I saw something at the weekend that made my academic blood boil. In Sainsburys, Gillan McKeith food bars (which are only labelled “Gillain McKeith” vitamin C bars on the packet) are still being sold as “dr gillian mckeith” products, according to the pricing information.
For the uninitiated, Ms Gillian McKeith is a tv celebrity who has a program in the UK called “You are what you eat”. She helps obese people get thin through the revolutionary tactics of encouraging them to eat healthier, eat less, and move about more. She has a string of well selling books, and related foodstuffs.
So where’s my beef? Firstly, her poor understanding of science has long been discussed on the interwebs. This is someone who doesnt really get basic high school level biology, yet has made a career explaining it to us lesser mortals.
But secondly – Ms Gillian McKeith is not a medical doctor. She has a doctorate (like myself) but unlike me, and most of my colleagues, her PhD was gained by correspondence course from a non-accredited American college. Her research has never been published, never been vetted. And yet she has in the past paraded her “Dr” as if it was equitable to those aquired by rigourous academic study and examination and publication.
A draft adjudication by the Advertising Standards Agency in 2007 suggested that her products allegedly breached two clauses of the Committee of Advertising Practice code: “substantiation” and “truthfulness”. To avoid public publication of this document, Ms McKeith accepted “voluntarily” – not to call herself “doctor” in her advertising any more.
And yet, here we have Sainsurys selling Dr Gillian McKeith products (let me stress one more time for the lawyers- this is on the Sainsburys printed material, not Ms Gillian McKeith’s packaging).
Why does this make me angry? Firstly, doing a PhD is tough. Its hard work. Buying one off the internet is just not the same as going to an accredited school and putting in the hours. (Lets go over the difference between a PhD and a medical Doctor: PhD’s have been granted to those reaching the highest standards of academic achievement possible since medieval times. Physicians have only been called “doctor” since the 18th century – and this only to distinguish those who had some medical training from untrained barbershop surgeons – so anyone who suggests having a PhD doesnt make you a “real doctor” can go and whistle).
It generally takes around 4 years of dissertation work, on your own, to get a PhD from an accredited school. You are examined by experts in your field, and if you are good enough you may go onto publish your dissertation – but at any rate your research will generally be made public in the library of your institution (yes I know there are time barred exceptions). I repeat – buying one from the Internet is just not the same.
And in that four year stretch, your friends from your undergrad and postgrad degrees will go on to get jobs, buy houses, go skiing, start families… and you will still be existing off Sainsburys basics range, wondering how you will pay the next phone bill, and stressing about the fact the library shuts on a friday evening as you really need to keep studying. It really is a calling, and its something that only those with dedication and hard work get through (only 7 in 10 people who start a PhD in the UK complete it. And only 1 in 10 people who get a PhD in the UK go on to get an academic post. See? Stress!). It is for all those other reasons that I do not have time for colleagues without PhDs who say – “oh, I could have done a PhD. But I chose not to!” – you either go for it or you dont. Dont patronise my time spent working as a cleaner, the broken relationships, the moving house 25 times in 10 years to chase cheap rent, as something you “could have done”. The fact is, you didnt. And dont buy one of the Internet. We can tell if its an accredited qualification, you know!
Sainsbury’s selling this as “Dr Gillian McKeith” products is therefore as wrong to me as them advertising something as Organic, when it isnt, or “suitable for Vegetarians”, when it isnt. It wont hurt or kill you if you eat it (unlike something “nut free” that contains nuts, or something “gluten free” that has gluten in). But it leaves a bad taste when you realise you’ve been sold a mistruth.
(As if I’d buy a granola bar at £1.55 anyway!).
I’m going to send this to Sainsburys and see what they say. And what the heck, I may as well copy a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Food Standards Agency.
As for Ms McKeith? If she shows me hers, I’ll show her mine.