Faithlessness, Skepticism

“What Doctors Don’t Tell You”

I write a regular weekly column for a local newspaper in Horsham where I also run a Skeptics in the Pub cell. My column won’t get published this week. I am a little sad about this but I understand the difficulties and accept the decision graciously.

For the hell of it, here is the column that never was. 400 words of opinion on “What Doctors Don’t Tell You”.

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I don’t often make formal complaints about things that I find in shops but last week I just had to write an email to WHSmiths. On their shelves is a magazine called “What Doctors Don’t Tell You”. You will find it in the women’s or family health section.

Presented like any other popular health magazine, this publication is so riddled with ill-founded scaremongering that I am still not convinced that it isn’t a big joke on skeptics. I know quite a few people that have bought the magazine just for the pleasure of dissecting it. If this magazine was a clever trick to make money from the righteous indignation of skeptics then they have done a wonderful job. Unfortunately, I fear that this is a genuine magazine.

Stories include “How I avoided a hysterectomy with diet”, “Blood transfusions suppress the immune system”, “Antidepressant drugs killing the elderly” and “Berries help ward off Alzheimer’s”. More can be found on every single page. There’s an advert for courses in using quantum physics to improve your athletic performance and an article on how you can “sunbathe your diabetes away” too.

In a typically irresponsible article, they say “If you have slightly raised blood pressure (prehypertension), don’t turn to a drug – snack on some raisins every day to lower it.” This story exemplifies the dangers of this kind of anti-medicine propaganda. Desperate people with genuine medical need are encouraged to go against the advice of their doctors and to pursue other unproven treatments, putting themselves at risk.

The numerous high-street shops stocking this publication have done nothing deliberately wrong but I think their good faith has been abused. The magazine has the appearance of a mainstream, popular health magazine but its content seems to be defined solely by its opposition to mainstream medicine. That is, medicine that has been shown to work and that your doctor might recommend.

The pharmaceutical industry does have its flaws and these must be investigated and fixed but promoting quack treatments to desperate people is not going to help anyone except the sellers of ineffective remedies. This magazine tries as hard as it can to foster a sense of mistrust between patients and doctors as well as a general antipathy towards all drugs. After the measles epidemic we experienced in Sussex earlier this year, we must not allow this kind of rubbish to go unchallenged.

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UPDATE: I had a response from WHSmiths. Probably the same as everyone else’s:

Thank you for contacting us regarding the magazine “What the doctors don’t tell you”.

As the UK’s leading retailer of stationery, books, magazines and newspapers, we aim to offer our customers a wide choice of products, whilst also respecting customer views. Our customers often have widely differing opinions about the products we sell, so we aim to strike the right balance to meet the needs of all our customers.

We work closely with the magazine publishers to ensure that their products meet the expectations of our customers. Where we receive customer complaints about a certain publication, WHSmith commits to raise these concerns directly with the publisher.

Customer feedback is extremely important to us and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to share your concerns.

Kind Regards

3 Comments

  1. Clive Photo
    October 20, 2012    

    They tore it apart on R4…. Oh, wait, Ross already said it. If only more than 2 of us listened to R4.

  2. October 3, 2012    

    Cheers Ross – I listened to that at the time and it was fabulous. I feel a little sorry for the editor now – she’s using terms like “bullying”, “trolls” and “silencing” as if we haven’t heard it all before.

  3. October 3, 2012    

    The editor was on Inside Health on BBC radio 4 and pretty effectively taken to bits by Glasgow GP @mgtmccartney and the presenter Dr Mark Porter link ;
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n11xb

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