Saturday, January 20, 2007

About that naughty book I promoted
A friend suggested I do something about all this indignation appearing on Wikipedia. Apparently some people were scandalized. I declined to be involved because it appeared to me that the motive behind the Wikipedia paragraph was so that a blogger could have some extra Google points merely by having his link on my Wikipedia entry. Finally, not knowing anything much about Wikipedia at the time, I looked at it and deleted it. Of course, it was put back by the blogger about 5 minutes later. After many months I received another question about it from a Nobel Prize winner who had received an email about it. So I decided to get to the bottom of it because I can hardly remember the episode and needed to restore some old hard drives to find the information. Here are the sordid facts. At present I don't have all the links working - I'll try to fix it next week - sorry, but you have to be a Nobel Prize Winner to operate this Blogger interface!
In 2005 I was asked to help author an article about H.pylori which had been written for a health book. This was a few weeks before I won the Nobel Prize. I said I could not take on extra duties but if they showed it to me I would fact check and edit it for them. I might have sent a few web references and review articles – I am not sure. Anyway, a few weeks after the Prize, they contacted me by email and sent me the article. I reviewed it and made changes so that, while not being a masterpiece, it was factually correct and not horribly contradictory to the basic style of their health book. A low-res version of the galley proof (to protect copyright) is shown here as a pdf. By then I could see that the book was “alternative”, but at least people who read it would have accurate H.pylori data. (I always have a soft spot for alternative medicine adherents because so many people with H.pylori-caused stomach trouble go undiagnosed for years and years; causing them to search for alternatives to their normal medical care. This is a whole other issue which I can expand on at another time).
The next thing that happened was that my schedule went ballistic after winning the Nobel Prize. To give you an example; at a lecture in Denmark the audience started laughing as I started up my laptop PC. In the Windows login screen was the message “Outlook: 1143 messages, 753 unread”. It was clear that I needed to hire a manager, or become a recluse. I recruited a talented person called Kris Laurie. She then set about handling all my invitations. By April 2006, things were a little more organized and we needed to attend functions in New York City and Chicago to promote Western Australia. At this time the book editors contacted Kris and asked if I could do a brief interview to promote the book which would soon be published. Kris said that we were going to New York for two days and, if it was set up in my hotel, I would make time for the interview. There was no fee. On the 7th of April I was interviewed on camera by a producer and a two person camera crew. It was pretty exciting (NOT) as you can see from the photo here. They were a likeable bunch and very enthusiastic about the Nobel Prize award. I was tired but attempted to keep it all fairly lively. Kris was carrying a replica of the Nobel Medal so they held it up and we snapped a photograph with the camera crew.
At the end of the interview the producer asked if I could just say something promotional for the camera, as the interview was a bit dry. I said Ok and then fired off a couple of sentences such as “Read my chapter about ulcers and stomach bacteria" and then, after further prompting by the producer I said "Just go out and buy the book” or a similar comment. In retrospect, the whole thing might have been a setup just to have me say that! Apparently my ten minute interview about H.pylori was ignored in favour of the five second sound byte. As is normally the case, I signed their release document and that was the last I saw or heard from them.
From the Wikipedia entry I have since gleaned that, apart from my entry, this health book is somewhat “fact free”! Its major selling point might be my interview which has been shown in the middle of the night on a cable TV channel funded by infomercials. As a result, some unlucky Wikipedia enthusiasts bought the book and now claim they were ripped off. All I can say is “Ooops. Sorry guys! Guilty as Charged! I’ll try not to let it happen again." So for a ten second lapse I now have 30% of my Wikipedia entry taken up by references to a book I have never seen but which would be better of not appearing on my CV. I saw a nice quote from Voltaire who would say “Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.” I am not blushing. One down side of all this is that the book in question, which I have avoided naming in this article, now has links from my Wikipedia entry, as do some anonymous bloggers. On the good side, many people who never go to regular doctors might have had their ulcers treated properly as a result of my article in that book.