Medical News Today Rescinds a Patrick Holford Press Release

Nick Davies’ corruscating Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media was warmly received by some readers and commended by various commentators who welcomed his pitiless assessment of the parlous state of journalism. Other readers have produced a measured disagreement along the lines of “Yes. But not us and you’ve overstated your case“. Still more indulged in faux outrage and managed to publish their over-wrought reviews in newspapers where they happy-slapped some of Davies’ arguments; or criticised Davis in radio interviews and blog pieces. Others appear to be genuinely angry and say so when interviewed: Kamal Ahmed is one example.

Davies explores the phenomenon of churnalism and the recyling of falsehoods and PR releases. Davies argues for the unremarkable truism that mainstream media is concerned with cutting costs and generating advertising revenue rather than acting as the knowledge intermediary and truth-checker that is commonly portrayed as the leading driver for journalism.

Which is all rather bleak and very dire. So, we’d like to take an opportunity to commend Medical News Today for taking swift action when they recognised that a churnalism lapse had given undue authority to a press release: New National Statistics On Drug Addict Treatment – Why The Treatment Isn’t Effective. Keen-eyed readers browsed the fairly unexceptional opening paragraphs that quoted recent drug treatment figures, numbers exiting from addiction services etc. but, lulled as they were, they were startled to read a promotional piece for Visiting Professor Patrick Holford and his latest book in which the man of countless specialities (e.g., diabetes, autism, schizophrenia, infertility, allergy, depression) re-brands himself as an addiction expert.

Patrick Holford Director of Food for the Brain and co-author of a new book How to Quit Without Feeling S**t which reveals a new treatment to help addicts, says, “Of course, it’s good news that more people are receiving treatment for addiction but the stark fact is that current treatment approaches are remarkably ineffective with less than one in ten drug or alcohol free at the end of treatment, which usually lasts for up to 12 weeks. The reason is that addictive substances hijack the brain creating persisting symptoms such as craving, anxiety, insomnia, depression and fatigue. If you scramble your brains with drugs and alcohol, counselling and support, however useful, will not unscramble your brains. However, the brain can be programmed away from addiction by giving a diet high in essential fats and vitamins, and low in sugar, together with specific amino acids that help make the brain’s own ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters. Yet the vital role of nutritional therapy is completely ignored in most addiction treatment. Recent research shows that specific amino acid supplements help dramatically reduce abstinence symptoms. In a small pilot project in one treatment centre 21 out of 23 people with alcohol and/or drug addiction were clean or sober at the end of a year.

If you are wondering if we have left out the part where Holford presents the evidence, rather than anecdotes, for these startling assertions, we haven’t. If you’re wondering if a press release is rather too cramped to reproduce the evidence, Lee attended an entire seminar about Holford’s book and there is currently no published evidence available for scrutiny. ‘Don’t do the book tour before the evidence for what is in your book’ might be the contemporary version of the aphorism, ‘don’t put your cart before the horse’.

Readers wondered what had happened: they dispatched emails to Medical News Today. Editor Christian Nordqvist checked into the objections and responded by pulling the press release and investigating further. Apparently, the press release looked uncannily as if it had been issued by the NHS’ National Treatment Agency, which is in the habit of releasing national statistics for drug addiction and had recently distributed a press release on the topic of New national statistics reveal more drug addicts in treatment – and they are staying the course.

It was unfortunate that the hapless churnalist was mistaken as to the source and likely authority of the press release (although possibly understandable): however, Christian Nordqvist is to be commended for a rapid and responsible response to the reader enquiries.

Many people in the UK are affected by addiction, whether it is personal, that of a family member, friend, or colleague. Addiction treatment services have inadequate resources and too many people are desperate for help that isn’t readily available on the NHS. However, that is no reason to accept a counsel of despair that standard interventions are ineffective and that, by default, self-laudatory, unproven alternatives must be “worth a go”. If Holford and his co-authors had sufficient evidence to support their claims then their press releases would be so distinctive that there would be no risk of accidental confusion as to the issuer. If there is proof of those success rates, why hide your USP?

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11 Comments

Filed under patrick holford

11 responses to “Medical News Today Rescinds a Patrick Holford Press Release

  1. Yes – while it’s a shame that this got through, kudos to Medical News Today for openly rescinding this.

  2. tifosi246

    It’s very unfortunate that Holford unwittingly presented or worded his press release in a way that made it look like it came from the NHS. Maybe Emperor Patrick has some sense that he isn’t wearing anything, so he’s borrowing the trappings of others, as a convenience, never thinking that there might be a case of mistaken identity.

    Very good to see the editor act so quickly and be seen to do so (rather than just pull the piece and hope no-one will notice).

  3. In future, it should be possible to discern whether or not someone has just posted a press release that was sent to them – it’s helpful to know that.

    Tifosi – yes. The borrowed raiments can lead to misunderstandings…

  4. ” Lee attended an entire seminar about Holford’s book”

    Well, it was advertised as a seminar which my dictionary defines as, “a conference or other meeting for discussion or training.” There was no opportunity to ask questions or break in to small groups for discussion – just a 2 1/2 hour lecture. Seems he is now redefining the English language.

  5. Pingback: The Economist: The End of a Childhood Illusion « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  6. Pingback: Holford on alcohol, home liver testing kits, and evidence « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  7. sarah

    L, r y tht bsssd wth P hlfrd tht y wld spnd mn n lctr b hm? Hw sd r y! Gt n wth smthng pstv n yr lf.

    Admin: future messages insulting other commenters on this blog will also be disemvowelled. Please be polite, and see our comments policy.

  8. Wulfstan

    As opposed to someone posting curt comments and unsolicited lifestyle advice to somebody that she doesn’t know in the comments section of a blog?

    On topic. So many people have a friend or family member who has a substance addiction that it’s troubling that unevidenced material like this makes it into mainstream sources or publications – particularly when there looks like some tidy work with the origins of the press release.

    News agencies labour under the belief that various organisations value their reputation sufficiently that the releases they that send out on health and social topics are well-researched, accurate and a reasonable reflection of statistics and state of the art research.

    I would like to learn more about any projects to identify churnalism and whether news agencies will have to become less trusting of their ‘professional’ sources.

  9. Thank you Sarah, I have only attended one Patrick Holford seminar in the last 36 years. I would recommend that everyone does it once. It is easy to read things about him and think to yourself, “Surely he does not really say and believe that?” He does. Do go along. If you are extremely fortunate you may get to speak to the man himself for four mintues or so.

    As for doing positive things you can read about a project I am involved in on my blog.

  10. sarah

    Yr blg s crp nd pntlss! Nvr mnd mt. yh ts rll gd t t crsps! N wndr y sffrd wth dprssn wth n tttd twrds fd sch s ths. y knbbr

    Admin: disemvowelling will continue, until your behaviour improves

  11. Pingback: Drink and Drugs News Reproved By Its Well-Informed Readers « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

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