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‘Bad Science’ and Malaria.

 

 

Copyright Ó Cropwatch Feb 2006.

 

 

 

The Guardian newspaper runs a ‘Bad Science’ weekly column written by Ben Goldacre, which regularly features Healthy Lifestyle/Alternative Medicine proponents as its principle target. Unfortunately, the pro-industry Goldacre rarely, if ever, takes on the scientific establishment, like the trans-international corporates or the (largely industry-funded) universities. And so major recent scientific scandals, like research scientists told to alter their findings or caught fiddling experimental data, PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists finding that commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention in the US environmental agencies, or the exploration of drug secrecy issues including the failure of drug regulators to do their jobs properly - ‘Bad Science’ if ever there was any - are all left completely unaddressed. Instead Goldacre focuses on far softer & safer (minor) targets, possibly those which will not wrap him up with instant retributory litigation. 

 

This week the focus is (yet again) on Susan Clark and her ‘What’s The Alternative’ column in the Sunday Times. According to Goldacre (Goldacre 2006), Clark has been advising people that “pau d’arco should be taken to prevent themselves from getting MRSA in hospital, and artemisinin to prevent malaria.” OK, in principle, Clark is quite probably out of order with this advice about taking artemisinin prophylactically, because there is the remotest chance it may just make a tiny contribution to the increased rate of development of drug resistance to this particular magic bullet (artemisinin you will remember is one of the actives in quinhao, from the Chinese plant Artemisia annua).

 

The bigger story is that Lee Long-Wok, WHO Director General told drug companies on 19th Jan 2006, that they must not market artemisinin except in combination with other anti-malaria drugs (Artemisinin Combination Therapies or ACT’s). Criticised drug company executives can be seen bleating all over the trade press. Except that Goldacre mentions this news by giving a pro-industry twist to it – writing about “the growing misuse of artemisinin” – “which you can still buy in your health store” apparently, and not mentioning drug companies at all. So you see, its not industry’s fault at all! In fact it’s all your fault for buying it! Oh - and, of course, Susan Clark’s fault for telling you to buy it in the first place.

 

A similar pro-industry blame-shift you might remember was reported in a previous article in this series on malaria @ http://www.cropwatch.org/insectbites.htm – here thousands of adverse drug reaction patent deaths were blamed on the local practitioners not giving the patients the correct advice for patient circumstances (through Laurance 2003).

 

In conclusion what we need is a truly investigative press – what we could do without is industry sympathisers with an axe to grind about proponents of alternative therapies. Being brave enough to report & take on some of the corruption in the scientific establishment would do the world a service. We wait in hope.

 

References

 

Goldacre B. “Bad Science: Resistance is Worst Than Useless.” The Guardian Saturday Feb 11 2006 p13.

 

Laurance J. (2003) “Reactions to Common Medicines Kill 10,000 each Year.” The Independent Fri 2 July 2004 p8.