A short break from Patrick Holford coverage (although I’ll come back to the good professor at the end of the post) to look at a much bigger fish – Google. Matt Cutts (prominent on Google’s anti-spam team) recently blogged about selling links that pass PageRank – and thus making search results less accurate. Matt uses the example of the potential damage caused by selling links on medical topics such as cancer. However, Google appears less concerned about selling adverts for unproven – potentially dangerous – cancer ‘cures’. Why does Google sell advertising to the snake oil pushers, and where does this fit in with Matt’s (well-justified) concerns about the pages that google are not paid to link to?
While ‘conventional’ approaches to cancer often can’t do as much as we’d like – too many people still suffer and die – proper treatment is important. To declare a personal interest in this, I feel strongly about the subject – I know more than one person who would have died far too young had it not been for effective cancer treatment. So, when I Googled ‘cancer nutrition‘ I found the adverts depressing.
The ads are ‘interesting’ to say the least. The top ad to the right of the screen is for the cancerfightingstrategies.com site – not sure where to start with this, but it seems to cover an impressive range of snake oil approaches to cancer (along with negativity about proper medicine) meaning that one page earns a perfect 10 carnards from the quackometer. I would seriously worry about any cancer patient who took this advice seriously. I would also worry about any cancer patient who believes that this site (advertised on google) really does describe the “12 most effective treatments in existence”.
Alongside these positive contributions to the health of the planet, Google also advertises a brilliant (non-FDA approved) treatment that supposedly makes cancer cells self-digest (a disappointing four canards). One can also learn about a “cancer tea” that Google advertises.
If Google simply wanted to make as much money as possible – and damn the consequences – I could understand that. But they have famously promised to not be evil. Although Matt makes clear that his blog is not official Google policy, it is that he appears seriously concerned that paid links might lead to sub-optimal search results on important subjects such as cancer – but has not mentioned, or responded to comments on, how dodgy some of the cancer-related adverts that Google is paid to carry actually are.
So, does this make Google hypocrites? And is carrying these adverts (and not removing them, despite a well-founded complaint from le canard noir and, I’m sure, others) evil?
Anyway, to come back to Patrick Holford again to conclude the post – it has been pointed out to me that Holford & Associates has itself been criticised for a cancer-related advert. The ASA upheld a complaint against the company, finding that:
Patrick Holford’s book merely referred to clinical studies on cancer and did not produce clinical evidence, secondly, that the studies sent showed a link between diet, lifestyle and nutrition but did not find that heart disease could be eradicated, that cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s could be prevented or that most major health problems had already been solved
As Dr Crippen notes, Prof Holford of Teesside University is still writing about how one can ‘say no to cancer’ (clearly, in contrast to all those people who think of cancer and say ‘yes please!’) I guess this is evidence – at least – that both books and online sources of information can be problematic.