Matthias Rath is a vitamin entrepreneur (or pill salesman) who claimed his treatments could cure AIDS. In addition, he claimed the AZT treatments from pharmaceutical companies were toxic and dangerous.
Ben Goldacre and The Guardian were in the process of being sued by Rath for articles such as this, this and this. South Africa has 5 million people infected with HIV, one person in nine. Fewer than 40,000 are taking proper medication. Matthias Rath didn't like anyone suggesting that people were dying as a result of not getting AZTs and that he might be to blame. Rath maverickly dropped his lawsuit against them this weekend and has been ordered to pay costs, initially £220,000, however the Guardian says it will be looking for around £500,000.
Yesterday's Guardian carried it as a full front page spread, as well as on page 2 & 3 will other snippety bits throughout the paper. And well they should. Lesser papers may have folded at the thought of such a hefty suit and the Guardian is to be credited fully for standing by its integrity and providing the full backup for this frivolous waste-of-time lawsuit.
Of course, Matthias Rath has form - he had previously sued the excellent, worthy, hardworking, admirable and debatably unsung charity, Medecins Sans Frontieres in 2006, which he also maverickly dropped. Not content with spreading false information about AIDS drug treatments, thereby denying life to those AIDS victims who believed it, his own pills were vitamins hence useless against AIDS and yet he has the amorality to sue a charity with limited resources who work hard to provide basic health care to the poorest, toughest parts of the planet. If ever the c-word could be used to describe someone, it is here.
I'm reminded of two conversations which this case brings to my mind:
The first was a discussion with a work colleague about Patrick Holford. I said I strongly disliked the guy because of the nonsense he writes about nutrition, how he is just a pill peddlar but more dramatically, how he ended up being associated with Matthias Rath in his efforts to sell Vitamin C instead of AZTs in South Africa. My colleague's response was to reason that someone trying to selling vitamin C instead of AZTs in South Africa was such a big story, that if it was true, it would be all over the press.
In fact, it was picked up by some of the media, not least the Guardian, but this law suit has meant that Ben Goldacre has had to remove a chapter from his book (more on that soon - it's a corker, incidentally he has suggested he will write a second book purely on the Rath case).
We've seen plenty vexatious time-wasting sewage recently from CAM quarters - remember Society of Homeopaths, Odd Obi, herbal blood cleanser Ann Walker , New Zealand Chiroquackters, British Chiropractic Association - all ended in bloggers winning and the quacks losing more face, ground and credability than they'll ever realise.
What's more intriguing is the deafening silence from the slimy world of the Vitamin pill sales industry about this landmark event. I'll keep an ear out for any words of wisdom from Patrick Holford's camp.
Secondly, when I discussed the above conversation over a beer with the good Dr Goldacre earlier this year, he was unable to talk about the courtcase for obvious reasons, which led to a very interesting conversation about anti-quackery blogging; Ben had the Guardian to back him up for the lawsuit, the majority of bloggers have nothing. This makes for a very asymmetric situation where the Big Vita companies can use legal muscle to silence their puny opponents, thanks to draconian British libel laws. Hence the tendency for many bloggers to try and maintain their anonymity, but equally, as we have seen time and time again, a demonstration that a lawsuit for libel/defamation from a Quack is an admission from the Quack that they have everything to lose from rational dissent.
But still, at this moment, the Anti-quackery blogs are tiggerish with the news, while the silence from the vitamin sales industry is deafening. Full marks to the Guardian and full marks to BG.