A Big Fat Critique

Author/journalist Nina Teicholz’s critique of Retraction Watch’s reporting re: failed attempt by DC special interest group to retract her BMJ article

Via BMJ won’t retract controversial dietary guidelines article, says author by editor Alison McCook, Retraction Watch, September 23, 2016:

The BMJ is not going to retract a 2015 article criticizing the expert report underlying the U.S. dietary guidelines, despite heavy backlash from readers, according to the author of the article.

As Politico reported today, the publication told journalist Nina Teicholz it wouldn’t retract the article, first published one year ago today.

This morning Ms. Teicholz posted the following comment on Ms. McCook’s item, which my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich and I are co-publishing with her permission.


This piece, like the ones previously on this topic by Retraction Watch, have lacked balance: the preponderance of quotes and all the links embedded in the piece are critical of me or echo the CSPI playbook, which is to cast innuendo on my work, calling it “error laden” and somehow related to the meat industry.

Neither of these allegations is based on any evidence, and neither is true. Moreover, Retraction Watch’s coverage has leaned heavily on reporting by The Verge, which has been the most defensive of the government’s Dietary Guidelines and uniquely critical of me (and is a difficult choice for RW to defend, given that The Verge is an obscure outlet, and that the reporter covering this issue has no experience in covering nutrition science or policy–a highly complex field). Meanwhile, RW has ignored a great deal more mainstream, balanced coverage of the issue, some of which I list below.

Consider what a more balanced piece on this issue might look like (It’s impossible to embed links in the Comment section, so I’ve only included a few).

Nina Teicholz, science journalist and author of the bestselling The Big Fat Surprise, has challenged some of the fundamental thinking on nutrition science and disease. Her piece in The BMJ questioned the science underlying the Dietary Guidelines, including whether it was systematically reviewed. When the piece came out, a year ago, it was criticized heavily by many scientists, including all the members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and CSPI, who called it “error-laden.”

But its allegations were supported by others, including prominent nutrition scientist Arne Astrup, who was quoted in Cardiobrief as saying, “The (DGA) committee seems to be completely dissociated from the top level scientific community, and unaware of the most updated evidence.” And others have echoed the criticisms, including a 2016 piece in The Annals of Internal Medicine by prominent cardiologist Steven E. Nissen, entitled, “US Dietary Guidelines, an Evidence Free Zone,” and an op-ed by former DGA committee member Cheryl Achterberg, questioning both the science and the process of the Guidelines. (see below for a list of many other critiques of the DGAs).

In fact, concern about the DGAs and their inability to combat the crippling epidemics of obesity and diabetes, has grown recently, such that last year, the US Congress held a hearing on October 7, at which both the Secretaries of HHS and USDA, who jointly produce the Guidelines, were called to testify. [Statements of concern about the DGAs by members of Congress can be found at http://www.nutrition-coalition.org/congress-is-concerned/, in which many of the issues raised were similar to those in The BMJ article].

Indeed, the level of Congressional concern was so high that Congress subsequently mandated that the National Academy of Medicine conduct the first-ever major peer review of the DGAs. Moreover, Congress appropriated $1 million to ensure that the review be conducted. (Congress also required that all 2015 DGA committee members recuse themselves from the process.) The major goal of the review is understand how the DGAs “can better prevent chronic diseases.” Given that 2/3 of the nation are overweight or obese, and more than half pre-diabetic or diabetic, these public health issues are of urgent importance.

CSPI, a staunch defender of the Dietary Guidelines, has called critics of the Guidelines “full of baloney” and portrayed their views as being motivated by industry funding.
http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/257353-coalition-is-full-of-baloney-on-nutrition-guidelines

CSPI in particular opposes new thinking on saturated fat, presumably because the group has campaigned against these fats for decades and indeed, is uniquely responsible for driving them out of the food supply. Yet these fats have undergone considerable reconsideration over the past five years [There are many articles on this, in mainstream publications]. In her BMJ piece, Teicholz argued that this recent science had not been systematically reviewed by the 2015 DGA committee.

CSPI wrote the letter of retraction submitted to The BMJ and collected signatures from 180+ scientists, including all members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee. This is virtually an unprecedented number of scientists (?) calling for retraction of an article [and is therefore arguably a subject that RW ought to address]. The original number of signers was actually higher, but 18 dropped out. Harvard professor Frank Hu made a particular effort to round up signatures. He is the DGA committee member who chaired the 2015 DGA review of saturated fats that Teicholz criticized. [Links to these topics can be found in Heimlich’s post, above]

It’s not clear whether the 180+ scientists understood the alleged errors that formed the foundation of the BMJ retraction request, as reporter Ian Leslie reported in The Guardian: “When I asked them to name just one of the supposed errors in it [the BMJ article], not one of them was able to. One admitted he had not read it.”
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin

Many scientists believe that the DGAs do not reflect the most current and most rigorous science. Teicholz’s BMJ article could be part of the effort to shed light on these issues. And possibly, this retraction effort by CSPI and the DGA committee members is an attempt to shut down debate on their long-held positions rather than an earnest alarm about alleged errors. The fact that CSPI has also worked to maneuver Teicholz’s dis-invitation from a conference panel adds to the impression that they are trying to silence debate.

http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-agriculture/2016/03/teicholz-disinvited-from-food-policy-panel-stabenow-grassley-let-usda-fda-review-syngenta-merger-fda-to-release-food-safety-tests-on-cucumbers-213410
http://www.the-sidebar.com/2016/03/craven-cave-in-how-journalistauthor.html

OTHER EXPERTS WHO HAVE BEEN CRITICAL OF THE DIETARY GUIDELINES

“The expert committee report repeatedly makes recommendations based on observational studies and surrogate end points, failing to distinguish between recommendations based on expert consensus rather than high-quality RCTs. Unfortunately, the current and past U.S. dietary guidelines represent a nearly evidence-free zone.”
– Steven Nissen, Department Chair, Cardiovascular Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, The Annals of Internal Medicine, January 19 2016

“Despite being controversial recommendations based on weak scientific evidence, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created in 1980 a food pyramid and placed carbohydrates at its base. This national nutritional experiment contributed, as we know now, to the increased prevalence of obesity.”
– Osama Hamdy, Medical Director, Joslin Diabetes Center, Harvard Medical School, Nutrition Revolution: The End of the High Carbohydrates Era for Diabetes Prevention and Management, January 11, 2015.

“These guidelines are hugely influential, affecting diets and health around the world. The least we would expect is that they be based on the best available science. Instead the committee has abandoned standard methodology, leaving us with the same dietary advice as before – low fat, high carbs. Growing evidence suggests that this advice is driving rather than solving the current epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. The committee’s conflicts of interest are also a concern. We urgently need an independent review of the evidence and new thinking about diet and its role in public health.”
– Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, The BMJ The BMJ, September 24, 2015.

“Important aspects of these recommendations remain unproven, yet a dietary shift in this direction has already taken place even as overweight/obesity and diabetes have increased. Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science.”
– Hite et al, Nutrition 2010.

“It seems reasonable to consider…whether the guidelines can be trusted and whether they have done more harm than good.”
– David A. McCarron, University of California, Davis Wall Street Journal, op-ed, Nov. 27, 2015

“Dietary Guidelines: Are We on the Right Path?” The DGAs are only weakly associated to better health outcomes and reduced risk of chronic disease.
– Joanne Slavin, University of Minnesota, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Nutrition and Policy (2012)

“At the end of this year, the federal government will issue a new set of dietary guidelines, but what’s clear to many in the scientific community is that the dietary guidelines report is not ready for primetime. The process under which they were developed clearly needs enhancing to ensure that Americans are being provided the strongest, most accurate recommendations based on the most rigorous science available.”
– Cheryl Achterberg, The Ohio State University, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, “Rigorous Science Must Decide Dietary Guidelines to Combat Health Epidemics”, Roll Call (2015)

“… these guidelines might actually have had a negative impact on health, including our current obesity epidemic. [There’s a] possibility that these dietary guidelines might actually be endangering health is at the core of our concern about the way guidelines are currently developed and issued.”
– Paul Marantz, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, American Journal of Preventative Medicine (2008)

“Government dietary fat recommendations were untested in any trial prior to being introduced.”
– British Open Heart Journal (2015)

“Despite our evidence-based review lens where we say that food policies are ‘science based,’ in reality we often let our personal biases override the scientific evidence… it may be time for a new approach to dietary guidance in the United States.”
– Joanne Slavin, University of Minnesota, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Nutrition and Policy (2015)

“The guidelines changed how Americans eat… In place of fat, we were told to eat more carbohydrates… Americans, and food companies and restaurants, listened — our consumption of fat went down and carbs, way up. But nutrition, like any scientific field, has advanced quickly, and by 2000, the benefits of very-low-fat diets had come into question… Yet, this major change went largely unnoticed by federal food policy makers.”
– Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University and David Ludwig, Harvard Medical School, “Why is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?”, New York Times (2015)

“I and a team of researchers have studied the data that these guidelines are based on and have come to the conclusion that the data are scientifically flawed. That’s because most of the data on which dietary guidelines are based were gathered by asking people to recall what they had consumed in the recent past—something people are notoriously bad at remembering.”
– Ed Archer, University of Alabama, “The Dietary Guidelines Hoax”

“The U.S. government has been providing nutrition guidance to the public since 1980. Yet 35 years later their influence on eating habits has been negligible…If policy makers expect to influence Americans’ eating habits… things must change.”
– Cheryl Achterberg, The Ohio State University, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, “Government Food Cops are Out to Lunch”, Wall Street Journal (2015)

“The low-fat–high-carbohydrate diet, promulgated vigorously by…National Institutes of Health, and American Heart Association…and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid, may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, lipid abnormalities, type II diabetes, and metabolic syndromes. This diet can no longer be defended by appeal to the authority of prestigious medical organizations or by rejecting clinical experience and a growing medical literature suggesting that the much-maligned low-carbohydrate–high-protein diet may have a salutary effect on the epidemics in question.”
– Sylvan Lee Weinberg, MD, “The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: A Critique.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2004)

“Very Disappointing,” Walter Willett, Harvard Chan School of Public Health

“These Guidelines are effectively useless,” and “The Guidelines are a national embarrassment…It is a sad day for public health. It is a day of shame.” David L. Katz, Yale-Griffin Prevention Program

“The Food Cops and Their Ever-Changing Menu of Taboos”
Wall Street Journal (2015)
David A. McCarron, M.D., F.A.C.P., Visiting Professor with the Department of Nutrition, University of California-Davis.

“Government Food Cops are Out to Lunch”
Wall Street Journal (2015)
Cheryl Achterberg, PhD, Dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2010).

“Keep Dietary Guidance Evidence Based”
Star Tribune (2015)
Joanne Slavin, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota, former member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2010).

“Why is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?”
New York Times (2015)
Dariush Mozaffarian, PhD, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, and David Ludwig, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School.

“Make Science and Public Health the Focus of the Dietary Guidelines”
The Hill (2015)
Jeff Volek, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, the University of Connecticut and Stephen Phinney, PhD, MIT.

“Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Playing Politics with Our Health”
Roll Call (2015)
Jeff Volek, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, the University of Connecticut.

“Why Do Dietary Guidelines Keep Failing? Weak Evidence Invalidated by Rigorous Research”
San Diego Union Tribune (2015)
Bradley Fikes, biotechnology reporter.

“The Government’s Bad Diet Advice”
New York Times (2015)
Nina Teicholz, author and science journalist.

“Food Guidelines Are Broken. Why Aren’t They Being Fixed?”
Newsweek (2015)
Jeff Volek, PhD, Department of Kinesiology, the University of Connecticut.

“Dietary Guidelines for Americans Science or …?”
Protein Power blog (2015)
Michael R. Eades, M.D.

“Advisory Committee’s Violations of Federal Low Threaten Credibility of 2015 Dietary Guidelines”
Forbes (2015)
Glenn G. Lammi, contributor.

“Next Time Government Gives You Dietary Advice, Consider Doing the Opposite”
Reason.com (2015)
David Harsanyi, columnist, senior editor.

“The Red Meat, Eggs, Far, and Salt”
Reason.com (2015)
Ronald Bailey, science correspondent, columnist, and author.

MAINSTREAM REPORTING ON THE BMJ ARTICLE

“What the Government’s Dietary Guidelines May Get Wrong”
The New Yorker (2015)
Sam Apple, journalist and writer.

“Report Says Proposed U.S. Dietary Guidelines Aren’t Backed Up by Relevant Science”
Newsweek (2015)
Jessica Firger, journalist.

“Here’s What’s Wrong With the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, Report Says”
Time (2015)
Alexandra Sifferlin, journalist.

“How Scientific Are the US Dietary Guidelines?”
Mother Jones (2015)
Samantha Michaels, journalist.

“How Strong Is the Science Behind the U.S. Dietary Guidelines?”
CNN (2015)
Carina Storrs, science and health writer.

“Expecting Scientifically Sound Nutritional Guidance from the Feds? Fat Chance”
Reason.com (2015)

“Are Fats Unhealthy? The Battle Over Dietary Guidelines”
The New York Times (2015)
Aaron E. Carroll, MD, MS is a Professor of Pediatrics, Associate Dean for Research Mentoring at Indiana University School of Medicine.

“BMJ Paper Criticizes Proposed US Dietary Guidelines”
CARDIOBRIEF (2015)
Larry Huston

“BMJ Lambasts U.S. Dietary Group for Shoddy Research”
MEDPAGE TODAY (2015)
Parker Brown, staff writer.

“New Report Asserts Major Issues with the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines”
Yahoo Health (2015)
Jenna Birch, contributing writer

“Experts Day US Dietary Guidelines May Be A Danger to Millions of Americans’ Health”
Medical Daily (2015)
Samantha Olson, MS, Stony Brook University.

“Science Used in Proposed U.S. Dietary Guidelines is Questioned”
Chicago Sun-Times (2015)
Sue Ontiveros, contributing blogger and scientist.

This comment has been slightly reformatted for readability

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Where’s the Beef?

Politico reports that the BMJ will not retract “controversial” dietary guidelines article by Nina Teicholz, author of New York Times best-seller, The Big Fat Surprise

Via Politico’s Morning Agriculture (MA) blog, Teicholz said she was notified of the journal’s decision after it conducted a months-long review:

A controversial article questioning the science behind the U.S. Dietary Guidelines that appeared in the British Medical Journal a year ago today won’t be retracted, its author, Nina Teicholz, tells MA. “The BMJ has informed me, in writing, that they have made the decision not to retract the article,” Teicholz said in an email.

Teicholz was quoted in another article by Retraction Watch as saying that outside reviewers found that her criticism of the methods used by the DGAC “[is] within the realm of scientific discussion, and [is] therefore not grounds for retraction.”

The news comes exactly one year after the BMJ published “The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?”, Teicholz’s September 23, 2015 article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

As reported on this blog and on The Sidebar (Atlanta, GA reporter Peter M. Heimlich’s top drawer website), Washington DC-based advocacy non-profit, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), aggressively campaigned to get the article retracted.

Leading the charge was CSPI’s Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman, who in her September 23, 2015 opening salvo called Teicholz’s article an “error-laden attack” on the 2015 DGAC report:

The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.

On November 5, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.

The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.

However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.

As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.

But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatures to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog herehere and here.

Until the BMJ releases its findings, it’s unclear whether the journal will make corrections to Teicholz’s article, but here’s what Teicholz, Liebman, and BMJ editor in chief Fiona Godlee told Retraction Watch:

“The BMJ’s decision vindicates the view that it’s important to have open debate and discussion over scientific issues, especially when they have such an oversized impact on public health, and even when large, vested interests are at stake” – Nina Teicholz

“Until [the review is released], we really don’t know the end of the story. It would be a shame if the media handled the story as if the case is closed, when really it isn’t…

“…I’m frustrated. It’s been a year since the original article was published, and more than 10 months since more than 180 scientists called for a retraction…Here we are in September, and we still have heard nothing” – Bonnie Liebman

“You can be sure that we will let you know as soon as our review of this matter is complete, which we hope will be very soon” – Fiona Godlee

Unblurred Lines

The Independent publishes my corrections request re: Crown Prosecution Service’s skewed statistics on rape convictions

Last week, I blogged about the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) having exaggerated the 2015-16 rape conviction rate.

Via a press release, the CPS claimed that it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”

These figures were widely reported in the UK press, including the Independent newspaper.

the-independent-cps-rape-conviction-rate-2015-16

Via the WayBack Machine, the Independent’s Sept. 6 article

However, a close look at the CPS’ 2015-16 Violence Against Women and Girls crime report reveals that the rape conviction rate “includes cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

On Sept. 17, I made a corrections request to the Independent regarding “Revenge porn prosecutions number ‘more than 200’ just 18 months after law change,” the newspaper’s Sept. 6 article which, as per the above screenshot, stated that “in 2015/16…There were a record numbers of rape prosecutions (4,643) and convictions (2,689).”

Yesterday, I received notification from the Independent’s readers’ liaison assistant Jane Campbell that the article has been updated.

Dear Mr Jones,

Thank you for contacting us via our online complaints form. We are always glad to hear from our readers, whether or not feedback is positive, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to get in touch about ‘Revenge porn prosecutions number ‘more than 200′ just 18 months after law change’ (6 September).

Your point is well taken and the article has now been changed to reflect that rape conviction figures also include cases where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.

I hope that, in spite of your concerns on this occasion, you will continue to read and enjoy The Independent. And please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future should cause arise.

With best regards
Jane Campbell
Readers’ liaison assistant

Here’s what the article reads now:

the-independent-cps-rape-conviction-rate-2015-16-correction-1

the-independent-cps-rape-conviction-rate-2015-16-correction-2

Blurred Lines

UK prosecution service fudges the statistics on rape

Earlier this month, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) released its annual Violence Against Women and Girls crime report.¹ Via a press release, the CPS claimed that it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”

Despite the CPS’ own admission that it “does not collect data which constitutes official statistics as defined in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007,” figures from the press release were reported in several mainstream newspapers, including the Guardian and the Telegraph.

the-guardian-violence-against-women-and-girls-crime-report

However, a close look at the report itself reveals that the rape conviction rate includes “cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

For example, the report states that there was a total of 2,689 rape convictions for the financial year 2015-16, yet according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ),² there was only 1,297 rape convictions for the calendar year 2015 – a disparity of 1,392.

My questions:

• How many cases initially flagged as rape were later charged or convicted with a lesser crime? How many where the conviction was amended altogether?

• How many convictions were obtained in the period prior to the start of the financial year 2015-16? How many after the calendar year 2015?

Those are questions for a statistician better qualified than a C-grade maths student such as myself. In the meantime, I’ll ask the CPS about its methods of recording statistics and blog the results.

Stay tuned.

¹The report is also “inclusive of data on men and boys.”
²MOJ data “only includes cases where the final conviction was for rape.”

The Death of Itziar Orube

Leading “Germanic New Medicine” proponent Itziar Orube has reportedly died

Earlier this year I blogged about the notorious Ryke Geerd Hamer, a German physician who lost his medical licence in 1986 after a number of patients in his care died.

Now come reports of another Hamer-related death. Itziar Orube, a leading proponent of Hamer’s widely discredited theory of disease, the “Germanic New Medicine” (GNM), has reportedly died due to complications from breast cancer.

Itziar Orube with Ryke Geerd Hamer

Proponents of GNM believe that the onset of disease occurs when a person suffers sudden or prolonged emotional trauma, and that conventional medicine should be rejected in favour of natural methods, including talking therapy.

According to Emilio Molina of RedUNE, a Spanish cult awareness network, Orube believed she was in the process of healing herself naturally, even as she lay on her deathbed.

“Although she used to refuse even analgesics [GNM asserts that painkillers compromise a patient’s recovery], at the very last moments she went to a ‘pain unit,’” said Molina. “Until the last moments she thought she was healing herself of her waterlogged lungs.”

Orube joins the growing list of people who have fallen victim to Hamer’s “death sect,” the youngest being 12-year-old German cancer patient Susanne Rehklau, who “died a painful death” in 2010 after Hamer gave her the all-clear.

Via my June 30, 2016 blog post, Hamer’s followers have set-up shop in the US, under the name the International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA).

The Bitch is Back

Carter-Ruck Lawyers passes the baton to Schillings partners in Elton John three-way tabloid scandal, but where does that leave Internet users threatened with legal action?

The juiciest celebrity news story of 2016 went unreported in the UK thanks to strong-arm legal tactics by David Furnish, husband of pop singer Elton John.

As you didn’t read in the newspapers, Furnish was allegedly given permission from his famous hubby to participate in a three-way sexscapade with British businessman Daniel Laurence and his husband Pieter Van den Bergh in a paddling pool of olive oil.

The story as reported by the National Enquirer in April

When Laurence and Van den Bergh decided to go public with the story, Furnish took out an injunction – dubbed the cheater’s charter – preventing papers in England and Wales from revealing the names of those involved.

But efforts to squash the story didn’t end there.

Earlier this year, non-UK Twitter users began tweeting e-mails they received from Twitter’s legal department demanding that they delete tweets outing John and Furnish as the celebrity couple first identified in court documents as YMA and PJS.

neil-saunders-twitter-legal

As an experiment, I set up a pseudonymous Twitter profile and tweeted about the story.¹

YMA PJS Tweet

Sure enough, within a few days I received the following e-mail.

Twitter Legal Notice

Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about the complainant and the nature of their complaint, so I took my enquiry to Carter-Ruck Lawyers, a British law firm known for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele.

According to court documents, Carter-Ruck represented Furnish when the National Enquirer broke the story in AprilHowever, when I asked Carter-Ruck’s Managing Partner Nigel Tait about his firm’s legal shenanigans, he forwarded my questions to defamation lawyer Jenny Afia of Schillings partners, another British firm specialising in reputation and privacy.

Unfortunately, Afia declined to comment on whether Schillings represents Furnish, or if it intends to pursue offending Twitter users.

Don’t shoot me I’m only the messenger

In April, UK-based anti-piracy company Web Sheriff filed 12 copyright complaints with Google requesting it remove a total of 447 URLs linking to articles about the scandal.

web-sheriff-requests

Among the websites flagged for removal was TomWinnifrith.com, whose namesake – a prominent British entrepreneur and blogger – outed the couple in April.

Although Google ultimately didn’t enforce the request, Winnifrith said his web hosting provider took down his website following a legal threat from Web Sheriff.

Investment columnist Tom Winnifrith

WS [Web Sheriff] contacted our hosting company and bullied it into taking our site down and only putting it back up if we pulled the article,” said Winnifrith. That hoster cravenly did this even though WS had no power to threaten.

He continued: “I asked WS on whose authority it was demanding we pull content since that authority was actually vested with the UK Courts not a US law firm. I asked if it was acting for Mr. John. It refused to reply.”

When I asked Web Sheriff similar questions, I received no reply.

Self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff” John Giacobbi

It isn’t the only time an article about the scandal was pulled following legal threats.

In May, an article by Irish political activist and blogger Paddy J. Manning was pulled from MercatorNet, an Australian opinion-based news website.²

According to Manning, MercatorNet was forced to take down the article after the website’s web hosting provider was threatened with legal action.

Irish electoral candidate Paddy J. Manning

MercatorNet warned me that the website was run on ‘the smell of an oily rag’ so that if they were sued in Australian courts they would capitulate, said Manning. They received several warnings but no effective legal correspondence outside of threatening e-mails.”

He continued:It was their hosting company who were threatened successfully with a court action against their mirror/backup in Florida. No legal action was taken against the host; the threat was enough.

This was a perfect lesson in the brittleness of the web, how weak some constituent parts are and how quickly they snap.”

Redressing an unfurnished press

Thanks to the Internet, unflattering details about celebrities’ personal lives are accessible to anyone who wants to know. Ironically, there appears to be little public interest in Furnish’s affair, as demonstrated by the scanty coverage it initially received in the US.

Per the Streisand Effect, efforts to suppress the story only helped it along; according to a recent YouGov poll, one in four Brits already know the identity of YMA and PJS.

daily-mail-elton-john-david-furnish-perfect-marriage

A recent edition of the Daily Mail

It’s perhaps an indication of the futility of Furnish’s efforts that, since April, Google has removed just two of the 447 offending URLs flagged by Web Sheriff.

However, the residual chill from the injunction can be felt as far as the US and Canada. The National Enquirer and the National Post – both of which were flagged by Web Sheriff – are just two publications whose articles about the scandal are unavailable in the UK.

I’ll ask the Enquirer, the Post, and others about their articles and blog the results.

Stay tuned.

¹I live in Northern Ireland, therefore not bound by the injunction in England and Wales.

²Manning’s original blog post about the scandal was also geo-blocked by Google Blogger following legal threats. However, he described this form of censorship as patchy,” as the post could sometimes be viewed in one US state, but not in another. His tweets about the scandal were also geo-blocked by Twitter.