Patrick Holford’s mentors and inspirations – but who are they exactly?

One of the lessons of reading material – especially on the internet – that deals with Alternative Therapy is that when people cite scientific-sounding “authority figures”, these luminaries aren’t always quite what they are being presented to you as.

Digging online will often reveal all, or at least a fair bit. But how many people bother?

Let’s take the example of media nutritionist Patrick Holford, and the mentors and teachers he mentions on his CV.

Diversion – skip the next bit if you are already familiar with the ongoing “Patrick Holford vs. the Bad Science Blogosphere” saga

The backstory – on the blogs I read that deal with pseudoscience, like Ben Goldacre’s Badscience, David Colquhoun’s Improbable Science, and the Quackometer, Patrick Holford has been getting a bit of a trashing. The Bad Science blogosphere has been examining his work, including his claims, in print and on TV, about such things as Vitamin C and HIV

Several of the bloggers have pointed out that Patrick’s CV, as printed on his website, contains a number of inaccuracies. They suggest that the net effect of these inaccuracies has been to tend to make Patrick seem more expert and scientifically-based than he actually is. For anyone wishing to catch up with all this, apart from the three blogs already mentioned, there is one devoted (if that’s the word) almost entirely to Patrick called Holfordwatch

Anyway, back to Patrick Holford’s mentors. I love a bit of Internet digging – especially when I’m dodging writing a turgid lecture – so thought I would investigate.

Let’s look at a key section of Holford’s CV, the bit detailing how he got started in looking into “nutrition and mental health”, which appears on his website here

“[Patrick] started his academic career in the field of psychology. While completing his bachelor degree in Experimental Psychology at the University of York he researched the role of nutrition in mental health and illness. He became a student of the late Dr Carl Pfeiffer, director of Princeton’s Brain Bio Center, and later a student of Dr Abram Hoffer, Director of the International Schizophrenia Foundation in Canada, who were leading the field in mental health and nutrition. In 1980 he started treating mental health patients with nutritional medicine.”

As has been observed by Patrick’s critics in the Blogosphere, the last sentence is interesting in itself since we don’t know where this happened. We also don’t know in what capacity Holford treated them, since he has no recognized postgraduate training or qualification in clinical psychology (either or sometimes both is necessary to become a psychologist treating patients in the NHS, for instance).

However, I want to focus on the two people Holford’s CV says he studied with after his degree – Drs Pfeiffer and Hoffer, described as “leading the field in mental health and nutrition”.

These two gentlemen are not quite what you might think. A different bio might read like this.

“Carl Pfeiffer and Abram Hoffer are controversial figures, known for their belief in treating psychiatric disorders with vitamin “therapies”. These practices were, and continue to be, regarded as having no real basis by mainstream medicine and psychiatry. By the 1970s Pfeiffer and Hoffer had largely ceased to publish in the mainstream scientific and medical journals, which they claimed were biased against their vitamin work. Hoffer quit academia for good in 1967 (many years before Patrick Holford came in contact with him) to go into private psychiatric practice (he later seems to have also used vitamin therapies to treat cancer sufferers). The “Princeton Brain Bio Center” which Pfeiffer directed was not affiliated in any way with Princeton University (as the name might suggest) but was a private clinic set up by Pfeiffer and his associates in the early 70s to offer nutritional therapies.

Pfeiffer and Hoffer’s work from the late 60s on appeared mainly (or pretty much wholly in Hoffer’s case) in the alternative literature, mostly in Hoffer’s own journal, founded in 1967 as the Journal of Schizophrenia. After several name changes the journal is now called The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine (JOM) .The JOM is where Patrick Holford has published several of the recent research papers listed on his CV.

The JOM is not listed on Medline (generally a prerequisite for a “serious” academic journal in the sciences), and espouses or has espoused many viewpoints regarded by mainstream medicine as dangerous and unfounded nonsense, e.g. the idea that mercury amalgam fillings cause mercury toxicity, the use of “chelation therapy” to address such mysterious supposed heavy metal toxicities and for other conditions, and dietary therapies for cancer. A brief list of areas of interest for the journal can be found on their front page

Apart from Pfeiffer and Hoffer (who between them authored over a hundred papers in the journal), other names familiar to those who follow the “Alternative Health” field appear as authors in the JOM, including Matthias Rath and the late Bernard Rimland. Rimland was the founder of the Autism Research Institute, which now promotes chelation and unproven nutritional therapies for autism, and supports Dr Andrew Wakefield. Rimland was a high-profile supporter of the discredited idea that the mercury preservative thimerosal in vaccines caused autism.”

To hear Dr Hoffer in his own voice, you can read a self-penned account of his life and work here, or his history of the JOM here

Given all the above, you may feel that an alternative to Pfeiffer and Hoffer “leading the field in mental health and nutrition” would be that Pfeiffer and Hoffer were “convinced that much mental illness was caused by nutritional imbalances and deficiencies, and were consequently regarded by mainstream psychiatrists as cranks”

As a final note, an extensive bibliography of Hoffer’s published work here reveals no articles co-authored with Patrick Holford, around 1979-1980 or since.

So when you see claims that Patrick Holford is “one of the world’s leading authorities on nutrition and mental health”:

…caveat emptor, as they say. All is not what it seems.

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42 Responses to “Patrick Holford’s mentors and inspirations – but who are they exactly?”

  1. Shinga Says:

    Very fine piece of sleuthing that provides some useful pointers and insights into the career of Prof Holford of Teesside University. I, too, had slugged through the Hoffer and Pfeiffer publications list, looking for signs of time-appropriate cooperation with Holford. The only thing that I found was a later book by Pfeiffer which is ‘edited’ by Holford on the ‘nutrition connection’ and schizophrenia; however, that is 1996 – so, a rather puzzling gap.

  2. SciencePunk Says:


    Jokes aside, an excellent first entry in what will no doubt become an excellent blog. If you need any wordpress help give me a shout.

  3. Better Blogs « jdc325’s Weblog Says:

    [...] Dr Aust’s Spleen [...]

  4. Steve Rolles Says:

    excellent work Dr Aust. Bravo on a fine first post.

    It is remarkable what lengths Holford will go to to dress up his pitiful qualifications as being serious and credible in the field of medicne. If he just talked rubbish it wouldnt be nearly as bad, and I dont think he would be attracting the attention he is. Its the Dr McKeith thing – pretending to be what your not – that is so offensive and provocative. And need I say, misleading and potentially dangerous.

  5. kelvinthroop Says:

    Interesting piece of research, Dr Aust. I’m adding you to my blogroll (assuming I’ve worked it correctly that is)

  6. draust Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, guys. Now all I have to do is think of something else to write about.

    Unfortunately the start of the University semester has induced a profound Existential Gloom Fugue State. If it lasts much longer I may have to treat it with some homeopathic Holford-isms. Or a qLink to keep the negative EMF from the students’ massed mobile phones at bay.

  7. Skeptic’s Circle, and a doctor’s spleen « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science Says:

    [...] – but Dr Aust’s blogging spleen also benefits from examination.  Go and read about his investigation of Patrick Holford’s mentors and [...]

  8. Patrick Holford and Some Interesting Errors on His CV and Profile « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science Says:

    [...] Update 6 29.09.07 – Dr Aust has posted an interesting examination of Holford’s mentors, Drs Hoffer and Pfeiffer [...]

  9. memory like water Says:

    It occurs to me that the sentence ‘In 1980 he started treating mental health patients with nutritional medicine’ could mean ‘treating’ in the medical sense, or, at the other extreme, just being nice to people while bringing them their hospital food from the trolley!

  10. draust Says:

    It’s a thought.

    One thing that occurs to me – as indicated above, by 1979-80 both Hoffer and Pfeiffer were in private medical practice (Hoffer running his own “nutritional practice” in Vancouver, I think, and Pfeiffer running the “Brain Bio Center”) dishing out nutritional medicine to voluntary “clients” / patients, some of them residential in Pfeiffer’s set-up. In neither case was this happening in a large medical / academic institution, and the patients would have been essentially self-referred, thus all people who were specifically and voluntarily seeking out nutritionally-based “therapies”.

    Given this I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Patrick’s “starting to treat mental health patients with nutrition” – to quote his CV – could have been with Hoffer or Pfeiffer, if he spent any substantial period of time (weeks? months?) as an “apprentice” to his two nutri-heroes.

    Private North American medical practice in those days would have been, I suspect, pretty lightly regulated beyond the treating doctor needing to having a medical degree and valid medical licence in the relevant jurisdiction. What regulatory requirements might have applied to any other “therapists” involved back then, who knows. In the US in particular private practice medicine is a for-pay business, and “caveat emptor” applies for the patients. There are many scary stories out there about what even people with genuine medical degrees will do for money. See e.g.:

  11. jdc325 Says:

    Bravo Dr Aust.

    Appeal to authority (‘I worked with Linus Pauling you know…’) seems to be a prerequisite for nutritionist-types. I believe Gillian McKeith and Patrick Holford both claim to have worked with the twice-Nobel-prize-winning chemist. They never seem to go into detail, though.

    Le canard noir refers to Pauling/Holford in the comments on this thread.

    Ben Goldacre refers to McKeith/Pauling in this blog post.

  12. draust Says:

    Abram Hoffer and Carl Pfeiffer both knew Linus Pauling in Pauling’s late Vitamin C phase, of course. Hoffer talks about this in some of his interviews / memoirs (some links in the post).

    The website provides a good primer on the close links between the orthomolecular founding crew. Check out their Orthomolecular Hall of Fame for a guide.

    Talking of younger Vitamin nutri-celebs, Matthias Rath worked in Pauling’s private orthomolecular Linus Pauling Institute in the 80s and 90s;according to Wikipedia he was “head of cardiovascular research”.

  13. draust Says:

    It is kind of sad about Linus Pauling. Pauling was, and I guess still is, a hero to all sorts of scientists for all sorts of reasons. When I was a Chemistry B.Sc. student in the 1980s we were taught about his work on chemical bonds, and told to buy his famous book The Nature of the Chemical Bond (1939). Pauling’s other great scientific achievement is protein structure, more specifically the solving of the structure of the alpha-helix at the start of the 50s. Pauling got the Chemistry Nobel in 1954 for the combination of the chemical bond stuff and protein structure, but it could quite justifiably have been one Nobel Prize for each. The sense of awe his name evoked among the biomolecular structural folk in the 50s is well conveyed in Jim Watson’s famous memoir The Double Helix.

    And then there was Pauling’s principled stand on nuclear weapons testing and pacifism, taken back in the 40s and 50s in the USA where/when such a stance was considered tantamount to being a “fellow-traveller” at best and probably a crypto-Communist. There can’t be many scientists of Pauling’s stature who had their passport confiscated by the US Govt because the Govt disliked their political views, as happened to Pauling in 1953. When Pauling got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 for his work to ban atmospheric nuclear tests he was pretty much either ignored or denounced in the USA.

    So Pauling stands out. I reckon most scientists in Chemistry or Biology would put him right up there as one of the true greats.

    And then you get to vitamins and “orthomolecular medicine”. *sigh*

    Pauling’s Wikipedia bio is an intriguing read here – it offers an interesting sort of timeline which gives indications about how, when and why Pauling became interested in the Vitamin stuff. I would suggest that the problem with Pauling’s thinking on biology was that he didn’t fully appreciate how “messy” biology is – cells, tissues, animals and people are incredibly chaotic systems compared to the “rule based” chemical bonds and even protein structures where his theoretical brilliance made him such a giant.

    Basically the trouble with brilliant ideas in biology is that you soon have to re-assess their brilliance when the experiments tell you they don’t work. I think physical scientists sometimes have trouble assimilating just how “uncontrolled” biological systems are, and thus why empirical testing out-guns piercing insight and plausible mechanism. See any number of “anti-oxidant pills good” theories shot down by experiments that show no benefit.

  14. jdc325 Says:

    One of the quotes attributed to Pauling on wikipedia is: “Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel Laureate, may be wrong… So you must always be skeptical – always think for yourself”.

    I like it. It’s almost as if he is saying ‘don’t take my word for it – find out for yourself’. Which, of course, is advice that the supporters of Orthomolecular Medicine so often fail to follow.

  15. draust Says:

    Yes, a good quote. It also emphasises why “Wiki” type scientific conclusions, based upon a bunch of people interpreting a body of solid critiqued / peer-reviewed evidence, tend to be more reliable than the inspired rantings of lone (and sometimes self-styled) gurus.

    Another one for the collection – attributed to Richard Feynman, though not sourced to anywhere in particular – that I always think of re. antioxidant vitamins and cardiovascular disease:

    “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

  16. LeeT Says:

    One thing that puzzles me – and I have asked this question on Holford Watch – is how did Patrick Holford get from University of York to working with Pfeiffer and Hoffer? Did he write to them and offer his services as a volunteer? Did they set out to recruit the brightest and best graduates available in the UK? If so did anyone else join him on the programme? How did he fund himself? I can’t imagine him getting money from any of the traditional UK sources for postgraduate studies. Did he study for a qualification? Unlikely I think as he has never mentioned it. If his work was not leading to, says a Masters, it must have been very unstructured. Who then supervised what he was doing or did he just make things up as he went along?

    Arrggghhh … questions … questions. To understand Patrick Holford we really need to have some idea of how his journey in to nutritional therapy began. Can anyone help ?!!

  17. draust Says:

    An interesting question, Lee.

    Since neither Pfeiffer or Hoffer worked in a recognised academic institution – and indeed neither had been in one for some years – I figure it could not possibly have been any kind of course or programme of higher degree studies.

    Personally I suspect PH just offered his services as some kind of volunteer. As his self-penned bio says, he could easily have come across their work while doing reading for a final yr dissertation or similar. Although Pfeiffer and Hoffer were both away in Alt-journal land by the late 70s, plenty of their earlier work – especially Hoffer’s early nutritional stuff -would have been available in the academic journals from the 50s and 60s. Hoffer was a prolific writer and apart from his published papers had produced several books, both on his nutritional therapy idea and on psychedelic drugs.

    There has sometimes been reference on Holfordwatch to an early interview with PH where he supposedly says more about his “start” in the Nutribiz. Never heard a “summary” of its contents, though. So I suspect we will never know the details of PH’s early path unless he pens an autobiography. And possibly not even then.

  18. LeeT Says:

    It is very frustrating that he will not reveal exactly what he was up to between leaving York and setting up The ION in 1984. A cynical observer might say that he has something to hide. There must be some out there with more information … Not sure how he funded those five years as presumably being an unknown alternatative health practioner was not very lucrative in the early 1980s.

  19. Persiflage Says:

    Hah! You’re all such children; ignorant and unknowledgeable in the Way of Patrick… Isn’t it obvious?

    It’s a well-established factoidism that Patrick Holford obtained his BSc. in experimental psychology in 1976, three whole years before he actually graduated. Putting alpha and omega together to reach a naturally-detoxifying conclusion, there is a self-evident reason for this apparent anomaly. Patrick Holford is really an entity from the future who has returned to this timeline to grant us poor souls the benefit of futuristic quantum nutri-science, which he reveals to us in small chunks lest he upset the balance of the space-time continuinuinuum.

    The earning-a-degree vs. officially-graduating discrepancy is just a case of his time machine over-shooting by three years, so he had to wait before fully assuming his cover identity. The five-year “gap” you talk about between graduation and the foundation of ION passed in the blink of an eye for Patrick; his time machine simply whisked him to the point where he could begin saving the human race.

    The Free Radicals he is so keen to eliminate are actually an evil cult of time-travellers bent on overthrowing the benevolent despotism of the Cosmic Overmind, the gestalt Earth-consciousness that leads the whole of humanity in the year 2525. They have begun their plans to thwart mankind’s’s glorious destiny by creating Big Pharma; a slew of organisations that are apparently in competition, but actually cooperate whole-heartedly in their efforts to dull the minds of the populace with their so-called “medicines”.

    The Free Radicals have also been plugging away steadily at our diets, ensuring that we turn away from natural, holistic foodstuffs and eat only toxified, pesticide-ridden, trans-fat-laden junk foods that are the source of all human disease. By doing these things, they have stalled our mental development and prevented us from becoming the super-beings we already would be if we’d only take more nutritional supplements… and thus the Cosmic Overmind may never arise.

    The nutrient supplements he espouses are necessary in order for us to reach a higher level of consciousness so we can perceive the evil time-terrorists, and when a sufficient number of us are thus astrally empowered he will explain how we can defeat them. He talks about “free radicals” in his books is just to let them know that their dastardly schemes will not go unopposed.

    I hope that makes things a bit clearer for you; and it’s just as likely to be accurate as anything any of you Scientism types come up with ;)

    I think I need to lay off the coffee after midday… I seem to have been channelling some diabolical cross between L. Ron Hubbard and Deepak Chopra for the past ten minutes!

  20. Duck Says:

    This is guesswork, informed by doing the same degree in the same place as Holford.
    Back in those days, the uni wouldn’t have had much of a library (it was founded in 1964), & didn’t have a medical school (founded 2003). Before ATHENS & e-journals, Holford wouldn’t have had much access to journals outside the uni either. So doing proper research on your own in the library would have been difficult.
    I’ve a very strong suspicion of where Holford may have worked during or after doing his degree, there being a local independent psychiatric hospital with a history of ‘alternative’ approaches (though they did also basically found modern clinical psychology that way too, so occasionally it does work).

  21. draust Says:

    Interesting post, Duck.

    A significant part of the early work of people like Pfeiffer and (especially) Hoffer appeared in the mainstream journals – we are talking here about the stuff they published in the 1950s and 1960s.

    As I said in the post, Abram Hoffer bailed on the mainstream in 1967 to found his own Alt journal, but until the mid 60s he was a well-known (if already controversial) figure in psychiatry in North America. Hoffer’s interest in vitamins went back to the 1940s. His most famous work showing niacin lowered cholesterol was published in 1955, and his first “megavitamin” paper in the late 50s. Some of his stuff with Humphry Osmond using LSD (sic) to treat alcoholism would also have been in mainstream places in the late 50s and early 60s. Hoffer’s bibliography is here, and you can see that the pre-mid-60s stuff is in “real” journals.

    Pfeiffer’s academic career was less left-field than Hoffer’s, consisting mostly of studies on the effects of various drugs of abuse. By the late phase of his academic career in the early 1970s, Pfeiffer was just starting to publish stuff on “mineral deficiencies” (e.g. zinc) related to mental illness. One or two of these were in mainstream journals (partial Pfeiffer bibilography here).

    So I reckon PH could have found some of Hoffer’s and Pfeiffer’s work in journals in the York Univ library – and of course, one could probably obtain other (non locally-available) stuff referred to in papers by inter-library loan. It’s a pity Univs usually trash final yr work (like dissertations) after 4 or 5 years – in contrast to PhD Theses which they keep forever – otherwise we could have looked up PH’s dissertation.

    I wonder if any of his York contemporaries went into mainstream psychology / clinical psychology? Is there an academic Friends Reunited that could track them down, I wonder.

    The independent psychiatric hospital in York link is an absolutely fascinating thought in terms of PH’s early development. I guess you mean this place. Wonder if they were ever into nutritional therapy? Their list of services (e.g. here) looks fairly un-barmy, though clearly holistic / psychotherapeutic as opposed to “disease-/ drug-focused”. So nutritional ideas might have fitted into their ethos.

  22. LeeT Says:

    Recently, I was browsing through “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” and Mr Holford provides part of the answer to our questions in the introduction. See:

    In 1977, which would have been the second year of his degree, he meets Brian and Celia Wright the founders of Higher Nature. (He appears to have had a minor fall out with them following his defection to Biocare.) He then says he discovered Pfeiffer and Hoffer whilst doing research in to schizophrenia. He was “fascinated, and before long went to America.” Presumably he wrote to Dr Carl Pfeiffer saying how fascinated he was and would it be possible to visit to help his ongoing research. Obviously, whatever he did was very impressive as according to his website ( within a year of his arrival “he started treating mental health patients with nutritional medicine.”

    A few paragraphs later he relates how he “founded the Institute for Optimum Nutrition.” He seems to have deliberately decided not to tell us what happened between 1980 and 1984. Imagine you were interviewing him for a job: “Yes Mr Holford, very interesting but what EXACTLY were you doing between 1980 and 1984?”

    These two folks don’t have any gaps in their CVs so why should the country’s leading nutritionist be allowed to get away with it?

  23. draust Says:

    Yes, we are thinking along the same lines, Lee – see my posts above from Oct 1st and 14th, inter alia.

    Just to re-state things, the minimal explanation based on the available info would seem to be that PH probably worked as a volunteer helper / therapist in Pfeiffer’s private clinic and/or at Hoffer’s Vancouver practise, presumably after he got his degree, so likely c. 1979-80 if he “started treating [people] in 1980″. Again, one would hypothesise that PH then presumably came back to the UK and set up c. 1980 as a private practise (and hence wholly unregulated) “nutritional therapist”. Then, as now, anyone, and I mean anyone, can put up a board and call themselves a “therapist” in the UK. Therapist, including nutritional therapist, is NOT, and never has been, a protected title.

    Er…. Caveat emptor.

  24. LeeT Says:

    It seems very reckless to let a foreigner you have never met loose on vulnerable people.

    Not sure how we can take this forward. Has anyone ever asked Mr H directly about his “history”? Does he take questions from the audience at his public “seminars”?

  25. LeeT Says:

    Just sent him a polite letter suggesting he might like to add a biography section to his website … Perhaps we’ll have an answer to our speculations later in the month ?

  26. draust Says:

    Hmm. best of luck, Lee. I somehow doubt he will be adding more explanation to the “profile” on his website – now with corrected degree date of 1979, incidentally. This bio has served him well, judging by how often is it reprinted / quoted by other AltHealth sites or paraphrased in features about him.

  27. Sally Says:

    I went to a lecture yesterday for reflexologists, and Holford was speaking. I should explain, first of all, that I’ve been aware of Holford since the eighties and bought a book of his then called ‘Metabolic Diet’. It worked, but you had to take a lot of his supplements too. I used Higher Nature supplements over the years. So when I went to hear him speak yesterday, I was enthusiastic and looking forward to what he had to say about nutrition.

    From the moment he opened his mouth I began to distrust him, not all at once, but just slightly, as he announced he once was a reflexologist. I don’t know why but it didn’t ring true. Then the seminar begain and his ceaseless marketing of Patrick Holford Bio Care products. As the seminar began, a woman bought in his books to the lecture room, and set up a table full of them plus his ‘Optimum Nutrition’ tablets-buy 3 months supply and get 10 quid off-only £94.99! Join his website for £20 and get a free copy of his book! With every projection about nutrition came a picture showing a container of the most appropriate supplement to take, in the Holford Bio Care range. He never mentioned Higher Nature which I had always associated with him, and thought of it as a company with integrity. I felt so put out by this guy I started checking him up on the net, and hence I found this site. I got the distinct impression this was someone who was over marketing himself and someone I couldn’t trust. I checked his cv and see nothing about him qualifying as a reflexologist.

  28. draust Says:

    Thanks for the insight into PH’s pitch technique, Sally. I’m not surprised the seminar ends up as a marketing opportunity for him, though it sounds more blatant than I would have expected.

    A lot of PH’s appeal over the years has been to do with his sounding (at least enough to convince the unwary) “expert and science-y” and less “huckster-ish”; this is partly why he has been so popular with the media. But the hard line amongst us nutritionist debunkers, taken for instance by Ben Goldacre and David Colquhoun, has been that this science-y-ness is just a more artfully disguised pitch to convince you of the “expert’s” tremendous erudition and authority, and hence to persuade you to stump up cash for their book/club membership/supplements. The only people who dispense science-based nutritional advice are dietitians. However, their advice generally is not popular with the Alt Nutrition and Alt Health communities as it is limited to what can be said with reasonable certainty, and thus includes no “superfoods”, antioxidants, fad diets etc etc.

    If you want to read more about PH and his various claims over the years, a site devoted entirely to him is Holfordwatch.

    I should warn you that you will undoubtedly find us, erm, unsympathetic to things like reflexology around here, as we are generally to alternative therapies whose basis is cultural / philosophical rather than medical / scientific.

    I have never heard of PH claiming to have done / used reflexology, so that is news to me. However, as various threads around the Blogosphere have discussed, there is pretty much no information anywhere about what PH was doing between 1979 (when he graduated from York) and 1984 when he set up the ION. I would bet money he was operating as some kind of private therapist over the years 1980-84, but as he has never elaborated we don’t know the what, where and when.

  29. Sally Says:

    I’d agree with you, when you say:

    ‘that this science-y-ness is just a more artfully disguised pitch to convince you of the “expert’s” tremendous erudition and authority, and hence to persuade you to stump up cash for their book/club membership/supplements.’

    It’s that whole ‘blinded by science’ thing. Infact, everything Holford knocks, he seems to replicate. i.e. the pharmaceutical companies who make big bucks, Atkins Diet, the GI diet and so on. Yet he is doing exactly the same with his Low GL diet, and is umpteen books on the subject. I was very suspicious and know I wasn’t alone in this, at the seminar. It was just one big sales pitch, and I’d not have gone along to an educational seminar if I’d been told it was a sales pitch. I thought he’d taken some of the crassest marketing techniques and mimicked them badly. We got a handout which said: Glycation, Methylation, Oxidation, Lipidation, Hydration and allergy. Then various columns and so on. I believe he gave us as few notes as he wanted to sell his books. He left little time for questions, and I was going to ask about Higher Nature as I was genuinely confused, and couldn’t see why he was flogging Bio Care so tirelessly. I see Higher Nature have now got a Dr Mark-the Mark I think refers to his first name not his second, which I find an irritating habit-why can’t they just put Dr Mark Atkinson? I bet they’re trying to copy the popular Dr. Phil in the USA.

    I have a certain amount of sympathy, by the way, to the unsympathetic approach you mention:

    ‘I should warn you that you will undoubtedly find us, erm, unsympathetic to things like reflexology around here, as we are generally to alternative therapies whose basis is cultural / philosophical rather than medical / scientific.’

    I would though, never set out to make claims I can’t verify or promise to do something that I can’t. I’m not a scientist though.

    I see Holford doesn’t mention his book ‘Metabolic Diet’ which was published in 1987 by Ebury Press. Your guess about his activity between 79 and 84 might be that he was writing books-it lists here (cover of Metabolic Diet)
    ‘The Whole Health Manual’, ‘The Whole Health Guide to Elemental Health’ and the best selling ‘Vitamin Vitality’.

  30. dvnutrix Says:

    Holford Watch has looked at The Whole Health Manual (complete with diagram) a few times, amongst other early works.

    Holford Watch would really like to hear more, Sally.

  31. Ephistopheles Says:

    David Colquhoun is past the official UK University retiring age for PAID employment (compulsory retirement at 65, or in a few places 67)… though it has not slowed him down scientifically. Anyway, being officially “retired” he is not on a “Professorial salary” any more, which is what the post Mac refers to was actually discussing.

    Almost certainly Colquhoun will be an “Emeritus” Professor (formally retired but in fact still active in science). I suspect he pays himself a small salary – research assistant equivalent, hence what he says in the post – out of a research grant.

    Some UK scientists in Colquhoun’s position choose to move at 65/67 to other countries where retiring age does not apply – e.g. Hugh Huxley, one of the doyens of muscle physiology, moved on reaching retirement age from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge to Brandeis. Others, like DC, who have a strong institutional loyalty, choose to stay put under various kinds of ad hoc arrangement.

    Posted by: Dr Aust | March 9, 2008 8:40 AM

    Oh, good Dr. Aust!.. :)
    Poor Dr.Aust… :(

    Oh, sancta simplicitas! (lat.) ;)

  32. Ephistopheles Says:

    Dr. Aust, it seems you waited for me ;)
    Have you questions to me?

  33. draust Says:

    Ephistopheles (and your assorted other aliases):

    Please take this tedious obsession with David Colquhoun somewhere else.

  34. Ephistopheles Says:

    Why “tedious”? Because the talk is not about you? It is envy, Dr.! ;)

    Unfortunately, you are right. I am not interested in your soul longer, Dr. Aust!
    Now I am interested in childish pure naive soul of old Professor.
    And only one thing confuses me…

  35. LeeT Says:

    I found an interesting section on Mr Holford’s website which list testimonies from his admirers

    My favourite is the one from Betty L – an interesting bit of information about what he was up to in the 1980s. Not sure if Betty is telling us that he cured her breast cancer

  36. Dr Aust Says:

    Well, I am personally pretty much convinced PH must have been in business as a private “nutritional therapist” in the years after 1980 and before / while setting up the ION in 1984. After all, when he started the ION in 1984 he was presumably passing on the “experience” gained in his time visiting Hoffer and Pfeiffer and from his own “practise”.

    I suppose clues are probably in PH’s earlier books, if one could get hold of them and read them without losing the will to live.

    Talking of his correspondent “Betty”, I rather suspect she would have had traditional breast cancer treatment, so probably surgery plus maybe other things. Like many another patient she probably then attributes to the “marvellous diet advised by this brilliant nutritionist” the recovery caused by (i) the treatment arresting the disease; and (ii) stopping chemo or radiation on completion of therapy. Even with just surgery you would doubtless feel pretty rotten afterwards.

    John Diamond wrote in Snake Oil about how people he talked to about cancer commonly made this same misattribution. An obvious inference would be that they often do this because successful real cancer therapies (which are based on killing cells, after all) almost always make people feel lousy before they feel better.

    Having read the testimonials, the most depressing to me was the one from “Janette M” mentioning that she had her mercury amalgam fillings yanked out.


    Of course, it is perfectly possible that some of these people, and others who have bought PH’s books, are now eating a healthier diet because they have followed the more mainstream / less daft bits of advice like – wait for it – eat more fresh fruit and veg, and more complex carbohydrates, less red meat and more lean protein.

    The two problems are that:

    (i) they also get a whole load of idiocy, Un-science and bamboozlement about supplements, antioxidants, homocysteine etc etc

    (ii) they are quite likely to have gotten the same basic diet advice from the GP but to have ignored it because it wasn’t dressed up in the cloak of bogus authority and ringed with hocus-pocus.

  37. LeeT Says:

    I think these testimonials prove to us that Patrick Holford really does believe that the plural of anecdote is data.

  38. jdc325 Says:

    “I think these testimonials prove to us that Patrick Holford really does believe that the plural of anecdote is data”.
    Ha – anecdata. I have a feeling that one or two people might have their own anecdote(s) about Patrick Holford’s advice that might not be quite as complimentary as the testimonials on his site. I know I do.

  39. Patrick Holford on Statins and Why You Should Spend Money on His Supplements As Well or Instead « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science Says:

    [...] the use of statins, yet advocate the supplementation of niacin to modify cholesterol levels (Dr Aust provides a good account of Holford’s mentor Abram Hoffer who is responsible for much of the early work on niacin). If you haven’t taken that part of [...]

  40. A year of Virtual Spleen « Dr Aust’s Spleen Says:

    [...] a year and ten days, actually. The blog opened for business on Sept 22nd last year with Patrick Holford’s mentors and inspirations – but who are they exactly? and the obligatory “About me” entry Hello World – Dr Aust goes live. At the time I was quite [...]

  41. LeeT Says:

    Earlier this evening I went to one of Patrick Holford’s seminars.

    After it ended I rushed up to the front of the hall to take my place in the queue with his admirers to ask some questions.

    I asked him what he was up to between graduating in 1979 and setting up the ION in 1984. He told me that Abram Hoffer had come over to lecture in Britain before the ION was set up. As we know in the early 80′s he began seeing patients. He said to me the ION was established because he had a three month waiting list in 1983. People were keen to learn what he knew hence the need for a training establishment.

  42. Chiropractic For Autism « Stuff And Nonsense Says:

    [...] idea that the mercury preservative thimerosal in vaccines caused autism”. [I quote from a piece by Dr Aust that refers to Rimland having authored papers in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. [...]

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