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
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.
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.