“Ignorance is like cholera”

The Guardian, quite rightly, along with some other papers, pick up on the story of how Dr Gillian McKeith Phd Gillian McKeith, aka the poo lady, has agreed to drop the title Dr from her company’s advertising after a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority – although the quotes from the good lady herself might suggest otherwise. The ASA had come to the provisional conclusion that the use of the title in adverts was likely to mislead the public, given that “the college was not accredited by any recognised educational authority at the time she took the course, and she does not hold a general medical qualification.” The Guardian’s resident Bad Science debunker, and recent guest on The Panel, Ben Goldacre takes McKeith, and Channel 4, to task.. and not for the first time – here’s an additional snippet from The Times in 2004. [I wonder if Peter Hain is a fan? – Ed]From Ben Goldacre’s detailed article in the Guardian

How can I be sure that this phenomenal difference in life expectancy between rich and poor isn’t due to the difference in diet? Because I’ve read the dietary intervention studies: when you intervene and make a huge effort to change people’s diets, and get them eating more fruit and veg, you find the benefits, where they are positive at all, are actually very modest. Nothing like 10 years.

But genuine public health interventions to address the real social and lifestyle causes of disease are far less lucrative, and far less of a spectacle, than anything a food crank or a TV producer would ever dream of dipping into. What prime-time TV series looks at food deserts created by giant supermarket chains, the very companies with which stellar media nutritionists so often have lucrative commercial contracts? What show deals with social inequality driving health inequality? Where’s the human interest in prohibiting the promotion of bad foods; facilitating access to nutrient-rich foods with taxation; or maintaining a clear labelling system? Where is the spectacle in “enabling environments” that naturally promote exercise, or urban planning that prioritises cyclists, pedestrians and public transport over the car? Or reducing the ever-increasing inequality between senior executive and shop-floor pay?

This is serious stuff. We don’t need any more stupid ideas about health in the world. We have a president of South Africa who has denied that HIV exists, we have mumps and measles on the rise, we have quackery in the ascendant like never before, and whatever Tony Blair might have to say about homoeopathy being a fight not worth fighting for scientists, we cannot indulge portions of pseudoscientific ludicrousness as if they don’t have wider ramifications for society, and for the public misunderstanding of science.

I am writing this article, sneakily, late, at the back of the room, in the Royal College of Physicians, at a conference discussing how to free up access to medical academic knowledge for the public. At the front, as I type, Sir Muir Gray, director of the NHS National Electronic Library For Health, is speaking: “Ignorance is like cholera,” he says. “It cannot be controlled by the individual alone: it requires the organised efforts of society.” He’s right: in the 19th and 20th centuries, we made huge advances through the provision of clean, clear water; and in the 21st century, clean, clear information will produce those same advances.

Gillian McKeith has nothing to contribute: and Channel 4, which bent over backwards to dress her up in the cloak of scientific authority, should be ashamed of itself.

This has been a public information post.

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  • Ben Goldacre has carried out sterling work to expose this charlatan for what she is for years and deserves to take a bow today. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any meaningful financial sanction against McKeith, or more importantly against Channel 4 for profiting from what any intelligent person knows is arrant nonsense.

  • Martin

    I couldn’t agree more, Sammy. Now, closer to home, does anyone else feel as riled as I do at the Belfast Telegraph’s shameless plugging of that other quack, Jan de Vries ( today it’s fenugreek to treat diabetes!) – basically advertisements for his ‘health’ shops and premium rate phone lines disguised as medical advice?

    Or should I sip some Rescue Remedy and calm down?

  • heck

    “has agreed to drop the title Dr from her company’s advertising after a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority ”

    anybody want to complain about DR Ian Paisley?

  • willis


    The real pity is that there is a need for a programme about healthy eating and exercise. It’s just not “You are what you eat”. Good to see her getting a bit of a come-uppance.

    I like the idea that Ben Goldacre got a doctorate for his cat from the same college.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    “Ignorance is like cholera,” he says. “It cannot be controlled by the individual alone: it requires the organised efforts of society.”

    Unfortunately, everyone who catches cholera prefers to be cured. Ignorance, alas, is a condition more than occasionally embraced by the sufferer…

  • qubol

    well done Ben. great work, hopefully her publishers will also get wrapped in germany for publishing books under the docter title too.
    I also hope this will serve as a warning to all the snakeoil salesmaen out there peddling their nonsense in the daily mail and this morning.

  • Cromwell

    Someone told me that the extremely rotund darts player Andy Fordham got the same qualifications as McKeith just to make a fool out of her, after she criticized his diet.

  • Greenflag

    Hurray for Goldacre 🙂 Read recently that all those vitamin popping health conscious people also stand a good chance of being hoodwinked by those purveyors of the multivitamin elixirs of ‘eternal’ vitality and marketable ‘wellness “.

    Seems that an American doctor found that in 11 brands of 20 tested he found that the so called vitamin content of said pills was not as per standard (less not more) and that even worse the vitamin content was in such a state as could not be readily absorbed by the body but was emitted after a short stay through the anal canal in the form of brown matter. Regulatory powers in the USA are apparently lax as regards the sale of ‘elixirs’. As long as you make no guarantees of a cure for cancer /baldness/back pain you can basically pick up a piece of earth colour it pink put it in a bottle and call it Gingivitis and claim it enhances (different from guarantee) your brainpower etc etc etc.

    As always caveat emptor .

    And if it sounds too good to be true then 99.9999999999999999999999% of the time – it is’nt

    Et homo skepticus est 🙂

  • Gum

    A great article and great research. McKeith is a fraud but there are so many like her, simply taking advantage of people desperate enough to buy their slick advertising.

    The fact that Max Clifford is her publicist says it all really. He told outright lies on Radio 5 live yesterday evening attempting to save her reputation.

    As for Jan de Vries, I just think of Private Eye’s health columnist ‘Dr Utterfraud’ and his email address at the Eye: doctor@golfclub.com

  • Cromwell

    Just look to the left of Gums post, she still hasnt removed the “Dr”, I’m gonna get ill & sue the charlatan!

  • Puzzled Jackeen

    I’m delighted that her dubious use of her title has been exposed – we need more of that kind of thing.

    As for Dr. Paisleys’ title – it’s from a honourary Doctorate of Divinity from Bob Jones University, a Christian fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina. I’m not sure if his use is similar to McKeiths’ – I don’t think he’s tried to give medical advice. He’s probably used it to bolster his theological positions, anyway.

  • Bill

    Paisley got his honourary Doctorate from Bob Jones University when it was NOT an accredited degree awarding institution therefore his is as bogus as McKeith’s. Let us see the sycophants acknowledge that.