WDDTY – a review of the media coverage

The campaign to have leading retailers remove ‘What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You’ from their shelves hit an unprecedented high today when Tom Whipple at The Times printed an article highlighting a ‘Call to ban journal over health scares’.

The Times may have been a little over zealous with the headline, a matter I want to clear up before continuing.  We are not asking for the magazine to be ‘banned’, but rather asking the big retailers (Tesco, Sainsburys, ASDA, WhSmith, Waitrose..) to stop putting it on their shelves.  These are two very different actions; calling to ban the magazine may be considered an infringement on the editors freedom of speech, whereas asking for it not to be stocked where I buy my food is a request for retailers to uphold their ethical and moral policies.  When the information being peddled is dangerous, misleading and against evidence-based medicine, retailers have a duty to protect their customers from being exposed to it.

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The Times article was brief but had an instant impact.  Tracey Brown, Director of Sense about Science commented:

“If a magazine was called How to harm yourself and your friends, we wouldn’t expect to see it on supermarket shelves”

Simon Singh said:

“What worries me is mainstream retail outlets selling this and giving it undue credibility”

Tom Hayes from the online HIV magazine, Beyond Positive stated:

“So if people find a way to put off taking medicine – if they see an article in a glossy magazine sold in WH Smith – that is tempting.  Left unchecked though, HIV will result in death”

This article was also picked up by The Wright Stuff on Channel 5, where the line between free speech and supplying controversial health advice was discussed.  I can’t say the discussion panel was particularly robust (actress Susie Amy, comedian Steve Furst and actress Kelly Shirley) but at least there was some exposure.  It was clear that the panel had not ever read the magazine properly because they kept stating that ‘they talk about cases where alternative medicine has worked’ and ‘they give hope’ and ‘not as dangerous as sensationalist newspapers’.  If they had read the atrocious articles in the magazine carefully they would see that WDDTY mislead their readers into believing that there is evidence for their claims, when there isn’t.  They do not give hope but rather deceive and give false hope – something alluded to by Matthew Wright.

The popular radio show by James O’Brien on ‘London’s Biggest Conversation’ 97.3FM did a long feature asking for callers to submit their views on What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You. Advocates for alternative medicine were quick to shout off about anecdotal evidence and efficacy claims, which have been shown time and time again to have no merit.  One caller was eventually reduced to the classic quack argument that everyone outside of ‘their world’ was funded by Big Pharma.

There was a great deal of support against the magazine on the show from medical doctors and researchers – angry that a publication such as WDDTY is undermining the hard work they put in to improve public health.  One caller stated that magazines such as WDDTY are responsible for ‘causing illness and death’ and that they ‘prey on the vulnerable’.   The nature of the oppositions claims seemed to infuriate James who was clearly trying his hardest to avoid a back and forth argument with little success.  He wrapped up the discussion with the sentiment: “It may be the 21st Century, but they are still selling snake oil”.

WDDTY were swift to respond to the media accusations, which was strange as they WDDTYnever responded to my or others call for evidence and explanation.  Their first response was to issue a press release attempting to debunk the claims made in The Times article.  They then issued an email asking people to ‘Subscribe before we’re banned’, a desperate attempt to cast the lifeboats before the HMS Quack sinks under the weight of scientific evidence.

On Wednesday 2nd October, Dean Burnett blogging on the Guardian website, parodied the magazine following the media fallout with a comical take on the potential demise of WDDTY.

The 3rd of October saw Dr Margaret McCartney – who has clashed with Lynne McTaggart in the past – take to BBC Radio 5 Live to comment on the current call to have WDDTY removed from supermarket shelves.  She made some good statements to reiterate that whereas medicine is criticised by evidence, WDDTY misinterpret and misrepresent scientific findings, while professing to be all about the evidence.  And this is the danger – people are led to believe that what is written on the pages is accurate and true because they reference peer-reviewed papers from good scientific journals.  However, what the writers really do is quote-mine and omit to supply the full story.

So I guess the real question now is; will they listen?  Will the retailers accept their responsibility as trusted corporations to protect their customers from dangerous, possibly illegal publications?  They acted on lad’s mags and they acted on offensive costumes so why not act on a magazine that is so offensive it has the potential to cause serious harm to the public.

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10 thoughts on “WDDTY – a review of the media coverage

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  4. Great article, thanks for putting all this together.

    If I may pick you up on one small point, however, you’re right to be critical of the headline in the Times, but it’s probably not fair to blame Tom Whipple for it. Headlines are usually written by sub-editors, rather than the journalist who wrote the article.

    This certainly isn’t the first newspaper headline to badly misrepresent what’s in the article, and I’m sure it won’t be the last!

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