‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ mag threatens legal action against Simon Singh (UPDATE: libel backtracking)

Simon Singh threatened with legal action for criticising health magazine

The science writer and libel reform campaigner Simon Singh has been threatened with legal action after criticising an alternative health magazine on Twitter.

Earlier this week, Singh took to the social media network to denounce a magazine called What Doctors Don’t Tell You (WDDTY). Described by its editor, Lynne McTaggart, as being aimed at “intelligent women between 35-55″ the magazine claims to provide information about what works and what does not work in both conventional and alternative medicines.

Writing on Facebook on Tuesday, McTaggart called on the magazine’s supporters to fight the actions of “bully boys” who wanted to push it off newsagents’ shelves. “Simon Singh, who was leading the charge, was just told by our distributor essentially to shove off and reminded that tweeting untrue statements about us or them is, well, libel,” she wrote.

Singh confirmed that he had contacted Comag, the distributors of WDDTY, to say that in his opinion the magazine was largely unscientific and was promoting advice that could potentially harm readers.

“Also, many of the adverts appear to make pseudoscientific and unsubstantiated claims,” he said. “I even offered to meet with Comag and introduce them to medical experts, but they have not accepted this invitation. When I suggested that I would blog about our email exchange, their reaction was to tell me in no uncertain terms: ‘I should inform you that we have sought legal advice in respect of this matter. We would take any attempts to damage our reputation on social media or elsewhere very seriously.’”

In another email Comag informed Singh of the company’s intent not to discuss the matter further and that it had instructed legal counsel.

The editor, McTaggert said on a radio program that the magazine’s aim was to tackle “a conspiracy of silence” among conventional doctors saying that conventional medicine needs to open its mind to other potential treatments. What? That would be science-based medicine. (How can conventional medicine have a “mind”?) We already have medical journals that chronicle the knowledge of medicine that has been discovered.

One of the WDDTY stories was “Popular sunscreens cause skin cancer, say researchers” and another raised issues about the safety of Gardasil, the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Neither of these claims are supported by published research. In fact, a recent study showed Gardasil was safe.

There seems little disputing that this magazine was NOT intended to be an evidence-based publication but one that catches the eye and plays on the concerns of everyday consumers. Once again, libel threats are trotted out instead of evidence. This is shaping up to be another case for Singh where his public service in calling out unscientific, unsupported health claims that may be harming the public is being compromised. If you remember, Singh has been through this kind of thing before and came out singhing.

You can follow the Twitter exchange at #WDDTY

Photo credit: garwboy (Dean Burnett) on Yfrog

This post at Josephine Jones has a rundown of all the relevant information and what you can do.

UPDATE (5-Oct-2012): The editor McTaggert is now backtracking, saying she never threatened libel.

But she indeed DID mention it.

When will people learn? If you say something contentious, people will SCREEN CAPTURE it. (The above Facebook post was deleted by McTaggert, it appears.)

She also calls the Guardian piece (linked at the top) “a complete fabrication”. The author, Jha, says it is certainly is not. Now who’s libeling? Yes, this is insane.

  16 comments for “‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ mag threatens legal action against Simon Singh (UPDATE: libel backtracking)

  1. October 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Sue away! It’s your funeral. Bwahahahaha!

  2. Chew
    October 3, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    Obviously these people did not Google Singh’s name before threatening legal action!

  3. October 3, 2012 at 7:01 PM

    No kidding, Chew!

    Here is their facebook page post on it.

    https://www.facebook.com/LynneMcTaggart2011/posts/10151181387234666 {fixed}

    • October 4, 2012 at 11:45 AM

      The link that you gave, to the Facebook page, does not work. (Was it deleted by the author?)

      What did it say? Did someoen use FreezePage (or similar service) to cache it?

      • October 4, 2012 at 12:01 PM

        It appears it has been deleted yes. I would suspect someone has it saved. It had a lot of people supporting Ms. McTaggart. I will try to locate it.

  4. Peter Robinson
    October 4, 2012 at 5:18 AM

    Simon is an absolute hero of the skeptical movement! Just a shame that he may have to go through another legal battle to support the bleeding obvious i.e. that the magazine is full of twaddle. If this develops, hope that he will receive the necessary support. I for one will be happy to donate to any defence fund. Hope others will too!

  5. Peter Robinson
    October 4, 2012 at 5:38 AM

    By way, WTDDTY don not have a direct email address to the editor or editorial, but I have just sent this F.T.A.O.: The Editor via online@wddty.co.uk and urge you all to write to them to to show that Simon is not alone in challenging their BS

    Dear Editor,

    I see you are threatening Simon Singh with legal action.

    I should warn you that if you proceed with such a foolish course of action then you will be biting off far more than you can chew.

    You should check out what happened to the chiropractors.

    You should also read Bad Science by Ben Goldacre! Note that Ben has also recently published an attack on hidden and poor research in the pharmaceutical World, and if you were to get behind that and stop selling garbage to unwitting and vulnerable consumers then you would be doing everyone a real favour. I refer you to:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/sep/21/drugs-industry-scandal-ben-goldacre

    BUT! Do not twist this! True science has a short history, but has achieved more in that time than any amount of hoodoo and woo, and at least it is an approach that can learn from it’s mistakes, as opposed to the CAM approach which relies on useless anecdote etc.

    As a skeptic, I do not support big pharma or the health establishment when they do get things wrong, but to peddle pseudo and anti-scientific nonsense is not the way to address such problems.

    You are taking a far too simplistic approach, and you can bet that the whole skeptical community will get behind Simon. He is worth all of you and more!

    Medicine will be advanced through rigorous support and application of the scientific method. NOT by the re-hashing of populist BS!

    Yours sincerely,
    Peter Robinson

    • Richard Cornford
      October 4, 2012 at 8:41 AM

      That reads like you have taken it upon yourself to issues a threat to one person/group on behalf of another person/group. Is that a good idea?

      • Peter Robinson
        October 4, 2012 at 1:10 PM

        You might be right in your concern that my email could be misinterpreted that way. I was making an assumption that vast swathes of skeptics would turn out in support of Simon if necessary. Do you think that was wrong? Also, do you think I am wrong in trying to encourage others to write to the magazine? Do you think Simon will cave in if they do proceed with their threats?

        I am definitely concerned that I could be seen as having goaded them into action, and that might in any way be detrimental to Simon.

        If others agree then I would be entirely comfortable for my post to be removed. I do sincerely apologise if I have unintentionally offended anyone except the producers and supporters of the magazine and unhelpfully inflamed the situation.

        • Richard Cornford
          October 5, 2012 at 9:09 AM

          I presume that we all believe that Simon Singh is experienced enough to have kept his comments on the ‘safe’ side of libel, and so would be likely to win any libel action taken against him. Then there is a suspicion that, because threats of libel action have been used to silence critics in the past, this talk of libel action is intended to silence critics.

          Given that, the people most likely to effectively discourage anyone from taking any legal action against Simon Singh would be their own legal advisors. That advice would take into account the fact that Simon Singh has a record of not being silenced, that the case is likely to be lost, and that a lot of money would be spent failing to achieve the purported goal. And if the action were eventually taken, under those circumstances, the ‘skeptical community’ could feel fully justified in contributing towards underwriting Simon Singh’s defence costs. That is an appropriate reaction to that situation.

          From the point of view of someone who perceives themselves as having been libelled (so independent of their actually having been libelled), receiving a suggestion that if they pursue any legal action they will be subject to “far more than you can chew”, like “what happened to the chiropractors”, from a “skeptical community” may well be seen as a pre-emptive attempt to silence them with threats. That is a perception (of hypocrisy, malice and corruption) that is unlikely to help the situation.

          The wisdom of encouraging people to write to the magazine depends on what outcome you are trying to achieve. If the point is to persuade them to stop producing the magazine (or radically change its contents) then the use of (belittling) phrases such as “He is worth all of you and more!” is likely to be counterproductive. But then the people responsible for producing the magazine are likely to be committed to/invested in their beliefs and not very amenable to being persuaded that they are wrong by any argument. This suggests that there would be more productive directions that this sort of effort could be taking instead.

  6. Adam
    October 4, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    I’m sure Singh would find it all very stressful if he was sued but he’d take it all the way to court if necessary and it’s clear from even a cursory summary that the magazine doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

  7. October 5, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    I submitted complaints last night to the Advertising Standards Authority about 26 adverts that appeared in the first two issues of WDDTY: What They Don’t Tell You

  8. pv
    October 5, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    Posting on Facebook, then deleting the post and denying you’d ever made the post! The hallmarks of a deliberate deception – just like McTaggart’s patronising, [deleted] justification for the existence of WDDTY. Seriously, if she actually [deleted] on BBC R4 the other day she is one [deleted] individual. But is she really ignorant or deluded?

    Edited by editor. You need to read our comment policy, PV.

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