Looks like a lifestyle mag, moves like a lifestyle mag, steers like a cow
So this magazine, which has pretensions to be a serious scientific journal, but acts like a tabloid, looks like neither of those things. Sat on the shelves of Tesco or Asda, in amongst the knitting and running magazines, it looks like a run-of-the-mill lifestyle mag.
One could be forgiven for thinking that what you would get if you buy a copy of WDDTY is a sort of “insider secrets of the industry” publication. You might reasonably expect to read articles that build on established medical knowledge and practice, that help you to understand and make the most of the treatments available. This expectation would be reinforced by the editorial in the first glossy issue (September 2012):
We attempt to maintain an even hand when reporting about alternative methods with no evidence of safety or success. Our mantra – what works, what doesn’t – applies to new or traditional medicines as well. We are not doctor bashers. In our view, most doctors are highly competent, extremely hardworking and well intended.
This magazine is also emphatically not anti-medicine.
However, as you will find if you read the other blogs linked on my main page or the posts that will follow on this site, this is most emphatically not the case. What you actually get is a publication that seeks to undermine and overturn mainstream medical practice, and replace it with its own beliefs. And unfortunately, ironically for a publication that calls itself a scientific journal, these beliefs are not backed up by robust evidence.
Does this matter? When WDDTY was discussed on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff on October 1st 2013, one comment was that it was no worse than information one might find on the internet. A commenter on the Quackometer blog said:
WDDTY is such a small mag, with so few readers; The Sun sell million of copies of a rag that is about as accurate as WDDTY, but you do not see any problem with it
I think these comments miss the significance of WDDTY.
Newspapers like the Sun do indeed have a large readership and will sometimes include articles on health matters that have questionable reliability. But I would suggest here that most readers of the Sun don’t buy it for the health articles, and they don’t rely on it for such advice. They buy it for the sport pages, the “news” and celebrity gossip. And of course the nipples. There are problems with the Sun, of course, but it is not generally considered by most people to be an authoritative source for health advice, and people would hopefully exercise similar caution on the internet. I think I’d even find common ground with the editors of WDDTY in counselling against following the advice found on any random website you happen to stumble across. In contrast, WDDTY is a glossy magazine, not just stocked but actively promoted in mainstream outlets such as Tesco and Asda. It has be okay, doesn’t it? These places wouldn’t sell it if it gave bad advice, would they?
But it does give bad advice, and yet they still sell it.
We’ll come back to the faults in WDDTY’s advice ad nauseam in later posts, but for now I’d like to concentrate on this point. By stocking WDDTY, Tesco, Asda, WH Smith and other retailers lend it a veneer of respectability, and allow it to tap into a ready market of people at their most vulnerable. Somebody suffering from a serious or life-threatening illness, or their friend or relative, can walk into one of these shops and see on the shelf a publication that proudly proclaims it has the solution for their distress. And we have a certain amount of naivety about this sort of thing. We can’t quite believe that a glossy health magazine which claims it has a panel of professionals researching its stories would actually print things which are completely, utterly, demonstrably false. We assume there must be a law against that sort of thing, that it wouldn’t be allowed. But as we will see later on, there is very little protection for the consumer against false health claims made by non-health professionals.