Pseudoscience's "Awful Poo Lady" can't flush twitterings

British nutritionist Gillian McKeith, often criticized for claims that run contra to scientific consensus, is engaged in an entertaining catfight on twitter with Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame.

The background: Goldacre and others mock the lady for presenting herself as a doctor, when her PhD was in fact awarded via 'distance learning' from a non-accredited college in the U.S. Her frequent inspection of human turds earned the notorious "Poo Lady" sobriquet. Though the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority made clear its dim view of "Dr. Gillian"-style marketing, whoever is at the controls of her twitter account isn't having any of it. Criticizing what has been desribed as a diploma mill is anti-American bigotry! And Goldacre is an ass:

gillianmckeith
@rachelemoody Is it that you don't like my Doctorate (PhD) because it's from America and you're discriminatory? USA knows how to educate too
9:56 AM Jul 8th via web in reply to rachelemoody

gillianmckeith
@rachelemoody Miss Anti-American: How sad a life to enjoy reading lies about another by an ass who makes money from pharmaceutical giants
10:22 AM Jul 8th via web in reply to rachelemoody

gillianmckeith
@rachelemoody So you believe if you tell a lie enough times it becomes fact. It doesn't honey! Your anti-American bigotry is too glaring. gx

bengoldacre
@gillianmckeith which bit is "lies"? very happy to do an unedited podcast chat and discuss the criticisms i've made, if you have concerns.

bengoldacre
@gillianmckeith has protected her tweets. that was quick. lucky i have them archived them in full online here... http://bit.ly/bfng7u

bengoldacre
The unaccredited correspondence course college which gave Dr Gillian McKeith PhD her PhD: has finally closed http://dlvr.it/2b2mv

bengoldacre
Since Gillian McKeith has unwisely said my book is "lies" on Twitter: here's a reminder of my concerns about her work http://dlvr.it/2bSFr

At about this point, the @gillianmckeith account switches to third-person and twittered smacktalk starts disappearing from it. (But screengrab.)

gillianmckeith
What's with all these tweeters talking against the Gillian PhD. Isn't that so last decade?! http://bit.ly/9p6duf

That accomplished, an apparent denial that the account is Gillian's follows:

gillianmckeith
Do you actually believe this is real twitter site for the GM? http://bit.ly/aPXQzo

bengoldacre
sigh @gillianmckeith is the GM account linked to from gillianmckeith.info this is now a full scale newsworthy PR #fail

bengoldacre
haha that was quick. gillian mckeith has now removed all links to twitter from gillianmckeith.info . this is frantic.

But ... it's only been commented out in the code. Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 9.45.05 AM.PNG

And then there's this from just a few weeks ago: Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 9.47.01 AM.PNG

A defender of Dr. McKeith, PhD., suggests she's been hacked. The simultaneous website edits suggest otherwise.

63

  1. Cynics like Ben just don’t understand the value of homeopathic education: Unlike your fascist, allopathic, University/Industrial complex education, where you have to do more work in order to acquire a more authoritative knowledge position, Homeopathic education is more authoritative and effective when extremely dilute….

    1. @phisrow
      I almost spit out my tea.. LOL

      @ BenGoldacre
      I read your book, very level headed. Well worth the read.

    2. Since he puts it so much better than I, I refer you to Tim Minchin’s “Storm”. You can find it on YouTube. Try not to laugh too much.

    3. The problem with homoeopathy is that there is simply no logic to it’s principles. Someone simply just made it up, basing it on no research, logic or known scientific principles (probably because there were not many at time of invention). It is also fundamentally flawed since all homoeopathic that has been used for people in a given country will be in the water supply at extremely high strengths if the principles of homoeopathy are correct. Since the active ingredient will supposedly leave an implant on the water. When the water is taken in it will be expelled in urine, in it’s diluted and supposedly stronger form. The urine will then enter the water system and subsequently enter sewage treatment plants where the water is recycled back into the main system. Thus there is NO need for anyone to buy any homoeopathic “medicine” since it’s already in the water supply.

    4. No no no no no no no no no no no. Water or any other solvent does not ‘remember’ what has been dissolved into when that solution has been diluted to infinity and then banged on a hard surface. You’re just drinking water and believing it has voodoo healing properties and paying over the odds for it. Just drink the water out of the tap and it will have the asme effectiveness and will save you a ton. People like you drag society down and hold back real medical advances.

      1. I think phisrow’s initial comment was meant as satire –

        “Homeopathic education is more authoritative and effective when extremely dilute….”

        coop

      2. Dear #42,

        Please take your sarcasm meter to the nearest dealer or licensed technician for recalibration at your earliest convenience.

        1. In defense of Anon, internet comment boards can wear out a sarcasm meter in less than a week these days. I just leave mine off and assume everybody is being sarcastic. It’s cheaper and less stressful. ;-D

      3. and people who can’t pick up well laid sarcasm… what a burden to society those poor saps are too.

  2. This article is why @gillianmckeith called me a liar:

    http://www.badscience.net/2007/02/ms-gillian-mckeith-banned-from-calling-herself-a-doctor/

    I expanded on it in my book, Bad Science.

    Gillian McKeith herself is a highly litigious millionaire, as I have documented at length. Obviously nothing in my book is “lies”, and in general, calling someone a liar is regarded as undefendable by the UK libel courts.

    But I’ve campaigned long and hard for libel reform in the UK (more at http://www.libelreform.org ): the costs are so extreme that only the rich have access, and the most important remedy to my mind, in most cases, is a clarification of the facts.

    This is why the remedy I’ve only requested one simple remedy from @gillianmckeith.

    I’d like her to tweet “Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is not lies”.

    I don’t think that’s too much to ask…

    1. Hi Dr. Ben,

      Just wanted to say I recently finished your book, it was excellent.

      I am reccomending it be added as a core text to my MFA program in Science & Natural History Filmmaking along with “Don’t be such a Scientist” by Randy Olson.

      The more media savy scientists there are in the world, the less they will put up with nonsense like McKeith’s.

  3. I’d dearly love to see Ben as a guest poster here on BB. Not that I like volunteering other people for more work, or anything… but it’d sell some books ;)

  4. Note also that @rachelemoody didn’t say anything directly @gillianmckeith (and indeed, said only that she was looking forward to reading the book, and nothing about America). She did say “Gillian McKeith” in a tweet some days earlier. Presumably GM runs regular searches on her name, so that she can rant at people that mention her.

  5. I like to imagine that Ben found this blog post so quickly because he has a google alert set up for “Awful Poo Lady.”

  6. The whole fiasco really demonstrates that you can’t be too careful about how you present yourself online, and that Gillian never should have tried to take on a bunch of tech-savvy people on home turf.

    This is an absolute PR disaster for her, and rightly so, since it could have been solved by a simple apology, and instead has turned into a huge, and very public, mess. Twitter will be resonating with this one for days to come.

    Posted here http://www.zenbuffy.com/2010/07/gillian-mckeith-has-no-phd/ with collected screenshots (before and after) and code snippets that show the links disappearing from her pages, and the sloppy, commented out code that’s hiding them…

  7. Wow. That stunt with pretending the Twitter account isn’t hers, but doing it incompetently? That’s delicious. And it proves to me that she’s got no moral sense whatsoever. As does selling dubious and illegal drugs to the unwitting public, I suppose.

  8. For someone who has marketed herself so well, and become very rich in the process, this is a huge marketing FAIL from (soon-to-be Professor? Rear Chief Admiral?) McKeith

    You are what you tweet!

  9. Ben, you are an absolute legend, long may you continue.

    incidentally, XKCD.com recently did a pretty hilarious comic on homeopathyhttp://xkcd.com/765/

    any chance we’ll see you at TED? I think your cause fits the bill perfectly.

  10. Marvellous. Her outrage is terrific to watch.

    And all that from a lady who sells cereal bars at $19 for 12… has she no shame?

  11. Like most frauds (yeah I said it Gillian sue me for everything I’ve got – which isn’t much but I’ll bring you down with me if you try); McKeith makes the fatal error of repeating her crime. A sensible fraud would have taken the money and run; perhaps investing it in more legitimate and less dubious projects as a means of making more money.

    Instead however she starts to believe that she is smarter than/better than everyone else which is the fatal mistake for anyone. She thinks that because it hasn’t fallen so far it won’t fall in the future.

    The trick of a good con is not to repeat it and to not bragg. McKeith has done both.

  12. Hey now, it’s not fair to call it a diploma mill just because it out-competed universities that have “professors” and “students” and are “real.” That’s capitalism! ;D

  13. While this is no doubt funny, it’s not really an “absolute PR disaster for her” – she wont lose anything from this.

    So she’s an idiot in front of people like us – we knew she was an idiot to start with.

    Her hardcore fans/followers wont give a crap – see anti vax, “pray the gay away” or any other silly set of nutters online.

    Facts really don’t mean much to most people, I doubt that even if this made front page news on every newspaper it would have too much of an effect on her PR.

    Funny and wonderful to see her proved to be a dick yet again, but PR disaster? Hardly.

  14. nothing like a huge shit fight to start the day! *snorfs down little chocolate donuts with my coffee and cigarette*

  15. the bit where @gillianmckeith claims the account is not gillian mckeith is particularly funny. it’s a strange and helpful hacker that removes only the libellous tweets but leaves the PR flimflam behind. and it’s a very well coordinated and cooperative hacker that does this at EXACTLY the same moment in time that the gillianmckeith.info website hurriedly (but incompletely) comments out all references to the twitter feed.

  16. McKeith has never reported any research in a medical journal. What was her bachelor’s?

  17. (and she’s never reported any research in a peer-reviewed journal of any kind, as far as I’m aware)

    1. Love the bit about skin brushing:

      “Brush the abdomen in a clockwise direction from the lower right side up and round to the lower left side.”
      (Fair Use, Gillian. Back off!)

      So, in the Southern Hemisphere, would you brush in a counter-clockwise direction?

      1. It follows the route of the ascending, transverse and descending colon. I have no idea what the skin brushing is meant to accomplish, but the route is founded in anatomy.

  18. Anyone who has a legitimate PhD in the US will have their thesis deposited with Dissertation Abstracts (now via ProQuest). If an institution does not participate in the program, such that its PhD awardees are not depositing their thesis in DA, then it is highly suspect. In fact, I do not know of any legitimate PhD theses that are not there. Bill Cosby’s is there. Martin Luther King’s doctoral thesis is there. Shoot, even Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s thesis is there (“EFFECTS OF INSULIN ON 3-O-METHYLGLUCOSE TRANSPORT IN ISOLATED RAT ADIPOCYTES” – it’s classified under Anatomy and Phys). Mine is there ;-) PZ Myers’s is there (“MORPHOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT OF SPINAL MOTONEURONS OF THE ZEBRAFISH (SEGMENTS, AXOGENESIS, GROWTH CONES)”)

    Needles to say, a search for Gillian McKeith comes up empty. That is a primae facie reason to dismiss her PhD out of hand. Can she explain why her thesis is not deposited with Dissertation Abstracts?

    (btw, that’s all rhetorical. I know the reason her thesis isn’t there, I just wonder if she could come up with something)

  19. Did she “attend” the University of Phoenix? Their ad keeps popping up on boingboing today.

  20. Should anyone doubt that Clayton College (now defunct) had questionable academic standards, check out Robert O. Young. His qualifications were also acquired, or possibly “bought” might be a better word, from Clayton College and like Gillian McKeith he calls himself a doctor. He claims that all diseases are caused by excess acidity in the body. Others of his claims include:
    Our stomachs are designed to alkalise acid foods. Our bodies do not naturally contain sugars. Our brains run on electrons, not glucose. Cancer is a liquid response to excess acidity. Red blood cells are made by the intestines, not the bone marrow and can transform into bacteria and back again. He claims he can cure type 1 diabetes with diet, and many other utterly ridiculous things that fly in the face of modern medical knowledge. If you want a laugh, take a look at his live blood analysis video on YouTube where he claims that diabetes is caused by the fermentation of red blood cells. He sells lots of supplements and potions, of course. He calls this ‘The New Biology’. You can check out his blog for more of the same. No wonder McKeith hasn’t much of a clue about science.

  21. Felton (#18) – believe it or not, the Univ of Phoenix is among the legit places. If my last comment ever comes through moderation, you will see where I discuss Dissertation Abstracts. Indeed, Univ of Phoenix theses are found there. If Gillian McKeith had gotten her PhD there, it would be a very different story.

    There are no theses at all from any school with the name “Clayton”

    1. University of Phoenix is legitimate, though it is run for a profit – so academic standards are sometimes considered a bit suspect in this regard.

  22. Is there something wrong with ‘distance learning’? Lots of people take vocational (and other) degrees via distance learning courses at established universities. Could the author of this post possibly see fit to remove the words ‘distance learning’ which, in context and also because of the use of inverted commas, make it sound as if the distance learning aspect to Gillian McKeith’s phd was somehow something to do with its lack of credibility.

    1. Is there something wrong with ‘distance learning’?

      There is if you’re passing yourself off as a medical doctor.

    2. I see your point. I’m a University of Georgia student, and I have a part-time job troubleshooting online courses here. I personally don’t like online classes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a valid means of education.

      That said, I don’t have a problem with this post. The point is that she has a PhD from a non-accredited college, and in a field that has nothing to do with the one she presents herself as an expert in.

  23. Now I’m looking at her website, and I see on the front page a lady in Uganda and her children reading one of her books.
    So a woman with 9 children really needs to know how to look sexy for her summer holiday by the beach, by eating more herbs?

  24. Not disputing the lack of credentials of her course/college. Still think that putting ‘distance learning’ in inverted commas in this context makes it seem like there is something wrong with distance learning in general. Distance learning institutions like the Open University in the UK work very hard to maintain a high standard of education through courses which are as widely recognised as they are in any other university.

  25. I think the phrase ‘distance learning’ is in quotes because it’s doubtful that the awful poo lady actually did any learning.

  26. I don’t think the quotes around distance learning were done to attack the act of online education, but rather that in this case, the act was at a non-accredited university. It’s like saying I “attend school” at University of Phoenix–I’m not attacking the idea of attending school nor mocking it, but just saying that it’s not really what I’m doing here.

    In this case, Ms. McKeith participated in “distance learning” at a “college” that gave her a “doctorate.”

  27. That would make more sense, if the the problem is with the college and it’s not a real college. But ‘distance learning’ is a method of studying, not an institution.

    All I’m saying is that the way that line is worded makes it sound as if the (lack of) validity of her degree is somehow to do with the method by which she attained it. Perhaps, as you have suggested, you can’t study medicine by distance learning (I don’t know how medicine is done. I know you can train to be a teacher by distance learning, I’ve worked with loads of teachers who were and did placements the same as everyone else, but obviously medicine is different) so I guess the point I am making might be minor. I just felt like pitching it in there because that’s how it looked to me when I read it. Maybe no-one else read ‘distance learning’ and thought the intended meaning was ‘as opposed to proper learning’. I’d be happy to learn that this wasn’t the writer’s intention.

  28. Oops sorry, my last post was @Brainspore

    Glad to see that other people didn’t feel the same way I did about the thing.

    1. I’m an OU student and I can see your point. However, I think it’s more likely that the author of this article has simply misjudged the appropriate use of inverted commas. As you said, distance learning is a method of studying and the term isn’t an uncommon one or a nickname, so the inverted commas are unnecessary. Traditionally, people are educated through classroom learning but I don’t think many people would put that in inverted commas.

      Anyway, that’s how I read it; as a mistake, rather than the author voicing a distaste for distance learning in general.

  29. @underh1 is worthy of some investigation as well. If you look at the link from anon #5, the last tweet on the page is a RT from him claiming to have lost a large amount of weight on GM’s diet plan and thanking her. At time of writing, it’s the penultimate tweet still up on @gillianmckeith, right before the one claiming she isn’t really herself.

    When this all kicked off, @underh1 looked a lot like a fake account with only two tweets; one from a year previously, and the strange one @gillianmckeith retweeted before she went crazi(er). There was a Facebook account listed in the profile, but it was a dead link.

    As of this morning @underh1 has become mysteriously active and suddenly the Facebook account works. I smell a rat… it may be in a Tupperware container…

  30. The only bachelor’s this lady has is probably a Cup A Soup (for those not aware of this product: http://www.cupasoupmoments.com/).

    I was also amazed to find that my laptop’s NVIDIA graphics drivers decide to stop working PRECISELY the time I decide to visit McKeith’s web site to check out the Twitter links disappearance. That’s some awesome power she has. Hasn’t happened anywhere else. That’s the power of McKeith.

  31. I’m so very tempted to post in the comments on her facebook page politely asking for clarification. Curious how long it will last.

  32. There used to be a radio-show nutritionist in the US called Dr. Carlton Fredericks. His doctorate was from a legitimate university, but it still wasn’t medical; he had a doctorate in Communications, with a thesis about people learning nutrition from call-in radio shows, i.e. about how his listeners were learning from him.

    1. Nationally syndicated radio host “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger does kind of the same thing in reverse. She has a doctorate in physiology but doles out “expert” advice on air as if she’s a psychiatrist.

      1. Yeah, but at least Dr Laura actually HAS a real doctorate. PhD in 1974 from Columbia, here thesis title was “EFFECTS OF INSULIN ON 3-O-METHYLGLUCOSE TRANSPORT IN ISOLATED RAT ADIPOCYTES.” Yes, it is physiology and she goes on the radio with psychiatric advice, but I consider that a world of a difference from idiots like McKeith.

        1. @anon, that’s really a wholly separate issue from people buying degrees off the internet but it’s a serious one nonetheless. The question of how good your school was is only relevant in trying to evaluate how well (rigorously) you would have been examined in the specific topic you studied. Going to a good graduate school does not mean you get to go on the radio and give out advice on any topic except things related to your area of expertise. If an economics PhD starts to talk about chemistry he’s not talking about it as a PhD laureate, he’s just using whatever grasp of chemistry he has (which may, but probably won’t, be at doctorate level).

          There’s a very clear example that shows the difference between what you know and where you learned it very clearly – a man has a heart attack on a plane. The stewards call for a doctor. A man with multiple doctorates in particle physics from leading universities across the world stands up. Is he the right man for the job?

          The whole point of doctorates is hoping to know enough about something to be useful in it. There’s nothing in a PhD which makes you suitable for everything – it’s a specialist qualification and if you don’t know something having a doctorate in something else isn’t going to help you very much.

      2. Whoops, you were referring to Fredericks. Agreed, that is the same, but still very different from McKeith.

        (mods – feel free to kill both of these)

  33. Thank you Dr Ben for the day’s best read and phishrow for the best response. I’ve now got a spring in my step (and a fake degree in my back pocket)!

  34. I have a vial of water which contains a dollar bill, minced, and diluted six times.

    Every time I try using it to buy a million dollars’ worth of homeopathic products I get turned down for some incomprehensible reason.

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