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July 08 2010


Quackwatch blog sued by Doctor’s Data

A familiar story. Here’s the rundown from The Quackometer:

“Stephen Barrett [of Quackwatch] has been very critical of [Doctor's Data] and has written that the diagnostic health tests it provides are used to defraud patients. One test in particular stood out for his criticism where patients are given a “provoking agent” that flushes out heavy metals into the urine. A urine test is then analysed by DDI and the concentration of heavy metals is compared with standards. Except the standards used are for patients who have not had the provoking agent. The levels of metals are going to be much higher than normal and this ‘elevated result’ is then used to sell expensive and unnecessary treatments.”

Sounds like a valid subject to investigate. Then:

“Doctor’s Data asked Stephen Barrett to remove his articles discussing these urine tests as they were “false, fraudulent, defamatory or otherwise not truthful”. Dr Barrett replied asking for clarification as to what specifically he had written that was not correct or fair opinion. Doctor’s Data did not respond but instead has now simply filed suit.”

The Quackometer weighs in with this:

“I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have researched and written about some of them before. DDI also offer Hair Analysis as a way of assessing nutritional status. This is simply not possible to do in any meaningful way. As I have explained.”

And so a thousand eyes turn on Doctor’s Data to see how they defend their corner. But:

“The problem with many libel cases in the UK is that you are often as a defendant pushed into proving a state of mind, much as Simon Singh nearly had to. To show that Munro deliberately misleads and defrauds requires an impossible peering into her soul to understand her motives. An aggrieved party can always claim that they are honestly going about their business, even if the subsequent analysis of the science or facts may prove them wrong. Being wrong but honest is not the same as being fraudulent.”

Meanwhile, here’s more good investigating from The Quackometer:

“Haynes [who offers testimony on their site as a "luminary"] appears to work for a nutritional supplement company, lectures in many undergraduate colleges and has had over 11,000 ‘patients’. He states that he is registered with the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (Ofquack) although I cannot find his name on their list. (Although to be fair, I have little faith in Ofquack’s IT skills). He was trained at Patrick Holford’s ION where hair mineral analysis is taught as a legitimate technique for assessing nutrient needs. Haynes is not alone.”

The skeptics/bad science field of blogging is a particularly strong area when it comes to investigative blogging. Journalists schooled in the caution of media law might find their behaviour surprisingly provocative, but they are provocative precisely because they tend to have the specialist knowledge that generalist journalists lack, the independence that professionalism takes away, and the strength that comes from belonging to a community of peers.

For this reason they should be getting more publicity for the good work that they do – and more support when company lawyers turn up the heat.

March 29 2010


Blogging 101 for science and health researchers

On Friday, I gave a presentation to science and health researchers at UBC about blogging. The purpose was to discuss how blogs could help them share their research and engage with others interested in the same areas.

Among the examples I cited as different approaches to blogging were Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, BBC environment correspondent Richard Black’s Earthwatch, the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, and the Neuroethics at the Core group blog at UBC.

My five tips for successful blogging:

  • Have a focus
  • Offer a critical perspective
  • Create value for your audience
  • Engage with the community
  • Make it personal

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