There has been a long running spat between the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre and Gillian McKeith, the TV health expert. Ben Goldacre is a qualified Doctor who specialises in debunking poor use of science in the media. It is little wonder he is not impressed with Ms McKeith’s programmes. She often gets basic science wrong and makes very questionable suggestions for improvements to people’s diets. You don’t need Dr Goldacre’s level of expertise to spot the errors – secondary school biology would be enough.
Ben Goldacre has quite a wide ranging critique of Gillian McKeith’s work. But as is the way of these things, one particular point has become emblematic. Until recently she claimed to have a PhD and so to be Doctor McKeith. I don’t think this is the most important issue – her having a PhD wouldn’t make the rubbish she spouts correct. But the ASA investigated and ordered her to take her qualification off her products. So, a round to Goldacre.
Yesterday there was another twist. A random tweeter mentioned that they were reading Dr Goldacre’s book, and received a series of abusive tweets from @gillianmckeith. These got retweeted around giving far prominence to the story than it has ever had. Presumably realising that there was a lot of poor PR occurring, the tweets were taken down and links to the twitter feed removed from Gillian McKeith’s website.
If you are interested in the detail ZenBuffy has all the screenshots.
Much fun has been had by folks on Twitter, and even a couple of reasonable jokes. But how much damage has all this actually done to Gillian McKeith? Well nobody enjoys public mockery so I imagine that must be upsetting. But will it hit her bank account? Frankly I doubt it will make the slightest difference.
I have actually seen Gillian McKeith. Her organisation had a stand at a trade fair I attended a few years back. I visited the stand, despite not having any particular business need to do so, and picked up some leaflets. You have a name badge giving your affiliation so the people manning the stand including the woman herself could see that I was not a potential customer and avoided making eye contact and therefore having to talk to me. (Fair enough, they would have paid a lot for their stand so why indulge an obscure scientist’s curiosity.)
What I could see is that they had a very commercial set of offerings with lots of products with strong claims. Anyone with a health store would be very interested in the combination of a well known persona combined with products that purport to solve people’ problems. From the trade’s point of view the price points and margins all make sense. Its a very commercial offering. I think her products are pretty well distributed. They are certainly in Holland & Barratt who have over 500 stores in key retail locations. Are any of these going to pull her products off the shelf because some people on Twitter are laughing at her? I doubt it very very much. If it has any effect at all, it will be to increase her public recognition and keep her brand higher profile and more attractive for longer. I think she will have the last laugh.