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Ah, Joao de Deus. I am appalled by the guy, and by the cynical way the local and state governments in Brazil let him continue. Thanks, Seany, for all the links. Caitlin, the Skepdic link there is loaded with other ways to learn, about John of God and some of the techniques he uses.

    And Randi has two extensive, and fascinating, pieces on him, including a letter from someone scammed and injured, by this Joao group.
    www.randi.org/jr/022505thank.html
    www.randi.org/jr/021805a.html

    Have you read any of James Randi’s stuff? His JREF Million $$ challenge has been an interesting focus for teaching about critical thinking (when I first met him, it was a $10,000 check he carried in his wallet).

    A long, pro-Joao article by the tourguide who runs the site you linked us to:
    www.nexusmagazine.com/articles/miracle.man.html

    It was easy to find sites crystal healers who sells quartz jewelry that Joao has “energized” and authorized. I will not post the links here, just google them: casacrystals and exquisitecrystals. Have fun. Lots of $$$ to be made even on Joao’s coat-tails.

    And Peter Bowditch’s post on him: www.ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/faithhealer.htm

    From Brazil, a scientific medical team:
    www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0104-42302000000300002&script=sci_arttext
    It would be nice if more extensive, and particularly, more long-term, study were made of this guy and the whole operation.

    And, an aside, I don’t understand this: “Skeptyk…good to meet you again…it’s been a long time. Several centuries, I believe. I hope the matches didn’t burn your fingers last time.” Um, if you get a moment, can you explain? Did we meet on a msg board or forum? Does “several centuries” refer to some cyberspace time frame meaning a couple of years or months? Did I get “burned” by an argument? Seriously, maybe I am just being dumb here, and this is some geekspeak I missed. You don’t mean a past life, do you?!

    Be well,
    Skeptyk

  4. Janet W said,

    February 18, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    re. relationship between life expectancy and income in the UK, can anyone tell me more about what is known of the reasons for this? I’ve heard it variously attributed to smoking, diet (the argument largely rejected by Ben above), and whether or not you feel in control of your own life, and thus able to improve it. Presumably working with hazardous substances, and industrial accidents also play a part, but.. any stats on how much, or is it all speculation?

  5. Nanobot said,

    February 19, 2007 at 12:54 am

    “Mojo…I’m not sure that we can assume that spirituality and emotions can be equated with the placebo effect. My instincts (unmeasurable I know) tell me it’s not the case.”

    You are quite right, yet while you rely on your instincts we scientists actually go off and do some experiments. Experimental pyschology would be another interesting area for you to look into.

  6. bazvic said,

    February 19, 2007 at 9:48 am

    242
    HypnoSynthesis said

    I appreciate your comments but you are mistaken about this point. Ben has information from the ASA which proves that they did, as stated in his article, investigate and comment upon the quality and nature of Gillian’s PhD and the legitimacy of her claim to call herself “Doctor.

    I disagree. The point I was making was that there is a company that trades as “Dr Gillian McKeith” and there is an individual called (calls herself) “Dr Gillian McKeith”. The ASA was commenting on the company.

    All very confusing and not suprisingly, misleading to many. Hence the ASA were correct to act as they did.

    The information Ben has is not accessible to me therefore I cannot not judge it and not make any comments on it.

  7. Tristan said,

    February 19, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Skeptyk said: “And, an aside, I don’t understand this: “Skeptyk…good to meet you again…it’s been a long time. Several centuries, I believe. I hope the matches didn’t burn your fingers last time.” Um, if you get a moment, can you explain? Did we meet on a msg board or forum? Does “several centuries” refer to some cyberspace time frame meaning a couple of years or months? Did I get “burned” by an argument? Seriously, maybe I am just being dumb here, and this is some geekspeak I missed. You don’t mean a past life, do you?!”

    I presume she meant when a past you burned the past her at the stake during the witch hunts.

  8. HypnoSynthesis said,

    February 19, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Bazvic: >>I disagree. The point I was making was that there is a company that trades as “Dr Gillian McKeith” and there is an individual called (calls herself) “Dr Gillian McKeith”. The ASA was commenting on the company.

    With respect, I’m still sure your interpretation is mistaken. Of course, the ASA were commenting on the company, I take that for granted, but they conducted an investigation of the individual (Gillian McKeith) whose supposed “PhD” qualification was being used in the advertisements. We know that for a fact, you can call and check with them if you don’t believe me. The company (McKeith) was threatened with sanction on the basis of an investigation into the use of the title by the individual (McKeith).

    You wrote: “This appears not to be a comment on the quality of Ms McKeith’s PhD or indeed any of her qualifications.”

    That interpretation of things is demonstrably false, as I’ve already said, Ben has quoted from ASA documentation which proves they investigated Gillian McKeith’s personal qualifications and her own use of the title “Doctor”, in the context of the advertising, for which her company were threatened with sanction.

    Best,

    Don

  9. Mojo said,

    February 19, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Re #253: “And, an aside, I don’t understand this: “Skeptyk…good to meet you again…it’s been a long time. Several centuries, I believe. I hope the matches didn’t burn your fingers last time.” Um, if you get a moment, can you explain? Did we meet on a msg board or forum? Does “several centuries” refer to some cyberspace time frame meaning a couple of years or months? Did I get “burned” by an argument? Seriously, maybe I am just being dumb here, and this is some geekspeak I missed. You don’t mean a past life, do you?!”

    Well, obviously, the people involved in witch-hunts are widely regarded as having been paragons of rational thought and having followed the scientific method in everything they did.

    Note for Caitlin: that was sarcasm.

  10. not a nutrition nut said,

    February 19, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    I realise I’ve come rather late to this discussion but I’d like to add a view from a perspective which has been be briefly mentioned. I was so surprised to read Max Clifford’s response to the ASA ruling on Ms McKeith that ,at first, I thought I’d mis read it. He comments on her nutrition related PhD or lack of “I wish it had never been mentioned. She never needed it, and it’s done nothing but cause her embarrassment.”
    Am I missing something here? In almost no other area of healthcare would we allow ourselves to be treated, guided or advised by someone who didn’t need a relevant qualification let alone someone who wasn’t registered and monitored by a professional body. Going beyond healthcare I wouldn’t want my car serviced by a non-mechanic. I wouldn’t even get my legs waxed by someone who wasn’t qualified to do so (mind you I learnt my lesson the hard way with the latter!).

    I was delighted to read by Ben’s carefully researched, timed and written article not least because I have spent the best part of the last 25 years training as, working as and staying registered as, a dietitian. If I expected you to listen to me I’d want you to challenge my hard earned qualifications. I certainly wouldn’t try to make it awkward if you did.

    Even if Ms McKeith had a PhD in academic nutrition from a recognised institution, it still wouldn’t make her best placed to offer individual therapeutic dietary advice. Registered dietitians spend 4 years training to interpret nutritional science and translate it into practical food based strategies. We know how to assess current dietary intake, we are trained in motivational skills and we can help people tailor effective strategies to their current lifestyle and overcome barriers to change.

    Diet related chronic disease is a huge problem but if I want to help you do something about it I wouldn’t bully you until you started sprouting your own mung beans – you don’t need to. Beneficial dietary change is a whole lot more practical, palatable and sustainable than that. Average intake of fruit and vegetables in this county is a paltry 2 portions a day. The World Health Organisation estimates cancer and heart disease could be reduced by as much as 20% by increasing to 5. But it doesn’t have to be alfalfa seeds and fennel . Frozen peas count as a portion , so does orange juice even baked beans. We don’t need to eat handfuls of flax seed – a can of sardines is a really good source of omega 3 fat. Where are those messages on prime time TV? I refuse to believe it’s that they are too boring. Many clients I work with do not realise that eating better doesn’t have to involve expensive or obscure foods and, generally speaking ,TV shows do nothing to correct this. I feel it’s a challenge both scientists and the media, who use often use unqualified and unregulated experts, to find a way to get useful lifestyle advice across in a way that wont make people switch off. After all if (real) Dr. Alice Roberts can captivate prime time TV audiences to look after the anatomy of their major organs surely it’s possible to make “good nutritional science” appetising .

  11. Mojo said,

    February 20, 2007 at 7:25 am

    Re #260: “In almost no other area of healthcare would we allow ourselves to be treated, guided or advised by someone who didn’t need a relevant qualification let alone someone who wasn’t registered and monitored by a professional body.”

    Pretty much any type of CAM apart from osteopathy and chiropractic, which are regulated, fall into this category. Anyone can call themselves a homoeopath, for example.

  12. Rakster said,

    February 20, 2007 at 9:52 am

    TAPL has made it into the hallowed pages of ‘Closer’ magazine, complaining about being bullied intp dropping the doctor title. She seems to think that it’s because she’s not a medical doctor, rather than because she doesn’t have a proper PhD. I’m going to email them when I have a minute and set that one straight!

  13. Mojo said,

    February 20, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Actually, it seems that the ASA thought the use of the title was misleading at least in part because of the possible inference that it is a medical qualification. For example from the Guardian story (reply #2):

    “It is understood the ASA was minded to rule that the adverts were misleading, because the college was not accredited by any recognised educational authority at the time she took the course, and she does not hold a general medical qualification. While the adverts usually stated somewhere in the text Ms McKeith was not a medical doctor, the initial impression given was that she was, it said.”

    It seems to me that the ASA thought that the use of the title was potentially misleading in the context of medical claims (giving the impression that she is medically qualified) as well as because the college was not accredited.

  14. pv said,

    February 20, 2007 at 10:52 am

    “TAPL has made it into the hallowed pages of ‘Closer’ magazine, complaining about being bullied intp dropping the doctor title.”

    She could have carried on using the title if she disagreed with the ruling. The fact is she volunteered to drop the title because she knew she wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, and it would have been much more damaging if the ASA had published its findings.
    In typical showbiz style, she’s trying to make a diversionary drama out of it for her fans by pretending to be the victim. And once again she is either displaying own ignorance, or her own callousness in trying to take advantage of other people’s ignorance.
    Poor thing! She wouldn’t want anyone thinking she gained her fortune by deceit.

  15. not a nutrition nut said,

    February 20, 2007 at 11:27 am

    “Pretty much any type of CAM apart from osteopathy and chiropractic, which are regulated, fall into this category. Anyone can call themselves a homoeopath, for example”.

    Point taken – I suppose what I meant was “conventional” healthcare I’m not really familar with CAM. The point I wanted to make is that there are qualified and regulated nutritional therapists only they are called registered dietitians – and unlike nutrtionists its a protected title .It’s illegal to call yourself a dietitian unless you are registed with the Health Professions Council – neither TAPL nor PH are.

  16. simongates said,

    February 20, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Going way back to #172 – thanks, that’s interesting. Side effects of homeopathy, who’d have thought it?

  17. Rakster said,

    February 20, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    pv and Mojo, you make good points. I’ll word an email carefully. And it did come across as an interview totally intended towards misdirection. She really is all smoke and mirrors.

  18. Mojo said,

    February 20, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Re #266: I hasten to add that the “side effects” are no more effects of the remedies than are the alleged positive effects. Homoeopathy relies heavily on the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy (the idea that if one event follows another there must be a causal relationship between them) and reporting bias (only cases where the patient gets better tend to be noticed). Even in cases where the patient gets worse, this is termed an “aggravation” and claimed as a sign that the remedy is working.

    In the study I cited above, they studied a group of patients and discovered that (surprise, surprise) some got better, some got worse and some developed new symptoms. Since they are accustomed to regard anything that happens after treatment as being caused by the treatment they decided that the negative outcomes were caused by the treatment.

    Note the lack of a control group, by the way, which means that in fact no conclusions can be drawn as to whether the observed “effects” were actually caused by the treatment.

    It’s still a nice paper to wave at anyone who takes the “homoeopathy has no side-effects” tack. 😉

  19. JupiterPluvius said,

    February 20, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Mojo says in #261: Pretty much any type of CAM apart from osteopathy and chiropractic, which are regulated, fall into this category. Anyone can call themselves a homoeopath, for example.

    Well, by the principles of homeopathy, aren’t we all homeopaths?

    And I’m an “arts graduate” who has taken the trouble to get off my ass and learn enough science, statistics, and formal logic to understand the world around me. There are a lot of smart people writing about statistics for a lay audience–Joel Best and Andrew Gelman come to mind in the US, and I’m sure they have equally good UK equivalents.

  20. Junkmonkey said,

    February 21, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    not a contribution to the debate but you too can be The Awful Poo Lady in the comfort of your own home!

    www.ratemypoo.com

    I’ll get my coat

  21. pv said,

    February 21, 2007 at 11:07 pm

    www.badscience.net/?p=362#comment-10990
    10:54 pm

    “not a contribution to the debate but you too can be The Awful Poo Lady in the comfort of your own home!”

    Wot! No smellovision?

  22. Robert Carnegie said,

    February 22, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Imagine complaining to a local trading standards office about a Web site. But the message there seems to be that as soon as they persuade you to go to their web site, the lying can begin. That applies to the little promotional online films. And they can do all the things with cars that they aren’t allowed to do on British TV in case real drivers copy them and people get killed.

  23. bazvic said,

    February 23, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    The matter of the usefulness of TAPL’s PhD is answered by reviewing its subject, that blue green algae is a health food, indeed a super food. Well the following link debunks this idea quite well:

    www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/algae.html

    In summary blue green algae is a well known contaminant of fresh water. The algae itself is not poisionous, but what it decomposes to is. But you cannot have one without the other especially from wild sources.

    Although TAPL’s PhD was completed in 1997 much doubt about blue green aglae as a food existed many years before then.

    This speaks for itself.

  24. Dudley said,

    February 23, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Re: #250: Caitlin said “I’m not sure that we can assume that spirituality and emotions can be equated with the placebo effect. My instincts (unmeasurable I know) tell me it’s not the case.”

    This is pure solipsism, Caitlin. You are assuming a world in which none of us can ever meaningfully communicate with others, a world in which we all remain locked inside our own skulls – a rather depressing vision. Your faith in your own feelings precludes meaningful debate altogether.

    Wouldn’t it be better to assume that there is a real world, that it does contain facts, that propositions can be tested and found wanting (or otherwise)? If you cannot provide a way in which “spirituality and emotions” can be separated off from the placebo effect, then all you are doing is standing there asking us to believe in something immaterial, for which we have no evidence other than your own unsupported word.

    On which basis, I’d be very happy to talk to you about this great money-making opportunity. Just give me all your money. No, I don’t have any evidence that this will eventually make you money. No, I can’t prove the difference between this and a scheme that will only make ME richer. But I passionately believe that there is one: surely that’s enough?

  25. Nurn said,

    February 24, 2007 at 12:33 am

    re: #266 and #172 – of course, side effects of homeopathy must surely be part of the process of getting better…

  26. inicholson said,

    February 24, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Here’s a Freudian slip from a (favourable) Amazon review of “You Are What You Eat”:

    “Now I know there is controversy over some of Gillian’s claims and her qualifictions..”

    I want some qualifictions!!

    As i teacher I find it heartening that my 4th year class (15 year olds) who are for the most part thick (that’s a technical term we educationalists use) were falling over themselves to tell me how stupid TAPL is because she believes eating green leaves will oxygenate your blood. Finally I’ve found an effective way of teaching photosynthesis! They loved Ben’s searchlight up your bum comment.

  27. Dr Aust said,

    February 24, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Watchers of Andrew Collins’ “Where did it all go right” blog

    www.wherediditallgoright.com/BLOG/

    – (see comments passim) may have spotted that Caitlin has retreated there, where she says that she hopes to find more like-minded people.

    She posted a comment there about this thread – obviously feeling rather bruised by her experiences here and states she is “surprised that such educated people (BadScience posters) would be so closed-minded” (my slight paraphrase).

    I considered posting something pointing out that when an opinion is thoroughly at odds with the scientific evidence, and when the opinion-holder sticks to it even after this is pointed out politely, with chapter and verse, they should not be surprised if people get tetchy……however, it is so fiddly to post to Collins’ blog I’ve given up. Some other more determined people are continuing to argue for evidence-based thinking there, although like Caitlin, Andrew Collins doesn’t seem to get the idea that in science-related areas evidence is taken to outweigh personal “gut feeling”. I think he sees us mainstream science-y and medical types as part of a giant conspiracy of orthodoxy and suppression of dissent .

    Why is it so hard for some people to grasp that LIKING the X-Files (or similar) doesn’t mean you have to think there is some truth to its conspiracy-theorising?

    BTW, Ben’s McKeith piece seems to have been instrumental in causing Andrew Collins to proclaim that he has cancelled his subscription to the Grauniad (he thinks it is biased against alt narratives, which made me chuckle), although the straw that broke the back for Collins was a recent piece about “CAM for babies”:

    lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,,2017092,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=1

  28. pv said,

    February 24, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    “I think he sees us mainstream science-y and medical types as part of a giant conspiracy of orthodoxy and suppression of dissent .”

    Surely dissent is the bedrock of science. If only there wasn’t this obsession with testing, observing and analysing the claims of dissenters, and all that evidence stuff, then the McKeiths of this world would have no problem at all with science. They could content themselves, and the world, with making up stuff – just like Newton, Einstein, Rutherford, Curie, Crick and Watson, etc!!! And, I nearly forgot, Victor Frankenstein!

  29. crana said,

    February 24, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    Enough of this!

    Chlorophyll on its own does not make oxygen given light and water. It has to be complexed with proteins attached to a membrane in the specific environment of a chloroplast thylakoid to do this. The entire electron transport chain is needed for oxygen to be generated.

    That system doesn’t actually require carbon dioxide, but CO2 is needed for the Calvin cycle/dark reactions (which fix it). If these reactions don’t happen, the cofactors that accept protons (as in what you’re left with if you start with water and release oxygen) aren’t recycled (by having the protons removed and used in the Calvin cycle). This means that they can’t accept new protons and the whole system grinds to a halt (not immediately, of course, there is a lag – and other metabolic reactions use and contribute to the same cofactor pool).

    It has to be in an intact thylakoid sac. The proteins have to be in the right complexes with cofactors and accessory pigments in the membranes, and the stroma (the fluid inside the sacs) is needed.

    If you put some chlorophyll on its own in a beaker of water and shine some light on it, you’ll get green water but no oxygen produced.

    Ah, plant sciences, so often a neglected area…one that lead three of my friends studying English degrees here to ask me if trees were plants.

  30. evidencebasedeating said,

    February 26, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    #227 Dr Aust

    Caitlin would be better joining the vastly inferior ,ego-massaging blog of Bens Observer-group fellow-medic-but -separated-by-a-vast-difference-in-intellect-and-clinical-knowledge – Dr J Briffa at www.drbriffa.com. Her innocent, but interesting, views on matters nutritional could be fully exploited by the ego-that-is-Dr-Briffa.

    A blog where the miserable combination of self-styled nutritionist combines with stereotypical medical arrogance and a pompous ego that demands dissection of every last comment – however tentatively put – to demonstrate his wit/ intelligence/ knowledge. Medical paternalism at its true worst – unless you’re one of the hapless ION brigade who prop up the website with ego boosting comments, basking in the glow of his support.
    Dr Briffa obviously has too much time on his hands – or a strange compulsion to undermine and ridicule his bloggers. A prime example of medical futility.

  31. danhume said,

    February 26, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    Keep up the good work Dr Ben! I have just written the following letter to Selfridges HQ in the hope that it may further help to spread the truth about this fraudulent quack:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Re: “Doctor” Gillian McKeith – Fraudulent Products On Sale

    You will no doubt be aware of the recent publicity surrounding the nutritionist and celebrity, Gillian McKeith, and her voluntary agreement with the ASA to stop referring herself as “Doctor” in advertising materials. In case you don’t immediately recall, this is because she has not in fact received any doctoral qualification, medical or otherwise, from any accredited university.

    Imagine my dismay, then, when I saw a product on sale in your Manchester Exchange Square store last Saturday, labelled as “Dr. Gillian McKeith’s Living Food Energy Cookie Bites”. I believe this fraudulent labelling is misleading to customers and damaging to Selfridges’ reputation for selling quality products. Although I am aware that the ASA agreement does not directly apply to product packaging, it has at least shown that all involved in the promotion and distribution of McKeith’s products have a moral duty not to misrepresent her qualifications. I urge you to withdraw these products from sale immediately in the interests of consumers.

  32. Dr Aust said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Yes, I have read a few things on John Briffa’s pages, and he is an argumentative so-and-so – even once crossed verbal swords with him in the BMJ electronic letters pages.

    The point about medical paternalism is apposite since, as Ben has often pointed out, the nutritionists and various other Alt snake-oilers use all the old tricks of medical paternalism and Dear Guru-ness to work their tricks on people. What is remarkable is (i) the tricks have hardly changed in a century or more – see e.g. AJ Cronin’s account of working as a Harley Street doctor in the 20s in his autobiography “Adventures in Two Worlds”

    www.amazon.co.uk/Adventures-Two-Worlds-J-Cronin/dp/057500522X/sr=8-1/qid=1172525716/ref=sr_1_1/203-4935047-6376702?ie=UTF8&s=books

    – and (ii) as trad doctors have been gradually encouraged and even ordered to ratchet down the paternalism, the appetite for exactly the SAME kind of paternalism from non-medical practitioners – though based on less actual knowledge and understanding of the body – seems to have burgeoned. Gillian McKeith humiliating fat people by asking “do you want to see your grandchildren?” or showing them tombstones with their name on it – you couldn’t make it up.

    In John Briffa’s case, one suspects his medical degree gives him even more
    “guru-spin” for his clientele.

    The other trad medical degree turned celeb nutritionist that springs to mind is Princess Di’s and Gwyneth Paltrow’s (and sundy other luvvies’) fave nutri-doc, Dr Nishi “Holistic Detox” Joshi of Harley Street:

    www.guardian.co.uk/medicine/story/0,11381,1640765,00.html

    The Guardian article on Dr Joshi is a good read, as the journalist – Simon Hattenstone – actually asks some good sceptical questions. One classic bit (near the end) is where Dr Joshi explains why it was too much hassle for him to actually register with the GMC in the UK as a medical practitioner. “Because you can’t work in a holistic way and in a natural way – they don’t allow that to happen any more.” An alternative view might be that if a GMC-registered doctor put people on barkingly daft evidence-free detox diets s/he might get into trouble and garner negative press…. I’m such a cynic.

  33. JLF said,

    February 26, 2007 at 10:54 pm

    Dr Aust

    Funny you should be mentioning Briffa, I (as a layperson) I have been “crossing swords” with him on his website. He appears very rude and unprofessional WITH HIS USE OF CAPITALS and his latest post suggest that even medince isn’t based on evidence (I’m sure his tutors at medical school are proud…. )

    From Dr Briffa…

    “I don’t think nutritionists should not be put under scrutiny. To my mind, though, it’s an easy hit for Ben Goldacre to ‘rubbish’ nutritionists by focusing on the likes of Gillian McKeith.

    And I did find his piece lacked balance.

    If his opinion is that ‘nutritionism’ lacks validity because it is not evidence-based, then he should also be aware that this is true of mainstream practice (including medicine and dietetics) too.

    So, my letter/blog was really an attempt to put some balance back into the debate. All is not completely in order in the world of ‘nutritionism’, but let’s at least level criticism with an even hand.

    Yes, of course I want to see the highest standards of practice in nutritionism. And I’m hoping that this debate will help that in some way. Just as I hope the debate might ultimately have a positive impact on dietetic practice too. We shall see… “

  34. albear said,

    February 27, 2007 at 11:22 am

    As the ASA have now issued a ruling, this will also apply to her web site as its anything wihich you use to advertise.

    She is still using her “Dr” title all over the web site and whats more the ASA have a nice online form to complain..

    www.asa.org.uk/asa/how_to_complain/complaints_form/

  35. iceprincess said,

    February 27, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Right MR GOLDF***ER.

    You are just some little jealous grose man.

    This man is a lier. He gets pay-offs from big corperations to write lies.

  36. Tristan said,

    February 27, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    wtf?

  37. dissonance said,

    February 27, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Iceprincess.
    I am going out on a limb here but i suspect you do not have any evidence to support these pay-offs allegations?

  38. Tristan said,

    February 27, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    Am I the only person reading that as: “MR GOLDFINGER”?

  39. dissonance said,

    February 27, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    i am waiting for the next blog entry to be “i would have got away with it if it wasnt for those pesky kids”.

  40. JLF said,

    February 27, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    i would have got away with it if it wasnt for those pesky kids!

    Have I made your day dissonance?

    Anyone know why iceprincess has gone nuclear? Isn’t liar spelt with an a?

    Tristan – I agree, has Ben got a golden gun? (I think we should know the truth!)

    Sorry – late night at work, gone slightly mad!

  41. BelieveTheHype? said,

    February 27, 2007 at 9:28 pm

    …and for my first posting – I think Mr Clifford does refer to Ms McKeith as Dr., even if it is a little obscure! (note to self; get a life)

    www.maxclifford.com/Staff/Lucy_Murphy

  42. Marko said,

    March 2, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    This woman gets on my nerves. Not content with taking the pi$$, she takes the poo too.
    “As far as I’m concerned, because of the hard work I have done, I’ll continue to put PhD after my name; I’m entitled to use the word Dr as and when I choose.”. Well, I’ve worked hard for the last 20 years – unloading ships,in warehouses,in banks and insurance companies….If I write a thesis on the Social Dynamics of the Fag Break, can I give myself a PhD?
    Anyway, I have a Plan (I think it justifies the capital letter) to take down her TV show. I’ve got a bit of a beer belly so I’m going to volunteer for her show. Oh, to face her on telly and say “Actually dear, that’s fennel not a leek”, or maybe “My friend’s 12 year old daughter said you’ve got no idea about biology”. A string of questions, in front of the cameras, about her qualifications and ‘scientific’ claims might shut her up. And if she wants my poo, she can have the results of my famous sprout curry with brown rice.

    Any of you slim & svelte scientists fancy shoving a pillow up your jumper and joining in ? If we could get one of us in each episode ………

  43. big_ee said,

    March 6, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Hmmm , reluctant as i am to kick a millionaire when she’s down but here goes…

    On her mckeithinteractive.com website ( Where she is still Dr, btw) the personal profile offered at a bargain £34.99 purports to give a personal analysis of which Foods, Vitamins, Minerals, Superfoods, Herbs and Spices the individuals body ‘needs’, based on a ‘health factor status’ These factors include Blood Sugar, Thyroid, and ‘male hormones’, and ‘heart and circulation’.

    Now as any diabetic will tell you testing blood sugar levels involves shedding blood. Not answering asinine questions on a website.

    As i can’t really be @rsed, i’m not sure what actual questions the 30-40 minute questionnaire does ask: but i’ll bet a pound to a peanut, that they won’t bear any relation to real blood sugar, endocrinology, or exercise physiology tests that they purport to. Being as they are on a website, and do not involve a lab, needle or complicated exercise equipment.

    I appeal for someone with £34.95 to and time to invest, to take the test, wait for the personal results ‘book’ and then call trading standards!!

  44. b33k34 said,

    March 21, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I’ve a friend who is studying for Nutritional Therapy degree, and is asking for people to attend sessions at the University of Westminster Polyclinic to get some clinical experience. I’m trying to work out exactly what a nutritional therapist is.

    A few websearches aren’t helping. I’m particularly fond of www.nutritionaltherapy.co.uk/ which says in response to “What’s the difference between a nutritional therapist and a dietician?” that “A nutritional therapist uses lots of research from peer reviewed sources. A dietician uses research based on scientific evidence.”

  45. delph said,

    April 2, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    I’m so pleased that there has been some action against Dr McGillian, but there is a long way to go.

    Her success shows that if you are bossy, brazen, pushy, ambitious, shameless, tough, ruthless and arrogant enough, and you have nice hair and teeth and speak confidently on TV, and you are prepared to promote yourself very aggressively and snarl about lawsuits if anyone questions you, you will succeed no matter what. You will be feted by some, will attract a following and become wealthy.

    Let’s not bother trying to “understand” her ideas on acidosis or chlorophyll, people – we all know that these statements are like students’ exam howlers; she just doesn’t understand the biochemistry and physiology.

    Let’s all keep writing – I’m appalled to see how she has bullied people into taking down comments made about her, so let’s step it up – she can’t sue us all, and certainly won’t be successful suing people who write true statements. Her CV is very suspect indeed but if genuine, she could easily have corrected any “misunderstandings”, which would have stopped us all commenting; she knows the best tactic is to prevent too much delving into her education and experience (or Mr Clifford does).
    Hopefully she won’t get away with it for much longer.
    Ben is right, “Channel 4, which bent over backwards to dress her up in the cloak of scientific authority, should be ashamed of itself.”

  46. pcj-the said,

    August 2, 2007 at 1:39 am

    Brilliant set of postings. Congrats on at least a partial victory for the “renaissance” there Ben.
    Couple of points: To Caitlin and Skeptyk
    (Point1) To Caitlin: take it from an “oldie” of 60 years standing Caitlin, that what you are missing is a basic education in the simpler aspects of the sciences. None of the material presented on here has been rocket science (really gives my age away that one doesn’t it?)
    I don’t hold a PhD either, though where I served my apprenticeship (the electronics department of the Nuclear Physics Research Lab at Liverpool University) it was known irreverently to all (PhDs included) as “piled higher and deeper”. 🙂
    I hold only a HNC in Electrical/Electronic Engineering (considered the equivalent of a pass degree back then) plus a later Cert Ed in Education and Training. Like most Engineers of the time however, I was taught the scientific method of proving/disproving theories etc (peer review, double blind testing, trying to avoid bias, avoidance of skewing results by deliberately selecting only favourable data and so on). None of it requires Einstinian abilities. What is does require is sometimes getting off one’s backside and doing your own reading, learning and (pardon pun given the subject) digesting the basics of the subject under debate, plus of course the oft mentioned factor on here “critical thinking”. I thank God I had a good general education courtesy of a Grammar School esp in Maths and Science(though not biology: clashed with Geography in the timetable) You don’t have to have gone into a subject to PhD level to argue with someone who has the basics wrong or who is deliberately misrepresenting them.
    Secondly Caitlin you’ll get small change from a lot of people in the “science/engineering” boat if you come over all hurt feelings/sulky “I’m going elsewhere” because (a) you haven’t read the previous posts and/or boned up on the basics (the internet or your local library could solve that) or (b) we don’t take your beliefs as something “complimentary” and therefore by extension ” at a compatible level” with hard-won accepted scientific/engineering reasoning which has to withstand sometimes furious and rigourous debate from others well-versed in our disciplines.
    That was why you didn’t get the point when you were told to be prepared to have to change your point of view if you were to open yourself up to entering into this system.
    Finally you might think “hurt feelings/sulky” doesn’t apply?
    Read my following comment to Skeptyk for his Feb 18th post with its last paragraph referring to his not understanding your “burnt fingers” jibe. I did!

    (Point 2) To Skeptyk for Feb 18th post: Your last paragraph concerning Caitlin’s post:
    Ref the “burnt fingers and not met for centuries/lighting bonfires” jibe from Caitlin: tch tch Skeptyk, you must have been tired there. Regard the lady’s “handle”. Methinks she was ever such a little bit p****ed off with your previous spot on comments: she was hinting at you being a witch-burner in a previous life. Call me cynical (or a taxi if you wish, to quote the old joke) but looking at her replies to other posters I see just a little bit of manipulation/flattery applied from time to time too.

  47. sciencefan said,

    September 25, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Having arrived here today (by an extremely entertaining route, one waypoint being this site: uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Gillian_McKeith) I read with growing appreciation Ben G.’s demolition job on Gillian McKeith – a wonderful read. Better to have come across it late rather than never, even if it is now late September.
    However I would like to comment on Ben’s antioxidant example, which does rely on one significant assumption, which, as he points out, isn’t the scientific way (“Otherwise it wouldn’t be called “science”, it would be called “assuming”, or “guessing”, or “making it up as you go along”.): In his argument he equates antioxidant supplements with the antioxidants consumed via fresh produce. As Ben says, “… when you do compare people taking antioxidant supplement tablets with people on placebo, there’s no benefit; if anything, the antioxidant pills are harmful. Fruit and veg are still good for you, but as you can see, it looks as if it’s complicated and it might not just be about the extra antioxidants. It’s a surprising finding, but that’s science all over: the results are often counterintuitive.” Might it not be about the antioxidants in (fresh) produce coming as part of a larger package, rather than as isolated, perhaps synthetic, antioxidants in pill form? Just a thought! Of course it would be hard to do a double-blind, placebo-controlled study using e.g. lemons and spinach – perhaps there’s a market for genetically modified placebo produce devoid of any nutritional content. Hey, come to think of it, there may be some in my nearest supermarket!

  48. raventattoocare said,

    October 3, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    I do not think it even matters if she has a mail order PHd. What she does is help people who are CRITICALLY OBESE learn about food to become healthy again… why bash someone who is doing good for people and at the same time, entertaining? If this is the ONLY way to get people in tv land to sit up and take notice to the havoc they are wreaking on their bodies, so be it! The show is entertaining and even if she is not a “real Doctor” – does it REALLY matter in the end? If I rescued someone out of a burning car and lied and told them I was a nurse, then they found out I lied, would it matter to them? I think not. I think this is a lot of jealous people going after someone who has been successful. Whether flax seeds are ground or not, okay – does that really matter in the end? The point is – she gets the people EATING flax, which is different than the crisps and chocolate bars they gorged on in the past. At least flax won’t hurt and put all the weight on! Heck, it might even help like she says! Why crucify someone who helps people? Think of all the people out there whose lives have forever changed due to watching her tv show. She may have actually saved hundreds, even thousands of people from themselves. At least she doesn’t advocate the diet pills and dangerous diets rampant in the U.S. (assuming they are in the UK also). She advocates exercise and a healthy lifestyle, so does anyone really care if she is a “legit” Phd? I don’t, and I will continue watching one of my favorite tv shows (which, since watching, I have lost almost 7 pounds due to her brainwashing!!! Yeah!).

  49. madtechie said,

    November 1, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Hmm, voluntarily not calling herself ‘Dr’ any more?

    from:

    www.drgillianmckeith.com/publications-uhpb.php

    we still find:

    Dr Gillian McKeith’s Ultimate Health Plan is your bible to healthy eating, the only health plan you’ll ever need.

    I must have a look to see just how many holes there are in the ASA’s voluntary code of advertising.

  50. emilypk said,

    November 6, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    For those of us who think a PhD is worth years or our life and thousands of our dollars, it sure as hell *does* matter. I means this woman is happy to lie about matters great and small.