One small additional reason to despise Matthias Rath: he sues over good, honest journalism

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 am not sure what I can add to the witness statement by the heroic Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign, so I will just end this post with a quote [PDF, p. 43]

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.

UPDATE: Now Ben Goldacre has blogged this story about Matthias Rath, and JDC has joined in the fun. Shortly followed by the quackometer.

Let me know if you see any other good blogs on this – and I’ll add links here.

UPDATE 2: Now Gimpy has also blogged the story. See also the Guardian’s stirring Editorial on Matthias Rath:

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 3: Now shpalman has also blogged about Goldacre and Matthias Rath. Now also blogged by PZ Myers.

UPDATE 4: Now David Colquhoun has blogged about Matthias Rath and nutritional therapy, and Paul Flynn MP has blogged about Matthias Rath.

UPDATE 5: Now also blogged at Letting off Steam, Ionian Enchantment, Argenlibre, Homo Economicus and Violetta Crisis.

UPDATE 6: Now Action for Autism has also blogged about Matthias Rath, as has Black Triangle.

UPDATE 7: Now Thinking is Dangerous has also blogged about Matthias Rath.

UPDATE 8: Now Respectful Insolence has blogged abut Matthias Rath, as has Podblack.

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 11: Also blogged on creamandwrittenbyawoman, and there’s a good letter in today’s Guardian.

UPDATE 12: Harry’s Place also covers the story of Goldacre, the Guardian and Matthias Rath.


Filed under Matthias Rath

14 responses to “One small additional reason to despise Matthias Rath: he sues over good, honest journalism

  1. Wulfstan

    This is encouraging and inspirational but how many papers or individuals would have been able/willing to front up 500,000 to fund their defence explorations/investigations in the way that Guardian did for Ben Goldacre?

    I couldn’t find a mention of this action on the Rath site but wasn’t too shocked to read the unrepentant take on the earlier TAC ruling.

    The trial that took place three months ago was accompanied by a media frenzy organized by the news stakeholders of the ARV business in Africa. The attorneys representing the ARV promoters SAMA and TAC repeated the malicious distortions of the truth even in their oral arguments and conducted themselves in a fashion that bore resemblance to the worst propaganda rhetoric in history.
    In light of this aggressiveness, it is truly a challenge to uphold the voice of reason. One is tempted to ask the questions: “Why are these organisations so aggressive? Is there something to these allegations, as otherwise these people wouldn’t behave so extremely?” For any observer it is difficult to look through this propaganda rhetoric and detect the fear and desperation of the ARV promoters SAMA and TAC as the true motive.
    Obviously, we would have liked to have received a verdict that would have clearly reflected our position as stated above. But we are convinced that some of the remaining issues can be clarified in appellate proceedings and that the scientific facts and the truth will eventually prevail…

    After that disgusting complaint that they put into the Hague about Achmat they can keep a straight face when referring to others as aggressive? Sarah Boseley:

    Had the case proceeded, the court would have been presented with details of Brink’s complaint to The Hague, which called for Achmat to be permanently confined “in a small white and concrete cage, bright fluorescent light on all the time to keep an eye on him” and force-fed his Aids drugs or, “if he bites, kicks and screams too much, dripped into his arm after he’s been restrained on a gurney with cable tied around his ankles, wrists and neck”. The complaint was described by the Rath Foundation in January last year as “entirely valid and long overdue”.

    Zackie Achmat sounds deeply admirable and I’m ashamed that I hadn’t really heard of him before this.

  2. woo-hoo – thanks for the comments.

    To be fair to Rath, I think that Brink wasn’t speaking for the Rath Foundation when he made that complaint about Achmat – although the Rath Foundation seemed to respond positively to it. And, yes, it would have been interesting to see how details of that complaint went down in a UK court…

  3. Pingback: Ben Goldacre and The Guardian triumph over murderous Matthias Rath « gimpy’s blog

  4. Claire

    This is great news & hopefully will be heavily publicised in Southern Africa, where dedicated care workers , often fighting HIV/AIDS themselves, struggle to obtain medications and keep local care networks going against daunting odds.

    One can possibly argue that the worried well with their supplements, detox regimes and alternative health beliefs are, in the end, not such a big deal. But this is a welcome reality check about the consequences of importing this kind of thinking into societies burdened by poverty, disease and low levels of education.

  5. gimpy

    It’s scary to think what the consequences are of using alternative therapies at the expense of conventional medicine. Hopefully the publicity surrounding the Rath case will serve as a warning to regulators and educators of the consequences of quackery.

  6. Pingback: An open invitation to the ‘alternative’ medicine community: comment on Matthias Rath’s tactics « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  7. Hi HW,

    This is a great result for journalism, anti-quackery and science.

    Please add my small contribution to the blog w00ting :)

    No more Rath Sewage



  8. pv

    If people like Rath and Holford were defending their ideas they would be engaging in debate rather than instigating legal proceedings at the first available opportunity.
    I know everyone knows this but the reason they instigate legal proceedings is because they are trying to protect their income and their right to exploit ignorance and vulnerability. They aren’t protecting or developing scientific or medical ideas because they don’t really have any. I just feel this should be repeated loudly in public every time a nutritionist or sCAM artist goes down the legal road to protect their fame and fortune.
    I also feel that it isn’t enough for charlatans like Rath to pay all the legal costs, even if that is a tidy sum in the Guardian’s case. It doesn’t pay for the time taken and the distress of the process. It’s a pity he cannot be ordered to pay punitive damages to those he has libelled or slandered by implication in the process. It would be no more than he deserves.

  9. pv

    And would it be too much to hope that some of the relatives of those who have died as a consequence of Rath’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm decide to sue him for manslaughter. I sincerely hope that it’s possible and that it happens.

  10. Hm, I think it’s entirely plausible that Rath and Holford both believe that they are genuinely defending their visionary ideas from attacks by big pharma etc. Including by using legal threats.

    Of course, I’d argue that they’re wrong on several levels – I’m not sure that they’re insincere, though.

  11. Pingback: The gripes of Rath

  12. bruce

    i´m a little concerned (as a serious sceptic myself) that there is this antagonism, directed towards personalities rather than a focus on the argument or good science.
    ..and i see the word ´´quackery´´ used frequently here and feel this is missplaced.
    the heart of the argument is that in so much as conventional wisdom suggests we inhibit colds and flus (viruses) with adequate doses of vitamin c, how should HIV (virus) be any different? yes, i suspect every blogger here at some time in their life has used vit c for such purposes.
    from holford´s site:
    ´´..Vitamin C has also been shown to inhibit viral replication in laboratory studies. In the case of HIV, viral infection was inhibited by 99% within four days, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences.(2).
    **** (It is really a tragedy that this research hasn’t been followed up with a large scale human trials, but the sad truth is that, even though vitamin C has been shown to outperform AZT in lab studies (3) , there’s no money in it. So it appears that there is sufficient biological plausibility for its role against the flu, but since we don’t have the controlled human trials, it’s not proven. It’s a tragedy that these studies aren’t done for life-threatening diseases such as HIV and bird flu, but the sad truth is there’s no money in it because vitamin C is cheap to make and not patentable – unlike drugs such as Tamiflu. Vitamin C, in high doses, has been well proven to be non-toxic in both adults and children over many years. The same cannot be said for this new generation of antiviral drugs..´´

  13. Pingback: Keeping it unreal « Dr Aust’s Spleen

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