I need some cheering up this morning – one of my favorite writers, David Foster Wallace, has died most unexpectedly. Perhaps, in looking back over his best work, it wasn’t as unexpected as all that, but you still never see these things coming.
So I’m glad to report, by contrast, that Dr. Matthias Rath has some problems of his own. Rath, some of you may recall, is one of those people who usually has “controversial” somewhere in front of his name in news articles. I’ve never thought of him that way myself: he’s always seemed just a particularly brazen and heartless con artist. He’s made large sums of money by telling HIV-infected patients that antiretroviral drugs are killing them, and that they should instead cure themselves with vitamin supplements purchased from, yes, Dr. Rath. His rants about the pharmaceutical industry are contemptible – Rath claims, naturally, that we’re a gang of evil poisoners, which is at least a field that he knows something about. He’s one of those people that you’re ashamed to share DNA homology with.
To be scrupulously fair, Rath appears to have distributed his supplements for free to the poorest patients in places like South Africa, which has surely brought down his average profit-per-suffering-death. But he’s been happy to tell wealthier customers in the US and Europe that he can not only cure HIV infection, but various cancers and other fatal ailments, with no convincing data of any kind to back up such claims.
Ben Goldacre, the estimable Bad Science columnist for the Guardian newspaper, ran a column in early 2007 on Rath and his work in South Africa, and followed that up with two more containing disparaging references. Not caring for this sort of publicity, the Dr. Rath Foundation sued for libel. (Goldacre is no stranger to threats of legal action, it seems). I am happy to report that the suit has now been dropped, and that Rath has been ordered to pay legal costs, which are gratifyingly extensive.
It now seems that the Dr. Rath Foundation is moving on to the profitable Russian market – with plenty of bad health and plenty of money sloshing around, it would seem a natural feeding ground for a creature of his type. I hope that the Guardian is able to collect its money in short order, and that Ben Goldacre gets a cut.