Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ben Goldacre: 1 - Matthias Rath: 0

Victory for Ben Goldacre, Guardian columnist and regular debunker of bad science. Humiliating defeat for Matthias Rath, the German born vitamin peddler. What happened? At a cost of 500,000 GBP the Guardian defended a libel suit the vitamin salesman had brought against the newspaper for a series of articles Goldacre wrote some time back about his activities. He withdrew the case eventually and the court awarded initial cost of 200,000 GBP to the paper.

Goldacre published a series of three articles in the paper that reported in some detail the disgraceful activities Rath was involved in in South Africa where he tried to convince AIDS patients to use his vitamins instead of AIDS drugs. Rath made claims about the poisonous effects of mainstream AIDS medicines and reportedly conducted unapproved clinical trials with impoverished AIDS patients in South African townships. Here is how he tried to persuade AIDS patients to stop taking life preserving drugs and to use his alternative concoctions instead. Supported covertly and not so covertly by South Africa's incompetent health minister Manta Tshabalala Msimang he managed to go about his business for far too long. You can see him making out on the photo I posted above to the left of Anthony Mbewu, Manto's principal medical research honcho and head of the country's Medical Research Council. But then, hey, don't be too surprised, the country is rapidly becoming a banana republic. No surprised that these sorts of characters find each other quickly.

Reportedly Rath has since begun advertising campaigns in Russia where the incidence of new AIDS cases is increasing quite dramatically. Read here Goldacre's take on the issue. Sarah Boseley, the newspaper's health editor tracks Rath's 'career' here. Here is an analysis of deaths that occurred in his illegal trials in South African townhips.

What is remarkable about this guy is that he has pretty much disregarded all principles of medical professionalism and instead used (uses) his medical degree to convince lay people that his quackery is based on sound science. It is remarkable that he is still permitted to call himself a medical doctor.

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