Monthly Archives: November 2009

Science So What? So disappointing

We have previously blogged about some of the problems with the government’s Science So What? So Everything campaign, and were pleased to see plans to revise the campaign in response to some of the criticisms. The site has now relaunched and – while it looks rather slicker and functions better in many ways – a number of aspects of the site remain disappointing. Lord Drayson has asked for feedback on the site, and 2020 Science have raised some interesting questions. This therefore seems a good time to look at the new site.

I have a number of concerns about the site: including accessibility, some poor quality content, and poor use of social media.  I will discuss some specific issues here, to illustrate some of the broader problems with the site Continue reading

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Filed under science degrees, Science: So What?

BANT fail to reply to complaint from 25/10/09

As noted here, I e-mailed the British Association for Nutritional Therapy (BANT) to complain about some of Holford’s problematic online health advice. I have not, as yet, even had a reply from BANT – not even an acknowledgement of my e-mail.

This is an organisation which represents itself as

a professional body for nutritional therapy practitioners and those working in the wider application of nutritional science

BANT asserts that it seeks to

promote high standards of education, training, practice and integrity in the nutrition profession

Given these goals, I am rather disappointed by this lack of response – I would argue that BANT should have sought to deal with this promptly.

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Filed under BANT, British Association for Nutritional Therapy, patrick holford

Holford argues that “ignorance” is the main reason for not being healthy

When discussing “why you crave sugar the way you do” with East Coast Radio in South Africa, Patrick Holford blames “ignorance” as the main cause of ill health. There are a number of issues here:

  • I remain unconvinced that Holford’s work on topics such as nutrition or HIV has helped to improve the knowledge of the general public.
  • In his discussion with East Coast Radio, Holford draws extensive conclusions (on issues including causal relationships) from a survey of 60,000 people; I would also have concerns re the design of the survey.  This suggests a problematic understanding of research design and interpretation.
  • I am unconvinced that ignorance is the main cause of ill health.  Issues around poverty, inequality, addiction, disease and access to appropriate treatments all play significant roles.  Even if people know for example that smoking is bad for them, this will – sadly – not be sufficient to enable them to stop.

 

There are currently serious health problems in South Africa. Rolling out Holford’s ‘100% health’ ideas – as a supposed solution to the dangers of ignorance – would not be an appropriate solution.

Evidence-based social policies to target inequality, poverty and access to healthcare all have important roles to play in South Africa. ‘Alternative’ nutritionism marketed by British media nutritionists would not be a helpful import.

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Filed under AIDS, HIV, patrick holford, South Africa

BBC response to complaint about Quinnell and Dore on Radio 5: it’s all about the balance.

The BBC have now responded to a complaint I submitted about how Scott Quinnell was allowed to plug Dore for dyslexia on Radio 5. The substantive parts of the BBC’s response are below:

It’s not always possible or practical to reflect all the different opinions on a subject within individual programmes. In dealing with any controversial matter the BBC is required to give a fair and balanced report. However, balance can’t simply be judged on the basis of the time allocated to the representatives of either side of an argument. Account also needs to be taken of the way a subject is covered over a period of time, across our output as a whole. Perfect balance is difficult to achieve on every single occasion but overall we believe it is a more achievable goal.

It’s part of our role as an impartial observer is to report a wide range of views on a particular topic but the BBC makes no editorial comment or judgement on the views expressed by contributors to our programmes. Although some people believe that a programme should not allow certain groups or individuals to air their views, we feel that it’s better to include many viewpoints wherever possible. This may include hearing opinions which some people may personally disagree with but which individuals may be fully entitled to hold in the context of legitimate debate.

We hope such an approach is more likely to provide the public with access to differing perspectives on a subject and to help explain context. Programmes do aim to ensure guests are challenged about their views or provide opportunity for contrasting views from other contributors and the audience. I’m sorry if you felt this wasn’t the case on this occasion but as mentioned this isn’t always possible within individual programmes.

However, a key part of ‘5 Live Breakfast’ is listener contribution and they do have different ways for listeners to get in touch and add to discussions and debates. The following website provides details on how you can do this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/5live/shows/5live-breakfast/get-in-touch/

In this context, the reference to balance is completely unhelpful. There is not good evidence that Dore is effective. If ‘balance’ means giving non-evidence-based interventions as much or more coverage as evidence-based ones – and attributing as much credibility to interventions without a good evidence-base as to evidence-based ones – this does not serve the BBC’s listeners well. Continue reading

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Filed under Dore, dyslexia, dyspraxia

Life’s 4 Living to close?

Long-term readers may member that we blogged extensively about the charity Life’s 4 Living back in 2008 – see here and here. We were critical of a number of aspects of their work and their uses of alternative medicine.

I was therefore interested to see that Life’s 4 Living’s accounts for the year ending Dec 2008 [PDF, p.5] state that:

In a meeting held on 15 June 2009 the trustees came to a decision to cease all fund-raising activities and close the charity. There were two main reasons for this. The current financial situation has made it very difficult to find another major sponsor [and] although there was an increase of more than £90,000 in street fundraising this year the costs of fundraising and office support were too high for the amount raised

The charity’s website is still active and it’s not entirely clear what the current situation is. However – while it is always unfortunate if the recession is putting people out of work – I would not be disappointed if certain of Life’s 4 Living’s practices are now coming to an end.

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Filed under alternative medicine, Life's 4 Living

BBC Radio 5 lets Scott Quinnell plug Dore, uncritically

BBC Radio 5 Live had Scott Quinnell on the 6/11/09 breakfast show*, for Dyslexia Awareness Week. Unfortunately, his conversation on the breakfast show gave him an opportunity to plug Dore unchallenged. We have a number of concerns about this radio segment:

  • Quinnell is allowed to state that by “stimulating…three senses” Dore “allows the neural pathways to be automatic between the cerebellum and…your thinking brain”.  There is not good evidence for this claim, but Quinnell is allowed to assert it unchallenged.
  • The BBC presenter talking with Quinnell comes across as supporting such claims, stating that it is “extraordinary…to think that [Dore exercises] can translate into being able to look at a page and to read”.
  • There is no mention of the lack of good evidence that the Dore treatment is effective.
  • There is no mention that Dore UK went into administration last year.
  • There is no mention of the fact that Dore is a commercial (and rather expensive) programme, nor that Dynevor, which now owns Dore, was established by Quinnell
  • The presenter has to check pronunciation of ‘Dore’ while discussing it with Quinnell on air.  I am not sure if this speaks to the quality of the pre-broadcast research into Dore and dyslexia.

In response to a previous complaint, I was told that the BBC

never intended to give Quinnell a platform in any way to promote Dore

I wonder what the intention was with this national radio slot?

It is a shame that Dyslexia Awareness Week could not have been used as a reason for discussion of evidence-based approaches to dyslexia. It is not appropriate for the BBC to allow an expensive and highly time-consuming commercial dyslexia treatment – without good evidence of efficacy – to be promoted in this way. I will be complaining to the BBC about this. I would encourage readers to do the same.

* on iplayer now, about 2:56 in.

PS: apologies if there is some repetition of this post: some of the mistakes made were similar enough that I found this hard to avoid.

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Filed under Dore, dyslexia