If you are planning on buying tickets to The Real Food Revolution event in any of Australia’s capital cities, I beseech you to remember the name Penelope Dingle.
She isn’t a presenter – she isn’t hawking her maca powder, or offering to shove coffee up your arse. She won’t even be there on the day.
She is dead – another victim of alternative medicine practitioners who sold her a lie at her most desperate time and bullied her out of seeking health in a timely manner.
And one of the people implicated in this in the coronial inquest – a man who sells himself as a ‘health expert’ without holding a medical or allied health degree – is speaking at this conference.
And you ought to have your memory refreshed about this.
Three months have now elapsed since Jess Ainscough’s tragic passing, and several weeks since Belle Gibson’s confession to fraud, and despite this I could not be happier at the dialogue springing up around Australia pertaining to the dangers of Big Wellness. Triple J’s Hack program did an excellent job covering the issue, and I sincerely believe consumers and patients are being provided with a better, more comprehensive response to pseudoscientific claims. I have received dozens of messages from friends and readers mentioning quacky treatments they have found, dubious practitioners, and things they plain had never heard of before.
But memories are short, and slick advertising and aesthetics do much to help a populace forget about how much money is made off the industry – money made with a huge profit margin, no responsibility to have products tested for safety and efficacy thanks to a toothless Therapeutic Goods Administration, and with almost no money going into research and development. More importantly, it is money generated from the death and suffering of thousands of Australians every year.
We may laugh at homeopathy. It is truly the One Snake Oil to Rule Them All. It is beyond incredible that people even believe that it can work even after hearing about its purported mechanisms of effect, and yet the real implication of delaying or cancelling effective treatment to undergo homeopathy can be fatal. It was fatal in the case of Penelope Dingle, who died in August 2005 after being influenced by a homeopath and her partner, TV presenter and former academic Dr Peter Dingle, to avoid chemotherapy and radiation to treat colorectal cancer – which had been diagnosed late, though at a stage where a cure was still possible.
Penelope Dingle’s passing was the subject of a two-part Australian Story report. You can read transcripts to the first and second episodes, and I strongly recommend you do. Like with Ainscough, I believe both Penelope and Peter Dingle were and are sincere. You may choose to give weight to allegations about the plot to profit from the sale of a book about Dingle’s ‘miraculous’ recovery, but in light of the lack of evidence at inquest I do not. I believe that Peter Dingle does want to help people, and that he is concerned for the wellbeing of others.
But, as I have said previously, intent means nothing when the advice espoused has the serious potential to lead to real harm.
Dr Dingle has not retreated from his pseudoscientific stance on several medical subjects ever since his active encouragement and enforcement of Penelope undergoing homeopathy instead of evidence-based cancer therapy. Though I respect his expertise in environmental toxicology, as someone without a background in human medical science he is not a medical authority any more than I am. Indeed, his engagement in homeopathy and willingness to entertain pseudoscientific beliefs places his scientific integrity and reputation in danger (more than his redundancy and loss of academic position could have done on its own). However, unlike me, Dr Dingle relies on his title and prior professional background to influence consumers that he is qualified to offer health advice. He has even written a book doing just this:
Take his Facebook page, for instance, where his news feed is a near constant stream of journal articles and posts about health related matters – nutrition, vitamins, wellness, you name it. It is not unreasonable, if you didn’t look closely, to assume he is a physician or holder of an MBBS/MD qualification, instead of his PhD in environmental research. Admittedly, it is a real PhD from a real university; he probably didn’t write a three thousand word ‘doctorate’s thesis‘.
And intermingled in amongst all this reasonable, evidence-based stuff – get some sunshine, eat fresh fruit and vegetables, limit sugary foods and meat, look after one’s mental health – is the ground-up glass and used syringes in it that is anti-vaccination ranting.
There is no question about it: Dingle is anti-vaccine. He might not call himself anti-vaccine (because let’s face it, the term is so tainted by loons like the AVSN that it is about as appealing as a turd sanga), but remember that so few of them do. And his posts bring out all of the dog whistles of the anti-vaccine movement: fears for vaccine safety, references to the totally worthless Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, implications about vaccines harming the immune system – you name it, he mentions it.
Anti-vaccine rhetoric is deservedly pilloried and disparaged in the mainstream media. It is deservedly shunned by the LNP, ALP and prominently by the new leader of the Greens, Dr Richard Di Natale. It is not welcome as a viewpoint at a number of conference venues (and it is so repugnant a concept that Stephanie Messenger needed to lie about the nature of Sherri Tenpenny’s talks so she could get a booking in the first place).
My call is that people like Peter Dingle, despite being well-intentioned, are even more dangerous than Tenpenny, Meryl Dorey, Pete Evans, Jenny McCarthy and other anti-science dingbats because he has the benefit of a real title, an academic history, and because he has been the public face of TV shows such as Is Your House Killing You, where he uses his legitimate academic science background for good. And when obviously untrue, unproven messages about vaccines are presented amongst messages that are evidence-based and common sense, it lends credence to anti-vaccination and implies that it is equally legitimate. It is a common tactic of most naturopaths and wellness bloggers: so long as 90% of the content involves insipid and derivative green smoothie recipes and ways to improve sleep hygiene, the really crazy stuff like iridology, homeopathy, flower essences and anti-vaccination seem equivalent in efficacy and veracity. And when anti-vaccine rhetoric is posted wth the veneer of ‘sciencyness’ – JAMA articles (no doubt misinterpreted or mislabelled) and all – it becomes weaponised hysteria.
When Dingle presents at wellness conferences referring to himself with his academic title – as he is, well, entitled to do – and when he posts endlessly about health care and medicine on a Facebook page titled Dr Peter Dingle, the average reader who doesn’t know him – who never followed the Penelope Dingle case, who is as scientifically illiterate as the average Australian is (i.e. very illiterate), who looks at a guy calling himself ‘doctor’ while posting about being healthy – is going to assume his advice has the weight of evidence and scientific consensus about him. The average punter won’t know of his role in his late wife’s ultimate death from quackery, or that he isn’t actually a medical doctor.
And they should.
Dr Peter Dingle ought recognise the scope of his expertise and refrain from sharing with readers opinions which the unaware are liable to act on. He ought not present as a medical professional and endorse anti-vaccine views. And the organisers of this bacchanalia of tasteless smoothies and coffee colonics ought to know better than to provide a platform for this rubbish.
If you are tossing up spending $347 on a three-day pass to the Real Food Revolution at any one of Australia’s capital cities, I want you to think of Penelope Dingle, and Jess Ainscough, and Polly Noble – middle-class, intelligent women not dissimilar from myself and many of my readers who died after delaying or declining evidence-based treatment.
I want you to think of Dana McCaffery and Riley Hughes – two young people who should be with us, but who are not, thanks to vaccine-preventable illnesses felling them in their first few weeks of life.
And then I want you to think of how many $347 tickets will be sold in our capital cities. I think a lot will be.
I want you to imagine where this money will go – to speakers without qualifications, who are promoting death and not life, abstinence and asceticism and not joy, superficial aesthetics and not real meaning or purpose. To speakers who have provided advice which has led to the death of people. Of the unholy rat-king of sycophants who rally and loom and cheerlead others into an early grave by encouraging them to turn away from medicine and buy whatever product they are shilling.
If you have this money and decide not to buy a ticket after all, good on you – in lieu, you might want to fang a hunjy at MSF or Oxfam to assist with vaccine programs. A family of sick, starving Syrian refugees can do with your help.
And if you are in need of green juice and a chat, I have a nice little cafe around the corner from me that does a bloody ripper Ginger Detox blend in the morning which tastes delicious and gets served with some quality banter. Come join me one day, and talk to me about your woes.