Drink and Drugs News Reproved By Its Well-Informed Readers

Food for the Brain - A Sell Out and we couldn't agree more

Food for the Brain - A Sell Out and we couldn't agree more

Drink and Drugs News was recently unwise enough to carry a piece from Visiting Professor Patrick Holford: Regain your brain (pdf) (DDN). That lamentable article closely resembled the piece that Holford had previously published in Addiction Today (12 Keys to ‘Unaddicting’ Your Brain) and is a further elaboration of his familiar tactics in the arena of both addiction and self-publicity. However, DDN readers are less than impressed and have written it to express themselves on the matter of Holford’s espoused expertise in addiction, research and science.

We direct you attention to the letters on pg 2 of Drink and Drugs News (pdf) (DDN). The authors of the letter refer to questions raised about the standards of Holford’s research by Dr Ben Goldacre, HolfordWatch and Holford Myths. The readers express regret that DDN should be so credulous and fail to ask the most obvious questions about standards of evidence.

Steve Eastwood wrote:
At a time when staff in the drugs field are being quite rightly directed to delivering evidence-based interventions, it’s rather disappointing that our trade paper perpetuates this kind of hokum. Are there properly published studies of this brain nutrition stuff? Clinical trials that other proper scientists can have a look at and ask questions about? I would rather doubt it…

N Scott wrote:
Obviously I am not disputing that a good diet is important but it seems to me more rigorous scrutiny should take place before allowing people to write articles promoting their wares.

Obviously, we at HolfordWatch would agree but there seems to be an extraordinary lack of due diligence by general media, trade magazine editors, universities and people who should know far better.

There also seems to be a general lack of understanding or even disdain for standards of evidence that, unsurprisingly, matches Holford’s own agenda in this area and his recent ill-judged attempt to annex Sir Michael Rawlins critique of randomised controlled trials and hierarchies of evidence.

Addiction is a notoriously difficult area and there are inadequate resources; it is important that such scarce resources are not expended on interventions that have not been published and therefore can not be assessed by appropriate experts. Holford has yet to explain why his assertions should not be judged by appropriate standards.

Such assessment should be available for any form of intervention, including medications, techniques (e.g., auricular-acupuncture, far IR saunas), detox and drug policy interventions: where an appropriate body of evidence does not already exist then it should be collected and audited in a formal, systematic way.

For addiction interventions, as for other areas of medicine, we need to know:

  1. is the intervention plausible and does it fit in with other areas of knowledge in its mechanism of action
  2. is it effective
  3. is it safe
  4. is it cost-effective and scaleable?

When assessing the evidence (whether the basic research on which proposals for interventions are based or pilots for interventions) then peer-reviewed, well-respected publications are more relevant than strongly-held, self-serving assertions made in marketing seminars conducted in the guise of educational events, promotional material for the offerings of a treatment centre subsumed into a charity (Food for the Brain, parts 1, 2 and 3) or books for the popular market.

If people are making spending decisions for themselves or family member then perhaps they might want to purchase Holford’s supplements or recommended interventions.[a]</a However, it is wholly inappropriate to give these marketing devices credulous coverage, it would be very unwise to allow them to make inroads into the scant budget of NHS addiction services.


[a] There is an argument to be made that exposing people to interventions that don’t work makes them more suspicious of future interventions and perhaps less likely to respond to them: the inverse of the benefit shown by people who are compliant with interventions.


Filed under addiction, patrick holford

5 responses to “Drink and Drugs News Reproved By Its Well-Informed Readers

  1. Yes – encouraging responses to a discouraging article…

  2. UK dietitian

    Come, come HW – there is some truth in Holfords puff-piece.

    2nd page
    start of 3rd full paragraph states:

    “Of course,it’s not quite as simple as that”

    there. Patricks first honest sentence in a long time.

    • True – but it always feels a bit sad when we are having to scrape around for things like, “he got the reference right – he didn’t use it appropriately but the reference actually exists”…

  3. Saw the PDF linked to on Ben Goldacre’s miniblog and thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses to Holford’s piece.

    “Obviously, we at HolfordWatch would agree but there seems to be an extraordinary lack of due diligence by general media, trade magazine editors, universities and people who should know far better.”
    As far as I can gather, the mainstream media seems to actively discourage reporters from checking such trivial things as, say, factual claims – or the backgrounds of those making them. Fact-checking would require news outlets to employ sufficient journalists, costing them money that could otherwise be counted as profit. There’s a piece here about fact-checking (Discover), that has a comment (second one down) referring to the focus on profits, lack of time and expertise, and the reliance on PR and Wire Services as factors in the mainstream media’s failure to fact-check. [Another thing I spotted was that the author of the piece writes that: “One of the things I like most about blogging is the after-the-fact fact-checking that comes from commenters who catch mistakes”; which is something that I would echo.]

    • Carl Zimmer is a deeply admirable writer and blogger with a gift for readable prose. Ed Yong (commenter) is also A Good Egg.

      Accuracy is not valued particularly not when it would point to the story being too insubstantial to justify column inches and especially sexed-up column inches.

      I have no idea what the solution to Nick Davies’ churnalism is. However, my major concern is the influence that newspapers have in disseminating shoddy research and making it more plausible that nonsense/error/commercial interests will influence public policy or health spending.

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