Round-Up 2019: Creating a Buzz

Hackers, backlinks, and Russian trolls. Revisiting my scoopiest stories of 2019

First up, a perennial thanks to zen master blogger Peter Heimlich and his wife Karen Shulman, BuzzFeed News Media Editor Craig Silverman, EIC Ben Smith, and online disinfo chronicler extraordinaire Jane Lytvynenko, Daily Beast EIC Noah Shachtman, reporters Lachlan Markay, Lachlan Cartwright, and Asawin Suebsaeng, Truth or Fiction? Managing Editor Brooke Binkowski, Volokh Conspiracy (via Reason.com) co-founder Eugene Volokh, Techdirt reporter Tim Cushing, Foreign Policy reporter Amy Mackinnon, investigative reporter Casey Michel, FoodMed.net editor Marika Sboros, journalist/author Nina Teicholz, online disinfo researcher DivestTrump, and the many editors, copy editors, and lawyers who work hard to make me look good and keep me out of trouble.

Big thanks also to Automattic, the company behind WordPress, which in 2019 denied three frivolous legal requests to remove content on this blog, including from the Indian government (click here and here to read Eugene Volokh’s coverage of those requests).

After co-bylining a series of investigative stories for The Daily Beast in 2018, in April I started freelancing for BuzzFeed News. But not before co-bylining one last story with DB’s Lachlan Markay. An update to the Forrest Gumpian saga of Kremlin media policy adviser Alexander Malkevich — who has a knack for popping up in unexpected (and not-so-unexpected) places — the story chronicled Malkevich’s attempts to navigate US Treasury Department sanctions placed on him and his now-infamous Russian propaganda site USA Really in late 2018.

malkevich_standart04032019

Alexander Malkevich (source)

Via “Google Yanks Services From Russian Propaganda Site” by Lachlan Markay and Dean Sterling Jones, The Daily Beast, February 07, 2019:

Tech giant Google has cut off a sanctioned Russian propaganda website from popular tools that allowed the site to track and collect extensive data on the site’s readers.

The website, USA Really, has been barred from using Google Analytics, the company told The Daily Beast last week, depriving the site of reporting data on readers’ countries of origin, time of visit, pages visited, referring websites, IP addresses, and types of operating systems. The information is typically used for search engine optimization and marketing purposes.

It’s the latest setback for USA Really, which has seen multiple other tech firms cut ties with the site after its parent company, Russia’s Federal News Agency (FAN), was hit with U.S. sanctions in December. Federal authorities accuse FAN of complicity in a widespread, Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign dubbed “Project Lakhta…”

Sanctions against FAN also have USA Really’s American contributors reconsidering their own involvement, given the possibility that any payments for their writing might run afoul of prohibitions on business dealings with the site.

“Our authors continue to cooperate with us,” Malkevich told The Daily Beast. “They write about their thoughts, about the problems of American society…”

Asked about the future of USA Really, he said he is currently exploring ways to navigate the new sanctions while waiting for federal authorities to confirm whether or not he has the right to continue operating in the United States.

“WHY I HAVE THE RIGHT TO RUN MY SITE??????????????,” he replied when asked to elaborate. “1. IT IS MY OWN PROJECT 2. I REALLY LOVE TO WRITE 3. US DIDN’T SUGGEST ME ANYTHING ONLY SANCTIONS NO COMMUNICATION NO LETTERS NO ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS NO COOPERATION.

“I AM REALLY UPSET BECAUSE OF ALL THESE THINGS,” he added. “AND NOW YOU WANT TO CONSRUCT [sic] SOME THEORY OF PLOT AGAINST US?

“WITCH HUNT 2019? ALL ANERICANS [sic] CAN WRITE ANYTHING FOR US.”

Click here to read the full story.

Despite a glowing review of our story by one of USA Really’s American contributors, Malkevich subsequently quit the site to lead the Foundation for the Protection of National Values (FPNV), a self-described “small non-government organisation” that purportedly conducts sociological research to sell to “businessmen” and “other people who are in need of them.” At FPNV, Malkevich spent the rest of 2019 fending off allegations (including criminal charges against two of FPNV’s employees) that he was involved in Kremlin-backed efforts to interfere in African elections.

In March, I scooped The Atlantic to a story about Alexander Ionov, a gun-toting Russian lawyer, businessman, and financial supporter of fringe secessionist movements across the globe, and who in 2018 launched a fundraising site to help pay convicted Russian agent Maria Butina’s legal bills.

Maria Butina (source)

Via “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills” by Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, March 20, 2019:

Maria Butina, the first Russian to plead guilty to seeking to infiltrate and influence American policy makers in the run-up to the 2016 election, remains somewhat of a mystery. But her prosecution in Washington, D.C., last year shed light on yet another avenue through which Russia tried to influence American politics in 2016: namely, via an old-fashioned, on-the-ground operation, conducted not by experienced spies but by disarming political operatives. New revelations about Butina’s legal-defense fund in Russia shows that one of her backers has been trying to promote fringe separatist movements in the U.S. since well before 2016.

In 2018, Alexander Ionov, the founder of the NGO, called the Anti-Globalization Movement, began raising money for Butina through a fundraising website that says all proceeds will be “used to finance legal protection and to improve the conditions of Maria’s detention in prison.” The website was first discovered by freelance journalist Dean Sterling Jones. To date, Ionov has raised about 2 million rubles (approximately $30,000) to help pay her legal fees, he told me in a recent interview. The Russian embassy, which has been advocating for Butina’s release, did not return a request for comment.

Click here to read the full story.

May spawned an unexpected marriage of the above-mentioned stories when Malkevich — whose involvement in USA Really I’d scooped in 2018 (click here for The Daily Beast’s follow up to my story) — told me he’d been paying Butina’s legal bills through Ionov in order to circumvent the financial restrictions that come with being sanctioned. Investigative reporter Casey Michel also wrote about this via his perch at ThinkProgress.

Alexander Ionov (source)

Ionov and Butina’s American attorney Robert Driscoll did not return requests for comment. But at a press conference held in Moscow the following month, Ionov appeared to comment on the two stories by Michel and me, falsely claiming that we had launched a campaign to block the transfer of money.

Via “In Russia, it is Necessary to Create a Fund to Support Compatriots” by Alexander Malkevich, FPNV, July 4, 2019:

Alexander Ionov said that the task now is to do everything possible so that the legal interests and rights of Maria Butina are respected, and this requires the work of lawyers. He hopes that the support provided will help shorten the term of the Russians in prison.

At the same time, he noted that now in the USA psychological pressure is being put on them, including from a number of American media.

“When they saw that there were citizens concerned about the situation, funds transferring money, they began a campaign to counteract the receipt of money by lawyers, so that they would refuse protection,” said Alexander Ionov [emphasis added].

When Butina eventually returned to Moscow, Ionov and Malkevich (holding a bouquet of flowers) were waiting for her at the airport. Butina later penned an article for FPNV headlined “Oh Please, Make Me a Tool of American Propaganda!” lambasting the American press and judicial system.

In April, I wrote my first story for BuzzFeed News, “How A Popular Women’s Website Became A Pay-To-Play Nightmare,” detailing the weird but not-so-wonderful afterlife of once-popular women’s site The Frisky (the story was later cited by the New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review).

On first glance, the Frisky appears to be a thriving women’s entertainment and lifestyle website. Founded in 2008 “for women, by women,” the site currently attracts over 1 million pageviews per month.

But beneath the surface, the site is filled with a strange mix of awkwardly written celebrity clickbait, articles promoting floorcare and acupuncture, and a post that attacks Long Island attorney Frederick Oberlander, a nemesis of onetime Trump business partner Felix Sater. The bylines of the site’s original authors have also been scrubbed and replaced by pseudonyms and stolen profile photos.

The Frisky as it once existed is gone. Today it’s a vampire website feeding off the property’s former popularity and brand name to sell pay-for-play articles in order to influence search engine rankings. The site is one of a growing number of once-lucrative web domains that are taken over and then milked for every last drop of search engine optimization value before they are inevitably downranked for shady practices.

Click here to read the full story.

In July, I wrote my second deep dive into the often murky world of SEO, “There’s An Underground Economy Selling Links From The New York Times, BBC, CNN, And Other Big News Sites,” about digital marketers who find dead links on mainstream news sites and redirect them to their clients’ sites in order to manipulate Google search results (the story was subsequently translated and republished on BuzzFeed Japan).

In 2012, the Hollywood Reporter published a glowing obituary for Patricia Disney, the first wife of former Walt Disney executive Roy Disney. In tribute to her philanthropic work, the obituary included a link to WeLovePatty.com, a memorial site where readers could donate to charities in her honor. But if you click on the link to that memorial site today, you’ll be taken to blaze4days.com, a cannabis blog offering content such as “Videos to Watch When High (Best of 2019).”

At some point, her family took down WeLovePatty.com and stopped paying for the domain name. That enabled it to be hijacked by parasitic digital marketers who trick readers into visiting sites that sometimes sell sketchy products and services. Search engine optimization consultants buy expired URLs that have been linked to by prominent news websites and redirect these domains to their clients’ sites in a bid to game search results.

Click here to read the full story.

In December, I proudly shared my final BuzzFeed News byline of 2019 with the site’s media editor Craig Silverman, a leading authority on online mis/disinformation and author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech (based on the blog of the same name). Our story, “Hackers Are Breaking Into Websites And Adding Links To Game Google,” investigated hackers who break into sites in order to sell backlinks and — yes — manipulate search results.

…Websites of all types and sizes, and especially those that use the open-source version of WordPress, are hacked to inject links to manipulate search engine results. A BuzzFeed News investigation reveals how injected links are sold by global networks of online marketplaces and black hat SEO consultants who offer customers the ability to have links placed on compromised websites.

Among those affected are journalists, celebrities, churches, charities, veterans organizations, and the managing director of Peter Thiel’s venture capital firm. Injected backlinks on these compromised sites quickly improve the search engine rankings of customers’ web properties by exploiting Google’s preference for sites that receive a high quantity of links from authoritative sites. That in turn helps the customer sites attract more traffic, and in some cases, increase sales.

BuzzFeed News obtained lists of more than 20,000 websites where backlinks can allegedly be added for a fee, and confirmed multiple cases where links were added to these and other sites without the owner’s knowledge…

Click here to read the full story.
Click here for a list of sites not included in our story.

More on the Global Trade in Hacked Links

“None of this surprises me. Every one of my accounts including my IRS account has been hacked,” said former mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin

This is an addendum to a recent story I co-bylined with BuzzFeed News media editor Craig Silverman (click here to read). Our story — about online marketers who sell links from hacked sites in order to game Google search results — included an investigation of Russia’s Sape.ru, a major player in the hacked links industry.

Here are some notable sites found in Sape’s database that weren’t included in our story. I’ll continue to add sites as I find them.

NiemanStoryboard.org

An offshoot of The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. No Sape links were found on this site. The site’s editors did not reply to requests for comment.

TheVeteran.org

The online home of VVA Veteran, a magazine published by the U.S. government-chartered Vietnam Veterans of America. A review of the site found links to sites advertising replica watches and online gambling. It appears that an online marketer bought over and plagiarised the site’s content after VVA dropped the domain in 2014. Asked to comment, VVA’s chief investigator Kristofer Goldsmith confirmed that VVA no longer owns the site.

“VVA’s brand is often exploited because over the decades it’s become a trusted source for information and opportunities for veterans,” Goldsmith explained.

MariaCristinaFoundation.org

Official site of the Bill Clinton-endorsed UK children’s charity, founded in 2005 by namesake Maria Conceição. A review of the site found links to online product reviews. Conceição did not return multiple requests for comment.

Shirley-Franklin.com

The personal website of the former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. A review of the site found links to sites advertising an electric spice grinder and “MILF Porn.” Asked to comment, Franklin said:

None of this surprises me. Every one of my accounts including my IRS account has been hacked. No one tells you to expect such, when you run for office or share your email address and phone number with 7000 APS seniors over 5 years as you help them with college planning or answer hundreds of your own emails as an elected official. Your name gets around.

It’s unclear whether or not Franklin currently owns the site.

Wyandotte-Nation.org

Official website of the Oklahoma-based Native American tribe of the same name. A review of the site found links to sites promoting online gaming, testosterone boosters, and car insurance deals. The site did not reply to requests for comments.

SandiToksvig.com

Promotional site for the British comedienne and QI presenter of the same name. No Sape links were found on this site. Unable to reach Toksvig for comment.

LennyHenry.net

Official site of the British comedian of the same name. No Sape links were found on this site. Unable to reach Henry for comment.

WomansCoop.com

An online meeting place for “low and no-income women” from Battle Creek, Michigan. After appearing on the Sape network, pages on the site were visibly bombarded with lines of code, including numerous direct references to “$sape_links.”

The site did not return multiple requests for comment, although the code was subsequently removed.

BadJens.com

Online feminist newsletter founded by the late Mahsa Shekarloo, an Iranian women’s rights activist. A review of the site found links to sites advertising online gambling and betting apps. It’s unclear who currently owns the site.

NWARapeCrisis.com

Official site for Arkansas-based rape crisis center. A review of the site found links to one site selling wireless headphones and another site for reporting Russian and Ukrainian dating scams. The site’s executive director did not return a request for comment. It’s unclear who currently owns the site.

Techdirt Skewers Turkey

Techdirt publishes article based on my blog post re: Erdoğan’s takedown demand of “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler

source

Via “Turkish President Demands Google Delist a Bunch of Websites Comparing Him to Hitler” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, May 24, 2017:

from the ‘Hitler-was-an-amateur-authoritarian,’-the-president-complained dept

The world’s most thin-skinned “leader” is at it again. Perpetually-insulted Turkish super-villain Recip Erdogan is still firing off court orders to Google, expecting the immediate banishment of anything he finds offensive. Dean Jones of the invaluable Shooting the Messenger has more details:


The Turkish tyrant ordered Google
[Note: actually, Google only dealt with three Blogspot URLs; the rest is addressed to the Internet in general, I guess.] to delist over 40 URLs including a critical report by The Washington Times, plus an AOL image search for “Adolf Erdoğan,” because they allegedly link to “hurtful, humiliating” images and memes.

[…]

The targeted sites had reported about Erdoğan’s recent crackdown on journalists and other critics of the Turkish government, comparing him to Hitler.


Not helping these comparisons is Erdogan’s similar facial structure and his endless vindictive actions against anyone who’s hurt his feelings.

Turkish law gives him considerable leeway to do this. Unfortunately, a small handful of countries have extended helping hands rather than middle fingers in response to censorship and/or prosecution demands. It’s unknown why the Turkish government thought Google could help it out with an AOL image search, but it’s equally unclear why it didn’t ask for the delisting of Google’s image search, which shows virtually-identical results.

The more someone humors this tyrant, the worse he’s going to get. And it certainly doesn’t help that Jones’ report comes on the heels of the Erdogan’s US visit, during which his personal bodyguards beat up American protesters. This prompted a tepid display of disappointment from the US State Department and a much more hot-blooded demand for an apology from the Turkish government US law enforcement daring to interrupt Erdogan’s bodyguards while they were beating up US citizens.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Abbey Road

A mysterious place where the rules of the road don’t apply

During our recent trip to London, my girlfriend and I paid a visit to Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles made many of their best recordings.

Just outside the studios is the crossing immortalised on the Abbey Road album cover. There we watched Beatles fans line up to walk in the footsteps of their heroes, even pausing in the middle of the crossing to take holiday snaps.

A coupla punks stop on the famous Abbey Road crossing

All to the total bemusement of drivers, some of whom stopped to graciously allow fans to complete their pilgrimage, while others simply ignored those waiting to cross, speeding by without so much as a “ello, guv’na!”

With my GF’s family on standby in Australia, we took a more novel approach. Via the Abbey Road Crossing Cam:

Voice in the Wilderness

Nina Teicholz by Laura Rose

“I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science” – The (ongoing) story of how top US nutritionists tried to gag New York Times best-selling author Nina Teicholz [UPDATED: CSPI’s BMJ retraction request goes missing – more after the jump]

As readers of Shooting the Messenger and The Sidebar (my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s world-beating website) will know, there have been some major developments in recent months re: efforts by members of the United States Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) to gag journalist and author Nina Teicholz.

Taking stock of the story so far, it’s remarkable how closely each new development seems to mirror Teicholz’s own account of previous efforts by nutritionists to suppress dissenting viewpoints.

Via her 2014 book on the history of nutritional science, The Big Fat Surprise:

At a conference that [Danish researcher Uffe Ravnskov] and I were both attending near Copenhagen in 2005, he stood out in the crowd simply because he was willing to confront this gathering of top nutrition experts by asking questions that were considered long since settled.

“The whole pathway, from cholesterol in the blood, to heart disease – has this pathway really been proven?” he stood up and asked, rightly though rhetorically, after a presentation one day.

“Tsh! Tsh! Tsh!” A hundred-plus scientists wagged their heads in unison.

“Next question?” asked an irritated moderator.

For Teicholz, who started her research “expect[ing] to find a community in decorous debate,” this incident illustrated a surprising lack of tolerance within the nutritional sciences for alternative viewpoints, or even simple scientific inquiry.

Unfortunately, her anecdote would prove eerily prescient.

On November 5 last year, a letter signed by over 180 credentialed professionals, including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, was sent to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

The letter – organised by Bonnie Liebman at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based advocacy non-profit – requested that the journal retract The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23 article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC.

If there’s any doubt as to whether this constituted an attempt to silence a critic, all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC signed their names to the letter.

But the effort to gag Teicholz didn’t end there.

In March this year, she was disinvited from the National Food Policy Conference, a prestigious Washington, DC food policy panel at which she was scheduled to speak the following month (her replacement – wait for it – was president and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research & Education Maureen Storey).

Sound familiar? Check out this excerpt from The Big Fat Surprise:

As [Ancel] Key’s ideas spread and became adopted by powerful institutions, those who challenged him faced a difficult – some might say impossible – battle. Being on the losing side of such a high-stakes debate had caused their professional lives to suffer. Many of them had lost jobs, research funding, speaking engagements, and all the many other perks of prestige.

…they were not invited to conferences and were unable to get prestigious journals to publish their work. Experiments that had dissenting results, they found, were not debated but instead dismissed or ignored altogether.

Things took a sinister turn in late March, with Peter reporting on how DGAC chair Barbara Millen and US Department of Agriculture exec Angela Tagtow conspired with Thomas Gremillion – director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which organised the conference – to kick Teicholz off the panel (click here to read Peter’s May 2 article showing the extent of Millen’s involvement).

Piling-on the anti-Nina Teicholz bandwagon was nutritionist and Huffington Post columnist Dr. David Katz, who was quoted in Ian Leslie’s acclaimed April 7 Guardian article, The sugar conspiracy, describing Teicholz as “shockingly unprofessional” and “an animal unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Via The Big Fat Surprise:

…slander and personal ridicule were surprisingly not unusual experiences for…opponents of the diet-heart hypothesis.

Last month, several prominent physicians  criticised Katz for his ad hominem remarks, leading Yale University’s School of Medicine to publicly disassociate from its otherwise unrelated namesake, the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centerof which Katz is the founding director.

Bringing the whole sorry story up-to-date, this month Peter – with help from my gf Kelsi White and I — exposed Harvard professor and DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu’s efforts to solicit European signatories to Bonnie Liebman’s CSPI retraction letter.

Is Teicholz surprised by the extreme measures taken by members of the DGAC to shut her out of the debate? Here’s what she had to say:

“Even though I had covered the vicious politics of nutrition science extensively in my book, I couldn’t quite imagine the force with which the various attack strategies would be applied against me. Virtually every tactic that Keys and his allies used to malign anyone who challenged them – false accusations about supposed errors and supposed industry backing as well as just sheer name-calling – has been employed aggressively against me. I guess history repeats itself, and the losers are not just me but a fair and public airing of the best and most current science.”

Update, 14/07/2016: The CSPI’s November 5, 2015 retraction request of The scientific report guiding the US Dietary Guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz’s September 23, 2015 BMJ article criticising the methodology and findings of the 2015 DGAC, has gone missing from the CSPI’s website, in its place this 404 notice:

CSPI BMJ 404 Page

According to Teicholz, the BMJ is preparing to announce it will not retract her article.

A PDF of the CSPI’s retraction request is available by clicking here.

An updated, December 17, 2015 version – absent the names of 18 signatories – is available by clicking here.

Homeopathy on the NHS

UK homeopathic hospitals: Atlanta, GA reporter and I ask oversight agency for a standard of care review

Homeopathy on the NHS

source

On April 25, my US blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich and I co-signed and co-blogged a request for a review of “crystal therapy” and other dubious medical treatments being offered by a Liverpool hospital.

On May 2, we blogged about a similar request we made re: a Derbyshire hospital offering “energy therapies.”

On May 11, we blogged about a similar request we made re: a Norwich area medical facility offering “Thought Field Therapy” and other iffy treatments.

We filed our requests with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), “the independent regulator of health and social care in England.”

Today we filed the following request with the CQC re: the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital, and Bristol Homeopathic Hospital. (Click here to read the request).

Thought Field Therapy (and More!)

Why is UK’s Hoveton & Wroxham Medical Centre offering dubious “alternative” therapies? US reporter and I have asked UK oversight agency

Hoveton & Wroxham Medical Centre

On April 25, my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich and I co-signed and co-blogged a request for a review of dubious medical treatments being offered by a Liverpool hospital. On May 2, we blogged about a similar request we made re: Derbyshire hospital offering “energy therapies.”

We filed our request with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), “the independent regulator of health and social care in England.”

Today we filed another request with the CQC re: Hoveton & Wroxham Medical Centre (see the map) which – according to their website – is offering these treatments (all links to Quackwatch.com):

“Hypnotherapy”
“Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (NLP)
“Time Line Therapy”
“Life Coaching”
“Emotional Freedom Techniques” (EFT)
“Thought Field Therapy” (TFT)
“Eye Movement Integration”
“Energy Healing”
“Mindfulness”
“Reiki”

Click here to read the request.

See also: Crystal Therapy on the NHS, my April 23, 2016 item on the Aintree University Hospitals’ promotion of Crystal Healing and Chromotherapy.

Silencing Science: The War on Nina Teicholz

Prominent Harvard prof/researcher Frank Hu solicited European colleagues to sign/circulate demand for BMJ to retract article by author/journalist Nina Teicholz – she says her article criticized a fed gov review headed by Hu

This item is reported by me, crack US (Atlanta, GA) reporter Peter M. Heimlich, who’s cross-posting at his world-beating website, The Sidebar, and my gf, Kelsi White. Given the content of the story, our “hands across the water” effort seems fitting.

Sleep_Frank_Hu

Frank Hu MD PhD MPH (source)

On Monday Peter reported how Barbara Millen PhD, chair of the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), and USDA executive Angela Tagtow tag-teamed an effort that resulted in author/journalist Nina Teicholz being kicked off a panel at a national food policy conference held last month.

Teicholz is a high-profile critic of the DGAC’s methodology and findings (which have been widely criticized by medical experts and organizations).

It’s not the first time Millen tried to muzzle Teicholz. 

Last November, Millen signed a public letter to the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). The letter demanded the retraction of a September 23 article by Teicholz which – you guessed it – criticized the methodology and findings of the DGAC.

Claiming Teicholz’s article was riddled with errors” – a claim disputed in a recent Guardian article (see below) and elsewhere – the letter was organized by the DC advocacy nonprofit, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

E-mails obtained via a public records request (click here to read) show that another DGAC member, Dr. Frank Hu, a prominent professor/researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, asked a colleague to sign and circulate the retraction demand which resulted in a chain letter exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

Bonnie Liebman

source

It started with an October 31, 2015 Dear Colleague” e-mail in which CSPI executive Bonnie Liebman asked dozens of nutrition science professionals to sign the letter.

The next day, Hu e-mailed this to Prof. Miguel Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez at the University of Navarra, Spain:

Hi Miguel,

Would you like to sign the attached letter to retract the BMJ article? if so, please email Bonnie Liebman.

I would greatly appreciate if you can ask your colleagues in Spain and other European countries to sign the letter. I think it is extremely important to retract the terrible BMJ article for the sake of science and public health.

Many thanks

frank

Miguel-Angel-Martinez-Gonzalez-coordinador-trabajo_MILIMA20150915_0031_26

Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez (source)

Later that day in this e-mail (slightly re-formatted for ease comprehension), Martinez-Gonzalez copied Hu on an e-mail he sent to about 20 colleagues, stating Yes, of course, Frank.”

From: Miguel Ángel Martínez González
<mamartinez@unav.es>
Date: 1 November 2015 at 11:36
Subject: Fwd: Letter to BMJ re Dietary Guidelines–Please respond by Nov. 3
To: Antonia Trichopoulou <atrichopoulou@hhf-greece.gr>,denis.lairon@univmed.fr, Katia Esposito <katherine.esposito@unina2.it>,giuseppe.grosso@studium.unict.it, Federico Jose Armando Perez Cueto Eulert <apce@plan.aau.dk>, “ligia.dominguez”<ligia.dominguez@unipa.it>, Matthias Schulze <mschulze@dife.de>, Iris Shai <irish@bgu.ac.il>,elliotb@ekmd.huji.ac.il, dario.giugliano@unina2.it, Angeliki Papadaki <Angeliki.Papadaki@bristol.ac.uk>, Arne Astrup <ast@nexs.ku.dk>, ricardo.uauy@lshtm.ac.uk, jose luchsinger <luchsin@hotmail.com>, Nikolaos Scarmeas <ns257@cumc.columbia.edu>, Christian Carpéné <Christian.Carpene@inserm.fr>, Olle Melander <olle.melander@med.lu.se>, boeing@dife.de, Marc Molendijk <m.l.molendijk@fsw.leidenuniv.nl>, Adriano Marçal Pimenta <adrianompimenta@yahoo.com.br>, Helfimed Study UniSA <Dorota.Zarnowiecki@unisa.edu.au>
Cc: Frank Hu <nhbfh@channing.harvard.edu>

Yes, of course, Frank.

I’m forwarding to my friends and colleagues this invitation to sign the attached letter:

I have read the full version of the attached letter and I agree to include my sign on it. I endorse its full content and the request to the BMJ to retract the journalist’s article.

Dear colleagues,
if you agree, you can send an email to Bonnie Liebman <bliebman@cspinet.org> with a similar content to what I have written above in blue font.

I would thank you all very much if you are so kind as to ask also to your friends from different European countries to sign the attached letter for the sake of science and public health.

Best regards,

miguel

Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez
University of Navarra-CIBEROBN
www.unav.es/preventiva
www.proyectosun.es
www.predimed.es
www.predimedplus.com
www.ciberobn.es
Research Gate

Here’s one of the recipients of Martinez-Gonzalez’s pass-along…

Angeliki Papadaki

…who obligingly added another link in the chain letter which she states was instigated by Frank Hu”:

From: Angeliki Papadaki [mailto:Angeliki.Papadaki@bristol.ac.uk]
Sent: 01 November 2015 12:48
To: Arne Astrup; Saris, Wim; Inge Huybrechts;manios@hua.gr; Inga Þórsdóttir; Andy Ness;susan.jebb@phc.ox.ac.uk; Agneta Yngve; Sibylle Kranz;lmoreno@unizar.es;
clare.collins@newcastle.edu.au; Antonis Kafatos; Jayne Woodside; Janet Cade; Dianne Ward
Subject: Fwd: Letter to BMJ re Dietary Guidelines–Please respond by Nov. 3

Dear colleagues,

Please see attached a suggestion for a BMJ retraction letter, instigated by Frank Hu at Harvard. We were asked to circulate the letter for signatures.

If you agree, please send an email to Bonnie Liebman (bliebman@cspinet.org) with a similar content to the below, in blue font, and circulate to your colleagues.

I have read the full version of the attached letter and I agree to include my sign on it.
I endorse its full content and the request to the BMJ to retract the journalist’s article.

Kind regards,

Angeliki

Why did Hu encourage colleagues to demand a retraction of what he called the terrible BMJ article for the sake of science and public health”?

We don’t know because he hasn’t responded to multiple inquiries.

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source

But here’s what Nina Teicholz e-mailed Peter yesterday:

My BMJ article was a critique of the science used in formulating the 2015 DGA expert report. Frank Hu chaired the review on saturated fats, which I critiqued in a number of ways: it did not consult the “Nutrition Evidence Library” per standard USDA practice, and although the studies covered in the review had conflicting and contradictory conclusions regarding whether saturated fats do in fact cause death from heart disease, the review nevertheless concluded that the evidence on this point was “strong.” (Neither of these facts is disputed as part of the retraction request.) The question of whether sat fats cause heart disease has, over the past 5 years, undergone tremendous re-analysis and challenge, yet the Hu review did not reflect that ambivalence. In effect, it did not comprehensively review the most current science on this subject.

So was Dr. Hu making a good faith effort to address “an article riddled with errors” or was he attempting to censor a high-profile critic?

If he made himself available, along with that question, I’d ask him for a reaction comment to this section from Ian Leslie’s lively and informative April 7 Guardian article about the nutrition science wars:

In September last year [Teicholz] wrote an article for the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), which makes the case for the inadequacy of the scientific advice that underpins the Dietary Guidelines. The response of the nutrition establishment was ferocious: 173 scientists – some of whom were on the advisory panel, and many of whose work had been critiqued in Teicholz’s book – signed a letter to the BMJ, demanding it retract the piece.

Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data. As a consultant oncologist for the NHS, Santhanam Sundar, pointed out in a response to the letter on the BMJ website: “Scientific discussion helps to advance science. Calls for retraction, particularly from those in eminent positions, are unscientific and frankly disturbing.”

The letter lists “11 errors”, which on close reading turn out to range from the trivial to the entirely specious. I spoke to several of the scientists who signed the letter. They were happy to condemn the article in general terms, but when I asked them to name just one of the supposed errors in it, not one of them was able to. One admitted he had not read it. Another told me she had signed the letter because the BMJ should not have published an article that was not peer reviewed (it was peer reviewed). Meir Stampfer, a Harvard epidemiologist, asserted that Teicholz’s work is “riddled with errors”, while declining to discuss them with me.

See also: Voice in the Wilderness, my May 18, 2016 recap of how the DGAC in cahoots with other prominent nutrition scientists tried to gag Teicholz.

EFT on the NHS (cont.)

Why is a UK hospital offering dubious “energy therapies”? Atlanta, GA reporter and I have asked UK oversight agency

Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust

Last Monday, my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich and I co-signed and co-blogged a request for a review of dubious medical treatments being offered by a Liverpool hospital. We filed our request with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), “the independent regulator of health and social care in England.”

Emotional Freedom Technique NHS

Via People’s Experiences of the Health Psychology Service at Walton Hospital, Derbyshire County Community Health Services

Today we filed a similar request with the CQC re: Derbyshire Community Health Services which is apparently offering “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (NLP), “energy therapies,” and “Emotional Freedom Technique” (EFT), treatments discussed in the post Mental Help: Procedures to Avoid by retired psychiatrist Stephen Barrett MD, founder and proprietor of Quackwatch.com. (Click here to read the request).

See also: EFT on the NHSmy April 4, 2016 item on Derbyshire Community Health Services’ promotion of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), brain child of US author Gary “I am not a doctor” Craig.