WDDTY: A Voice in the Silence?

Many of you will have no doubt seen the furore about WDDTY (What Doctors Don’t Tell You) last week in the media. I didn’t see the Times article, but I do watch Wright Stuff most mornings (or tape and scroll during my lunch actually!) so I did see the debate on there, which was fascinating.

Essentially, the problem seems to be with WDDTY’s relatively new consumer magazine which is on sale – horror of horrors – in WHSmith and other mainstream retailers. I have to say I was quite surprised when they launched it and was counting the days until someone somewhere questioned it so I am not surprised at all it has now happened.

The case against it mainly seems to be that poor unsuspecting readers could be duped into believing every dangerous word printed and eschew mainstream medicine choices which could do them harm.

Now, you can tell which side of the fence I am on here already. I have subscribed to WDDTY for about 20 years I think and, frankly, I don’t like people assuming I am too thick to take it for what it is: an alternative viewpoint to be considered, a reporting of studies, opinions, comment etc related to an alternative way of thinking. They don’t pretend to be anything else. Let’s face it: that’s what I do on here. That’s what everyone does in any media. Everything is biased. Read it or don’t. But don’t censor it because you don’t trust people to be able to make ‘sensible’ decisions. That smacks of the arrogance of, er, mainstream medicine!

In my line of work, I have seen thousands of situations where mainstream medicine just hasn’t worked or been enough for a person’s issues, including my own. I would not be in the very food sensitive state I am if mainstream medicine had tested me for coeliac disease when they should have done instead of putting it down to stress and ‘IBS’, that catch-all term which means nothing. Neither would it have taken me until my mid-20s to get diagnosed with PCOS when I kept saying there was something majorly wrong with my hormones from about 14 onward.

And don’t even get me started on the side effects of some meds and procedures I’ve seen or the simple fact that some people can’t tolerate the meds and need to seek out alternatives. Millions of people turn to ‘alternative’ medicine every single day across the world. And there has to be a reason. If people need alternatives, surely you need some help in evaluating what might work and what won’t? I’d say censoring information when people clearly need some is plain daft and ignores a very real need. WDDTY is by far not the only source of such info. I rate lots of different sources, mainstream and alternative; the issue just seems to be because it is in (gasp) a real shop!

I’m not saying that mainstream medicine is wrong. Far from it. I believe in integrated medicine and having a choice. Sometimes, you’re going to need drugs, surgery, mainstream care. Of course you are. As it happens, today I am on antibiotics for a severe gum infection that all the teatree, probiotics, garlic etc in the natural medicine pharmacy refuses to touch. I need a stronger approach, so I’m using it.

I object to people suggesting information I could evaluate to help me make my choices should be somehow ‘hidden’ from me. All the info in the WDDTY magazine is on the t’interweb anyway, and given the pedigree of the two journalists behind WDDTY and the fact that they are reporting findings from others the vast majority of the time, albeit I admit with their own biased comment on it, which I happen to take notice of, I would rather trust their stuff.

Anyway, for me, this is about choice plain and simple. We live in a country with freedom of speech, thank goodness, and I want to read and consider comment from lots of different places. This morning, for example, I have already been on the BMJ site, MedLine, WDDTY and a lab site gathering information. It’s part of a mix.

If WDDTY were really peddling dangerous information as the Times article – and incidentally the people behind it – would have us believe, that would be terrible. But, are they? Really? I don’t think so. If you actually read the articles, they are people’s opinions based on findings from studies. People might have issues with how those studies were done, the opinions drawn from them etc etc but WDDTY magazine is reporting them. Much like every other newspaper does. Have you read the Daily Mail Health section recently??

What makes me laugh is that the Times used to pay Lynne McTaggart, one of the WDDTY’s editors to write a column for them! Harper Collins, a publisher I think I read somewhere that was or is linked to the Times, has published her (very successful) books. The headline I’ve used above – A Voice in the Silence – I actually took from a testimonial given by the Times on WDDTY’s website!

When I was watching the Wright Stuff about it, actually, I noted that the panellists variously said they either bought and liked it or had done so for the show and thought that it was much more balanced than the screaming headlines had led them to believe. Moral of the story is: read the thing and, if you don’t like it or agree with it, don’t buy it. Choice.

Still, good articles are what sells papers – and magazines like WDDTY – and it has certainly worked here, hasn’t it? Here we are talking about them. Good publicity I would say for both the Times and WDDTY!

Anyway, a few of you have asked me about this so I thought I would put my opinion forward. Here is WDDTY’s official response for you too – I was quite appalled that they say that not one of the media outlets that covered the story contacted them for their point of view. Hardly unbiased reporting themselves then:

How the London Times tried to stop you from reading this

On Tuesday October 1, the London Times ran an article about a supposed ‘call to ban’ our journal What Doctors Don’t Tell You over ‘health scares’.  (‘Call to ban journal over health scares,’ p 22).

The article alleged that a group of ‘experts’, including ‘scientists, doctors and patients’ were ‘condemning’ shops for carrying our magazine, which they claimed was ‘dangerous.’

The article also said that we’d claimed that vitamin C ‘cures’ HIV, that homeopathy could treat cancer, that we’d implied the cervical cancer vaccines has killed ‘hundreds’ of girls and that we’d told parents in our latest (October 2013) issues not to immunize their children with the MMR.

The Wright Stuff, a panel show on Britain’s Channel 5 TV, quickly followed suit with a television debate, flashing up a picture of Lynne McTaggart, editorial director of WDDTY, Five Live followed up with a television debate about the magazine, and another on-line publication published ‘warnings’ that claims in our advice could even ‘prove fatal’.

In all the furore, not one of the newspapers, radio shows or television stations once bothered to contact our magazine, even to solicit a comment.

In fact, from the content quoted, it appears that not one journalist or broadcaster has read anything that we have written. When we contacted one editor, he said he’d just reported what the Times reported. This is most apparent on the homeopathy story, and for very good reason: the article and the magazine containing it in fact have not yet been published.

In our magazine, we made no claims of cures:  we simply reported on a doctor who’d investigated MMR, the US government’s tally of deaths from the HPV vaccine and a study showing that vitamin C ‘slowed, stopped or even reversed for several years’ depletion of immune system cells in HIV positive patients’.

The Times story – and all the stories that follow – are the latest in a protracted skirmish that’s been going on between  the magazine and Simon Singh and a pharmaceutically-backed ‘lobby’ organization Sense About Science, ever since we launched our magazine in September 2013.

Last September, Singh contacted our distributor, and then all our newsagents and supermarket chains and tried to persuade them to stop carrying us (they refused after receiving thousands of letters of support for WDDTY).

For months, Singh, whose Sense About Science group has the sponsorship of the British Pharmaceutical Association, among other industry organizations, has relentlessly pestered the Advertising Standards Association with complaints about our advertisers, to try to prevent them from advertising.

All of the ‘experts’ quoted in the Times article are associated with Singh and his campaign.

This entire episode has far larger implications for all of us than simply the future of WDDTY.  Are we to allow censorship of information that criticizes drug-based medicine and offers evidence of alternative systems of health care, particularly when this censorship is encouraged by the establishment press itself – the British newspaper of record?

The Times seems to be suggesting that their role is to ‘protect’ the public by censoring information that departs from standard medical line.

But as we see it, our job as journalists is simply to inform – to report the facts, even when they are inconvenient truths, as they are so often in medicine, particularly with such things as vaccines or alternative cancer therapy.

If you believe in free choice as medical consumers and wish to protect WDDTY and the right to choose our own system of health care, here’s what to do:

1.Write an email of support to the British stores who carry What Doctors Don’t Tell You:

WH Smith’s
Customer.Relations@WHSmith.co.uk

Sainsbury’s
customerservice@sainsburys.co.uk

Tesco
customer.service@tesco.co.uk

Asda
asdasupplierengagement@asda.co.uk

Morrison’s
0845 611 6111
lucy.marshall@morrisonsplc.co.uk

2.Buy a copy of What Doctors Don’t Tell You. It’s available in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, WH Smiths, and over 8000 independent retail outlets. You can also subscribe through www.wddtysubscribe.com

3.Write to the Times and voice your complaint that such a biased and poorly researched article like this was published: feedback@thetimes.co.uk

4. Join our debate on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LynneMcTaggart2011 or www.facebook.com/WDDTY

Here’s a video of the full story:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfVT5_5s9no

6 Replies to “WDDTY: A Voice in the Silence?”

  1. From WDDTY’s own online pages, specifically http://www.wddty.com/much-more-than-placebo-homeopathy-reverses-cancer.html – headline: ‘Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer’ – “Several homeopathic remedies are as effective as powerful chemotherapy, according to clinical trials, and thousands of cancer cases are being reversed by homeopathy alone.”

    This suggests to me that they are telling readers that homeopathy is as effective (‘powerful’) as chemotherapy for treating cancer and that it can be used instead of (‘by homeopathy alone’) other conventional treatments. I’d probably not complain about the magazine if it just said something vague along the lines of ‘when taking chemotherapy some people feel better when they take homeopathy alongside’ – fair enough, they may well do thanks to placebo effects.

    I’m not a lawyer so can’t be absolutely certain but saying that homeopathy can reverse cancer would seem to put them at odds with the Cancer Act of 1939. Perhaps it’s fine for them to say this as they’re not actually selling the homeopathic remedies, but I do think editorial commentary from them on cancer and homeopathy is unbelievably irresponsible.

    I would agree with you that their headlines are much worse than the content (bit like the Daily Mail there) but I would hope that on matters of cancer they might be a lot more careful to avoid any potential confusion.

    Jo

    1. Yes, Jo, the headline as usual to make you read it belies a much more measured article beneath aka Daily Mail, as you say! Therein lies journalism to sell papers and mags isn’t it?! However, if you actually read the piece, it is fascinating and I would certainly want to know about this, for example:

      The remedies triggered an ‘apoptotic cascade’ that interfered with the cancer cells’ normal growth cycle and, yet, the surrounding healthy cells were untouched, the researchers found. In other words, they targeted only the cancer cells, whereas chemo-therapy drugs attack all growing cells. And, say the researchers, the effects of Carcinosin and Phytolacca were as powerful as Taxol (paclitaxel), the most commonly prescribed chemother-apy drug for breast cancer (Int J Oncol, 2010; 36: 395–403).

      I can now follow up that idea, read the research for myself etc and consider if it has merit and/or is applicable in my own case. That is priceless and should not be censored just because it goes against the mainstream approach. Questioning stuff is how we learn. I might decide it’s crap but I’d like to know about it first!

  2. Tom Whipple did contact WDDTY: he has posted screengrabs to prove it, and McTaggart has acknowledged he called, via Facebook.

    Micki – perhaps you are intelligent enough to deduce what to take from the magazine and what not to take and to dig deeper – we’re both health writers and we know how to do that – but others who have no medical or nutritional knowledge may not. You’ve only got to look at some of the comments WDDTY readers leave on their Facebook page to appreciate the depth of lack of understanding some people have of medicine. You may go ahead and follow up and research, but the ordinary punter might just abandon proven treatment or fail to get it in the first place.

    The very title of the publication undermines medicine and doctors, and arguably implies they’re economical with the truth.

    The group don’t want to ban: they want certain shops not to stock it. The Press Gazette have taken down a story which WDDTY said was defamatory.

    I actually don’t always like the approach of Singh, SAS and all the rest of them – ultimately, nobody changes their minds because of them. Everyone is polarised, and this sort of thing just gets people to dig their heels in further. I do understand the frustration – the alternative community often refuses to engage with the scientific community – but can’t help wishing an alternative (excuse pun) approach was found to resolving this ongoing battle.

    1. I see Tom did contact them then, yes, missed that thanks Alex. (Note: update below, tho). I did also note he gave very little time to respond given he had been working on the piece for quite some time from what I can tell. Still he did contact at least. I don’t think he had any real axe to grind personally and I don’t think he was ‘working for’ Singh and co as I note some people have accused him of, which is unfair – a journalist writing up a controversial story and doing his job.

      In terms of people not being intelligent enough, I have more faith in people’s abilities than you do, it seems! I think, seriously, that anyone buying that magazine is already likely to be a ‘believer’ anyway and it is preaching to the converted. I have seen thousands of people over the years from all walks of life and they all are just simply seeking a solution to a problem. If they’re intelligent enough to question, they will see the magazine for what it is. That said: if someone follows a headline, buys it and it starts them questioning, well all to the good as far as I’m concerned.

      I’m not even going to mention your assertion of the alternative community refusing to engage with the scientific community. I will just laugh.

      One thing I did note looking at the media coverage which I thought was interesting is how many of the comments were made by detractors rather than defenders. I feel a bit like that myself as someone who’s been in natural medicine in some way or another for 25 years. You just don’t bother any more. You get fed up with defending and debating all the time. Instead, we just accept that it works for some and therefore has merit as we have seen it so many times. We concentrate our efforts on getting people well, using or recommending whichever approach we feel would suit that person’s needs best – and it is often a mix of mainstream and alternative. Not a very scientific approach I will grant you – I leave that to the younger fighters nowadays (I was once one!) – however it is true evidence-based medicine as you SEE it working ;). Incidentally, neither do I care if it classed as placebo effect or not. I don’t think it is most of the time but we know it happens in all forms of medicine to a certain percentage, so why would natural medicine approaches be any different? If it helps, smack a label of placebo on it if you like. Ultimately, it helped someone, which is what we should all be aiming for anyway, whichever side of the fence we sit on, or straddle.

      1. Update: I notice that WDDTY has sent an open letter to the Times and they are in fact still stating that they were not contacted properly to give their side of the story since it has been established that Tom rang the rarely-manned accounts department and left a message. (In fairness, I note on the WDDTY website that there is no phone number listed for the editorial dept, although any journalist should have that easily in their listings). They also say that they have asked for a right of reply and the Times has not got back to them. I can’t seem to link to the open letter here – it’s on the WDDTY Facebook page if you want to see it – so here is a snapshot for you:

        “Would you consider my giving you an ‘adequate chance to respond’ if I were about to write something damning about you, tried to reach you by phoning the Times classified and left a message there? Or perhaps with foreign sales?

        The fact remains, your reporter DIDN’T get our side of the story.

        We’re seasoned journalists ourselves. It’s not good enough to stay ‘so and so couldn’t be reached’ if you’re writing a story challenging their integrity, their livelihood and the quality of their work. With that kind of story, trained journalists have an obligation to seek the comments of the subject of the story. It’s basic, fair, responsible journalism….

        “We provide difficult-to-obtain information about what works and what doesn’t work in conventional and alternative health care so that our readers can make their own informed decisions. Many medical journals routinely write extremely damning information about certain drugs and practices in medicine. We have a team of journalists who are highly experienced in reading and interpreting medical literature. We believe that the public has a right to know this information. The eight doctors on our editorial panel agree with us – as do the thousands of practitioners and doctors on our subscription list. But we’re reporting, not advising.

        We have a right to a response. When are you going to give us one?

        Very truly yours,

        Lynne McTaggart
        Editorial Director
        What Doctors Don’t Tell You Publishing”

        Ooer. The argy-bargy will no doubt rage on…

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