Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

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There is no nutrional “therapist” whose doings have been the butt of more attention on the web. Ben Goldacre has been through his writings in meticulous detail. “Patrick Holford – “Food Is Better Than Medicine” South Africa Tour Blighted By HIV Claim” is particularly rivetting. The Holfordwatch web site is a mine of carefully-researched information.

It is bad enough that the University of Bedfordshire (in its previous incarnation as the University of Luton) accredited a Foundation Degree course in ‘nutritional therapy’, at`his Institute of Optimum Nutrition (IoN).

That saga was discussed in “Science in an age of endarkenment” as an example of how university accreditation committees can produce long pompous official reports that fail to discuss anything that matters (like ‘is it true?’).

Then came the even more mind-boggling news that Patrick Holford had been made a visiting professor at the University of Teesside. What on earth can be the university’s criteria be for awarding the title of professor? Download them and find out.

One criterion is “their contribution by research to the furtherance of knowledge”. Well it’s obviously not that one.

Another criterion is

“the application of knowledge in a systematic and original manner, designed to enhance wealth creation and/or the quality of life”

Well he has certainly created a lot of wealth for himself. The “application of knowledge” bit is just a little worrisome though.

Case for Patrick Holford as a Visiting Professor is a university document, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (download the whole document). The opening words are “Patrick Holford has an international reputation in terms of nutrition and mental health.”

I guess he has an international reputation. But to find what sort of reputation, just check the references at the top of this post. Unfortunately the document is anonymous. I guess that makes it safe to say that whoever wrote it must be a scientific ignoramus.


The case for Holford mentions the possibility of starting a northern Brain Bio centre. If you want to know more about that wheeze, check Holfordwatch. And now Holfordwatch has done a nice analysis of the whole document

Teesside’s Assistant Dean Research, Dr Barry Doyle sent an email to his vice chancellor, Graham Henderson, with this case document and “curriculum vitae, with extensive personal commentary” (missing -I’ve asked for it) (download the email).

It did the trick.

An “Extract from minutes of University of Teesside Professorial Conferment Committee, 25/06/2007” (download it) recorded the conferment of title. If there was any real discussion it has been cut out (I’ve asked for more). Or perhaps there was no discussion. It seems to be just another example of the box-ticking mentality that has become so prominent as universities succumb to the cult of managerialism. Those present were

Professor G Henderson, Vice-Chancellor (Chair)

Professor A Unsworth, University of Durham

Professor C Hardcastle, Deputy-VC (Research & Enterprise)

Professor E E Green, School of Social Sciences & Law

Professor F Nabhani, School of Science & Technology

Professor M Rampley, School of Arts & Media

How is it that the combined intellect of these luminaries seemed to be incapable of finding out about the candidate the facts that any teenager could unearth on five minutes with Google?

One despairs

Postscript

It seems that some of the staff at Teesside are not at all happy about the appointment either. On 24th August, this email arrived.

Colleagues

I wish to confirm that Professor Patrick Holford has been Conferred with the title of Visiting Professor at the University of Teesside through the School of Social Sciences and Law.He has not been Conferred with the title of Visiting Professor in Nutrition. He has no association with the School of Health & Social Care and in particular, the Institute of Health Sciences and Social Care Research which is led by Professor Carolyn Summerbell, Professor in Nutrition and Assistant Dean for Research.PaulProfessor Paul Keane, Dean
School of Health & Social Care
Centuria Building
University of Teesside


Some more information

In response to a Freedom of Information act request, sent on 7 December 2007, the University of Teesside has been quite forthcoming in providing documents that relate to Holford’s appointment. It is pretty clear that the whole episode has been a bit of an embarrassment to them. As a result of internal dissension within Teesside, Holford was banned from using the title “Visiting Professor” or “Visiting Professor in mental health and/or nutrition” but to use only “Visiting Professor in the School of Social Sciences”.

Download all the documents. (zip file, i.5 Mb)

There are comments on some of these documents here.

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19 Responses to Patrick Holford -a professor?

  • Watch out, David. He will be FRS next.

  • What comes first, though – the FRS or the knighthood?

    Reading the conferment committee minutes, I wonder if there’s some interesting discussion between the lines of the summary:
    – they say that “this was an unusual case”. Do they mean that Holford doesn’t have the qualifications and reputation for research that one would usual expect in an applicant for a professorship?
    – “the Committee reiterated the view that Visiting Professors should not be weighted as fully against the full Professorial Criteria”. Are they acknowledging that Holford falls well short of the ‘normal’ criteria for a professorial appointment?

  • Yes I asked for an explanation of “the Committee reiterated the view that Visiting Professors should not be weighted as fully against the full Professorial Criteria”.
    Is it just a semi-literate way of saying what you suggest? Probably yes.

  • “Prof. A Unsworth, University of Durham”

    It saddens me to learn that one of the people on the committee is the Director of Research for my current institution. No wonder I’m getting disillusioned with academia.

  • So, let’s get this straight.

    The CACTUS group at the University of Teesside has links to the $cientology-based Safe Harbor anti-psychiatry ‘alternative mental health’ organisation.(http://www.tees.ac.uk/schools/SSSL/cactus/links.cfm). The $cientologists at Safe Harbor count Patrick Holford as the first on their international advisory board. (http://www.alternativementalhealth.com/about/advisory.htm)

    Patrick ‘donates’ £12,500 to the University of Teeside. In return, he gets a full time student to work at his ‘clinic’ in Richmond and is conferred with the title of Visting Professor.

    If this ‘cash for honours’ represents the state of UK academia then we are indeed doomed.

  • does PH get to call himself Prof. Holford? Does he receive any access to university resources?

  • superburger –
    just waiting for it. Perhaps at the next TV ‘appointment’?
    then he’ll be able to ditch the ‘leading clinical nutritionist’ tag that has NutSoc and BDA members chortling…

    I know university depts are hard up but is Teeside such a crap university that they have to clutch at any commercial interest to keep afloat?

    Really can’t think of any other reason for the cod ‘qualification’ other than he’ll be ‘paying’ for a post-grad student to ‘do’ his science for him to the tune of £12,500.

    That’s another 12.5 Local Education Authorities he’ll have to pimp for the £1000 ‘fee’ for a minor mini-second mention on ‘Tonite with Trevor McDonut’ health ‘speshuls’ whilst Patrick Promotes Himself (Again, Ad Nauseum) For A Tedious Trial By Television

    ….Never thought Teeside was so broke that it had to tout Cargo-Cult therapists to fund their psychology departments – but what IS it about psychologists that they feel suitably qualified to pronounce on subjects they have little knowledge about? Patrick Holford/ Steve Baldwin/ Madeleine Portwood – all good at ‘nutrition-lite’ but SERIOUSLY worrying when it comes to playing registered nutritionist/ dietitian with children.
    Let’s hope Teeside’s Ethics Committee is a little more discerning when it comes to approving ‘clinical trials’. If they are, then we can rest easy. None of Patricks so-called ‘trials’ stand up to the flimsiest of scientific scrutiny

  • I assumed that he had been awarded the professorship under 2.1 b – the provision for artistic creation.

    the application of knowledge in a systematic and original manner, designed to enhance wealth creation and/or the quality of life (e.g. through technology transfer, policy advisory work, artistic creation…). [my emphasis]

    I could see the argument for fiction rather than actual artistic merit and I can understand the role that he has played for wealth creation amongst various groups. His erudition on statins was certainly an extraordinary piece of artistic creation.

  • “Patrick Holford has an international reputation in terms of nutrition and mental health”.

    Brilliant! I started laughing even before I’d read your response. Some reputation.

    Now, who else do we know with an international reputation? Dr *ahem* Gillian McKeith? She most certainly has an “international reputation in terms of nutrition”. Lol.

    Perhaps the University of Teesside would care to offer her a visiting position as well?

  • Initially, I wrote to Teesside thinking perhaps there was an error in the Times article. I couldn’t believe that he actually had been made Visiting Professor.

  • Perhaps one practical answer to his appointment is for everyone at Teesside to be out when he Visits.

  • “the Committee reiterated the view that Visiting Professors should not be weighted as fully against the full Professorial Criteria”.

    This effectively means “we can make whoever we like an honorary Professor if it offers us some advantage”

    I would think this is typical of most / all Univs as a wording – if you had to “qualify” on strictly academic grounds to be an Honorary Professor, there would be rather few, if any, Honorary Professors. Not that I would care all that much, speaking from inside a Univ.

    Anyway, I would bet money most Universities operate to a system where there are minimal criteria for Honorary Appointments, especially at the “High Grace and Favour” level. They will use a formula which in practise means, as I said on one of the other threads, “we can make anyone an Honorary Professor who has achieved some sort of distinction in their field of work, which should relate to the notional subject of the Professorship”

    In Patrick’s case this would presumably read something like “distinction in his field of work, namely evangelically promoting nutritional cures for anything and everything, all evidence to the contrary.”

    Here’s hoping Teeside are wishing the earth would swallow them up. If I were Teeside’s legit nutrition or bioscience people I would refuse to go to Patrick’s inauguration ceremony or “Professorial lecture” as a protest at the Univ making them all into a laughing stock.

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