Quack rag distributor threatens to sue Singh: relevant links and what you can do

Science writer and libel reform campaigner, Simon Singh has been threatened with legal action for criticising the controversial alternative health magazine, What Doctors Don’t Tell You.

If you’re wondering what his problem is, just take a look at the front cover:

Singh dared to suggest that it could be irresponsible of high street retailers to stock the title and shared his concerns with the distributor, Comag.

They apparently (essentially) told him to shove off and when he suggested he might blog the email exchange, things really went to pieces.

Comag wrote in an email to Singh:

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.

And in a subsequent email, they confirmed that they had instructed legal counsel.

This is somewhat ironic considering that the magazine’s owner, Lynne McTaggart had argued in favour of free speech, even referring to critics such as Singh and Hayley Stevens as ‘bully boys’ and ‘trolls’.

It seems it’s fine to suggest women should lock up their daughters to spare them from the HPV vaccine (page 3 of the October edition) and to assert that researchers say popular sunscreens cause skin cancer (page 9), but wrong to suggest that it might be irresponsible to allow this misleading, alarmist nonsense a high street presence.

If Comag are concerned about their reputation then threatening to sue was perhaps not a wise move.

The British Chiropractic Association may be inclined to agree, as might the Burzynski Clinic.

UPDATE 06/10/12

Lynne McTaggart has unconvincingly claimed that the Guardian story was a complete fabrication and that Singh was attempting to ban the magazine, after deleting a Facebook page in which she had stated:

“New developments on the ‘banning’ of WDDTY: 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.

If you wish to see What Doctors Don’t Tell You on the newsstand shelves, don’t forget to write to:

WH Smith
Customer.Relations@WHSmith.co.uk

Waitrose
customersupport@waitrose.co.uk

Sainsbury’s
customerservice@sainsburys.co.uk

Once it came to light that people had made copies of the page in question, Lynne explained that she had deleted the post ‘to stop fanning the flames of a made-up story‘. She went on to say:

I personally would not threaten anyone with libel. I would just sue them, as I did (successfully) when a well-known American author plagiarized me.

She elaborates on this on her blog, here.

Relevant links

Firstly, here are all the links I could find from the period between 27th September (when Singh and Andy Lewis first mentioned that WHSmith were stocking the magazine) and early on 3rd October, when we first heard legal counsel had been instructed.

The BBC Radio 4 Inside Health programme is well worth a listen, where Dr Margaret McCartney points out that What Doctors Tell You is emphatically not an evidence based publication.

I also recommend link number 8 – which explains how almost all of the ads in the current edition could be in breach of advertising guidelines and that some of them are probably also breaking the law. (EDIT 04/10/12 The Nightingale Collaboration have submitted 26 complaints to the ASA about WDDTY ads – surely the greatest number for a single publication.)

  1. “What Doctors Don’t tell you” Hayley Stevens, 27/09/12
  2. What doctors don’t tell you Tessera, 27/09/12
  3. Forget Doctors- Read a Magazine. Labcoats Unbuttoned, 27/09/12
  4. What Quacks Don’t Tell You @miltonline, Twitter, 27/09/12
  5. The Magazine Of Doom Hayley Johnson, A Well Deserved Dose of Skepticism, 27/09/10
  6. What Quacks Don’t Tell You skeptichamster, 27/09/12
  7. What Doctors Don’t Tell You – the Magazine Jaycueaitch, Letting Off Steam, 30/09/12
  8. What Doctors Don’t Tell You – A Complainant’s Guide Sceptical Letter Writer, 01/10/12
  9. Should WHSmith Stock WDDTY Magazine? Andy Lewis, The Quackometer, 01/12/12
  10. Shouting fire in a crowded theatre… Keir Liddle, The Twenty-First Floor, 02/10/12
  11. Confronting Junk Science: Keep Calm And Carry On Ken, Popehat, 02/10/12
  12. “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” – Another Strategy PHDelinquent, 02/10/12
  13. What Mechanics Don’t Tell You @JohnStabler, Twitter, 02/10/12
  14. “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Simon Clare, 02/10/12
  15. Inside Health BBC Radio 4, 02/10/12 (Margaret McCartney’s references are here.)
  16. What Physicists Don’t Tell You @ofquack, Twitter, 03/10/12

Here are links to articles published following the legal threats:

  1. What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ mag threatens legal action against Simon Singh Doubtful News, 03/10/12 (also posted on Skeptic, here.)
  2. Simon Singh threatened with legal action for criticising health magazine Alok Jha, The Guardian, 03/10/12
  3. Simon Singh threatened with legal action for criticising health magazine Skeptic News, The Twenty-First Floor, 03/10/12
  4. Quack rag distributor threatens to sue Singh: relevant links and what you can do Josephine Jones 04/10/12
  5. What Doctors Don’t Tell You: responses to complaints Josephine Jones, 04/10/12
  6. The liability statement in “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” is kinda fun Jo Brodie, Stuff that occurs to me, 04/10/12
  7. What Magazines Don’t Tell You @garwboy, Twitter, 04/10/12
  8. What Doctors Don’t Tell You supermac49, Storify, 04/10/12
  9. What Doctors Don’t Tell You and the HPV Vaccine jdc, Stuff and Nonsense, 04/10/12
  10. What Geologists Don’t Tell You @errorgorilla, Twitter, 04/10/12
  11. What Doctors Don’t Tell You – A Publishing Sensation Andy Lewis, The Quackometer, 04/10/12
  12. What They Don’t Tell You The Nightingale Collaboration, 04/10/12
  13. They try it again Ophelia Benson, Butterflies and Wheels, 04/10/12
  14. Another lawsuit against Simon Singh… Dub i nGal, 04/10/12
  15. Free Speech and So-Called Pseudoscience Prague Stepchild, 05/10/12
  16. Elephants in the room Lynne McTaggart, 05/10/12
  17. Weekend Reading (Thanksgiving Edition) Science-Based Pharmacy, 06/10/12
  18. Background learning, for me, on Vitamin D and diabetes #wddty Jo Brodie, Stuff that occurs to me, 06/10/12
  19. Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard – What Doctors Don’t Tell You positivetv, 06/10/12
  20. What Astronomers Don’t Tell You @Tetenterre, Twitter, 08/10/12
  21. What Chemists Don’t Tell You via @zeno001, Twitter, 08/10/12
  22. What Plumbers Don’t Tell You via @zeno001, Twitter, 08/10/12
  23. CANCERquacktive’s congenital dishonesty What “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Don’t Tell You, 08/10/12
  24. Bullying What “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Don’t Tell You, 09/10/12
  25. Lynne McTaggart’s Grown-Up Debate Ron Lewis, Sceptical Letter Writer, 10/10/12
  26. What a new consumer health magazine doesn’t tell you Dr Margaret McCartney, BMJ, 10/10/12 (free link via Margaret McCartney’s blog)
  27. What Doctors Don’t Tell You: There is something very wrong with our libel laws Simon Singh, The Independent, 11/10/12
  28. Have WHSmith even read my #WDDTY emails? Josephine Jones, 11/10/12
  29. What Victorians Don’t Tell You @PencilBloke, Twitter 12/10/12
  30. “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” magazine – reviewed in BMJ and Quackometer Gary Schwitzer, HEALTHNEWSREVIEW.ORG, 12/10/12
  31. Libel reform and the public interest Lee Turnpenny, 13/10/12 (also posted on SciLogs, here)
  32. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Podcast 378 13/10/12
  33. Virtual Skeptics, Episode 10 (17 Oct 2012) 17/10/12
  34. What Doctors Don’t Tell You David, The Stortford Skeptic, 14/10/12

I will be adding new links as they appear.

UPDATE 12/03/13 There are up to date links on my new post, WDDTY: My Master List.

What you can do

  • Raise concerns with WHSmith (Customer.Relations@WHSmith.co.uk), Sainsbury’s (customerservice@sainsburys.co.uk), Waitrose (customersupport@waitrose.co.uk), Tesco (customer.services@tesco.co.uk) Morrisons and Asda.
  • Write to the distributor, Comag Specialist yourself (but whatever you do, don’t publish the correspondence!)
  • See this post for full details on the ads. There is no longer any need to report the WDDTY advertisers to the ASA (that has has been done already, by the Nightingale Collaboration), though some could possibly be reported to the MHRA).
  • Write a blogpost, send me a link (as a comment below or here) and I will include it above
  • Use the #WDDTY Twitter hashtag for posting related links and observations, and the #whatdoctorsdonttellyou one for merry quips.

37 responses to “Quack rag distributor threatens to sue Singh: relevant links and what you can do

  1. As always, excellent work in corralling this stuff together.

    When you say ‘no further complaints necessary to the ASA’ – I wondered about that.

    If Crapco and Guffcom advertise their products in The Sunday Colour Supplement I can presumably complain about the two separate adverts in that newspaper – it’s not a single complaint about the paper…?

    I know that the ASA will act on one complaint but I can’t help thinking that the adjudication will look nice if it has ‘number of complainants: umpteen’ rather than 1, but also I think there’s an opportunity to complain about something on almost every page ;)

    Ought we to divvy things up among us to avoid swamping the ASA / MHRA with more-than-one complaint where it’s not really necessary though?

    I’m actually not sure who to complain to about the Vitamin D and diabetes story – Press Complaints?! The article didn’t appear to be selling any particular brand, and at least it did recommend speaking to someone medically qualified (who is presumably expected by the magazine to sit there tight-lipped, not telling you the ‘what’ you want them to hoho).

    Jo

    • The Nightingale Collaboration have submitted a mass ASA complaint and any further complaints would just create more work unnecessarily (though I’m only human and of course agree there could be a certain pleasure to be taken in complaint counting!) And it’s still remarkable that this is possibly the most (legitimate) complaints to be made about a single publication.

      As far as the PCC is concerned, I’m not sure if WDDTY comes under their remit or not. I could do with finding out so I can update the post accordingly. On the other hand, I don’t have much faith in them anyway.

      I think (and I got the idea from you on Twitter) that it might be worth contacting “experts” about particular articles. It could be useful if, say, Asthma UK issued a statement about the dreadful “End your child’s wheezing without drugs” article.

  2. Please note Doubtful News is the ORIGINAL post, not skeptic.com. Link should go here. http://wp.me/p21oZP-3LT

  3. I can only describe Simon Singh (and Hayley Stevens) as brave heroes.

    I trust the Streisand Effect will ensue

  4. Pingback: What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You and the HPV Vaccine « Stuff And Nonsense

  5. The link the facebook page of LynneMcTaggart2011 j not appear to work. Has the post been removed? Or perhaps, do I need to join The Facebook?

  6. The facebook post in which Lynne McTaggart first mentioned Simon Singh having been told essentially to ‘shove off’ by Comag and in which she seemed to insinuate tweets by Singh could be libellous seems to have been deleted.

    I have therefore updated to my link so that it now goes to the Guardian story, rather than the missing facebook page.

  7. Pingback: What Doctors Don’t Tell You – A Publishing Sensation | The Quackometer Blog

  8. Does anyone have screen shots of comments posted to McTaggart’s FB page prior to deletion? I took a few but have been banished & deleted before I was able to capture them all.

    • I’ve just opened my laptop and found it happened to be open on that very page. I took a screenshot.

      The text said:

      “New developments on the ‘banning’ of WDDTY: 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.

      If you wish to see What Doctors Don’t Tell You on the newsstand shelves, don’t forget to write to:

      WH Smith
      Customer.Relations@WHSmith.co.uk

      Waitrose
      customersupport@waitrose.co.uk

      Sainsbury’s
      customerservice@sainsburys.co.uk

      • Thanks Josephine! I did see that post -or similar- on her “Lynne McTaggart” page (from which I was deleted and blocked). Now I have found my way to her “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” page & shall see how long I last there. LOL! .I thought it would be more polite to question her on her personal page, but now I suppose I’m given no other option but to confront her on her magazine page. :-)

  9. My screenshot includes comments too.

  10. Pingback: They try it again | Butterflies and Wheels

  11. Another corporate temper tantrum from a bunch of tools who never heard of the McLibel case. Where’s my popcorn?

  12. Pingback: Weekend Reading (Thanksgiving Edition) « Science-Based Pharmacy

  13. Maybe somebody should issue a reply to Comag along the lines of Arkell v. Pressdram…

  14. Pingback: CANCERquacktive’s congenital dishonesty | What "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Don't Tell You

  15. Pingback: Bullying | What "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Don't Tell You

  16. Pingback: Colon quacks sue WordPress | Josephine Jones

  17. Pingback: Yet another quack company litigates against its critics | Josephine Jones

  18. Pingback: Yet another quack company litigates against its critics | Josephine Jones

  19. Pingback: Libel reform and the public interest « Lee Turnpenny

  20. Pingback: Libel reform and the public interest | The Mawk Moth Profligacies

  21. Pingback: Virtual Skeptics, Episode 10 (17 Oct 2012) « The Virtual Skeptics

  22. Can’t wait to see Simple Simon in court again, who is this calculator geek anyway, the guy believes in the woo of flu vaccination! He is the kind of person that thinks statins are the way to go!

    How under informed and unscientific is that!
    We have had massive Dept of Health scams using millions of taxpayers money like the swine flu one, Simple Simons self appointed self aggrandisement is at least very patronizing and at the worst attempting to impose some kind of central dictat on how the public should conduct its health affairs.

    I really hope that he is told to shove off. Looking forward to organising a Simons in court party to highlight how dangerous twats can lead official bodies into gwana and put the health of the nation at risk.
    Did Simple Simon have a flu jab and if not why not, we should be told, he is like Mary Sodding Whitehouse.

  23. Another scam about to happen, have you seen all those adds for antacids on tv for the coming Xmas period. Are you aware of their link with osteoporosis? This is the kind of thing that Simple Simon needs to focus on, no warnings in these adds for this devastating condition. Can you please put screen shots of the rest of WDDDTY up so that those of us that missed it can have a proper read, really appreciate that.

    I think it’s really cruel that you are letting Simple Simon be the fall guy here, it’s the septic community that needs to be in the dock, he’s just a guy who wrote a boring book on theory and has avoided court, not the sort of person I want assuming the position he was never asked to assume.

  24. “It seems it’s fine to suggest women should lock up their daughters to spare them from the HPV vaccine (page 3 of the October edition) and to assert that researchers say popular sunscreens cause skin cancer (page 9), but wrong to suggest that it might be irresponsible to allow this misleading, alarmist nonsense a high street presence”Jolly JJ

    You might not like this but the HPV vaccine was a scam and the public have a right to know about it. Vitamin D deficiency is now officially known to be behind the epidemics of MS and cancer in Scotland so what exactly is your problem with these articles.

    I think considering WHS is a big player and probably checked out every article in WDDTY I should think Simple Simon is going to be nailed to the plank and the joy of that moment is hovering. Maybe the whole of the nightypants crew will go down too, I hope they are posting on this and then the world can flush these people off and away.

  25. Why don’t you all move to China and slag of TCM and see what living in a non democratic republic does to people who tell lies.

  26. Pingback: WDDTY: My Master List | Josephine Jones

  27. To me, the level of bias and misinformation in this article is far worse than the magazine it purports to criticise. What nobody here seems to apprehend is that there is not a level playing field for natural and alternative medicine. Substantive randomised clinical trials cost millions of pounds to undertake, and as natural products cannot be patented such an undertaking cannot be contemplated, as there is simply no-way to recoup the massive investment needed.

    I became a convert to natural medicine for one reason, and one reason alone – because it works – profoundly, remarkably, and completely.

    With every health condition I’ve experienced, I have indulged my doctor and his prescription remedies with little or no effect. On every occasion, I’ve gone on to research and identify a natural remedy that has completely cured and reversed my condition, while modern medicine has entirely failed me.

    Let me give you just one simple example of where I’m coming from. Science has yet to conclude a substantive study which proves outright the benefits of the Echinacea herb. Yet after suffering severe bronchitis every year for 10 years I stepped out on a limb and gave it a try. As a result, I’ve completely eliminated bronchitis for the last 9 years running. No more Christmas’s ruined by the misery of painful coughing and wheezing due to a terrible infection. Result – one very happy camper!

    If you want to wait until the benefits of Echinacea have been completely substantiated, go right ahead. For me, I prefer to make my own mind-up and live healthily and happily now, thank you very much. I’ve now cured and reversed every condition from IBS to heart disease. I literally owe my life to natural medicine – and have often been led toward the cure by articles such as those you are so ready to criticise and condemn. Call me crazy – but I believe articles like these are doing more good for the health and wellbeing of our nation than the whole of medical science combined. And I will continue to invest my money and my faith in natural remedies – because they work – full stop. A fact which is a far cry from the barrage of synthetic chemicals produced by corrupt drug companies which are deliberately designed to do nothing more than mask and ameliorate the symptoms of disease. If you care for your health and that of your loved ones, I sincerely hope you leave your bias under you seat long enough to discover this happy truth for yourself.

    And the good news is that as high quality natural supplements pose no risk to your health, you can experiment and try them out for size until you find one that gives you the results you’re looking for. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of pharmaceutical drugs. Death due to adverse drug effects is now estimated to be the fourth leading cause of death in the world.

    Unfortunately, due to the dynamics of modern medicine, natural medicine will be forced to remain the poor brother to the pharmaceutical industry – and those of us who have experienced the life-changing benefits of natural medicine will have to continue to rely on tradition and small scale studies to uncover the truths of nature’s miraculous remedies.

    • This comment has now been posted under three different articles on this blog. I’m treating it as spam, stopping just short of deleting it.

      • That’s your prerogative of course Josephine. I notice your comments are littered through the response sections of all three articles too – so I suppose you must also consider yourself a ‘spammer’?

  28. @Max – you do realize this is her Blog, right?

    And I wonder what you have to say about the “Multi-billion dollar” natural remedy market? Supplements alone are worth billions of dollars per year at insane profit margins for the companies that manufacture them.

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