Courtesy of my Sinister Agents, I have received the latest Freedom4health newsletter. It is, predictably, batshit insane and loaded with fallacies, delusions and falsehoods.
It’s worth remembering that the Health Fooldom lobby is basically the astroturf marketing arm of Big Herba, an exercise in special pleading to give commercial advantages to those who know their claims and implications considerably exceed their evidence. This has, especially in the US, been remarkably successful and has made the Health Fooldom lobby a major player in the New Age of Endarkenment.
1. Can you treat or diagnose as a natural health practitioner?
This is also another myth that we want to expose. The ASA have for some time taken it upon themselves to tell natural health practitioners that they are not allowed to say they can treat or diagnose various diseases. They have a list of more than 200 conditions (many quite generalised and so these cover just about everything) which they say natural health practitioners cannot claim to treat.
This is misleading. ASA actually say you should not claim to diagnose or treat serious conditions which should be referred to a competent medical practitioner. The idea that quacks should not claim to diagnose or treat things outside of their competence is scarcely controversial, the problem is not that the ASA are oppressing them, but that the quacks do not recognise their own limitations.
The only people who should diagnose serious diseases, are registered medical practitioners. In what world is this even remotely controversial?
If you are a homeopath, naturopath, live blood analyst, reiki master or whatever, and if you have the faintest inkling of your limitations, then you would not dream of diagnosing any health condition at all, least of all a serious one that would attract the obviously unwelcome attention of the ASA and other members of the reality-based community. And frankly, if you do think you should be diagnosing health conditions then you should probably be in jail, not merely trivially inconvenienced in publishing your misleading advertisements. Quacks have no significant training in valid diagnostic techniques. The techniques they do use – iridology and applied kinesiology, for example – are entirely without merit.
Whilst the ASA present themselves as an authority, you should know that this list is not based on any law (there is one exception which is the 1939 Cancer Act).
Misleading. The ASA is the body charged with regulating advertising, and the quacks are pretty much the only people who have a problem with this.
In many cases practitioners have been diagnosing and treating for hundreds if not thousands of years and they have done so effectively.
Your logical fallacies are: appeal to tradition, begging the question. As Roger Fisken pithily put it, we don’t predict the outcome of battles by studying the entrails of chickens, or choose the best route for a new railway line by asking a witch doctor to go into a trance, so why should we behave this way when it comes to healthcare? Sure, people who cast the runes sincerely believe that they are tapping into some great mystical force, but we know they are deluded – and the same applies to the vast majority of quacks who believe they are “effectively” treating disease. It’s not a coincidence that medicine has changed out of all recognition in the last 100 years, during which time human life expectancy has roughly doubled but quacks have not changed their practices at all (other than to adopt new ways of excusing their failures).
The scientific method, with its pitiless discarding of cherished beliefs that don’t hold up to scrutiny, is the great differentiator between quackery and medicine. It is the engine by which an imperfect enterprise, improves by self-examination. And it is wholly absent from the fields of quackery promoted by the Health Fooldom lobby.
Therefore the ASA’s attempts to shut down the natural health field are nothing more than discriminatory and are serving some other purpose than the well-being of the general population.
Your logical fallacies are: begging the question, appeal to conspiracy. There is no evidence at all that the ASA wants to “shut down the natural health field”, the ASA’s remit and their stated aim is simply to ensure that advertising is “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.
Of course, if quacks are restricted to honest claims and prevented from making dishonest ones, this will affect their bottom line: the reason they are “alternative” is, per Minchin’s Law, that their treatments are either unproven or disproven, but this is not the ASA’s problem, it’s the quacks’ problem. Put simply, if your business cannot survive without making false claims, then your business model is at fault, not the advertising regulator.
We fully agree that advertising should be “legal, decent, honest and truthful” – the ASA’s byword – and we believe that practitioners must have adequate experience and be able to evidence any claims that they make. However, we do not consider that the arbitrary standards established by the ASA are in themselves “legal, decent, honest and truthful” and so they are effectively violating their own code. For more information on this please read our website.
Well, here we have a fundamental conflict between reality and what the quacks believe. There have been numerous analyses of the adequacy of quack training (some commentary here), the general result seems to be that the entire clinical exposure of an ND degree – one of the more time-consuming quack qualifications – is equivalent to no more than a few weeks of medical residency. It takes five years of hard study and years more of supervised practice to become a qualified doctor. Like it or not, quacks are playing doctor based on the flimsiest of education, much of which is in reality mere rote learning of utter nonsense.
The standard established by ASA is not “arbitrary”, other than that ASA seems happy to let quacks claim to treat minor ailments, when the evidence for this is no better than for serious ones. In other words, the only arbitrary standard is to let the quacks off the hook for the small stuff.
N.B. There is European legislation which is enforceable through UK law and which regulates medicines. Medicines have nothing to do with a practitioner’s diagnosis. Whilst we also consider that the way this legislation is written is in itself discriminatory, it does need to be taken into account if you are advertising medicines to treat a condition. But if you are not advertising medicines then this would not apply. Natural health practitioners employ a range of therapies and treatments to help an individual.
Oh please. What’s “discriminatory” about the legislation is that it does not include special pleading to allow quacks to sell rubbish with unsupportable medical indications. The playing field is completely level: you want to make a claim, you have to provide a certain class and quality of evidence, whoever you are.
2. Complaint with Ofcom against ASA
Freedom4Health has recently filed an opposition to ASA’s continued cooperation with Ofcom covering 9 different points all focused on grounds that amount to it being biased against promoting natural health solutions. Ofcom regulates the broadcasting media.
This should be fun to watch. “Dear OfCOM: the heartless ASA won’t let us advertise quackery as if it’s legitimate, please let us have our own self-regulation that is situated within the bubble world of our delusional beliefs. Love, the quacks”. “Dear quacks, No. Yours sincerely, OfCOM”.
Ofcom transferred some of their responsibilities for the Television Advertising Standards Code to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), though Ofcom is still ultimately responsibility.
That agreement is currently under review.
Our concerns have been filed with Ofcom and cover points such as:
1. The ASA does not base its decisions on “the available scientific knowledge” and is adopting the radical view that only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are ‘objective’ and have validity. This position is not only unscientific but is extremely hazardous to the health of patients. (There are many kinds of valid proof besides RCTs.)
This is the precise opposite of the truth. The entire problem for the quacks is that ASA do take into account the entirety of the scientific evidence, they do not simply accept the sciencey-looking bullshit fielded by true believers. Homeopathy is a perfect example. True believers think that based on counting the number of positive studies they should be allowed to make health claims. ASA look at that, and also factor in the absence of any plausibility, the findings of independent reviews and meta-analyses and other evidence, which underlies the scientific consensus view that homeopathy is bunk.
2. The ASA is refusing to permit publication of evidence of effectiveness in clinical practice.
No, they are preventing you form claiming that something works based on cherry-picked “evidence”. If you present a balanced picture, reflecting the scientific consensus view, they have no problem with it. Of course if you do that your business is toast. This isn’t ASA’s problem, it’s yours.
3. The ASA does not have the competence to assess evidence relating to holistic, natural or integrative medical practice.
That’s why they call in experts.
4. When the ASA does employ the services of ‘experts’, their qualifications are inadequate for a professional adjudication.
Absolutely untrue, and a gross calumny on the professionalism and qualifications of those involved. They certainly do have the qualifications to understand your claims – and that is exactly your problem. This complaint is functionally equivalent to the Catholic church complaining that a gynaecologist is not qualified to give evidence about the virgin birth, because the gynaecologist is not a Catholic and so does not believe in virgin birth.
Put simply, if your claims are only accepted by true believers, then they can be safely presumed to be false.
5. The ASA has redrafted arguments, ignored the evidence, or even redrafted the complaint in order to retain the same conclusion. One complaint was radically redrafted after seven months of correspondence, despite the fact that the ASA requires that “Complaints must be made within three months of the marketing communication’s appearance”.
False. They redraft complaints in order to match them to the CAP code headings, and show what is quoted and what is not. They also investigate the claims being made, and may expand or revise their complaint accordingly. Whay the quacks are arguing for here is the ability to magic the ASA away by redrafting the false claims they make in the middle of an investigation but without changing the underlying false message. ASA, unsurprisingly, does not think much of that idea.
6. The ASA makes claims without producing any evidence to support them, and then bases its conclusions on such unsupported claims.
O RLY? Colour me skeptical. The quacks’ judgment on what constitutes an “unsupported” claim is not something I’d care to trust.
7. The ASA uses slanted language.
Nope. They use objective language. Your problem is simply that they do not slant language as you’d like – so, for example, they don’t subscribe tot he fallacious notion that woo-meisters are “holistic” or that “natural” is a valid criterion for judging efficacy.
8. The ASA is judge, jury and executioner on any investigation with has complete control over the presentation of the ‘defence’ case. This is a fundamentally flawed approach to justice, especially in the context of the other issues outlined above.
It’s not a legal process, and the advertiser is given every opportunity to respond. The function of the ASA is analogous to that of the examining magistrate, a perfectly legitimate approach in cases where there is no civil or criminal liability at stake. Where criminal activity may be argued, ASA does not prosecute – the case is handed off to Trading Standards.
While this complaint is entirely without merit, it does reveal the root of the problem. Quacks view the ability to make their false claims as a fundamental legal right. ASA sees them as just another advertiser, one more sector which has a class of known false statements used in advertising, just like payday lenders or broadband suppliers.
It’s an inequality of motive. The ASA does not give a damn whether quacks can carry on business without making fraudulent claims, they only care that fraudulent claims are not made. To quacks, however, it is a matter of commercial life or death. They cannot do business without making fraudulent claims, so they regard any restriction on the ability to make fraudulent claims as a restraint of trade.
9. The ASA intimidates advertisers, who are mainly self-employed therapists, with language that makes the ASA sound like a government agency, when in fact they are a private limited company created by the advertising industry.
If the quacks are scared by ASA they should try not filling in their tax returns some time: they’d find out what a really scary letter looks like.
Freedom4Health is therefore concerned that the ASA be given an extended license to adjudicate and suggest that their procedures are thoroughly reviewed.
In other words, the quacks want a special set of rules that allows them, uniquely, to make fraudulent claims.
3. Exciting news on alternative to ASA
The General Regulatory Council for Complementary Therapies (GRCCT) is one of two regulatory bodies in the UK for natural health therapies. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) is the other. Whilst CNHC has made adhering to ASA rulings a condition of membership, GRCCT has taken a completely different perspective and is now setting up a website validation service. This service will assess websites in line with what is legal and in accordance with established principles of evidence and efficacy for any particular natural health discipline. It will be adjudicated by lawyers and experts in the particular field that is being assessed.
This is more than a little disingenuous. The GRCCT (OfCrank? OfLoon? OfUberquack?) seems on the face of it to eb a body set up by the lunatic fringe of the quack world; numeorus Government websites and pages refer to CNHC (aka OfQuack), none refer to GRCCT. I cannot find any trace of any official recognition – it is basically a trade body for those who refuse to accept that ASA’s views on what is a supportable advertising claim.
It will therefore provide a “legal, decent, honest and truthful” assessment of any site. Costs will be minimal for members but more expensive for non-members.
In other words, quacks reviewing quack claims in a quack-friendly manner, as long as you join.
The service is going to become live within the next few weeks.
Live yes, significant? Valid? Not so much.
4. The Petition
Don’t forget to sign the petition to have the ASA debated in Parliament. This has been put together by a practitioner affected by ASA Ltd. See her story and sign the petition herehttp://asa-the-truth.org.uk/
Yes, do write to your MP to ask them to express support for the sterling work ASA does in protecting consumers form false and fraudulent advertisers.
We will be visiting a number of colleges around the UK to talk with practitioners and students about the ASA in the coming month. If you would like help in talking to your regulatory bodies or associations please let us know and we will contact them to discuss the progress we are making and issues that are currently topical for natural health practitioners in regards to the ASA.
Translation: we’ll be conducting a sales roadshow for our OfUberquack.
For further information please contact Angela or Martin at [email protected] or visit our website at www.freedom4health.com
Oh do, please, and tweet the responses, it should make great comedy!