I generally don’t like people launching libel actions against honest, pertinent criticisms of their actions. However, Matthias Rath has engaged in such apalling activities that – when I learned that he had launched a libel action again Ben Goldacre and the Guardian, which recently had costs awarded against Rath after he backed down – this did not significantly lower Rath in my estimation.
I am delighted that Rath has backed down – and that Ben Goldacre and the Guardian stood firm against his threats. As Goldacre puts it, this type of legal action is
unhealthy. Ideas improve when they are challenged and questioned.
It is great that costs were won against Rath, and that Goldacre and others will now be free to criticise Rath again. The articles criticising Rath were well-written and biting (I can’t seem to find the articles online at the moment, though hopefully they will resurface quickly now the legal action is over).
However, I can’t get out of my head other things that Rath has been involved in – which are far, far worse than suing journalists. In particular, while huge numbers of South Africans have been – and, tragically, still are – dying unnecessarily early of AIDS, the Rath Foundation has been promoting Rath’s vitamin pills in the state. The Rath Foundation in South Africa has, as the Foundation’s own international website puts it,
distributed information leaflets in South African townships to inform people of the dangers of [anti-retroviral] medication, and…these same leaflets also urged people to take vitamins instead
This behaviour is unforgivable, and this temporary setback for Rath is not sufficient in itself: instead, it needs to feed into a concerted international campaign to curtail his activities and to ameliorate the appalling damage being caused by HIV/AIDS in South Africa and elsewhere.
I have encountered and am aware that numerous TAC members and others encountered widespread confusion amongst people living with HIV in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and beyond as a direct result of Matthias Rath’s activities…At least five deaths of named patients can be attributed directly or indirectly to the activities of Rath.
Let me know if you see any other good blogs on this – and I’ll add links here.
Libel battles can make and break reputations, but only rarely do they bear on questions of life and death. The legal case against the Guardian which Matthias Rath abandoned this week is an exception. The vitamin campaigner – who has long proffered his pills as a panacea in defiance of all evidence – objected to remarks our columnist Ben Goldacre made about his South African activities. In a country where 6 million are HIV positive, Mr Rath sought to persuade victims to take vitamins instead of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). He played a part in the madness which allows Aids to claim 1,000 South African lives every day.
UPDATE 7: Now Thinking is Dangerous has also blogged about Matthias Rath.
UPDATE 9: Steve Novella at Neurologica has blogged about how Ben Goldacre, “one of the pillars of science-based medicine in the UK, and a splendid chap – has recently emerged victorious from a libel law suit filed against him and…The Guardian, by Matthias Rath“.
UPDATE 10: Hank/Handsaw has also blogged about Matthias Rath, arguing that Rath “thrives in the environment of denigration of mainstream science, and misunderstanding of science, that obtains in the world of nutritionism.” Derek Lowe has also put up a stirringly robust post about this case, while gagwatch uses the case to emphasise that “Freedom of speech matters“.
UPDATE 12: Harry’s Place also covers the story of Goldacre, the Guardian and Matthias Rath.