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Debunking “The doctors case for homeopathy” by WDDTY: A case study in critically evaluating internet articles | The Logic of Science

I want to explain the problems with an article found in What Doctors Don’t Tell You (WDDTY) titled “The doctors’ case for homeopathy.” This piece is full of misinformation, and it serves as an ideal case study of what I’ve observed to be WDDTY’s typical behavior. Here’s the full list of problems I found with the article, which I will elaborate on below…

Source: Debunking “The doctors case for homeopathy” by WDDTY: A case study in critically evaluating internet articles | The Logic of Science

WDDTY on the anti-vaxx band-waggon

WHAT DOCTORS DON’T TELL YOU (WDDTY) is probably the most vile publication I know. It systematically misleads its readers by alarming news about this or that conventional treatment, while relentlessly promoting pseudoscientific non-sense. This article , entitled “MMR can cause skin problems and ulcers if your immune system is compromised” is a good example (one of a multitude)…

Source: WDDTY on the anti-vaxx band-waggon

Deconstructing Homeopathy Propaganda – Science-Based Medicine

I was recently sent a particular piece of pro-homeopathy propaganda, from a website whose very name is highly biased and misleading, What Doctors Don’t Tell You. The name implies that the medical profession is hiding information from their patients and the public for some nefarious purpose, but the plucky band of rebels who run this website will give you this secret information…

Source: Deconstructing Homeopathy Propaganda – Science-Based Medicine

Wheelbarrow of Stupid

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

Reblogged with permission from Wandering Teacacke, please follow the comments there.

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. Continue reading Wheelbarrow of Stupid

Paying the Piper

(Reblogged with permission from Majikthyse. Please go there to comment)

That guardian of all that’s self-righteous about quackery, the magazine and website What Doctors Don’t Tell You, has its ire well stoked this week. The editors reveal that the famous Clinical Trials Service Unit (CTSU) at Oxford University is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. This apparently is the result of tireless investigation by`nutritionist and wholefood campaigner’ Zoë Harcombe. Not you will note a dietician, but a nutritionist, a title that almost anyone seems qualified to hold these days. I can boil an egg, so I’m a nutritionist. “You got an ology?” But enough of flippancy.

I feel duty bound to explain that Ms Harcombe is a writer who mainly sells books on obesity. Her dedication to the truth might be judged by her false claim to the Daily Mail in 2011 that she was studying for a PhD, as reported by my good friend Ben Goldacre. But we all make mistakes. In Ms Harcombe’s case, a further mistake was not realising what the CTSU actually is.

Presumably she has not heard of contract research organisations (CROs). Most of these are commercial companies to whom health care companies contract out a large part of their research, mainly in clinical trials. They have existed for at least 30 years, and some of them are enormous. The usual modus operandi is for the sponsor to engage the CRO to carry out a clinical trial, providing entire or partial functions. So if the contract is `full service’, the CRO will do everything from writing the protocol to writing the final report. The bits in between would include obtaining all the approvals (regulatory, ethics etc), designing the data capture and processing tools, analysing the data, as well as recruiting all the trial sites and investigators and managing the logistics (eg drug and equipment supplies).

However a lot of these contracts are not full service, and in particular data capture and analysis might well not be contracted out at all, or may be delegated to a different contractor. A lot of sponsors run their own data repositories and insist on CROs feeding data into those. Lots of them do their own analysis, and employ armies of statisticians. So what is the CTSU?

It is in fact a CRO, but more so. Rather than rely on what the CTSU claims (“they would say that wouldn’t they?”), let’s look at what the independent Science Media Centre says. The relevant bit is right at the end:

The CTSU conducts, analyses and interprets its clinical trials and other research independently of industry and other funders, with the datasets held by the CTSU rather than by the funders.

Now I’m sure that text came straight from the CTSU, but some credibility is added by its appearance on an independent and respected site. The point though is that the CTSU goes way beyond the probity of a conventional CRO, by erecting a Chinese wall between sponsor and data. The people paying the piper do not call the tune, because they don’t know what the tune is until it’s played at the end of the whole project. Not only that, but the CTSU has a rigorous policy on payments to individuals. Read it and make up your own mind.

What about the funding issue? Look again at the Science Media Centre page. It’s a list of trials, with sponsors and how much they paid. It is baffling as to why anyone should be surprised or indignant about this. The CTSU is a CRO, albeit academically based (and better for that), with a more than usually rigorous policy on independence from financial bias. The CTSU exists to do trials, it has a world-class reputation for that, and companies will pay for that expertise.

WDDTY is full of righteous indignation because Merck & Co, a major statin manufacturer, is also a major funder of the CTSU. Look at the trials Merck has sponsored. Apart from relatively small amounts unrelated to particular trials, Merck provided £63.9 million for statin trials, but £149 million for trials of other drugs unrelated to statins. Yet WDDTY states (my bold):

Over the past 20 years, the two research bodies* have received £268m donations, including £217m from Merck, a major manufacturer of statins.

(*CTSU and its subsidiary The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists Collaboration)

It is a lie to say this funding comprised `donations’ – it was not. It was perfectly normal business and scientific practice, whereby the CTSU was compensated for carrying out research commissioned to it. There is nothing unusual or suspicious about that.

I am not going to get into detail about whatever the CTSU’s director Sir Rory Collins said about the discredited papers in the BMJ, which grossly overstated the side effects of statins, or about what he said about his sources of funds. I haven’t reviewed the whole saga in detail, but as the CTSU’s funding is so transparent I can’t see how he could have forgotten about most of it.

Regarding the retraction of papers, the Science Media Centre provides some useful sound bites on its news page. I am not sure whether WDDTY is simply careless and incompetent, or deliberately distorts the truth – I suspect the latter. But whatever the motivation, the editors have got it wrong yet again. They say that an independent panel refused to retract the papers that quoted the incorrect data, which is not true. The truth is that the authors of the erroneous studies agreed that they were wrong. What the panel declined to retract were two other papers that referred to the original ones. As you can see from the comments from various experts, opinions are divided as to whether there was a need to retract the derivative papers, although they are pretty much unanimous that statins are very useful drugs that have saved many lives.

WDDTY has studiously avoided saying anything about the research which shows statins to be better tolerated than previously thought. Instead the editors make invalid connections between unrelated facts, and indulge in selective reporting and distortion. A drug company would be quite rightly castigated for such behaviour, but in 40 years I have never come across one that tried anything as bad as this.

Addendum: This is the full post as it appeared on WDDTY’s website on 21st August 2014.

‘Independent’ statin research group funded by drugs industry

A research unit that influenced wider statin use in the UK was all the time being funded by drug companies, including £217m from Merck, one of the largest producers of the cholesterol-lowering drug.
The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists Collaboration (CTT), based at Oxford University and headed by Sir Rory Collins, has been very influential in shifting UK health policy, which this year started to recommend statin use for all over-60s.
The new guidelines, issued by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), followed the publication of ‘independent’ studies from CTT that maintained that statins had few side effects but many major benefits. Sir Rory was also highly critical of studies published in the British Medical Journal that claimed the drugs caused side effects in 22 per cent of users. He demanded that the papers were retracted, which an independent review panel refused to do.
All along, Sir Rory claimed that he and the CTT were independent, and that any funding came from charitable sources such as the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. Even as recently as last March, Sir Rory repeated in an email to the BMJ that the British Heart Foundation was a major funder, and demanded to know who had funded the critical research he wanted withdrawn.
But these have been minor funders of CTT and its parent body, the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU). Over the past 20 years, the two research bodies have received £268m donations, including £217m from Merck, a major manufacturer of statins.
The true picture came to light only after nutritionist and wholefood campaigner Zoe Harcombe uncovered the original documents that outline the CTSU’s funders.



Processed food chemical definitely causes cancer, say researchers

Reblogged from Gareth Lewry’s blog, with permission.

Here is a hint, Doctor’s don’t tell you it because it’s crap!!

So I came across the “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Facebook Page earlier today.  I have known for sometime that this is essentially aimed at people who want an alternative view to the mainstream medicine approach to curing your ails, and cant be bothered to educate themselves any further than this.

On the surface it looks OK, the articles are compelling and full of what they call  “science”. However that is the surface.  When you dig a bit deeper you see that most of the articles and information they are conveying to the public is disingenuous to say the least.

Here is an example of a post on FB:

FB post from 22/7/14

Now, this post is typical of what they are doing, they are sensationalising the story Massively, however there are some half truths in there that make it credible, and therefore lends to being a source of credible information.  However as they have given a source for their article I decided as a good sceptic, it would be irresponsible of me not to back up the information I’m reading by going back to the original source……and here it is:
As you can see the FB post says that Acrylamide definitely causes cancer, but when I look at the actual press release, I’m buggered if I can find the phrase “definitely causes cancer” or anything near it.  Posting this sort of disingenuous misinformation is dangerous, because people who solely read this for their scientific information are already on the wrong path and will end up believing this nonsense.

So as my good deed for the day I thought I would help them out.  Here is my response to them:


I hope they understand I’m only trying to help…. by actively discrediting this nonsense before people buy to much into this. However as I am relatively new to this,   I implore you all to to be careful what you read especially about health and science.  I will always post references to articles so at least you will have the source of information, and if I get it wrong (as we all do from time to time) I welcome feedback, as it is a learning experience for me as well.

The campaign against What Doctors Don’t Tell You Continues

This post appears in a slightly longer format on Plague of Mice)

Pause, if you will, and drop a piteous tear for poor Lynne McTaggart, Saint and Martyr. She feels Put Upon. She considers she is being Bullied. Her Great Life’s Work is under attack from what sounds like a small group of anti-homeopathy terrorists who will stop at nothing to destroy her. There is a Campaign against WDDTY. For the Blessed McTaggart alone knows the Truth and fears not to speak it. This is why the baying hordes of reason…

She’s not fooling anyone, is she? Anyway, this is the rant she just posted on her blog.

A concerted letter-writing campaign by a handful of very vociferous self-styled ‘skeptics’ has managed to convince Tesco that customers are complaining about What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and the store chain has just agreed to withdraw the magazine from the shelves.

These were not legitimate complaints. They were the result of several calls to action by a few sceptical websites to a small band of very devoted and fairly fanatical followers.

This, as you know, is part of an 20-month concerted campaign by Simon Singh, Sense About Science and a variety of rag-tag organizations like the Nightingale Collaboration to ban or crush WDDTY. Singh and co have called Comag, our distributors, multiple times, orchestrated letter writing campaigns to all the store chains that carry the magazine, harassed dozens of our advertisers by reporting them the ASA, sent their foot soldiers to hide our magazines on the shelves of stores and attempted to destroy our Google ranking. One of our websites was even mysteriously hacked into.They don’t engage in open or legitimate dialogue, only innuendo and bully-boy tactics on our social network sites.

Simon Singh is busy these days tweeting his supporters to write Tesco to thank them for not stocking us.

And all this because they don’t want you to have a choice about the information you have about your health care.

They believe that you should only have access to one sort of health information – the information that ridicules alternative medicine of all persuasions and embraces conventional medicine as currently practiced. They believe that they have the right to dictate to you the forms of health care you have access to. They claim to be in favour of free speech in science, but only the information they deem acceptable for you to read.

The skeptics have a loyal following, but there are tens of thousands more who support WDDTY and our work. Tesco will reconsider if they hear from customers who want to buy WDDTY in their stores.

If you buy WDDTY at Tesco, you believe in free speech, and freedom of choice in health care, or you believe that Tesco should continue to stock WDDTY, please write to customer service and tell them exactly why: [email protected]

Well, wasn’t that informative? Let us admire the loaded vocabulary, rife with venomous innuendo, bile dripping from every syllable. Is perchance The Great McTaggart’s revenue stream endangered? My first question is: how did this alleged handful of skeptics manifest in the form of so many people and organisations? Over a year ago, Josephine Jones already had a pretty impressive Master list.

“These were not legitimate complaints” – On the contrary, Lynne, the complaint was that your rag promotes dangerous quackery, while maintaining a resolutely hostile attitude to doctors, vaccines, medical treatment of any kind (including lifesaving treatments for cancer), and this you have proved time and again with every fucking issue. Open one at random, and you’ll find fuckwittery that can kill or cripple. Read any post on this blog, and you’ll see holes poked in your assertions until they look like moth-eaten lace doilies. In any case, it’s not for you to judge whether the complaints were legitimate or not.

“One of our websites was even mysteriously hacked into”‘ – Mysteriously, my arse. The Internet is full of spotty virgins and crooks trying to break into any website they can. So of course McTaggart blames skeptics for her own negligence in not securing her site properly. Simple stuff, I suspect, like not having the login “admin” for the administrator’s account. There are plenty of good security plugins for all the major CMS software, woman. Sodding well use them. We do.

“harassed dozens of our advertisers by reporting them the ASA” – Reporting illegal, indecent, dishonest or untruthful advertising copy isn’t harassment, Lynne. It’s civic duty. If you don’t like your advertisers getting called out for lying, get a better class of advertiser. Although I can see how that would be a problem for you, given the calibre of your rag.

“They don’t engage in open or legitimate dialogue” – The fucking cheek of this duplicitous dipshit! She systematically deletes comments from skeptics, be they on her blog, Facebook or anywhere else she has moderator privileges. It’s so bad that her own followers have actually complained that, since only their side of the dialogue remained, it made them look complete idiots because the exchange no longer made the slightest sense.

“Simon Singh is busy these days tweeting his supporters” – No, he isn’t. In fact, he only mentions WDDTY when you take one of your puerile swipes at him. Amusingly, the last one was to remind you of the existence of, which you yourself were all for until you realised that skeptics were involved.

“they don’t want you to have a choice about the information you have about your health care” – No, it’s not a matter of choice when a decision is based on false information, manipulation and outright dishonesty. Stop pushing quackery for profit and, er, profit, and start doing some real investigative health journalism, if you want respect and acceptance. Unfortunately, I suspect that neither your medical knowledge nor your journalistic skills are up to the job.

“They claim to be in favour of free speech in science, but only the information they deem acceptable for you to read” – Apart from this being a barefaced lie, McTaggart has delusions of adequacy if she thinks what she spouts in her blog, her rag, her books, etc are anything even remotely related to science.

“there are tens of thousands more who support WDDTY” – ORLY? I see only 14K ‘Likes’ on Facebook, the WDDTY Twitter account has a pathetic 703 followers, while McTaggart’s own account has all of 17.7K. This sounds like the police estimates vs organiser estimates for protest marches, doesn’t it? Even so, it stinks of wide exaggeration on your part.

Now here’s the absolute biscuit, the coup de grâce in hypocritical bullshittery: “If you buy WDDTY at Tesco, you believe in free speech…”.

Remember, McTaggart herself doesn’t believe in free speech, as she mercilessly extirpates the slightest criticism of her monthly bowel-dump of rancid WTF wherever she can, going as far as to threaten legal action in an attempt to scare Simon Singh into silence (the BCA must have been piddling themselves with laughter). Secondly, Lynne, the concept of free speech is not as you would have us believe: that you are allowed to say whatever you like, to whomever you like, without fear of contradiction, and hang the consequences.

No, Ms McTaggart, freedom of speech means freedom of opinion, with the necessary corollary that others have the right to criticise that opinion. But you don’t have that protection, and rightly so, because WDDTY isn’t being sold as opinion, it’s being sold as solidly-researched advice. Your poisonous little rag doesn’t benefit from freedom of speech because of the many and monstrous errors of fact that it contains. Of course, you could always claim “SCIENCE!”, but I strongly advise you not to. You see, an important part of science is the critical analysis and testing of other scientists’ claims, so you’re back to square one.

You have no case, Ms. McTaggart. None at all. You’re a hypocrite and liar, and that is my considered opinion based on the evidence before me.

Read also:

What Whole Foods Markets Doesn’t Tell You

(Reprinted with permission from Science-Based Medicine: What Whole Foods Markets Doesn’t Tell You  by Jann Bellamy. Please go there to read the rest of the post and comment on it)

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whole Foods Market is a relentlessly hip American supermarket chain which prides itself on organic fruits and vegetables, gluten-free just-about-everything, and high-end touches like wine bars and exotic take out items (roasted yucca, anyone?). The health products aisle is stocked with Bach Flower and homeopathic remedies. For example, in-house brand Flu Ease: “an established homeopathic formula that should be taken at the first sign of flu for temporary relief of symptoms including fever chills and body aches.”

Selling Flu Ease and like products certainly exhibits a lack of appreciation for scientific evidence, not to mention basic science. But I recently saw a product in the checkout line that was so filled with over-the-top quackery and so shocking in its disregard for the public’s health that I haven’t been back to Whole Foods since. And I won’t be going back.

The product? A glossy, slickly-produced magazine with the conspiracy-minded title What Doctors Don’t Tell You. The April 2014 issue promises, in banner-headline font size, a “New Light on Cancer.” It features the well-known symbol of fighting breast cancer, a loop of pink ribbon, but with a tear in the middle of the loop. We’ll look into this “new light” in a bit.

WDDTY is a British export. The magazine launched there a couple of years ago as a companion to the website of the same name, which has been around since 1989. Both are the creation of Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard. She claimed, in 2012, that the magazine has a circulation of 40,000. I am not sure when it made its American debut, but this is the first I’ve seen of it.

McTaggert and Hubbard are no strangers to pseudoscience. I’ll let the UK blog Tessera introduce them.

Who are McTaggart and Hubbard? She has form as an anti-vaccination campaigner. In one of her books, The Intention Experiment, she says that the universe is connected by a vast quantum energy field and can be influenced by thought. He recommends vitamin C as a treatment for cancer and they complain about the Cancer Act which prevents them promoting their ‘cures’. So I think we know what we’re dealing with.

Yes, we certainly do…. Rest the rest (there’s quite a lot, all cracking stuff) HERE. It’s worth it.

The Intention “Experiment”

Reblogged from ChapmanCentral with permission.

In science, an experiment is something you do to test whether something works or not, or to make a measurement to quantify something. In pseudoscience, an experiment is something you do to demonstrate your delusional beliefs to a credulous world. Which sort is Lynne McTaggart’s “Intention Experiment”? (As if you had to ask). It works like this:

  1. Someone registers a medical issue, such as a sore shoulder.
  2. People care.
  3. The person is asked if they feel better as a result.

Can you see where the problem is? It would be relatively trivial to test wishful thinking (or “intention” as McTaggart rather pretentiously brands it). The group of people with medical problems registers up front, they are randomly assigned to wishful thinking or not, both wishful thinking and non wishful thinking groups are given identical-looking output in terms of messages of support, and at the end feedback is gathered, then finally we match responses to group membership and see if the wishful thinking group fares differently. McTaggart’s wishful thinking is identical to intercessory prayer, which has been tested in this way. Guess what? It doesn’t work. Just like homeopathy and other inert interventions, the more carefully you control for confounders and bias, the less likely you are to find an effect. McTaggart shows no sign of having the intellectual honesty necessary to do a test like this. In promoting “The New Science” she is, in fact, promoting the same old pseudoscience. But don’t forget to click-through and buy the book, because otherwise you can’t possibly expect to understand the subtlety of it all.1 —- 1Statement may contain sarcasm.