Dr. Gillian McKeith Barred from Calling Self ‘Doctor’
Scottish diet book guru Gillian McKeith has agreed to stop calling herself “Dr.” after being sued for misrepresentation.
Ben Goldacre explains:
Call her the Awful Poo Lady, call her Dr Gillian McKeith PhD: she is an empire, a multi-millionaire, a phenomenon, a prime-time TV celebrity, a bestselling author. She has her own range of foods and mysterious powders, she has pills to give you an erection, and her face is in every health food store in the country. Scottish Conservative politicians want her to advise the government. The Soil Association gave her a prize for educating the public. And yet, to anyone who knows the slightest bit about science, this woman is a bad joke.
One of those angry nerds took her down this week. A regular from my website badscience.net – I can barely contain my pride – took McKeith to the Advertising Standards Authority, complaining about her using the title “doctor” on the basis of a qualification gained by correspondence course from a non-accredited American college. He won. She may have sidestepped the publication of a damning ASA draft adjudication at the last minute by accepting – “voluntarily” – not to call herself “doctor” in her advertising any more. But would you know it, a copy of that draft adjudication has fallen into our laps, and it concludes that “the claim ‘Dr’ was likely to mislead”. The advert allegedly breached two clauses of the Committee of Advertising Practice code: “substantiation” and “truthfulness”.
Is it petty to take pleasure in this? No. McKeith is a menace to the public understanding of science. She seems to misunderstand not nuances, but the most basic aspects of biology – things that a 14-year-old could put her straight on.
She talks endlessly about chlorophyll, for example: how it’s “high in oxygen” and will “oxygenate your blood” – but chlorophyll will only make oxygen in the presence of light. It’s dark in your intestines, and even if you stuck a searchlight up your bum to prove a point, you probably wouldn’t absorb much oxygen in there, because you don’t have gills in your gut. In fact, neither do fish. In fact, forgive me, but I don’t think you really want oxygen up there, because methane fart gas mixed with oxygen is a potentially explosive combination.
Future generations will look back on this phenomenon with astonishment. Channel 4, let’s not forget, branded her very strongly, from the start, as a “clinical nutritionist”. She was Dr Gillian McKeith PhD, appearing on television every week, interpreting blood tests, and examining patients who had earlier had irrigation equipment stuck right up into their rectums. She was “Dr McKeith”, “the diet doctor”, giving diagnoses, talking knowledgeably about treatment, with complex scientific terminology, and all the authority her white coat and laboratory setting could muster.
As a general rule, anyone who simultaneously uses the prefix “Dr.” and puts their degree (PhD, MD) after their name is a fraud.