Friday, January 21, 2005

More on McKeith, and whether you are what you say

On 11 August last year (see archives) I wrote a piece on Gillian McKeith. If you live in the UK, you can hardly have failed to notice that McKeith is the author of a book called You Are What You Eat, which has been a huge seller. She also had a show on Channel 4 last year, and the second series is now showing.

Basically, McKeith is presented to us as a 'nutritionist'. On the TV shows, she takes on a monstrously fat person, persuades them to eat some decent food for a change, instead of the fat-filled crap they've been cramming into themselves, and bingo -- they begin to look and feel a lot better. As TV shows go, and if you're feeling fairly comatose anyway, hers is a painless way to spend half an hour. You might even get the odd laugh or idea out of it.

What caught my attention last year was that McKeith was heavily labelled, on both book and TV, as 'Dr' McKeith. Now it so happens that I can claim that title too, by virtue of a PhD degree. I also have a daughter and a son-in-law who are medical doctors. I am therefore interested in people claiming the title 'Dr'. I tend to wonder where that person got the degree, and in what subject.

In her first TV series, McKeith frequently appeared in the traditional medical doctor's garb of white lab coat; she was also seen examining patient's abdomens, talking learnedly about the results of various scientific tests, and generally giving the impression (quite unintentionally, I'm sure) that she was your average medical doctor, graduated from one of the better UK universities. There was something about the whole deal, however, which gave me pause for thought. So on 11 August I took a look at what could be found out about Gillian McKeith on various internet sites.

What I found was not encouraging. I discovered that someone else had also been a tad suspicious, and Precautionary Tales had already published some serious doubts about the value of McKeith's qualifications. At best, her PhD was a degree obtained from an American college with no academic standing whatever. So, on 11 August, I blogged a piece about the learned Dr McKeith, suggesting that she might not, after all, be 'the world's leading nutritionist' as was once claimed on her web site.

Anyway, the second TV series has now been running for a couple of weeks, and I noticed that this time there is no mention whatever of the 'Dr' title. She is referred to as 'Ms' McKeith. The white coat is less in evidence, and the male doctor who presents the test results definitely is referred to as 'Dr'. So, just by way of interest, I thought I would take a look at what information is available about McKeith's academic standing now, five months after my original search.

Boy oh boy. I did worry, just a little, that I might have been the teensiest bit unfair to McKeith. I didn't actually accuse her of pretending to be a medical doctor when she ain't, which would be a criminal offence, but I came close, and I did think that I might, perhaps, hear from her lawyers. I needn't have worried. Turns out that I was a perfect gentleman compared with some.

On 12 August, Ben Goldacre wrote a column in The Guardian in which he took McKeith apart, brick by brick. Her PhD, he reveals, comes from a college which is 'a non-accredited correspondence course, which is not recognised by the US secretary for education for the purpose of educational grants.' He went on to question the remainder of her 'scientific' qualifications and claims.

A week later, having received some protests from fans, Goldacre went further, and showed that some of McKeith's pronouncements on scientific matters are pure gibberish. 'She is,' he concluded, ' a menace to the public understanding of science, and anyone who gives her a platform should be ashamed of themselves.'

Others are equally unimpressed. A site called 'The view from number 80' published a piece about her which has lots of links to McKeith's critics. Spiked says bluntly that McKeith's dietary recommendations are 'pure quackery'.

McKeith's own website, by the way, has the address, and it still refers to her, in large letters as 'Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD)'.

Perhaps most cruel of all are those commentators who point out that this woman of 45, an expert on nutrition, looks about 60. Dear me.


Anonymous said...

I live in Canada and saw 6 episodes back to back last week of Dr. G. McKeith's show 'You Are What You Eat' for the first time. Although I feel that I eat right most of the time, exercise 5 days a week I thought her show was still an eye opener and learned alot. But I must admit I was shocked to read that she is only 45 and feel that at age 53 I look much younger.

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