Search results for 'wddty'

WDDTY2

26 Oct

What? Another blog about
What Doctors Don’t Tell You?

We got both kinds 400 px

(Artwork by @lexistwit)

Feb 2013 cover

In some ways there’s not a great deal of point me writing on this subject. There have been some excellent blogs on various aspects of the saga of What Doctors Don’t Tell You – a magazine that calls itself a journal, looks like a lifestyle mag, but which has contents that are, shall we say, controversial. In fact, you should probably skip this site and go look at some of the excellent pages linked below, they’re much better at covering this than me.

But. I’ve made a habit arriving at the party late, when all the vol-au-vents have already been eaten and there’s only babycham left to drink, so think of this as the blog equivalent of that. Me arriving and hoovering up the crumbs others have overlooked. There are also some aspects of this subject that I think bear deeper examination.

This will be the master page, from which I’ll link subsequent posts.

My posts

What Does What Doctors Don’t Tell You think it is?

What do readers of What Doctors Don’t Tell You Think it is?

What Advice You Got?

Because Fighty Libel Lawyers Make The Best Scientists

What Tesco Tell You, And Tell You… And Tell You Again

Stock. Or Stock Not.

Lynne McTaggart and the Vitamin C Soft Shoe Shuffle

The Hole in the Facebook Wall Quiz

The Agony of False Hope

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors…

Dear Reader…

The John Diamond Challenge

The Second John Diamond Challenge

Wheelbarrow of Stupid

Further reading

And here’s links to some much more insightful stuff from others:

Josephine Jones

http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/wddty-my-master-list/

What Doctors Don’t Tell You… Don’t Tell You

http://www.wwddtydty.com/

Western Sloth

WDDTY and cancer claims – they are not evidence based

jdc325

http://jdc325.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/is-wddty-magazine-anti-vaccine/

http://jdc325.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/safe-wddty-magazine-kills-up-to-200000-a-year/

Anarchic Teapot

http://blog.anarchic-teapot.net/2013/10/02/what-charlatans-dont-tell-you-about-what-doctors-dont-tell-you-short-spiky/

The Nightingale Collaboration

http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/news/132-what-they-don-t-tell-you.html

http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/news/143-wddty-9-taking-stock.html

Avicenna

http://freethoughtblogs.com/amilliongods/2013/10/12/not-the-ducks-a-dissection-of-quackery/

(Many thanks to @lexistwit for turning ideas into art a million times better than I could have)

The WDDTY Hole in the Facebook Wall Quiz

29 Oct

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the critical faculties of groups of people on Facebook

I had intended at this point to follow up my piece on What Doctors Don’t Tell You’s claims that Vitamin C cures AIDS (spoiler alert: Vitamin C doesn’t cure AIDS) by doing a similar examination of their claims that homeopathy can “reverse cancer” (spoiler: homeopathy doesn’t reverse cancer). However, since I last posted @DrMatthewL has written an awesome deconstruction of these claims. There is absolutely nothing I can add to his work, and it must surely stand as the definitive work on the subject, at least until the eagerly-awaited November issue of WDDTY appears. Seriously, if you haven’t read it yet, I heartily recommend you do so now. Go on, I’ll still be here when you get back. Just promise you will come back when you’re done. (Spoiler alert: the bit where he conta- no. I won’t spoil it for you. It’s epic.)

Okay, shall we go on?

As a brief break from the other WDDTY stuff I’m working on, I thought I’d take a quick diversion to look at the WDDTY and Lynne McTaggart Facebook pages. Several commenters have noted that their comments and questions seem to get deleted on a regular basis. Some of these commenters have taken screenshots of their doomed posts, and have kindly forwarded these on to me. To these people, thank you, and based on their contributions we present the Hole in the Facebook Wall Quiz.

Round 1

In this round, you will be shown a number of screenshots of posts made to either the WDDTY or Lynne McTaggart’s Facebook pages. Your job is to identify which have been deleted by the page owner, and which have been left in place. I leave it to Lynne to tell you herself the deletion rules in force:

lynneb2

Here we go.

1.

Del01

2.

del09

3.

undel01

4.

del06

5.

del08

6.

del04

7.

del10

8.

del03

9.

del05

10.

undel2

11.

del07

12.

Del02

Answers

1. Deleted. 2. Deleted. 3. Not deleted. 4. Deleted. 5. Deleted. 6. Deleted. 7. Deleted. 8. Deleted. 9. Deleted. 10. Not deleted. 11. Deleted. 12. Deleted.

Round 2

While it might be thought unfair to place too much weight on the old adage that you know a person by the company they keep, it is nevertheless illuminating to see the nature of comments supportive to WDDTY/Lynne McTaggart on their Facebook pages, particularly when one notes that even the oddest comments seem not to provoke so much as a disagreement from McTaggart, let alone a deletion.

For Round 2, I post some comments that may or may not have been posted to the WDDTY/McTaggart pages or to Lynne’s own blog. Your task here is to identify which comments are real, and which I have just made up.

1. I suggest that Simon Singh be given the same challenge as Piers Morgan…… 1,000 vaccines ….if he still thinks that they’re safe after that we’ll all have them. If the poor man suffers we should refuse him any therapy which he has rubbished.

2. Arguing over exactly how many deaths or adverse reactions is ignoring the fact that there are unnecessary deaths due to vaccination.

3. This will be a campaign funded by big pharma and other switch an agenda to keep us all in ignorance to keep ingesting fluoride to keep accepting vaccines and to keep paying big pharma for all the unnecessary medicines – in other words you are a threat to them and they are trying to take you down!

4. We all talk about ‘hiv’ as though we have a testing kit able to detect ‘hiv’ but it’s been 30 years now since aids began and we still don’t have a test able to detect ‘hiv infection’. So no one in the world is ‘hiv positive’ until we have a test that can detect ‘hiv’. When we talk about ‘hiv’ we are talking about a laboratory translation of a non-specific antibody test, this is where ‘hiv’ comes from, just as we conjure up a rabbit from a magician’s hat. So let’s come down to earth and start at the beginning based on fact as opposed to assuming we have an ‘hiv test’ when we don’t. Watch House of Numbers on youtube, this covers the issue on ‘hiv testing’.

5. It sounds to me that the communications with Tom Whipple were deliberately blocked (surveillance has been unequivocably proven with NSA and Ed Snowden) so that Lynne wouldn’t know about the calls and therefore would not reply.

6. Polio has been renamed so it looks like it has been wiped out. Smallpox is still around in the 3rd world countries.

7. With all due respect Antonia, many alternative health care modalities, including homeopathy for instance, have a longer unblemished proven evidence based success rate curing, not suppressing diseases. The same cannot be said for conventional medicine.

8. Andrew Wakefield may I suggest? Someone who stood up and said I am not happy with the establishment.

9. The pro vaccine boys and girls rely a lot on strong statements and ridicule, rather like a low rent debate team, instead of referencing things. This is why we get tosh like ‘Bad Science’ being touted as good. Why reference or examine when you can ridicule? Without their funding and backers, these guys would be laughable

10. I agree totally, there needs to be ways how to free the medicine and treatment. Independent and open bodies needs to be created to accomplish this. Hope to see some kind of development regarding this also here in Finland! There has been suggestions here that all alternative treatment should be denied in situations like the patient is child, has cancer, is diabetic or mental patient!

11. Qi is energy. Does energy not exist? Have physicists not proven energy tenfold? Does energy not exist?

12. In the spirit of agreement to Lynne McTaggart & the contents of this blog post, you may access my explanation of the body parts & how they work, which should greatly simplify confusion caused by Big Pharma’s constant invention of new & longer words to obfuscate code to recipes…  I should warn you all, I have taken it down to 11 organs, with their corresponding two opposing elements inside…Even salt NaCl is tucked in as an element under the Hg mercury listing…  The idea is to help people to make their own decisions…Self-efficacy…

13. now how does u change ‘the mass consciousness’ in flick of a conscious switch/quantum leaping in completely know who they are. (Compression). Conscious self -realization.. there by one’s individual consciousness can make better decisions.. in this case the ability to choose healthy alternative modalities. If we claim ‘human consciousness is so powerful’. They why not get together and bang it out … a solution in a place where it matters. SELF – REALISATION. I am tired of waiting the changes to happen… in the ‘time realm’. Why not get we change it in energy field? Have any ideas? I am up for it.

14. As an illuminated Master of Rosicrucia, I can say that mainstream medicine is not always right, nor do they test their proclaimed medicines, and many have died from such. Rosicrucians have been healing people since 1614 at least, using what they call alternative medicine today. Although we do not advertise our science, I myself have led many healings of such things as cancer…and we have had tons of success

15. The downside of double-blind randomized trials in their attempt to remove bias and get to neutrality is they omit consciousness, direct knowing and old-fashioned genuine insight, which a rational and responsible person would never want to do.

Answers:

All of them. Every one of the above is a genuine comment posted to the WDDTY/Lynne McTaggart’s Facebook pages, or to Lynne McTaggart’s blog.

How did you score?

0-9: Terrible. You’re unable to sort fact from fiction, making you prey for any slick promoter of magazines containing made-up advice. Still, I’ve got this bridge for sale here, if you’re interested?

10-20: Null hypothesis. You’ve got some right, but statistically you’re no better than placebo.

21-27: Excellent. You’re really good at sorting the wheat from the chaff.

1400: There were only 27 questions. If you’ve scored 1400, you are Lynne McTaggart, and I claim my five pounds.

I leave you with this final comment, posted to Lynne McTaggart’s blog by one Ben Goldacre:

lmctblogpharma8

Well, quite.

 

Next: The Agony of False Hope

WDDTY

11 Oct

What? Another blog about
What Doctors Don’t Tell You?

We got both kinds 400 px

(Artwork by @lexistwit)

Feb 2013 cover

In some ways there’s not a great deal of point me writing on this subject. There have been some excellent blogs on various aspects of the saga of What Doctors Don’t Tell You – a magazine that calls itself a journal, looks like a lifestyle mag, but which has contents that are, shall we say, controversial. In fact, you should probably skip this site and go look at some of the excellent pages linked below, they’re much better at covering this than me.

But. I’ve made a habit arriving at the party late, when all the vol-au-vents have already been eaten and there’s only babycham left to drink, so think of this as the blog equivalent of that. Me arriving and hoovering up the crumbs others have overlooked. There are also some aspects of this subject that I think bear deeper examination.

This will be the master page, from which I’ll link subsequent posts.

My posts

What Does What Doctors Don’t Tell You think it is?

What do readers of What Doctors Don’t Tell You Think it is?

What Advice You Got?

Because Fighty Libel Lawyers Make The Best Scientists

What Tesco Tell You, And Tell You… And Tell You Again

Stock. Or Stock Not.

Lynne McTaggart and the Vitamin C Soft Shoe Shuffle

The Hole in the Facebook Wall Quiz

The Agony of False Hope

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors…

Dear Reader…

The John Diamond Challenge

The Second John Diamond Challenge

Wheelbarrow of Stupid

Further reading

And here’s links to some much more insightful stuff from others:

Josephine Jones

http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/wddty-my-master-list/

What Doctors Don’t Tell You… Don’t Tell You

http://www.wwddtydty.com/

Western Sloth

WDDTY and cancer claims – they are not evidence based

jdc325

http://jdc325.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/is-wddty-magazine-anti-vaccine/

http://jdc325.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/safe-wddty-magazine-kills-up-to-200000-a-year/

Anarchic Teapot

http://blog.anarchic-teapot.net/2013/10/02/what-charlatans-dont-tell-you-about-what-doctors-dont-tell-you-short-spiky/

The Nightingale Collaboration

http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/news/132-what-they-don-t-tell-you.html

http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/news/143-wddty-9-taking-stock.html

Avicenna

http://freethoughtblogs.com/amilliongods/2013/10/12/not-the-ducks-a-dissection-of-quackery/

(Many thanks to @lexistwit for turning ideas into art a million times better than I could have)

Where to find everything

14 Sep

Posts on the Saatchi Bill

Posts on What Doctors Don’t Tell You

 

Contact me here

nil pecuniam ad veritas

11 Jun

11th June 2015

indycut

Okay, I’m going to take it as read that you know that this headline from the front page of the Independent on Sunday (31st May 2015) is wrong, and why it is wrong. This has already been covered, and covered well, by people who actually know what they are talking about on the subject of vaccinations, not least Dr Jen Gunter, jdc325, and Adam Jacobs.

When the Toronto Star ran a similar story back in February, it ultimately resulted in a retraction and an apology (thanks in no small part to the intervention of Jen Gunter). But, on this occasion, the Independent haven’t retracted, and instead they’ve sought to justify their position, as typified by the response they wrote to Adam Jacobs. This story was followed by a similar piece the next day in the Mail.

It’s possible to attribute some of this bad journalism to ignorance on the part of the author of the article, for example ignorance of the fact that adverse event databases demonstrate no causal link between the vaccination and the adverse event. No doubt there’s often some truth in this, particularly since such stories often originate in the lifestyle, fashion, diet, or even showbiz ends of the publication in question (the publication’s science department – if it has one – presumably refusing to touch the story with a bargepole).

Writing a headline article on an important subject while in complete ignorance of its meaning is bad enough, but there is another problem which is typified by the Independent piece. When challenged by Adam Jacobs, they say:

We made clear that no causal link has been established between the symptoms experienced by Miss Ryalls (and other teenagers) and the HPV vaccine.

Adam responds:

I think what they mean by “made it clear that no causal link has been established” is that they were very careful with their wording not to explicitly claim a causal link, while nonetheless using all the rhetorical tricks at their disposal to make sure a causal link was strongly implied.

Let’s be clear here. The Independent knew exactly what they were doing. Their journalists and editors may not understand science, or epidemiology, or statistics, but they do know how to write. They know that by writing a headline in the form “Bad thing x happened after somebody did y” they are drawing a clear connection between x and y.

If they were to publish the headline…

Thousands of customers endure food poisoning after visiting [insert fast food chain here]

…unless they had good evidence to show that the food poisoning was actually connected to the visit to the fast food chain, they’d fully expect the bosses of that fast food chain would be sharpening their lawyers. If there was no demonstrable link between the two, if it was unclear whether the food poisoning was actually food poisoning, if many of the cases happened months later, they could expect their headline to be challenged.

The point I’m making here is that it’s not good enough simply to say “Blah blah happened after blah blah” and then run away from responsibility for it, shouting over your shoulder that it’s not your fault if somebody takes away an untrue meaning from what you’ve said. It’s your fault if somebody draws a false connection between those two events, especially when that false connection was precisely what you were aiming for.

.

Thousands of trawlermen out of work after Firefly is cancelled

But the Independent letter goes on:

I am confident that our readers are sophisticated enough to understand the wider context and implications.

This is tantamount to saying, “Our readers know we make shit up. They know our headlines can’t be trusted and they are sophisticated enough to take what we say with a massive pinch of salt. D’oh, what are we like?”

Now, that may be good enough for the Sunday Sport or Viz, where there either isn’t really any attempt to make a serious stab at accurate news reporting or the work is (at its best) satirical humour, but it’s not good enough for a supposedly trustworthy broadsheet newspaper.

20150610_131458sm

Viz: What the Independent wants to be when it grows up.

.

It also misses two important aspects of publication, which result in a readership beyond the normal Indy audience.

Firstly, this was the front page headline. It will have been read by lots of non-readers of the Independent: people in the newsagents on their way to buy their copy of Scaffolding Monthly or a scratchcard. These people will have read the headline, absorbed the claim that HPV vaccinations are harming children, but not bought the paper and therefore not read the caveat somewhere around paragraph 23 that it was all made-up bollocks.

Secondly, because the article is published and freely accessible on the internet, it’s open to what I’m going to refer to, for want of a better term, as the blowfly effect. Here’s how the blowfly effect works. If you publish, on your front page and on your website, a huge steaming turd of an article, you’re going to attract flies. In this case, a swarm of of anti-vax conspiracy arseholes who will take your article, divest it of any of the “wider context and implications” you think you’ve been so careful to include, and just trumpet the basic headline message that HPV is bad, m’kay. These then infect people who never saw the original article and just pick up the misinformation that builds up around it. It’s in the Independent, it must be true, they’ll think. This is exactly how scandals such as MMR occur.

The Indy continues:

The impact on the MMR programme of Andrew Wakefield’s flawed research (and media coverage of it) is always at the forefront of editors’ minds whenever concerns about vaccines are raised, either by individuals or by medical studies. But our piece on Sunday was not in the same bracket.

Adam’s response:

No, sorry, it is in exactly the same bracket. The media coverage of MMR vaccine was all about hyping up completely evidence-free scare stories about the risks of MMR vaccine. The present story is all about hyping up completely evidence-free scare stories about the risk of HPV vaccine. If you’d like to explain to me what makes those stories different, I’m all ears.

Couldn’t have put it better.

.

Thousands of seagulls die after Queen goes to toilet

Now, articles such as the Independent’s front page frothy outpouring undoubtedly feed into a climate of unjustified fear of vaccination, which results in reductions in vaccination rates, which results in real harm. There are already reports of girls being withdrawn from the vaccination programme. Beyond that, I’d like to make comments about two other areas that could be affected by such irresponsible scare-mongering.

Firstly, AllTrials. One potential excuse for pharmaceutical companies to avoid releasing all the data regarding their clinical trials is the risk of that data potentially being misused, by somebody who is inexperienced, ignorant, or has an axe to grind.

If we are going to say that drug companies and researchers must release the data they hold about the treatments we use, then we have to make sure we use that data in a grown-up, responsible way. Brutalising adverse event databases in a cheap attempt to stir up controversy is not exactly responsible behaviour.

.

Thousands of people rip off own ears after Ed Sheeran gig

No, wait, there probably is a link between those two. I’ll try again.

.

Thousands of Bothans die after attempt to obtain Death Star plans

This just isn’t working. I’ll move on.

Then there’s What Doctors Don’t Tell You (motto: “never knowingly accurate”). Regular readers of my blog will be fully aware of this particularly loathsome rag, which cloaks dangerous medical advice in the camouflage of a glossy lifestyle magazine. Vitamin C to cure AIDS? It’s got it. Homeopathy to cure cancer? It’s got that too. Their chief editor runs courses in using the power of the mind to influence the world around you, and is convinced she managed to end civil war in Sri Lanka by the power of brain-thoughts.

edsnocap

Mmmmmm. Brains.

.

WDDTY (motto: “Coming up: why we will never take advertising. But first, a word from our sponsors”) is solidly, barkingly anti-vax, even to the extent of giving advice on how to avoid school vaccination programmes. One investigation into how often WDDTY (motto: “Blibl blibl blibl”) makes anti-vaccination comments ran into difficulty when the search hit 100 results and couldn’t count further.

babyneedles

Don’t leave your baby in the sharps bin. I know it seems a good idea to put your baby in the sharps bin, but really… you’ve got to try not to do that.

.

The Independent clearly isn’t as bad as WDDTY (motto “nil pecuniam ad veritas”) but when they publish articles like this one they are clearly on the same spectrum, and their reach is much larger (despite what WDDTY (motto “bite me, facts”) would have you believe about their sales figures).

A number of us have been campaigning for some time to persuade supermarkets and newsagents to stop stocking WDDTY (motto: “Can we really get away with this?”), on the basis that it contains dangerous advice and is given an illusion of verity it doesn’t deserve by being stocked in stores such as Tesco and Asda. The magazine’s editors, for their part, claim to be being persecuted by this campaign.

notevenwrong

Possibly the only accurate headline that has ever been printed in WDDTY (motto: “Full scream ahead!”)

.

Now here’s the thing. If we campaign and complain about WDDTY (motto: “Not even wrong”) while the mainstream media get away with dangerous nonsense such as this Indy article, then their claim of persecution has some measure of justification.

.

Thousands of journalists suffer brain fade after being told to stoke up something controversial to use as clickbait

So please, Independent, do the right thing. Learn the lesson that the Toronto Star learned, understand the contribution you could make to public safety (either positively or negatively) and decide to take a conscious step towards making that contribution a positive one.

Retract this awful article.

.

Otherwise I’m going to have to start writing sarky things about you too.

.

.

Comments gratefully received (except Latin pedantry).

More WDDTY articles

Wheelbarrow of Stupid

26 Oct
Or How Wandering Teacake Wasted His Time Trying To Understand WDDTY’s Sales Figures

26th October 2014

It’s been a while since I’ve written about What Doctors Don’t Tell You, the journal of record for those looking for an alternative to real medical advice. But here I am, pretty much back where I started my blogging career all those 12 long months ago.

Here’s why. Over the past 18 months or so, various individuals, myself included, have contacted various supermarkets and newsagents that stock WDDTY, expressing our concern at the content of this – how can I put it? – festering purulent pile of discarded, discredited and dangerous treatments. Over the years, some stockists have dropped the title, some have dropped it and then reportedly started again, some have just ignored us. But through it all, the editors of WDDTY have screamed about free speech and how the nasty Big Pharma shills want this magazine banned.

Also, over the past couple of months, those of us unfortunate enough to be on the WDDTY mailing list have been seeing increasing numbers of marketing e-mails coming from WDDTY HQ. Not only is the frequency increasing, but there seemed to me an increasing note of desperation creeping in to the content.

So, I thought it might be interesting* to take a look at the sales figures for WDDTY and see if anything has changed as a result of the goings-on over the last year.

* not interesting

As luck** would have it, I wrote a post last November about how the magazine, despite protestations that they would never take advertising because they wanted to stay pure, now carries as much advertising as any conventional publication. As part of the background for that piece, I posed as an advertiser and obtained a copy of the advertising rate card then in use. This is the document WDDTY uses to tempt potential advertisers, the claims they make in order to sell space in the magazine.

** misfortune

So, going undercover again, I have obtained a copy of the latest rate card, now renamed (for reasons that will become clear) “Media Pack.” We can have a look and see what claims WDDTY are currently making, and if all the hoo-ha over “banning” the magazine has had any effect on sales.

N.B. I haven’t attached either the old or new rates cards to this article, because I don’t want the publishers going all copyright-y on me. If you want to have a look at these documents for yourself, I’m sure their advertising department will be happy to oblige – speak to Paul Barrett on paul@wddty.co.uk. You may have to pretend to be a seller of homeopathic underwear or something, though.

Here we go.

 

harness

Looking at the latest media pack, it’s immediately clear that the focus has changed. Where the previous version gave information about the magazine, the categories of subject it covers, and the sales figures, the new version goes all out with the marketing bollocks.

standout

solutions

Readers are the commodity being sold, and the magazine and website are merely the vehicle to deliver those readers to any advertiser wanting to boost their “sales and brand.” The old rate card devoted a large proportion of its space to a list of the categories of subject covered in the magazine. That’s now gone, replaced by a list of reader interests.

readers

It’s all about marketing to the readers. If you were looking for a clear indication of what WDDTY are about, and what they think of their readers, this is it. Bugger trying to be a voice of reason, it’s all “powerful solutions” this and “get you in front of affluent people” that. Remember, their own website claims this:

relies

That paragraph seems hard to reconcile with what we’re seeing here. And remember this from the Times..?

pure

Pure, eh? Given how much WDDTY’s editors bleat about the supposedly Pharma-funded campaign against them, it’s enlightening to see how much they are just a glossy front for their advertisers.

It’s also worth briefly mentioning that, while the old version included a list of supermarkets and stores that stocked WDDTY (including Waitrose, which they later denied had ever been a stockist when Waitrose sensibly dropped them), the current media pack lists no stores. This is probably wise, since the list keeps changing.

So let’s have a look at some numbers, shall we? Maybe even have a graph?

Before we get to that, I should take a moment to address a particular portion of my audience. I know most of you are health or science nerds and that, as a result, you don’t view the prospect of a graph with trepidation. But I do occasionally get a few peddlers of alternaïve*** treatments coming in to my blog looking for things I’ve written that they can repeat back to me like I’ve forgotten I’ve written them, so in the interests of inclusiveness I’d just like to address that one part of my readership for a moment.

*** That’s a new term I’m inventing there.

Homeopaths: Hi there. I know you guys don’t really do numbers. I know you’re not really alongside the concept of research. Or critical thinking. And I know you’re particularly suspicious of the idea that somebody can take some published figures and analyse them, write about them, maybe even make a graph of them. You think that’s cheating. But I don’t want to lose you here, so I’ll tell you what. The rest of us can go and have a look at those numbers and graphs, and if you guys prefer you can have a look at this picture of a cat in a hat instead.

P1000829

We’ll all meet up again at the end of the page.

 The Numbers Game

Where was I? Oh yes, the numbers. If you remember, I want to see if the sales figures have been affected by the hysteria over possible “banning.” It’s difficult to make a direct comparison between the old figures and the new, because they are quoted differently, but I’ll do my best.

Here’s the original:

oldfigs

And here’s the new

newfigs

As you can see, the numbers aren’t broken down in quite the same way, so it’s not possi- wait, what?

1pt2m

Not only is that a rather specific figure (if you’re a homeopath who, inexplicably, has wandered in from staring vacantly at the cat, have a look at this GCSE Bitesize guidance on significant figures) it’s huge. I doubt I’m giving away the punchline to this article if I observe here that it’s also bullshit.

The media pack does go into a little bit more detail on the figures, so let’s have at them.

E-mail list

email

There’s no way to verify that 146,000 figure, and the old version doesn’t make any claims about e-mail membership, but there are still some observations to be made here.

Firstly, the claim that 146,000 people opted in to receive a twice-weekly E-news bulletin. I accept that I’m likely to be an outlier in terms of my interest in “seeking out health solutions”, but I probably signed up the same way as most others did – in a (fruitless) attempt to access an article on their website. I didn’t opt in to receive any communications from them, though I have to say their e-mails have been a rich source of research material, just not in the way the authors envisaged.

Since 8th May 2014, I’ve received 107 e-mails from WDDTY Towers. That’s an average of 4.4 e-mails a week. Presumably, the difference between 4.4 e-mails per week and the two “E-new bulletins” they claim they send is explained by the additional “solo blasts” they sell to advertisers. That’s right, sign up to access WDDTY’s website and they will, unannounced and without your permission, sell you off as a commodity to advertisers. As an aside, I’m signed up with a number of other websites. None of them send me more than one e-mail a week. WDDTY sometimes send me three a day. I haven’t tried escaping myself, but there is also at least one report of difficulties getting off this list.

Print sales

This was the area I was most curious to look at, since WDDTY have been exhorting their readers to “subscribe before we’re banned.” We may expect to see subscriptions rise as a result, and we may also see a fall in shop sales as the supposed “ban” takes effect.

Last year, WDDTY was claimed to have sold 20,000 copies which, when broken down (see the list further up in this page) consisted of 10,178 sales in shops and 9,679 subscription sales. What is it now?

60000readers

Well, that’s odd. While subscriptions appear to have gone down, the overall readership appears to have tripled. Rather than seeing a stampede towards subscription, we seem to be seeing a massive increase in shop sales. This makes no sense.

An explanation (though one which raises more questions) appears further down.

magazinedetail

Riiiigght. So now WDDTY counts “readership” as the number of people who have sight of a copy of the magazine. I remain no expert in print media marketing, so I’m not familiar with this as a technique for describing your sales figures. At the very least, it is unhelpful, because the blurb conflates their definition of “readers” with purchasers of the magazine in a confusing way. We have 60,000 “readers”, including 8,000 “subscribers”, even though “subscribers” are not the same as their definition of “readers” (because you can’t by any stretch of the imagination claim somebody who reads a borrowed copy as a subscriber). We have 22,000 copies sold in “major supermarkets and health stores, including 8,000 subscribers” even though sales in shops clearly can’t be to subscribers. The digital edition is mentioned separately from subscriptions, even though this must be a subscription edition. “Readers” say they pass on their copy, giving a larger pool of “readership.” It is, in short, a confusing mess.

There’s no way I can make these numbers add up without there being a problem somewhere. They say that every copy sold is passed on to at least three other people, so presumably they multiply sales by four to arrive at their readership figure of 58,000. This would imply sales of 14,500 copies, print and digital, subscription and newsstand, all-in. But they claim 22,000 copies sold.

One simple way to add it up is to take the 22,000 copies sold figure as being correct, along with the 8000 subscription figure. Shop sales would be found by subtracting the subscription sales from the total, giving 14,000 copies sold in stores. Digital edition readers would be part of the 8,000 subscribers, as you don’t buy the digital edition in shops. I’ll include this in a graph, but it doesn’t look right to me, because it still ends up with increased shop sales and decreased subscription sales, the opposite of what we were expecting.

There’s another way to add this up, which is to disregard the 22,000 figure and work back from the readership claim to say that if 58,000 people read the magazine in some form, and each purchase results in four readers (the purchaser and three friends), then the total number of copies sold must be 58,000/4 = 14,500 copies. Incidentally, they may also have meant that the 4,000 digital edition readers are the result of 1,000 purchases, all of which would be part of the subscription total (again, you don’t buy the digital edition in a shop). Shop sales would then be whatever is left over after you subtract 8000 subscriptions from the 14,500 total – 6,500 copies. Oh dear, that would be quite a drop from last year’s 10,178.

Here’s the graphs.

sales22000

sales14500

It’s up to you which version of this year’s figures you find more credible. Either way you look at it, subscriptions appear to have gone down. At the same time, sales from the newsstand have either gone up 38% (11% overall, factoring in the drop in subscriptions), in which case well done WDDTY, you’ve successfully turned a pretend campaign against banning into a sales success, or they’ve gone down 36% (27% overall), in which case we have an explanation for the increasing note of strident desperation appearing in WDDTY e-mails and web pronouncements. Either way, advertising charges have stayed virtually the same.

Web site visitors

website

Let’s deal with that “prestigious Best Health & Wellbeing Website of the Year award” first. Actually, let’s not, as Anarchic Teapot has already dealt with it. Have a look at that page, just promise to come back when you’re done.

Apparently, WDDTY’s website “attracts one million visitors a year, and 650,000 are new each year”. It’s a broadly similar figure to the old rate card’s claim of “80,000 website unique visits” per month. But there’s something not right, because the figures are huge. I’m just going to say here that it looks very much to me as if WDDTY are claiming every page hit as a unique visitor. If you thought it was dodgy to inflate magazine readership figures by including everybody who might notionally be lent a copy, this is even worse. It’s like saying “Okay, I sell 8,000 copies of my magazine, and each copy has 100 pages, so that’s 800,000 readers I’ve got.”

I did actually try quizzing WDDTY’s advertising department on this, posing as a potential advertiser, but as soon as I started asking for more details on the figures, they stopped answering. Completely clammed up.

I’m not going to waste time looking for figures for a comparable site, because there’s a simple demonstration why the numbers must be bollocks. In order to access any content on the site, you have to register, and once you register you’re on the spam list. We already know how many people are on the spam list – 146,000 –so unless there’s an absolutely massive churn on readership, with people registering and de-registering and then re-registering again with the turn of the sun, it’s simply not possible for the website to have as many readers as claimed, particularly given 350,000 of them are supposed to be regulars. How, when the mailing list you have to be on to access the site content is less than half that size?

Incidentally, I wouldn’t be boasting to advertisers about one million visitors, 650,000 of them new, if I were them. Given the overall figure hasn’t risen much since last year, it means that two thirds of visitors don’t bother to come back after their first visit to this “complete package” of “powerful solutions.”

Overlap

So this already looks like creative counting – magazine sales are described in such a way that might make you think they’re selling a lot more copies than they really are, website visits count every page hit as a unique visitor, and they’re a bit liberal with their interpretation of why people are on their mailing list. But the problems don’t end there.

WDDTY add their 146,000 “e-mail list” to their 1 million “web visitors” and their 58,000 “readers” of the magazine to get… wait a minute, that doesn’t add up to 1,212,000 people, it’s actually 1,204,000. We’re 8,000 short. You may already have noticed that this discrepancy is the same as the claimed number of subscribers, and be waiting for me to go back and see if that helps make sense of their magazine sales figures. But I’m past my limit of endurance now, and I suspect you are too.

(Actually, if you assume that the magazine sells 22,000 copies, and assume that the editors, in inflating their readership figures by claiming every copy is read by an additional three people, erroneously multiplied their 22,000 by three instead of by the four it should have been (the three people they lend their copy to plus the purchaser), you get 66,000 readers which, when added to 1 million website viewers and 146,000 mailing list people, gives the claimed total of 1,212,000 readers- aaargh, stoppit STOPPIT!)

All I’m going to do here is take a deep breath and say that to arrive at that total audience figure in that way would have required some really rather advanced stupidity. A wheelbarrow full of stupid. A wheelbarrow full of stupid where the wheel is also made of stupid and the barrow is made of stupid, and all you have is a big pile of stupid, and you find yourself trying to push around a load of stupid balanced on a big pile of more stupid.

eds

So I’ll mention the final problem with these figures. They make no attempt to correct for overlap between web, e-mail and magazine figures. There must be some. Every website user has to be on the e-mail list, because you can’t really get anywhere without registering, so those 146,000 people are duplicates right from the off. To get very far on the website you have to – here’s that word again – subscribe. It’s also not credible that there is no overlap between people visiting the website and people reading the magazine. The audience figures are heavily over-inflated because many many people are on the list two or three times. That’s before you remember that they consider you to be a new person every time you click on the next page on their site.

The Bitter End

Hello again to the homeopaths. The cat’s name is Nutmeg, in case you’re wondering.

When I embarked on this revisitation of WDDTY sales documents, I was hoping to find out whether all the skeptic campaigning and all the noise from WDDTY about how they were being repressed had had any effect on their actual sales. I haven’t found this out for certain, because their media materials have – using the kindest interpretation possible – made some fundamental errors in their calculations, which has badly obscured the real picture. This may be inadvertent; WDDTY are notoriously bad at counting. However, along the way I found out something that was more interesting: WDDTY are now getting really rather cynical in their exploitation of their readership, however large that readership really is, in the pursuit of profit.

When WDDTY went all glossy back in September 2012 it was like decorating a dog poo by shoving a lolly stick into it. Yes, it may have been superficially more aesthetically pleasing, but it was basically still a dog poo. And what we now see here is that, to its editors, the poo they publish is just a means to generate more lolly.

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Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, I wrote all of that just so I could finish with a crap joke.

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(Addendum 27th October 2014: Do take a look at the comments. They add very useful background to this story.)

What Doctors Don’t Tell You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Saatchi Bill – Stifling Innovation and Harming Patients

20 Apr

20th April 2014

The government is currently consulting on a new bill that – if passed – would fundamentally change the way in which medical professionals can decide on your treatment. If you care that the treatment you receive should be professionally delivered, evidence-based and that patients should have a means of redress for mistreatment, I urge you to respond to this consultation – you only have until 25th April 2014 – and make your views known. Details on how to respond to the consultation are at the end of this article.

Sorry, it’s quite long.

Introduction

The Medical Innovation Bill (or “Saatchi Bill” as it is popularly called after its proposer, Lord Saatchi) is currently being trumpeted across print and social media. Here is a bill that even has its own Twitter feed. The story that is being put about is that development of vital new treatments is being held back because medical professionals are afraid of negligence claims. Press coverage of the bill is, how can I put it, glowing.

The PR campaign has been very powerful, heart-string-tugging stuff, and some proponents have gone so far as to say that this bill is the one that will allow us to find a cure for cancer. The arguments are strong, slick, powerful.

And almost completely wrong.

This article sets out to explain how, rather than encouraging innovation, the Saatchi Bill would actually stifle it, and how, rather than helping patients, it will almost certainly lead to a great deal of harm.

I am not a medical professional, though I have a background working in the health service, clinical audit and a little bit of medical research. I have written this at a level that I can understand, which means that you can understand it too, and hopefully see for yourself where this bill clearly leads us.

Though the comments I make would also apply for any currently incurable illness, affliction or malady, from AIDS to CFS, because much of the discussion around the Saatchi Bill has been about finding a cure for cancer, that’s where I’ll focus most. It’s worth bearing in mind that the patients most affected here are the most vulnerable – likely to be terminally ill, desperate to find something, anything, to prolong their life or relieve their symptoms – and most likely to be prey to the peddling of false hope.

The draft Medical Innovations Bill (Saatchi Bill) is here. It’s very short, only three pages, so I recommend you have a read, even if you usually strenuously avoid such things, as I usually would. The points which most resonate to me are that the bill is designed to protect medical professionals when they make decisions that none of their colleagues would support, and that it specifically bans them from using the bill to carry out research.

In order for this bill to potentially be of value, either one or both of the following statements need to be true:

  • There are promising treatments available or in development, which are not being used because clinicians are being prevented by regulation from using them.
  • There are individual “maverick” doctors with wonderful new “pioneering” treatments who can’t get them developed.

Unfortunately, while both are popular stories in the media, they are actually just that: stories.

 What’s in the Lab?

So, first off, what the people pushing this bill would have us believe is that there are promising treatments out there, gathering dust on shelves, which are not being used because clinicians are afraid to use them. If only we could set the clinicians free, they tell us, then all these wonderful new treatments could be used.

I’m sorry, but this is not true.

Even if it were true, this bill would not help. If a pharmaceutical company, for example, is sitting on a brilliant new miracle cure drug, the last thing they will want to do is subject it to the scattergun of individual treatments in this way. There are no advantages and only disadvantages for them. They cannot use the treatments for research purposes, as the bill specifically bans them from doing so, and any adverse reactions which occur could potentially kill their wonder drug before they can get it authorised for mainstream use and start making real money from it.

 The Maverick Doctor

The idea of the maverick doctor with a miracle cure is an enduring one, in much the same way as the boffin inventing a wonderful new clean energy source in his garden shed, but such a person is incredibly rare. For every person with a good idea, there are a thousand quacks, pushing ineffective cancer treatment for massive profit, or selling you treatments for “mitochondrial dysfunction” which are claimed (without evidence) to help your CFS.

So what will the real effects of the Saatchi Bill be, and who will benefit from it?

 Pharmaceutical companies

One group that will clearly benefit will, I think, be the pharmaceutical companies. They will benefit in a number of ways. But first a quick bit of background.

Pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money – billions – on research, with diminishing returns, it seems. It is now rare for a company to come up with a miracle breakthrough and instead they spend more and more time refining existing groups of drugs, extending their use, creating subtly different copies of existing treatments. The reasons for this are obvious – if you develop a new drug you can patent it and corner the market for a time, charging what you like for it. Once it’s out of patent anybody can make it and the price falls through the floor. So the pharmaceutical companies will make a slightly modified version of the drug, and patent it again, and promote that as being the new thing to use, charging handsomely for the “new” drug over the generic alternative. This is a bit of an aside, but an illuminating one – one study[1] estimated that £1 billion of the £9 billion NHS drug budget was being unnecessarily wasted on branded drugs when a generic would have done just as well. It gives us an idea of the sums involved here.

Another area where pharmaceutical companies can make extra money is in “off-label “ use. When drugs are authorised, it’s generally for treatment of a specific condition in a particular group of people. It’s hard and expensive to get authorisation for a drug in certain groups – children or pregnant women, for example – because it is very difficult to safely trial your drug in those groups directly. But a pain-killer licensed for use in adults will probably work in children, so the drug could be used “off-label” to treat children, because there is a reasonable expectation it would work. This is reasonable as far as it goes, but it becomes less supportable the further away from the original licence you go. What if you take a drug intended for treating diabetes, say, and use it for treating depression? It may seem fanciful, but drug companies have a bit of a history of cherry-picking unexpected results from their drug trials and spinning them into the claim of a useful effect. Sometimes drugs do successfully cross boundaries; thalidomide now has a new life as a drug used in the treatment of cancer and leprosy, for example, but these things should not be done on a whim. The Saatchi Bill, though, gives a doctor carte blanche to make a treatment decision even if none of his or her colleagues would support it. What is to stop that doctor going completely off piste? Nothing.

Now picture yourself as a rep for a pharmaceutical company. The Saatchi Bill gives GPs wider scope for prescribing. You’ve got a bunch of shiny new drugs in your portfolio, why not give them a nudge in the “right” direction?

But then, why stick with those boring old existing drugs, when there’s loads of experimental ones sitting on the shelf earning no income at all?

 But we don’t want to give you that, we want to sell you this…

As I mentioned above, trialling drugs, getting them authorised and on the market, is an expensive business. A pharmaceutical company may spend millions on developing a drug, fail to get it authorised, and after all the effort see no return on their investment. Now, with the Saatchi Bill, there’s a way to make money off those drugs.

A doctor could prescribe an experimental drug, and the drugs company could sell it to them. Simple as that. There’s no limit to this – the bill does not restrict the prescribing pattern of the medical professional at all. There’s no restriction that experimental drugs can only be used in terminal cases where there is no other possible treatment. We could see wholesale prescribing of experimental treatments for a whole range of ailments, of all kinds. And the costs would be monstrous – these are experimental treatments, the drugs will be expensive.

Here we start to see the scale of the problem. The Saatchi Bill is specifically intended to allow clinicians to make decision which no other clinician would agree is a good idea, and be protected for it. There is nothing to stop the scenario I have just described.

There have been many, many cases over the years where patient groups and the media have been mobilised, sometimes unwittingly, to demand the NHS prescribe a new “wonder drug” or prevent the withdrawal of an existing ineffective one. In these cases, the NHS comes under intolerable pressure to cave in to the demands. We will see a lot more of these cases. We will see a lot more abuse of “accelerated approval”, where drugs are fast-tracked, this time on the basis of patient pressure from existing recipients of an experimental treatment.

Does any of this matter? I think it does. Apart from the expense, the only treatments which will be offered via this experimental route will be the poor ones, the indifferent treatments with little effect or horrible side-effects. Think about it. If the treatment is any good, the drug company will want to make most profitable use of it. That means trials and licensing and a patent so they can market it exclusively. Prescribing the drug through the Saatchi Bill harms this goal: they can’t use any data they get from patients because research use is banned, and any side-effects or problems are only going to set them back. No, the only treatments to be Saatchi’d will be ones that are already licensed for some other use, or not very likely ever to reach licensing because they are not good enough. The Saatchi Bill allows the drug company to make some extra money from the inferior, shrapnel drugs in their portfolio.

But here we have a way in which Saatchi will block innovation. By opening up the field so that companies can get their unlicensed drugs earning money, there is now no incentive to develop them further. Why would they? They are already making money, and if the company spends all the money and effort on taking them through to authorisation, there is a chance they won’t make it through, which could actually harm the revenue they are already making on the drug. No, Saatchi will actually stifle innovation.

 Independent “healthcare” providers

This is the other group that stands to benefit. When we look at this bill, we have to consider not just how honest and diligent clinicians would use it, but how dishonest and incompetent clinicians would use it. And it is difficult to escape the conclusion that honest and diligent clinicians don’t actually need it, while dishonest and incompetent clinicians would have all their Christmases come at once. It is, in short, a quack’s charter.

To take a specific example, it would allow a cancer quack like Stanislaw Burzynski to operate in the UK. I won’t spend too long on this, but Burzynski is a doctor who operates a clinic in Texas, from where he claims to cure cancer. He has been running this clinic for more than three decades and, under the pretence of medical research, has been making millions from putting terminally ill patients through expensive and painful treatments. Then they die, sometimes from the cancer he claims to be curing and sometimes from sodium overdoses from his treatments.

The Saatchi Bill would allow a UK Burzynski to operate, make him almost impossible to stop, and he wouldn’t even need to run the pretence of clinical trials as a cover for his exploitation of vulnerable patients.

Here I’ll skip lightly over the fact that you can’t know a treatment is any good until you’ve tried it, and so it’s probable that a doctor will only know what treatments were responsible after they’ve carried out the treatment.

 So what about the patients?

Well, effectively this bill takes away many of the protections patients have against medical negligence. It’s worth taking a look at the consultation document for the bill because it takes quite a different approach to expressing the problem the bill is intended to solve than what has been circulating in the media. As far as the consultation document is concerned, the problem is the rise in clinical negligence claims and “our increasingly litigious culture”, and it shows us a graph demonstrating how the number of claims is increasing year on year. Now, we’ve no way of knowing from the bare figures how many of those claims arise from departure from accepted practice (what the Saatchi bill covers) and how many from poor treatment within accepted practice (incompetence, delays, wrong diagnosis, overdoses, that sort of thing), but the consultation document effectively tries to draw a parallel between those negligence claims and the freedom to deviate from accepted practice. Without knowing how many claims arise from such deviations from accepted practice, or how much clinicians feel constrained by the risk of litigation, such parallels are unwarranted.

So, rather than address the problem of clinical negligence directly, the bill seeks to make it almost impossible for a patient to make a clinical negligence claim if a doctor deviates from accepted practice. I’ll ram this point home: if a doctor decides to do something which all his colleagues say is stupid, wrong and negligent, he/she can still do it, and be protected by this bill. In essence, the Saatchi Bill drives a coach and horses through the protection of patients. As Dr Margaret McCartney puts it in her excellent post on the subject, this bill allows any doctor to:

 “propose anything and for it to be decreed ‘reasonable’. I am very clearly not a lawyer, but to pretend that this gives patients any protection from naked quackery would be misguided.”

And what do we gain? Nothing. The bill actually prevents research: we won’t get feedback on whether an experimental treatment works. Worse, we also won’t get feedback to tell us if it is harmful.

 Conclusion

There is no cure for cancer here. What we have instead is a new Wild West, an effectively lawless wasteground where treatments can be used in a scattergun approach, without any evidence they actually work. There is no research gain, no protection for the patient.

This bill approaches the problem of research and development of new treatments from entirely the wrong direction. Because of that, there is no way to fix this bill and have it work, because the approach is wrong. It acts as a disincentive to research, removes safeguards for patients while placing no duty on the clinician to provide any form of useful feedback on the effectiveness of the treatment, nor any limit on cost. Finding the one promising treatment among the noise of thousands will be impossible, because organised research is specifically banned.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that with the Saatchi Bill the government is trying in effect to de-regulate medical treatment and wash its hands of the negligence claims that will inevitably follow. I cannot understand how anybody, after even a moment’s thought, could think that this is in the interests of patients, and any MP who votes for this has some serious explaining to do.

We have a real problem in getting to grips with quacks pushing unproven and potentially dangerous treatments. We also have a problem in the speed with which ethics committees approve trials and treatments. Neither problem is helped by this bill, to put it mildly.

I urge you to respond to the consultation, before the closing date of 25th April 2014. It will also be interesting to see how your MP votes. This issue is pretty clear-cut, and if they vote for this bill there is a good chance they either haven’t understood it or they have some other motive for doing so.

Links:

Draft Bill here

Consultation Document here

You can respond here

As ever, use the comments to let me know why I am wrong.

Or contact me here.

Addendum 23/4/14: I linked above to a Telegraph article by Dominic Nutt. It would appear that, in penning this article extolling the claimed virtues of the Saatchi Bill, Mr. Nutt failed to declare that he is Director of Communications for the Saatchi Bill campaign. This is a serious omission.

 

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Ben Goldacre, whose books Bad Science and Bad Pharma illuminate pharmaceutical company practices I mention in this post, Bad Pharma in particular putting me on to the paper referenced below, and my friend @frozenwarning, for background info.

[1]  Moon JC, Flett AS, Godman BB, Grosso AM, Wierzbicki AS. Getting better value from the NHS drug budget. BMJ. 2010 Dec 17;341(dec17 1):c6449-c6449.

 

Pages on the Saatchi Bill

An introduction (20th April 2014):

The Saatchi Bill – Stifling Innovation and Harming Patients

Dishonesty in the Saatchi Campaign (10th May 2014):

So Untrue It’s Not True

A list of comments on the bill by organisations and individuals (10th May 2014):

An Inexhaustively Incomplete (But Completely Exhausting) List of Saatchi Bill Comments

An article about one particular campaign supporter (12th May 2014):

Well Struck

A discussion of the bill and its shortcomings (Guardian Science blogs guest post) (22nd May 2014):

The Saatchi medical innovation bill will put patients at the mercy of quacks

A comment on the promotion of the latest draft (3rd June 2014):

La-la-la-la (not listening)

A view on lack of patient protection in the latest draft (5th June 2014):

No protection against quackery

A view on research shortcomings in the latest draft (10th June 2014):

Gambling With Lives

Comments on the consultation process (13th June 2014):

Selling the Sizzle

The continuing PR (12th September 2014)

Never Say You’re Wrong

An Open Letter to Lord Blencathra (22nd October 2014)

Dear Lord

widget

The Second John Diamond Challenge

4 Mar
It’s back. And this time it’s challengier

Well here we are again, and we’ve passed the closing date of the inaugural John Diamond Challenge. If you recall, I asked you to find any example of What Doctors Don’t Tell You withdrawing or correcting any claim they’ve made. I did this in honour of John Diamond, a brilliant and much-missed writer. The concept of correction is an important one in science, particularly for a publication that prides itself on being at the, ah, cutting edge of medical science. It’s simply not plausible that they could have gone all these years without ever once getting anything wrong, and identifying and correcting your mistakes is how science progresses.

The entries are all in, I’ve counted them – twice – and there are none. Not a single example. Hands up who was surprised.

 So as I threatened I would, I’m going to buy a copy of John Diamond’s Snake Oil and send it to WDDTY’s editors as an example of what real journalism looks like.

snakeoil

 The Second John Diamond Challenge

 I was originally going to keep posing these challenges and keep sending copies of Snake Oil to WDDTY’s editors every time we failed to find a winner. But the thought of sending all those copies of a really good book into woo oblivion was too much to bear. Also, I had visions of it getting more and more rare and expensive, until booksellers hoarded their few remaining copies like Gutenberg Bibles.

 So I’ve decided to set another task, and this time around to offer as a prize a copy of Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Again, it’ll be the secondest-handiest copy I can find on Amazon or eBay, but you won’t care because I confidently predict you won’t win this time either.

badscience

 Here’s your challenge. Find for me a single instance of WDDTY clearly stating that, on balance of risks and benefits, any individual (genuine medical) vaccination does more good than harm.

 Bet you can’t.

 (My decision is final, no cash alternatives. Your deadline is 1st May 2014.)

Quick Links

16 Feb
Quick Links

What Doctors Don’t Tell You

National Health Action Party

The John Diamond Challenge

17 Jan
In which I discover that WDDTY’s bad behaviour goes back a long way, and rediscover an old friend.

Good news, everyone!

expertclose

I don’t want to rain on the ticker tape parades and street parties that will inevitably result from the wonderful news that it’s apparently now possible to bypass all that tedious book-learning and become a health expert simply by subscribing to What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine, but I feel I must sound a note of caution.

It’s an area I’ve looked at before. WDDTY calls itself a medical journal, and while its editors claim in interviews and on Facebook that they don’t give health advice they paradoxically spend a lot of time telling you about all the health advice in their magazine and on their website. Now, any reputable journal will have some sort of mechanism for correcting errors. Everybody makes mistakes, or research that initially looks promising fails to pan out, and if you’re giving health advice it’s important that if you do make a mistake you correct it, otherwise people can get hurt. Even the tabloid newspapers will issue the occasional correction, albeit as grudging and buried as they feel they can get away with, but WDDTY’s editors claim to aspire to the highest journalistic standards. They’d surely be better than this, wouldn’t they?

Well, it seems not. Up to now, I’ve only had access to the last couple of dozen issues of the magazine, but based on that sample I’ve not noticed a single case of corrective action being taken. Not one.

As far as I can tell there has really only been a public storm over the content of this magazine since it started presenting itself as a glossy, seemingly-mainstream title in supermarkets and newsagents, over the past year or so. I know that a lot of people have written to the editors and about them since then, pointing out errors in their articles, so they cannot now be unaware of the concerns being raised. But maybe it just takes a very long time to review concerns and issue a correction. Maybe we haven’t given them long enough to reflect, put their hands up and say “Sorry, we claimed homeopathy could cure cancer and we were wrong. We claimed Vitamin C could cure AIDS, and we were wrong.” If only, I’ve been telling myself, I could have a chance to reach further back in time and see if there has been a long-standing culture of anti-mainstream-medicine imperviousness to accuracy at WDDTY. It would help us to understand whether the editors of this magazine are simply slow to act or are wilfully ignoring the evidence.

I got my chance, and it came from an unexpected quarter.

snakeoil

Just before Christmas, Victoria Coren wrote a wonderful article about John Diamond, and I suddenly remembered that I’d bought a copy of his book Snake Oil but never got round to reading it. I quickly put that omission right, and in the process remembered just how much I enjoyed his writing.

John Diamond, if you don’t already recall, was a writer and broadcaster who – among many other things – wrote openly and movingly about the progression of the cancer that ultimately claimed his life. When he died in 2001, he was working on a book about the alternative medicine industry. He had been bombarded with so many well-meaning but utterly unhelpful suggestions for alternative treatments for his cancer that he started writing Snake Oil – “an uncomplimentary look at the world of complementary medicine.” He never had a chance to finish. Poignantly, his editor reports finding that, on entering John’s study the day after his death, his computer was still switched on and showing the unfinished draft, the last sentence he wrote a prelude to an intended chapter on homeopathy: “Let me explain why.” He never did.

What he managed to complete was an all-too-brief 80 page introduction to the alternative medicine industry. I heartily recommend you seek this out – it is brilliant. For me, reading Diamond’s work was like coming back to an old friend. He wrote how I kid myself I would write if I was any good at it. There is a beautiful analogy for how alt-med proponents treat evidence (based on a story of counting chairs), there is an early statement of the principle that has since become enshrined as Minchin’s Law (You know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work? Medicine.), and it is all written in a very clear, engaging way, by somebody who lived with (and eventually died from) a disease that acts as a dog-whistle for the very worst in alt-med charlatanry.

Why do I mention all this? Well, about five pages back from that final “Let me explain why”, Diamond undertakes a discussion of how we tend to trust people who sound like they know what they are talking about, and this is one of the weaknesses exploited by peddlers of useless remedies. He mentions a couple of examples of statements which “are heaved about the place as if they are true”, such as the claim that more people die in hospitals as a result of their treatment than of the disease they are admitted with, and that 90-95% of drugs used in mainstream medicine have not been formally tested. These oft-debunked examples, here presented in a 13-year old text, will still ring true to us today; I found myself wishing that John Diamond was still alive and writing, and wondering what mincemeat he would have made of WDDTY or its editors, Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard.

And then.

Discussing the claim that “scientists have no idea how aspirin works”, Diamond writes:

So if you heard somebody who seems to know what she’s talking about – and seems to know more than you do on a subject – say that on a serious BBC radio discussion, you’d probably assume that it was true. I use it as an example because it was precisely what Lynne McTaggart of the What Doctors Don’t Tell You newsletter and lobbying group said on a Radio Four discussion when she was debating with somebody from the Healthwatch organisation the wisdom of Middlesex University spending its money establishing a department to study Chinese traditional medicine.

 

I really really wish John Diamond was still with us.

The John Diamond Challenge

I don’t know whether Lynne McTaggart should or would regard her mention in this book – the last project John Diamond was working on – as a badge of honour. I’ve no way of knowing whether the final draft of Snake Oil and its remaining chapters would have named more people, but as it stood in front of me the only people names I could recall being used anywhere in the text were Gerson, Ernst and McTaggart. Rarified company indeed.

It strikes me that the behaviour of the editors of WDDTY, their cavalier mistreatment of evidence, the egregious invention and the imperviousness to the idea they may ever be wrong, has been going on for a much longer time than most of us have been blogging about it. It is clear that a total blindness to errors is completely ingrained in its editorial team. And that gives me an idea.

In dedicating this blog to John Diamond, pale shadow of his writing though it is, I hereby inaugurate the John Diamond Challenge. The first challenge, should you choose to accept it, is this: find a single instance, in the published edition of WDDTY, of the editors retracting or correcting an error they have previously published. Winning answers will be entered into a draw to win a (second-hand, from Amazon) copy of Snake Oil. Organisers’ decision is final, correspondence will be composted before being recycled as paper plates etc etc etc. Your deadline is March 1st 2014. If (as I suspect) we have no winner by the closing date, I may instead send the copy of Snake Oil to the editors of WDDTY, as an example of what real journalism looks like.

The next blog post will give us another example of real investigative journalism in stark contrast to what passes for it in WDDTY. Because, beyond all the flippancy, journalistic integrity matters.

Let me explain why.

 

The Second John Diamond Challenge

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