Is Wikipedia misleading the public on health?

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, contains errors in nine out of 10 of its health entries, and should be treated with caution, say scientists in the USA.

The research covered in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association stated that ‘Most Wikipedia articles representing the 10 most costly medical conditions in the United States contain many errors when checked against standard peer-reviewed sources. Caution should be used when using Wikipedia to answer questions regarding patient care’.

But then, the whole area of ‘volunteers’ ‘editing’ articles has been fraught with allegations of bullying, offensive comment to contributor writers and is, anyway, clearly open to bias and even misuse and abuse by people with agendas such as skeptics or pharmaceutical companies.

A spokesman for Wikipedia UK stated to the BBC that “Wikipedia can be edited by anybody, but many volunteers from the medical profession check the pages for inaccuracies”. Well, that’s all right then. And, of course, none of these volunteers have any links whatsoever to Pharmaceutical companies.

Entries for some areas of health such as Complementary and Integrative Medicine, even though written by scientists of competence, are known to have been sabotaged and altered by people with such agendas. This has received a great deal of negative comment on the Internet.

The American researchers in the study compared entries on Wikipedia on conditions such as heart disease, lung cancer, depression and diabetes with peer-reviewed medical research.

They said most articles in Wikipedia contained “many errors”.

Lead author Dr Robert Hasty, of the Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina, said: “While Wikipedia is a convenient tool for conducting research, from a public health standpoint, patients should not use it as a primary resource because those articles do not go through the same peer-review process as medical journals.”

Yet, often when patients search for a health topic, Wikipedia is in the top two or three headings listed – it is the sixth most popular Internet site in the world. It is incorrectly read by many people with health problems as if it is some sort of consumer bible.

There are now even ‘clones’ of Wikipedia, like the Skeptic ‘gutter rag’ RationalWiki, which can feature totally subjective ‘articles’ using repeated 4 letter words and claims so wild they border on the false and defamatory. Readers looking for health information might easily mistake these clone sites for the real thing, making their quest for health even more difficult. It’s becoming a mess.

Wikimedia UK, its British arm, said it was “crucial that people with health concerns spoke to their GP first “.

Worryingly, Wikipedia UK claim that about 70% of physicians and medical students use the website.

Stevie Benton, at Wikimedia UK, said there were a “number of initiatives” in place to help improve the articles, “especially in relation to health and medicine”.

He said the charity had a project to bring together volunteer Wikipedia editors with a medical knowledge to identify articles that need improvement, find credible sources and make entries more “accurate and more readable”. Presumably this team will include practitioners in complementary medicine too. We can only hope. We can’t have the bias and errors being judged by more of the same, surely?

A couple of years ago it was announced that help was at hand – Wikipedia would be working with Cancer Research UK to review cancer-related articles by clinical researchers and writers to keep them accurate and up-to-date.

This may help with the accuracy, but it’s hard to know how that endorsement is going to make the Internet claims of bias go away.

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Skeptic conspiracy – it’s no theory

When Professor David Colquhoun erroneously suggested in his 2012 blog that Chris Woollams was using the charity CANCERactive for ‘Private Gain’, it precipitated a chain of events that could be followed easily by anyone with a twitter account. Ironically, it has exposed the skeptic community. Some are shills, stooges, with interests in ‘action groups’ funded by big Pharma, while others are clearly using their anti-CAM websites as money making ventures, capturing personal data from innocent visitors – those coming through the attacks on Woollams, almost certainly with cancer. It’s a sorry, sad mess and only the genuine patient suffers. It begs the question ‘Dare any sensible person visit any of their websites’? To do so is to read a biased, sometimes absurd, inaccurate and even defamatory report at best, whilst potentially exposing your personal data and identity far more than you could ever imagine. The worst case scenario is that your data could even be sold on to third parties.

The claim by Colquhoun was clearly not an issue about science – Woollams took it as personal defamation. Some might call it a lie. Chris didn’t run the charity, he gives his many hours for free, the related ‘business’ he was claimed to be running was no such thing but a dormant company that had never even traded and used to park a trading company whilst a buyer was found. All this would have been scrutinised by Colquhoun’s expert lawyers. Worse for Colquhoun, the accountants for all the relevant companies provided evidence that Woollams took no funding from anywhere. Colquhoun’s lawyers told him to take his claims down – he then made a formal apology to Woollams, even at one point tweeting that the ‘research’ on which he had based his claims was flawed and he wanted to move on.

Most rational people would think that should be the end of the matter.

Selektive attacks?

But Colquhoun is a Skeptic, one of a gang of Skeptics totally focussed on rubbishing complementary therapies and their messengers. Colquhoun also has ‘form’. In the past he has called Patrick Holford, ‘Holfraud’ (more lawyer involvement) but more usually he likes to pick on little people; Dr Alan Lakin and his wife were another example of his ill considered claims. They just wrote to the Provost of UCL where Colquhoun is employed. Their complaint resulted in a formal joint statement with UCL saying that Colquhoun could carry on using the UCL website providing he stuck to being sceptical about science and didn’t attack individuals. Some while later, he was kicked off the UCL server. Attacks on individuals have never stopped.

It is a common theory that Skeptics are funded by Big Pharma. There is, of course, little evidence of payments to individuals. Only recently the attacks on What Doctors Don’t Tell You again focussed attention on Sense about Science, a Pharma-funded skeptic organization in the United Kingdom. At least 40 per cent of their funding in the years 2004-10 came from Big Pharma, according to detailed analysis by a consumer group, H:MC21. This amount increased when attacks were strengthened against homeopathy.

The orchestration of misleading and inaccurate disinformation

When Colquhoun was threatened with legal action by Woollams, the tweets flew. Twitter is a medium much used by Skeptics and trolls alike and it has been described as an ‘Echo chamber’ because it is often used by people who want to verbally pat each other on the back. It is not unusual for some people to send hundreds of tweets a day. The tweets are public.

Colquhoun was on record tweeting Simon Singh. Singh is a mathematician, writer, journalist and has been a leading light in Sense about Science. He had a squabble with some Chiropractors and ended up in the High Court where a judge correctly ruled the High Court was no place for a scientific argument and slung the combatants out. The Skeptics consider this a ‘win’ because he didn’t have to pay a hefty damages bill to the chiropractors. What they don’t want is a ‘loss’ and Colquhoun at this point must have looked rather a liability.

Singh then tweeted openly to the Skeptics and received responses from several, for example Josephine Jones and Lecanardnoir. An interesting tweet came from Alan Henness, a colleague of Singh’s and a ‘pal’ from Sense about Science, who tweeted ‘Poor Chris Woollams’, as plans for attack were drawn up. Henness, who has an IT background, runs the Nightingale Collaboration, an ‘organisation’ that attacks complementary therapists throughout Britain if he feels they make inaccurate claims. It is probably irrelevant to Henness that Florence Nightingale used complementary therapies, natural sunshine, herbs and homeopathy to treat patients. Instead, he and his cronies try to suppress complementary therapists with threats about reporting them to the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards. Many supporters who meet in pubs are probably blissfully unaware of their new-found Pharmaceutical company connections.

Josephine Jones
is also a prodigious production line for complaints, but has already been politely told by the ASA to ‘limit’ her energies. ‘Josephine Jones’ is a figment of someone’s imagination – a nom de guerre. Jones is made out to be a ‘former scientist’. So ‘she’ could be a ‘he’ and could be Claire from Liverpool or Edward from California with a diploma in ‘computer sciences’ and IT like most of the key skeptics; ‘She’ could even be a Pharmaceutical company shill, we have no way of knowing. ‘Her’ writings have been inaccurate, misleading and even downright dangerous as we all saw in ‘her’ ridiculous critique of Woollams book and ‘her’ frightening ignorance over glucose. ‘She’ appears to have no serious credentials in medicine or the biological sciences.

With Lecanardnoir, and Guy Chapman it is simpler. They have definitely have none. Of course, that doesn’t stop them pontificating on the perils of homeopathy and other complementary therapies.

With many of the skeptic gang, there may well be inaccuracy or exaggerated claims, and even defamation and the occasional lie.

Sometimes their comment is absolutely factually wrong, for example: The title says it all.

Lecanardnoir turned up to a debate in Dartington where he was on a panel of commentators about ‘Integrative’ approaches to medicine. ( Who invited him when there are genuine experts all over Britain, goodness knows. According to another panellist, he had to be repeatedly corrected for his inaccuracies by Simon Mills, a Cambridge graduate and founder of the School of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, Penninsular. But then, poor love, lecanardnoir is really Andy Lewis who works in computing. Not that this stops him from running a blog which features a ‘Quackometer’ no less, allowing him alone to decide who is a quack and who isn’t. The irony seems to be lost on him.

Guy Chapman is a self-confessed ‘computer nerd’ according to his LinkedIn site. He seems to write blogs 24/7. Why does he have so much time? He is an Affiliate Marketer by trade. What’s one of those? Well, Affiliate Marketers aim to capture personal data (for example, by using cookies), profile it, and then ‘groom’ people until they click on advertisements for products that might be relevant to them. The Affiliate Marketer then gets paid by click, and/or by commission from sales. It is business – and for some, very big business. So, apart from any personal convictions he may have, it’s Chapman’s ‘job’ to write blogs – they fuel his business with the replies they receive.

Chapman immediately wrote four blogs in three days on Woollams and CANCERactive. He became Colquhoun’s new best friend with the confused Colquhoun both apologising to Woollams while simultaneously providing links to Chapman’s verbose vitriol. Not that Chapman confines his defamatory comments to Woollams – you should see what he writes about Burzynski and Errol Denton (a blood analyst who accused him of racism). Four-letter words abound in uncontrolled rants.

But then this is also the case at RationalWiki, a website that seems to repeat many of the musings of Chapman almost verbatim. Chapman did originally ‘work’ for the real Wikipedia as an administrator but parted company with them in less than perfect circumstances. RationalWiki has been dubbed ‘Irrational Wacky’ and it is easy to see why. Just read their vitriol on the Daily Mail where every journalist merits a four letter expletive and you will instantly understand that this website is a spider’s web, there to trap innocent visitors erroneously thinking it might have sensible views on science.

Colquhoun took his rambling and inaccurate blog on CANCERactive down from the internet. It was replaced almost instantly by a similar load of garbage with the same title from Josephine Jones. The Skeptics try to build blogs which climb to positions right under the subjects they are attacking on Internet search engines so that, in this case, people with cancer will click on their website articles to read what they say by design or accident. This serves a double purpose – it aims to discredit the attacked (CANCERactive), whilst increasing the importance of the attacker’s website in the ‘eyes’ of the search engines. Thus the Skeptics use subjects like Burzynski, Denton, The Daily Mail and CANCERactive to power their own feeble websites up the Google rankings.

Next and unsurprisingly, after about a dozen positive 5-star reviews on Chris Woollams’ excellent book ‘Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer’, there were suddenly two negative reviews by – you’ve guessed it – alias Jones and Chapman.

Woollams was even attacked by another ‘secretive’ website – the Daily Quack. This usually attacks a small healer in Yorkshire or an acupuncturist in Manchester, people who can’t afford to defend themselves. But the writers had a pop at Chris Woollams, also claiming he lived on a sprawling estate in Buckinghamshire (he lives abroad and has done for 20 years) and that he was their new lead writer, which he is not. Of course, again, some innocent followers of Woollams – people with cancer – will click on this website thinking they really will find words of wisdom from him there.

One of the, now devalued, Colquhoun’s recurrent attacking themes against CANCERactive was that they ‘repeatedly’ broke the 1939 Cancer Act and that Trading Standards were useless in doing nothing. This theme was then taken up vociferously by Guy Chapman. Indeed, the sceptics organised a number of formal complaints to Trading Standards. The Trustees of CANCERactive then asked Trading Standards for a once-and-for-all definitive ruling and the matter was referred to the Government body, the MHRA.

The outcome? Both the MHRA and Trading Standards concluded that the 3600 page CANCERactive website was perfectly legal. Yet Chapman still has inaccurate blogs posted about CANCERactive breaking the law.

False identities aim to fool readers

A number of these skeptic websites are anonymous – Skeptics frequently use monikers. Why?

1. Some of the people have credible jobs and their employers might not like them using four letter words to rubbish people doing their best to help cancer patients for no personal reward.
2. Some of the Skeptics clearly lie about their subject. The legal word is defammation. If you use a moniker, hide your IP address with a proxy server etc, you are virtually untraceable if a lawyer comes looking for you. Hiding in rat holes somehow seems appropriate.
3 Some of the secret skeptics could well be paid directly or indirectly by Big Pharma. They could even currently work in a pharmaceutical company. How would any members of the public know?
4 A number of websites may be owned by just one person writing under several monikers. It was a tactic employed, for example, by Guy Chapman when at Wikipedia. If you have proxy accounts in false names, you can build a web of ‘people’ who seem to agree with you. This provides heightened credibility for your claims when in reality they may be devoid of evidence and complete trash.
5. You can also launch co-ordinated attacks. Chapman spent several weeks claiming Woollams was dishonest, while the message from Jones was that he used no research. Neither is true (Colquhoun took their posts down off his site after Woollams suggested he asked his lawyers for a view!)
6 No one knows which websites are linked. Affiliate marketers use a dashboard to see all their accounts in different names. It is possible that the fabricated Jones, Guy Chapman’s Blahg, Chapman Central (, RationalWiki and more are all linked. An innocent cancer patient clicks on one website to read something about homeopathy and their data is collected by someone else.

This anonymity is supported by the use (abuse) of media contacts and of the word ‘experts’ and such-like. For example, ‘experts’ are appalled by the increasing use of complementary therapies in Britain. Actually real experts are not!

Collecting personal data for Private Gain

So, you visit a website mistakenly thinking Woollams is a contributor. The ‘secret’ owner captures your e mail address. They then put a ‘spider’ on this. A spider can profile you and provide basic information – age, male/female etc simply from the ‘secret’ information you gave when you signed up for an e mail account. BUT. Other spiders can use your e mail address to provide lists of all your contacts’ e mails over the years – all your friends and colleagues and their contacts. And they get profiled too. Some clever spiders cross-link all the social media websites and can thus provide data of your likes and far more about you. And this all goes into the Affiliate Marketer’s database and you are categorized by your age, interests, diseases, likes, whatever. All ready to then use the innocent ‘victim’ for personal gain.

How ironic that this all started because Woollams was accused of using a charity for personal gain.

Affiliate Marketers court controversy – if they write that Burzynski is a good man and raises money for the poor, no one will read their blogs. They need to write vitriolic attacks. Who cares whether it is true or defamatory. The newspaper, the Sunday Sport, showed the way with absurd headlines – so let’s hear it Guy … ‘Errol Denton ate my Hamster’. And that’s what the affiliate marketing skeptics are about.

Complementary Therapy is potentially big business

Complementary and Alternative medicine is a rich seam of leads for them. 80,000 practitioners in the UK alone; but of course blogs reach a worldwide audience, so the real figure is far higher. Also a staggering two thirds of patients now use a complementary therapy.

Even if a secret Skeptic is not an affiliate marketer, lists of profiled potential customers derived from their websites could be sold for approximately 8 pounds a thousand names. Some websites can accumulate a million names a year. It is not illegal to create and sell data lists.

Add it all up – it is huge business. So who is involved? Colquhoun, Singh, Jones, Jones, Henness, Chapman? Who knows? Maybe none apart from Chapman? Maybe the rest are just gullible innocents? Maybe they all genuinely think all CAM is quackery? But, really, in this secretive world of Pharma funding and false names and proxy websites, can you trust any of their websites not to collect and, even unwittingly, pass on your data?

Chapman is a top affiliate marketer. He gives speeches around the world. His website uses cookies which will become embedded into your computer to take data. He even sells spiders.


True scepticism and the emergence of non-drug therapies

What a sorry mess: Big pharma sponsoring ‘action groups’; lackeys and shills co-ordinating attacks on subjects like What Doctors Don’t Tell You and CANCERactive, while other skeptics simply fuel their own businesses capturing your personal details.

And, in all this, what happened to true scepticism? Where people with honest opinions could ask if Photodynamic Therapy (just going into Clinical Trials) was a genuine non-invasive alternative to drugs; or, similarly, Ablation (the use of energy from sources such as Ultrasound to heat up and kill cancers)? It has been used successfully with both prostate and breast cancers. Then there is the use of virotherapy and Dr Moira Brown’s successful clinical work with brain cancers. Or Dendritic Cell therapy and a few more coming fast.

It is easy to see why the skeptics are out in force. We could be witnessing the start of the last days of the Pharma Empire. The momentum of non-invasive alternative therapies (at significant savings both financially and in terms of patient stress) is almost too hard for them to stop.

Thank goodness.

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