Strange Attempt to Link Bad Science to a Suicide

A blogger appears to be blaming the Bad Science forum for a suicide.

The blogpost now opens with a Stop Press:

[STOP PRESS 4 Jan 2014 @15:02: Dr Ben Goldacre’s Internet Bullies Given OK To Launch Attacks On Their Own Blogs – And Told To Shut Up On His BadScience Forum.

The "given the OK" bit implies that bad science bloggers such as yours truly take instruction from Dr Goldacre as to what to post on our blogs - a truly bizarre notion. The only things deciding whether I blog on a subject is whether it interests me and whether I can find time to write a blogpost. To get back to this one:

A patient committed suicide after an anonymous malicious complaint was made by Stuart Jones to the UK’s General Medical Council about the patient’s treating physician, a disciplinary tribunal was told

This disciplinary tribunal is old news. Two years old to be precise, it dates from when Stuart Jones (known as Jonas on the Bad Science forum) was accused of professional misconduct for calling Sarah Myhill a "deluded pill-peddling quack". He admitted the offence and was given a two year Caution Order - pretty much the mildest penalty available. That order expires this month which may go some way to explain the renewed explosion of bile directed at Dr Jones.
Bile such as this:

Causing a patient to commit suicide by vicious bullying of the patient’s treating doctor specifically to “increase anxiety levels” in the victim doctor’s patients is apparently not a sufficiently serious crime to warrant more than a 2 year “caution” for the Health and Care Professions Council.

as well as the assertion that the initial complaint was "malicious".

The complaint was actually about medically dubious advice on Dr Myhill's website and she received a formal warning in October 2012 that is to run for five years.

On Dr Myhill’s website she made statements in relation to contraception and breast cancer screening that were factually incorrect; clinically unsubstantiated; and contrary to national guidelines. In so doing she used her position as a registered practitioner to exploit patients’ lack of medical knowledge by arousing ill found fears for their health. This conduct does not meet with the standard required of a doctor. It risks bringing the profession into disrepute and must not be repeated. The required standards are set out in Good Medical Practice and associated guidance. In this case, paragraph 57, 62 and 65 are particularly relevant. ‘You must make sure that your conduct at all times justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.’ ‘You must not put pressure on people to use a service, for example by arousing ill founded fears for their future health’ and ‘You must do your best to make sure that any documents your write or sign are not false or misleading. This means that you must take reasonable steps to verify the information in the documents, and that you must not deliberately leave out relevant information.’ Whilst this failing in itself is not so serious as to require any restriction on Dr Myhill’s registration, it is necessary in response to issue this formal warning.

So since this finding was made, the compaint was clearly well-founded and can hardly be held to be malicious. And nor can making a reasonable, let alone well founded, complaint be considered as "vicious bullying". Regrettably, however, many in the alternative medicine camp regard any disagreement as "bullying".

Despite the above finding, Child Health Safety claims that:

Although no charges were brought against the patient’s doctor by the GMC and the doctor was never called before the GMC, aborted investigations in 2006/07 cost the GMC £136,692.12 in solicitors’ fees and disbursements and a possible further £500,000 on internal costs – according to a report on a website set up to support the patient’s doctor by patients and wellwishers.

I fear CHS has a slight disconnect from reality.

As for the claim that Dr Jones was doing this in order to "increase anxiety levels" of Dr Myhill's patients, it likely comes from this:

Yup, that’s exactly why I complained actually, to give SM a bucket load of administration to wade through and increase anxiety levels in her patients, very pleasurable in deed!”

which seems bad but is a classic case of quoting out of context. The complaint about Dr Myhill's website concerned advice about breast cancer screening and contraception (see above) which he then posted about on the Bad Science forum.

The thread was then invaded by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome activists many of whom claimed that the complaint was intended to persecute them and deprive them of Myhill's healing powers. This prompted the rather sarcastic comment above.

This is what CHS has to say about the alleged suicide:

The patient, who was suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome at the time [also known as ME] killed himself, according to evidence from his doctor, because he mistakenly believed his doctor was no longer allowed to treat him: ‘Deluded quack’ jibe nearly ruined doctor’s career, Daily Telegraph, 21 December 2011.

I am unable to find this story on the Telegraph’s website. There are three possible reasons for this:
1. My google-fu is weak
2. The Telegraph realised the story was a pile of shite and pulled it
3. CHS’s disconnect from reality has struck again.

The first hypothesis is easily tested. If any one can find it, please post a link in the Comments. Otherwise we have to choose between 2. and 3..

If the suicide did take place, Dr Myhill might want to consider whether “arousing ill-founded fears for … future health” and the fact that her patients seem to regard her as an infallible guru and their only possible saviour might have played a part.

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One Response to “Strange Attempt to Link Bad Science to a Suicide”

  1. Skepticat_UK Says:

    Well said. I’m told the Telegraph story appeared only in the print edition. Someone who was at the hearing said a journalist attended for part of the hearing then left. The journo probably sent one of those Myhillite websites the story by email as soon as it was filed.

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