The WDDTY wars: why they don’t want you to read all about it

tweetLong experience indicates that the reaction of cranks to criticism is very often to reframe it in terms that reduce cognitive dissonanceW, for example by dismissing scientific evidence as coming from “pharma shills”.

On October 3, WDDTY tweeted the following commentary to its followers.

The WDDTY wars: why they don’t want you to read all about it

Two days ago we woke up to find ourselves and our magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You the subject of a national scandal. On Tuesday October 1, the Times ran with an article about how there was a ‘call to ban’ our journal What Doctors Don’t Tell You over ‘health scares’.

WDDTY has always been a national scandal.

The Times headline was inaccurate, though not as inaccurate as WDDTY. What Sense About Science and others called for was not the banning of WDDTY (there is no mechanism for doing this anyway) but for mainstream retailers to stop stocking it, at least until it gets its house in order.

Commentators have found every kind of crank theory – even AIDS denialism. WDDTY routinely denies that these stories exist, and then denies that they represent the editorial line or the opinions of any of the editorial board. Have a look at the content and make up you own mind:

[catlist name=wddty-on orderby=title order=asc numberposts=-1]

In-depth analysis of stories repeatedly shows that WDDTY is an agenda-driven propaganda sheet, promoting anti-vaccination, anti-science, anti-medicine tropes, uncritically covering quack therapies, packed with misleading advertisements and in every way unfit to be seen on the British High Street.

The original Times article alleged that a group of ‘experts’, including ‘scientists, doctors and patients’ were ‘condemning’ shops for carrying our magazine,

The use of scare quotesW around the word experts is emblematic of psychological framing. Simon Singh is an expert on matters of science communication, essentially the area where WDDTY positions itself. He has written books on quantum theoryW, Lynne McTaggart has written books about quantum flapdoodleW.

We do not condemn the shops: WDDTY is seductively packaged to appear like a valid health or lifestyle magazine. Unpicking the credulous nonsense and recycles PR that passes for articles requires knowledge of the subject.

That is precisely the problem. WDDTY looks like a health magazine. But it’s not. It’s an overblown overpriced vehicle for the promotion of claims quacks cannot make themselves without breaking the law.

The article also said that we’d claimed that vitamin C ‘cures’ HIV, that homeopathy could treat cancer, that we’d implied the cervical cancer vaccines has killed ‘hundreds’ of girls and that we’d told parents in our latest (October 2013) issues not to immunize their children with the MMR.

it did indeed say that. Here’s why:

So the Times article says these things for only one reason: they are true.

Unlike most of what WDDTY publishes.

The Wright Stuff on channel 5 quickly followed suit with a television debate, flashing up a picture of me, Five Live followed up with a television debate about our magazine.  By Thursday, when the Press Gazette were onto it, the headlines had escalated to:  ‘Warning that claims in alternative health mag could prove fatal.’

Yes, the information you publish could prove fatal. I hope you are well insured.

In all of the furore, not one of the newspapers, radio shows or television stations bothered to contact us, even to solicit a comment – which is Journalism 101 when you intend to run a story on someone, pro or con.

Here is the evidence that The Times did in fact try to contact you, and even delayed publication, at the request of Tom Whipple, the writer, in order to give you a chance to respond.

It’s also apparent from the information published in The Times and in all the media following that not one journalist or broadcaster has read one single word we’ve written, particularly on the homeopathy story, and for very good reason: the article and the magazine containing it in fact have not yet been published.

As the links above show, people have indeed read what you wrote.

That is precisely the problem. It’s been read, analysed and found to be grossly misleading, as have the statements you make about it.

Here is what the Times said, and here is what we actually published:

The Times stated: we said vitamin C cures HIV.  

We had written: “US internist Robert Cathcart…devised an experiment with around 250 inpatients who tested positive for HIV.  In a letter to the editor of The Lancet, he wrote that his regime of giving oral doses of vitamin C close to “bowel tolerance” had “slowed, stopped or sometimes reversed for several years” the depletion of an HIV patient’s CD4+ cells.

Your AIDS/Vitamin C claim spreads over many articles. It is a recurring theme. Every single independent commentary seems to come to the same conclusion, only you seem to disagree.

The Times says we tell parents not to immunize their children with the MMR.

We interviewed – and simply quoted – a medical doctor called Dr Jayne Donegan, who had carried out her own research into the MMR, and concluded that a child with a strong immune system shouldn’t have the vaccine.  This was the considered view of Dr Donegan, not us. We were simply quoting her.

You did more than that. You credulously presented her views as fact. They are not fact. Judges have described them as “junk science”. And then you did it again the following month. Your coverage of vaccines runs over an enormous number of articles, and it is uniformly negative.

WDDTY is anti-vaccine.

The Times says we said that we implied that the cervical cancer vaccine has killed ‘hundreds’ of girls’. 

We had said that, up to 2011, the American Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System had received notification of 68 deaths and 18,727 adverse reactions to the vaccine. The figure has now risen to 27,023 events.

Your headline was: ‘Safe’ HPV vaccine kills up to 1,700 young girls. The VAERS data is, as you absolutely cannot be unaware by now, a record of events that happen after immunisation, not a record of events caused by immunisation. The 68 deaths – massively less than the number you quoted – include deaths absolutely not attributable to the vaccine. You know this from your radio debate with Margaret McCartney.

The claims of deaths from Gardasil have been debunked for a long time. There is simply no excuse for repeating them as you do, and to run a headline “Safe’ HPV vaccine kills up to 1,700 young girls” even if you think the figure is 68, which it isn’t, is still grossly misleading.

It is, however, entirely consistent with your long-term anti-vaccination agenda.

The Times said we referred to a study in India in which girls had died following the vaccine but had not mentioned that one girl had drowned and one died from a snake bite.

We said that seven children died and 120 suffered debilitating side effects so bad that the trial was stopped following protests from parents, doctors, public health organizations and health networks.  The Times also omitted to mention that, in 2010, an official Indian government report discovered huge lapses in the study’s design, which resulted in gross under-reporting of serious side effects.

So The Times was right.

The problem was not with the vaccine, it was with the untrained staff in the delivery programme. I know this was carefully hidden in the low profile pages of Nature, but you are supposed to be doing journalism, right?

The Times said that we ‘suggest homeopathy could cure cancer’. 

In the ‘Coming Next Month’ column in our October issue we wrote the following (and this is all we wrote):

‘The US government has carried out impressive studies into homeopathy as a treatment for cancer, and a clinic is India is actually using it. We report on their findings about homeopathy as a cancer treatment.’

No, the US government has not carried out studies, impressive or otherwise. This is debunked in detail for the November publication but exactly the same issues apply to the earlier one. The “best cases” series explicitly does not validate the therapy, the authors on the study you cite are the proponents, not he US government or any affiliated body, the US government is stated n the story itself not to be funding the program.

You previously did make precisely this suggestion in your story headlined: Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer.

This is consistent with your general coverage of homeopathy, which is credulous.

The Times story – and all the stories that follow –  are entirely the work of Simon Singh, and his organization Sense About Science, a protracted skirmish that’s been going on for about a year, ever since we went launched our magazine in September 2013.  Singh, you may know, is the self-proclaimed guardian of all things ‘scientific’ with the pharmaceutically backed organization he fronts, ‘Sense About Science’.

The Times stories were by Tom Whipple of The Times, not by Sense About Science; the claim that Sense About Science is “pharma-backed” is mendacious, Sense About Science is a major proponent of the All  Trials initiative (you deleted a Facebook post suggesting you ask your followers to support this initiative) – this will make it much harder for “big pharma” to bury unfavourable results.

A lot of science commentators are deeply concerned about the misinformation in your magazine, a lot of science commentators enjoy Sense About Science, some even submit occasional articles. This is an artifact of the purpose of Sense About Science, which it to provide sense to balance the nonsense about scientific subjects seen in publications such as the Daly Mail and of course WDDTY.

Singh contacted our distributor, and then all our outlets (like Smiths and the supermarkets) and tried to persuade them to stop carrying us (they refused).  He then relentlessly pestered the Advertising Standards Association with complaints about our advertisers, to try to prevent them from advertising.

Some did, others did not. It’s off the shelves at Waitrose and Sainsbury. Other people also contacted them.

The reason is very simple: you print dangerously misleading information. And worse, you don’t even know it ,as your response above demonstrate. Some put this down to the Dunning-Kruger effectW.

Singh is also associated with the Nightingale Collaboration, a ragtag group who meet in a pub of the same name, also allegedly wedded to ‘true’ science. After our launch, dozens of anonymous trolls began writing hateful and fairly libellous stuff on our Facebook pages.

No pub is called that, the Nightingale folks do speak at Skeptics In The Pub meetings, but it’s named after pioneering statistician and inspirational figure in epidemiology, Florence Nightingale.

Last autumn the Guardian ran an online story claiming that our distributor was threatening to ‘sue’ Singh (they are not and never have threatened, nor have we).  We also got ‘interviewed’ by a Glaswegian doctor named Margaret McCartney, also associated with Singh, who writes for the BMJ.

The headline was almost as inaccurate as one of yours. The story, unlike yours, was accurate, and described, in factual terms, Comag’s threats against Singh.

Recently, a doctor called Dr. Matthew Lam began contacting supermarkets, and informing them that he was calling for complaints to be made to customer service teams at all the supermarkets who carry us.  He said he was spearheading this campaign with Singh, McCartney and Alan Henness of the Nightingale Collaboration.

Your point?

Please allow me to join the dots.

It’s a unicorn! No, a dragon! No, J. R. “Bob” DobbsW! No, wait, it’s the Flying Spaghetti MonsterW!

Sense About Science publishes online as its sponsors the British Pharmaceutical Association, the official trade body for the UK’s drug companies.  Another one of its sponsors is The Guardian.

It’s a charity. it has sponsors. You’re not a charity, you have adverts. Misleading ones. Sense About Science’s highest profile campaign is the All Trials initiative – all trials registered, all results published. This would have prevented the hiding of data on Vioxx. It is likely that this one initiative – driven primarily by well-known skeptics – will result in more improvement in “big pharma” than all the editorials ever written by alt-med proponents.

The next interesting aspect of this episode is the sheer hypocrisy of News International, which published the original story about us. That company, which owns The Times, is owned by the Murdoch organization. The Murdoch organization also owns HarperCollins.  HarperCollins published three of my books, including a book entitled What Doctors Don’t Tell You, a culmination of many years of research for WDDTY the newsletter.

It’s almost as if they are different arms of a vast conglomerate with multiple business units that don’t talk and have no editorial control between silos.

AH, wait, I think I see what happened there.

Harper liked the book so much they published it twice, first in 1996 after paying a team of lawyers at Carter-Ruck, the UK’s top libel firm, to spend hundreds of hours of legal time carefully sifting through all of the scientific evidence supporting statements I made in the book to ensure the material was rock solid. It was only published after they were satisfied that every last statement was correct.

Shame on them.

WDDTY was a bestseller for Harper – so much so that they asked me to update it and published the new version in 2006.  It’s also been an international bestseller, currently in some 20 languages around the world.

Shame on them. Wait, I thought you were not big on putting profits before principles? Unless it’s alt-med of course.

At one point, I was also a columnist for the Times and ran a story highly critical of the MMR vaccine.

I cannot trace any stories written by you in The Times, though they may exist. I see no evidence you were ever a columnist.

When I search The Times for your name, I find this choice item from 2004:

Critics of the vaccine, such as Dr Carol Stott, of Cambridge University, and Paul Shattock, a pharmacist, of Sunderland University, will apparently explain “what the Government isn’t telling you about MMR”. It’s fair to assume this isn’t going to focus on its good record of safety and efficacy and the umpteen large studies that have found no link to autism.

For the privilege of hearing a one-sided view of evidence that is rejected by mainstream science, guests will cough up £40. Parents might prefer to invest in tickets down the road at the Royal Opera House: they’re cheaper and they won’t put your children’s health at risk. Behind this event is a company called What Doctors Don’t Tell You, whose executive director, Lynne McTaggart, will be speaking

You have, as they say, form.

Besides being a demonstration of how shoddy journalism has become, what interests me about this episode is that it offers evidence of the enormous shift that has occurred in the press’s notion of its role in society. The Times seems to be suggesting that their role is to ‘protect’ the public by censoring information that departs from standard medical line.

The idea that this is “shoddy” is based on your claims above. Your claims having been refuted, the assertion that this is shoddy journalism, fails.

Determining what is fit for public consumption, or indeed how its readers should treat their illnesses, is emphatically not a newspaper’s job – ours or anyone else’s.

The Times made no attempt to do so. The issue is whether dangerously misleading advice should be placed alongside genuine health advice, in a way that might mislead people. The very title of the magazine is calculated to fuel paranoid conspiracy theories and is most likely to be attractive to those who are most desperate and vulnerable.

Our job as journalists is simply to inform – to report the facts, even when they are inconvenient truths, as they are so often in medicine, particularly with such things as vaccines or alternative cancer therapy.

As has been shown many times, whatever you might assert the job of journalists might be, Tom Whipple is doing the job a journalist should do, whereas you do the job of a propagandist.

For despite all the grandstanding and pink ribbons and prettily turned phrases, the fact remains that the whole of modern medicine’s arsenal against cancer  is both blatantly unscientific and ineffective.  When not manipulated, the bald statistics reveal that chemo only works 2 per cent of the time .The War on Cancer from the orthodox perspective is decisively being lost.

This is ridiculously false. The 2% gambit is a bit of rhetorical nonsense, the 5-year survival for all new cancer diagnoses in the UK is in excess of 51% and that is because of medicine. Effective but excessively aggressive treatments like the Halstead radical mastectomy and axillary node clearance have been replaced with less aggressive ones, pathology is done in near real time during surgery to minimise the removal of healthy tissue.

Cancer remains a bastard of a set of diseases, medical progress against cancer is not a war but a series of skirmishes – which medicine is winning.

The limitations of medical treatments for cancer are not ,and have never been, any kind of justification to abandon the attempt to be at least moderately scientific and go instead for things that have been tested and found not to work.

Problems with medicine justify quackery in precisely the same way that plane crashes justify magic carpets.

Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of people are being cured by other methods of cancer treatment. Millions of others who have cancer or whose loved ones have cancer want to know ways to treat cancer that are less dangerous and more effective.

There is no credible evidence that “hundreds of thousands of people are being cured by other methods of cancer treatment”. The claim relies primarily on anecdotes, and when these anecdotes are probed in detail they usually show either wishful thinking or, conversely, claims of effect from woo plus entirely mainstream therapies, attributed solely to the woo.

That qualifies as news, and it’s our duty as the press to report that.  It’s my job to deliver well researched information, and that’s supposed to be the Times’ job too.

It would qualify as news. If it provably happened, it would be news. It doesn’t. Your “news” has been shown multiple times to be pure fantasy.

Several months ago, I met Patricia Ellsberg, the wife of Daniel Ellsberg.  Back when I was a student, deciding whether or not to be a journalist, Ellsberg, an employee of the CIA, came across hundreds of pages of documents revealing America’s shameful role in the Vietnam war.

Ellsberg felt this was news and it was his duty to leak these papers to the New York Times.  The Times felt it was their duty to publish these revelations, these inconvenient truths.  Then President Nixon attempted to censor these leaks by attempting a legal embargo on The Times – a blatant attempt at government censorship.

The Ellsbergs (faced with life imprisonment – was anybody ever so brave?) turned on a photocopy machine, made multiple copies and leaked the documents to the Washington Post.

And when Nixon went after the Post, the Ellsbergs smuggled the papers to 17 other newspapers.  Not one paper blinked.  Not one paper decided this information wasn’t fit to print – or that the public needed to be ‘protected’ from a lying presidency.

Correct. That was a genuine conspiracy. It contained no more than a few dozen people, all of whom had common motives and were highly motivated to keep it secret, and still it got out.

It’s a data point in the case that conspiracy theories are nonsense. The larger a conspiracy is, the harder it is to keep secret.

But these days, the press – far less ‘free,’ now largely owned by huge corporations, including in the pharmaceutical industry (Murdoch’s son was on the board of one such drug company) – has now become the party with powerful vested interests to protect. Today the press is the Richard Nixon of the piece.

No, it really isn’t. The press is not a homogeneous entity. It has engaged in some shameful practices but it is not engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth, quite the opposite. The Guardian took up the case of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, the Telegraph exposed the MPs’ expenses scandal. Private EyeW reports on the media and exposes hypocrisy and vested interest to public view. The Eye criticised Maxwell in the 1980s, problems with press barons are nothing new and the internet age makes these problems a great deal harder to hide.

Your problem is that your grossly inaccurate articles, skewed by transparent editorial bias – precisely the problem you pretend is behind the criticism – have been held up to the light.

And instead of saying “oh, yes, that headline was a bit misleading, sorry, we will do better”, you attack the messenger.

Thus drawing further critical attention to yourself.

How’s that working out for you?

Back when the NY Times was publishing The Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post published the Watergate disclosures, newspapers wouldn’t be caught dead being associated with some industry backed body, especially one with the track record of carnage enjoyed by Big Pharma, as the Guardian now is.

But today newspapers are haemorrhaging money, and so have to have industry backing and its consequent influence. The public, which wants the truth, knows this and rejects this industry public relations by boycotting newspapers.  Presently, the Guardian is losing £100,000 a day, and the Times is losing £80,000 a day.  People don’t believe newspapers anymore. They know they have to go elsewhere for their news. That’s why they come to publications like ours.

It’s not that they don’t believe in them so much as that they don’t buy them. Sunday sales are still reasonably strong but daily newspaper sales have been in decline for decades as people switch to new media.

If bias and bad journalism was what was driving people away from the newspapers, the Daily Mail wouldn’t exist.

As Deep Throat once told Woodward and Bernstein, when they were investigating Watergate:  If you want to find out the truth, just follow the money.

Indeed. Several investigations of the advertisements in your magazine have done exactly that.

The advertisements that are presented as such, not those masquerading as articles.

So, why are we not supposed to ask who gains from, say, republishing the Banerjis’ grossly misleading claims about their cancer industry?

You appear to believe that quacks and charlatans should be exempt from precisely the sort of criticism you advocate for vendors of proven medicines, because natural. Skeptics draw no such distinction. A false health claim is a false health claim, regardless of who makes it.

If you’d like to support WDDTY and a free press, and you haven’t yet voiced your support of the stores for stocking the title, let the following Customer Service departments know:

WH Smith
[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

And with the weekend coming up, show your support by buying a copy.  It’s available in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, WH Smiths, and over 8000 independent retail outlets. And you can subscribe through

There’s a steady trickle of replies from our readers saying they’re doing just that…

Oh, and strike Sainsbury’s.

This is not about a free press. Nobody is preventing yo from writing and distributing your grotty magazine. The issue is that it is packaged and presented as a health magazine, deliberately designed to appeal to health-conscious people, but if they follow the advice in the magazine they will be fed a relentless diet of propaganda for the supplement, complementary and alternative medicine (SCAM) industry; abuses by that very large and very profitable industry are systematically ignored while false and misleading claims about genuine health interventions are repeated time after time.

In the words of Ali G: it’s because I’s a quack, innit?

Enhanced by Zemanta

One thought on “The WDDTY wars: why they don’t want you to read all about it”

Leave a Reply