Patrick Holford is tremendously proud of his degree in Experimental Psychology from the University of York. He frequently refers to it as proof of the rigour of his scientific training and it is the basis for his self-description as a psychologist (NB, psychologist, like nutritionist, is a term that has no legal standing or minimum set of qualifications. Update 5). Connoisseurs of Holford’s equivocation about his qualifications will remember his tap-dancing performance with Dr Emer Keeling with some fondness.
Holford Watch was not particularly impressed by Holford’s CV. Professor Colquhoun recently noted that Holford included a glowing endorsement from Dr John Marks in his application for a post as Visiting Professor at the University of Teesside. Except that Dr Marks had not communicated with Holford in approximately two decades and more and now rues the day he ever became entangled with him.
Shortly after that I wrote to him to say that I was not prepared any longer to support his work or views in any way and to please stop using my name as a supporter of his work, and stop writing to me. I had thought and hoped that the whole sad story of my early support for him had died a death, but from what you tell me it seems not.
Holford also cited Prof Tylee as another implied endorsement on his CV although Tylee is also suffering from a case of the endorsements that can not die.
Here at Holford Watch, we have frequently noted that Holford has poor number-handling skills. It is extraordinary, however, that he should allow basic numerical errors to turn up in his CV which supports his case for such an important academic position. In Holford’s CV (pdf), in his website profile (we have had to change it to the Google Cache version – see update 1), and on his self-edited Wikipedia page, Patrick Holford claims that he read for his BSc in Experimental Psychology 1973-1976 at the University of York.
That would be a truly humbling example of an infant prodigy because it means that at an age where the rest of us would be experiencing the usual teenage angst, Holford was studying for a BSc at around the age of 15 and graduating at 18.
Except, he didn’t. He couldn’t have done. The Psychology Department at York didn’t exist in 1973. They even discuss this in the potted history of their department that is freely available on their website.
Peter Venables came to York (from Birkbeck College, London) in 1974, charged with setting up a new Psychology Department. Single-handed he designed a new course, planned the conversion of “temporary” accommodation in Wentworth College (financial constraints meant that the planned, purpose-built building did not appear for another 20 years), appointed three new lecturers (Cox, Hall, and Monk — still with the Department in 2004), and personally interviewed several hundred undergraduate applicants for places on the course beginning in October 1975. [Emphasis added.]
This is such an interesting error that Holford Watch checked various sources but it is true. There was no psychology course of any sort at York during those dates. The department ran its first BSc course starting in October 1975; those students graduated in 1978.
Now, we’ve all heard the claim that if you can remember the 60s then you weren’t there but this is the 70s we are talking about. Holford frequently recommends supplements to children and elderly people to help with memory and concentration; well, as somebody who has been taking them for nearly 30 years, he is not an examplary testimonial to their remarkable powers.
Holford Watch is on an interesting trail at the moment. After some further checking it seems as if Holford graduated in 1979 not 1976. [Update 14:45 – it seems as if we are correct about this as the newly-updated profile on Holford’s website reports 1979 as his graduation date…]
This is a remarkably wide-reaching mistake. Aside from adding further weight to the impression that Holford can not handle even simple numbers it introduces yet another error into a remarkably short and content-light CV. This confusion about the dates knocks out the foundation for some of Holford’s implied history and experience in the CV and we shall discuss those in another post.
It is very disappointing that the University of Teesside seems to have failed to carry out even basic checks before conferring such a prestigious post on Patrick Holford. It’s almost as if they don’t care about the reputation of their university or the reputation of staff who will be associated with him.
Update: within a few minutes of posting this, there was an amendment to Patrick Holford’s profile on his website so we have changed the link to the Google Cache; there may even yet be an edit to the Wiki page but, fortunately, it has its own archiving system. In a spirit of public service, however, we and others took the precaution of committing an archive copy of his website profile to Furl…
Update 2: While Holford Watch is gratified to learn that Patrick Holford is acting upon some errors that we point out, we rather wish that he were quite so swift when it comes to acting upon other errors, such as the ones that we have pointed out on Food for the Brain and the factual errors in his books and promotional videos. Statins anyone? Odd interpretations of mortality statistics in support of a test that you promote? And, how about responding to the email in which we asked about the identities of that cadre of professors who reviewed the chapters and material for you in Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs but failed to spot some egregious errors?
Update 3 at 15:23: Le Canard Noir of the Quackometer has noticed some of the implications of those erroneous degree dates: York Shambles.
Holford claims to have started treating mental health patients in 1980 on his CV with his nutritional theories. If he did graduate the year before, that did not leave him a lot of time to get any training in this area. Most of the CV is very vague about dates and early experiences.
As LCN says, it was one thing when Holford’s CV seemed to imply around 4 years of being a student under the supervision of Hoffer and Pfeiffer before he started treating “mental health patients” in 1980 (as per the CV submitted to Teesside). It is quite something else for him to have graduated in 1979 and started treating people in 1980: this smacks of rather indecent haste and nowhere near enough time to have built up sufficient clinical experience. How very odd.
It is rather a shame that we can’t clarify matters with Dr Pfeiffer because he died in 1988 and is therefore, regrettably, unavailable for comment.
Update 4 at 15:36: Holford Watch has received some very interesting observations and information that we shall look into in more detail. However, staying ahead of the revisions to various sources is beginning to feel rather like we are trapped in one of the newsrooms of 1984. Nonetheless, we are grateful for any and all information that is related to the Holford biography and career. I shall certainly be looking at a copy of Martin Walker’s Dirty Medicine for its interesting interview with Patrick Holford about his early career.
Update 5, 05.09.2007: 08.07: There are several misunderstandings about Patrick Holford’s status that are the usual lot when dealing journalists: e.g., Simon Crompton refers to him as “[a] clinical psychologist by training“. Other supporters even mistake him for a psychiatrist, scientist and researcher; a misunderstanding that is fostered by the fact that organisations such as the Association of Broadcasting Doctors lists Patrick Holford among its speakers, plus another ION graduate, Dr Emma Wells although neither of them is “medically qualified” which is one of the basic criteria for joining the ABD.
Update 6 29.09.07 – Dr Aust has posted an interesting examination of Holford’s mentors, Drs Hoffer and Pfeiffer
UPDATE 7: we can confirm that Patrick Holford is no longer a visiting professor at Teesside.