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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
- “What Doctors Don’t tell you” Hayley Stevens, 27/09/12
- What doctors don’t tell you Tessera, 27/09/12
- Forget Doctors- Read a Magazine. Labcoats Unbuttoned, 27/09/12
- What Quacks Don’t Tell You @miltonline, Twitter, 27/09/12
- The Magazine Of Doom Hayley Johnson, A Well Deserved Dose of Skepticism, 27/09/10
- What Quacks Don’t Tell You skeptichamster, 27/09/12
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You – the Magazine Jaycueaitch, Letting Off Steam, 30/09/12
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You – A Complainant’s Guide Sceptical Letter Writer, 01/10/12
- Should WHSmith Stock WDDTY Magazine? Andy Lewis, The Quackometer, 01/12/12
- Shouting fire in a crowded theatre… Keir Liddle, The Twenty-First Floor, 02/10/12
- Confronting Junk Science: Keep Calm And Carry On Ken, Popehat, 02/10/12
- “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” – Another Strategy PHDelinquent, 02/10/12
- What Mechanics Don’t Tell You @JohnStabler, Twitter, 02/10/12
- “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Simon Clare, 02/10/12
- Inside Health BBC Radio 4, 02/10/12 (Margaret McCartney’s references are here.)
- What Physicists Don’t Tell You @ofquack, Twitter, 03/10/12
Here are links to articles published following the legal threats:
- ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ mag threatens legal action against Simon Singh Doubtful News, 03/10/12 (also posted on Skeptic, here.)
- Simon Singh threatened with legal action for criticising health magazine Alok Jha, The Guardian, 03/10/12
- Simon Singh threatened with legal action for criticising health magazine Skeptic News, The Twenty-First Floor, 03/10/12
- Quack rag distributor threatens to sue Singh: relevant links and what you can do Josephine Jones 04/10/12
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You: responses to complaints Josephine Jones, 04/10/12
- The liability statement in “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” is kinda fun Jo Brodie, Stuff that occurs to me, 04/10/12
- What Magazines Don’t Tell You @garwboy, Twitter, 04/10/12
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You supermac49, Storify, 04/10/12
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You and the HPV Vaccine jdc, Stuff and Nonsense, 04/10/12
- What Geologists Don’t Tell You @errorgorilla, Twitter, 04/10/12
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You – A Publishing Sensation Andy Lewis, The Quackometer, 04/10/12
- What They Don’t Tell You The Nightingale Collaboration, 04/10/12
- They try it again Ophelia Benson, Butterflies and Wheels, 04/10/12
- Another lawsuit against Simon Singh… Dub i nGal, 04/10/12
- Free Speech and So-Called Pseudoscience Prague Stepchild, 05/10/12
- Elephants in the room Lynne McTaggart, 05/10/12
- Weekend Reading (Thanksgiving Edition) Science-Based Pharmacy, 06/10/12
- Background learning, for me, on Vitamin D and diabetes #wddty Jo Brodie, Stuff that occurs to me, 06/10/12
- Lynne McTaggart and Bryan Hubbard – What Doctors Don’t Tell You positivetv, 06/10/12
- What Astronomers Don’t Tell You @Tetenterre, Twitter, 08/10/12
- What Chemists Don’t Tell You via @zeno001, Twitter, 08/10/12
- What Plumbers Don’t Tell You via @zeno001, Twitter, 08/10/12
- CANCERquacktive’s congenital dishonesty What “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Don’t Tell You, 08/10/12
- Bullying What “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” Don’t Tell You, 09/10/12
- Lynne McTaggart’s Grown-Up Debate Ron Lewis, Sceptical Letter Writer, 10/10/12
- What a new consumer health magazine doesn’t tell you Dr Margaret McCartney, BMJ, 10/10/12 (free link via Margaret McCartney’s blog)
- What Doctors Don’t Tell You: There is something very wrong with our libel laws Simon Singh, The Independent, 11/10/12
- Have WHSmith even read my #WDDTY emails? Josephine Jones, 11/10/12
- What Victorians Don’t Tell You @PencilBloke, Twitter 12/10/12
- “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” magazine – reviewed in BMJ and Quackometer Gary Schwitzer, HEALTHNEWSREVIEW.ORG, 12/10/12
- Libel reform and the public interest Lee Turnpenny, 13/10/12 (also posted on SciLogs, here)
- The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Podcast 378 13/10/12
- Virtual Skeptics, Episode 10 (17 Oct 2012) 17/10/12
- 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 (email@example.com), Waitrose (firstname.lastname@example.org), Tesco (email@example.com) 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.