Below are our previous campaigns but please also see our Campaign News.
Some of our universities are handing out BSc and MSc degrees in subjects that are not based on science, including reflexology and acupuncture.
This gives undeserved legitimacy to these 'therapies' and devalues the proper science courses at these institutions.
The largest provider of these courses is the University of Westminster and we are encouraging you to write to the Vice Chancellor to persuade him to drop these courses.
Read our latest news for further details: Pseudo science by degrees.
To find out more about what we've been doing, please read our latest campaign news.
If you are unsure about what craniosacral therapy is and why it is a matter of concern, then read all about it here.
Our first Focus of the Month has been a remarkable success and thanks to everyone who has supported our focus on homeopathy by submitting complaints to the ASA and particularly to those who've let us know about the complaints they submitted. (We regret that because of a server problem for a day or so last week, not all of these received acknowledgement but rest assured they were all received and recorded by us.)
We believe that we've done enough for the time being to ensure that homeopaths nationwide are being alerted to the requirement to comply with the ASA's Code of Advertising Practice. The ASA have told complainants that a further three month grace period is being allowed to practitioners to remove misleading claims from their websites (see previous news for further details).
It is encouraging that the ASA are telling advertisers of homeopathy that:
We have seen the most recent, authoritative and comprehensive review of the scientific evidence by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee entitled “Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy”. This provided an analysis of evidence and opinion submitted by a range of proponents and opponents of homeopathy, including some of the organisations representing homeopathy in the UK and practising homeopaths. The conclusion made clear that there was a lack of objective scientific evidence to substantiate the efficacy of homeopathy. Because the documents submitted for the “Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy” report provided a comprehensive collection of data for assessment, and homeopaths and the various bodies that represent them were invited to submit evidence as part of a consultation process, we do not intend to duplicate that process or assess the evidence again. We know that some studies suggest a positive effect from homeopathy; however, we understand that the evidence, when taken as a whole, does not support the conclusion that homeopathy in and of itself is proven to help or treat health conditions.
The ASA told all the complainants that they believed the best way to achieve industry-wide compliance — something the ASA has considerable experience in doing — was to work with the various trade bodies. They said:
We will however publish specific, up-to-date advice to the industry and its representative bodies in due course and we will work with them to ensure that advertising for homeopathy is compliant with the Code.
We believe this is the right approach. While there are many practitioners who will not be members of a trade body, the message will be heard by a large number of them and will undoubtedly spread to others.
We think the most efficient way forward is not to send any more complaints about homeopathy to the ASA at present but to give them time to complete their ongoing investigations and compliance monitoring.
So, for our new focus of the month — craniosacral therapy — we'd like to try a different approach.
Instead of submitting complaints directly to the ASA, we'd like you to gather the information about CST websites and send it to us so we can submit 'test' cases to the ASA.
Here's how to do it:
Search online for a practitioner in your area (or look through local newspapers for clinics that have websites). We suggest you find one near you so that we have a good spread of websites, rather than just the top hits in Google! However, as long as you find one based in the UK, it's not essential that it is local.
Look for statements that say things like:
…or just a list of one or more medical conditions.
If there is no robust evidence of a therapy's efficacy and especially if it is scientifically implausible in the first place, any claim that it can be used to treat any medical conditions is questionable.
Ideally, take a snapshot of the page with the claims. This can be done using screen capture software, by using Alt-PrintScreen and pasting into a document or graphics program and saving the file, by creating a pdf of the page or by using a web cache facility, eg www.freezepage.com. Alternatively, print the page and scan it in.
Make sure you have a copy of the website URL(s), the practitioner's name, the business name and address and ideally an email address or a link to the contact page on the website.
Rather than asking you to submit complaints about websites to the ASA, we'd like you to send all the details to us in the first instance.
We will select some websites that demonstrate the range of questionable claims being made and make a number of test complaints to the ASA. We believe this will enable them to expend their resources on dealing with these key complaints and any adjudications will set a precedent for all practitioners. Their Compliance Team can then more easily deal with any other practitioner making questionable claims.
We believe this will be at least as effective as making numerous complaints to the ASA.
We will, of course, keep you informed of progress.
If you are unsure about what homeopathy is and why it is a matter of concern, then you might find this article helpful.
1. Find a misleading claim on the website of a local practitioner
Search online for a therapist in your area (or look through local newspapers for clinics that have websites). We suggest you find one near you so that we have a good spread of websites, rather than just the top hits in Google! However, as long as you find one based in the UK, it's not essential that it is local.
Look for statements that say things like:
…or just a list of one or more medical conditions.
If there is no robust evidence of a therapy's efficacy and especially if it is scientifically implausible in the first place, any claim that it can be used to treat any medical conditions should fail to pass muster with the Advertising Standards Authority. Remember that it is up to advertiser to substantiate any claims he or she makes.
Ideally, take a snapshot of the page with the claims — it is useful keep a copy in case the advertiser tries to deny that the webpage existed. This can be done using screen capture software, by using Alt-PrintScreen and pasting into a document or graphics program, by creating a pdf of the page or by using a web cache facility, eg www.freezepage.com. Alternatively, print the page and either submit it by post or scan it in and send it electronically.
Make sure you have a copy of the website URL(s), the therapist's name, the business name and address.
You can submit a complaint either by post or using their online form. If you use the online form, select 'Internet' for 'Type of advertisement' and 'Claims on marketers' own websites' for 'SubType'. If you are submitting it by post or email, look at the web form and ensure you supply all the information it asks for. This template document is useful while writing your complaint and keeping a record of it (the ASA don't send you a copy of your complaint if you use the online form).
Wording the complaint is easy: state what the claim is and simply say you doubt the advertiser can substantiate the claim. It is the responsibility of the advertiser to provide the evidence to back up any claims being made.
Your details are not divulged to the advertiser (unless you are a competitor) and will not be published on the ASA's website.
Some useful stock phrases that highlight the misleading nature of the claims and their effects:
We encourage you to use your own words and say why you think the website or claims are misleading, but it is best kept simple and straightforward.
It is not necessary, but please tell us if you have submitted a complaint, and give us just the most basic details of your complaint. We will keep your details confidential.
And please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about your complaint, how it should be phrased, if it is a valid complaint, or any other question. We are here to support you if necessary.
The ASA should acknowledge your complaint within a few days and give you a reference number. Once they start to investigate, they will contact the advertiser. If the advertiser agrees to withdraw the misleading claims, the job is done and you have helped protect the public from misleading claims. If the complaint is dealt with in this 'informal' way, the advertiser's name will not appear on the ASA's website.
If the ASA decide to conduct a formal investigation, they will ask the advertiser to supply evidence to substantiate the claims they have made. The ASA will then consider whether that evidence is adequate to substantiate the claims according to their rules and guidance. The ASA will draft an adjudication that you will be able comment on and, if confirmed by their Council, the full text of it will be published on the ASA's website for all to see. If an advertiser refuses to amend claims, the ASA have other sanctions available.
So we can highlight and draw any lessons from your experience, send us the details and we'll publish your complaint or a summary of it on our website. If requested, we will withhold your personal details. If the ASA send you a copy of their adjudication, please observe their embargo on making the details public.
Remember that an advertiser removing misleading claims is a win — there doesn't need to be an ASA adjudication against an advertiser. It's the removal of the misleading claims that's important.