Conclusions

CONCLUSIONS I: ABOUT SCIENTIFIC DEBATE

There is one serious discussion about strategy involving Skeptics and
Quackbusters; Should we discuss science with them and prove our
case in rational argument or should we adopt a strategy based on our
political analysis of him and associated individuals and organisations?
Another question, should we ignore him and his bogusly-constructed
case and fight harder and more independently on behalf of our own
philosophy?

Agreement, disputation and progress in science should take place
within the scientific community, through academic discourse in peerreviewed
papers published in independent journals and at presentations
given at public venues where the presenters can be questioned by
their peers. This approach to the presentation of science has been tested
over centuries of scientific endeavour, and relies upon definite
methods of gathering and publicly presenting evidence.

However, even the rubrics that govern discourse within academia
can only work if the people involved are ‘real’ scientists, sincere in
their views and their objectives, independent and unaffected by vested
interests. Academic discourse has only recently begun to develop
rules in relation to conflict or vested interests. These rules have to be
considerably extended, and much more work should be put into
unearthing the conflicts of interests of industry-sympathetic groups.1

Once the discourse about a particular branch of science spills over
into the public domain, and into the hands of lobby groups, all bets on
sense and ethics are effectively off, the discourse becomes a brawl,
completely ungoverned by honesty or even decent behaviour.
Journalists never declare even basic interests; newspapers and television
programmes never declare interests or even state sources or provide
references.

Academia also has rules about the disclosure of information or
data with respect to studies or published papers. These can be asked
for, examined and tested by peers. Is it possible for readers to question
Goldacre, to view his notes, to question him about his conclusions? Of
course not. Not only Goldacre but the newspaper editors who behave
like little public information czars, and corporate executives of the
Guardian would be horrified at this idea, and would begin to spout the
most unbelievable cobblers about freedom of the press if it was ever
suggested that Goldacre should give up his notes, memos of meetings
and sources of information, or appear in public to answer to his more
learned peers.

It is easy to see the logic, the intelligence and the patent honesty
implicit in the argument that we should defend ourselves against
attacks from quackbusters by arguing the science. However, because
we know where these people are coming from, and we are aware of
their higher goals and their common practice of manipulating facts, I
think it is best not to discuss science with them. In fact, I would say
that arguing science with un-reconstituted quackbusters is like arguing
reality with Alice as she falls through the looking glass. Quackbusters
have the profitability of industry, the profession of medicine and the
technological objectives of capitalism and nothing else at heart.
Discussing scientific method with them is a waste of time.

I can’t help but believe that they want us to become involved in
convoluted arguments and in this process waste hours, days and weeks
of our time unprofitably, without actually being able to affect the very
institutions that are seriously likely to make the practical policy decisions
that may adversely affect us as citizens or consumers.
If we move on past science to the other aspect of this important
discussion about strategy, we might look at the question of the moral
or ethical debate around science and in whose hands this should be.
Quite clearly, although The Lobby has also included this debate in the
‘restricted to scientists’ arena, nothing could be more profoundly
untrue. In fact, one might even say that scientists are the last people
who should lead any debate about the ethics or the morality of scientific
issues.

The debate about the ethics and morality of science should extend
to the widest shores of the public. It was in extending this debate into
the public domain that the GM Watch campaign was so successful in
influencing policy. While in Germany, campaigners managed to
engage the whole society through many different media and institutions
during the debate on the industry generated European
Convention on Bioethics and Human Rights.2

Rather than open up debate, Goldacre and the Guardian have
managed to seriously restrict the debate on the ethics and morality of
science in relation to a whole series of issues. In relation to MMR, for
example, it would be difficult to find a more subservient media acting
at government behest, outside the historical examples of the communist
bloc, or the Spanish press under Franco.

Again, however, the responsibility for building a public forum that
debates matters of scientific developments that may affect the future
of the whole society, lies in the first instance with scientists. They
must tear themselves away from any vested interests for which they
work, and, adopting a popular approach, begin to present the core of
the debate to the public. Who the debate is passed on to is an open
question, but clearly local and county authorities and institutions of
higher education could play an important and more extensive role in
displacing the old politics of ideology with public debates on medicine,
science and such issues as nutrition and biotechnology.

CONCLUSIONS II: ABOUT GOLDACRE

According to his own biographical allusions, almost ten years ago,
while was training to be a doctor, Goldacre was already a convinced
skeptic, a person familiar with The Lobby’s institutions, their motives
and designs, and someone who adhered to a set and unquestioning
ideology of science. It could be, of course, that Goldacre has been
‘given’ a background retrospectively. Nevertheless, we are expected
to believe that he was a convinced skeptic in his mid-twenties.

Having qualified as a doctor and apparently spent a year in Italy,
as discussed above, he co-authored the only academic paper with
which he is credited. This utter paucity of academic work is surprising,
to say the least. In fact, it could be said that a person trained as a
doctor, with next to no other academic achievement, must have considerable
front to pose as one of Britain’s most knowled-geable science
pundits. Or are we just expected to accept Goldacre as some kind
of overgrown child prodigy?

In 2003, following sterling work by George Monbiot writing
against GM crops, which stirred up the bile of lobbyists and unleashed
considerable anger against the Guardian, from the science establishment,
Goldacre suddenly landed a prestigious position as an embedded
quackbuster on that newspaper. He has used his column, presumably
with the full support of the Guardian owners and editors, to pillory,
attack, libel and undermine the professional reputation of a number
of people.3 One thing that appears to have changed in this relationship
between the press and the public, is that one of Britain’s
greatest newspapers has adopted the posture of the cheapest and most
yellow journalism.4 The cynicism, implicite in Goldacre’s writing
tends to reflect the aspirations of the new managerial middle class that
now control the Guardian.

During his four years with the Guardian, Goldacre has displayed
an intimate grasp of the strategies of corporate lobby groups, and has
fallen in with the British and US quackbusting campaigns. In common
with other quackbusters, Goldacre has absolutely no sense of fair play
or democratic rights. He is the worst and most mercenary kind of dogmatist.
Very few of those who are attacked by him are allowed access
to the pages of the Guardian to refute the attacks, or Goldacre’s illusory
grasp of science. (Melanie Philips was a rare and worthy exception,
given space to claim that she had been smeared in the matter of
MMR.) On his web site, he publishes only sycophantic crap from
apparently illiterate followers.

One grows wearily accustomed to the sound of the pot calling all
kettles black. While Goldacre does not engage in dialogue with his
critics, he pleads (in his rubbishing of homoeopathy as ‘A kind of
magic?’) for ‘clear and open discussion of the problems’, while charging
those he abominates with refusing to engage. Alternative therapists,
he claims, when you point out a problem, ‘don’t engage with
you about it, or read and reference your work.’

One thing can be said with some certainty: Ben Goldacre is not a
journalist in the great tradition of British journalism as we know it,
nor, for that matter, is he your average doctor. When considering
Goldacre’s views on science, one has to bear in mind that, whatever
he says, he is not a scientist either by training, profession or reputation.
Before being defined as any of these things, he must first be
defined as a quackbuster, boy soldier for corporate science; and these,
today, are two a penny.

CONCLUSION III: ABRIEF SUGGESTION FOR ACTION

Ultimately, there is no point in fighting The Lobby, either legally or
individually, as has happened in the past. The alternative health movement
has to organise nationally, physically, and not virtually. We are
past the stage where exchanges of opinions are relevant. Disputing
science with the enemy is like discussing how weapons are constructed
with the other side during a battle.

It is my hope that this essay will give people ideas about how to
fight back against the corporate science lobby and defend their particular
areas of ‘alternative’ expertise. The supposition underlying the
essay is that we already have at our fingertips all the information that
we need about corporate science activists such as Goldacre, and that,
having established their role and objectives, we have to defend ourselves
against them by militantly attacking their position, their interests
and those of their patrons.

I believe that we can only organise a resistance against The Lobby
by setting up many small committees, in cities and large towns, ‘in
defence of alternatives’. The task of these units would be to gather
information and intelligence on quackbusters, skeptics and science
lobbyists in their area. They would publish leaflets and posters and
write letters to the media about them, and picket their meetings and
events. Local committees in every corner of the country should organise
a year’s timetable of public meetings on health and alternative
therapies, with up-to-date information about quackbusters and their
individual professional record.

Our movement needs to be proactive, committed and professional.
Small committees and groups should lobby local and county councils
as well as members of Parliament. Each area should provide
libraries and data bases on therapies such as homoeopathy and nutrition,
shiatsu and herbal treatments. Primary health care trusts and individual
GPs should be bombarded with information about drug-free
therapies. Local libraries should be pushed to take books on these subjects.
Therapists and others should set up Saturday street stalls in
towns and villages, giving out leaflets, selling books and advertising
therapists. Stickers with slogans against the Guardian and Goldacre,
should be as common on envelopes as are stamps. Alternative therapists
should stand in local council elections.

Therapists and practitioners, must join with workers likely to be
affected by environmental toxicity, as well as people suffering from
adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals, and contribute campaigning
work in some measure, however small. At this time, alternative practitioners
have to fight for the collective whole, a simply professional
life is a luxury that they will soon be unable to afford unless they fight
for their cause.

How ironic it is that many middle-class liberals, who support
alternative medicine, for example homoeopathy, should find themselves
buying a newspaper that rabidly supports corporate science, the
pharmaceutical industry and their dirty war against alternatives generally
and homoeopathy in particular! In Goldacre’s case, a defence of
our position should begin with an outright attack on the Guardian
newspaper.

Why do we spend money that pays the salary of a nasty, cynical
little twerp who is lining his pockets by attacking the parents of vaccine-
damaged children, progressive nutritionists, and practitioners
who work with a therapeutic system that has no adverse reactions?
And why, after all, do we give money to a newspaper that defends the
killing industry of pharmaceuticals, an industry that, even in the most
conservative terms, is responsible for the third-highest cause of death
in North America and that causes enough adverse reactions in Britain
each year to fill up five large hospitals?5

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