MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

John Garrow died yesterday at home.

John had suffered a stroke about 6 weeks ago but had previously been in good health.

His professional achievements were too many to list here in full. He had been Professor of Human Nutrition, University of London, Honorary consultant physician St Bartholomew’s Hospital, St Mark’s Hospital, Royal London Hospital and Northwick Park Hospital. He also was head of Nutrition Research Unit at the MRC Clinical Research Centre, Harrow, and member of Department of Health Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy; Chair of the Joint Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education and the Chair of Association for the Study of Obesity. For many years, he also acted as editor in chief of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and as the chairman of HealthWatch.

John was a clinician and an active researcher with a focus on nutrition and, occasionally, alternative medicine. He has published many ground-breaking articles on these and other subjects. I had the pleasure to plan, conduct and publish a study with John; it was an investigation into an area which, at the time, was entirely novel. I think it might have been the first RCT into the peer-review system ever conceived. Here is the full abstract:

A study was designed to test the hypothesis that experts who review papers for publication are prejudiced against an unconventional form of therapy. Two versions were produced (A and B) of a ‘short report’ that related to treatments of obesity, identical except for the nature of the intervention. Version A related to an orthodox treatment, version B to an unconventional treatment. 398 reviewers were randomized to receive one or the other version for peer review. The primary outcomes were the reviewers’ rating of ‘importance’ on a scale of 1-5 and their verdict regarding rejection or acceptance of the paper. Reviewers were unaware that they were taking part in a study. The overall response rate was 41.7%, and 141 assessment forms were suitable for statistical evaluation. After dichotomization of the rating scale, a significant difference in favour of the orthodox version with an odds ratio of 3.01 (95% confidence interval, 1.03 to 8.25), was found. This observation mirrored that of the visual analogue scale for which the respective medians and interquartile ranges were 67% (51% to 78.5%) for version A and 57% (29.7% to 72.6%) for version B. Reviewers showed a wide range of responses to both versions of the paper, with a significant bias in favour of the orthodox version. Authors of technically good unconventional papers may therefore be at a disadvantage in the peer review process. Yet the effect is probably too small to preclude publication of their work in peer-reviewed orthodox journals.

Years later, John also contributed a chapter entitled ‘CAM IN COURT’ to a book that I had edited. I remember very well what a pleasure it was to co-operate with John. He was quick to conceive new ideas and had an intellectual rigor and honesty that I have not often encountered elsewhere.

But it is not his professional achievements which impressed me most about John. What I found even more remarkable was his ability to understand, his kindness and warmth. He had the gift not just to grasp the issues but also to empathize with the people behind them. I am proud to have known John, worked with him, and been inspired by him.

I will sorely miss my friend.

4 Responses to John Garrow (1929 – 2016)

  • I was very sorry to hear about John Garrow’s death. he was truly one of the good guys.

    The paper sounds interesting. The difference in outcomes might be entirely rational. if there were reason to think that the prior probability of being effective was lower for the CAM treatment than for the orthodox treatments. In that case a much lower P value would be needed to convince one that the CAM result was not a false positive See, for example, http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/1/3/140216#sec-10 . That’s just the mathematical basis for the sensible aphorism “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

  • I am really sorry to hear about Prof Garrow. As a dietitian working in the obesity field, I had the greatest respect for him. He was so helpful and supportive to me as a junior dietitian and to many others. He was always so humble and kind too. Thoughts are with his family

  • I am so sorry to hear of his death. He was a true pioneer – ‘treat obesity seriously’ – who was highly respected by us all.

  • It was my pleasure to meet with John Garrow after I had touched base with him during the development of my doctoral thesis which took me to Jamaica to develop methodology for the the development of protein malnutrition. It was the time that “Optifast” was increasing in use. We both decided it was much like skimmed milk in many ways except the cost. Thus we tried the “skimmed milk diet” which worked quite successfully, but we could not provide the commercial hype.

    w

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