Complementary and alternative medicine History Holocaust denial Medicine Quackery

In the battle of science versus woo…

sometimes the good guys win.

Congratulations to Ben Goldacre for taking on the supplement quack Matthias Rath and prevailing. That he did it even in the notoriously plaintiff-friendly U.K. court system is even better. Indeed, The Guardian also deserves kudos for supporting Ben in this.

This case could be as momentous in terms of its implications for going after health fraud in the U.K. as the David Irving case was in terms of Holocaust denial. No, I am not calling Rath a neo-Nazi or Holocaust denier. There is no evidence, at least as far as I’m aware, that he subscribes to such vile views.

No, the similarity is that purveyors of “alternative” medicine do often use the same abuses of logic, science, and reason to push their pseudoscientific views as Holocaust deniers do to push their pseudohistory. A more pertinent similarity between Irving and Rath, however, is that, just as David Irving did with Professor Deborah Lipstadt, Rath sought to intimidate the “little guy” by suing him in British courts, where unfortunately libel laws are such that the defendant has to prove that what he wrote was truthful rather than the plaintiff having to prove that what was written was either false or published with a reckless disregard for the truth. Indeed, given the plantiff-friendly nature of British libel law, it’s become a very common tactic of quacks just to use the threat of a lawsuit to silence U.K. critics, as the Society of Homeopaths and a quack named Joseph Chikelue Obi recently did. And it all too often works, either because most bloggers don’t have a large publishing house to fund their legal defense or because their ISP isn’t willing to tell the originators of abusive lawsuit threats to take a hike. So the bloggers are often forced to cave. Unexpectedly, as in the Irving case, Ben Goldacre’s publisher (The Guardian) stood by him and funded the defense, just as Penguin Books stood by Deborah Lipstadt (for the most part; she still had quite a few legal bills of her own by the time it was all over). In the end, Rath’s attempt to silence his critics using the British courts failed as ignominiously as David Irving’s did.

Good. In celebration, I’m going to say, “Matthias Rath is a quack. Quack, quack, quack, quack!”

In the meantime, Ben promises to go after health scammers with renewed vigor, free of this legal cloud hanging over his head.

Even better.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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