The Guardian's Dr Ben Goldacre has published a free ebook to accompany his recent book Bad Science, an expose on the junk science that infects policy and health in the UK. The ebook, "The Doctor Will Sue You Now," contains a chapter that Goldacre had to cut from the printed edition, because its subject, a vitamin salesman named Matthias Rath, tied Goldacre up in £500,000 worth of litigation over its contents.
What did Goldacre write about Rath? He told the story of how Rath took
out full page adverts promoting vitamin pills as the answer to the
Aids epidemic, and deriding antiretroviral medication as a murderous
conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry. He ran clinics reflecting
these ideas, and an illegal clinical trial, and he brought these ideas
to the right place: South Africa was headed by an "HIV-denialist"
government - introduced to these ideas by a man who would later become
Rath's employee - who shunned medical treatments in a move that Oxford
Journals' African Affairs estimates cost over 340,000 lives. Rath is
feted by alternative therapy advocates around the world, and used the
not-inconsiderable wealth he amassed selling these vitamins to sue
Goldacre and The Guardian when they criticized his work.
The Doctor Will Sue You Now is Creative Commons licensed and freely redistributable.
ËœThe answer to the AIDS epidemic is here," he proclaimed. Anti-retroviral drugs were poisonous, and a conspiracy to kill patients and make money. "Stop AIDS Genocide by the Drugs Cartel said one headline. "Why should South Africans continue to be poisoned with AZT? There is a natural answer to AIDS." The answer came in the form of vitamin pills. "Multivitamin treatment is more effective than any toxic AIDS drug. Multivitamins cut the risk of developing AIDS in half."
Rath's company ran clinics reflecting these ideas, and in 2005 he decided to run a trial of his vitamins in a township near Cape Town called Khayelitsha, giving his own formulation, VitaCell, to people with advanced AIDS. In 2008 this trial was declared illegal by the Cape High Court of South Africa. Although Rath says that none of his participants had been on anti-retroviral drugs, some relatives have given statements saying that they were, and were actively told to stop using them.
Tragically,Matthias Rath had taken these ideas to exactly the right place. Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa at the time, was well known as an "AIDS dissident", and to international horror, while people died at the rate of one every two minutes in his country, he gave credence and support to the claims of a small band of campaigners who variously claim that AIDS does not exist, that it is not caused by HIV, that anti-retroviral medication does more harm than good, and so on.