Keeping it unreal

A correction: Matthias Rath vs. Ben Goldacre and the Guardian

In September 2008 the Badscience Blogosphere, in common with media outlets, reported that controversial vitamin entrepreneur Dr Matthias Rath had dropped a legal action for defamation against writer Ben Goldacre and the Guardian, a major debacle for Rath.

We now realise that this impression, conveyed in headlines like:

”Fall of the doctor who said his vitamins would cure AIDS”

(The Guardian, Sept 12th 2008)

”The Matthias Rath case exposes the difference between science and its imitators”

(The Times, Sept 20th 2008)

”One small additional reason to despise Matthias Rath – he sues over good honest journalism”

(Holfordwatch, 12th Sept 2008)

”Matthias Rath drops his million pound legal case against me and the Guardian”

( 12th Sept 2008)

”The Gripes of Rath”

(DC’s Improbable Science, Sept 13th 2008)

(and many others, see also here (Gimpy), here (the Quackometer) and here (jdc 325))

– was wholly misleading.

These articles conveyed the erroneous impression that Dr Rath and his organisation had, in effect, lost the court case. We had inferred this from the reports that Dr Rath had abandoned the legal action, in which he had been seeking judgement and damages against Goldacre and the Guardian, and been ordered to pay the newspaper’s legal costs.

However, this state of affairs was, we are now forced to admit, only true in one particular frame of reality. This particular reality is commonly described as “reality”, but we must now learn to call it instead the “False Pharma-Reality” – because it is clearly a corrupt product of the “Pharma-Geschäft mit der Wirklichkeit”, which translates from the original German as ”the Pharma business with reality”, or “the Pharma trade in reality”.

In fact, as reported in the parallel reality on the website of the Dr Rath Foundation, the court case was a tremendous and epochal victory for Dr Rath. This can be seen from the triumphant coverage here and here:

“In a historic case at the High Court in London, the British newspaper The Guardian was sued for maintaining the fraudulent claims that ARV drugs are life saving and life prolonging. Dr. Matthias Rath, who initiated this litigation, together with his colleagues, gave the newspaper and its team of ARV promoting experts the opportunity to defend their false claims under oath. They could not. The details of this historic litigation are documented here.

The year 2008 marks a watershed for the multi-billion dollar ARV business: it has been exposed as a hoax in sworn court testimonies. By publishing this historic exchange of scientific arguments conducted under oath – and details of the capitulation of the ARV promoters in the face of the scientific facts – insurance companies, governments and above all millions of patients now have a legal base from which to hold responsible the drug companies involved in such unscrupulous and criminal behavior.”

This also makes clear why no nutritionist in the UK has ever commented on the Rath vs. Goldacre case. Simply put, in the nutritionists’ particular reality the case was, as described, a triumphant vindication for Dr Rath, and not a defeat.

We are delighted to have the chance to print this correction, and apologise unreservedly to our readers for having led them to believe that there was any such thing as reality.


Following publication of the above correction, the organisation “Concerned Citizens for Reality Freedom” has asked us to print the following article in our recurring “Comment is Free (of reality)” feature, where people involved with an issue the BadScience Blogosphere has covered respond to the coverage.

We demand universal freedom of reality – a basic human right

“We are delighted to hear that the true story of how Dr Rath won a magnificent victory for truth by spending a great deal of money on lawyers’ fees has now been told. It is typical of the lies and deceptions of the bought-and-paid-for front men of the Illuminati New World Order Icarus-Sect Lizard Overlords global Pharma-Cartel that they are promulgating the discredited idea that an account of what actually happened can ever constitute any kind of meaningful “truth”.

All concerned citizens must be eternally vigilant against those who will try to claim that “reality” is truly “reality”, rather than “Pharma-Reality”. They should be especially sceptical of the claims of blinkered scientists, doctors and other “experts” in the pay of the global Pharma-Cartel, who will try to insist that this “reality” represents some kind of privileged empirical reality, as attested to by verifiable scientific data. As a mark potential cash-cow useful idiot concerned citizen, you should not believe them, but should instead stand up for your human right to a reality of your choice, as Dr Rath has so successfully done.

Our unreality is under threat! Get involved! Join us in the global campaign for ”Reality Freedom”. Our two key slogans, which we expect to be available soon on a range of badges, T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers, are:

“Reality – no thanks!”

(from the original German: Wirklichkeit – Nein Danke!)


“Keeping it unreal”

Come and fight alongside us – for a personal reality of your own choosing.“



Useful links:

UK press gazette – brief interim coverage of earlier stages of the case from March 08. The story concerns an “evidentiary” legal decision relating to the case that can be found in full here (NB – PDF).

Brief video in which Rath gives his own account of the libel case he brought against the British Medical Journal a couple of years ago. Interestingly, his view of what the case was about does not seem to match the BMJ’s published apology. A comment on this intriguing discrepancy can be found here.

Extended video clip from the Guardian detailing Rath’s activities in South Africa. Anyone who is unclear about the nature of the Herr Dr’s “engagement” should watch this.

Guardian page with links to all their coverage of Rath and the court case.


25 Responses to “Keeping it unreal”

  1. dvnutrix Says:

    It is time to cast off the shackles and embrace the leadership of Our New Alt.Reality Over-Lords Who Alone Can Free Us of the Stifling Hegemony of Science or Evidence-Based Decision-Making.

    Let us lend our weight to the wheel and signatures to petitions that demand the use of Brain Gym to teach Reality Freedom in our schools. With any luck – by the time we usher in the new decade, Keeping it Unreal will be the watchword of all public leaders and commentators.

  2. Sceric Says:

    Where can I sign in for the Alternative Reality???
    Good one Dr. A. (again!).
    In the end I just can’t make up my mind, if Rath would find more in a series of the Twilight Zone or something more ghoulish like Tales from the Crypt [and I apologize to any crazy Stephen King character for that comment].

    Keep those nails on the Rath Foundation coffin coming!

  3. draust Says:

    Where can I sign in for the Alternative Reality???

    You could always try our friends at the Rath-Partei, oops, sorry, AGFG, Eric – they seem very committed to “alternative Wirklichkeit” (!).

    Re. the Rath Foundation, the website (s) are a true treasure trove of Alternative Reality, not to mention flat-out craziness. You could keep sifting through them for years and never run out of material. Just a look at the front page is enough to leave your jaw on the floor. For instance, I spotted just today that the Herr Dr has a new term of his own for the Illuminati / Pharma-cartel / New World Order, namely the “Icarus-Sect”.

  4. Sceric Says:

    aiii, that hurt’s! Icarus-Sect!! I should tell that to my Greek employeers…they could make a research group out of that (Hermes and Athene we already had)…

    I’d rather vote for the “Deutsche Biertrinker Partei” (although I think they’re not in the polls anymore)…they are rather less obnoxious to read in MHO

  5. draust Says:

    Yes. There is a certain attraction in casting a “protest vote” for a party that ridicules the whole system by being completely un-serious. In the UK for the last twenty-odd years this has tended to be the Monster Raving Loony Party (or see their official site here). It is a bit like responding to irritation at being asked on census forms about your religion by putting “Pastafarian” or “Jedi”.

  6. draust Says:

    DVN, That’s a great idea about using Brain Gym to advance the Reality Freedom Agenda in schools. Now all we need is to institute Diplomas in Combined Unreality Studies (And Related Disciplines). or Dip.CUStARD for short.

    I think I would definitely include Alternative Medicine, Astrology and Media Studies in the first Dip.CUStARD programme, and of course a compulsory collective reciting of the thoughts of Chairman Matthias while carrying out the morning mass Reiki “remote exercises” (i.e. no actual exercising required, but just mutual beaming of fitness and wellness thoughts).

  7. apgaylard Says:

    Is the true test of ‘great’ woo that it’s indistinguishable from the most ludicrous fantasy? Let’s just hope he keeps on scoring such great victories. What a Space Cadet. As ever, great post.

  8. draust Says:

    That’s probably right, AP. Truly great Woo defines its own reality.

    Hmmm – now who/what does that remind me of..?

    Actually, the more I read of Dr Matthias’ stuff (which would be Comedy Gold, if not for the disturbing realisation that there are people buying it), the more I am reminded of Scientology, and especially of its founder “L-Ron”.

  9. Sceric Says:

    oh, come on…Rath hasn’t written any crappy SciFi (as far as I’m aware), and I read one of his pieces,…brrr…

  10. draust Says:

    Isn’t the Herr Dr’s entire oeuvre a kind of “science fiction”, Eric?

    I see what you mean, though – Herr Dr Rath has not, as far as I know, penned any novels. Put another way, perhaps the difference is that L-Ron wrote his initial science fiction labelled as fiction – until he found it was much more profitable labelling it as fact. Herr Dr Rath appears to have taken the obvious message from this example.

    There are probably a few followers of L-Ron in alternative medicine. The one I have come across is self-styled “Professor” Keith Scott-Mumby, Internet alternative physician, scientologist, and (especially scarily) former everyone-I-ever-treated-turned-out-to-have-allergies Manchester GP.

  11. Sceric Says:

    o.k., you’re right there…although there is not much Science in the fiction that Rath spins. Unfortunately one doesn’t need any good quality marketing to sell the uninformed and delusional anything (in the sense of PR and adverts… actually neither the strategic marketing part… as they have no real strategy, besides fearmongering, law suits and hoping their customers won’t see their product as the woo/crap it is)

  12. jdc325 Says:

    “Dr. Matthias Rath, who initiated this litigation, together with his colleagues, gave the newspaper and its team of ARV promoting experts the opportunity to defend their false claims under oath. They could not.”
    Yes, this is a very interesting representation of the facts of this case. I suppose one could argue that it is technically true that the Guardian and their team of experts could not defend their claims under oath – but only because Rath himself withdrew from the case!

    “The year 2008 marks a watershed for the multi-billion dollar ARV business: it has been exposed as a hoax in sworn court testimonies.”
    This should surely read “alleged to be” rather than “exposed as”.

    I was struggling to categorise the statements made in the passages you quote. Are they “bullshit”? Or something a little different? I think Rath’s own term “false claims” fits rather nicely. Funny how some people sometimes accuse others of things they are guilty of themselves. And it happens even when the accused isn’t guilty of these things.

  13. Mojo Says:

    He does seem to have a rather idiosyncratic way of interpreting legal documents. Remember this judgment and this leaflet about it?

    There’s some discussion of them in this affidavit, at paragraph 12 onwards.

  14. draust Says:

    Mojo – thanks for the links to those cracking documents. I had read a bit about Rath’s legal battles with the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Zackie Achmat’s statement for the Rath vs Guardian and Goldacre case, but the SA court papers are (appropriately) pure gold. In particular, I defy any Bad Science-er to read Paragraph 8 of Nathan Geffen’s affadavit (which concerns Matthias Rath and whether he is capable of making an “expert” comment about anything) without cheering, or at least laughing out loud.

    As to the Herr Dr Med’s bizarre apparent interpretation of legal judgements: Mojo seems to be correct that there is a pattern. Apart from the leaflet Mojo linked to, there is also this story about the Rath Organisation’s South African website following the March 2006 South African High Court judgement. The Rath leaflet was reported in some of the S African news sites to be subject to proceedings for Contempt of Court (which I would have guessed it would be, as it essentially repeats all the claims about the TAC that the court ordered Rath & Co not to make), but I have been unable to track down any indication of whether anything actually happened in the end.

    As to the more general issue jdc alluded to:

    When someone makes claims which are clearly ridiculous, and flatly contradicted by the known facts, I guess one can identify four varieties of explanation:

    (i) They know they are lying – as in, they know what the truth is and choose consciously to say the opposite;

    (ii) They are bullshitting – in Harry Frankfurt’s formulation, they don’t know, or care, whether what they say is true or not;

    (iii) They think what they are saying is true, i.e. they are frankly delusional;

    (iv) They are right and the facts are wrong.

    I’ve been mulling this over in my mind, and I really just can’t decide, though I have discounted (iv)…

    …perhaps I should put it to a poll.

  15. Sceric Says:

    easy one:

    coming from (i) [start of his career and his idea]

    moving to (ii) [opening up a business]

    coming to (iii) [I’d guess latest after he convinced the parents of that boy in Germany to get him killed by using vitamins instead of a working medical system]

    and he will never be at (iv) [ok, hell could potentially freeze over, but then…]

  16. John H Says:

    Maybe Rath thinks he won this because he really is a generous and kindly benefactor and only initiated this disaster (for him) so that he could splash some cash around the benighted UK legal profession in time for Christmas.

    He might well believe in income distribution by taking from poor Africans and giving to remarkably wealthy British libel lawyers.

    And I think we need to draw a clear distinction between “science fiction” writers and “fictional science” writers. At least the former have the grace to admit that they made it all up.

  17. Nash Says:

    “He might well believe in income distribution by taking from poor Africans and giving to remarkably wealthy British libel lawyers.”

    He’s probley reasoning they won’t miss it now they are dead.

    One of the alt-med cannards is that they care. This just shows that they do not, on any level. He must be a psychopath.

  18. Jack of Kent Says:

    “The year 2008 marks a watershed for the multi-billion dollar ARV business: it has been exposed as a hoax in sworn court testimonies.”

    Are these testimones in the public domain?

  19. draust Says:

    Not as far as I can tell, Jack. The Guardian have put some of the statements by their witnesses (notably Zackie Achmat and Nathan Geffen of the TAC) online (links in RH sidebar here), but I see nothing specifically like a court document or a witness statement from the Rath side.

    The Rath Foundation webpages I linked to in the main post link in turn to Rath Foundation-generated summaries of what they see as the evidence for the use of nutritional supplements in HIV patients. These summaries list references, but of course the summaries are not what a scientist would call “systematic review”, and are not peer-reviewed for publication in the way that published work in journals, or by people like the Cochrane collaboration, is. So to a scientist this kind of summary is intrinsically unreliable, since it is really advocacy, not appraisal. There are certainly published reviews of nutritional interventions and vitamin supplements in HIV patients (see e.g. this Cochrane one), which may well cite some of the same literature that the Rath organisation does. I am not sure I have the energy to compare the “Rath-ish verdict” with the “published verdict”, though I could hazard a guess as to what the relative conclusions would be.

    What I had sort of assumed was that Rath & his lawyers (Eversheds) might well have collected witness statements from people who would make the same kinds of assertions as are on the Rath Foundation pages (i.e. Anti-retroviral drugs are toxic and don’t improve survival, vitamins are wonderful for HIV patients etc). Two things that spring to mind are:

    (i) would this be relevant to the demonstration of the particular libel Rath was alleging?

    (ii) what would be the “credibility” of any “expert” that Rath could find to given an expert witness statement of this stuff?

    As to (i): I haven’t seen the particulars of the libel or the defence – and there was apparently a “Reply” too, though presumably they were court documents and thus accessible in the same way Jack has done with the Chiropractors vs. Simon Singh case.

    The only document I have found that is internet-accessible is Mr Justice Tugendhat’s interim judgement from March 2008 on what defences of Rath’s action were “viable” and on what information the Guardian and Ben G could therefore refer to in the defence. One net effect of this judgement was that they could “bring in” the activities of Rath’s associate, South African lawyer Anthony Brink – including Brink’s 2007 attempt to indict Zackie Achmat of the TAC before the Hague Human Rights Court for genocide – and Brink’s more bizarre statements (for more of this see e.g. this South African blog. I guess all of this would have gone to the question of Rath and his Foundation’s credibility (!), and the nature of their activity and tactics in S Africa.

    As to (ii): I would imagine that all the people they could find to attest to this would have been people from the “HIV denier” twilight world and thus liable (if they appeared as a scientific expertise witness) to have their credibility questioned – putting it mildly! – by the Guardian’s lawyers – e.g. “Why do all the other acknowledged experts in this field disagree with you?”

    BTW, TAC have quite an extensive archive of legal documents from their long-running (and finally successful) legal battle with Herr Dr Matthias in South Africa here.

    Incidentally, in reading the S African material I have been pretty much assuming that the South African defamation laws follow the English ones in general outline. This is because I reckon they would be (at least in large part) holdovers from the days of the British Empire, or at least derived from the legal traditions thereof. But maybe Jack of K can advise further.

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