Doctored Doctor

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.

21 thoughts on “Doctored Doctor

  1. Hi Mel,

    Lots of people have a problem with this annoying person.

    has some good posts mentioning her. Filing an ASA complaint is fairly easy (webform), and worth doing. (Though probably don't have much of a case this time…) I believe she's been made to not use 'Dr' previously because it leads to the mistaken assumption that she is a medical doctor.


  2. Oh yes. I heart the bad science guy – he does a lot of good work. (I've linked to the relevant posts of his in my original post).

    You are right – I dont think this falls under the ASA or the FSA purview – but will be interesting to see what sainsbo's have to say about it anyway.

    Posted the letters yesterday… will keep you informed!


  3. Thanks. Yes, the food standards authority directed me to the local trading standards officer. Letter in the post to them yesterday! so I sent to sainsbo's, the asa, and trading standards. lets see what they say…


  4. 🙂

    I used to wind up the doctors in the hospital when I was in for regular pregnancy checks… they would see my name and go “oh, what type of doctor are you?” and I would say “a proper one”.

    some of them didnt like it one bit…


  5. Well spotted issue – and well written about. Keep us updated about how you get on with Sainsbury's – otherwise the full force of the blogging community can be brought to bear.


  6. Well spotted, this awful woman enrages me for a wide variety of reasons, fake PhD included.

    It might not be strictly Sainsbury's fault. I assume they (and other shops) buy their databases matching product code to description from a third party. Perhaps that third party hasn't updated their database.

    Of course, its possible that Sainsburys maintains its own database. Either way, it is presumably an oversight and either way it seems likely that Sainsburys could do something about it if it's brought to their attention.


  7. I too have a PhD – thankfully, I have none of the 'superior than thou' which you exhibit. Asides from your information on how PHD students suffer being spurious (most I know from my nice middle class homes or are on paid scholarships and never have to work at all) So, you worked as a cleaner? How about having to work as a cleaner because you don't have any other choice? Your Jewish Princess attitude is what gives academics a bad name – re: 'they have it so good, long holidays etc…' and, female academics to boot (clearly, you're an anti-feminist or you wouldn't give the 'poor me, how I suffered' crap). As for getting at medics and pointing out the relevance of being called a “Dr”… I only hope that should you be run over and need urgent medical attention, the only Dr who shows up, waves her PHD certificate in your face and espouses the superiority of Digital Humanities (that'll teach you). As for Gillian McKeith – at least she has a personality (oh, and fame and money… ooh, just realised where you're coming from). Guess, your academic job doesn't keep you busy enough to not have time to write to training standards or keep a blog – Shame… some people do 12 hour shifts in hospitals. Get a life.


  8. oooh, some nice aggressive blogosphere feedback there, timtom. I'm not going to bother refuting your comments. Anyone with a brain will know that what you say is spurious on many, many levels. But thanks for stopping by!


  9. Hi Mel! I just came in for the update and missed all the fun. I had no idea you were an anti-feminist with no personality! Oh dear I obviously need to pay more attention. 'Course I'm one of those haven't-done-a-PhD-but-maybe-could, we're still waiting to see how that's going to turn out. But I promise not to bitch about it 🙂 Great post.


  10. I have never seen such an eloquent description of just how much work and other effort a PhD requires. The constant moves, the late nights (for non-fun reasons), living on value beans, cycling to the library in rain and snow (at least there's heating on there) and everyone in your family thinking you're just sitting round playing on computers all day. Ah, such 'fond' memories.

    Then again, you didn't mention how it's TOTALLY WORTH IT to see it printed on your credit cards and plane tickets. Yes, maybe I'm shallow, but that's *Dr* Shallow, if you don't mind.

    Thank you for brightening my day!


  11. A PhD is not the same as being a real doctor. Many of the PhDs I know are morons, and I know several who've managed to get steered through by gifted postgraduate supervisors without showing the faintest comprehension of what they're at.
    You've got to work bloody hard to be a hod carrier too, you know, although that can be managed without smug self-superiority. If your chief issue with the McKeith idiot is that she didn't put in the hours, then you are a buffoon.


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