Gillian McKeith and her PhD

Denzil Gunner of Atkins Solicitors in London wrote to me - "Dear Sir" - objecting to my post Bad Science on Gillian McKeith - pointing to (real Medical Doctor) Ben Goldacre's Bad Science post: The Awful Poo Lady.

I also wrote how little I thought of all nutritionists I have ever met (except for one) - "The sort of women who buy degrees by mail order, and then tell us that we are 'allergic' to foods, and need to buy their expensive supplements" - a theme I have covered many times before on this blog and in print. I also detailed the 'advice' that I had been given by a nutritionist - after no tests whatsoever and a very brief conversation "she diagnosed me as able to eat not much that she did not sell in a sachet or bottle. According to her, I'm apparently allergic to dairy, onions, aubergine, tomatoes, soya, porridge oats, wheat, gluten, meat, sugar, and a dozen other things I've consumed in the last 24 hours."

Atkins are very concerned that someone might misinterpret my comments as referring to Ms. McKeith, have accused me of defamation and threatened to take me to court - they also pointed out that they are taking The Sun to court for suggesting that Ms McKeith purchased her qualification. So I rang The Sun for a chat. There has been a recent case of someone trying (and failing) to sue a blogger - Neil Clark tried to sue Oliver Kamm - so I would like to be very clear on this issue, and have been ordered by Atkins to delete the original post (I have done so).

I would like to make it very clear that I was not referring to Ms. McKeith, but to another 'nutritionist' - and that when I wrote "two years" for her experience was a mistake on my part (for which I also apologise; but not to Ms. McKeith as I was not referring to her). I have always made it clear that although this blog is registered in the US, I would not wish to defame anyone and am always very happy to clarify. If anybody else has an issue with something I've written, please feel free to email me directly - I have removed everything I have been asked to so far, and you really don't need to waste your money getting a lawyer to send me a letter.

The 'consultation' I wrote about did not take place on British soil (Morocco), it did not involve McKeith or anyone linked with McKeith (to the best of my knowledge), nor did it involve any of McKeith's products (I have expressed my views many times on organic food and what I chose to put into my body). At no point did I state or suggest that McKeith was involved, as would have been clear to anyone who read the post. I have never read McKeith's books nor used her products, nor have I ever sought her advice either in person, in print or through television. Nor do I have any intention of ever doing do in the future. I only spoke to the other 'nutritionist' on holiday because my friends did, and I challenge any 'nutritionist' to significantly improve my diet. I am confused how McKeith thinks that any criticism of any other nutritionist - the one I refer to is American - impacts her, but I am more than delighted to clarify this minor issue.

I have never said nor knowingly implied that Gillian McKeith purchased her qualification, and was not aware that others had made this suggestion before today. In fact I knew nothing of McKeith's qualifications other than that she is clearly not a medical doctor, nor did I look up the source of her PhD before today. I am also not a medical doctor, and what little medical knowledge I've picked up over the years tends to be about HPV, cancer, AIDS, epidemiology, etc. I know nothing about weight-loss diets, which I understand is one area of her expertise. The only diet advice I tend to favour is the Royal Marsden Hospital's book on food to fight cancer. I will admit that before today I very foolishly based my opinion of McKeith on an episode of her TV show. I tend to be suspicious of people who recommend regular enemas, and non-medical people who make diagnoses based on looking at tongues. I give more credence to medical studies published by specialists in the Lancet than people on television, but would be delighted to read some serious research on these issues. Obviously McKeith's TV show is simply entertainment, and does not, I assume, claim to be giving medical advice.

To be entirely clear, this is all I know about McKeith's background, from her own web site: "She graduated from the University of Edinburgh and received her Masters Degree from the Ivy-League University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. After a severe bout of personal ill health and recovery through nutritional medicine, she embarked upon a new path and changed her life. She then spent several years re-training for a Masters and doctorate (PhD) in Holistic Nutrition from the American Holistic College of Nutrition (USA). She holds Certificates from the London School of Acupuncture and the Kailash Centre of Oriental Medicine."

In those days the Government would have paid for her UK education. In the US everyone literally pays for their qualifications, but I understand that at that University of Pennsylvania one also has to work very hard for the qualification. I have no knowledge of the American Holistic College of Nutrition so I Googled it. It is now called Clayton College of Natural Health, and is fully "accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and the American Naturopathic Medical Certification and Accreditation Board." (Not to be confused with Clayton State University, which is accredited by a different group - the US Dept. of Education). Although CCNH's web site makes it clear that learning is through a correspondence course (work is sent by mail) - "Self-paced, flexible; study from home, at work, or while you travel" - I am sure that one learns a great deal through this method, and that all qualifications from the College are earned based on merit.

I also know nothing about her products, and have never tried them, so I was basing my opinion of these particular products solely on what the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said about them. If you have not seen Ben's post, go look at it. And if you have seen it, then look again as there is now much more information the issue - a new development is that McKeith was quoting as blaming the problem on EU regulations in a newspaper: “It’s obvious that the EU bureaucrats are clearly concerned that people in the UK are having too much good sex.” There must have been a misunderstanding (on her web site too), to quote the brilliant Ben's post:

The [MHRA] press office were very helpful and told me: “This has nothing to do with new EU regulations.” And just to be absolutely clear: “They were never legal for sale in the UK.” They also point out that there’s no excuse for not knowing about the regulations, and that, rather helpfully (in case any of you are thinking of setting up in business) the MHRA’s Medicines Borderline Section offers free advice on the phone.


Mohammed's Night Journey

A 16th century Persian manuscript showing Mohammed riding Buraq on the Kitab al Miraj. (Night Journey). Mohammed's face is covered with a heavy veil and his features entirely obscured. The features of Buraq's human face and those of the angels are visible.


Iraqi Archaeology and Donny George

I can't go into details of my interview of Dr. George today as I promised it to Minerva*, but I will say that I have changed my mind about the man completely. He had solid answers for every question, and the evidence he showed during his lecture clarified a lot of issues I had had with press reports about the looting of the Iraq Museum. There is nothing more that he could have done to safeguard the Museum, and the Americans had other priorities. And the worst 'evidence' I was given against him was frankly rather silly. There is propaganda on both sides.

I wanted to clarify at the start of the interview that I had different views (Conservative, not a fan of the war, dubious about press coverage), but Dr. George was already aware of them, and said he thought that if I had all the facts I would agree with him. I'm used to a different mentality from the Greeks, but his strategy worked. Most people thought I was charm-proof, but the man is brilliant and came across as being honest and deeply committed to Iraq and Iraqi archaeology. I was very impressed with all the work he is continuing to do for Iraqi archaeology, still collaborating with those now in charge, and that he has maintained friendly relations with his successors, contrary to press reports. They all want to do their best for Iraqi archaeology rather than get involved in politics. I've hugely miss-judged the man, and apologise for it. I'm often surprised how little some American officials I meet know about Islam/Muslim culture or the Middle East. If the State Department and Pentagon have any sense, they'll get Dr. George to advise them.

The truth is that when I was offered the opportunity to work in a war zone, I declined. I was a coward, and that makes me a hypocrite for criticising those who did work through one to try to save our cultural heritage. I'm not exactly the world's greatest field archaeologist, so if I was asked, I imagine many were asked before me. Almost all of them also declined, and are now critics of the American efforts, and in general like to complain.

People keep asking how to get in touch (re. the earlier appeal by Dr. Al-Hussainy) or where to send help. I've suggested via UNESCO or the British Museum*, but asked Dr. George for his advice. Dr. George said that sending items care of the cultural section of the US Embassy in Baghdad would be a very good place (contact details here). He does not think that for the moment foreign field archaeologists coming to excavate would be a good idea.

The Iraqi Museum had one of the best libraries in the region, but that was relative, and they have blanks in their holdings over the last thirty years. Part of the plan has been to train a new generation of archaeologists to care for the Iraqi cultural heritage, so if any journals/ universities/ individuals would like to help contribute to their education, books would be a positive, small scale, place to start.

* Anything not used, I might use elsewhere as he had a lot of interesting things to say, and they are all worth hearing. I've also offered him a transcript of the tapes, to make sure they are accurate.
* I would rather not post contact details on the Internet, but am happy to forward emails to people at the BM or UNESCO.


Mohammed on a Camel

This page was illustrated in Herat, Afghanistan, around 1425. The book was the Majmac al-tawarikh (The Compendium of Histories). Although some beautiful illuminations of manuscripts were done in Afghanistan, the style of this item is more folksy

Mohammed is shown riding a dromedary on one of his journeys - his face is unveiled, and his features are clearly visible. The small flame behind his turban helps differentiate him from his companion, as well as his prominent position in the composition.

The beast he rides is clearly the Arabian dromedary rather than the local two-humped Bactrian Camel, which unfortunately is now becoming endangered.

(Source: Metropolitan)


Mohammed, David and Solomon

King David appears half a dozen times in the Koran; his son Solomon is also part of the Torah / Old Testament story that makes up the Muslim Holy Book.

David was not so revered in some schools of thought in Islam because of his entanglement with Bathsheba - murder, adultery were not considered compatible with Islam; in the Koran they do nothing wrong, but some Muslim scholars noted differences in the Christian and Jewish sources, and even went as far as questioning whether he was in fact a Prophet.

On the Night Journey Mohammed met seven Prophets who preceded him in Islamic tradition. Here Mohammed on Buraq is led by an angel towards David and Solomon, which suggests that in the region where this miniature was produced David was venerated.

The page comes from the Mi'râdj nâmeh (The Ascension of the Prophet) by Mir Haydar.
This copy was created in 1436 at Herat in Afghanistan.
Source: BNF.


Mohammed Arrives at Mecca

This manuscript pages comes from the Qisas al-anbiya (History of the Prophets) by Ishâq al-Nishâpûrî - this copy was made in Qazwin, Iran, 1581.

The people of Mecca initially rejected Mohammed's monotheism - they preferred to their pagans gods with their ornate cult statues. Some of the first Muslims fled, and Mohammed too had to leave in 622 to seek refuge in Yathrib, a town which is now better known as Medina. This journey or migration - the hijra - became Year 1 of the Muslim calendar, and it marked the move by Mohammed from being a preacher to a military power. (Source: BNF)


Mohammed and the Word of Allah

This scene of Mohammed preaching in a mosque was very popular and often depicted in Islamic art - I've posted a version before but this one is better, and it never does any harm to point out that the version of Islam that Allah dictated to Mohammed is very different to the nonsense version being advocated today by some fundamentalists.

When he turned 40 Mohammed began to have what could be described as a mid-life crisis. He was dissatisfied with the world he saw around him, and started to take time out to contemplate in solitude. Much of this was done on Hira, on the night of the 26th Ramadan 610 the angel Gabriel came to him on this mountain and announced that God had chosen Mohammed to be his messenger, to spread his Word and monotheism in the region. The first revelations made by Allah were that there was only one God, and that those who believed in him could attain Paradise as there was an afterlife.

From then on God regularly revealed his message to Mohammed, and this was in turn written down in the Koran. The Koran is unchanging, but the laws of the Muslims were codified into a separate book, the Sharia, which could be changed through scholarly debate and the will of the people.

Mohammed used persuasion to convert rather than the sword or threats, and this worked on my different peoples, as is shown by the wide diversity of costumes and physiognomy of those listening to him in the mosque depicted here. He began to preach after the first revelation, first converting his wife, then friends, family and others around him.

This manuscript page comes from a copy of the al-âthâr al-bâqiya (The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries; Arabic الآثار الباقية عن القرون الخالية) of Al-Bîrûnî (d. 1048), created in Iran in the 16th century. (Image: BNF)


Two Images of Mohammed

This page in the BNF is interesting as not only is Mohammed's face clearly drawn with his unveiled features visible, but he is depicted twice. The scenes represent his Night Journey, and he rides the human-headed Buraq. He has a flame halo in both scenes.

Two human figures have flame halos to the lower left; one is John the Baptist as a Muslim prophet (called Yahya in the Koran), and the other is the prophet Zakariyya (Zachariah I assume).

The multi-headed figure is an angel with seventy heads who chants to God (Allah) in seventy languages.

The page comes from the Mi'râdj nâmeh (The Ascension of the Prophet) by Mir Haydar. This copy was created in 1436 at Herat in Afghanistan. Lapis lazuli is mined in Central Asia, and accounts for the depth of the blue. Watercolor and gold leaf on paper.


Mohammed doing something

This folio comes from a 16th century Safavid copy of the Khusraw o Shirin by the great Medieval poet Nezami, according to the Freer, which does not identify the scene depicted.

Khusraw and Shirin is one tale in the 'Khamsa of Nizami' which includes illustrated scenes from the life of Mohammed in several versions. Here two figures are heavily veiled, with flame halos, which indicate religious figures - presumably Mohammed in the centre and Ali to the right of him.


Mohammed Enthroned

Mohammed enthroned, surrounded by the four Sunni Caliphs: Abu Bakr
Umar ibn al-Khattab
Uthman ibn Affan
Ali ibn Abi Talib

The page comes from a copy of the Shahnama (Book of kings) by Firdawsi, made under the Ilkhanate Dynasty (the dynasty established by the heirs of Ghenkis Khan). Early 14th century, from Shiraz.

Watercolor, ink, gold and silver leaf on paper; H: 9.8; W: 11.5 cm. (Source: Freer)


Ascension of Mohammed

The Ascension of Mohammed on this manuscript is again influenced by Chinese art that the Mongols brought during the time of their rule over Baghdad. Mohammed's face is obscured by a thick veil, with large flames behind his head.

The image comes from the Falnama (Book of Omens) of Ja´far al-Sadiq, dates to around 1550 during the time of the Safavid Dynasty. It was made in Tabriz or Qazvin, Iran.

Watercolor on paper, with gold leaf; H: 58.9; W: 44.9 cm. Blue was not synthesised in the West until rather late, and made using ground lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone. (Source: Freer)


Mohammed Goes to Conquer Mecca

Today's Image shows a heavily veiled Mohammed setting off on the conquest of Mecca. The watercolour dates from the 19th century, but remains very much in the tradition of earlier Islamic manuscripts, both in terms of iconography and format. It was made in Iran.

Qajar dynasty;
Watercolor on paper;
H: 46.4;
W: 27.5 cm.

(Source: Freer)


Today's Image of Mohammed

An engraving of Mohammed, from Michel Baudier, Histoire générale de la religion des turcs, Paris 1625. (image)

Baudier was a French Jesuit who wrote extensively during the reign of Louis XIII. Much of his information he gained from those who had ventured even further afield, such as to China.

Mohammed and Heraclius

Mohammed the man was a great general, who fought his contemporary, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. The latter had once been a great general, but was by then too ill to lead his army in later life.

A letter from the Muslim is said to have reached the Christian in Jerusalem, where he was celebrating a victory over the Persians. Most Byzantine emperors tended to emphasise their Roman origins, styling themselves Imperator, or Augustus. After defeating the Persians, Heraclius took on their title, and became "King of Kings" - subsequently espousing the Greek "Basileus" (king). Other Byzantine Emperors turned back messengers with letters addressed to them as Greek Emperor - until they were too desperate to refuse, with the Ottomans at their gates.

Apparently some of Mohammed's letters survive, including this one to Heraclius: "A tradition tells: Prophet Mohammed wrote a letter to Heraclius, asking him to embrace Islam. The letter, written on gazelle hide, is in the Hashemiya Palace, near Amman. King Hussein of Jordan is said to be a direct descendant from the prophet Mohammed. A special mosque will be built where the letter of Mohammed to Emperor Heraclius will be on exhibition. (Jerusalem Post, April 13, 1977)" An Islamic interpretation of it can be found here. (image)