The random thoughts of a sceptical activist

OfQuack (CNHC)

OfQuack: protecting the public from quack nutritional therapists?

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.

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Which nutritional therapist?

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.

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The business of regulation

Simon Perry has been having an interesting email conversation with Maggy Wallace, Executive Chair of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council.

There have been a few emails back and forth — and it would be best to read the conversation before continuing — but I felt I needed to add my tuppence-worth:

 

Hi Maggy

I’ve been following your conversation with Simon Perry with interest and I’d like to respond to some of the points you made.

You said:

As a regulator you cannot honestly expect us to support a position as stated by you to the effect that ‘………..Genuine, honest training on reflexology must cover the simple truth that reflexology is not known to be effective for any condition.’

This is your opinion and in our view, is unsupportable as a statement.

Simon didn’t express an opinion and it’s entirely supportable. The scientific evidence on reflexology is clear: it is a nice foot massage, which some may find relaxing and stress-relieving, but nothing more. Any claims outside of that are not supported by the evidence.

You may not like the scientific evidence of course, but it is reinforced by the sheer implausibility of the claimed method of diagnosis and claimed mechanism of action for reflexology.

If you don’t agree with the scientific evidence, what do you base your assessment of reflexology on? What the professional associations tell you? Reflexology trade bodies? Your members’ websites?

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Another weapon in the skeptic’s arsenal

Mooted nearly a year ago, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have today announced that their digital remit is to be extended to cover:

  • Advertisers’ own marketing communications on their own websites and;
  • Marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Starting on 1 March 2011, this landmark agreement means that claims made on a seller’s website will be subject to the ASA’s Committee of Advertising Practice Code (the CAP Code), just like adverts in newspapers, magazines, and paid-for online advertising.

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Casting the runes II

In Casting the runes, I highlighted the abject failure of OfQuack to reach even their ever-so-slightly modified 2009 membership target. Remember, it started out at 10,000. Then it was downsized to 4,000 — just five months after they opened for business — by re-writing their press release from the previous December. Then, in September, The Lay Scientist announced that their July Committee meeting minutes said they were planning a celebration in the Autumn when their membership was expected to reach the dizzy heights of just 2,000.

Well, now it’s the last day of 2009, how have they fared? For those following the OfQuack Fail widget, it’ll come as no surprise to find that they have failed — spectacularly.

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Casting the runes

A bit of divination can be fun!

OfQuack (aka the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council) was set up with the help of £900,000 of public money to try to give all sorts of AltMed quackery some kind of credence and legitimacy. It is backed by Prince Charles’s Foundation for Integrated Health and considering their other bastard child, Dodgy Originals, has just had to be bailed out the runes may not be falling in OfQuack’s favour!

Their failures have been highlighted by Le Canard Noir and the Lay Scientist in various blog posts. In Martin’s last post, he highlighted the problems with OfQuack’s last set of Board minutes and the pitiful numbers of quacks who have signed up since they opened shop in February.

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Regulating nonsense

David Colquhoun’s frustration — and indeed anger — is palpable. And understandably so.

He brilliantly covered Monday’s announcement by the Department of Health (DoH) of their consultation into the regulation of “acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and other traditional medicine systems”.

This consultation is the DoH’s response to the infamous Pittilo Report, which saw the light of day just over a year ago.

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