About Us Archive

We are not nutritionists, we are very naughty boys and girls. We use basic science and research skills to perform a critical assessment of the work of Patrick Holford and nutritionism.

A number of people have said nice things about this blog. For example, have been described in the Guardian as one of four blogs that, compared to mainstream media coverage of Dore, “win on timeliness, accuracy, relevance, effort, ethics, and stupid names”. We have also been discussed – in broadly positive terms – in the Telegraph, Private Eye and Damian Thomson’s Counterknowledge book and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. We were also one of the blogs congratulated in an Early Day Motion in Parliament.

We’re not over-sharing on biographical details-this is not because we subscribe to a PoMo idea that individual credit for creative work is bourgeois but because we find that it distracts from a critique of the science and ideas.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we are the pride of our mothers and the despair of our schoolfriends because we are so laden down with academic honours that we can’t get our heads through a standard doorway – or if we don’t have a 25m swimming certificate between us. It’s the ideas, science and analysis that count.

Holford Watch contributors have no competing interests in pharmaceutical or supplement companies. This site is funded by donations from readers and contributors (although we will not accept money from those with competing interests in the pharmaceutical or supplement industry) and payment from referrals to Amazon. Holford Watch contributors do not get paid for our work on the site.

If you have any questions for us that you do not want to post as a comment, or have any information you would like to send us, we can be contacted at holfordwatch duck googlemail and the usual that follows that (replace the fowl with @ to get a valid e-mail address).

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181 responses to “About Us Archive

  1. Jim Manson

    Who are you ‘naughty boys and girls’? By name, I mean. I’m very interested in finding out more about holfordwatch.

    Ps – is the plastic duck the same one featured in Dr Ben Goldacre’s ‘nutritionist’ merchandise?

  2. Jim – thanks for the interest. The duck is ‘ours’ – we got him/her (not entirely sure how one sexes plastic ducks) from istockphoto.com

  3. Jim Manson

    Nice to have cleared up the provenance of the plastic duck. ButI’m genuinley interested in who is behind the site.

  4. Jim, I am sure you can find out who we are if you want to. We are not really secret, just that we think that out biographical and personal information has nothing to do with the criticisms we make of the work of PH. What we say is either wrong, and we would like to hear why, or we are right.

    Why are you so concerned?

    PS Site updated recently, so not sure if mey email is here yet. but you can contact me via the quackometer

  5. heh

    this chap’s the editor of “natural products” the trade magazine.

    they’re a bit preoccupied with launching ad hom attacks, as is de rigeur in the industry, so i’d imagine he’s fantasising that you are in the employ of the company behind thalidomide.

    on the other hand i might be wrong, he might be primarily interested in engaging on the question of whether people really do have evidence for the explicit scientific claims they make, and discussing the content of your criticisms…

  6. Ah yes,

    Should have run the quackometer over the name…

    http://www.quackometer.net/?suspectquack=Jim+Manson

  7. Jim- thanks for the interest in the blog. Hopefully you’ll be able to use us as a source of good information on nutritionism: I’ll make sure to keep an eye on Natural Products, to see if you’re able to make use of any of our ideas.

    Of course, if you find the content here of interest, we’d also be very happy to contribute an article to Natural Products. A critical appraisal of nutritionism would be an obvious option, but we could be relatively flexible (for example, autism and vaccination seem to be topical at the moment). I’m sure your readers would be interested in a critical look at various CAM approaches.

  8. Jim Manson

    Hey indeed, and hello from the dark side!

    Seriously, I’ve got better things to fantasize about.

    I’ll say this about Ben, he might not do ad hom but he does a nice line in personal insult.

    Surprised but delighted that my nonentity status is now being challenged and I have been elevated to suspect quack.

    Jon, I’ll get back in touch re your email.

  9. thanks Jim – look forward to hearing from you.

  10. LeeT

    So when’s the article appearing?

  11. alas, haven’t heard back from Natural Products yet. A pity – we would have very much liked to contribute an article.

  12. Youtellmeyoursandilltellyoumine

    Why have you specifically chosen Patrick Holford to criticise?
    As for who you are – surely if your names are not a secret then why not state them unless , of course you have something to hide.

  13. The old ones are the best, eh? See previous answers, here and elsewhere on site.

    We disagree on whether investigating someone’s claims to scientific rigour etc. is criticism or appropriate correction to a mistaken message.

    You don’t think that the Holford support for QLink, misinterpretation of statins NNT, misreporting of premature mortality statistics due to CVD is an appropriate matter for comment?

    What do you think about the ASA adjudications against Holford? As a matter of interest, what do you believe his qualifications and expertise to be?

  14. Youtellmeyoursandilltellyoumine

    I have seen previous answers – none were satisfactory.

  15. LeeT

    I don’t think Patrick Holford is being personally criticised. It is more a questions of looking at his ideas.

    He claims that nutrition is the answer to so many problems. Possibly in twenty years time he will be proved right with regard to some of the things he has been saying, though we shall never know unless his ideas are subject to criticism will we? That’s how truth emerges from scientific endeavour.

  16. Why have a go at Patrick HOlford? Surely it is for patients to say whether his ideas are good or not. If people begin to get better by taking for instance, folic acid, then that’s good. If his ideas are a sham then there should be no room for a charlatan dressed up as a nutritionist. He preaches a non-negative side effect way to better health so what’s wrong with that? Bearing in mind prescription drugs kill 30,000 a year in the UK out of a total death rate of 600,000 then I think we should direct some of our criticism at the doctors who readily accept the pay and pills the large pharma corporations have to offer.

  17. When you say “we should direct” do you work for a Pharma Watch organisation or such, Troy – in which case – on you go? Pharma Watch, Pharmalot etc. do some very interesting work.

    Read through Holford Watch and you may have a fuller understanding of our position. You do understand that Holford makes basic errors – such as whether cheese on toast would push you towards lactose intolerance… In that same link – you do understand that he endorses QLink as well as some allergy and intolerance tests that were recently criticised in a House of Lords report.

    We don’t ascribe any motives or characterisations; we discuss the poverty of the science/experience/qualifications that Holford cites in support of his work etc.

  18. LeeT

    Troy

    I like your idea of patients deciding on whether treatment is useful or works. Personally, I have no medical training whatsover so would not presume to tell my doctors or nurses how I should be treated. By the way I think you’ll find Patrick Holford and his army of nutritional therapists call the people who consult them “clients” and not “patients”.

    On the subject of prescription drugs killing 30,000 a year I would be interested to learn more about where that particular statistic comes from. More than 3000 people are killed in road traffic accidents every year. Consequently a considerable amount of money is spent on promoting the idea of road safety.

    If 30,000 are being killed by prescription drugs we need to act rather urgently. However, I think what you may mean is that 30,000 die whilst on prescription drugs. Now such people are already in difficulties whether it be from mental health problems or chronic illnesses. That’s why they are presecribed the drugs in the first place! Thus, it is not surprising that their general rate of mortality is higher than the population. It is a serious which needs more attention given to it. However, I don’t think telling people to take supplements rather than medication is a good idea.

    You make a very serious allegation that doctors are prescribing drugs in return for money. My understanding is that they only prescribe drugs licenced and approved by the MHRA. If you know of some one doing something different then you might like to consider reporting them to the BMA.

    Incidentally, if a patient … errr … I mean client has problems with Patrick Holford who can they complain to? The British Association for Nutritional Therapy – who made Patrick Holford a fellow – are very cagey are their ethical code so it is difficult to know who can help.

    Whilst pharmaceutical companies are probably quite capable of taking care of themselves, I must point out to you that most of them are quoted on stock exchanges of the major economies. If they are found to have produced drugs that don’t work or have awful side effects then investors will be reluctant to put money in them which can lower the share price rather dramatically.

    One final point criticism was made of GPs a few years ago saying some of them were prescribing anti-depressants without good cause. Would BANT ever criticise Patrick Holford or any of their other practitioners for them being too free and easy with supplements ??!!

  19. I have been thinking further about this, Lee and Troy.

    To make an obvious point, some people have regular headaches so they take painkillers. Depending on their use, they develop rebound headaches because of the way in which they use the medication. You can’t always trust your interpretation of your body’s response.

    There was the Boden et al study about stents earlier this year – patients like them and usually improved after them. However, the study revealed that patients with chronic chest pain who received coronary stents, as well as drugs, were just as likely to die or have heart attacks as those who received only the drugs. This is a level of nuance that is not available just by asking patients/clients.

    People seem to respond to a placebo differently, depending on whether it is a particular colour and in the form of a pill or injection. We can’t always rely on our intuition although Holford does encourage us to rely upon it through dowsing, kinesiology etc.

    If we were to rely upon people’s intuition, just how many people have you heard claim that smoking clears their lungs or some such?

  20. The Brothers Hoofnagle have some relevant material on their Denialism blog.

    The mixed Galileo/Ioannidis attack is truly on the leading edge of crank attacks on science, yet like all the other cranks that have attempted the link, they once again fail to understand their source material.

    Update – John P.A. Ioannidis responds after I sent him links to cranks using his work.

    This is a very important issue that you are raising. I was not aware of this, but it is hard to understand how some people may use my work to fuel attacks against science per se. HIV/AIDS denialism [etc.] have nothing to do with science, they are dogmas that depend on beliefs, not on empirical observation and replication/refutation thereof. Perhaps we should just take it for granted that such “currents” may try to use anything to support their views. I think that one of the strongest advantages of science is that its propositions can be tested empirically and they can be replicated, but also refuted and contradicted, and improved. Obviously, this cannot be the case with any dogma, so all my research makes absolutely no sense in the setting of dogmatic belief. Science should gain respect in the wider public, especially because of its willingness to test and refute its hypotheses, in contrast to any type of dogma. In a letter to PLoSMed following my 2005 paper (2007;4:e215), I recently clarified that “Scientific investigation is the noblest pursuit. I think we can improve the respect of the public for researchers by showing how difficult success is.” Obviously this has nothing to do with dogma (religious, political, corporate, or otherwise) that really needs no hard work and by definition cannot be countered in its absurdity.

    Well, he may be shocked, but I’m not. It’s part of a paradoxical behavior of the crank. While on the one hand they struggle futilely for scientific recognition of nonsense, they simultaneously try to drag science down by any means necessary to try to lower it to the level of their own discourse. Someone who is actually interested in science and is not “anti-science” as the title of this essay suggests biologists are, wouldn’t be interested in smearing the reputation of science and the integrity of the process. A sure sign of a crank is one who rejoices in every perceived mistake or slight against science, as they mistakenly believe it makes their nonsense appear more legitimate.