Pharyngula

Bad Science: the missing chapter

While Ben Goldacre was writing his book, Bad Science, he was also being sued by the crank, Matthias Rath…which meant he was under a lawyer-mandated gag order and couldn’t include his debunking of Rath in the book. Now that the suit is ended (Goldacre won), he is making the chapter on mega-vitamin charlatan Matthias Rath freely available on the web. It’s a disgusting story of exploitation of the sick: Rath’s main contribution to the world was the undermining of efforts to treat HIV-infected people in Africa.

Comments

  1. #1 Kel
    April 11, 2009

    Excellent, can’t wait to read this (though I will wait until morning because it’s 1am here.)

  2. #2 Falyne, FCD
    April 11, 2009

    Monstrous.

    I can understand (as Goldacre does) why, in light of the history of European medical experiments on the populace (similar to the US’s Tuskegee horror), the belief IN such a European conspiracy could be considered rational. Untrue in this case, of course, but the lack of trust and goodwill has a reasonable basis.

    But for this exploitative charlatan to swoop in, encourage such sentiment, and profit from it, while causing so, so many to die….. urgh. Monstrous.

  3. #3 (((Billy))) The Atheist
    April 11, 2009

    Ah. The wheels of justice to grind slowly. But they do grind. And usually what comes out is quite useful. This also points to the usefullness of the World Wide Web (as more than a time-waster (seriously: how did we look busy before the internet?)). Twenty years ago, the book, faced with this sort of a lawsuit, would most likely have been cancelled (or put on hold (which, in publishing, is pretty much the same thing)). If it had been published, that missing chapter would never have seen the light of day no matter what the outcome of the court case. Bravo justice, bravo internet. Bravo reality.

  4. #4 (((Billy))) The Atheist
    April 11, 2009

    Crudescence Maximus. That should read “The wheels of justice do grind slowly.” Sorry.

  5. #5 Joe
    April 11, 2009

    Thanks for that. It is pleasing to note that Rath did not merely lose the suit, under British law he is required to pay Goldacre’s legal bills (which ran in the hundreds of thousands $). In addition, the newspaper that ran the opinion-piece that got him in trouble backed him.

  6. #6 mk
    April 11, 2009

    Rath’s main contribution to the world was the undermining of efforts to treat HIV-infected people in Africa.

    Good pals with the Pope, is he?

  7. #7 'Tis Himself
    April 11, 2009

    I’ve just finished reading Goldacre’s essay on Rath, South Africa, and AIDS. Words fail me. How can some of those people sleep peacefully at night?

  8. #8 Bad Albert
    April 11, 2009

    I wonder why Rath didn’t inject himself with the AIDS virus and then cure himself with his own treatment? The court case would have been a slam-dunk win for him.

  9. #9 chancelikely
    April 11, 2009

    Sounds like it may be another instance of the Streisand Effect: Rath managed to get Goldacre’s takedown moved from a dead tree copy to… free on the Internet.

  10. #10 Valis
    April 11, 2009

    Rath’s main contribution to the world was the undermining of efforts to treat HIV-infected people in Africa.

    Good pals with the Pope, is he?

    No, but he was amply assisted by our President Mbeki, who refuses to believe HIV causes AIDS, and our Minister of Health, nick-named “Dr Beetroot”. To top it all, our next president believes taking a shower is a cure for AIDS. We are so screwed.

  11. #11 Jim Ramsey
    April 11, 2009

    Interesting. I read the missing chapter.

    What’s really interesting, is that his book doesn’t appear to be for sale in the US.

    Is there a story behind that?

  12. #12 Sili
    April 11, 2009

    Is Amazon blocked in the US, Jim?

  13. #13 Jeff S
    April 11, 2009

    And here is the perfect example of why I take a stand against all pseudoscience bullshit. I love how people ask “Whats the harm?”

    Well, I’d say this is pretty significant harm. It makes me sick this ass can be walking around free. I seriously would love to see people who push these money making schemes (and they always ALWAYS make it out like they are the crusaders against the medical conspiracy to keep people sick in an effort to make money) forced to take their own treatments. Pshaw to ethics, make them suffer.

  14. #14 eddie
    April 11, 2009

    $128 !

  15. #15 Ivence
    April 11, 2009

    I don’t know why it’s not at amazon, but I bought my copy of it from Barnes & Nobel back in december. Excellent book, I’d recommend it to anyone.

  16. #16 Jim Ramsey
    April 11, 2009

    Sili #12,

    The link is for Amazon.uk. I have Amazon prime on the US site.

    I searched google for the ISBN, 000728487X. That’s the new paperback edition, I believe. I got no hits from any US retailers.

    I guess I’ll wait a bit and see if it shows up here.

  17. #17 H
    April 11, 2009

    Great to see this being linked to here. I’ve already seen plenty of people linking to this from Facebook.

    This really is the best deterrent to Rath and those like him – accurate information, disseminated as widely as possible.

  18. #18 Nick
    April 11, 2009

    The whole chapter is a very powerful read. Hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths over the last decade due largely to pseudoscience.

    The “Appropriate Criminal Sanction”, written by the AIDS denialist barrister Anthony Brink, is almost unbelievable in its sadistic madness. I can understand why Goldacre felt it necessary to reproduce it in full.

  19. #19 MacNTosh
    April 11, 2009

    What great timing! I just got his “Bad Science” book from the library, I didn’t know he also had a website.

    The library, by the way, didn’t buy this on their own. I had to ask them to. I strongly encourage anyone who wants to read it to ask their library to purchase it, and thereby share the education, since it is very difficult to find this book in the US. I don’t know why this is, but making sure that your local library has a copy is a good first step toward changing that.

  20. #20 Josh
    April 11, 2009

    Judges issue gag orders, not lawyers. Lawyers are ethically required to zealously advocate for their clients, good or bad. It’s the essence of the adversarial justice system, and we all owe a great many of our freedoms to lawyers. I know lawyers are a convenient target for laypeople, but I expect PZ to be above that. Maybe he’s just grumpy from the troll.

  21. #21 Clemens
    April 11, 2009

    Too bad there seems not to be a German translation of it, yet. I know just a few people who’d need to get a hold on this.

    Alternative medicine never works, because if it worked it wasn’t alternative.”

    (Shortened message from Dawkins in “Enemies of Reason”).

  22. #22 Desert Son
    April 11, 2009

    ‘Tis Himself at #7:

    How can some of those people sleep peacefully at night?

    I’m not sure if it’s the case with Rath, but I bet many people feel that what they are doing is the right thing, for the best for most people.

    On this side of the issue we stand gobsmacked at the damage perpetrated on human beings, but I really think that many proponents of “alternative” medicine only want the best of health for themselves and others.

    I’m guessing, and don’t have data, but I wonder if many haven’t had some problem previously with real medicine (or were never introduced to it in the first place). As humans we sometimes feel that health is just something that should happen. I’m ill? Craziness! To the doctor for repair!

    Then, when repair doesn’t work (because as rational beings we understand that not every procedure works, not every problem has a cure that restores everything exactly as it was, and so forth), the individual blames medicine, not the condition (cancer, for example, or autism as a case that is, of late, often in the news), not the circumstances (poor diet, genetic trouble – especially not genetic trouble, because that might require admitting that there really is something to this evolution thing).

    They blame the medicine. Medicine didn’t fix me! Still wanting to hope (which, in and of itself is not a bad thing), they seek other recourse. The circumstance gets complicated by the fact that changing things like diet, getting more exercise, and spending time to mentally relax (meditation, enjoying music, whatever) actually can have some benefit to how someone feels (I know I feel better after – but not during, he said ruefully – a run). That becomes a substitute for actual change in the pathogenic condition, and thus “It WORKS!”

    One of the things that’s particularly insidious about “alternative” medicine is that some things often couched in “alternative” terms are actually good, solid, science-backed things like eating right and getting exercise and reducing stress to manageable but still motivating levels. But they get claimed for “alternative” medicine, alongside crystals, ley-lines, alien electromagnetic radiation, “water-memory” and other nonsense.

    All of which is a long way of saying, many sleep at night because they believe, deeply, that what they are doing is right, and works. To believe otherwise requires facing harsh truths, such as that even the most advanced medicine sometimes fails to save lives.

    It’s a variant of the “I’m human, and therefore special in the universe” issue central to so much of religious dogma. Because they’re special, that means they’ll be healed, and if retro-viral medication won’t do it, then vitamins will. Vitamins will! Vitamins WILL! VITAMINS HAVE TO!

    Because the alternative is too grim to consider.

    It’s hard for those of us on the side facing the grimness and saying, o.k., it’s grim, so what can we do with what we have, and what can we develop to make progress. I sometimes wonder if, since we only live about 70 years (give or take), progress always seems unbelievably slow, so why can’t progress do something for ME!

    Except that it has.

    Even more crushing, though, is that at some level, some of those individuals probably do realize that they’re just snake-oil sellers. That’s the most heartbreaking, because it’s willful infliction of suffering. How do they sleep? My guess is a certain level of immorality, or amorality results in an unburdened conscience.

    I’m rambling, and it’s not anything you didn’t already know, but reading Goldacre’s chapter got my blood up. Sorry for the long-windedness.

    No kings,

    Rober

  23. #23 Desert Son
    April 11, 2009

    Evidently can’t even sign off correctly. Ok, going to get some lunch, finish laundry, then go get some exercise.

    Hope it’s a beautiful day wherever y’all are. The fight goes on.

    No kings,

    Robert

  24. #24 Joe
    April 11, 2009

    @Josh

    You may be correct that only judges issue “gag orders.” That is inconsequential. Lawyers may advise clients not to speak. The bottom line is that Goldacre’s best interests required him to stifle that chapter. Your nitpicking changes nothing.

    Get with the program.

  25. #25 jackdaw
    April 11, 2009

    This article was horrifying, simply horrifying.

    @ 19 You are absolutely correct about libraries. I am employed at a public library and conduct alot of outreach. The library is a huge resource to those who can’t afford to sit around Barnes and Noble sipping lates and buying coffee table books (a privilaged group that is getting smaller and smaller these days).

    That being said, public libraries are required to meet the public interest. If you don’t request the material it doesn’t get purchased and if you don’t check it out, it will get withdrawn. I saw a copy of Gould’s “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory” out to get withdrawn one time and I almost shit a brick.

    So, request this book and any other book like it at your local library. Hell, you can do it from online usually. Get a card too, seriously, its already being paid for with your taxes. Just do it. Don’t be a damned hipster.

  26. #26 Chris Davis
    April 11, 2009

    There’s nothing wrong with medical science that a few more centuries of research won’t fix. In the interim it’s still pretty damn good.

    Medical practitioners, on the other hand, are considerably more fallible, being human. It’s understandable – though unfortunate – that the science is made to take the blame so often when medics screw up. I say this as one whose lifespan has been severely curtailed by an arse with a knife and rather more enthusiasm than expertise.

  27. #27 Josh
    April 11, 2009

    @Joe

    My nitpicking was not intended to change PZ’s post. I understand the situation Ben was in. I was simply calling out what I considered to be a backhanded lawyer insult. People often toss in a lawyer reference when they want to emphasize some unfair aspect of a legal situation. Notice, however, that PZ didn’t mention any lawyer when he noted that Ben had won his case. This is commonly how lawyers are discussed: emphasize the bad, ignore the good. My point was simply that lawyers don’t only work for the bad guy. Of course it’s nitpicking. That’s what lawyers do. :P

  28. #28 Timothy (TRiG)
    April 11, 2009

    According to Geoffrey Robertson’s book The Justice Game, The Guardian don’t carry libel insurance. This means that they don’t have insurance companies on their backs telling them to give in: they’re free to fight. This stood to their advantage during the cash for questions scandal.

    I have great respect for The Guardian, and for Ben Goldacre. I must get hold of his book. I’ve been following his blog for a while.

    TRiG.

  29. #29 Stewie Griffin
    April 11, 2009

    I am so pleased to see the outrage that Ben Goldacre has provoked. As the husband of an HIV+ African I take this very personally. Fortunately we live in a country where we can access anti- retrovirals free of charge. We know we’re the lucky ones. The unlucky ones need someone like Ben Goldacre in their corner. Tell everyone you about this. Please.

  30. #30 Joe
    April 11, 2009

    @Josh,

    Get over yourself. I know and respect a lot of lawyers- starting with my late father.

    I suspect you are an amateur nitpicker. I picked nits when I maintained a colony of lice in the 1970s.

    Your over-reaction doesn’t serve your purpose.

  31. #31 Joe
    April 11, 2009

    @Stewie Griffin #29,

    That is profoundly moving.

  32. #32 I'm A Rath
    April 11, 2009

    This guy gives my last name a BAD NAME! sorry that’s all I wanted to say.

  33. #33 Bedpan Juggler
    April 11, 2009

    I’ve actually just started plowing my way through Bad Science, have bookmarked this chapter to come back to when I’m finished! Thanks for this!

  34. #34 MadScientist
    April 11, 2009

    I’m glad Ben won – now if he could only recover expenses from Rath.

  35. #35 Kausik Datta
    April 11, 2009

    I was shocked by reading just that chapter. If this is not the face of true evil, what is? An entire country of human beings put at risk of grievous harm and death by the actions of a few influential individuals, and there is no recourse! I echo MTH @#7: how can Mathias Rath, Anthony Brink, Thabo MBeki and their ilk sleep at night?

  36. #36 Eric T
    April 11, 2009

    I read a sci-fi book called World War Z and in it a fictional character sold vitamins to the work as a cure/prevention of the Z virus. I can only imagine that the author of this book had Rath in mind because. That part of the story got me more worked up than any other at the pure callousnous and I was able to let it go because it wasn’t a real story. Now I hear that such a person is alive and is doing the very same thing. You know people like Rath make me wish there was a hell.

  37. #37 blf
    April 12, 2009

    Bad Albert @8:

    I wonder why Rath didn’t inject himself with the AIDS virus and then cure himself with his own treatment? The court case would have been a slam-dunk win for him.

    This challenge?infect yourself with HIV and then??has been made to other HIV-deniers but (as far as I know), none has ever both accepted and then actually done it. Peter Duesberg apparently did accept, but with a load of conditions that mean he won’t ever do it, such as getting NIH approval (the NIH would never approve deliberate infection with HIV).

  38. #38 Drosera
    April 12, 2009

    People like this Rath and his sidekick Brink are in my opinion no better than war criminals. Great job, Ben Goldacre!

    It makes me so sad to see that the Apartheid regime in South Africa has been replaced by an almost equally appalling government that is effectively promoting the AIDS epidemic.

  39. #39 Kevin
    April 12, 2009

    “the crank, Matthias Rath”

    I think that is grossly unfair to cranks everywhere. Rath isn’t a crank, he’s a monster.

  40. #40 JustaTech
    April 13, 2009

    I simply cannot fathom that anyone could get away with even suggesting that any human, no matter how depraved, be locked in a cage. The Hague ought to have censured him back to first year law school ethics.

    Evil, evil people.

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