More on McKeith

It seems I am not alone in getting some satisfaction out of seeing McKeith have to admit she is not a doctor.
Back off, man; I’m a scientist.” also picks up the topic with its “Bless” post.

The post picks up on McKeith saying how she feels “bullied” and she claims ” I’m entitled to use ‘Dr’ because I have a PhD in Holistic Nutrition, which I studied for four years to get.” Now that is funny. Obviously she is joking…

Anyway, the Back off, man; I’m a scientist makes the reasonable comments:

This is a woman who goes on TV and makes “an obese woman cry, in her own back garden, by showing her a tombstone with her own name on it, made out of chocolate”, who said to another “‘Do you want to see your daughter get married and have babies? Because the way things are going you’ll have a heart attack at 40″.

She’s made a career out of making fat people cry, so just let the satisfaction flow.

Well Said that man!

Why 5 pieces of fruit & veg anyway?

I am all for hammering the fake nutritionist tosh. “Doctor” Gillian McKeith “PhD (Intenet)” is an obvious charlatan. It’s very hard to see how anyone gave her any credence but – from Channel 4’s point of view – she rifled through human crap on tv, in the presence of its manufacturers even. This was always going to draw audiences. Actual nutrition qualifications would have just been icing on the poocake from the Channel 4 point of view.

I’m not a hundred per cent convinced by more official nutrition advice either. Everyone “knows” we are supposed to eat 5 pieces of fruit or vegetables a day. The government tell us so. There are posters in my doctor’s surgery. I am not disputing that we should eat fruit and vegetables (I’m a vegetarian. I would be going very hungry if I didn’t.)

I just want to know – Who said it? Where is the evidence? How big is a serving anyway?

Well, it turns out that original recommendation came from the World Health Organisation. The 5 a day is a UK version. The USA is more demanding. It wants you to eat 9.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid recommends three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits per day University of Iowa .

Are US fruit and veg weaker in their healing powers? Do American need higher standards of health than we do because of lacking an NHS?

Where does this advice come from? The UK Department of Health has some referenced links to evidence, on its site. Most of these actually turn out to be links to other DOH documents that repeat the same advice. There are however some links to research papers that report lower rates of heart disease and a couple of other reduced risks in those who eat more fruit and vegetables.

So far, fine. The researchers are scientists, so I am sure they will have adjusted the figures for other things that are correlated with living longer – apart from eating more fruit and veg – like being better off & more health conscious generally. I am perfectly capable of working out that fruit and veg are good for you, from any evidence they can produce from their research (plus a lifetime of imbibing this apparently “common sense” message.)

I would like someone to show me where the number 5 came from – was it just a think of number game? Is there any evidence?

I would also like someone to show me where the obscure rules came in – potatoes don’t count; juice only counts as one even if you drink litres of different kinds of juices. Where does the portion size of a serving come from? How can it apply to everyone from a 6’6″ tall heavy set man to a slight 5 year-old?

Unless someone shows there is a real scientific basis for this stuff, it strikes me as government promoted woo. It seems we won’t respond to messages like “It’s probably good for your health to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables.” We aren’t intelligent enough to understand that message. We need to be directed, like the good 1984-in-2007 public we are, in terms that are simple and direct and very prescriptive. It doesn’t matter if the instructions are assembled from guesswork and back of an envelope calculations. As long as we have some rules to follow. With numbers.

Rather like “Doctor” McKeith’s approach to nutrition, really. Oh hang on, she’s an obvious quack.

It seems a disturbingly short step from this nonsense to deciding that vitamins do cure AIDS. I think you’d probably find that most people in the world who have malaria don’t eat 5 to 9 portions of fruit and veg a day. (A lot of them probably are lucky to eat. )

I bet the research shows that most people in the world with HIV infections don’t have cars or travel on planes. I suggest that you drive 10 miles a day and fly 200 miles every 6 months, to lower your chances of catching it.

Crackpot McKeith Punished

Well it is about time.

has been a prominent enough person in the general UK media to have her own category on Ben Goldacre’s fascinating Bad Science blog. If you dont know about her this extract from Bad Science gives a bit of background:

Call her the Awful Poo Lady, call her Dr Gillian McKeith PhD: she is an empire, a multi-millionaire, a phenomenon, a prime-time TV celebrity, a bestselling author. She has her own range of foods and mysterious powders, she has pills to give you an erection, and her face is in every health food store in the country. Scottish Conservative politicians want her to advise the government. The Soil Association gave her a prize for educating the public.

She is a force of pure marketing evil. She bullies fat people to the point at which they burst into tears. She advocates all manner of weird and wonderful woo as cures for various illnesses. Her ideas about health diet defy belief. She claimes eating Chlorophyl will oxygenate your blood. She claims DNA/RNA is only present in growing cells and defies aging. “In the heart,” she explains, “chlorophyll aids in the transmission of nerve impulses that control contraction.”

In short, she is completely off her head.

You can read more about McKeith on Quackwatch – or better still, Ben Goldacre’s blog where you can read the full details of her current problems with the Advertising Standards Agency.

In association with Channel 4 Nutjob McKeith pushed herself onto the UK public as a “Clinical Nutritionist” (woo-title if ever there was one). She is often called Dr McKeith, or even “Dr Gillian McKeith PhD,” with the implication she is a medical doctor when in fact she has a PhD. However, this PhD is from a woo-factory of dynamic proportions. She has her “PhD” from the Australasian College of Health Sciences (Portland, US), yet you cant find out any of the details of her final thesis. She touts her “professional membership” with the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, yet this is the same level of membership Ben Goldacre’s dead cat has.

The amount that could be written about McKeith is phenomenal. She combines ignorance, voodoo-woo and an a massively outspoken personality. She capitalises upon lazy people not bothering to understand science but who are enamoured by the trappings of science and the weird rituals she practices (sniffing crap for example). To paraphrase a USENET post I read, as people move away from religion, the void is filled by conspiracy theories, sprituality and mumbo-jumbo – it is the conservation of idiocy. McKeith is a prime example of this.

Anyway, it seems a reader of the column has actually gone to the advertising standards agency and complained about her use of the title “Dr” and “PhD.” The ASA has upheld the complaint, but to avoid a formal ruling, McKeith has voluntarily agreed to stop calling herself “Dr.” This is not as toothless as it may sound, as she has spent a lot of time building a rep based on her status as “Dr McKeith.” She claims that she will continue to call herself Gillian McKeith PhD but from Ben Goldacre’s leaked wording of the ASA text that was also going to be prohibited (note: this is in relation to advertising materials only).

This may be a small victory for common sense but it is still a victory!

Wild birds don’t pay taxes

We seem to have escaped one potential side-effect of the Bernard Matthews bird flu. The first news of the out break focussed on wild birds as the carriers of the disease. After a few days, in which it bcame obvious that importing turkeys from an area hit by bird flu was probably not wholly unconnected, wild birds were temporarily off the hook. For how long?

On 17th February, the BBC had the grace to recover some of its credibility on the issue by running an interview/article by Dr Leon Bennun, of BirdLife International. He argues that wild birds are likely to get blamed and that threatened species are likely to be culled or be subject to deliberate destruction of their habitats. However, he argues that bird flu infections in wild birds are limited and unlikely to spread to humans. He argues that the global poultry industry is the most likely vector of the disease.

It may also be time to take a long, hard look at the way the world feeds itself, and to decide whether the price paid for modern farming in terms of risks to human health and the Earth’s biodiversity is too high.

OK, I have to declare a vested interest here. I am a long time vegetarian (though I can’t claim any moral high ground because I eat milk and eggs.) I can’t see why there is such a necessity for everyone to have access to ultra-cheap although taste-free chicken and turkey. Taking up a morality in food theme that I already did to death a few weeks ago, I can’t understand how we have become so confused that we talk about “being good” when we mean passing up an extra biscuit but believeg we have no responsibility for the conditions in which our meat is produced.

These poultry are reared in conditions that defy belief. They are stuffed in their thousands into barns where their “lives” must make a mockery of the term. The scale of the Bernard Matthews operation is breathtaking. When the news broke, the numbers of turkeys reported Killed was a lot more than I would have believed there could be in the whole country. And they were in a handful of barns. Is it any surprise that these conditions give rise to diseases.

A few hundred workers were laid off by Bernard Matthews today, with more job losses likely if the public don’t forget their temporary revulsion. The government scientists are doing their best to reassure us. The reassurances have even been rephrased from the original self-contradictory message last week, which was that there was no chance that bird flu could get into the food chain but make sure you cook all poultry thoroughly.

We are now so squeamish compared to people of a couple of generations ago. We don’t even buy poultry if it can be visibly distinguished from Quorn. This makes it much easier for us to ignore what goes on to bring that prepackaged and blamelessly sterile-looking product to the supermarket.

And what goes on is much more repellent than killing creatures to eat, which is what people have done for our entire history. It first involved hunting wild creatures (clearly the best bet from the creatures’ point of view.) Then it involved capturing them and keeping them confined in a simulation of their natural environment until we wanted to kill them (next best bet, although even this is starting to threaten the ecology of the planet as more and more of us need feeding and more and more forest is burned for cattle.) But, what about keeping animals indoors in terrifying and insanitary conditions and feeding them wholly unnatural foods, including the ground-up brains of their own species (does anyone remember BSE?).

There are laws of cause and effect. We are indeed animals ourselves but we somehow believe we can escape the natural laws that seem to govern ecosystems. Species that grow too numerous for their environment and start disturbing its balance too drastically are pretty likely to become extinct. We are turning our planet into a potential hellhole for ourselves.

But, bizarrely, as Leon Bennun points out, we don’t question the global meat industry. We turn on the few escapees from our destructiveness and blame them, failing to understand the role they play in keeping the ecosystem going. I assume this is because wild birds don’t employ people. They don’t pay taxes.

The massive “agricultural” companies employ a fair number of people. Many more people would be employed if the law compelled turkey and chicken “farmers” to rear their poultry using free range methods. It might cost a little more for poultry, but then, it might actually taste of something, so value for money would be about the same. It would surely be safer. The bird flu outbreaks that affected humans in the far east did involve small producers. However, they were localised in their effects. Can anyone even begin to imagine the scale of the effects of an outbreak that could infect humans if it originated in one of these monster turkey/chicken production units?