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Interview with Martin J. Walker

by Louise Mclean(more info)

listed in interviews, originally published in issue 97 - March 2004

When Martin Walker published his fifth book in 1993 – Dirty Medicine: Science, Big Business and the Assault on Natural Health Care, it sent shock waves through the natural healthcare industry. He set up Slingshot Publications to publish this book and others, for writers having difficulties getting their books published by mainstream publishing houses. Louise Mclean talks to Martin about his books, his views and his writing.

Martin J Walker with his son Juan

Martin J Walker with his son Juan

LM: Many people believe there is presently a worldwide move through Codex Alimentarius to outlaw natural therapies and remedies. The first phase of these has been implemented through the EU Food Supplements Directive, with the Herbal and Medicines Directives to follow. In your book Dirty Medicine you outlined some of the strategies used by the pharmaceutical industry to discredit alternative medicine. What do you think is going on at the moment?

MW: When I was writing Dirty Medicine from 1988 to1993, I don't think I realized the importance of the attack on vitamins and mineral supplements. It's only recently that I've understood that the people attached to the Campaign Against Health Fraud (CAHF – now called Health Watch) in the UK, the American National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) and Quackbusters in America were only the first wave of a more organized, powerful and centralized attempt to destroy vitamin and mineral supplements. I tended at that time to view the people I was writing about as rather quirky individuals who were in favour of professional medicine, biased towards scientific medicine and the pharmaceutical companies, but not as people supported by multinational agencies involved in a continuous conflict over supplements and holistic health therapies.

Of course now that the plan has been unveiled, I can see that the organization of CAHF and NCAHF was the first stage in the battle. The techniques they were using – the character assassination of alternative practitioners and researchers, the commissioning and planting of press stories; the linking up with more formal agencies like the FDA and the MCA; raiding premises; striking people off professional registers; bringing people before disciplinary board hearings; conducting bogus scientific trials, the undeclared work with large corporations. All these things were linked to a kind of regulatory ground clearing exercise. Now a legislative battle is taking place on a different level and involving whole groupings of countries.

LM: The pharmaceutical cartel are losing money worldwide to natural health care. They don't really want people to get better by themselves when they could be taking drugs.

MW: The chemical and pharmaceutical companies would like to retain hegemony over the social structure of health and medicine. It isn't that they want to do away with vitamins and food supplements; it's that they want to control production and distribution of these things to maximize profit. The fact that they are campaigning to end self-administration of vitamins, minerals and food supplements would not stop them from putting them in food, for instance. They want to control pre-packaged distribution of vitamins and if they could put them in foods, shirts, lipsticks or patches or whatever, they will do that. They also want to end the confusion that has arisen between nutrition and medicine and they want to end any evident connection between nutrition and health so that in the public perception, health is dependent upon professional medicine and pharmaceutical products.

LM: There is another Slingshot book due out next year, The Gatekeepers, which deals with alternative cancer healers.

MW: The Gatekeepers is a book which I started by accident. When I finished Dirty Medicine, I was doing a lot of research into chemicals and cancer and I came across a particular naturopath, who had been a cancer healer in England. I followed and researched his work and looked at his methods in some detail. I found that the British Ministry of Health, as it was then, and the organs of orthodox medicine, had waged a campaign against him. I had only previously read about American cancer therapists and the way the American government, American industry and American professional medicine had attacked them.

I studied the work of this naturopath and uncovered the things that had happened to him. I went on to look at others and decided to write The Gatekeepers about the struggle between natural cancer curers, orthodox medicine and the British government from 1850 to the present day. It's not a book about alternative cancer cures or a book about cancer. It's a book about the power of professional medicine – dirty tricks and strategies that are used by people in power to deny other people a competitive place in the market. It deals with just three or four people and looks at their cases in depth, as individuals and therapists, in an attempt to describe them in rounded terms and not just at their cancer cures.

I've tried to look at these people, at their therapies and philosophy as an aspect of their lives and then I've looked at the people who are attacking them in the same way – although it's quite difficult. For instance, in the case of this particular naturopath, somebody in the Ministry of Health set the police on him. It's difficult to understand the consciousness of police officers trying to track down and bring to trial an alternative medical practitioner. We can understand the police arresting a criminal doing obvious harm to property or to a person, but we are not quite sure how to describe the social environment of a police officer involved in a campaign on behalf of the State against an alternative medical practitioner.

LM: This obviously has something to do with the common view about medicine, the honesty of the medical profession and the implied lack of competence of ´untrained´ practitioners. There is clearly a view, very often projected in the press, that whereas doctors have only one motive which is to cure people, alternative practitioners have pecuniary motives and can be responsible for harming people.

MW: Yes, this is clearly the case when you think about it and of course there is the contact with the pharmaceutical industry, which affects much professional medicine. The Gatekeepers is going to be an interesting book to finish because I've been working on it now for nearly 10 years on and off. I spent 2 years in 2001 and 2002 trying to help look after my mother who died of cancer and that brought me into conflict with a lot of things I questioned in the NHS.

I have tried to introduce personal anecdotal narrative into the book because I became very involved in my investigation into the naturopath. I wanted, as well, to write about the process of investigating, because I think it is important to people. Writers as a professional body tend to keep their methodologies to themselves. We should really try to explain how we research a subject and put information together, just so the reader can more fully understand where we are coming from. In The Gatekeepers, I talk about my investigations, and how you look at people and their past.

LM: Although you have a major interest in politics, I believe your original profession was that of an artist?

MW: I have been involved in politics since I was at Hornsey College of Art in 1968. For many years I designed and printed political posters and for the last five years or so I have been doing ceramics, mainly tile design, which I am very committed to.

I'm of the generation of 1968. Then, politics was so organic, so much ingrained in our lives. For my generation of activists, politics was a part of everything you did.

Between the 60s and the 80s, politics appeared relatively straightforward. Then the climate changed. In my case, the vacuum began to be filled with questions about health. Even though sometimes I'm tempted to think this isn't real politics, it is. Even in the 1960s, the politics of mental, sexual and physical health was at the forefront of the agenda.

I've always wanted my writing to grow out of my actions. I think the struggle to understand your own health is part of the struggle to understand your own identity in a complex world. It's to do with an ongoing internal movement to find a way of living that is in tune with the environment that you want to live in.

People tend not to link the older forms of politics with newer ideas. Current ideas in relation to nutrition are a good example of this.

Nothing is more political than the production and consumption of food. People should be as expansively political about attacking multinational food companies, about setting up food cooperatives, about boxed deliveries of organic food, about setting up well women clinics in their areas, as they are about campaigning, say, against the arms trade.

People are constantly treating what they consider to be newer ideas about nutrition or health therapies as personal, rather than political. Of course the two things are intimately involved. We need a political collective or a community response to ideas about health. Our thinking, for instance, should not just be against drugs, it should be for good nutrition. It should be against pharmaceutical drugs but for new health care practices based in the community.

LM: Talking of chemicals, I believe you wrote a paper about the epidemiologist, Sir Richard Doll and his work on the (lack of a) link between cancer and the vinyl chloride industry, while he was a consultant for Monsanto, at that time one of the major producers of vinyl chloride?

MW: I don't want to go into the details of that particular paper. It's one of two papers I wrote over the last couple of years about the contemporary role of medical epidemiologists. I am very interested in writing about the connection between the life of the professional and those larger agencies in society which have power and which determine power and the direction of society. One of the best works on asbestos, for example, is the book by Geoffrey Tweedale, called From Magic Mineral to Killer Dust. It isn't just about the company that manufactured asbestos or about the scientists who agreed the toxic and regulatory levels for asbestos fibre. It's about a whole nexus of social, scientific and economic factors.

There is a real problem with much contemporary writing about health, in that it is over-simplistic, written by people who are trying to push a particular theory or aspect of health.

LM: Can you tell us about companies and organizations that are set up to allay the fears of the public on health and environmental issues but are really working for the benefit of chemical and pharmaceutical industries?

MW: Up until the end of the '80s, if a company wanted to deflect public criticism in the area of health, it would set up its own propaganda arm, creating an institute or some kind of lobby organization that was probably part of a PR company. Towards the mid-1990s, a lot of critics, commentators and journalists began to see these organizations for what they were. You couldn't just run a fake institute that published good news about your industry without somebody finding out the financial links between the industry and that institute.

So in the mid-1980s, a number of companies came into being which were problem-solving companies. A part of these companies' briefs entailed finding technical, scientific or mechanical solutions to industry or company problems. Another part of their work, however, involved solving problems of 'consumer perception' faced by a particular industry, company or product. So if the waste disposal industry had a problem with the public perception of dioxin, for example, then the 'problem solving' company would take this on.

Their role is clearly similar to the one taken by PR companies in the past. The difference is that their approach is more integrated. These companies have their own epidemiologists, their own scientists, their own smaller agency companies. They have managed to integrate all of these areas into government structures as well. They receive government grants for various projects and are represented on peer review panels, etc. They carry on a more authoritative and aggressive protection of harmful products and a more determined attack on consumer and citizens' lobbies. These organizations are much more dangerous in terms of their defence of bad health products because you can't track them down easily.

An idea that has come into focus for me recently, is to do with the intrusion of the State and medicine into the life of the family. I want to write more about this. The State and the medical profession these days seem to be taking great leaps and bounds into the previously accepted private area of the family.

LM: Are you referring to situations like the Shaken Baby Syndrome and MMR court cases?

MW: Yes, and for example the HIV baby test case about whether the baby should be tested for HIV. And of course the whole trend in North America of legislating for pre-birth or even pre-pregnancy testing for possible hereditary illnesses. At the end of this continuum there is the overshadowing question of legislating for various kinds of genetic testing.

There are examples too in another of my books, Skewed, regarding ME and chronic fatigue syndrome. Cases are described where psychiatrists put children with ME in closed mental hospital facilities. In some cases the parents are arrested and in one case imprisoned because they were said to be inflicting false illness beliefs on their children. Some of the mothers were accused of having Munchausen's syndrome by proxy.

It appears that we are entering an area where abuse becomes defined by doctors, not simply in criminal terms or in terms of violence or even mental cruelty but on the grounds that the parent disagrees with orthodox medicine. This is going in the wrong direction and appears to be part of a much larger plan for the medical profession, science and pharmaceutical interests to gain a greater hegemony over the family.

LM: Let's talk about your book, Skewed. Nowadays many people are becoming ill from 'hidden' causes such as air pollution, pesticides in food, prescription drugs, vaccinations, radiation from mobile phones and computers. They become tired and weak. This book deals with the fact that these people, who are diagnosed with ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, are frequently referred to psychiatrists. Since no concrete physical diagnosis can be found, these sufferers are told that 'it is all in their minds', that it's psychosomatic.

MW: Skewed came out at the end of October 2003 and it's a book about the way that a small group of psychiatrists have tried to control and redefine the illness of ME. What this particular group of psychiatrists have done is to erase ME and subsume it into a whole category of illnesses which they have termed chronic fatigue. What was once a very specific illness, with very specific signs and aetiology, has now been incorporated into a massive group of symptoms with one set of treatments being given to all sufferers. A moratorium has been called on diagnostic testing so that there is going to be no further research, in Britain anyway, into what actually caused ME or what ME is. One of the treatments now prescribed for CFS is graded exercise (GE) therapy to get people fit and out of their fatigue.

LM: Surely that would make them more tired?

MW: If you are suffering from fatigue, and especially if you are one of the 25% immobilized sufferers, in considerable pain, why would you want to get involved in graded exercise? Some psychiatrists say that fatigue is all in the mind and the patient has got to be able to conquer it. They prescribe GE along with 'cognitive behaviour therapy'. The idea is to get the patient to understand their symptoms, to get rid of false illness beliefs.

LM: What about the drugs they prescribe?

MW: Both these therapies go along with the prescription of anti-depressant drugs.

LM: Which are very addictive.

MW: And they don't solve the problem. What the psychiatrists say is that depression and the psychiatric condition are primary in these cases. Other people say yes, of course if you've got an illness like ME, you're going to be depressed, you can't get out of bed, you can't do the things you used to, you may be in considerable pain and you have probably had to stop work.

However, Skewed is not a book about ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, about their causes or even about their treatment. I've tried to trace the arguments used by psychiatric doctors since World War II – they believe that people, who suffer from ME and certain chemically induced illnesses are suffering from mental rather than physical illness. I've tried to suggest where this argument comes from, how it has been used since the 1950s by chemical companies and the government to dismiss anybody who has an illness which isn't easily identifiable, doesn't have a characteristic symptomatology and doesn't have any clear treatment. The last thing the chemical companies in Britain or America want to do is admit such a thing as chemical illness because it means a massive liability. Skewed deals with ME, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity and Gulf war syndrome. It uses them all as examples of how the psychiatric argument is used to cloak any research into organic aetiology.

LM: Can you tell me more about your plans for Slingshot?

MW: We are getting an Associate Membership scheme working, where people pay £50 to receive all the books published by Slingshot over the first year they join. In the following year they get a year's books at perhaps half the membership price, somewhere around £25. If we could get a good turnover and large enrolment of Associate Members, we would be well on the way to financing the books.

I would be grateful if anybody can help Slingshot to distribute these books, get more Associate Members or help with publicity. We just want to produce books, which are integral to campaigns, that can be sold on the ground to people involved or interested in these campaigns. We try to sell our books either by mail order or by campaigning groups in the community. We don't have significant problems selling our books but we are always undercapitalized when going to the printers with a new book. If we could find some way of being assured of borrowing up-front printing costs of each book it would be a great relief.

Further Information

For further information regarding Martin Walker's many books and publications please write to Slingshot Publications, BM BOX 8314, London WC1N 3XX.

Editor's Note

Skewed by Martin Walker is reviewed in this issue. Please see page 59.

Other Slingshot Publications

Loic Le Ribault, a small booklet about an important French forensic scientist, mercilessly denigrated by the French State and by medical interests because he discovered the use of organic silica as a medicine for arthritis. He has since published his own series of books about his struggles, culminating in the recent publication of The Cost of a Discovery (available from LLR-G5 Ltd, C/o Ross Post Office, Castlebar, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland).

Martin Walker's views on animal testing

In December 2002 Slingshot published A Cat in Hell's Chance, a campaigners view of the battle to close Hill Grove Farm in Oxfordshire, which bred cats for vivisection. During its production I came to understand more than I had previously about the link between vivisection and medicine and therefore people's health. There are no good aspects of vivisection or chemical testing and they absolutely have to be abolished, they cannot be reformed.

One of the things that has always been of interest to me is the generational continuity of ideas, especially political ideas. So I thought it would be a good idea to publish some of the original texts, which had a great impact on people. I offered to reprint an English language edition of Hans Ruesch´s groundbreaking and seminal anti-vivisection book Slaughter of the Innocent. This book has just come out. Although it was first published over 20 years ago in 1979, it still gives you a sense of direction today.

LM: Despite the fact that testing on animals cannot have any real bearing on how a drug will affect a human and can lead to adverse reactions when given to humans, there are apparently more animals being experimented on today than ever before.

MW: The Establishment is so heavily indebted to and entrenched with the pharmaceutical multinationals. They can't back down from the position the chemical and pharmaceutical companies demand and that is why millions of animals continue to be slaughtered every year.

Testing of chemicals on animals is growing in Britain and America. When it comes to the questioning of a particular chemical, which has been known to be carcinogenic for a long time, the solution that has occurred to the chemical companies is to get full scale massive animal testing trials for that chemical. This means that they can put off making decisions for at least 5 or 6 years. Then of course there is another 5 or 6 years in implementing any reforming regulations.

LM: Buying time?

MW: If the tests prove to be unequivocally against the chemical, no doubt the chemical companies will come up with bizarre arguments such as: "Oh well, you can't rely on animal testing, can you? It's not the same as human physiology". Which is what they have said in the past. Then you get another 5 years of: "How can we test chemicals on humans?" or "How can we collate anecdotal stories of the effect of chemicals on humans?" and "Let's have a think about this and find some way of doing it". Then there's another 5 years and it just goes on indefinitely

Skewed by Martin Walker is reviewed in this issue

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About Louise Mclean

Louise Mclean is a qualified homeopath and writer. She is also editor of Zeus Information Service, a subscriber only email health news service. To subscribe see www.zeusinfoservice.com She can be contacted on louise4.writer@virgin.net

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