The truth about the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) can actually be found on its own website and on related websites such as those of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (asbof). But those whose living depends on being allowed a measure of artistic licence in how they promote their goods and services aren’t going to let the truth get in the way of an unbelievably silly smear campaign against the advertising regulator for trying to do its job properly.

The list of gripes they dream up in order to try and discredit the ASA is seemingly endless and, frankly, barmy but I think the main ones are: 

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It’s high time I jumped on the Burzynski bandwagon. The reason I didn’t do so earlier is that I was aware of a bizarre correspondence taking place between award-winning grassroots skeptic, Rhys Morgan, and one Marc Stephens, who claimed — truthfully, as it turns out — to be representing Stanislaw Burzynski. I was waiting for Rhys to tell the story publicly and now he has.

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More than two months after its launch, the Nightingale Collaboration is still attracting flak from CAM practitioners who apparently can’t abide the prospect of being held to the same standards as advertisers of other products and services. I don’t expect many of these critics to have the stomach to read much of what I say here. For them, I’m putting the case for the Nightingale Collaboration in a nutshell at the beginning:

P1. We believe we should be able to make an informed choice about healthcare treatments as we do about anything else
P2. Making misleading claims about healthcare therapies in order to encourage sick people to try them is unethical and potentially dangerous
P3: The vast majority of misleading claims are made about CAM treatments
P4. There are regulations in place intended to prevent questionable claims being made in the promotion of healthcare therapies
C1: Healthcare practitioners shouldn’t make misleading claims in their advertising
C2: We can and should challenge those misleading claims and try to get them withdrawn.

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Science says that thinking for myself is dangerous. You must trust in the Lord Science.

You have to hand it to those homeopaths! They are terrific at sending themselves up, generously giving us a laugh at their expense. Very much in vogue at the moment is the creation of little animated dialogues between typically dim-witted homeopaths and typically arrogant skeptics. My favourite one appears on UK Homeopathy News. (Edit: if it can no longer been seen there, this site also has it.) The homeopath’s vacuous arguments could have been lifted from any homeopath’s blog.

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This will be short. In a previous post I quoted Dr Tom Dolphin’s dignified apology to witches for ever calling homeopathy ‘witchcraft’. Since his retraction, I have been mildly irritated by the continued references to his original description. I still keep seeing the claim that “the BMA calls homeopathy ‘witchcraft'”. Not any more! It’s now just “nonsense on stilts”, OK? (And, of course, the BMA did not call homeopathy anything. The BMA simply voted in favour of a perfectly polite and reasonably-worded motion to stop funding this batshit insanity on the NHS.)

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“First they came for the homeopaths…”

I’ve lost count of how many self-pitying blogposts by homeopaths I’ve seen begin with those words. The assault on homeopathy is continuing relentlessly and the poor homeopaths don’t know what’s hit them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a bit sorry for them.

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This year sees the centenary celebration of D.D. Palmer’s great work entitled, The Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic, in which he claimed that “A subluxated vertebra… is the cause of 95 percent of all diseases… The other five percent is caused by displaced joints other than those of the vertebral column”. Not that I’ve noticed any chiropractors celebrating.

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Dr Sarah Myhill is evidently a doctor who cares passionately about her work and about people’s health. She is highly motivated to help and empower us to keep ourselves well and to make us better if we are sick. For her pioneering work treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) aka myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), she has become a heroine to many of them.

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Yes, I really did go to this and, no, it wasn’t the shortest conference in history — it lasted a whole dreary day. They didn’t know it was me because I had cunningly disguised myself as a middle-aged, middle-class woman so I wouldn’t stand out.

You may be wondering what possessed me to spend a day listening to a bunch of quacks talking piffle. Having done it, I’m wondering the same. The best I can say is that I went for the same reason I once consented to an examination by a chiropractor, wore a niqab and gave birth at home (not all at the same time) and why I might yet have a reiki massage and do the alpha course: I wanted to see what it was like. I saw it as part of the rich tapestry of out-of-the-ordinary experiences that life has to offer. What could be more bizarre than to sit listening to “top PhD research scientists” talk about one of the loopiest of all quack therapies as if there was a serious chance it could revolutionise health care systems in the developed world?

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Ernst is vociferously campaigning against the very libel laws he has just invoked to threaten not me, but my 21 year old website designer who isn’t remotely connected to complementary therapy and had never even heard of Edzard Ernst until yesterday.

So says the diabolical blogger whose nasty, vicious and unsubstantiated attack on Edzard Ernst, I blogged about yesterday. Chris Holmes had posted three articles entitled ‘Edzard Ernst is a fake’ on a blog called Truth Will Out. Less than 24 hours later, I’m pleased to report that all three of these articles have been removed.

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Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine, has always struck me as a sweet and mild-mannered German teddy bear of a man, yet the quacks hate him with a passion that makes them look even uglier than they are already. It’s no longer a surprise to me that quacks ignore the science and prefer instead to vilify their critics – they don’t have many proper arguments, after all. But it was a bit of surprise that someone sent me a link to a post on the ironically named ‘Truth Will Out’ blog entitled, Edzard Ernst is a fake-3. As that post is a particularly vacuous attempt at character assassination, I assume it was sent to me so I could give it the treatment it deserves.

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The first thing that struck me, when I visited a chiropractor recently, was that the surgery looked almost exactly like a normal doctors’ surgery. The only difference was a folder full of glowing customer testimonials sitting on a low table in the waiting room, together with a supply of the General Chiropractic Council’s Patient Information Leaflet ­– the one that was the subject of a successful complaint to the Advertising Standars Authority (ASA). The leaflet was in Polish but that hasn’t stopped it finding its way to the ASA.

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The open letter to Boots on the 10:23 campaign website currently has 1450 signatures on it. I hope everyone reading this has added theirs. I know many of you will be in Red Lion Square overdosing alongside me next Saturday morning. I’ve already bought my ‘poison’ and I compensated myself for the embarrassment of buying a homeopathic remedy by leaving piles of leaflets about the 10:23 campaign by the shelves of these remedies at the both the Boots stores in my nearest town centre. To my fellow overdosers: in case things don’t go according to plan, I’ll take this opportunity to say it’s been a privilege and a pleasure…

And to all those who argue that homeopathic remedies are individualised, that it needs a consultation with a homeopath to build up a ‘symptom picture’ and that getting the remedy and dosage right is highly skilled work for which homeopaths are comprehensively trained, I trust you will join the campaign because otherwise you’ll look a bit silly.

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Real life has got in the way and I haven’t had time to blog recently. No big fat cheques from Big Pharma for me so far this year! Let’s see if I can’t squeeze a few bob out of them now.

Who’d have thought I’d end up writing a part 3? Having, in my previous two posts, made a genuine attempt to engage with homeopaths and deepen my understanding of the therapy they invest so much in, I envisioned writing a post entitled, Homeopathy: there’s something in it after all!

But not a single homeopath has deigned to respond to any of the questions I raise in my previous post. So, in spite of my extensive reading on the subject, homeopathy remains an unfinished jigsaw to me and nobody seems prepared to step up and help me complete it. The more I’ve learned about homeopathy, the more I’ve come to understand that it’s not a case of bits of the jigsaw being missing; the bits are mishapen and simply don’t fit together to make a coherent whole.

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Ever open-minded and keen to unlock the mysteries of the supposedly great healing art known as homeopathy, here’s another post primarily for my friends who are users and practitioners. I hope your responses will bring me to greater understanding.

I can’t help but notice that homeopaths themselves don’t seem to agree on what homeopathy does. In a TV discussion with David Frost and Simon Singh, Jayne Thomas of the Society of Homeopaths, gives her version of what homeopathy does:

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As the year draws to a close, I’d like to pay tribute to my many fans who use alternative therapies, especially those who have kindly commented on my various posts over the ten months since I started this blog. I’ve selected some of those comments for display in my new ‘Quackolades’ column below left. It’s my way of saying thank you for making my case better than I could. Please keep them coming.

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I’m delighted to draw readers attention to this fascinating insight into the mind of a quack blogger by reproducing a post from elephants and mice and, more importantly, the comments beneath it.  I wouldn’t normally do this but, for reasons that are not clear, the blogger has decided to censor one of my comments and to misrepresent what I say in it, which I’m not entirely happy about.

I’m sure he understands and is grateful for the publicity.

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I was unpleasantly surprised to find a bunch of spine wizards touting for business in front of my local Sainsbury’s superstore recently. At a time when the chiropractic branch of the…um…’healing arts’ in the UK is fighting tooth and nail to hang on to any vestige of credibility during the current onslaught of challenges by quackbusters, it seemed a strange way for people claiming to represent a serious healthcare discipline to behave. The only other hucksters I’ve seen hanging round Sainsbury’s are car washers.

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It was a borderline decision for me whether it was worth getting out of bed early to sit in on the House of Commons Science and Technology sub-Committee’s ‘evidence check’ on homeopathy yesterday and since the whole thing would soon be available online, I have to wonder why I bothered. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy witnessing the reassuring predictability of the top drawer defenders of homeopathy such as Dr Peter Fisher and Robert Wilson who, as it turns out, are no better at defending the indefensible than any of the common or garden homeoquacks and punters who keep themselves busy spreading their crap all over the web.

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I’m aware that I’ve blogged rather a lot about homeopathy being crap because I just love the lunacy of it so much but today I thought I’d redress the balance a bit by writing an equally objective and unbiased post about why chiropractic is also crap. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Take a look at this:

What I like to do is live a life of health and vitality by eating well, exercising every day, making sure I receive Chiropractic every week, take no medications, not getting vaccinated, drinking pure water, taking wholefood supplements/fish oil/probiotics, no smoking or alcohol and making sure I treat my body with respect.

When a chronically ill skeptic tells me that my lifestyle is quackery, I only feel sorry for them being trapped in a belief system that suppresses their quality of life. It’s not my job to change that belief system.

I like the fact that it is a free world and I get to choose what I do with my body.

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In contrast to the preliminary hearing of the British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh back in May, a good time was had by all of us in the public gallery at today’s hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice. All the more so because, given the illiberal judicial decisions made thus far in the case, there’d been a cloud of pessimism hanging over us at the start of the proceedings. We didn’t really expect it to go our way.

If we were surprised that nobody from the other side had turned up to the hearing, our surprise was short-lived. It took about a minute from entering the courtroom for the judge to tell us that he’d decided to allow a full appeal. This is catastrophic news for the BCA, who would have had advance notice of it. They probably didn’t feel like turning up and who can blame them?

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The BBC Watchdog programme’s treatment of self-acclaimed “healer, energy worker, teacher and psychic”, Adrian Pengelly, which aired last week, seems to have upset a few people. Pengelly has many satisfied customers who did not appreciate the humiliating exposure of someone they know to be a very nice man who has helped them.

According to a sycophantic piece in today’s Daily Mail, more than 200 of his clients lobbied the BBC in protest before the programme was aired. I’d add that every mention of the programme since has drawn fresh testimonials of his amazing power (see the comments beneath the Mail article for examples) and protests about the evil Watchdog team who cruelly tricked this kind and gentle man.

Kind he may be, but there are some pretty preposterous claims on Adrian Pengelly’s website.

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‘Female quackbuster aims to protect the vulnerable’, is the irresistible title of a paper that was Tweeted a few days ago. The paper is brought to us by the Zeus Information Service, a website whose stated aim is to “unite people and organisations worldwide who believe in the value of natural health therapies and want to continue to use them.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has finally come out and whispered that, in spite of its public policy of supporting the integration of alternative therapies into national health systems, it doesn’t actually recommend the use of homeopathy for HIV, malaria, TB, influenza and infant diarrhoea.

Goodness me! I do hope this staggering confession, which was squeezed like blood from a stone by researchers and medics from the Voice of Young Science network, offends anyone with quackish sensibilities.

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On request from Sense about Science and together with countless other websites that are concerned with truth and justice, I am pleased to post on this blog Simon Singh’s article, which originally appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free column on 19 April 2008 and which gave the British Chiropractic Association the hump. (I blogged previously about this story here and here.)

The Guardian has taken the article down, thereby depriving the public of access to the very useful information and arguments it contained. However, the more websites that carry it, the more accessible it will be. So up yours, BCA.

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