Challenging misleading healthcare claims.

Homeopathy: Pseudo Science of the 21st Century?

keyboardNearly three years ago, a homeopathy advocacy group calling themselves H:MC21 (Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century) placed an advert in the New Statesman. It attracted six complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about claims it made.

It mentioned Prof Edzard Ernst and he responded in the next issue. In an article titled A bitter pill to swallow, he said:

Rarely had I seen an advert so inaccurate and borderline libellous in a respected publi­cation. The advert, which appeared to breach the British Code of Advertising, was by a lobby group called Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century (H:MC21). It contained unjustified attacks on myself and colleagues, including statements that gave a dangerously false impression of homoeopathy's therapeutic value.

The ASA adjudicated on 12 points and their Council upheld seven of them. It was published on 5 October 2011.

Independent review

H:MC21 requested a review of this decision by the Independent Reviewer, Sir Hayden Phillips. During the lengthy appeal process, the adjudication was removed from the ASA's website as is normal practice.

H:MC21 submitted a large number of points to be considered by Sir Hayden. After carefully considering these, he asked the ASA to re-assess the adjudication on some points. This they did and, because we were one of the six complainants, we now have the revised draft adjudication that will be presented to the Council and will be published shortly. However, because it has not yet been published, we cannot divulge any details. The ASA Council's new decision in now final, although H:MC21 say they would like to raise 'a fighting fund' to challenge it.

Suffice to say, H:MC21 have organised a protest outside the ASA's offices followed by a lobby of Parliament on Tuesday 25 June.

They have also asked supporters to write to their MP and local press, claiming that the ASA is not judging them fairly, is effectively denying patient choice and requesting that "this issue be raised in Parliament". They claim that the ASA:

…is not basing its decisions on "the available scientific knowledge" [for homeopathy]…Instead of looking at all the evidence in context, the ASA appears to be making decisions on the basis of a narrow ideological position. This position is in contradiction to scientific knowledge, in contradiction to the paradigm of evidence based medicine (EBM) and in contradiction to good medical practice.

They ask their supporters to tell their MP that they consider the ASA's approach to be:

…dangerous to the health of patients.

Our supporters will recognise the kind of arguments H:MC21 are trying to use and we doubt any critical-thinking MP would be persuaded by them as many are simply fallacious or have nothing to do with the question at hand: is their advert 'legal, decent, honest and truthful' and can the advertiser substantiate their claims?

Although we believe most MPs will be well aware of the independence, impartiality and well-deserved reputation of the ASA and will therefore not take what H:MC21 are saying about the ASA seriously, there is a possibility that they will be influenced by their constituents' emails.

Action Alert!

So, we would like our supporters to contact their MP to make sure they are aware of the professionalism and impartiality of the ASA and their ability to critically evaluate scientific evidence.

Mass identical emails to MP are seldom effective, so we would like our supporters to write a short individual email.

Please use your own words as they will have the greatest impact, but to help, we would like to suggest a few points you might like to mention:

  • The ASA are there to protect the public from misleading claims and are highly respected for their independence, professionalism and their fair and impartial adjudications.
  • Misleading adverts, particularly about healthcare treatments, can cause harm to the public and prevent them from making fully informed healthcare decisions.
  • The same rules apply to all advertisers and there is no justification in lowering standards for one group, particularly those advertising healthcare therapies.
  • There is no scientific controversy surrounding the evidence for homeopathy: it is clear that, taking the best, most robust, most independent studies, homeopathy is no more effective than placebo.

You can write to your MP directly, or use the convenient Write to Them website: all you have to do is enter your postcode below and click on Submit and you will be taken directly to the Write To Them website.

The protest and lobby are next Tuesday, so try to get your email sent before then!

If you see any letters or articles in your local press, please also consider replying to those.

alertPlease let us know if you do write to your MP, please tell us what reply you get and consider updating your MPs entry in Skeptical Voter's wiki.


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20 June 2013