Anti-Science Authority (ASA) provokes rebellion from homeopaths

The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) seems to have hit on the perfect formula to enrage homeopaths, and indeed anyone interested in fair debate and freedom of speech: ignore all the evidence in favour of homeopathy so that homeopaths can say virtually nothing in advertisements. Et voilà! Civil disobedience

Attacking Supplement Adverts (ASA)

When the UK government extended the ASA’s mandate to online advertisements in March 2011, and the ASA updated its Code of Advertising Practice (CAP Code) to become an enforcer of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR; No. 1924/2006), the ASA inevitably became an enemy of natural healthcare.

Homeopaths have been a prime target in this regard. The latest episode in this ongoing saga involved an advertisement by the campaign organisation Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century (H:MC21).  H:MC21 appealed the ASA’s original 2011 ruling and submitted a complaint about the ASA’s investigation process, citing the ASA’s refusal to read evidence, misrepresentation of evidence and acting beyond its competence, among other reasons.

Amazingly Slippery Arguments

On 3rd July 2013, the ASA published its decision on H:MC21’s appeal. It’s essentially similar to its initial adjudication, with the same complaints upheld and rejected. We’re not here to take a critical microscope to the ASA’s reasoning – anyone interested can read H:MC21’s own critique. What we will say is that anyone who can dismiss the evidence on homeopathy in the way the ASA has done simply isn’t playing it either fair or objectively. 

Allied Skeptics Applaud

The ASA publicly distanced itself from the Nightingale Collaboration at the end of 2011. So it was something of a surprise when the Nightingale Collaboration released an article distastefully welcoming “a victory for consumer choice” on the day the ASA’s ruling was published – especially when the H:MC21 and several UK Members of Parliament weren’t aware of the publication date. 

Authority Somewhat Assumed

The ASA has no in-house scientific expertise, so it relies on external ‘experts’ when required.  H:MC21 were told that the ASA’s ‘expert’ in their appeal case was a pharmacologist, with knowledge of drugs and clinical trials but no expertise in homeopathy. This may go some way to explaining why the ASA relies so rigidly on RCTs for substantiation of homeopathy-related claims, even though neither of the sections of the Code on Advertising Practice (CAP Code) most often cited in this case – Section 3 and Section 12 – specifically mentions them.

Advertising Stopped Altogether

The effect of the ASA’s H:MC21 ruling, combined with a separate adjudication published on the same day concerning the Society of Homeopaths (SoH), will be to prevent homeopaths from making any claims in their advertising. The SoH has responded by removing its ‘What can homeopathy help?’ page, but H:MC21 has opted for a completely different route. 

An open letter to the ASA published on the H:MC21 website on 9th July, “Rejects the adjudication of The Advertising Standards Authority Ltd, published on 3 July 2013. H:MC21 will take no account of this opinion in any of its future advertising”. Furthermore, "[The ASA] has adopted a position which renders all evidence in support of homeopathy inadmissable, regardless of how this evidence is gathered. Such a position is legally and scientifically absurd.

“This pronouncement by the Advertising Standards Authority Ltd. comes as an apparent world-wide campaign of homeopathy denigration is increasingly halted in its tracks,” observed former H:MC21 Chairman, Paul Burnett, in a conversation with ANH-Intl. “The New Zealand Press Council recently ruled that an article and editorial saying that homeopathy was mere placebo effect was ‘highly derogatory, inaccurate and misleading’. The ‘Global Indian of the Year 2013’ award has been given to the ‘renowned homeopath Dr Mukesh Batra’, who went on record as saying,  “In the past decade, homeopathy has been going from strength to strength in India and across the world”.  In Brazil, certain homeopathy denigrators were reportedly declared persona non grata and expelled from the country. 

“Great concern has rightly been expressed by a growing number of politicians. As more and more around the world know homeopathy to be ‘effective, safe and cost-effective’, politicians and businesspeople alike may wish to reflect on whether there is real potential for impairment of this country’s reputation for scientific and ethical integrity as the UK seeks to develop its worldwide trade.”

The letter also points out that, as a private company set up originally to oversee self-regulation of the advertising industry, the ASA holds no statutory powers. All it can do is publish its decisions on the ASA website and report continued offenders to the UK Office of Fair Trading. Is it time for some enterprising lawyers to look into whether the ASA is guilty of misrepresentation under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006?

Acknowledging Sound Action

For us, it’s about time that someone called the ASA out on its blatantly biased, even rigged, procedures as H:MC21 has done. What appears to be a concerted campaign to remove the free speech of a certain section of the population – namely, natural healthcare practitioners – may well succeed unless the intended victims offer some resistance. We await developments with interest, and will keep you informed.

Call to action

  • Don’t be influenced by the ASA’s anti-homeopathy stance: it’s a highly effective modality for many conditions, if administered by a competent practitioner – and it’s completely safe!
  • Support your local homeopath: you can find a practitioner list at the Society of Homeopaths or the British Homeopathic Association
  • Please resist efforts being made to prevent NHS delivery of homeopathy. In particular, UK citizens should sign the petition to save Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital 

 

Updated: 10 Jul 2013

I would like to thank the ANH for passing on this important information about the Advertising Standards Authority Ltd.

The claim that there is no evidence for homeopathy is factually incorrect. Even if you take the narrowest version of what constitutes acceptable evidence - systematic reviews of double-blinded randomised controlled trials (RCTs) - there is evidence for homeopathy.

The measure of evidence based solely on RCTs, however, is unacceptable within medicine, including orthodox medicine. Only about 51% of RCTs produce clear results, whether they are of orthodox medicine or homeopathy. For this reason the approach of so-called 'evidence based medicine' (EBM) rejects reliance on only 'external evidence' (such as RCTs). The use of RCT-tested medical treatments in practice has to be monitored in order to check on issues of effectiveness and safety, such as through the MHRA 'yellow card scheme'.

The argument that only RCTs are valid is a purely ideological argument with no basis in science.

The ASA Ltd is supposed to base its decisions on "the available scientific knowledge" (CAP Code 12.1). It also "does not arbitrate between conflicting ideologies" (Scope of the Code IV j). In fact it appears to have ignored the available scientific knowledge and actually ruled on the basis of an ideological position.

The ASA Ltd also states that experts are "suitably qualified only if they can provide suitable credentials; for example, evidence of: relevant professional expertise or qualifications ..." (CAP Code 12.2). The ASA Ltd has employed an expert who does not appear to have professional expertise or qualifications relevant to understanding homeopathy.

This expert does have a career based in the ideological and financially competing field of orthodox pharmacology. Furthermore, he has used criteria in his reports to the ASA Ltd which not only exclude all forms of evidence for homeopathy except RCTs, but which then exclude all categories of RCT of homeopathy. In other words, the ASA Ltd is not basing its rulings on the grounds that there is no evidence, but on the grounds that ALL forms of evidence in support of homeopathy are inadmissible.

This is not regulation as most people understand the term. This looks like the promotion of an ideological and commercial position in defiance of the facts, of public interest, and of public safety.

As a private regulator, the ASA Ltd has not only removed any legitimate basis for its regulation of advertising of homeopathy, but it is undermining the work of statutory regulators, such as the MHRA, set up to protect the public from very real risks of harm. For every £4 the NHS spends on orthodox pharmaceutical drugs, it is reported to spend another £1 on treating the adverse effects of those drugs, and the adverse effects can include death. There is no serious evidence of harm or deaths from homeopathic treatment in over 200 years of use.

H:MC21 will continue to point out that the ASA Ltd's rulings are a serious threat to those who use orthodox medicine. It will also continue to pursue the right of the public to access information about the scientific, safe and effective alternative therapy of homeopathy.

yes good article to be aware

An interview with the secret expert from the ASA who ruled against homeopathy:

http://hpathy.com/editorials/interview-with-the-asa-expert/

Dear ANA, I could never trust an advertising authority (so-called) that allows a soft drink company to say that their product is 'better than water'!

Your view that this is a restriction of free speech is nonsense. You are perfectly free to make claims for alternative medicine, provided you can back up those claims.

That's all the ASA, quite rightly, demand.

I do not understand your hostlity to that.

Unless you have something to hide, of course.

Another well balanced, insightful article Robert.
How can anyone take the ASA seriously when they allow advertising of 'diet' drinks containing artificial sweeteners which have been shown to cause weight gain?
As we move steadily towards the diabetes 'epidemic' why do they allow advertising of unhealthy foods, drinks and alcohol,
yet they have issues with products that promote health and well being?
I suppose if everyone stopped consuming the unhealthy products their manufacturers would have no money to advertise them and there would be less need for the ASA! Could there be an element of 'jobs-worthing' going on here?

I recall a 'meta-study,' published a few months ago, which concluded that homeopathy only works for minor symptoms. Yesterday, I was looking at a few comments from clients who had previously been informed by their doctors that their conditions were 'incurable' - these were from last week:

"I have not had any symptoms for over 9 months - my doctor said there was no treatment" Lydia H, Belgium (Solitary Rectal Ulcer Syndrome)

"I no longer experience any pains whatsoever - my doctor told me it was incurable!" Corinne T, Malta (Trigeminal Neuralgia)

The NHS website on trigeminal neuralgia includes a long list of side-effects from the most commonly-prescribed drug, Carbamazepine. Then it says: "Anticonvulsants for trigeminal neuralgia may stop working over time. This is because they are only effective in numbing the pain and not at stopping the cause of it."

My conclusion is that much medical 'science,' 'metastudy' or otherwise, tells us more about political interests than about reality. Unfortunately, a system of medicine, such as homeopathy, that doesn't rake in vast amounts of money is of no political interest. And because it works so much better, so often, it's a threat which must be suppressed.

Laugh-out-loud! I for one am glad the ASA is continuing to uphold sound common sense, in the interests of the health and wellbeing of UK citizens. It's what they're meant to do. Part of that, of course, is to expose homeopathy for what it is: the complete money-spinning superstition with absolutely no evidence behind it.

Dear DavidN, Kevin Hoover, Adam Highway and Kyrre L Kausrud: thanks for your comments. Objectively, it is impossible to say that there is no evidence for homeopathy. Please allow us to quote from a referenced letter, written to the British Medical Journal by Peter Fisher and signed by 47 authors from academic institutions across the world: “Evidence from meta-analyses and systematic reviews consistently shows that homoeopathy is effective in certain conditions, such as seasonal allergic rhinitis and upper respiratory tract infections. Another systematic review reports that several in vitro studies show effects attributable to very highly diluted substances." http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d6689?ijkey=550f155092ca0a111ee5b008c....

You can find further evidence at the website of the Homeopathy Research Institute: http://www.homeoinst.org/

It is interesting that Ursula is willing to state publically as a member of the Society of Homeopath that she will defy to ASA. This is of course entirely counter to the requirements of the SOH Code of Ethics and Practice (March 2012) which she claims to uphold.

Specifically with regards to advertising:-

"Advertising and Media
38) Members should ensure that they do not allow misleading advertising and information about their practice. Advertising shall be honest decent , legal and truthful as defined by the Advertising Standard Authority and conforming to the UK Code for Non-Broadcasting Advertising Practice (CAP)."

So are we to assume Ursula no longer wishes to be a SOH member? Because it seems untenable to defy the ASA and yet tell members of the public that you adhere to it.

How about, they followed the science; there is *no* evidence of homeopathy's ability to do anything other than make money for homeopaths, discourage the sick from seeking actual effective treatment, and further undermine the general comprehension of science and the scientific method in the general population.

Why this needs to be said again, I do not know, but;

- the notion that like cures like is nothing but a rehash of archaic, sympathetic magic, ie. nonsense
- the notion that water has "memory" is so contrary to every branch of established, proven, day-to-day science as to make flat-earthers seem credible, ie. nonsense

Homeopathy is nothing more than a spectacularly successful scam, which has managed to convince its victims and its practitioners that they are victims of some conspiracy to deprive them of the holy grail, rather than simply having inconvenient facts pointed out to them.

If you want to ingest a tablet with some water dropped onto it that in no conceivable way could have a single molecule of the onion juice that once, long ago, was dropped into some unrelated water, and which wouldn't have any effect anyway, then feel free and off you go; if you want to claim it has an "active ingredient" and can help, or cure, anything, GTFO - you're pedalling dangerous, harmful nonsense, and should be stopped.

Good work by ASA. As far as I can see they took ALL evidence into account. There just isn't any.

What works is testimonials and confirmation bias. What doesn't work is snake oil, aka magical vibration waters.

When you get really sick or injured, you know very well that you will ditch the homeopathetic nonsense and run for the real medicine.

Thank you, dear ANH, for yet again stating things clearly. I have hundreds of patients who come back to me for their illnesses because homeopathy works. I have over a hundred autistic children and new ones are brought to me every week; these are children from all over the country. Their parents bring them because they hear from other parents that their children are getting better. These parents include doctors working in the NHS, parents who are scientists, journalists, business people, mechanics, nurses, housewives, accountants, artists, salespeople,young,old, of all nationalities. Homeopathy works and I have no intention of not saying so on my website.

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