Congratulations to Ben Goldacre!

Ben Goldacre, of the Bad Science weblog, has had a lawsuit hanging over his head for the past year. Ben regularly excoriates alt-medicine quacks, and one of his targets was a pill-peddler named Matthias Rath who got rich off pointless vitamin supplements with exaggerated claims of effectiveness, and most despicably, had been denouncing effective AIDS treatments in order to sell more of his useless patent medicines.

Goldacre publicly called him on his unethical behavior, and Rath in reply sued him for libel. The case has now been settled in Goldacre’s favor.

It’s great personal news for Ben, but it’s also an important victory for medical journalism, and for the people who might be getting legitimate medical advice in the future, instead of the Rath-promoted quackery.


  1. SC says

    Usefully, it seems that Rath will now be responsible for the Guardian’s legal costs. Interim costs were awarded this afternoon at just shy of a quarter of a million, and we are seeking the full half a million pounds the paper has spent. For my part, I will probably now write a swift book on Rath and South Africa, as a way to make all the fascinating extra information I’ve had to dredge through useful to others, and to try and recoup something so that my time was not wasted. It will be meticulously well referenced and carefully written.

    Truly good news. What these people have done in SA is sickening.

  2. says

    Great news! I’m a fan of Ben’s, though we’ve never met, and I’ll be down at Penderel’s Oak, 283-288 High Holborn, to see him speak at Skeptics in the Pub on Monday at 1900. I’ll be sure to congratulate him (assuming I don’t get killed in the rush to the bar first).

  3. says

    That’s good news! I will bless him to go after all the alternative medicine quacks he likes, so long as he keeps away from My faith-healers…

  4. Monkey says

    Finally some posative news from the quackery front. Best wishes to Ben. I know a bunch of science teachers who could use some of his insight.

  5. Sili says

    Lots of excellent coverage in the Grauniad today (well, I only know because Goldacre blogged it). Many comments to the tune of “Today, I am proud to be a Grunaid reader”.

    Sadly, a coupla the usual deniers and nuts, too. Not many (yet), but still enough to make my blood boil.

  6. says

    Yeah if the case had gone to trial and Ben had won, he would almost certainly have been awarded costs. It’s great that The Guardian, which carries Ben’s regular column, has successfully applied for interim costs, and I hope they get the full half million pounds or so.

    The Guardian, for all its faults, is the best British newspaper. It is owned by a trust so its editor doesn’t take orders from a proprietor.

  7. epsilon says

    I’m glad one of these “alternative” medicine guys got what he had coming. Seriously though, what did he expect? He had to know that he’s full of shit and just taking advantage of gullible people.

  8. John C. Randolph says

    Seriously though, what did he expect? He had to know that he’s full of shit and just taking advantage of gullible people.

    Maybe he though the litigation would drag out long enough for him to continue to fleece his marks for another year or so.


  9. says

    epsilon, the sad fact is that the United Kingdom defamation law is the most draconian on earth, and has often been used to silence legitimate comment. In 1976 the billionnaire James Goldsmith issued sixty libel writs against the satirical magazine Private Eye and its distributor, nearly resulting in the imprisonment of its editor Richard Ingrams. Robert Maxwell is thought to have got away with his massively fraudulent use of funds mainly because nobody dared to publicize serious questions about his conduct for fear of being sued into silence.

  10. JoJo says

    Thanks, SC for the link to Goldacre’s article.

    The World Health Organisation’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health reported this week, and it contained some chilling figures. Life expectancy in the poorest area of Glasgow – Calton – is 28 years less than in Lenzie, a middle-class area just eight miles away. That is a lot less life, and it isn’t just because the people in Lenzie are careful to eat goji berries for extra antioxidants, and a handful of brazil nuts every day, thus ensuring they’re not deficient in selenium, as per nutritionists’ advice.

    Genuine public-health interventions to address the social and lifestyle causes of disease are far less lucrative, and far less of a spectacle, than anything a lifestyle magazine editor or television commissioner would dare to touch.

    Teaching things like nutrition and parenting skills is neither as sexy or as lucrative as developing yet another erectile dysfunction drug.

  11. SC says

    BTW, McLibel is a good documentary that’s relevant here:

    (There’s a lonk on the YouTube page to a site where you can watch the whole thing.)

    JoJo – You’re very welcome! :)

  12. JoshS says

    Thanks so much for posting this, PZ. Victories for rationalism are few, but sweet when they occur.

    A technical question – would it be possible for you to set Pharyngula’s code so that links open up in a new tab or window, instead of steering us away from your site when we click to read another story? Yes, I know I can right-click to do that.

    Thanks from a loyal reader.

  13. catta says

    I’m doubly happy because Rath is German and actually runs a small party here. Small enough not to get far, but it gives him a sort of “this is serious business” air. All kinds of “alternative medicine” BS is extremely popular here, and I applaud any public beating these quacks get. I remember seeing the “help-we-are-being-oppressed”-style posters and flyers his followers handed out for a while, and having to explain half a dozen times why using Rath’s methods might very well be lethal. In other words: Woo-hoo!

  14. Chris Davis says

    Anyone wishing to become truly riled up about that shit Rath should read the witness statements posted on the Guardian page referenced from Ben’s article.

    Try this one for size. I call it mass murder.


  15. Valis says

    Yes, this charlatan was peddling his “vitamins” in SA for years. He was even explicity endorsed by the Minister of Health, the same woman who touted beetroot as a cure for AIDS. Manto’s muti policy

    Ps. Muti is the local term for “traditional” medicine.

  16. Sili says


    Use Opera. You can open in a new tab with a mousegesture (pull down), or reconfigure your middle button.

    Please don’t change, PeeZed. One of the things that annoy me with Plait’s site is that links open in new tabs on their own, so that I have to go back and close the parent tab. I prefer to manage what open where and when on my own, thank you.

  17. says

    Indeed, a valuable victory. These scam artists are some of the most dishonest people on earth, and their use of libel scare tactics must be met head on.

  18. Julian says

    It is amazing how litigious those who deny the value of modern life can be. One would almost think they were con-men whose only reason for promoting “ancient folk cures” was to enrich themselves.

  19. Peter Ashby says

    what it achieved was that Ben and The Guardian were unable to report on the situation in South Africa or Rauth himself for over a year. Ben had to remove a chapter on Rauth from his recent book.

    However Ben says he will now write a short book specifically on Rauth and you can bet the Guardian will be gleefully building up for a series of articles to make up for lost time.

    The times they may be changing in terms of libel over here though. Salman Rushdie recently one a libel action and asked only for his costs. He said that the public vindication the court provided was sufficient to correct the stain on his reputation. Would that his example were more widely copied.

  20. John C. Randolph says

    It is amazing how litigious those who deny the value of modern life can be.

    It’s mostly the stupider ones like Uri Geller who are deluded enough to think they might win in court. For every one of these clowns who sues a critic, there are dozens who just huff and puff and threaten.


  21. Don says

    Don’t mess with Ben. He’s a serious fuck-off ninja scientist.

    I also love what he did to Gillian McKieth (the awful poo-lady.)

  22. says

    JoJo | September 13, 2008 1:27 PM #18

    The health problems of Glasgow have little to do with nutrition and parenting skills. That’s what poverty does to people. It kills.

  23. gex says


    Typically web designers are advised not to force links to open in another window or tab – as that deprives the user of control over how they open links. I understand how the right click annoys you, but I don’t want a million windows spawning whenever I click a link.

  24. says

    A few misc. comments. The backwardness of the English libel laws in which the defendant must disprove that he committed libel has resulted in some pretty disturbing cases. One of tangential note was the Irving/Lipstadt case in which holocaust doubter/denier David Irving (savor the irony of that name for a moment) brought suit against a historian named Deborah Libstadt in England, representing himself (fool for a client). The resulting smack-down has produced one of the best documented accounts of falsified scholarship and provides a near text book of all manner of misusing sources and deliberate misrepresentation of evidence.

    I have no idea whether English law has provisions for suing over abuse of process or malicious litigation. Perhaps someone at that end of the pond can clue us in? That the Guardian obtains its costs is of great importance. At least that can act as a penalty for putting people through this sort of crap.

    One last bit: why do these wackaloons go to court in the first place? A lawyer friend is very fond of repeating this “Gypsy curse”: “May you be engaged in a lawsuit in which you are convinced you are right.”

  25. says

    Sorry about the typos in my last post. It’s Lipstadt. Just in case anyone is interested in looking this up it might help if I spelled her name right. And the book Lying about Hitler, written by a member of her defense team, is on my wish list (but I can’t recommend it yet). If anyone has read this and can recommend it I would be interested to hear about it.

  26. SEF says

    Seriously though, what did he expect?

    He (quite reasonably) expected to get away with it just as so many others of his kind have been allowed to get away with so much for so long. It’s about time some significant numbers of them got the metaphorical slap (or even smackdown) they deserve. It’s the same as the religious situation (often quite literally the same conmen running both scams).

  27. says

    Strictly speaking the case hasn’t been settled. The plaintiff has abandoned it and one of the defendants has been awarded interim costs by the court.

  28. says

    The European Court’s finding does have a serious result. For a start the plaintiffs (Steel and Morris) were awarded £57,000 damages against the UK government!

    Some aspects of UK law and legal procedure (particularly access to legal aid) has now been found to be in breach of European Human Rights law, which takes precedence to UK law under the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the ECHR were breached. The defendants had to spend years defending themselves with no professional help.

    (One common misunderstanding is that the European Court has something to do with the European Community. It doesn’t. The Council of Europe is a separate body).

  29. says

    Lawsuits like this are for one purpose only: to cave somebody in. The plaintiff hopes that filing the suit will be enough to frighten the defendant into settling. Works quite often. When that failed the plaintiff is faced with a choice: hang on and hope he caves eventually, or abandon it. Going to trial isn’t sensible because of the adverse publicity–imagine what mincemeat a defendant like Goldacre would make of one of these idiots.

  30. JoJo says

    . And the book Lying about Hitler, written by a member of her defense team, is on my wish list (but I can’t recommend it yet). If anyone has read this and can recommend it I would be interested to hear about it.

    The author, Richard Evans, is a good historian and an excellent writer. Evans quite painstakingly takes Irving apart. I get the impression that Evans entered into his role as Lipstadt’s expert sort of leaning towards Irving, or at least respecting Irving as a military historian. Over the course of the book, Evans changes his mind about Irving. In the end Evans, who does not hide his personal and professional dislike for Irving, disassembles his work, unmasking it for the propaganda it is.

    Lipstadt’s book, History on Trial, is, quite frankly, boring. She is not a particularly good writer. Evans is much better. I recommend Evan’s book.

    Incidentally, one thing to remember is that Irving sued Lipstadt. That makes Irving’s claims of being persecuted by the Jews rather ludicrous.

  31. SEF says

    The plaintiff hopes that filing the suit will be enough to frighten the defendant into settling. Works quite often.

    More to the point these days, the dishonest person bringing the lawsuit generally goes after whatever big player the awkward little truth-teller depends on – ie their internet service provider or the hosting site or media outlet or whatever. This works even better at causing a cave-in (not by the individual themselves but “on their behalf”) because the big bods tend to have little to no regard for the truth. They don’t care in the slightest that the person they’re being asked to victimise is in the right. They only want the nuisance of the lawsuit etc to go away; and the most expedient way of arranging that is to humour the complaining villains and shaft the heroes.

  32. Longtime Lurker says

    The worst thing about the quacks is that they prey on the hopes of individuals who lack B.S. detectors and give false hope to people with no or poor medical coverage. It’s no different from the false hope the preachers peddle to the gullible.

    Nice to see a victory for rationality.

  33. says

    It’s too bad for Rath that he doesn’t live in South Korea. Here, truth is no defence in libel cases – you simply cannot publish anything bad about someone and identify them.

    The latest news controversy has been about Mad Cow disease and imports of beef from the US. A TV program in the mould of 60 minutes used misleading footage to claim that many cows carrying the disease exist in the US. Another group called for a boycott of the show’s supporters and members of this group was charged with libel.

  34. SEF says

    Here, truth is no defence in libel cases

    If the Korean misjustice system doesn’t care about truth, then the crime they’re calling libel (assuming that’s what it translates to!) isn’t genuinely libel at all. It’s more along the lines of “failure to flatter or remain silent”.

    I can see why a dishonest leadership would want a law like that though. It’s the same one which other institutions all over the place secretly have and implement (to protect their evildoers from the rightful consequences of having their wrongdoings spotted and reported) while pretending to have honest rules instead.

    What’s astoundingly unusual about the Grauniad in this instance is that they actually stood up for what was right instead of behaving in the typically dishonest and cowardly manner of big institutions. Sadly, the thing which makes it praiseworthy (instead of merely being the expected norm in a civilised society) is just how commonplace everywhere a low regard for the truth is.

  35. says

    Hooray for Ben (did you guys invite him to join the SciBorg yet?) and hooray for the Guardian.
    The Graun was once the most AltMed-friendly, woo-struck paper in Britain; doctors used to use GROLIES (Guardian reader of limited intelligence in ethnic skirt) as an epithet for patients who would bother them asking for complementary and “non-Western” treatments.
    Nowadays they are as pro-reality as the MSM gets, and Ben Goldacre deserves a big part of the credit.

  36. David D.G. says

    There needs to be a movie made about this incident, preferably with the title The Con of Rath.

    ~David D.G.