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I have once again been demonstrating enormous lackadaisicality in keeping up with my writing. In penance, I’m taking advantage of the Creative Commons license on the recently released final chapter of Ben Goldcare’s book.
It’s a horrifying look at the ways in which a kind of eco-romanticism—properly blended with colonial and racial privilege—can end up supporting oppression. He touches on the ways in which we westerners export not just suffering and death, but also denialist modes that just cut genuine activism, and, briefly, kill millions of people. After all, it’s easy to demonize Thabo Mbeki, a man who saw millions of people in his country dying of AIDS and encouraged them to eat more potatoes. It’s harder to see the western denialists standing behind him; harder still to look at the hundreds of thousands of prostitutes killed not just by AIDS or by men but by health policies and social structures that marginalize them, sometimes very, very literally.
This is an extract from
BAD SCIENCE by Ben Goldacre
Published by Harper Perennial 2009.
You are free to copy it, paste it, bake it, reprint it, read it aloud, as long as you don’t change it – including this bit – so that people know that they can find more ideas for free at www.badscience.net
The Doctor Will Sue You Now
This chapter did not appear in the original edition of this book, because for fifteen months leading up to September 2008 the vitamin-pill entrepreneur Matthias Rath was suing me personally, and the Guardian, for libel. This strategy brought only mixed success. For all that nutritionists may fantasise in public that any critic is somehow a pawn of big pharma, in private they would do well to remember that, like many my age who work in the public sector, I don’t own a flat. The Guardian generously paid for the lawyers, and in September 2008 Rath dropped his case, which had cost in excess of £500,000 to defend. Rath has paid £220,000 already, and the rest will hopefully follow. Nobody will ever repay me for the endless meetings, the time off work, or the days spent poring over tables filled with endlessly cross-referenced court documents.
On this last point there is, however, one small consolation, and I will spell it out as a cautionary tale: I now know more about Matthias Rath than almost any other person alive. My notes, references and witness statements, boxed up in the room where I am sitting right now, make a pile as tall as the man himself, and what I will write here is only a tiny fraction of the fuller story that is waiting to be told about him. This chapter, I should also mention, is available free online for anyone who wishes to see it.
Matthias Rath takes us rudely outside the contained, almost academic distance of this book. For the most part we’ve been interested in the intellectual and cultural consequences of bad science, the made-up facts in national newspapers, dubious academic practices in universities, some foolish pill-peddling, and so on. But what happens if we take these sleights of hand, these pill-marketing techniques, and transplant them out of our decadent Western context into a situation where things really matter?