In a recent burst of autobiographical disclosure and outrage I posted The Economist: The End of a Childhood Illusion.
I can’t begin to describe my disappointment that The Economist somehow veered from its olympian standards and published a piece of such gob-smacking credulity that I was left waiting for the volte-face punchline that didn’t come. More extraordinary is the fact that The Economist links to Food for the Brain (FFTB) and lends its gravitas to that organisation by carrying this article about its recent conference (you may recall the awfulness of the lamentable Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007, details in further reading).
Treatment on a plate displays shoddy scholarship that is a strong warning sign that there is either a substantial misunderstanding or an undisclosed conflict of interest: this is not typical of The Economist…which makes this article all the more dispiriting.
Thanks to an impeccable source, we have learned the identity of the writer.
Jerome Burne wrote Treatment on a plate for The Economist.
In the original post, I wrote:
That sounds uncannily like the basis for the latest book and book tour by
Visiting ProfessorPatrick Holford, Dr James Braly and David Miller; where the authors discuss sugar and heroin addiction as equivalent and promise to guide you on quitting both. Patrick Holford is the man of countless specialities (e.g., diabetes, autism, schizophrenia, infertility, allergy, depression) who has recently re-branded himself as an addiction expert. The authors provide recipes of supplements that are tailored to particular addictions: take a capsule of this, an IV of that, and watch your cravings leave your body. How to Quit Without Feeling S**t is long on conjecture and thick with anecdotes about 85% recovery rates from addiction but strangely short on trials and even basic quality evidence such as case-studies that have been submitted to peer-review and reputable journals.
Jerome Burne who co-wrote Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs with Patrick Holford. Patrick Holford who is the CEO of Food for the Brain (FFTB): FFTB held the conference that Jerome Burne wrote up for The Economist. FFTB has incorporated the Brain Bio Centre: a body that promotes its nutritional approach to dealing with mental health disorders and addiction and is included as one of the Nutrition Based Treatment Centres recommended in Patrick Holford’s How to QUIT without feeling s**t website.
How 2 QUIT not only offers advice for individuals but also has a section that touts for more business: CALLING ALL TREATMENT CENTRES. They make a request of people who are not interested in an evidence base (OK, we inserted that last part but it is implicit):
If you work in an addiction treatment centre and would like to find out how to bring the latest nutritional approaches into your treatment centre send your details to us.
Because that is just what the NHS and private addiction centres need, more wibble and less analysis/implementation of what does work for people with addictions.
Jerome Burne’s co-author Patrick Holford is Head of the Brain Bio Centre. He is also Head of Science and Education at Biocare which is part of Elder Pharmaceuticals. Holford has his own range of supplements with Biocare despite his lack of relevant qualifications and despite Biocare’s boast about the credentials of its staff.[a] Biocare was one of the sponsors of the FFTB conference that Jerome Burne reported in The Economist. Holford stands to benefit financially (and with little apparent financial risk to himself) from any take-up of his Supplements and Diet Against Addiction recommendations.
To quote again from the earlier post about (what we now know to be) Jerome Burne’s Treatment on a plate:
Shoddy scholarship, credulous coverage of a conference that is sponsored by supplement manufacturers and companies that offer commercial addiction services, the shadow of Patrick Holford and a regrettable conspiracy-theory-by-the-numbers from Professor Smith, who should have known so much better. What were the writer and the editor of this piece thinking?
It might be possible to guess what the writer was thinking but if the editor was aware of Burne’s potential conflict of interest then it is all the more astonishing that The Economist published this piece. However, if the editor/commissioner in question did not know that Burne had co-authored a book with Holford and that Holford had recently released a book about ‘nutritional approaches to treating addiction’ and is head of a centre that offers such approaches, then we strongly suggest that he or she should ask the nearest 9-year old about Google.
From earlier this year, you may remember how very sensitive Patrick Holford is to the appearance of a conflict of interest. Who can forget the righteous indignation that throbs through Holford’s account of why he did not participate in Ben Goldacre’s Radio 4 programme, The Rise of the Lifestyle Nutritionists:
The approach from Radio 4 was quite aggressive and suggested a preconceived agenda to trash nutritional therapy with a highly-biased presenter, who has won numerous awards funded by the big pharmaceuticals.
Patrick Holford and Jerome Burne, co-authors of Food Is Better Medicine Than Drugs, should really have a chat. You see, one of those Science Writer awards, one of the ones that is “funded by the big pharmaceuticals”, it turns out that Burne wanted one. In 2005 (oddly, at the time when Burne was collaborating with Holford) both Burne and Goldacre were shortlisted for the award and Goldacre won.[b]
Is there a conflict of interest? We couldn’t possibly comment and our sensitivities in such matters seem to be less hair-trigger than those of Patrick Holford. Jerome Burne (Iboga name, Onion Messenger and indeed, his credulity does make one weep) has previous form for writing enthusiastically about one-step cures for addiction. However, as for The Economist,
[a] This senior appointment might give the wary some food for thought if they should decide that they need an evidence-based supplement or lifestyle advice and are wondering whether Biocare is an adequate source for either/both. Biocare claims have a team of “qualified nutritionists and scientists” (my emphasis) working for them yet they don’t seem to have noticed Holford’s lack of relevant credentials. This rather makes a nonsense of their undertaking to provide science-based information:
We recognize the importance of education in order for the customer, whether a healthcare professional or a member of the public, to make informed choices about what natural substances may be of benefit to them or their patients as part of a healthy lifestyle. BioCare will be launching http://www.biocarescience.co.uk to provide in-depth scientific information on the natural ingredients that make up our unique formulations.
[b] We hear that if one were to judge by Jerome Burne’s performance at the end of Ben Goldacre’s talk at Big Chill, this may still rankle.
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: The Promotion
Holford Watch looks at the literature review:
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 1
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 2
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 3
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 4
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 5
Holford Watch appeals for help to Professor Holford and two members of the Scientific Advisory Board who approved this report and then looks at the data and analyses:
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 7
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 8
Why Don’t Food for the Brain Report Their Survey Results on Supplement Pills Survey: Review Part 9
Food for the Brain Child Survey 2007: Review Part 10