Perhaps I should have maverickly titled this post “To the tune of one million dollars”. Perhaps not. [But, ah... the memories] Anyhoo, the story I’m writing about boils down to this: vitamin pill entrepeneur Matthias Rath had threatened to sue Ben Goldacre and the Guardian newspaper for $1,000,000 and, happily, has now pulled out of this case. Rath ‘failed the AIDS test’ – and in South Africa, a country with major problems not just with AIDS but with AIDS denialism – by promoting vitamin pills instead of antiretroviral drugs for sufferers. Before you finish (or instead of) reading my post, go to badscience.net and read Ben’s account.
I’m no fan of legal chill (or any kind of threats made in order to silence dissent), but this example is particularly egregious and I am delighted to see it being blogged elsewhere – Holford Watch, for a start. [EDIT: The quackometer.net blog has too*] It’s also on the Guardian website here, and here and the Guardian also has a profile of Zackie Achmat here. You can read all about it in tomorrow’s print edition too. And it’s much more fun to frame a newspaper headline than a printed-out blog post – you’re going to want a souvenir. Nutritionism advocates seem be involved in a significant number of these legal threats, such as: Ann Walker of red clover fame; Patrick Holford (who, like Walker, sent legal threats to David Colquhoun and/or his employers); Gillian McKeith, whose lawyer husband claimed John Garrow has defamed his wife. [These are the only nutritionism advocates I can think of at present who have sent such threats - all are detailed (or linked to, at the very least), along with the Society of Homeopaths and the NZ Chiropractors, on the legal chill post I just linked to above.]
It seems this is a major problem with nutritionism advocates. When their ideas or business practices are challenged, they go to the lawyers. Unlike other (or perhaps I should say “more than other”) apologists for an Alternative Therapy, nutritionists set themselves up as men and women of science – if they truly were men and women of science, they would debate as such rather than trying to silence dissent and stifle debate. I am very pleased – not just for Ben Goldacre and the Guardian, but for all of us because these attempts to silence dissent have the potential to harm us as a society.
One more thing – apparently Rath is now moving into Russia. This is very much a bad thing, as “Aids has been on the increase” there. In what seems to be familiar territory subject-wise, Rath recently attacked the pharmaceutical industry in an advertisement:
The Rath Foundation recently expanded its reach into Russia, where Aids has been on the increase. In an advertisement in Izvestia in February, Rath attacked the pharmaceutical industry and suggested that heart attacks, strokes and cancers could be cut to a fraction of the present level through “natural health approaches”.
[From the Guardian story on the affair - here]
Note: This post has been edited to add more information – the original went as far down as the bit on McKeith. The below was added in a more recent edit:
As someone who is employed within the health food and food supplements industry (if I was in marketing, I would have written ‘sector’ there), I wish I was brave enough to put my real name to this but I prefer to blog anonymously to avoid undue hassle: I think Rath’s selling pills to South African AIDS sufferers – and, more importantly, persuading them to stop taking beneficial pharmacetical drugs – was disgusting. If no-one is prepared to address issues as important as Rath selling pills to AIDS sufferers, I doubt there will be any response from members of the food supplements industry to this anytime soon: comment on dcscience. I think I’d like to do it, but I’m afraid that I may be too much of a coward to do so.