Andrew Wakefield: Misleading and Irresponsible

January 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm (Anti-Vaccination) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The GMC have today found that the man who began what became known to some as the media’s MMR hoax was “misleading and irresponsible in the way he described research later published in The Lancet.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Dr Briffa on Athletic Ancients

October 23, 2009 at 10:04 pm (Books, Briffa) (, , , , , , )

While browsing Dr John Briffa’s blog today, I stumbled upon this recent post. [Backup here:] Brilliantly, Briffa’s post seems to be based entirely upon a Daily Mail article. No references to research are given and the only source he links to is the Mail. Read the rest of this entry »

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AltMed Support for Wakefield Continues

March 15, 2009 at 7:52 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Briffa, Dr Joseph Mercola, Patrick Holford) (, , , , , , , , , , )


Following in the footsteps of other alternative types, such as Patrick Holford, Dr Joseph Mercola has joined the fray. Holford has previously exhorted his followers to sign a petition in support of Dr Andrew Wakefield (see breathspakids for more detail) and Joseph Mercola’s fellow medic-with-an-interest-in-nutrition Dr John Briffa has also indulged in some MMR scaremongering of his own (Briffa’s original post), which I covered here, here, and here [note: the first of my blog posts includes links to many other blogs covering Briffa’s views]. Read the rest of this entry »

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Briffa On Fluoridation

February 28, 2009 at 9:31 pm (Briffa, Conspiracy) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Dr John Briffa has a blog. His latest post is about fluoridation. I think I agree with Dr Briffa on some points: for one thing, it seems to me that the benefits of fluoridation are often overstated; there is also the issue of informed consent. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of “mass medication” where those being medicated have not been given a choice. If people wish to avoid fluoride-supplemented water then, ideally, I think they should be free to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

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Briffa on Statins and CoenzymeQ10

September 29, 2008 at 8:33 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Briffa, Nutritionism, Supplements) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Old news, I know – but it is one of Briffa’s hobby horses (not to mention Cybertiger, for those JABS aficionados reading this) and I happened upon an internet forum discussion that was linking to Briffa’s blog. His blog post contained this gem: Read the rest of this entry »

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An Idea Relating To Dr John Briffa’s Current Favourite Homeopathy Study (Arnica “Effective”)

September 12, 2008 at 8:38 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Briffa, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy, Nutritionism, Remedies, Supplements, Woo) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I recently wrote about Dr John Briffa, making reference to his approving comments about a study into arnica as a post-operative aid. I had an idea that homeopathic treatments like arnica relied on the placebo effect and was surprised to see that Briffa’s post described arnica as “effective”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dr John Briffa – Alternative

September 2, 2008 at 11:50 am (Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Briffa, Homeopathic Remedies, Homeopathy, Nutritionism, Remedies, Supplements, Woo) (, )




John Briffa is a doctor who writes diet books and formulates pills for food supplement companies. Briffa has recently blogged about arnica, which doesn’t seem to make sense. He makes his living from nutritionism, not homeopathy – so why support homeopathy by praising a study into arnica? Read the rest of this entry »

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OK, Just a Little Bit More Briffa

May 30, 2008 at 8:46 pm (Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Big Pharma, Briffa, Nutritionism) (, , , , , , , )



Someone named Lex commented on Dr Briffa’s statistical significance post and made this remark: “when it comes to homeopathy and food supplements they always do include the placebo effect- they would run a mile from a double-blind trial” and Briffa responded with this:

I entirely understand the need of some people to perform randomised, placebo controlled trials (chiefly, in an effort to discern whether what is being tested has a ‘real’ effect or not). However, in the real world (that’s real people, with real problems) the fact that the placebo response may account for a lot of even the whole of a clinical response is not generally important for those the treatment is intended to help (those real people with real problems, again).

And this:

You tell us that ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ are) in homeopathy and food supplements would ‘run a mile from a double-blind trial’. I can’t speak for homeopathy (as I don’t know much about it), but you are simply incorrect with regard to double-blind studies on nutritional agents.

I tried to point out that while Briffa had posted a link (to just one double-blind study on fish oil), the general point that Lex made was valid – most food supplement and homeopathy firms do not do double-blind trials on their products. After all, they aren’t required by regulation to do so and if they took the chance and conducted a study, then the results might well be, shall we say, ‘not to their liking’ and the money they have spent on this scientific study would be considered to have been wasted. I also pointed out that there were other issues surrounding CAM research such as poorly designed [non-] trials and companies wanting control over data. Briffa responded by claiming that Lex’s point was absolute and that Lex had claimed all supplement/homeopathy firms would run a mile from double-blind tests. Briffa seems to have a habit of making everything absolute rather than relative in order to make a point. He complains that I use qualifying terms when making my claims (‘Lex wrote ‘they would run a mile from a double-blind trial’. This is stated in absolute terms, no? Lex did not use words such as ‘generally’, or ‘usually’ or ‘tend to’. No, they – all of them – would not engage in double-blind research is the assertion’) and then tries to claim that his single example proves Lex’s point to be false – believing that he does so in the manner of Karl Popper pointing out that “if the hypothesis is that there are only white swans, I only need to show the existence of one black swan (not two, or 10 or 100) to disprove the hypothesis” – and that I have fallen into some cleverly constructed trap. The trap is that by citing one study, Briffa could lure some unsuspecting ‘scientist’ or ‘academic’ [sorry – the pejorative ‘scare quote’ thing seems to be contagious] into complaining that he had only cited one study. Unfortunately for John, I used appropriate qualifiers in my remarks about supplement/homeopathy firms so I don’t think I did fall into his ‘cleverly-constructed trap’. I simply pointed out that Lex’s argument had some validity – I never claimed that all supplement/homeopathy firms ran from double-blind tests. Also unfortunate for John is that in his crowing about getting the scalp of a ‘scientist’ or ‘academic’, he forgot to ask if I actually was either of these things. Assumption may be good enough for Dr John, but in actual fact I am neither an academic nor a scientist – he’s caught a layman [it must be a bit like going big-game hunting and shooting a ferret]. I’ll let John show just how clever he is – he can have the final say in this blog post:

Lex wrote ‘they would run a mile from a double-blind trial’. This is stated in absolute terms, no? Lex did not use words such as ‘generally’, or ‘usually’ or ‘tend to’. No, they – all of them – would not engage in double-blind research is the assertion.

Now, as I said, there is a significant body of double-blind research in the area (some of which is industry-funded, of course). I actually started out with a list of studies to rebut Lex’s claim. But then I remembered something I think Karl Popper said about swans: If the hypothesis is that there are only white swans, I only need to show the existence of one black swan (not two, or 10 or 100) to disprove the hypothesis.

And then I wondered if someone with a very pro-science stance would ‘take the bait’, focus on the fact that I only presented one study, and in so doing would betray ‘good science’ (and even logic) and demonstrate the subjectivity and prejudice that is so often found in science and academia.

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More Briffa

May 30, 2008 at 7:56 pm (Alternative Medicine, Anti-Vaccination, Bad Science, Briffa) (, , , , , , , , )


Dr John Briffa is involved in an interesting discussion on his blog. In a response to a comment I made that included a link to MMR – The Facts he wrote “In the link you supplied under ‘How do we know that MMR is safe?’, we are informed that…” and went on to paste several bullet points. Which weren’t on the page I’d linked to. This is the page: and it contains data on the number of children suffering from the effects of contracting measles compared with the number of children suffering from the side-effects of the MMR vaccine. Having quoted from a different page than the one I had linked to, Briffa then used this quote to back up this statement:

The first three bullet points tell us how widely and for how long it has been used (this is no different from saying ‘billions of people have crossed roads over the past 50 years’ – it tells us NOTHING AT ALL about safety – NOTHING).

True – the first three bullet points he copied and pasted told us nothing about safety. The page I actually linked to, however, did tell us something about safety and it used scientific evidence to do so. To paste information from a different link to the one I was using to demonstrate my point is fundamentally dishonest and I think it tells us something about the way Briffa argues. I’m not the only person who has picked up on Briffa constructing ‘straw men’ – here is another example. Here’s more of Briffa’s responses to my comments:

Read the rest of this entry »

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April 25, 2008 at 8:23 pm (Alternative Medicine, Bad Science, Bloggers, Patrick Holford, Remedies, Supplements, Woo) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Possibly the highest-profile nutritionista in the UK is Patrick Holford. Patrick has featured on many sites, including the Quackometer blog. The Bad Science blog has often featured Holford and he also appears on Damian Thompson’s Counterknowledge blog. Holford has written several books on nutrition – most notably the Optimum Nutrition Bible and Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, but also titles such as Natural Highs, Natural Energy Highs and Natural Chill Highs. You can see more information on Patrick Holford’s career [PDF] by clicking on this link to an annotated CV. Holford’s books are packed with scientific language and references to academic papers. Unfortunately, Professor Holford seems to suffer from a condition called referenciness. While looking through the various blogs that mention Patrick Holford, I found that I wasn’t the first first to refer to him as a nutritionista – not by a long shot. There’s more here. One of the links from that Google search is to Dr Aust’s Spleen, who has several posts referring to Professor Holford, including one titled Patrick Holford’s mentors and inspirations – but who are they exactly?. If you want an alphabetical listing of Holford Howlers, then click this link to Holford Watch’s page. If you want a pithy description of The Professor, click here. He’s been covered so comprehensively there seems little point me adding much, but it was worth writing this just to link to all the Bad Science Bloggers who have done so.

Dr John Briffa seems to have received less coverage on skeptical blogs than The Professor, but I noticed a post by Coracle recently that featured Dr Briffa and also linked to a couple of posts by Dr Aust, including this one on Dr Briffa’s views on water. I covered Dr Briffa in one post on this blog, notable mainly for the excellent logo supplied by PV. Dr Briffa used to write a column for The Observer (which is nothing to boast about really – so did Neil Spencer, the astrologer) and was very keen on ideas like these and not so keen on the Food Standards Agency’s Chief Scientist blogging about the dubious detox regimes and supplements available. Neither was Dr Robert Verkerk who seemingly left a comment criticising Wadge’s blog post, without mentioning that he worked as Ultralife’s Scientific Director. You will note that one of the items on the page I just linked to is a Detox Product – £17.95 for 30 servings,  only £3 more than their Fruit & Veg powder. Fruit &Veg powder? Er, thanks all the same but I think I’ll buy some actual fruit & veg.

Now how about a bit of Gillian McKeith? As well as Howard’s page on la McKeith there’s a whole category at Bad Science. Gillian also featured in a piece in the BMJ written by Ben Goldacre and republished at The BMJ piece prompted a few rabid responses – including those from Jerome Burne (co-author of at least one book with Patrick Holford) and Dr John Briffa, as well as from Patrick Holford himself. There were also some follow-up comments relating to the rabid responses by dietitian Catherine Collins, Jon Mendel, Ray Girvan and Professor David Colquhoun. For more on McKeith, try some of the links on Howard’s page or Google tapl +mckeith. Whatever you do, don’t click on this page. [Warning – Not Safe For Work. Or home – it’s Gillian McKeith in a catsuit.]

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