NYT Exposes Ben Goldacre and Gimpy as Critical of Homeopathy Because They Might Be In the Pay of Big Pharma: Homeopathy Resource Speaks Out

Official Homeopathy Resource breaks some shocking news: New York Times: Beware of Anti-Homeopathy Journalists and Bloggers- They May Be Sponsored By Drug Companies. Drawing upon the recent (good) article in the New York Times about the conflicts of interest of health journalists, they express their anguish at the conflict of interest that they imagine for Dr Ben Goldacre and for Gimpy.

An article in the New York Times based on a study in a Medical Journal says that medical journalists may receive payments from Drug Companies in the form of “awards ” for their medical writings. One of the journalists, Ben Goldacre who writes anti-homeopathy diatribes has received such awards.

“Journalism awards consisting of cash prizes and all-expense-paid trips given out by drug companies are among the more “astonishing” financial ties between journalists and drug companies, the authors said.”…

Also other bloggers, have been linked to Drug Companies such as the gimpyblog, a hard hitting anti-complimentary medicine blog which regularly attacks homeopaths and homeopathic associations and accuses complimentary medicine practitioners of murder… [We have not corrected the spelling because some of it is apposite.]

Except, it wasn’t the NYT who advised readers to “Beware of Anti-Homeopathy Journalists and Bloggers- They May Be Sponsored By Drug Companies”, that is solely the comforting fiction of the homeopathy blog in question. Similarly for the claim that anti-homeopathy sceptical bloggers are linked to “Drug Companies” anywhere except in the fecund imagination of those who create conspiracies from their own incompetence and misunderstandings or who have an interest in CAM but no interest in science.[a] And, fabulous as it would be for both Ben Goldacre and Gimpy to be mentioned in the august pages of the NYT, neither of them was name-checked. So, neither of them is actually in the pay of Big Pharma, they just ‘might’ be (and that is sufficient truthiness for Official Homeopathy Resource) and there isn’t even a clipping to show their mothers. Gimpy’s mother in particular will be crushed to learn that her son is “anti-complimentary” and reputed to make accusations of murder against those who do practise such social niceties: how very “anti-complimentary”.

To make things worse, we’re not confident that Goldacre and Gimpy are actually anti-homeopathy: the former occasionally argues that he considers that homeopaths may have a role as someone for patients to talk to, who present a comforting therapeutic transaction. There is a strong possibility that neither they, nor other sceptical writers, would care about homeopathy were it not for the elaborate and mis-guided scientific claims that are made for it.

In fact, the NYT article elaborated on the BMJ item by Schwartz, Woloshin and Moynihan (news release because BMJ is paywalled) that lamented the degree of influence to which health journalists may be subjected and that may create conflicts of interest.

“Journalists also need to clearly disclose when their sources have ties to industry, whether they are quoting patient groups, opinion leaders, or patients referred to them by an industry public relations office,” says Schwartz. “The problem with compelling anecdotes of treatment success is that they may represent the exception, rather than a more typical experience. This can mislead audiences.”

To enhance credibility and reestablish trust in the media, the authors recommend similar steps to those being taken in the medical field: journalists and organizations that train journalists should not accept funding or prizes from healthcare industries, and journalists should routinely divulge their own conflicts of interest and those of their sources.

“The news media plays a vital role,” says Woloshin. “If medical journalists compromise, or appear to compromise, their independence, society loses.”

CAM is an industry in which the sale of supplements etc. plays a substantial part. Having recently complained about the shoddy scholarship of some over-credulous interpretation of nutritional approaches to managing addiction, HolfordWatch would argue that concerns about the ethics of journalism should apply across the entire spectrum of health reporting.

We suggest that journalism educators should not accept funding from the healthcare and drug industries, that journalists should not accept gifts, awards, or any financial support from the industries they cover, and that journalists should routinely disclose their conflicts of interest and those of their sources. [Who’s watching the watchdogs? Extensive excerpts at Schwitzer]

Are these restrictions supposed to work in only one direction? As we have previously pointed out, Jerome Burne is strongly critical of some mainstream medicine (and rightly so, on some occasions) and frequently writes about complementary and alternative health approaches. However, as a freelancer, Jerome Burne is, understandably, interested in awards that might raise his profile and lend gravitas to his CV and portfolio. Burne wanted a Science Writer award, the one that a certain type of writer rarely neglects to mention when discussing Goldacre; the same award that is funded by a big pharmaceuticals company. In 2005 (oddly, at the time when Burne was collaborating with Patrick Holford on Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs) both Burne and Goldacre were shortlisted for the award and Goldacre won.

So, if Burne had won that award, would Official Homeopathy Resource be denouncing him? What about Lorraine Fraser winning Health Journalist of the Year for her anti-MMR articles? What about this year’s HFMA Health Journalist of 2008, GMTV’s own Dr Chris Steele who has made videos for YorkTest and has a track record for credulity when it comes to magic?

Official Homeopathy Resource ends with an exciting whiff of conspiracy.

Homeopathy has many supporters in the scientific and journalistic community but any one speaking on behalf of homeopathy or doing studies of homeopathy are regularly attacked by Drug Company sponsored journalists and bloggers.

Extraordinary. It’s like all the unbelievably thoughtful criticism by Gaylard, Shpalman and Wilsontown never happened, even though it was published in a homeopathy journal. HolfordWatch suggest that the following is a more accurate description of what happens in the mewling musings of those who have to resort to distortion to pass off their conspiratorial fantasies as sanctioned by the NYT.

Whenever a journalist or scientist writes an astonishingly credulous piece about the logical and scientific absurdity that is homeopathy, some very mean people address the ideas seriously and subject them to the sort of ruthless scientific critique that show that the ideas don’t hold water.

As we all know, criticism is negative energy. Negative energy is the opposite of positive energy so it is directly equivalent to an attack.

Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. Even if they have physics, chemistry, biology and other disciplines on their side of the argument. People only ever disagree with me when they are in the pay of remarkable forces like Big Pharma.

Either that or they can name journalists and bloggers who “attack” these homeopathy-inclined scientists and journalists at the behest of their Big Pharma paymasters, and “attack” them without addressing the science. Or explain why, if they believe this to be true, Boiron, the company with an annual turnover of half a billion euros, doesn’t fund prizes for journalism, like the Health Food Manufacturers’ Assocation awards. At the very least, it would allow them to put up a less embarrassing set of responses to the Ernst and Singh homeopathy challenge, as detailed by Quackometer.

Homeopathy – presenting news and views that rely upon distortion and making things up.

Notes

[a] Prof David Colquhoun spent some time assisting a teacher who had applied to him for guidance because she had been asked to teach a unit that asked pupils to “evaluate the evidence relating to the use of complementary therapies in contemporary society”: Teaching bad science to children: OfQual and Edexcel are to blame.

She asked ” Do you know of any universities that teach CT’s [sic] so I could contact them about useful teaching resources?.” She seemed to think that reliable information about homeopathy could be found from a ‘university’ homeopathy teacher. Not a good sign…

I sent [some appropriate teaching resource links] to her, and prefaced the material by saying

“First of all, I should put my cards on the table and say that I am quite appalled by the specification of Unit 23. In particular, it has almost no emphasis at all on the one thing that you want to know about any therapy, namely does it work? The reference list for reading consists almost entirely of organisations that are trying to sell you various sorts of quackery, There is no hint of balance; furthermore it is all quite incompatible with unit 22, which IS concerned with evidence.”

At this point the teacher the teacher came clean too, As always, anyone who disagrees with the assessment (if any) of the evidence by a true believer is unmeasured and inflammatory.

I have found your responses very unmeasured and inflammatory and I am sorry to say that this prejudicial attitude has meant that I have not found your comments useful.”…
“I am not coming from a scientific background, neither is the course claiming to be scientific.”

BPSDB

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10 Comments

Filed under Ben Goldacre, Jerome Burne, patrick holford

10 responses to “NYT Exposes Ben Goldacre and Gimpy as Critical of Homeopathy Because They Might Be In the Pay of Big Pharma: Homeopathy Resource Speaks Out

  1. manigen

    So if I have this right, all I have to do is (1) start a blog, (2) slag of some homeopaths, and (3) the cheque from Big Pharma will be in the mail? This is fantastic. What am I doing actually working for a living?

  2. Manigen, how to break this to you.

    That’s what assorted homeopaths and leading thinkers like Patrick Holford believe but, then again, they believe in homeopathy and Q-link etc..

    If Boiron would just loosen the purse-strings and start sponsoring bloggers to post what would effectively be, “La, la, la. Can’t hear you. Not listening”…

  3. Wulfstan

    I enjoyed “anti-homeopathy diatribes”. That reminds me, you haven’t been accused of vitriol in a while, what’s happening?

    Is there an antonym for truthiness? Is that what you did when you pointed out that far from being diatribes, a lot of the commentary on homeopathy has addressed the science in eye-watering detail?

    I’m sure there’s some cunning micro-fascistic way in which asking for a scientific discussion is interpreted as suppressive of people of different beliefs as to how the laws of the universe function.

  4. Wulfstan

    I’ve just taken a look at their About page. They really are keen on this idea of people who write about science all being in the pay of various organisations.

    This is the online web site for accurate information on homeopathy, homeopaths and homeopathic organizations. Its hard to get accurate information on this popular and traditional healing modality as a result of Drug Company Sponsored Blogs, Web Sites and their sponsored “Science Writers”.

    It’s not that the ‘science of homeopathy’ doesn’t hold water (sorry), there just has to be a conspiracy?

    Is it hard to get “accurate information” because homeopaths keep distorting it (and again)?

    In the small hours of the morning, do you think that they ever sit over a nice cup of tisane and think, “What if the people who keep criticising the foundations of homeopathy are not sponsored by Big Pharma? What if they are right about the science?” etc.

    Sorry to ask more questions but does anyone know if Boiron sponsors health journalism awards for homeopathy anywhere like France or Germany where homeopathy is popular?

    Admin edit: request to correct a typo. Heh.

    Been looking to see if Boiron sponsor any awards and we haven’t found any as yet but there’s a good chance we’re searching in the wrong places or the wrong language.

  5. “Its hard to get accurate information on this popular and traditional healing modality as a result of Drug Company Sponsored Blogs, Web Sites and their sponsored “Science Writers”. ”
    If they are referring to Gimpyblog, BadScience etc… then the opposite is true. The best places to get accurate and easily-available information on homeopathy are probably blogs such as badscience.net. [This is a particular favourite of mine.]

    Manigen – I have repeatedly criticised homeopathic ideas, individual homeopaths, and homeopathy associations on my blog. What is my reward from Big Pharma? Not a bean. I don’t even have the consolation of being featured by the good people at Official Homeopathy Resource – the biggest disappointment of my brief blogging career, with the exception of being overlooked by the creator of the whale.to website.

  6. JDC – with you all the way! Maybe we are not trying hard enough? Maybe we have to be even more critical of homeopathy (which in fairness, I’ve written so much about it that it bores me, I didn’t even bother about that video that claimed homeopathy cured autism).

    Admin edit: discussion of the Carol Boyce film, Saving a Lost Generation.

  7. Comments have started appearing on the OHR blog. Well, pro-homeopathy comments have started to appear. Mine seems to be stuck in moderation at the moment. I was going to complain, but to be fair to them they are upfront about their comments policy:

    About Comments on this Web Site:

    We welcome POSITIVE comments about your experience with homeopathy or positive feedback about a particular topic.

    So by the comment box you will see this:

    “All comments are screened for appropriateness. Commenting is a privilege, not a right. Good comments will be cherished, bad comments will be deleted.”

    We mean it! and will do it. Thank you for your positive support of homeopathy and getting the word out there.

    It reminds me of the homeopathy poll that had one option: “Homeopathy worked for me”.

  8. “Homeopathy worked for me”.

    Well, to be fair, there are times in history when that is true, when the options were blood-letting, dosing with mercury and other astonishing substances in truly heroic doses. Homeopathy was better then.

    I’m not fully convinced of this but Ben Goldacre argues that homeopathy may work for you if what you need is a good, helpful therapeutic alliance to evoke a helpful placebo response (that’s my interpretation of various passages in Bad Science).

    So, yes.

    Homeopathy worked for me if I believe myself to have had past lives in which it was better than the then available treatments.

    Homeopathy worked for me if I would derive more benefit from a placebo response than any current intervention.

    Polls and surveys – and people wonder why they are inadequate research tools in so many fields.

  9. “Commenting is a privilege, not a right.”

    Not sure who said this first (in a paraphrase) – Genghis Khan or Chairman Mao?

  10. Wulfstan

    I found this link from jdc and it has some discussion of Boiron although nothing about journalism: Bad Science: How Homeopaths Misrepresent the Evidence.

    Stavros Isaiadis discusses some Boiron links that indicate that Boiron probably doesn’t take an entirely neutral stance towards homeopathy (as partial as some of the much criticised Big Pharma companies, you might say).

    I haven’t found anything about journalism yet.

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