Patrick Holford and More Oddities in the Biography and CV?

Two cats stare up at a presumably trapped creature, the caption reads, I'm afraid you'll find that escape is impossible

Patrick Holford has recently corrected the dates of his degree which must be helpful to the Conferment Committee at the University of Teesside who awarded him the post as Visiting Professor. There have been several more amendments to Patrick Holford’s profile on his website but there are surprising inconsistencies that still exist.

Holford Watch is interested in whether or not there is any need to correct the title of Holford’s degree. Holford writes that his BSc is in Experimental Psychology (pdf) but the Registrar of York refers to him as a graduate in Psychology in an email to Prof David Colquhoun.

Holford Watch is interested because Holford has made some notable errors in number handling and the understanding of statistics which rather jibes with someone who has a degree in Experimental Psychology because this tends to involve extensive work with numbers.

It may also be that the degree in Experimental Psychology has misled some people (including journalists who really should have checked) into believing that he has some formal training as a clinical psychologist. Because, it has to be said, Experimental Psychology sounds so much more applied, directly vocational and clinical that a plain, ordinary qualification in Psychology.

So, if you graduated from the University of York in Psychology, in 1978/9, we would be grateful if you would check your degree certificate or otherwise let us know if you graduated in Psychology or Experimental Psychology. No particular reason: any rumours that Holford Watch is engaged in compiling a contestant for the greatest number of errors in an otherwise content-light CV are somewhat exaggerated. For those of you playing CV fuzziness bingo, a cribsheet:

  • Date of degree studies and graduation.
  • Subject of degree, Experimental Psychology or plain, ordinary Psychology.
  • Amount of time spent in clinical study and training with Drs Hoffer and Pfeiffer before beginning to treat patients in 1980 (implied rather than stated, but, even so…). We are trying to find out how much time this was rather than the face-reading of around 4 years. Presumably, if we don’t find out directly, we will be able to find out from the amended CV that Patrick Holford might need to submit for the post of Visiting Professor (sometimes, the FOIA is your friend).
  • Endorsements by Dr Marks and Prof Tylee. [NB, in the course of writing this post, we checked the latest version of Holford’s profile on his website, and see that there is a clarification about the Holford-Tylee involvement:

    Together with Professor André Tylee, professor of primary care mental health at the Institute of Psychiatry, he formed the special interest group in mental health and nutrition, now operating as the charitable Food for the Brain Foundation. The Brain Bio Centre is owned by the Food for the Brain Foundation. Professor André Tylee has since retired from his involvement with the Food for the Brain Foundation and the Brain Bio Centre.]

  • Unnamed journalists and their endorsements, characterised elsewhere as effusive endorsement from uninformed lay media; not withstanding that comment, except for one, they are so far proving difficult to identify.
  • Holford lists 1995 as the year of his (honorary) Diploma from the ION. However, in Dirty Medicine, Martin Walker refers to the dispute between Holford and Duncan Campbell. Walker refers to a piece by Campbell, Duncan (1989). The rise of the New Age pill pushers. Sunday Correspondent, 3 December. He writes the following and quotes Campbell (pg 614):

    Holford’s entire learning experience and expertise are reduced and described in terms of self-publicity.

    Holford describes himself as a ‘nutritional counsellor’, credited with the ‘Diploma of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition’. But Holford awarded the ‘diploma’ to himself.

    It is of course fairly easy to write this kind of cynical junk about anyone, it is much harder actually to get to the social and personal heart of the matter and understand people’s attitudes within their social and inter-personal context.

    It is interesting that Walker refers to Holford having an ION Diploma in 1989; presumably this differs from the honorary one awarded to Holford (as per his CV) in 1995? [The information about Patrick Holford in Dirty Medicine is said to be drawn from an interview with Holford; we have not verified the interview or other information as presented in the book.]

  • Later in his CV for the post as Visiting Professor at Teesside, Holford mentions that he is an honorary Fellow of BANT but omits honorary when he lists his qualifications which is a niggling mistake.
  • As part of his employment history, Holford lists 1984-1998 as Director of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition. It is a little difficult to comment on this because it omits the information that:
    • Within three years [of its foundation in 1984], the [ION] was in deep financial trouble and went into liquidation.
      Undaunted, [Holford] set the organisation up again in 1987. [pg 148, Dirty Medicine.]

    • The information within the CV isn’t consistent because later in the text, we find:

      Patrick retired as Director of ION in 1997…

  • Interestingly, in the CV, Holford writes:

    In 1984 Patrick founded the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), a charitable and independent educational trust for the furtherance of education and research in nutrition…

    Well, yes and no. It doesn’t seem as if the ION has been in continuous existence in that form. In Dirty Medicine Walker mentions that the ION went into liquidation within three years of its foundation before being re-established at a later date (as above). It also seems as if the ION was not registered as a charity until July 1992 and it was incorporated as a business in June 1992 with Companies House. Previously, according to Companies House, ION seems to have existed in a form that was dissolved in December 1989. Unfortunately, it is not possible to link to the Companies House search results but interested parties should find this information by using the WebCHeck to search for institute for optimum nutrition. (Current Co. No. 02724405; previous Co. No. 01788333.) This does, of course, suggest a need for a slight amendment to the CV where it describes Holford’s directorship of ION as if it had been continuous.

  • The employment history doesn’t clarify an odd piece of information in Dirty Medicine that refers to the aftermath of Holford’s (failed) MPhil studies in hair mineral analysis that he doesn’t include in the CV.

    Soon after this failure, Holford was offered a place in the Chemistry Department, working under Dr Neil Ward, a lecturer who was particularly interested in hair mineral analysis. By 1989 Holford had re-established the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, this time with stronger foundations. [pg 151, Dirty Medicine.]

    It’s not clear from this whether Holford took up the position in the Chemistry Dept. of Surrey University or not.

There are several others quirks and oddities in the Holford CV and biography but these seem to be enough for a small game of bingo. One other little curio that we have mentioned but might address in another post is that although Patrick Holford’s current profile states that he is “Visiting Professor, School of Social Sciences and Law, University of Teesside”, last week’s press releases referred to him as Professor of Mental Health and Nutrition (UK Press Releases; This Is London; Manchester.com and an item on the Food for the Brain website) although there is, as yet, no confirmation of the detail of the title (according to a recent communication from the University of Teesside). A case of premature self-promotion?

Update: 17 September: According to Companies House records, Holford’s recorded resignation date as a director/Company Secretary of ION is July 1 1998.

Update: 21 Jan 2008: We are entertained to see that Holford Myths has produced a handy annotated version of the Patrick Holford CV – as submitted to the University of Teesside in support of his application for the position as Visiting Professor.

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29 Comments

Filed under David Colquhoun, Holford, patrick holford, University of Teesside

29 responses to “Patrick Holford and More Oddities in the Biography and CV?

  1. Would it save us a lot of time to make a list of what is on the CV that is known to be accurate and relevent for an academic posting?

  2. Mostly makes appropriate use of conjunctions, definite and indefinite pronouns and acceptable punctuation.

    I’ll get back to you on the relevance front.

  3. UK Dietitian

    Andy Lewis states:

    “Would it save us a lot of time to make a list of what is on the CV that is known to be accurate and relevent for an academic posting?”

    Could do. But the likelihood of a blank sheet of paper beckons…

  4. Duck

    Hello all,

    I’m a current undergraduate reading Psychology at the University of York.

    When I graduate from the Psychology Department, it will be with a degree certificate reading ‘Experimental Psychology’.
    In practical terms, this does not make much difference – it’s a psychology degree conferring Graduate Basis for Registration of the British Psychological Society same as any old Psychology degree.

    I suspect the ‘Experimental’ bit is to make the point that our course is very much research-based, & mostly stats & biology. It is truly frustrating the amount of people who turn up on open days expecting something close to English Lit., when maybe half the course is teaching us about research methods, experimental design, and statistics (almost entirely quantitative methods – not sociology-lite). The bits of the course that aren’t teaching us how to do Proper Science are well grounded in Proper Science. It is deeply frustrating that people don’t get this – like someone accusing an industrial chemist of practising alchemy.

    Holford’s an embarrassment. I’ve emailed Prof. Colquhoun offering to help if I can.

    If you are in York for the BA Science Festival & think it would help to meet up, I’ve given Prof. Colquhoun my phone number, or post on here. Anyone who wants to do a bit of ‘research’ using my library card & passwords would be most welcome, or if you can suggest anything else I might be able to help with, then please do let me know.

    I would also suggest having a look at the BPS Careers website http://www.bps.org.uk/careers/areas/clinical.cfm
    Maybe things were different then, but these days then there is no way you could be treating patients straight out of an undergraduate degree. Only half of one term of my course covers ‘Psychopathology’ (mental illness), and we have no patient contact whatsoever. It’s not much more of a vocational course than a Biochemistry BSc qualifies someone to practise medicine.

    Thanks, & keep up the good work!
    ‘Duck’.

  5. Hello Duck,

    We’ve had very conflicting information on this: some sources from the university say that the degree is (and has always been) a single honours in Psychology although those who know about such things know that York is strongly oriented towards experimental psychology. You’ve definitely seen copies of the dept.’s degree certificate and it has Experimental Psychology printed on it, tho’?

    How very puzzling.

  6. Duck

    http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/psych/www/about/exppsych.shtml
    The dept describes itself as teaching ‘Experimental Psychology’.

    We only do single honours – it’s possible to do 1-2 modules (about a term, tops) outside the dept, though not many people take this up. I think it would be hard to fit Joint Honours around BPS requirements.

    IIRC then when I applied through UCAS it was to ‘Experimental Psychology’, though the same course code as other ‘Psychology’ degrees.

    Have emailed a friend to check his degree certificate to make absolutely sure.
    I should point out that as a current undergrad then I don’t know what it might have been back in the Olden Days, & I think the dept’s switched a few times.

    Despite my exasperation, I’d say putting ‘Experimental Psychology’ on his CV is at worst a reasonable mistake, & quite possibly accurate.

    If you want to bung me an email then I can suggest people who’ve been around the department since year dot who may be better able to confirm historical details, & maybe shed some light on exactly who supervised the infamous dissertation, since I wasn’t born when Holford graduated.

    Given the graduation date though, you might be better advised to go after how on earth a new graduate could get ethical permission to ‘treat’ patients. Whatever his degree title, it does not qualify him to work with patients without supervision by someone who’s actually qualified. Psychology undergraduate degrees are not vocational, but York’s particularly so – we get trained to be research scientists much more than clinicians. ‘Experimental Psychology’ means we get computers & brain scanners & machines that bleep & flash to play with, with even less about ‘mental illness’ than most Psychology courses.

    I’ve got suspicions about where he might’ve done nutritional stuff after he graduated, if he stayed in York – no more than circumstantial evidence though. Again, please bung me an email if interested (I promise I am not a stooge – have provided my York email to the site).

    Thanks,
    Duck.

  7. Sure – I’ll drop you an email.

  8. Plebian

    Just to give some anecdotal ‘evidence’ to back this up mildly.
    I was at York for 5 years pussyfooting about with Chemistry, but my long term ‘friend’ was doing a BSc in Psychology. It was a running joke that her subject was wishy washy and undeserving of the Sc part. However this was a joke as it was the furthest from the truth possible and she spent more time reading papers that I did. The course appears to be extremely research and statistics based so much so that many struggle as Duck has suggested.

    Well that counts as definitive, we can all go home.

  9. Just to confirm – the degree is in Psychology not Experimental Psychology – we now have 3 sources on this.

    In the context of the CV it is either a meaningless elaboration or something that is thought to sound more ‘impressive’ than plain ordinary business-as-usual psychology for somebody who is claiming to be a psychologist off the back of an undergraduate degree obtained in the 1970s, no subsequent qualifications or authenticated training, and certainly no consistent record of dedication to mental health issues. Just how many things can one person claim to be an expert in?

  10. Plebian

    With regards to his self promotion (which has not been corrected 6 months later). He has gone from
    ‘Professor of Mental Health and Nutrition’
    which is far too wrong to be a mistake considering he is actually
    ‘Visiting Professor of Social Sciences and Law.’

  11. Plebian

    Surely the Charities Commission can become involved – they must have some standards or code that he is breaching here? I shall investigate…

  12. Plebian, *cough* – we have some interesting information on Holford’s change of title from Professor of Mental Health and Nutrition to Visiting Professor of Social Sciences and Law. We look forward to posting it when we can. Let’s just say that somebody may have jumped the gun and started using the title without agreeing it with the institution involved who then objected to it.

  13. LeeT

    The same thought occurred to me a few months ago. What you have got to bear in mind is that English charity law is a bit woolly. Basically, you just have to prove that what you are doing provides benefit to the public. Take a look here to see what “Food for the Brain” was set up to do:
    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/registeredcharities/showcharity.asp?remchar=&chyno=1116438

    See here http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/publicbenefit/publicbenefit.asp for more detailed information about what public benefit is. I would say “Food for the Brain” falls under “the advancement of health or the saving of lives.” If you wanted to make a complaint you would have to demonstrate the trustees were not running the charity with those aims in mind. Unfortunately, the fact they have professor David Smith involved rather mitigates against proving that.

    I can’t imagine The Charity Commission being willing to become involved in a dispute about the validity of the science.

  14. You’re right, Lee. It would neither be possible nor appropriate for The Charity Commission to become embroiled in a dispute about the science – whether egregiously wrong or a startlingly-nuanced interpretation that accepts some sub-group analyses of some studies and disregards a cohort of others.

    I just find it particularly unnerving that the Brain Bio Centre is now subsumed into the Food for the Brain Website. Located at ION, it is described as an “outpatient clinical treatment centre, specialising in the ‘optimum nutrition’ approach to mental health problems”.

    In the BrBC information pack(pdf) Holford recommends that you should read his book and has this remarkable claim:

    After 20 years research at the [ION], working with literally thousands of clients, we feel confident to say that this approach is highly effective. It should, in our opinion, be the first port of call, not the last, for a wide range of mental health concerns including autism, schixophrenia, depression, anxiety bipolar disorder, learning difficulties, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. [Emphasis added.]

    The cost of the consulatation with the psychiatrist seem within bounds for near London (£190 – 1h) but I was staggered to read that the 1 hours appt. with the ‘clinical nutritionist’ (an IONista) is £160 for one hour.

    The cost of the tests and the number that you would need beggars belief – and they look to be charging the full commercial price without passing on any institutional or personal volume discount.

    Does this mean that the BrBC is now sharing a charity no. or something with FFTB or does it share a charity no. with ION? It has moved from its previous page that was in Mental Health Project but presumably covered by Holford and Associates business registration number.

    As you can tell – I have no idea how to intrepret these things. It would be helpful to hear from someone who has more understanding of these matters.

  15. LeeT

    After I posted the above comment it occurred to me that Food for the Brain stated its mission was to research the link between food and mental health. Fair enough, though I think we are entitled to expect proper clinical trial by competent researchers. It will be interesting to see what happens and what kind of reports they commission.

    What is a clinical nutritionist exactly? According to a recent Nutrition Society Report BANT advises its members to describe themselves as nutritional therapists. (See “Understanding The Differences Between Nutrition Health Professionals: The Nutrition Society” Sep 2004, p34 http://www.nutritionsociety.org/documents/20060629fulldefiningnutritionreportforcouncil.pdf)

    I have just downloaded the reports for the Brain Bio Centre from the Companies House website.

    The Brain Bio Centre Ltd, co no 05443609 is a private company limited by shares. The registered office is Carters Yard, Wandsworth High St. (I think we have seen that address somewhere before!) The three directors are Maria Limnios, David Russell and Patrick James Holford. The total issued shared capital is £1.

    So the Brain Bio Centre is definitely not a charity.

  16. In that case, wouldn’t it have been graceful for FFTB to point out that Brain Bio Centre is a company or at least a private outpatient clinic? And, why is it OK for a private company to have its website within a charity’s website? Does this absolve it of any responsibility to show its company number?

    I don’t expect you to be able to answer all this, Lee (or anyone else). These are just the issues that come to mind for me.

  17. LeeT

    Okay, here’s the annual report for “The Food for the Brain Foundation”:
    http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/registeredcharities/ScannedAccounts%5CEnds38%5C0001116438_ac_20070630_e_c.pdf

    On page two we learn that the Chief Executive Officer is Professor Patrick Holford. (Visiting professors don’t usually use the title professor, but we won’t dwell on that too much will we folks?) Going on to page three we are informed that “The Charity acquired all the shares of the Brain Bio Centre Ltd as a gift and holds the whole of the share capital of the Brain Bio Centre Ltd.” All £1 of it. What a generous gift that was. And who made the donation? According to Companies House it was, yes that’s right … Holford & Associates Ltd on 07 November 2006.

    There is nothing strange about charities owning limited companies. I think some campaigning charities have trading companies to sell, for example, Christmas cards.

    DVN – my grandfather always said “learn something new every day.” So I hope the above knowledge has added to YOUR day.

  18. LeeT

    Just a few more thoughts re Food for the Brain(FFB)/Brain Bio Centre (BBC).

    What will organisations such as Mind think of the fact FFB owns a private outpatient clinic with high fees? Many people with mental health problems are surviving on state benefits so how will they afford to go there? Will FFB/BBC be treating say 30% or 50% of patients for free?

    Who will refer them there? GPs will be highly unlikely to want to do so as nutritional therapists are outside the NHS and not subject to statutory regulation. Possibly Mind and individual nutrition therapists will be asked to help out? Questions, questions ……

  19. LeeT

    “I don’t expect you to be able to answer all this, Lee (or anyone else). These are just the issues that come to mind for me.”

    I’ll do my best.

    Sections 349 to 351 of The Companies Act 1985 deal with the regulations as to registered company name, registration number and address of registered office. See the following website for the full text of the statute: http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=2975166

    (As far as I can see The Companies Act 2006 which received Royal Assent in November 2006 and is currently gradually coming in to force does not alter these provisions.)

    As far as I can see the registration pack downloadable at http://www.foodforthebrain.org/content.asp?id_Content=1721 does not include the registration number or the registered office at Carters Yard. Perhaps some one would like to check and back me up on this?

    There was some confusion in the early days of the internet whether the above regulations applied to websites and emails. It appears they do: http://www.out-law.com/page-7594

    Stating they are a Holfordly-owned subsidiary of “The Food for the Brain Foundation” would also help to give fuller information …. er sorry I mean wholly-owned subsidiary.

  20. Thank you , Lee. Thorough, detailed, and, as you say, possibly raising more questions as one goes through.

    I’m familiar with charities having trading arms – that is how Oxfam has shops and it allows RNIB and similar to run training days. I’m failing to get my head around this set-up and who is supposed to be able to refer there. It looks like self-referral.

    Possibly that information pack needs yets another update?

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