The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) is an important tool for everyone, not just skeptics. It gives the right to anyone to ask for any information held by public authorities who are obliged to supply that information unless it is covered by a limited number of exemptions.
The House of Commons Justice Committee said earlier this year:
The Freedom of Information Act has been a significant enhancement of our democracy.
Indeed it is, but it is under threat and a campaign was started earlier this year to protect it. The threats to it are concisely summarised in an e-petition to the Government (unfortunately now closed):
Leave FOI Alone (#saveFOI)
Responsible department: Ministry of Justice
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) has exposed the scandal of MPs’ expenses, and many examples of waste and improper behaviour by public authorities, politicians and public officials. We call on the government not to allow it to be watered down, nor for there to be a charge for making requests for information.
The public authorities covered by the FOIA are listed in Schedule 1 to the Act and include the bodies you would expect and maybe a few you’ve never heard of.
But Trading Standards (TS) is one such public authority covered by the FOIA.
Each Local Authority in the country has a Trading Standards service and they are the guardians of an impressive list [Link disabled because of possible malware on that website] of regulations, orders and rules including the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and, of course, the Cancer Act 1939.
I have never requested any information under the FOIA about Trading Standards, but it’s easy to see that some information could be very useful in finding out, say, information on complaints and understanding how they work and deal with complaints.
A very useful tool for all Local Authority residents and others.
But maybe not in North Tyneside.
In his Guardian article, Homeopaths offer to rebrand products as ‘confectionery’, Martin Robbins tells the story that, faced with being unable to sell their products as homeopathic medicines because they were unlicensed, a manufacturer offered to re-brand them as sweets. The irony of that won’t be lost on many, but what else has been going on?
…sceptics [are] posing as genuine members of the public…
Thanks to his FOIA request, we now know that the medicines regulator, the MHRA, told homeopathy manufacturers Helios and Ainsworths to discontinue the sale and supply of a number of their kits of homeopathic products because they contained homeopathic products that were not registered (under the HR scheme) or authorised (under the NR scheme) and because the names of the kits were not as had been registered with the MHRA.
McCarthy-style reporting, encouraged by the self-appointed detractors of homoeopathy…has protracted this decline [in the homeopathy industry]
These two issues are important: under the Medicines Regulations, individual homeopathic products have to be registered or authorised by the MHRA, and so do kits of these products, with the name of the kits agreed with the MHRA.
Helios and Ainsworths fell foul of the Medicines Regulations on both counts.
What does the Swiss Government really think about homeopathy?
By Sven Rudloff and Zeno
A lot has been made by homeopaths about the ‘neutral’ Swiss Government’s report and its unequivocal support of homeopathy. It’s been lauded by the luminaries of the homeopathic world as further proof — as if any was needed, of course — that homeopathic ‘medicines’ are superior in every way to those dangerous and expensive pharmaceutical drugs.
Arch proponent of homeopathy, Dana Ullman, proclaimed:
The Swiss government’s exceedingly positive report on homeopathic medicine
The Swiss government has a long and widely-respected history of neutrality, and therefore, reports from this government on controversial subjects need to be taken more seriously than other reports from countries that are more strongly influenced by present economic and political constituencies.
In late 2011, the Swiss government’s report on homeopathic medicine represents the most comprehensive evaluation of homeopathic medicine ever written by a government and was just published in book form in English (Bornhoft and Matthiessen, 2011). This breakthrough report affirmed that homeopathic treatment is both effective and cost-effective and that homeopathic treatment should be reimbursed by Switzerland’s national health insurance program.
The provisional reimbursement for these alternative treatments ended in 2005, but as a result of this new study, the Swiss government’s health insurance program once again began to reimburse for homeopathy and select alternative treatments. (Source, cached)
The Society of Homeopaths:
Swiss scientists endorse homeopathy evidence
Report says homeopathic medicine is clinically effective
A comprehensive and authoritative research study by Swiss scientists has offered an unambiguous endorsement of the evidence base for homeopathy as a clinically effective system of medicine.
Their report, part of a Swiss government evaluation of complementary and alternative medicines, gives a massive boost to the growing body of research underpinning the therapeutic effects of homeopathic medicine. (Source, cached)
The Faculty of Homeopathy and the British Homeopathic Association:
Evidence for homeopathy builds
Long-awaited English translation of Swiss study endorses evidence for homeopathy
This important report addresses the evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathic therapy in everyday use (i.e. the real world), its safety and its cost-effectiveness.
The authors, Doctor Gudrun Bornhöft and Professor Peter Matthiessen, state: “There is sufficient evidence for the preclinical effectiveness and the clinical efficacy of homeopathy and for its safety and economy compared with conventional treatment.”
Following on from the initial publication of this report, a public referendum in Switzerland in 2009 supported the inclusion of homeopathy and other complementary and alternative medicines in the Swiss national health insurance, with 67% of the people voting in favour. Earlier this month, the Swiss government passed legislation to enact the referendum’s conclusion. (Source, cached and source, cached)
GP and homeopath Dr Andrew Sikorski:
In 2009 a Swiss national referendum voted in favour of complementary medicine being part of the public health service which is now covered by the obligatory public health insurance system. This decision was partly informed by the findings of the 2006 Health Technology Assessment report commissioned by the Swiss Government on the effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of homeopathy in general practice. (Source, cached)
Many other websites have echoed these sentiments, with many taking their lead from Ullman’s article and possibly placing far too much reliance on what he had to say, eg Swiss Government finds homeopathy effective and cost efficient (cached).
You’d think from all this that the ‘neutral’ Swiss Government had taken to homeopathy like the proverbial quacking duck to water.
Of course, to state in this context that the Swiss Government has a ‘widely-respected history of neutrality’ is to conflate political neutrality with scientific objectivity.
As usual, research of truly homeopathic proportions, misrepresentation and cherry picking are the order of the day.
I certainly submitted a list of 524 names, but the number changed as the complaints were processed. Quite a few chiros were added to my initial list because they were at the same clinic as another I had complained about and some have been removed for various reasons. Then there were more than a few issues of chiros changing their names, moving clinics, moving abroad and other things that made it difficult to keep track, so I didn’t bother to keep my list absolutely up to date. There didn’t really seem any point in fretting over the minutiæ. After all, the GCC are a statutory regulator and they could be trusted to keep track because it was their statutory duty to deal with these things, couldn’t they?
Because of its content, I immediately complained to Consumer Direct (the central point for Trading Standards complaints) on 2 March who passed it on to Devon Trading Standards (TS).
There are many nutritional therapists who will give responsible, evidence and science-based advice. What is OfQuack doing to ensure their nutritional therapists don’t mislead the public? Their new ‘therapy descriptor’ needs careful analysis.
I blogged a few days ago about the investigation by the consumers’ organisation Which? that revealed nutritional therapists giving dangerous and misleading advice — most of those investigated were members of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
In 2009, BANT passed any regulatory responsibilities they had on to OfQuack, aka the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council, and they have just published a revised ‘therapy descriptor’ for nutritional therapy.
This version has been revised — and the previous one removed — after discussion with the Advertising Standards Authority. Presumably this new one is accepted as being compliant with the CAP Code — the Code all advertisers have to abide by in their advertising, whether in the media or on their own websites.
Nutritional therapists are a varied bunch and come in several ‘flavours’, with the science and evidence-based practitioners at one end of the spectrum and at the other, what @skepticstu on Twitter referred to as the ‘Supplement Salesforce’.
At this far end, some seem to think many ills — particularly chronic conditions — are due to dairy intolerance or wheat intolerance, or both or ‘toxins’, or ‘imbalances’, or ‘chemicals’, or deficiencies. And, of course, they have just the personalised detoxification or supplement for you to address the ‘underlying causes’ of your health issues. And they may make extensive use of iridology, hair mineral analysis and applied kinesiology tests to work out your own, optimum health, individualised, holistic, supplement plan. For a price. All major credit cards accepted.
Others, I am sure, give good, evidence-based diet advice without a supplement in sight. They are not the problem here.
As a last hope for cancer sufferers, his name regularly appears in the media with many a fund-raising appeal launched to enable sufferers to travel to the US to visit his clinic and be treated by the great man himself.
Even a cursory search of the Internet will find many grateful customers of Dr Stanislaw R Burzynski telling how he single-handedly saved their lives, when the NHS or other cancer experts had failed or who could do no more.
If it was your last hope — or the last chance for your child — then who could blame you for wanting to give it a try?
After an uncritical article in The Observer about the heartbreaking tale of a young girl diagnosed with a brain tumour and whose parents were desperate to raise the necessary money to take their daughter to see Dr Burnzynski for treatment, Andy Lewis — quite understandably — felt compelled to write about it: The False Hope of the Burzynski Clinic.
It was not long before Andy received a threatening email from someone claiming to represent the clinic. The tactics this representative used to try to silence Andy and to force him to take his blog post down can be gauged by the title of Andy’s subsequent post: The Burzynski Clinic Threatens My Family. Despicable.
Because there are so many unanswered questions about his treatment, the spotlight of skeptical thinking has been shining brightly on the controversial promoter of his own proprietary, ‘pioneering’ cancer treatments, but the intensity has been turned up all the way to eleven in the aftermath of these and other recent threats.
There has been an avalanche of blog posts in the last few days and it is to be hoped that the name of Burzynski will be appearing high up in search rankings alongside some more skeptical comment that the clinic might be used to or want. The blogger Josephine Jones is trying to keep the list of posts up to date: Stanislaw, Streisand and Spartacus.
Even Cancer Research UK felt they had to speak up: Hope or false hope?
Many websites of homeopaths are changing. Some as a direct result of being contacted by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and some, no doubt, because, now they are aware of the ASA’s rules, want to be responsible and abide by them.
I’ve been watching several websites change over recent months: some delete a few words here and there; some have had to make substantial changes; and some have yet to make the necessary changes.
One of the websites I’ve been watching is the one belonging to the Society of Homeopaths.
Their home page had this:
Homeopathy is an evidence-based medicine which offers holistic, individual and integrated treatment with highly diluted substances with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing.
A few days ago, they changed it to say:
Homeopathy is a form of holistic medicine in which treatment is tailored to the individual.
Have they finally realised that it’s not ‘an evidence-based medicine’; that there is no robust scientific evidence (ie the kind required by the ASA to protect the public from misleading claims) that homeopathic sugar pills have any effect over placebo?
I doubt it, but sooner or later homeopaths have to realise that they have to abide by the same rules as every other advertiser: if you make a claim, you must have robust evidence to substantiate it.
If a double-glazing seller claims his windows use an alternative glass that works far better than ‘conventional’ glass, then we would — rightly — expect him to be able to back up that with good evidence. There cannot be one standard for, say, double-glazing sellers and different, lower standard, for homeopaths.
And so with the homeopaths or any other advertiser of alternative therapies. Indeed, there could be a case made for requiring an even higher standard of evidence for claims about healthcare made to an unsuspecting public.
It’s bad enough when homeopaths take good money from people, claiming they can cure their colds or clear up their eczema with sugar pills. It’s another thing entirely to claim to prevent or treat serious diseases with identical sugar pills.
But this is precisely what the BBC’s Newsnight programme discovered homeopaths were doing. Broadcast in January, Pallab Ghosh exposed the disgraceful behaviour of a north London homeopath and a homeopathic ‘pharmacy’ selling sugar pills as a malaria preventative.
Watch the whole sorry exposure, even if you’ve watched it before:
As Dr Simon Singh said on the programme:
Choice is fine as long as it’s based on accurate information. And the information that’s being given out by pharmacists, by celebrities endorsing homeopathy, by the NHS offering homeopathy — the implication here that homeopathy must be effective otherwise people wouldn’t sell it, profit from it or offer it in the high street. And I am utterly shocked that we have a woman here [Zofia Dymitr, Chairwoman of the Society of Homeopaths] saying that she’s not going to forbid her members from offering homeopathic prevention of malaria to the general public. There are people coming back from tropical countries with multiple organ failure having used homeopathy and yet this woman is not prepared to stop it.
I was here four years ago when Newsnight did your last investigation and BBC Scotland have done an investigation and BBC South West have done an investigation. The BBC are the only people regulating homeopathy at the moment, because the Society itself seems to be oblivious to its responsibility.