Miriam Barry of the Irish Association of Nutritional Therapy (IANT) offers a Response to the recent media coverage regarding antioxidants. She opens her response with these words:
As nutritional therapists we feel compelled to give the public the facts of this case. Please click here to inform yourself of the facts regarding this study.
All of which is rather promising but quickly falls into something more akin to something Jonathan Aitken would have said, although the rhetoric is less stirring than the memorable “sword of truth and trusty shield of fair play”. Barry’s piece is short but contains so many distortions that it would be both tedious and unreadable to deal with them all.
We did leave a comment on Tuesday which hasn’t appeared as yet; however, we are sympathetic to fellow bloggers because we all have comments that end up in moderation or spam filters for reasons we can not fathom. And, as you can see from our Akismet spam counter, we have to assume that most blogs receive a lot of spam. So, we’ve decided to post the bulk of our response here if it is not up on Thursday and we shall try again at IANT and leave a link to our response; however, they may yet post the comment and respond so that may be interesting. Having read Barry’s characterisation of the Cochrane Review, it does not match our impression of what the review says and we have been through that report several times.
We thought that it might be rather more interesting if we left this open to others to spot how many (by now) familiar canards or distortions you can identify in Barry’s critique (excerpted here or the fuller version). It’s a little disconcerting to read yet another assault on the competence of the reviewers that also implies mal-practice in the inclusion and exclusion of studies selected for the systematic review. It is tempting to recognise tactics that are reminiscient of those used by Big Tobacco, in that a number of critics offer criticisms that muddy the waters as to the quality of the review and are rarely challenged to specify a worked-out and substantiated specific criticism.
This review is at its best completely flawed and at its worst seriously damaging and misleading. The authors have excluded over 400 trials many of which have a positive outcome and have no deaths so if these were included the findings would be different…
Many of the studies involve diseased or high risk groups so the findings are not relevant to healthy populations which the authors state themselves.
They state that 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day should supply you with sufficient nutrients…
Just to start you off, we have looked through the review several times but can not find either of the last two statements anywhere. If the criticisms are inappropriate, then it may seem as if it is an indirect attempt to account for why those people taking higher doses of antioxidants failed to show any beneficial effects related to mortality. Especially when the ideas underpinning antioxidant supplements might have suggested otherwise.
 The Paranoid Style in American Science: Doubt is their product. Daniel Engber discusses Big Tobacco’s skilful use of the corporate strategy of “manufactured uncertainty” to deny that “scientific evidence has ever been produced, presented or submitted to prove conclusively that cigarette smoking causes cancer”.
We have dealt with some of the content of the more common puzzling ‘criticisms’ in these posts:
Patrick Holford and His Own Reality: Part 2, estimating risk bias in Cochrane reviews
Catherine Collins: “Patrick has [given] an absolutely perfect example of why one should be wary of nutritional therapists.”
Patrick Holford and Contriving a Controversy: the Cochrane review of antioxidant supplements