The Placement

‘I offered up my innocence, I got repaid with scorn.’
Bob Dylan1

I have chosen in the main not to argue the science of the issues
approached in the following section of this essay. The object of the
essay is not to argue the correct position on the issues raised, but to
describe the position argued by Goldacre and his skeptic friends,2 and
so place him within an understandable area of social campaigning and
power.

Away from specific issues of science, thinking sociologically, it is
easy to comprehend the linkage between HealthWatch, Sense About
Science, the Science Media Centre and industrial chemical and pharmaceutical
interests, without viewing secret documents or finding
whistle blowers. All refute multiple chemical sensitivity; all refute
ME and CFS as organic illnesses. All support the government stand on
the total safety of MMR. There is an absolute denial of damage done
by MMR – in fact, of any adverse reactions to any pharmaceutical
products. Electro-magnetic fields (EMF) do not damage health. None
of the organisations or individuals accepts nutritional ideas that might
conflict with pharmaceutical medicine. All characters and organisations
are vehemently against homoeopathy. All complementary and
alternative medicine (CAM) is said to be quackery.

All characters and organisations are in support of in vitro fertilisation
and other new reproductive technologies. All believe that the
media have to be stopped from publishing irrational information. GM
technology and all other high-tech ‘advances’ such as head transplants
are to be encouraged, and even forced upon, a reluctant population.

After almost 20 years of studying quackbusters, two things are
clear to me. First, whatever the public appearance or acknowledgement,
they are usually in touch with each other, and behind their front
of independence they toe a clear collective line. The classic example
of this is ‘Professor’ Edzard Ernst, who, while being described as
Britain’s only professor of complementary medicine, is better
described as a fully-paid-up quackbuster linked to HealthWatch and
the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal (CSICOP), the leading US skeptics organisation. Anyone
who attended CSICOP’s 15th Annual ‘conference’ in London, would
have heard him introduced by Paul Kurtz, the founder and principle
member of CSICOP, to present the most puerile anti-CAM presentation,
which left the cheering audience in no doubt about on which side
he was.

In quackbusting circles, you can certainly tell a man, or a woman
for that matter, by the company they keep, and this is clearly true of
Goldacre. The next section of this essay looks at some of his views
and received opinions, while pointing out who else shares them. For
those who consider that this is ‘guilt by association’, I can only agree.

If, however, we consider the views directly expressed in his writing as
‘evidence’, we are dealing with something more than association.
Anyway, I have always had a relatively common-sense approach to
these matters: if it cocks its leg against a tree to piss, barks and sniffs
round bitches, it’s probably a dog.

The post-industrial world is quite unlike the industrial world. During
the Cold War, and for almost half a century before that, agents were
trained and put in place to counter and fight ideologies. In the postindustrial
world, it is not ideology that is fought over, but markets, the
advancement and then stabilisation of industrial production. The New
World Order does not have an ideological agenda that dare speak its
name; ultimately, it simply wants to control absolutely the means of
production and to make maximum profit. The post-industrial power
needs to move people around at will, to turn individuals into drones
and to ensure the uninterrupted development of production.

Today’s covert organisations and agents, such as the CIA in North
America, are turning their intelligence to defend industry and, most
importantly, the pharmaceutical, biotech and weapons industries. It is
unremarkable, then, that the DTI, while acting in defence of industry,
has also moved likely candidates around, giving them a training and
embedding them, or emplacing them in sensitive areas to continue the
war for the control of high-technology production.3

BEN GOLDACRE, IN HIS OWN WORDS AND THOSE OF HIS FRIENDS

Ben Goldacre is 33, a medical doctor whom it is said works as a junior
doctor in a London hospital. He is also a journalist penning, since
2003, a weekly ‘Bad Science’ column in the Guardian.

He studied medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford, where it is said
he edited the student magazine Isis. He left Oxford in 1995 with a
First. He was an honorary lecturer for a year, at the University of
Milan, apparently doing research at the same time into neuroimaging
on MRI brain scans, examining language and executive function.
Following this, he studied clinical medicine at University College
London (UCL) graduating as a doctor in 1998. He claims to have paid
his way through medical school by repairing vintage 1970s analogue
modular music synthesisers.

After working for a short time as a registrar, he was funded by the
British Academy to do a Master’s degree in philosophy at King’s
College, University of London.

Goldacre is often self-depreciatingly modest when describing
himself, although he is always at pains to stress his serious academic
credentials, describing himself on his web site4 as ‘a serious fcuk-off
academic ninja’.

Goldacre is, he says, a shameless geek5 who has always looked
like a boy rather than a grown adult. In photographs he has the naïve,
punky look of a television chef. One blurb says that he ‘appears regularly
on Radio 4 and TV while attending obscure geek science and arts
events. He is usually ranting about the public misunderstanding of science.
He cycles everywhere and eats his greens.’ Oddly enough, this
is almost an identical persona to that which Duncan Campbell projected
during his years as a quackbuster.

Goldacre’s ‘Bad Science’ column in the Guardian claims to
‘debunk pseudoscientific nonsense in cosmetics adverts, alternative
therapies, and flaky media science stories’. The column is disarmingly
subjective, and often Goldacre publicly ‘wonders’ and ruminates,
giving glimpses of an attractive but phoney uncertainty.
He has, his publicity claims, won numerous awards,6 including
‘Best Freelancer’ at the Medical Journalists Awards 2006. Goldacre
recently won ‘best feature’ at the Science Writers awards, for the second
time. He has also received the HealthWatch award for ‘significant
steps in improving the public’s understanding of health issues’.
His writing in the Guardian is described in these terms on
Wikipedia:

Devoted to satirical criticism of scientific inaccuracy, health scares
pseudoscience and quackery, it focuses especially on examples from
the mass media, consumer product marketing and complementary
and alternative medicine in Britain. He has been a particular critic
of the claims of TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith, anti-immunisation
campaigners, Brain Gym, bogus positive MRSA stories in tabloids,
and the makers of the product Penta Water, to name just a few.

Perhaps one of the reasons Ben Goldacre can appear to be so many
things to so few people is that he has, at the time of writing, an agent
within PFD – although recent turmoil and mass walk-outs within that
agency may change that. Agents, it seems, can clearly work wonders
for doctors who are journalists and scientists but who are rarely published;
one wonders, does his agent get him patients?

Dr Ben Goldacre rarely draws attention to the fact that he is a
medical doctor, nor does he ever discuss, even in the most general
terms, patients with whom he has come into contact, in the way that,
for example, James Le Fanu does in his intelligent Sunday Telegraph
column.7 In fact, nothing Goldacre says seems to be grounded in
everyday life, the condition of ‘ordinary people’ or the public at large.
Despite claiming to spend most of his life working in the NHS, he
is circumspect about which London hospital he works in and what
kind of medicine he practises. For someone who spends considerable
amounts of time criticising those who practice non-allopathic medicine,
for example nutritional practitioners, he might, one would think,
make more of his NHS position.

The following comment from Goldacre appears to be a purposeful
red herring, or was it just a slip of the pen?:

There’s no way that alternative therapies will ever be accepted into
the mainstream, not because of any kind of ideological objection that
empiricists like me might have to alternative therapies, but simply
because you can’t do alternative therapy on the NHS. Alternative
therapy is about people paying money to have somebody spend a lot
of time listening to them talk about their problems, and however
much I might think that’s a great way to spend your time as a healer,
however much I would love to do that in my own practice, it’s
simply not possible on the NHS.

Sorry? ‘In my own practice’. And there was I thinking that Goldacre
was a junior hospital doctor. Perhaps he meant – however much I
would love to listen to patients, it’s simply not possible in the hospital
in which I work – that would seem about right.

Although Goldacre claims not to be an activist of any kind, he
does leave, scattered around, clues about his politics. He is apparently
a Statist New Labourite who believes in the centralised public
NHS. He never talks about the corporate interests with which he
sometimes rubs shoulders, so we have to take it for granted that he is
happy with the gradual privatisation of the Health Service which has
taken place under New Labour.

Despite a definite circumspection about his politics, Goldacre is
reported as having taken part in the Easter 2004 march from Trafalgar
Square to AWE Aldermaston as part on the CND demonstration
against Britain’s investment in nuclear weapons. He has also spoken
at ‘broad left’ conferences.

In 2006, he spoke at the annual conference of Compass,8 which
calls itself ‘the democratic left pressure group’, the membership of
which is primarily made up of Labour Party members. Its ‘radical’
policies seem to come mainly from a Fabian perspective. During the
conference, Goldacre was speaking alongside individuals such as
Natasha Walter of the Guardian, other speakers supported by Demos,
and Steven Rose and Jim Giles from Nature, holding forth about
Science, Technology and Everyday Democracy.

One of the sessions, organised by Demos, was titled, ‘How can we
make Britain more equal?’ and was run by the Fabian Society. The
speakers included Ed Miliband MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the
Cabinet Office; Carey Oppenheim, chair, London Child Poverty
Commission; Louise Bamfield, lead researcher, Fabian Commission
on Life Chances and Child Poverty; Martin Bright, New Statesman;
and Sunder Katwala, general secretary, the Fabian Society.

The politics of these groups is, in general, in the direction of support
for the EU. It is the liberal strand from which, Peter Mandelson,
Dick and Dave and others came, and out of which, eventually, Sense
About Science and the Science Media Centre developed.

By 2006, Goldacre had propelled himself with some speed from a
rather boyish medic, who didn’t appear to take his Saturday column in
the Guardian that seriously, to an ace investigative reporter; a kind of
Lewis Hamilton journalist career. He appeared at the Centre for
Investigative Journalism summer school, side by side with some of
the world’s great investigative journalists.

On the afternoon of Sunday July 23, for three-quarters of an hour
he gave a presentation entitled ‘Evaluating Experts 3: Bad Science’.
His colleague – and he must have needed one, just in case someone
had asked after his experience – was Brian Deer. Deer is the journalist
who has headed up the campaign supporting the government and
the ABPI against Dr Andrew Wakefield. Deer’s ‘evidence’, contained
in two articles in the Sunday Times and a Channel 4 ‘exposé’, constituted
the only complaint to the GMC against the three Doctors,
Andrew Wakefield and Professors Simon Murch and John Walker-
Smith. The complaint triggered the longest investigation in the history
of medical jurisprudence by the GMC. This in turn resulted in the
laying of charges against the doctors before a Professional Conduct
panel, and then the second longest trial in the history of British
jurisprudence; it began in July of 2007 and is not due to finish before
September 2008.9,10

There is, of course, no doubting Deer’s credentials, although the
biographical description of him at the summer school might be ever
so slightly grandiose. We might not go quite as far as recognising him,
as did the British Press Award judges, as ‘probably the only journalist
in Britain that polices the drugs companies’. We might, as well, see a
scintilla of hyperbole in the statement that it was Brian’s reporting that
led to the break-up of the Wellcome Trust and its drug producing
Foundation, then ultimately to the take-over of the drug company by
one of its rivals.

But what about Ben Goldacre and how did he get invited to speak
in such exalted company? You have to admit, it does sound a little like
journalistic quackery, or is it just junk journalism?

The above summary biography, lends Goldacre some stature and a
reality that begs one to believe in him as a man with a mature and
experienced view of the practice and theory of science in which he has
a profound philosophical belief.

However, compared to other science correspondents, Goldacre is
a decidedly empty vessel; his academic record is very ordinary, reaching
only to an MA – and that not in any area of practical working science
but in philosophy.

Despite his claim to be a serious academician, and despite the fact
that a number of his PR puffs say that he ‘has published academic
papers in neuroscience’, there is no record on the significant data
bases of his having co-authored more than one academic paper, apparently
written while he was a visitor at Milan University. The only way
in which academic status can be measured is by the number of peerreviewed
papers or other notable publications such as books. It should
be pointed out that the engorgement of un-provable academic credentials
is one of the major points of criticisms he addresses when writing
his quackbusting articles.

If, as we shall do below, we look more deeply into areas in which
he professes to have experience and knowledge, and if we also look at
his extra-academic ‘awards’, we can discern with some clarity, not
only that he is an academic lightweight, but that his arguments lack
creativity and are expressed almost completely on the side of industrial
science. But perhaps more importantly, Goldacre is locked into a
web of vested interests that are never mentioned in the Guardian
newspaper.

I have begun the discussion below about the orientation of
Goldacre’s most clearly propagandist views, with a look at the
‘awards’ which he is proud to have been given since he began work
on the Guardian. Unlike academic laurels, these awards do not have
to be worked for and are not independently assessed. If one wanted to
create a character with apparent academic plausibility, who in truth
had little academic standing and seemingly no interest in producing
high-standard academic or clinical work, one might give them awards.

THE REAL BEN GOLDACRE: LIFE AND WRITING

According to Goldacre, he began getting awards early in his career. In
1998 while working as a pre-registration house officer (not registered
with the GMC), having just graduated from UCL, he was, he says,
awarded the ‘Roger Hole Essay Prize in Medical Scepticism’.

He was awarded the prize apparently by Lewis Wolpert, and
Professor Souhami;11 the prize was £250 and a signed certificate. Both
Wolpert and Souhami have been consistent skeptics over the past two
decades. Professor Souhami flirted with the initial Campaign Against
Health Fraud, as part of its cancer strand.

I have found it impossible to find any reference to the ‘Roger Hole
Essay Prize in Medical Scepticism’,12 but if it exists at all, it is probably
some little quirkery of skeptics at UCL, where Goldacre finished
his medical training.

University College London contains a whole nest of quackbusters
and skeptics. The UCL Pharmacology Department, that inevitably has
close links to some pharmaceutical companies, is presently headed by
Professor David Colquhoun FRS, a leading skeptic and quackbuster;
of whom more later.

London University also claims Dr Scott Campbell’s Philosophy
Programme at the School of Advanced Study. Campbell’s full-time
job is at the University of Nottingham in the Department of
Philosophy. Alongside his academic achievement, Campbell takes
pride in his work as a skeptic: ‘He has been active in organised scepticism,
and was for a number of years on the National Committee of
the Australian Skeptics. He helped to organise and run the 2000
Skeptics World Convention at Sydney University. He also created the
Skeptics in the Pub13 night in London, and ran it in 1999 and 2001.’

The Magazine of the British sceptics, The Skeptic, has its offices
right next to University of London at 1, Gower Street14 (Appendix
Three.)

The meeting of the Skeptics in the Pub for January 2006 presented
Dick Taverne talking about Sense About Science. The occasion
gave one apparent first-time attendee, Damien Morris, considerable
food for thought. In his view, Taverne was not really representative of
skepticism but more a representative of corporate lobbyists.15 In an
open letter to The Skeptic, Beware the Ambassadors of Science,
Damien wrote a sceptical if not acerbic letter to his fellow skeptics.
For its clear thinking and analysis, this letter is worth reprinting
(Appendix Two).16

Inevitably, Dick’s reply to Morris in the The Skeptic is not worth
summarising, let alone repeating. Its first paragraph, however, shows
us how seriously Sense About Science and the whole science and GM
lobby felt about Monbiot and the Guardian.

It is hard to know where to begin my answer to Damien Morris,
whose attack is a mixture of misrepresentation, smear and inaccuracies.
It relies for its information partly on GMWatch and on a
Guardian article by George Monbiot, who both argue on the basis of
guilt by association, a well-known McCarthyite technique. Monbiot
is obsessed by the wickedness of capitalism.

Goldacre won a British Science Writers (BSW) award, in 2003, the
very year that he began working for the Guardian. At this time, the
BSW was funded by MMR manufacturers Glaxo Wellcome and called
the Glaxo Wellcome BSW Award – perhaps there is something in this
for these corporations, or am I just a conspiracy theorist?

The 2003 Awards were presented at The Royal Society, London,
by Pallab Ghosh,17 Chairman of the Association of British Science
Writers, Science Correspondent for BBC News, and Dr Alastair
Benbow, Vice President and European Medical Director of
GlaxoSmithKline.18 Oddly enough, Pallab Ghosh has been consistently
involved in Sense About Science from its inception. As Chairman
of the ABSW he is in contact with its President, Dame Bridget
Ogilvie, who is also Vice Chairman of Sense about Science.

Having launched himself on a journalistic career while apparently
still keeping his clinical hand in, Dr Goldacre was again a winner in
2005 of the Association of British Science Writers Award (ABSW),
hosted then by Syngenta. Syngenta is a world-leading agribusiness
and producer of GM crops. It ranks third in the high-value commercial
seeds market. Sales in 2005 were approximately $8.1 billion.

The winners were announced at The Royal Society, London, hosted
by Dr Ted Nield, Chairman of the Associaton of British Science
Writers, and Martin Taylor, non-executive Chairman of Syngenta.
Taylor and Dick Taverne are both Bilderberg attenders. The
Bilderberg group is a world government in waiting, which organises
the future global economy at its restricted but increasingly less than
secret meetings.

The Judging Panel for the 2005 Awards was comprised of 10 scientists,
a number of whom had connections with Sense About Science.
In fact, Lord Dick Taverne was another award winner that year; I wonder
if Goldacre spoke to him?

Goldacre received the HealthWatch award in 2006. The four
Patrons of HealthWatch now include the Baroness Greenfield,19 OBE,
head of the Royal Institution and a member of the Science Advisory
Panel of the Science and Media Centre, and Dick Taverne, founder
and head of Sense About Science.

HealthWatch web links now include the American Council on
Science and Health, Bad Science – Ben Goldacre’s weekly column in
the Guardian, the Cochrane Collaboration, CSICOP Committee for
the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal,20 Dieticians.co.uk – the
web resource for UK dieticians –, HFEA – Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority –, Institute of Nanotechnology, James Randi’s
home page, National Council Against Health Fraud (USA), Ontario
Skeptics Society, Quack-Files, Sense about Science and the Social
Issues Research Centre21 (Appendix Five).

Previous recipients of the HealthWatch Award are predictable,
they include: 1994 Petr Skrabanek, awarded posthumously; 1996 Sir
Richard Doll, for his outstanding leadership over 50 years in clinical
epidemiology;22 1997 Annabel Ferriman, for her excellent medical
journalism;23 1999 Bernard Dixon, one of the founders of the British
branch of CSICOP;24 2001 Claire Rayner; 2002 Professor Michael
Baum,25 and in 2005 Professor Edzard Ernst, for his honest (sic)
appraisal of CAM.26

Goldacre’s HealthWatch award was at one point introduced on the
HealthWatch web site with the following accolade:

At HealthWatch’s eighteenth AGM and Open Meeting this October,
the HealthWatch Award will be presented to Ben Goldacre, the junior
doctor and Guardian contributor whose ‘Bad Science’ column
every Saturday debunks pseudoscientific nonsense in cosmetics
adverts, alternative therapies, and media science stories. Aged just
30, with a First in Medicine from Oxford and a Masters in
Philosophy from Kings College London, Goldacre has published
academic papers on neuroscience.27

QUACKBUSTER OR JOURNALIST: DOES BEN GOLDACRE HAVE

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS?

In 1999, two years after New Labour had come to power and Lord
Sainsbury had been rewarded for his campaign donations, Goldacre
was funded by the British Academy to do his Masters degree in philosophy
at King’s College.

Today, the British Academy (BA) is funded by the Office of
Science and Innovation (OSI), which sits within the DTI.28 In the past
it has always been linked to both the Royal Society and the Royal
Institution. It claims to ‘maximise the contribution made by our science,
engineering and technology skills and resources to the UK’s
economic development, and to the quality of our lives’. Of course, one
is bound to wonder how the quality of public life could be enhanced
by Ben Goldacre gaining an MA in philosophy.

King’s College is the bastion and training ground for The Lobby.
It is where Simon Wessely, the premier master of scientific spin,
resides, working, mad-professor-like on endless projects to prove that
organic environmental illness does not exist, and that anyone who
suggests it does is deluded.

The most empathetic and forgiving of us were imagining that Ben
was a junior doctor in a heavily pressed casualty unit in an inner City
area. If Ben was dealing with the dirty life and death of motor accidents,
shootings and drug-related deaths in north-east London for
example, perhaps he might be forgiven his hard bitten views, and his
anti airy-fairy concerns about people affected by electric air waves,
chemicals and bad vaccines.

It appears, however, that he has always been a post-grad clinical
research worker, now possibly studying for a Phd at King’s College,
the home of the psychiatric school of ‘all-in-the-mind aetiology’. In
all probability Goldacre has been at this University Hospital since taking
his MA, and was probably attached to it when he was taken on by
the Guardian.

If this is the case, most probably he doesn’t see patients, except
when he passes them in the corridor at the Maudsley as he makes his
way to the Liaison Psychiatry Unit within the Institute of Psychiatry,29
where he is studying under the Prince of Spin Professor Simon
Wessely, the head of the Liaison Psychiatry Department.30,31Wessely is
an advisor to the Science Media Centre and on the Advisory panel of
the US American Council on Science and Health, one of the most
heavily funded pro industry lobby groups in the world.
The Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) is based in the Guy’s, King’s and
St Thomas’ School of Medicine (GKT) and has a major input into
most of the research projects that determine the psychological and
psychiatric evaluation of individuals who claim to be affected by environmental
pollutants. This work has moved through ME/CFS and
Gulf War Syndrome and is now focusing on those who have been
affected by EMF.

In the early years of 2000, the IoP held over 200 research grants
with an annual value of around £14.5 million. Its second highest
source of funding was the pharmaceutical industry. The IoP has
received funding from, amongst other sources, Unilever, a massive
chemical based company; SmithKline Beecham and Pfizer Limited,
both producers of antidepressant drugs; Novartis Pharmaceuticals
(previously Ceiba Geigy); Lilly Industries Ltd, the manufacturers of
Prozac; Hoescht Marion Roussell; GlaxoSmithKline, vaccine manufacturers;
Bristol Myers Squibb Pharmaceuticals; Bayer; Zeneca
Pharmaceuticals; and Wyeth Laboratories. It also receives funding
from the British and US governments and the mobile phone industry.32

Those of us who were wondering how it was that Goldacre could
afford the time to write his column, given that he was a time- challenged
Junior doctor, now see how after attending the Maudsley a
couple of days a week, to sit at Simon’s knee and do what Simon says,
while being peripherally involved in research projects about the
effects of mobile phones or wi-fi networks, he can donate the rest of
his week to writing his Badly written, apparently vested interest free
science column.

The really good thing about Liaison psychiatry is that you can
blend all kinds of social issues with lots of mad-cap psychiatric ideas
that work well for industry. Liaison psychiatry is a form of psychiatry
in which the psychiatrist informs unsuspecting ordinary citizens who
report to hospitals with organic illnesses that they are actually mentally
ill. This diagnostic ability is particularly acute when the Liaison
psychiatrist meets up with anyone who has suffered an environmental
illness, a chemical insult, or any industry-related illness.

It was recently found33 that Goldacre is speaking in February 2008
at the Liaison Psychiatry Faculty of the Royal College of
Psychiatrists, at their conference in Newcastle, on ‘The Hijacking of
Scientific Language by Alternative Medicine’. Goldacre is listed as
being from The Maudsley Hospital, which houses the Institute of
Psychiatry. The first speaker at the conference is Professor Simon
Wessely, whose paper is entitled: ‘Medicalisation of Symptoms’ – the
imagining of medical conditions by people who discern symptoms of
various illnesses.34

Goldacre also spoke on ‘Journalism and Science’ on December
10th35 2007 at a section seminar at the Institute of Psychiatry. These
seminars are explained on the IoP site as follows: ‘The section holds
regular research seminars on the second and fourth Mondays of every
month. These are primarily internal seminars intended for members of
the Section only’. The professor ultimately responsible for the seminars
is James Rubin, the head of the Mobile Phone Research Unit. On
the site, while all the other speakers gave their location as somewhere
inside the Institute of Psychiatry, Goldacre was listed under his
Guardian Bad Science column.

Wessely has previously had the task of developing other young
and impressionable placements. In the late eighties he worked with
Caroline Richmond, the founder member of the Campaign Against
Health Fraud, promoting her and writing articles with her on ME and
allergy. Richmond was plucked out of nowhere where she was a hack
on trade magazines for the cosmetic and chemical companies. Then,
over an extensive period in the 1990s, he helped, supported and
advised Elaine Showalter on her lamentable contribution to Liazon
psychiatry, the book Hystories, which recounts the hysterical origins
of Gulf War Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Showalter
ended up sharing a stage with Wessely at the Royal College of
Physicians Edinburgh conference in 2000, speaking about GWS, and
then in 2002 she accompanied him at a NATO-Russian advanced
research workshop which discussed the social and psychological consequences
of chemical, biological, radiological terrorism. Showalter is
a post-modern feminist literary critic, so it’s easy to see how her
analysis could add to our defensive and organisational capacity in the
event of a biological or radiological terror attack.

KING’S AND RISK

For some time now, King’s College has been deeply involved in the
programme of spin designed by industry and the New Labour government.
However, as is evident from the involvement of Goldacre
there, the relationship between The Lobby, the University and the hospital,
is not simple. As well as Wessely’s role, ex-Revolutionary
Communist Party members have also played a part in bringing vested
interests to the college. Together with pseudo-scientific research into
mental illness and environmentally caused illness, King’s is deeply
involved in risk analysis for various controvertial environmental factors.
36

Regester Larkin is a PR company, co-founded by Mike Regester
and Judy Larkin, both of whom have appeared at events organised by
the Institute of Ideas (IoI), the ex-RCPers (referred to here also as the
Living Marxism Network [LM]) front organisation funded by Pfizer.37
The company specialises in ‘risk management’, quickly stepping in to
manage media around a crisis, and hopefully salvaging the reputation
of the company or industry.

It was from research jobs at Regester Larkin that Tracey Brown
and Ellen Raphael, both former graduate students in Frank Furedi’s
department at the University of Kent38 and ex-RCPers, moved on from
their jobs to administer the newly set-up Sense About Science.

Judy Larkin is on the advisory board for King’s College’s Centre
for Risk Management, where she advises on risk communication. The
Centre opened in January 2002. It currently has nine academic and
research staff, and eleven research students. Why does a University
Hospital research department need one of the top Anglo-American
public relations figures on its advisory board? The answer is simple,
the Centre is in the business of playing down risk, not researching it
scientifically, and their most noted player is therefore a PR, crisis
management guru.

Clearly what industry wants is not objective scientific research,
but a constant stream of disclaiming information that can be channeled
out of King’s through the Science Media Centre to science journalists
and politicians.
The Centre for Risk Management describes itself as rapidly
becoming ‘a centre of excellence for European risk management
research’, which pursues a scientifically-based approach to risk (perception)
management in environmental, technological, health, safety,
food, business and terrorism contexts.

Regester Larkin were from the beginning deeply involved in New
Labour’s contract with industry. They worked for the DTI on the perception
of the nuclear industry, which has attracted low esteem over
the years.39 Harry Swan, a previous press officer for Monsanto, was
taken on board by RL to fight Monsanto’s corner for GM crops in
Britain. One of Swan’s main clients was the BioIndustry Association.
When Swan was a risk Management Consultant for Regester Larkin,
he represented the company at a Science Media Centre meeting at the
Royal Institution.

Judy Larkin, who is now a senior partner in Risk Principals, is a
Fellow of the Royal Institution (RI)40 and a board member of the
Washington DC-based Issue Management Council, whose members
include AstraZeneca, and GlaxoSmithKline. Its ‘partners’ include
Shell and the Philip Morris Management Corporation.

A former head of corporate relations for Logica plc, she has held
board level positions with a number of major UK and US consultancies,
and has worked extensively in Europe, the United States and
Australasia. Her client experience includes working for Shell, GSK,
IBM, Vodafone, Cable & Wireless, Bayer, Baxter, 3M, and British
Nuclear Fuels. Larkin is also a member of the Bioscience Innovation
and Growth Team (BIGT). This team is deeply located within pharma
territory. In 2003 it produced ‘Bioscience 2015: Improving National
Health, Increasing National Wealth’.41 This report suggested the way
forward for the pharmaceutical industry and recommended the creation
of a Bioscience Risk Assessment Forum, now called the
Bioscience Futures Forum (BFF), under the auspices of the
Bioscience Leadership Council (BLC), a child of New Labour’s
industry liaison programme, which is headed by Sir Richard Sykes.
Sykes, the previous head of GSK, is one of the senior advisors to the
Science Media Centre, along with Wessely.

Judy Larkin is also on the advisory board of another Anglo-
American risk management PR company called ECHO. ECHO is very
large, with an extensive client list that includes AstraZeneca and
Zeneca Agrochemicals, Bayer, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffman LaRoche,
Merck Sharpe & Dohme, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Hill and
Knowlton, Dow Chemicals, Cellnet, Pfizer, Parke Davis and Rhone
Poulenc. ECHO has worked for a number of government departments,
including the DTI, the Ministry of Defence, Industrial Development
Board for Northern Ireland and the Advertising Standards Authority.

Given that two RL employees became the organisation’s first
administrators, and that Larkin herself is involved in a whole series of
organisations and institutions linked to the LM network, it seems most
probable that one of the main organising intelligences behind Sense
About Science was originally Regester Larkin and that Judith Larkin
is not just Larkin’ about at King’s but playing an important role in the
distribution of denial information about the health damaging effects of
industrial and high tech production.

Other unbiased advocates of a balanced view of risk, on the King’s
Centre advisory board include: Dr Richard Taylor, head of health,
safety and environment at British Nuclear Fuels and the Centre’s senior
advisor on UK regulation; Katie Wasserman, vice-president, marketing,
Audiovox Corporation and the Centre’s senior advisor on
mobile telephone corporate affairs; Martina Bianchini, director, EU
Government Affairs and Public Policy, Dow Chemicals Europe and
one of the Centre’s senior advisors on European Affairs; and Dr David
Slavin, senior director, Pfizer Global Research and Development and
the Centre’s senior advisor on pharmaceutical affairs.

RISK AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH

The Institute of Psychiatry also houses the Mobile Phone Research
Unit and research projects on electromagnetic sensitivity. The mobile
telephones and mast-siting controversy is covered by the Mobile
Telephones, Risk and Communications project that Goldacre must
interact with on the days that he attends the IoP.
The MPRU says that its ‘Researchers working in the Unit want to
find out if some people are highly sensitive to these signals, and have
previously tested whether those people who report sensitivity to
mobile phone emissions experience adverse symptoms when exposed
to them under ‘double-blind’ conditions. Some of the work of the unit
is supported by research grants from the industry/government funded
UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme
(see below).

According to the KCRM site, there are three main areas of
research in relation to mobile phones and masts:

– Assessment of the use of ‘precaution’ in regulatory policy, its
impact on regulatory decision-making and public acceptance of
risk.

– Evaluation of the success of the UK government and mobile
phone industry attempts to communicate the risks associated with
mobile communications technologies.

– Analysis of policies aimed at modernising the UK planning system
and resolving mobile telephone mast-siting conflicts in terms
of risk.

However, the projects at KCRM have nothing to do with epidemiology
or the real measurement of physical illness. The starting point is
how people ‘perceive’ the effect upon themselves of mobile phones
and the relationship of this to their perception of risk. The object of all
research is to convince the public that they are involved in acceptable
levels of risk. What centres of this kind are measuring is what industry
can get away with. And then in a secondary sense how industry can
combat bad stories of environmental ill health, from other scientists.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

Can there be any doubt that the industry directed research at King’s,
with which Goldacre is associated, or his association with Professor
Wessely, whose research on ME, Gulf War Syndrome and EMF never
benefits patients but always government or industry, constitutes a conflict
of interest that should from the beginning have been declared by
Goldacre, every time he says anything about science in the Guardian
or anywhere else?

One of the problems with quackbusters is that they usually take a
different perspective to their own conflict of interest than that of their
sworn opponents. While they declare greedily that anyone who has an
autistic child should declare this as a vested interest if they write about
MMR, they forget to declare drug company or government funding
when they themselves write about environmental illness.
In 2003 Professor Wessely gave his own considered opinion on
the important matter of conflict of interests. I wrote the following in
SKEWED at this time:

The level of the debate around vested conflicts of interest
is so low in Britain that hardly any mention is made of anything
other than overt financial vested interests. One exception
to this was a letter from David Horrobin in the BMJ.42
Horrobin pointed out that some non-financial interest conflicts
could be more serious than financial ones. He cited four
types of non-financial conflict: single issue fanaticism, politi-
cal commitment, philosophical bias and a pre-determined
commitment to a particular theoretical framework. ‘Health
fraud’ activists and members of the psychiatric profession
involved in constructing a psychiatric aetiology for ME and
CFS, GWS and EMF might be accused of being mired in at
least the last two of these interest conflicts.

In June 2003, Professor Wessely wrote to the ‘quick
response’ site of the BMJ with his view about conflict of interests.
While some of the best professional minds in both North
America and Europe have made this issue a priority,
Professor Wessely suggested, with typically English understatement,
that it was a non-issue.

And what about the blandishments from industry? Have
they perverted my clinical practice over the years? A
meticulous search of the wreck that is my desk reveals
nine pens, including, miraculously, a Parker pen long
thought lost, two of which have clear company logos on
them. As an academic I travel a lot – I attend academic
meetings, usually overseas, at least once a month (personal
communication from my wife, made between gritted
teeth.) I think that means over 200. I am certain that
on at least four occasions I have been sponsored by
industry – Pfizer, Lilly and two others that I can’t remember,
since you ask – possibly slightly more. I am not sure.

I can remember the cities (Copenhagen twice, Vienna
once and somewhere else), but not always the company.
Has that made me into a drug company lackey, slavishly
promoting their products? Who can say, but I doubt it.

It is time we all grew up. Everyone has conflicts.
Everyone has agendas. Everything affects patient care.
Our own personal prejudices, likes and dislikes, the time
pressure we are under, the number of patients left to see,
family and cultural backgrounds, the influence of our
teachers for good or ill, how tired or jaded we are, the
volume of paperwork we still have to complete, fear of litigation,
the list is endless – there is very little in our lives
that does not affect how we manage patients. A few pens,
a sponsored sandwich lunch for our weekly research
meeting, and even a trip to another forgettable conference,
probably are rather low in the list of things that
affect our decision making.

Why should Professor Wessely have pitched the level of
intellectual debate about conflict of interest so embarrassingly
low? Why should he have made a jokey personal narrative
out of a growing structural problem in scientific
research? By equating conflict interests with free pens and
making a direct correlation between funding source and trips
to conferences, he is evidently minimising the nature of the
problem.

What about the relationship between government funding
and policy towards defence department personnel with Gulf
War Syndrome? What about British and US government
research grants and bio-markers for Gulf War Syndrome?
What about the relationship between ME and CFS
researchers and the insurance industry? What about the
reluctance of the major chemical companies and their insurance
experts to agree upon the existence of Multiple
Chemical Sensitivity? What about the power which medical
research workers have to determine the treatment of thousands
of powerless patients? (And today [2007], we can add
to the list: What about claims by people to be damaged by
EMF and research funding from the mobile phone industry?
What about low cost herbal and homoeopathic health care
and research funding from pharmaceutical companies? What
about the parents of vaccine damaged children and the
unavailability of independent medical research and their children’s
condition?)

Professor Wessely’s letter presents a bizarre picture of a
society which works by accident, where things happen as
they might on the Magic Roundabout, without reason or personal
motive, absent of any ultimate adverse effect upon the
powerless. In this world, a personal joke about his wife’s gritted
teeth and lost Parker pens appears to have more meaning
to him than a real analysis of the power of corporations
in the modern world. Grown up, I should coco!

British health care and medical research, especially in its
upper reaches, has been honeycombed with conflicting vested
interests for decades. Whether it is research into migraine
or research into pesticides, some pecuniary or commercial
interest is invariably pulling strings, deciding levels of patient
care and determining scientific outcomes.

One of the problems is that a complex modern world
presents no venue for open public and genuine debates
about the integrity of science. In a global society, however, a
single unverifiable article or paper arguing the position of the
chemical companies can be spun round the world in seconds
by those whose vested interests it protects, later to seep
authoritatively into books, journals, papers and policies. In
the great majority of cases, the argument that scientific
method is unaffected by funding is specious and those who
use it are either blind to their own prejudices or insincere.43

None of these questions have seeped down into British Newspapers or
into the minds of British journalists or editors.44 While Ben Goldacre
is running amok with his Bad journalism, the Guardian editorial and
management network simply stand aside and occasionally pat him on
the back.

Of course none of this would matter in the slightest if it were the
case that Goldacre were expressing an independent and individualist
point of view. It only begins to matter when we understand that when
writing about people’s health, he is supporting the arguments and the
denials of the massively powerful drug cartels, mobile phone and mast
manufacturers and the State’s mono-therapeutic support for the massively
profitable vaccine industry.

THE FRONT LINE: MMR

No quackbuster or pharmaceutical company lobbyist can be bloodied
in contemporary Britain without giving the prostrate and heavilydamaged
body of Dr Andrew Wakefield a good kick (Appendix
Seven).

Looking at Goldacre’s coming of age vaccine piece in ‘Bad
Science’, it is easy to see that he got most of his information, if not the
whole article, straight from the horse’s mouth of Dr Michael
Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, an ex-Revolutionary Communist Party member,
is one of the founder members of Sense About Science and the
Science Media Centre, both of which organisations are part funded by
the pharmaceutical industry.

From its first initiatives, Fitzpatrick was involved with the Science
Media Centre in building the campaign against Wakefield and broadcasting
the public health concerns about non-vaccination. Dick
Taverne, the founder of Sense About Science, has written aggressively
about the madness of giving legal aid to people who want to make
claims against pharmaceutical companies.45 All aspects of The Lobby
have supported New Labour in its intimate intercourse with the vaccine
manufacturers, giving them maximum commercial and competitive
protection.

The Channel Five film Hear the Silence,46 about Dr Andrew
Wakefield, hit right at the heart of the Sense About Science / Science
Media Centre message: it was a fictionalised account of a real medical
battle, which gave the parents’ side of their children’s illnesses. Under
the new totalitarian media regulations promoted by The Lobby, this is
absolutely verboten. There are to be no fictionalised renditions of
medical narratives, and particularly no self-expression of adverse
reactions suffered by patients or their relatives. Everything medical
has henceforth to be reported by bona fide scientists in glowing terms.

Because of this, it is worth looking at Michael Fitzpatrick’s review
for the BMJ of Hear the Silence, but please, whatever you do, don’t
take it seriously; this is pure pastiche, that contains neither art nor science.
You might, however, cast a more analytical eye over one of the
BMJ’s responses to the review, a letter from the older brother of two
autistic children (Appendix Six).

As for Goldacre’s version of what Andrew Wakefield has been up
to and what the film represents, the article that appeared in the
Guardian on December 11 2003 might just have been written for him
by the Science Media Factory.47 The article is introduced with the
disingenuous words; ‘Channel Five’s new drama about the link
between MMR and autism makes great TV. But it gets the story, and
the science, disastrously wrong. How did we get to such a level of
confusion and hysteria about this vaccine? Ben Goldacre unravels the
real MMR story.’48

It really isn’t worth even quoting from it, because only people
with a high degree of knowledge about the situation would be able to
see how he manipulates the facts. It is, however, worth repeating a few
short sentences, which are indicative of the way in which quackbusters
intersperse sarcasm and vitriol in an apparently rational discourse.
The key to recognising quackbuster-speak, is to appreciate the
art of Orwellian newspeak. The quotes below from Goldacre’s article
do not deal with the misrepresentations in the article, which are
legion, just the selective use of bile as a weapon of propaganda.

• Channel Five’s new drama about the link between MMR
and autism makes great TV. But it gets the story, and
the science, disastrously wrong.

• There is an interesting story here … [about] … how the
standard of reporting, and public understanding of science,
has deteriorated to the point where Channel Five
feels entitled to broadcast the poisonous and
biased drama on the triple vaccine for measles, mumps
and rubella …

• The only things that the writers of Hear the
Silence get wrong, to be fair, are the science and
the story.

• There was more tabloid coverage, and the coverage
began to suggest, incorrectly, that medical opinion was
equally divided on whether MMR was safe. The journalists
who wrote these stories were presumably as
capable as you are of understanding the science,
but they didn’t bother trying. The Daily Telegraph’s
Lorraine Fraser had an exclusive interview with Wakefield,
‘a champion of patients who feel their fears have been
ignored’, and wrote a dozen similar articles over the next
year. Her reward came, astonishingly, when she was
made British Press Awards Health Writer of the
Year 2002.

• Pieces on GM food, or cloning, were twice as likely to be
written by specialist science reporters as stories on MMR.
With MMR, 80% were written by non-specialist reporters.
To name a few, Nigella Lawson, Libby Purves,
Suzanne Moore, and Lynda Lee-Potter have all written
about their ill-informed concerns on MMR.49

• This created the erroneous belief that there was a large
body of medical opinion suspicious of MMR, rather than
one maverick (author’s note: and around 3,000 parents
with vaccine-damaged children).

• A pharmacist in Sunderland called Dr Paul Shattock was
reported on the Today programme and in several national
newspapers to have identified a distinct subgroup of
children with autism resulting from MMR. He is very
active on anti-immunisation web sites. But he still
doesn’t seem to have got round to publishing this
important work, 18 months later.

• I am told you will also see Evan Harris MP (in a discussion
aired after the film), a scientist by training, rightly
interrupt to stop him presenting this unpublished
research.

• The drop (in vaccine uptake) after next Monday’s drama
will contribute to measles outbreaks, and that will
cause distress, disability and probably deaths.
That’s not the small risk of a small risk, like MMR
and autism. It’s just simple maths.50

In November 2005, Melanie Philips, one of the only journalists not to
be threatened into deserting her post, put up on the internet the article
‘”Evidence-based” ignorance over MMR’51 which was published in
the Guardian on November 8 2005. This article is a clear defence of
her position, and it immediately grasps the nettle of the authoritarian
nature of the faux science used by Goldacre and his chums. Again, I
will only repeat here the core statements of Philips’s article, which
gets to the nub of the quackbusting style of Goldacre and FitzPatrick.

• At the heart of the MMR vaccine controversy is an
attempt to blind people with science. Proponents of the
vaccine say science has proved it is safe and that those
who deny this are scientifically illiterate.

• Since then, the government has pointed to a succession
of epidemiological studies which, it claims, prove that
MMR is safe. A recent meta-study by the Cochrane Library
was likewise reported to have said that fears about the
vaccine were based on ‘unreliable evidence’. But the
study itself did not say this. On the contrary, it found that
nine of the most prominent epidemiology studies that are
employed to attack Wakefield’s research were unreliable.

• When I pointed this out in the Daily Mail last week, I was
attacked in these (Guardian) pages by Dr Ben Goldacre,
who claimed that I did not understand how science
worked. On the contrary, it is Goldacre who is ignoring the
evidence, and his errors go to the essence of the MMR
controversy.

• Like the government, Goldacre believes clinical findings
are trumped by epidemiology, which he says is ‘evidencebased’
medicine. But the attempt to refute Wakefield by
epidemiology is a category confusion. Epidemiology looks
at patterns of disease in a population. It cannot prove or
disprove cause and effect in individual patients.

• Having accused me of misunderstanding ‘real’ science,
Goldacre then claims that I have fallen for pseudo-science
by believing evidence that has never been peer-reviewed.
What on earth is he talking about? The devastating finding
of measles virus in the cerebro-spinal fluid of some
autistic children who had been vaccinated with MMR has
been peer-reviewed in the Journal of American Physicians
and Surgeons.

• He claims that Wakefield’s term ‘autistic enterocolitis’
has appeared in no other studies that have endorsed it.
But Wakefield’s core finding of a unique gut-brain disease
has indeed been replicated in peer-reviewed papers in the
Journal of Paediatric Neurology, Neuropsychobiology, the
Journal of Paediatrics, the Journal of Clinical Immunology
and the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

• Goldacre’s case boils down to evasiveness, ignorance,
misrepresentation and smear. Are these really the attributes
of a scientific vocabulary? Is this really ‘evidencebased
medicine’?

When it does come to arguing science, Goldacre is in a privileged
position, able to lob suspect opinions into the public domain while
being protected by his editors at the Guardian from any criticism or
challenging debate.

John Stone, a tenacious investigator, supporter of Dr Wakefield
and campaigner for research into the medical causes of autism, has
found it impossible to draw Goldacre out into a fair public debate
about the claims made in his writing. ‘I, personally, have attempted to
challenge Dr Goldacre on numerous occasions in the Guardian’s
‘Comment is Free’ (CiF) about his views, but he seems unwilling to
pick up the gauntlet. There is a lot to probe here still.’52

Stone wrote to Roger Alton, the editor of the Observer, in the
wake of a sympathetic article that came out on July 8 2007, a week
before the GMC hearing opened.53 He was particularly aggrieved at
the way in which Goldacre cited the results of various studies to show
that children in receipt of MMR showed no higher rates of autism than
those who did not have the vaccination. Stone begins by quoting from
Goldacre’s major article written after the showing of the Channel 5,
drama, Hear the Silence.

So here we go, checking out our hunch on big populations.
Dr Kreesten Madsen, of the Danish Epidemiology
Science Centre, compared 440,000 children who had
MMR with 97,000 children who didn’t. The children who
had MMR were no more likely to develop autism than the
children who didn’t. In Finland, one group looked at 3 million
MMR vaccinations, found only 31 cases of related gut
symptoms, and not one of these children went on to
develop autism in the next 10 years. A group in London
looked at 498 children with autism, to see if they developed
it after MMR. They looked at when they had the MMR
jab, and when they developed the symptoms or the diagnosis,
and found no sudden blip after immunisation.
Another paper shows no increase in GP consultations in
the six months after immunisation. Two hundred children
in London and Stafford with autism were studied to see if
there was a new type of autism related to MMR, featuring
bowel problems and sudden regression, a bit like in the
drama: half had the jab, half didn’t, and there was no difference
in type of autism between the groups. In
California, looking at 1,000 children a year, over 14 years,
the number of cases of autism increased by 373%, while
the number of children getting MMR increased by only
14% (from 72% to 82%). There’s plenty more.54

Stone goes on to quote critical observations from the 2005 Cochrane
review, which concluded that the necessary research that could disprove
the connection made by Wakefield, between MMR and autistic
spectrum disorders had not yet been done.55
Three of the above quoted studies were found significantly
wanting by Cochrane 05.

Taylor 1999: ‘The study demonstrates the difficulties of
drawing inferences in the absence of a non-exposed population
or a clearly defined causal hypothesis’.

Fombonne 2001: ‘The number and possible impact of
biases in this study was so high that interpretation of the
results was difficult.’

Madsen 2002: ‘The interpretation of the study by Madsen
was made difficult by the unequal length of follow-up for
younger cohort members, as well as the use of the date
of diagnosis rather than onset of symptoms of autism’.56

The Cochrane Studies Review process is a clearly authoritative and
usually relatively orthodox test of medical-social research, and their
comments would inevitably have been brought up and given considerable
weight in any fair and accessible academic debate. If he was
independent and fair-minded, why had Goldacre failed to mention
these views that seriously detracted from his argument? While ignorance
may be forgivable, mendacity is not.

Stone then points to what he terms ‘the most outrageous misuse of
data’ in Goldacre’s article:

Goldacre quoted the Peltola study, which was the first
attempt to discredit Wakefield, in the Lancet in 1998,57
and was widely publicised at the time. Goldacre should
surely have known that this was nonsense: 3 million
doses of MMR and not a single case of autism or inflammatory
bowel disease. Of course MMR had not eradicated
these conditions; they simply were not included in the
original follow-up criteria.58

Finally, Stone reveals information about Madsen’s research, which,
quoted uncritically as it is by Goldacre, seems to cast a definitely
unhealthy pallor over the whole article, which, you will remember,
was titled ‘Never Mind the Facts’.

Madsen’s data seems to have been mis-analysed in a way
that obscures a possible MMR effect. When it was published,
Samy Suissa of McGill University, noting the same
biases as Cochrane, recalculated the raw data and,
instead of MMR subjects being 8% less likely to have
autism than unvaccinated, they were 45% more likely.
New England Journal of Medicine refused to published
Prof Suissa’s letter, and he later made it available to Stott
and Wakefield.59

Stone points out the fact that Professor Suiss is not known, in this context,
as a committed member of the Wakefield camp. Stone ends his
correspondence by suggesting that there could be a degree of press
manipulation of studies that are said to refute Wakefield’s clinical
findings.

There are several other instance of epidemiological studies
released amid high publicity which turn out not to be
what they seem when the media spotlight is off.60

ELECTROMAGNETIC SENSITIVITY

I titled my book about The Lobby, Brave New World of Zero Risk,
because The Lobby determinedly propagates the idea that technological
advances can cause no damage to citizens or consumers. On the
other hand, the other part of its message are equally clear: anything
that is alternative or represents a movement against the competitiveness
of the pharmaceutical, medical technology, or communications
industry’s is likely to cause harm.

The centre of the organised fraudulent defence of industry is, as I
have said above, at King’s College London. There professor Simon
Wessely (see Appendix Twelve) and a team of clinical psychological
researchers spend their time proving that people who think they have
been damaged by environmental factors are suffering from ‘false illness
beliefs.’ It was to King’s College University that the British
Academy sent Ben Goldacre; to finishing school as it were.

It is probably not surprising, therefore, that Goldacre, if he didn’t
before, now embraces all the classic nons(ci)ence views of the quackbusters.
One of these is that Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), the kind
that come from mobile phone relay masts, for instance, are incapable
of causing harm to humans. There are no long-term studies to attest to
this negative, blind and irrational assertion.

The Lobby is deeply involved in research projects to prove that
those who claim to be affected by electromagnetic fields have a mistaken
perception of their illnesses. According to Mark Anslow in The
Ecologist,61 the researchers who conducted the latest of these studies
failed to disguise their obvious methodological blunders. Nevertheless
the study carried out at Essex University was given a high-profile
launch at the Science Media Centre, the public organisation of New
Labour/industry science spin.62

The Lobby has in the past used this public launch of research to
add validity and authority to findings which when questioned, collapse
like the body of Dracula caught in sunlight. In September 1990,
for example, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) held a
national press conference to unveil what turned out to be ‘interim
results’ of a bogus research project set up by HealthWatch members
and others into the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. By the end of the day,
the world was flooded with the completely untruthful message that
‘Women who attended Bristol Cancer Help Centre were three times
more likely to die more quickly of their cancer than those who didn’t
attend’.63

Amongst the obvious methodological flaws in this study, was the
fact that a number of women who had ‘attended the Centre’, had done
nothing more than sign in and make enquiries but received no treatment
whatsoever. A large percentage of the subjects had, of course,
been receiving orthodox treatment from a hospital for years before
they sought complementary treatment at the Centre. Facts such as
these and the way in which the statistics had been skewed, led to Sir
Walter Bodmer then head of research at ICRF having to issue a public
retraction of the research paper that had appeared in The Lancet.64

THE ESSEX STUDY

The Science Media Centre announcing the Essex study results took
their policy on media censorship to its ultimate conclusion, and
banned ‘representatives of pressure groups and non-mainstream
media from the research launch’.65 The research had apparently found
that those who suggested they suffered from electro-magnetic sensitivity
had false illness beliefs. Professor Elaine Fox,66 the leader of the
research team, and an experimental psychologist, later told The
Ecologist, ‘It now seems more likely to start looking for other causes
given the growing evidence (that argues against any effect)’. The
paper became mired in controversy on publication.

Previous research of this kind has been carried out at the Mobile
Phone Research Unit at King’s College Institute of Psychiatry, where
professor Simon Wessely is the principal researcher and where
Goldacre appears to be a clinical research worker.67Wessely has a long
history of suggesting that most illnesses are imagined by their sufferers
– let’s face it, apart from taking the blame off industry, this model
of illness is of very low cost to the NHS. A founder member of
HealthWatch and more recently on the advisory panel of the American
Council of Science and Health, Wessely has in the past claimed a psychiatric
aetiology to allergy and food intolerance, the Camelford toxic
chemical disaster, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) and Gulf
War Syndrome.

THE PANORAMA PROGRAMME

The Essex study and those conducted by Simon Wessely at King’s
College were brought up in the quackbuster created row that followed
the excellent Panorama programme, WI-FI A warning signal. The
BBC programme was shown in May 2007 and its clear aim was to
give voice to the arguments – censured from the British media, mainly
by The Lobby – that there was a possible health risk associated with
Wi-fi, and perhaps the wisdom of introducing it into schools to help
run computers used in some class rooms, should be questioned.

At the end of November 2007, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints
Unit (ECU) upheld two complaints apparently sent in by viewers
about the Panorama programme. The complaints unit said the programme
‘gave a misleading impression of the state of scientific opinion
on the issue’. The programme, however, didn’t set out to describe
the state of scientific opinion on the issue.

This wasn’t the first time that the BBC’s ECU upheld a complaint
in line with Sense About Science and the Science Media Centre policy.
In 2006, they upheld one single complaint, amongst tens of laudatory
letters, against an episode entitled ‘Heart of Darkness’ in the sixth
series of the Judge John Deed drama series. The episode presented a
well-balanced view of the arguments around the MMR vaccination.
Having found in favour of the complaint, the BBC banned a repeat
showing of the episode anywhere in the world.

WI-FI A warning signal, like the Judge John Deed dramas, was
one of those rare, dissident views programmes that cleary stated the
doubts and concerns of the people in contradistinction to the gung-ho
approach of the government and the vested interests of the wi-fi communications
industry.

THE QUESTION OF BIAS

Goldacre was much troubled by the programme and what he considered
its bias. But before we get into any detail, lets look at a couple of
factors that might affect any discourse about bias.

First, one has inevitably to look at the surrounding context of other
programmes that depict the communications industry in a positive and
ascientific manner. To examine bias, you would have to analys all the
uncritical depictions of Wi-Fi use on all television channels.

Second, one has to somehow work into the equation the fact that
in reality, communications media and the industry that produces them
are a real and not a virtual presence in society and that their power
goes virtually unquestioned.

Today it is easy to see this position in relation to science in our
society. If we look at the first matter of surrounding context of other
programmes, very few criticize on any level the taken for granted scientific
programme of The Lobby and the government. In relation to
vaccination for example, fictional doctors in Doctors, Holby City and
Casualty, castigate patients for their failure to get their children
immunized. Young people in every drama, use mobile phones, without
anyone ever saying to them, ‘Don’t you think you should read the
research from Australia that suggests there has been an increase in
brain tumours in children constantly using mobile phones?’

However, in all these cases, it needs only one episode of a good
drama such as Judge John Deed or Fields of Gold and industry representatives
are up on their hind legs baying for censorship. Taking the
second point of this argument in relation to wi-fi in the prevailing
environment, its reality and its power is everywhere, today you can
hardly find a person walking in the street in London who is not speaking
mindlessly and unnecessarily to someone on a mobile phone. The
mobile phone companies have installed thousands of masts throughout
Britain’s cities, without any public debate or a second glance at the
precautionary principle.

Finally in relation to issues of bias. Quackbusters have a stock
argument that there are hundreds of studies that show there are no
adverse health effects associated with this or that. When they claim
this, they should be asked to produce all these references and those
that they do produce should be scrutinized for vested and conflict
interests amongst their authors. Industry has been working hard for
years to bias the results of research.

A 2005 article in the Toronto Star commented on mobile phone
studies, that one University of Washington analysis of 252 published
studies worldwide that looked at the health effects of cellular radio
frequencies showed a clear difference in results between independent
research and studies directly funded by industry.68 Among the peerreviewed,
published studies with no direct industry funding, biological
effects from cell phone frequencies were noted 81 per cent of the
time.69 When corporate money directly funded the science, effects
were noted only 19 per cent of the time.

Despite this obvious effect of vested interest funding independent
studies showing biological effects, or hinting at possible health
effects, usually faced a barrage of industry criticism. According to the
Toronto Star, such studies are typically dismissed as anomalies among
an ‘overwhelming’ body of evidence showing no health risks.

The Toronto Star article ends with a quote from a well known cell
phone researcher in the U.S. Dr. Jerry Phillips; ‘There’s so much
money involved, that the only thing industry sees is the money. They
couldn’t give a damn about basic science.’70

VESTED INTERESTS AT THE HEALTH PROTECTION AGENCY

Beneath the surface of this juvenile discussion about bias, there was
another quite unbelievable narrative centering on a battle that was
going on between proper scientists and The Lobby, within the Health
Protection Agency (HPA). Of course, commentators like Goldacre
were unwilling to approach this narrative because any analysis of it
would disclose the conflict between independent scientists and vested
industrial interests.

One of the oddities of the programme was the fact that the person
putting the case for the prosecution was actually Sir William Stewart,
the chairman of the Health Protection Agency. It might have occurred
to some viewers to ask why Ben Goldacre didn’t make anything of the
fact that the case against Wi-Fi was presented not only by a government
appointee but one of the most knowledgeable scientists, on this
subject, in Britain.

The HPA is the government Agency that looks after the public
health of the British population. Set up by New Labour to push the
government line on Bird Flu, anti-terrorist measures in the case of
some catastrophe and to manufacture vaccines in partnership with the
drug companies, the government obviously didn’t expect a rebellion
on any of the political or economic issues charged to the body.

Sir William Stewart could well have accepted the job of
Chairman, without fully realizing how powerful and unitary in their
view The Lobby was. By the time the Panorama programme was
made, however, there were clearly great breaches in the agency. The
HPA was from the beginning been set up as a kind of partnership
agency which worked in concert with industrial interests. In relation
to the pharmaceutical industries, this didn’t seem to bother anyone
because they were, no doubt, proceeding on the basis that drugs and
vaccinations are good for you.

But on the matter of mobile phones, masts and Wi-Fi there was
from the beginning clearly the possibility of serious conflict.
Although the Stewart Report hadn’t really delivered the goods for anti
mobile phone and mast activists, it had professed considerable disquiet
about moving forward at such a pace paying no attention to the precautionary
principle. And it had expressed an especially strong reaction
with respect to the use of mobile phones by children and young
people.

At the other end of the scale, was Professor Simon Wessely, whose
views about the psychiatric cause of illness, seemed to suit industry
like a bespoke jacket. But what, I hear you ask, might Simon Wessely
have to do with the HPA?

PROFESSOR SIMON WESSELY, WI-FI AND THE HPA

Following the Stewart Report,71 the Link Mobile Telecommunications
and Health Research Programme (MTHR), was set up to look into the
possible health impact of Mobile Telecommunications. The research
programme began in 2001, initially with funding of £7.36M that later
grew to £8.8M, the money was given equally by Government and
industry. According to the 2007 Report of MTHR the project was
given an independent management committee to ensure that it was not
influenced by industry.

The MTHR project came under the authority of the HPA and the
Chairman for the first short year of the project was Sir William
Stewart. In November 2002 Stewart, who was also Chairman of the
HPA was replaced by Professor Lawrie Challis.

In 2003, the psychiatric lobby insisting that ME/CFS was a product
of mental illness, managed to scoop up all the research funding
given to the MRC for the funding of research into ME and CFS, following
the suggestion of further research made by the Chief Medical
Officer Working Group on ME. This was despite the fact that the psychiatric
contingent had walked out of the CMOs Working Group in its
last months, claiming that the group was biased against its views. All
funding was then sunk into useless projects across the country set up
only to look at psychiatric diagnosis and suggestions of psychiatric
therapy like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. No money went to biomedical
research.72

There is clearly a plan at work here. After the £8M was given to
the HPA for allocation, the lions share of the funding that was to go to
looking at electromagnetic sensitivity, ended up with the psychiatric
lobby. Professor Simon Wessely was able to keep himself and his
department at the Institute of Psychiatry in continuous employment
for the next six years. But how was Professor Wessely and his colleagues
able to influence the allocation of this research money?

Professor Wessely is one of the Advisors to the Science Media
Centre, one of the main organisations most responsible for pushing
the idea that no form of modern technology can be a danger to health.
By 2002 when the funding came through to the HPA, for research into
illness and mobile phones, Wessely also had his feet under that table.

Maybe, Wessely didn’t have to work too hard to ensure that funding
was given to psychological research at King’s College. Previous
members of the MTHR, have included, the lead writer on the Lancet
paper about Bristol Cancer Help Centre, Dr Clare Chilvers; Professor
Simon Wessely’s friend from the MRC, leading British vivisector, and
sometime head of the MRC Colin Blakemore; and Professor Michael
Repacholi, advisor to the WHO on electromagnetism and previously
a research worker for the mobile phone industry.

Professor Wessely is nothing if not a consummate professional
and after the grant funding had been secured for psychiatric research,
he added his authority to a ‘denial’ group within the HPA. Wessely
found a perfect home working alongside Professor Sir Kenneth
Calman, the former Chief Medical Officer.
After his stint as CMO, Professor Calman went as Vice-
Chancellor and Warden to Durham University, positions that he held
until 2007. Calman also began sitting on the Advisory panel to the All
Party Group on Health steering pharmaceutical policy through the
outskirts of parliament, together with two highly placed vaccine company
executives.73

Extending his life of spin, Calman also became Chairman of the
Radiation, Risk and Society Advisory Group (R,RSAG), at the HPA
that was set up in 2001 and of which Wessely is also a member.74 The
purpose of the group was originally to spin the work of the National
Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).

Perhaps more frightening than the fact that the HPA has built in
communications units or spin groups, is the oddly alienated and thoroughly
patronizing manner in which the R,RSAG talks about its role:
‘R,RSAG assesses, on a continuing basis, what the public wants to
know about radiation, risk and how society will be affected by such
issues.’

One of the bullet points that explain what the R,RSAG actually
does, has an ominous ring which we have heard before: ‘Developing
a series of guidelines, testable by the HPA, on ways of responding to
risk issues.’ The R,RSAG is keen to get into schools to explain science
and risk to schoolchildren, and to this end it has been holding meetings
with various education bodies’.

The R,RSAG reports only to the board of the HPA, which is studded
with members who have industry interests. In October 2004, after
a meeting between the R,RSAG chair and secretary and the communications
director of the HPA, it was decided that the group was handling
spin for the RPB so well that with the inclusion of other representatives,
it could now handle spin for all the other departments of
the HPA. The new group would be managed by Lis Birrane the HPA
communications director. So Wessely became involved in spinning all
matters of public health and science in Britain; quite an achievement.

GOLDACRE AND WI-FI

When one understands that there is a whole industry at work, ensuring
that no criticism ever attaches to Britain’s science and technology
products, even a superficial reading of Goldacre’s fallacious drivel
makes you angry at the level of deception both he and the Guardian
are involved in.

The Lobby’s criticisms of the Panorama programme, centered on
a number of issues. First, the perspective of the programme didn’t
reflect the science, which, as with all science today, proved conclusively
that the technology, in this case Wi-Fi, could not possibly be
detrimental to human health. Second, the programme showed bias in
interviewing three researchers who were in favour of the precautionary
principle and only one who thought that we shouldn’t raise any
questions about the possibilities of health damage. Third, while the
programme made a great deal of this last witness’ vested interests it
didn’t question those of the other three speakers – perhaps because
they didn’t have any. Fourth, and this was something that only
Goldacre made a meal of; when electromagnetic readings were taken
in a school classroom, Goldacre says they were taken in the wrong
place. There was a final criticism that again seemed to come mainly
from Goldacre and that was that the electro-magnetically sensitive
subjects interviewed on the programme might have been ill – if indeed
they were ill – for a number of reasons other than any contact with
EMF.

Amidst his rambling criticisms of the Wi-Fi programme, Goldacre
went to great lengths on his blog, ‘Bad Science’, to make clear that he
had never said that those who claimed to suffer from electromagnetic
sensitivity were not actually ill. Of course, in the words of Mandy
Rice Davies, ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he’, after Professor Simon
Wessely spent two decades trying to extricate himself from his idiotic
assertions that those who said they had ME, Gulf War Syndrome,
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, allergy and food intolerance all suffered
from false illness beliefs.75

In fact, Goldacre’s rebuttal of the programme,76 set medicine back
a couple of decades when it repeated with the same derision, the same
criticisms of the electromagnetically sensitive that quackbusters had
thrown at the Multiply Chemically Sensitive throughout the 1980s
and 1990s. It is important to realize that this level of sarcastic derision
is not only manufactured at the behest of industry but is also consequent
upon the medical profession having not the slightest idea of how
to treat those who suffer from these conditions.

Another of Goldacre’s criticisms of the programme was that the
Essex study was put in a bad light and did not appear to be taken seriously
by the programme.

Obviously the truth behind conflicts involving multimillionpound
industries and citizen consumers is very complex and something
that Mr Goldacre rarely touches upon. When we understand that
the government itself is deeply involved in this propaganda glut and
utterly committed to the cause of industry profits; that it has deserted
workers, consumers and citizens, it comes as no surprise that the trickle
down effect reaches all the major cultural institutions in society.
The BBC, which seems currently to be in thrall to New Labour and its
industry backers, is way out ahead, its head thrown back and its mouth
open, drinking up that trickle down.

The web site ElectroSensitivity-UK, which represents the Association
for the Electrically Hypersensitive (EHS), is one of the organisations
that have recently been at odds with Goldacre. John Fox posted the
following on their weekly news section the first week in January
2007: 77

Ha! Don’t you have to laugh, now we have medical Doctor
Gro Harlem Brundtland, only the former Prime Minister of
Norway and Secretary-General of the World Health
Organisation, AND this First Class Honours Graduate in
Mathematics and Physics, from my old Alma Mater the
University of Cambridge, BOTH coming out against the
“absolutely no evidence” background as electrosensitives
– or possibly psychotically deluded.

How delightful, sorry if I sound maniacally bitter but for
two years we have been hammering on at the likes of the
disgustingly unscientific Dr Ben Goldacre with his
‘Badscience’ in the Guardian, with an ego the size of a
mountain destroying ordinary mortals, calling not only
our credibility but our morals and motivation into question.
So where to now Ben?

In another long essay on the same site, entitled Logjam and described
as ‘a political, social and economic analysis/deconstruction of the
immovability we encounter in ES-UK over the issue of health effects
caused by electromagnetic fields, and particularly microwaves’, Rod
Read again picks up Goldacre; while in his next paragraph he draws
attention to the psychological tests carried out at King’s College,
under the guidance of Simon Wessely. The essay is a cry of the most
terrible frustration, stemming from the fact that ordinary people with
describable illness are not listened to by doctors.

We have tried to open the eyes of the ‘Bad Science’
Guardian columnist Dr Ben Goldacre to this aspect, but he
is too narrow and blinkered, sociologically uninformed, to
take it on board. Nor does he see our ES science is not
performed in a vacuum, but a shifting value-laden social
context …

The recent funding provided for our issue through the
Health Protection Agency (HPA) and industry has been
perverted into studies by psychologists, at King’s College
and Essex University. Hardly the best orientation when it
could have been by biologists, biophysicists and medics,
it is a physical health problem in living organisms after all
… Some want it to be seen as a mental health problem,
that much is very clear.78

The view that the only people who have electromagnetic sensitivity
are those who say they have it – to paraphrase Wessely on ME – has
been repeatedly challenged by actual scientists working in the field. In
June 2007, Goldacre, in one of his bad columns offended one of the
most respected research workers in the field of electro-hypersensitivity,
Dr George Carlo, and, one imagines, tens of other real scientists
throughout the world.79

Carlo’s views are particularly important in the debate about the
adverse effects of electro magnetic radiation because, in the early
1990s, he was given a $25 million research and surveillance budget by
the industry to investigate whether or not mobile phones caused cancer.
In 1999, Carlo resigned from the research after being asked by the
industry to manipulate his findings on adverse health reactions.80
Since then Carlo has devoted himself to wireless safety, trying to
find ways of guarding against the worst health effects of phones and
their masts.

On June 2 2007 he published his usual ‘Bad Science’ column,
claiming in the classic King’s College-Wessely tradition that those
who suggested that they were electro-sensitive were deluded and
probably mentally unwell. Carlo was quick to offer a letter to the
Guardian, drawing on his research and putting Goldacre and the
newspaper right:

To the Editor of The Guardian:

I am appalled by the insensitive, mean-spirited and factually
incorrect opinion put forth by Andrew (sic) Goldacre
in The Guardian (Saturday, June 02, 2007). His premise,
that patients suffering from symptoms of electro-hypersensitivity
are misinformed hypochondriacs, reeks of the
adage: “Those who are saying don’t know; and those who
know, aren’t saying.” Goldacre does not know. It is time
for those who know to speak up.

For the past five years, through our Safe Wireless
Initiative project, we have operated the only post-market
surveillance database in the world systematically collecting
symptom information from thousands of patients suffering
from the effects of various forms of electro-magnetic
radiation (EMR). In addition, we coordinate a network
of clinicians who regularly share information about
their experiences treating patients with these conditions,
another important and unique resource. Thus, we do not
rely solely on self-reported information but have corroboration
from treating doctors. It is noteworthy that our
health concerns registry will open in the UK through a
new local Safe Wireless Initiative branch within the
month. This is an important public health step because in
the UK there are absolutely no reliable data on the incidence
and prevalence of EMR-related conditions. Thus,
Goldacre’s speculations are all the more mis-informed,
but clarity is forthcoming.

In the Safe Wireless Initiative, we have a number of scientific
papers in various stages of the peer-review
process expected to be published by year’s end addressing
this emerging medical problem. However, in the interim,
we continue to share summary information from our
registry database in various forms around the world,
including a February 2007 presentation at the House of
Commons, for the benefit of clinicians and patients alike.

Overall, our data show the following:

• There are symptom and pathology similarities among
patients suffering from electro-hypersensitivity, multiple
chemical sensitivities, alcohol-related disease as well as
neuro-behavioral and learning disorders. We refer to the
symptom constellations as Membrane Sensitivity
Syndrome (MSS) and the increase in reports of symptoms
consistent with MSS associated by patients with various
EMR exposures has dramatically increased over the past
24 months.

• It is noteworthy that concurrently in the past 24
months, the penetration of mobile phones has tripled
globally, from one billion to three billion. WiFi has reached
the highest penetration in history. Satellite radio is not far
behind. All of these technologies rely on information-carrying
radio waves, the trigger for non-thermal adverse
biological responses and the cascade toward MSS.

• In a majority of MSS cases, when EMR is removed from
the patient’s environment, their acute symptoms subside.
This is an important observation and indeed represents
one of the Koch-Henle postulates for causation: If when
the exposure is removed, the effect is diminished, there
is evidence for cause and effect.

• Pathology and experimental findings support a mechanistic
underpinning: an environmentally induced genetic
change that renders daughter cells to carry membrane
sensitivity characteristics with most symptoms directly or
indirectly the result of consequent disrupt of intercellular
communication.

• Therapeutic intervention regimens designed around
known EMR mechanisms of harm have positively shown
varying degrees of clinical symptom amelioration, another
support for the causal hypothesis, but more importantly,
a ray of hope for those afflicted and debilitated by
these conditions.

It is a fact that every serious public health problem man
has faced has first been identified through clinical observations,
the historically confirmed first line of evidence for
preventing epidemic spread of disease. It is a disservice
to the public when uninformed speculation serves to
lessen the acuity with which important early signs that
can save lives are seen and heeded.
Carlo’s letter is exactly the kind of information that Goldacre needs to
steer clear of – after all, it’s stiff with science. Consequently the letter
did not appear in the Guardian or in any other public forum.

HOMOEOPATHY

Nowhere is the odium of quackbusters more focused than against
homoeopaths, and nowhere is the language more recognisable as a
collective campaign than in the written and verbal attacks on this therapy.

The reasons for this are obvious. Homoeopaths agree that there
are no molecules of the treatment substance in the homoeopathic
remedies that they give to their patients. This fact inevitably breeds
scepticism, which always falls short of rational discourse or further
enquiry. Secondly, of course, homoeopathic remedies are very cheap
to produce compared with chemical medicines. Finally, the practice of
homoeopathy demands that every patient is seen and treated as a
unique individual, a concept that flies in the face of the orthodox, centralised
state concept of unique medicines for the patient masses.

In September 2006, the Medicines and Healthcare products
Regulatory Agency (MHRA) introduced a new National Rules
Scheme for homoeopathic medicines. In effect, homoeopathic remedies
could now be registered and sold with a specific claim made for
them. Predictably, the quackbusters were up in arms, accusing the
MHRA of being leant on by a Royal Family that had suddenly developed
the characteristics of a mafia crime family, of giving in to
quacks, of registering sugar pills as medicines, and of flying in the
face of science by ignoring the thousands of studies which show clearly
that homoeopathic remedies are simply placebos.

The barren nature of the Lobby’s argument, that is actually about
market competitiveness, shines through the debate on homoeopathy.
Goldacre stamped his feet to order, in the Guardian, on the advent of
these new regulations, using over one-and-a-half centuries of stale and
unsupportable arguments against the therapy.

‘In Friends In High Places’, the Guardian, September 1, 2006,
Goldacre made all the usual suspect statements about homoeopathy:

• The MHRA plans to change regulation of homoeopathic
remedies, and allow them to make medical claims with no
evidence.

In fact, all homoeopathic remedies have to go through a process of
‘proving’, in which human ‘trial subjects’ make extensive notes over
long periods about every effect that the remedy has upon them.

• The statutory instrument got slipped in to Parliament a
couple of days before the recess, so nobody could scrutinise
it.

Is this conspiracy theory or is this conspiracy theory?

• There are meta-analyses examining vast numbers of
papers which show it is no better than placebo.
But I can’t lay my hands on them at the moment.

• The statement from the MHRA offers to put you in touch
with some friendly homoeopaths: I fail to see what business
that is of the Medicines and Healthcare Products
Regulatory Authority (sic).

Certainly one has to admit that this is odd. Why is a Government
Trading Agency such as the MHRA, which is totally funded by the
pharmaceutical industry, giving out information about homoeopaths?

Ever get the feeling that your friends in Big Pharma don’t really
believe with the same passion you have, Ben?

• This change will be exploited by quacks to suggest that
their treatments have received tacit endorsement, as has
happened many times before.

Yes, it has happened many, many, times before that pharmaceutical
companies, in connivance with the regulatory agencies, have persuaded
the public that medicines are safe while they have later gone on to
kill thousands of people.

Just to relive the high quality of scientific debate that Goldacre
generates on his Bad Science web site, readers might find the following
comments published on the site of interest.

On September 1, 2006, at 2:09am. superburger (Yes,
they have anonymising call-sign names, which reek of
self-indulgence and moronic chat-line culture) said, ‘Go
after homoeopaths hard … They have the veneer of
respectability – GP referrals, homoeopathic hospitals, B S
fucking Cs in it. Yet the whole thing is utter bullshit. The
performance by Mel Oxley on Newsnight sums up everything
that’s wrong with their charade. A lot of CAM is
obvious bollocks and just for the wealthy to indulge themselves
in, but state-funded homoeopathy in 2006 is a disgrace.’

I have to say it, I really do: Do you think that it is even vaguely possible
that superburger and his plainly inadequate compatriots might be
employees or even executives of pharmaceutical or processed food
corporations?

Another person incensed about the new provision was Michael
Fitzpatrick. He showed a faint spark of his earlier Revolutionary
Communist Party class-consciousness when he said on the Today programme
that the MHRA had ‘just given a Kite Mark for the Emperor’s
new clothes, or rather the Prince of Wales’ new clothes’.

Obviously seriously alarmed about the growing support for
homoeopathy, in the early months of 2007, the quackbusting lobby,
led to the barricades by Michael Baum,81 launched a full-out assault on
the London Homoeopathic Hospital. Their strategy was to pressurise
Primary Health Care Trusts to vote against funding patients to the hospital.
Nothing shows more clearly the absolute contempt that the
Lobby has for patients than this totalitarian attempt to deprive patients
of medical choice.

In November 2007, Goldacre returned to flog the horse that, if he
had his way, would by now be good and dead. In a cover story in the
Guardian’s G2, titled ‘A Kind of Magic?’, he extended himself over
four pages, to rehearse his favourite arguments, in a riposte to a measured
defence of homoeopathy by novelist Jeanette Winterson. To the
uninitiated, he produced what might appear to be a thoroughgoing,
devastating critique of a bogus therapy, but the article is at best a farrago
of truth, half-truth and downright dissembling. Given the lengths
that the Guardian and other British newspapers go to be apparently
objective on any vaguely radical subject, one can’t help wondering
why the Guardian is happy to let Goldacre romp through, and tread
down, all previous standards of fair debate.

Homoeopathy might, he allowed, have a placebo effect. There was
a model trial for homoeopathy which, time and again, showed that
people given a sugar pill did just as well. Time and again? When? No
doubt there are such trials, so why don’t we get the references. Oh, I
remember now, it’s ‘the Guardian is a newspaper and not an academic
journal’, argument. No need for references then.

Moving on, he suggests that exponents of homoeopathy, ‘and
indeed all alternative therapists’, play ‘the same sophisticated tricks
that big pharma still sometimes uses to pull the wool over the eyes of
doctors’. The trials that seemed to favour homoeopathy were
‘sneaky’, and simply not ‘fair tests’. This is tiresome Ben, either you
are ‘a serious fcuk-off academic ninja’, or you’re a shoddy hack.
Which is it, name names, refer to references. Or is even a loose academic
method just too much trouble?

By the time Goldacre reaches his conclusions, having worked
himself up to a froth, he goes so far as to accuse homoeopaths of
‘killing people’ – not, of course, by the administering of their useless
pills, but by omission, or by misleading them in the advice of necessary
and vital pharmaceuticals, such as the MMR vaccine, anti-retrovirals
and asthma inhalers. How many times have we heard this hoary
old story; the alternative cancer therapist who treats a patient almost
at deaths door as a consequence of chemotherapy, is charged with
killing the patient.82

Although he claims to look like a 12-year-old (bless!), Goldacre
took his usual, gratingly patronising tone (‘I’m teaching you now …
Congratulations. You now understand evidence-based medicine to
degree level.’) In one particularly ripe paragraph, he writes: ‘There
are bad trials in medicine, of course, but here’s the difference: in medicine
there is a strong culture of critical self-appraisal. Doctors are
taught to spot bad research … and bad drugs.’ According to a list published
by the BMJ, he continued, the most highly accessed and referenced
studies from the past year were on the anti-inflammatory
Vioxx, and the SSRI’s, in particular paroxetine. ‘This,’ he opined, ‘is
as it should be.’

No, this is as it should have been! If doctors were so quick to spot
bad drugs, would Merck now be facing a $50 billion lawsuits, on
behalf of 47,000 dead or damaged people in the US alone, with hundreds
more pending around the world? And what, meanwhile, of the
continuing, frequently inappropriate prescribing of highly-addictive
anti-depressants, which have been shown to cause bizarre and suicidal
behaviour in susceptible patients? Do we see a ‘strong culture of crit-
ical appraisal’ at work in all this?

The truth is that allopathic doctors are both unable and unwilling
to recognise or respond to bad drugs. They will go on prescribing frequently
proven dangerous drugs, until the law intervenes. Allopathic
medicine is globally the least open and self-critical profession. When
every other profession in developed countries has come to terms with
a degree of democratic accountability, doctors hang-on-in-there forsaking
their independent critical judgement to protect pharmaceutical
company profits.

Homoeopaths and their like, says the ‘boy-scientist’, secrete away
in their drawers, files that show that their therapies are duff; ‘This is
called cherry-picking.’ In contrast, we must suppose, Merck was utterly
transparent about the life-threatening side-effects when pushing
Vioxx.

Like all quackbusters, Goldacre always glosses over the ‘sophisticated
tricks of big pharma’, the ‘bad trials in medicine’, as though
they were mere aberrations, and not a major, ongoing and murderous
scandal. It is standard practice in this style of journalism, to ball up in
a throwaway sentence or two, all arguments that run counter to the
theme, then to simply bin them, along with any inconvenient findings
in favour of CAM.

But whatever we do, lets not forget that Goldacre is not on his own
up to his neck in this brown coloured farrago. Behind him stands the
Guardian the paper that has developed a severe case of ethical intolerance.

On December 6th 2007 the science correspondent of the Guardian
reported that the government’s chief scientific advisor Sir David King
criticised the BBC’s Today programme and named John Humphreys
personally as being a danger to the public health. King, as well as
being the science advisor to New Labour, is an advisor to the Science
Media Centre.

He chastised the Daily Mail over what he called their ‘campaigns’
against GM food and the MMR vaccines. King spelt out the price for
this opposition. According to him, in the case of GM crops, the cost to
the economy would be between £2bn and £4bn. In relation to MMR
King said, ‘My charge there is that your highly successful campaign
has potentially led to a situation where we could have 50 or 100 children
dying of measles in the UK.’ He added, ‘all the evidence now
shows that ’MMR does not cause autism’.83

The Department of Health came in for further criticism over its
decision to allow homoeopathic remedies to be licensed by the
Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the public
body that licenses drugs.

‘How can you’ ranted King, ‘have homoeopathic medicines
labeled by a department which is driven by science?’ Then he came
out with a statement straight from The Lobby’s handbook, ‘There is
not one jot of evidence supporting the notion that homoeopathic medicines
are of any assistance whatsoever.’

Britain is awash with ominous sentiment at the moment. To think
that a government science advisor can make public statements that
hint at media censorship fills any democrat with dread, but what
manna to the ears of members of the ex-Revolutionary Communist
Party. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, has King been a sleeper for
many years?

One of the fundamental tricks of The Lobby, in relation to homoeopathy,
is to discount any historical account of the ongoing war that has
taken place between the profession of medicine and homoeopathic
practitioners for two centuries. Any analysis of this history shows that
the opposition to homoeopathy has nothing to do with science and
everything to do with a grubby professional turf-war.

Goldacre makes his writing seem post modern, creative and intelligent,
full of keen observations that pit the irrational against real science
in the post industrial world.84 In fact, Goldacre’s writing is oftrepeated
stale ideology that has been spouted since the time of Samuel
Hahnemann, the German doctor of Medicine who created the method
of homoeopathic preparations and therapies.

Hahnemann graduated as a physician in Germany in 1779, at that
time Germany was the centre of scientific medicine. The great majority
of remedies that he researched, ‘proved’ and produced where the
same natural substances used by allopaths, the main difference being
in their minimal quantities of prescription. Throughout the 19th and
20th centuries homoeopathy proved itself superior to allopathy in
many clinical interventions. In the successive cholera epidemics that
crossed Europe after 1830, the records of numerous hospitals show
that homoeopathy saved thousands of lives that were lost in hospitals
that depended upon allopathy.85

Hahnemann was attacked from the first and his followers and fellow
therapists were constantly derided by allopathic practitioners
whose crude chemical therapies proved more than useless in tackling
many of the illnesses of developing industrial societies. With the formation
of professional associations in the mid 19th century, the
American Medical Association and the British Medical Association
did everything possible to exclude from practice those doctors who
had done extra training to become homoeopaths.

Historically, many followers of allopathic medical ideology, like
Goldacre, showed themselves as their very worst in their emotional,
irrational and ideological attacks on homoeopaths, while others having
witnessed the success of the discipline have been honest enough
to make concessions. In 1825, one of the most influential medical doctors
and writers of the day, Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, a man not
generally in favour of homoeopathy, wrote the following:

I consider it wrong and unworthy of science to treat the
new doctrine with ridicule and contempt … persecution
and tyranny in scientific matters are especially repugnant
to me … Besides, several estimable and unprejudiced men
had testified to the truth of the system …86

Despite fair-minded pundits like Hufeland, the equivalent of the modern
drug companies, the apothecaries, were quick to introduce laws in
Germany aimed directly at homoeopathic medical practitioners, banning
physicians from creating their own remedies.

Throughout the whole of his life, Hahnemann shrugged off the
constant attacks upon him, having complete faith in his system of
medicine and those practitioners who would follow him:

What is true cannot be minted into a falsehood, even by
the most distinguished professor.87

Later, in 1836, Hahnemann, perhaps over optimistically, wrote:
When it is necessary for the defence of our divine art, or
personal honour, to engage in controversy, my disciples
will take this duty upon them. For my own part, I require
no defence.88

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