In a recent article on Spiked, the author Dr Michael Fitzpatrick took to ‘slamming the campaign to ban a wacky health mag from shops’. Fitzpatrick takes considerable dislike to my blog posts in his article, and although attempts to fairly discredit my view, fails to fully understand the context of what I wrote.
First off, Spiked editorial have made the mistake of throwing a sub-heading on the story claiming we are trying to ‘ban’ WDDTY. This is simply not the case – what we are asking is for supermarkets to take responsibility for the content they choose to sell. Yes, you could argue that there are much worse things on sale when it comes to damaging public health, such as tobacco and alcohol, but that isn’t the point. This campaign calls upon supermarkets to be more vigilant over false and misleading health claims. It is not a call to ban the magazine.
Fitzpatrick says that I have ‘accused the alternative-health magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You of misusing scientific evidence and language and of providing ill-informed advice about breast cancer in a feature about the film star Angelina Jolie, who recently underwent a double mastectomy’. I don’t think I have accused them of this, I have proven, through analysing their references that the claims they make are incorrect, ill-informed and dangerously misleading. Fitzpatrick points out that WDDTY is not a scientific journal and by accusing them of being ‘unscientific is like accusing the Beano of lacking literary merit’. From this statement I can assume that Fitzpatrick has not recently followed the WDDTY press releases where they repeatedly claim that (1) they report on scientific evidence and (2) they have researchers that check for accuracy and validity of their claims. If this is the case then they would be more scientific then journalists and editors from other media outlets and thus, believe that they have scientific credibility to back up their articles. It has been shown on many occasions that this is not the case. It is commonplace for WDDTY to use references that don’t back up what they are claiming and misinterpret or misuse statistics. I have also shown how they have just made up quotes from researchers without their knowledge. This makes WDDTY more dangerous than a sensationalist health piece in a newspaper because they are attempting to appear scientific and be a trusted source on what they report.
Fitzpatrick has a point regarding the misuse of scientific evidence elsewhere and I agree wholeheartedly that more needs to be done across the board to change the way evidence is presented, disseminated and accessed. But how does that mean that this campaign is worthless? It’s not his business where I, or others, choose to focus our attention. Some would say that the misuse of scientific evidence isn’t important at all but instead we should all focus our attention on world hunger and global warming. Does that make standing up for evidence a waste of time? I don’t think so.
His final remark is to say that I believe that ‘the general public and readers of supermarket magazines are mere passive dupes of propaganda who need the protection of an enlightened elite’. This isn’t true at all. The points I make always refer to the fact that WDDTY give their claims credibility by referencing scientific publications. This is misleading to everyone because unless you take the time to check each reference you will assume that the author has been honest. WDDTY are far from honest when it comes to references and so by me taking the time to present where the flaws are in their references means other don’t have to. Anyone can do this (within limit due to paywalls etc.) and I have never suggested that questioning the evidence is beyond anyone.
I disagree with Fitzpatrick over the fact that asking supermarkets to stop stocking WDDTY is a bad idea. Supermarkets are one of the most trusted retailers and as a result have a duty to protect their customers. Selling magazines such as WDDTY actively promotes dangerous and misleading health advice and gives it undue credibility. No one has asked WDDTY to stop selling their magazine. If anything has been learned from this is that loyal followers of the magazine will always buy it and they would still be able to.