Congratulations to Ben Goldacre for taking on the supplement quack Matthias Rath and prevailing. That he did it even in the notoriously plaintiff-friendly U.K. court system is even better. Indeed, The Guardian also deserves kudos for supporting Ben in this.
This case could be as momentous in terms of its implications for going after health fraud in the U.K. as the David Irving case was in terms of Holocaust denial. No, I am not calling Rath a neo-Nazi or Holocaust denier. There is no evidence, at least as far as I’m aware, that he subscribes to such vile views.
No, the similarity is that purveyors of “alternative” medicine do often use the same abuses of logic, science, and reason to push their pseudoscientific views as Holocaust deniers do to push their pseudohistory. A more pertinent similarity between Irving and Rath, however, is that, just as David Irving did with Professor Deborah Lipstadt, Rath sought to intimidate the “little guy” by suing him in British courts, where unfortunately libel laws are such that the defendant has to prove that what he wrote was truthful rather than the plaintiff having to prove that what was written was either false or published with a reckless disregard for the truth. Indeed, given the plantiff-friendly nature of British libel law, it’s become a very common tactic of quacks just to use the threat of a lawsuit to silence U.K. critics, as the Society of Homeopaths and a quack named Joseph Chikelue Obi recently did. And it all too often works, either because most bloggers don’t have a large publishing house to fund their legal defense or because their ISP isn’t willing to tell the originators of abusive lawsuit threats to take a hike. So the bloggers are often forced to cave. Unexpectedly, as in the Irving case, Ben Goldacre’s publisher (The Guardian) stood by him and funded the defense, just as Penguin Books stood by Deborah Lipstadt (for the most part; she still had quite a few legal bills of her own by the time it was all over). In the end, Rath’s attempt to silence his critics using the British courts failed as ignominiously as David Irving’s did.
Good. In celebration, I’m going to say, “Matthias Rath is a quack. Quack, quack, quack, quack!”
In the meantime, Ben promises to go after health scammers with renewed vigor, free of this legal cloud hanging over his head.