Over the past decade or so, Martin J Walker has self-published a bunch of books on the evils of Big Pharma. The latest one, which is an update of an earlier one, is entitled, ‘Dirty Medicine the Handbook’ (DMTH). Its message, in a nutshell, is that every individual or organisation who dares to challenge or criticise alternative therapies and food supplements, together with anyone who recommends vaccination, is an agent of evil Big Pharma.
Hardly original, I know. But kudos to Martin for his entrepreneurial spirit in finding a way to charge £15 for the privilege of reading him repeat what his target audience already believe to be true.
The unique selling point of DMTH is, as one reviewer put it,
It names the players, the committees, the organizations, the networks, the back room people and the front men and women who provide a distraction and tie up resources while the bricks are put in the wall.
OK, the second half of that sentence is gibberish but you get the idea. It names names and Martin’s target readers have bought into his notion that knowing who their enemies are will help them in their endeavours to continue conning us into buying their soothing chit-chat and worthless cult therapies.
Apart from a heavy dose of the tired old ‘science as rival ideology’ line trotted by anyone whose faith in anything from quackery to creationism is undermined by a wealth of scientific evidence, DMTH is a book of many delights. Here’s an early example but similar can found on virtually every page. From page 15:
Those described in the pages of this handbook are often undemocratic, antisocial elements, greedy, culturally ignorant individuals who put their abstract scientific ideology, their own careers and the profits of corporations they defend ahead of the citizen’s needs or health care; many of them are members of disguised pharmaceutical lobby groups. At the centre of this operation, in Britain at least, is Dick Taverne…
It may strike readers that he already sounds more than a little insane. The best is yet to come but first, let me give an illustration of just how thorough Martin’s research was:
Of Zeno, who advertises his blog as ‘the random thoughts of a skeptical activist’, Martin writes,
Should read virtual sceptical activist. Why would a scientific Skeptic be proud of writing about random thoughts?
Of Alan Henness, Director of the Nightingale Collaboration, he writes,
Active organising skeptic and humanist campaigns, such as the one concerned with ending religious beliefs.
If you don’t know about the campaign that is “concerned with ending religious beliefs”, that would be because it doesn’t exist outside of Martin’s imagination. More to the point, it seems Martin hasn’t managed to work out that Alan Henness and Zeno are the same person even though this is stated this clearly on Zeno’s blog. Furthermore, even though Zeno has blogged the story extensively, Martin says nothing of Alan’s 500+ complaints about chiropractors, which resulted in hundreds of chiro websites removing the false and misleading claims that used to be on them and which was the inspiration for setting up the Nightingale Collaboration which, by the way, is described by Martin as “a group of maggots”.
There are several similar examples of Martin failing to reveal what his readers might think is worth knowing. All things considered, if Martin’s readers really want to know anything useful about their detractors, they’d probably be better off doing their own research.
I’d wager that the only place Martin J Walker’s body of work on his favourite topic is mentioned in the same sentence as the phrase “academic writing”, is in a book written by Martin himself. Et voila! From the preface of DMTH:
One of the reasons my work stands out from much academic writing is that, until relatively recently, I was one of the only writers in the field who discussed named individuals.
One might infer that his work is, in fact, rather better than academic writing because he “discusses” named individuals. In DMTH, for example, he discusses Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, thus:
Another amateur magician, she metamorphosed before our very eyes from a revolutionary communist to a close colleague of Dick Taverne, the great PR artist – now there’s a trick and a half!
That was one of the more benign of Martin’s “discussions” of a named individual and I think we can agree that it does indeed stand out from academic writing. In fairness, Martin doesn’t actually discuss people; he just writes stuff about them or, in the case of bloggers, about their blogs. Imagine reading my quackolades column (see lower left) in book form. That’s pretty much what reading DMTH is like.
Other examples of Martin’s great exposé of quackbusters that stands out from academic writing include:
Andy Lewis’ Quackometer “brings to mind the old feminist adage, many men are like children but without the wisdom”.
Crispian Jago is a “laddish pharma agent” who “has an imagination by-pass”.
Martin Robbins’ Guardian column is “yet another aspect of the illiberal Guardian and its fascistic war against freedom of choice in health care”.
“So what’s to say about this obsessed and bigoted old bloke Colquhoun — not much”.
And so it goes on and on and on. Usefully, the book does provide the urls of many skeptic blogs and websites and I’m sure there’s a good reason why Martin didn’t just put them all, together with the rest of the content of DMTH, on a website of his own, instead of asking his readers to buy it as a book. A website would have been much cheaper to fund. I mean, it’s not as if he had some reputable publisher who couldn’t wait to pay him for the book.
An insight into Martin’s personal code of ethics and why he — unlike so many of his targets — has to resort to vanity publishing, is provided by a curious disclaimer included at the end of the preface. Entitled Perhaps an apology, it concedes the possibility that he may be doing someone or other an injustice in what he writes about them. It seems that in Martin’s world, it’s OK to write anything you like about people you don’t know, as long as you acknowledge somewhere that it might not be true.
The disclaimer includes this extraordinary sentence,
While those I might have maligned, albeit slightly, can draw respite from consideration of the fact that any criticism is accepted only by the consipiracy theorist lunatic fringe. (sic)
Yes, I know it reads like an incomplete sentence but that’s just how Martin writes. Remove the word ‘while’ from the beginning and we are left with a suggestion that whatever he says about people he vilifies, they can console themselves with the knowledge that it is only going to be believed by loonies. Of course, we already know this but what a way to talk about his target readers! He goes on to suggest that the people he attacks will be proud to have been targetted by him. He’s flattering himself a bit there. Given Martin’s lack of status, I imagine most will be indifferent, though if I were Jack of Kent I’d be mortified at Martin’s description of him as a “seemingly honest blogger” when the only other people Martin is nice about are quacks and charlatans.
Here is some more from the preface:
Those described are first ‘quackbusters’ pure and simple i.e. those who attack manufacturers, users and practitioners of alternative medicines, pretending to a knowledge of science when they are actually involved in the tawdry business of enhancing corporate competitiveness.
The term ‘quackbuster’, is a term he is swift to reject, funnily enough. Several paragraphs are spent in consideration of the best epithet for, as he puts it,
the movement or the individuals so intent on untruthfully defending technological advance regardless of adverse reactions and unlooked for consequences.
‘Agents of industrial science’, ‘pharmalackeys’ (sic), ‘pharmamafia’ (sic), ‘enemies of promise’, ‘enemies of self-empowerment’ are all given an airing before he settles on the pithy ‘health corporatists’.
As someone who has never worked in science, health, pharmaceuticals or anything connected and whose only skeptic activity — apart from winding up quacks on this blog — has been to complain about some of the unconscionable claims made to my face by those who profit out of fake medicine, it comes as something of a surprise to find my own name in a chapter entitled Health Corporatists: individuals. It is accompanied by a sentence containing information about me which is irrelevant, innocuous and, as it happens, untrue. As this rather flattering nugget of misinformation can be read in Martin’s book and nowhere else — I certainly hadn’t seen or heard it before — I conclude that it’s one he fabricated himself because, well, he’s got my name and he had to write something.
But who cares? Martin obviously doesn’t know where to find the real dirt about me (phew!) nor about anyone else, judging by the drivel he writes about people I know. As I wouldn’t want anyone else to waste their money, I’d like to announce a special offer to readers:
If you are wondering if Martin has written anything about you, send me an email or comment below and I’ll let you know what he’s said — provided he hasn’t written as much about you as he has about Ben Goldacre, with whom he is apparently obsessed.
As what he says about Ben Goldacre is a good illustration of the quality of argument in the book and another reason why it “stands out from much academic writing,” I’ll share some of it here.
Martin tells us that BG, “came from nowhere to take a prestigious columnist’s job at the Guardian” and that, “it was unclear why he had landed the job on the Guardian until it was disclosed by John Stone that he is the son of Oxford professor Michael J Goldacre”.
Apparently they thought it a secret. I wonder if they’ve discovered the much more interesting fact of who is Ben’s mother is. What does it have to do with Ben getting a Guardian column, anyway? This:
1. Michael J Goldacre once co-authored a study of a GlaxoSmithKline product (urabe-strain MMR vaccine).
Interestingly for one who claims to “reference all [he] can and to be as academically honest as possible” (page xiv), Martin doesn’t give a reference for the study Michael Goldacre did for GSK but it’s easy enough to find and it turns out to be a study whose conclusion is unfavourable about the product and presumably the very opposite of what GSK were hoping for. Strangely, Martin doesn’t mention any of this.
2. Ben Goldacre wrote an article in the Guardian about MMR which went on to win an award sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline.
Note the common words that appear in 1. and 2. above: Goldacre and GlaxoSmithKline. If you still don’t see how perfectly this explains how Ben got his prestigious column, then you’re probably not a member of the alternative therapy/anti-vax cult. If you were, the mere mention of GSK in the same sentence as each of the Goldacres would be all you needed.
This is typical of the standard of “argument” throughout the book. The only people who might be persuaded of whatever message Martin is giving — which, in this example, seems to be that there is something sinister and big pharma-related about Ben getting a column in a newspaper — are those who will believe anything they like the sound of. That’s how they become quacks in the first place, remember.
Martin also makes the claim that Ben Goldacre accepted payment for the use of his name “to help to sell processed food.” Seriously, it’s on page 79. You may be wondering what kind of evidence is produced to support this outlandish allegation. The answer is none. It is, like so much in this book, something that Martin seems to have pulled out of his arse.
Which brings me neatly to the only other thing worth highlighting in the book. From the preface, again:
In England particularly, [discussing named individuals] causes many problems. The other side know that they have the funds, experience and lawyers to begin legal actions that can tie up writers, researchers and practitioners for years, while WE are always strapped for cash and most lawyers will run miles, unsuitably dressed, rather than shake my hand.
Don’t bother billing me for a new irony meter. Instead, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves of the libel actions taken by quackbusters against quacks, anti-vaxers, vitamin-pill pushers and suchlike. Um…anyone got a list? Because Martin hasn’t.
OK. Now, how about libel actions taken by those people against quackbusters? Here are a few recent ones that spring to mind:
1. Matthias Rath, vitamin entrepreneur and, in my opinion, probably one of the most evil people alive, sued Ben Goldacre for libel but, after a year, dropped the suit and was ordered to pay costs. Unfortunately, due to the litigation, the chapter on Matthias Rath was omitted from the first edition of Ben’s book but he made it available for free on his website, so there is no excuse for not reading it and finding out just how evil Rath is.
Given Martin’s spirited support of the food supplement industry’s right to con people into buying supplements that they don’t need on the grounds of allowing “individual freedom of choice in health matters” (page 241), Rath is the kind of person Martin presumably sees as a good guy.
2. The disgraced Andrew Wakefield sued Brian Deer for libel, only to abandon his claim and end up paying Deer compensation. The court report reveals that, having filed a suit against Deer, Wakefield then sought a stay of execution of the suit and, while it was on hold, used it as a way of threatening others with similar action.
Wakefield — the man whose fraudulent paper resulted in anti-MMR hysteria, falling take-up rates and made measles endemic again in the U.K — is, of course, one of Martin J Walker’s heroes. Brian Deer, who earlier this year received a British Press Award in recognition of his Sunday Times investigation into the Andrew Wakefield MMR-autism fraud, is Martin J Walker’s nemesis.
3. Edited 15.11.11 to draw attention to Andy Lewis’ latest blog post on this very topic. Three threats of legal action from three different quacks in attempt to gag this blogger because he told the truth about them. Shame on you Society of Homeopaths, Joseph Obi and Robert Delgado. You’re no better than crooks.
4. The BCA sued Simon Singh but eventually dropped their case when it became obvious they were going to lose.
Now read this from DMTH page 18:
The corporate science lobby ran a campaign to change the libel laws headed up by Singh. The campaign was started after Singh wrote a deprecating article in the Guardian about chiropractors. This campaign was important to the science lobby because they needed to be free of the constraints of libel law so as to be able to attack in the most outrageous manner anyone who has different beliefs from them.
When I first opened DMTH, I imagined I would be reading the sincerely-held views of someone delusional. Reading the above paragraph disabused me of that notion. Nobody can be that delusional. Brian Deer says Martin is a liar for hire. I agree. From Brian’s article (but do read the whole of it, it’s well worth it):
The most startling array of particularly nauseating falsehoods were authored by a now-64-year-old failed graphic artist who calls himself “Martin J Walker”. He lives penniless in Spain, but in July 2007 surfaced in London at mammoth hearings, triggered by my investigation, of a GMC “fitness to practise” disciplinary panel. He claims to be some kind of “health activist” and “writer”, but although generally of no consequence, is a relentless peddler of smear and denigration, with a track record of latching onto the vulnerable. These he beguiles, like he’s their new best friend, and then he tries to sell them self-published junk books, or better-still, have them give him money.
“I am 60 next year and I have been and am now, utterly broke and also in debt to various people for relatively large amounts of money,” he explained in a private email not long before he spotted in the Wakefield case what he thought was a financial opportunity. “I am not a writer to whom agents and publishers have ever paid the slightest attention.”
So, Martin J Walker has no reputation as a writer to live up to. His self-published books are funded by donations from people who want to read what he writes, regardless of whether it accurately reflects reality, because it fits in with the standard quack fantasy about anyone who challenges the claims made by quacks, anti-vaxers and vitamin pill pushers. As such, Martin has no power to influence anyone who matters, which is why — in spite of the many malicious falsehoods contained in the book — he’s unlikely to find himself on the receiving end of legal action. My understanding is that for a libel suit to have a chance of success, the libel has to be likely to be damaging. Who’s going to be damaged by anything written in a self-published book by an under-achiever?
Which is why I’m happy to give Martin’s book a bit of publicity. I hope it helps him pay a few bills.
21/02/12: Just a wee addition. I’ve recently came across someone who genuinely believes Martin’s Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism is a reliable source of information about Ben Goldacre and who claimed Martin is an award-winning journalist. It seems he isn’t the only one who is confusing Martin with his namesake . Martin’s followers please note: in order to distinguish himself from the Martin Walker who really is an award-winning journalist and whose books are published by proper publishers, Martin uses the initial ‘j’ to signify a middle name.
While checking this out, I noticed that Martin’s website has an outdated link to an explanation of why his wiki page has been removed.
Subject fails on virtually all notability criteria on authors or activists: has not had work published in any peer-review, mainstream or credible publications. Vast majority of publications and publishing houses on article’s Bibliography return nothing on Google search. All verifiable output appears to be in the form of self-published pdf files and pamphlets. Mainstream coverage appears to be limited to a couple of brief mentions in a couple of journals and alternative magazines, and even that’s assuming that the inadequate references in the article in question are accurate.
I’m embarrassed for him and for all who quote his as an authoritative source.