If there is one thing I like more than finding a mental CAM article, its finding spin. Or perhaps more accurately finding examples of spin so poor that the only rational response is simply to point, and laugh loudly whilst waving the facts at it. I am going to select a turd from the cat litter of CAM news each month based on its wrongness, its omission of facts, or just its balls out cheek in asserting something which is demonstrably wrong. Without further ado here is the very first winner, a minnow but a consistent performer…..
The winner for August is the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) for their article “Should advertising watchdogs get involved in scientific discussion?” published on the 22nd August. Before I give marks for technical ability and artistic merit, a full background on the issues can be found over at Stuff and Nonsense and within the ASA Adjudication itself.
So why does the spin in this article appeal? Well its naive, contradictory, paranoid and conflates the ASA adjudicting on the truthfullness of specific advertising claims with attempting to stifle scientific debate. It also has a whine about evidence and authority. In short, its a doozie.
Where to start?
“It’s important to realise that Babyjabs is by no means an ‘antivaccination’ site – it’s a vaccination clinic that offers vaccines that may not be easily available elsewhere.”
I’m not totally sure why this is so important. I guess we are just supposed to take the view that the ASA are chasing a doctor who has dared to step slightly outside the mainstream. Or something. I don’t know. To support this the ANH put forward a totally unsupported assertion of an altruistic aim to Babyjabs activities (the ANH just know ok, live with it)
“Its MMR page is attempting to offer impartial educational information without directly selling anything, and only falls under the ASA’s advertising remit because Babyjabs offers a commercial service.”
Now even a generous person reading a statement on the Babyjabs site like this
“We do not offer the MMR vaccine at BabyJabs We are concerned that the safety of the vaccine has not been adequately demonstrated, and believe that the single vaccines are suitable alternatives that are equally – possibly more – effective and are probably safer.”
with a link to a pricelist for the ‘safer’ alternative would conclude this it is in fact advertising and they do in fact directly sell. The information pushes the case for the product they are selling over an alternative, its akin to Apple having an article on how rubbishs PCs are on their website. It’s impartiality is open to question. I wonder what advice the Alliance for Natural Health offer about making difficult choices on their own MMR Campaign page:
“How do you decide when you don’t know who to trust? You do your own research and make up your own mind. You know that when people or websites are selling something they may not be offering completely unbiased information — and that goes for governments and companies as well as individuals of course.”
So taking an unrelated example: you shouldn’t neccesarily trust the advice to use single jabs in preference to MMR from the website of a limited company, say called Babyjabs Ltd, whose only shareholder is someone called Dr Richard Halvorsen who sells what he considers a ‘safer alternative’ to MMR. I am now 100% clear on that point, but less clear about why the ANH’s findit so difficult to either identify, or acknowledge a huge conflict of interest.
Putting these issues aside, the ANH say
“What really concerns us about this case is that the ASA has unilaterally handed itself the authority to police an important scientific debate,”
Back in reality, even a cursory review of the ASA Adjudication shows that they challenged Babyjabs on three very specific advertising claims and simply requested the evidence which support these claims. These claims were
“…Most experts now agree that the large rise [in autism] has been caused partly by increased diagnosis, but also by a real increase in the number of children with autism”…[…]…the [MMR] vaccine could be causing autism in up to 10% of autistic children in the UK – between 300 and 400 children a year”…[…]…The vaccine strain measles virus has been found in the guts – and brains – of some autistic children; this supports many parents’ belief that the MMR vaccine has caused autism in their children.”
Regardless, lets get back in character – who do the ASA think they are?! What do the ANH think people under the ASA’s jackboot should do?
“…with absolutely no basis in law or evidence of any relevant scientific competence…[…]…with no legal ability to levy fines or prosecute anyone…”
…so they could ignore them?…
“..If you are targeted by the ASA because of your website, don’t panic! There are ways to promote yourself that won’t draw their fire…”
…ahh! circumnavigate around them, I like it…wait, I thought they had no powers?…
“…If you’re a natural health practitioner or product manufacturer in the UK, get informed about how the CAP Code and other relevant legislation affects what you can say about yourself and your products…”
…erm, don’t the ASA adjudicate against the CAP Codes? This is like getting advice from Gollum. Are you all still following this? Raise your hand if you are lost. Don’t feel embarassed.
This ludicrous moan about the ASA however, is the money shot which secured the award for the ANH
“Its ruling merely provides opposing evidence to that provided by Babyjabs, while pointing repeatedly to “general medical opinion” to further justify its decision. The latter is deliciously ironic, since any natural healthcare advocate who referred to the favourable opinion of a respected body, such as the World Health Organization, would be quickly accused of an ‘appeal to authority’ by anti-natural skeptics.”
Yep, its the old my evidence vs your evidence argument and the implied demand that different views should have equal weight, even when one is the concensus evidence based view held by the Department for Health, the World Health Organisation and the other viewpoint is based it seems entirely on the word of an individual ‘authority’. Did I mention that some of the evidence put forward to the ASA to support Babyjabs website claims was from Dr Richard Halvorsen’s own book?
Delicious irony is in fact arguing others are reliant on a fallacious appeal to authority without knowing that’s exactly what you are doing yourself. For this reason and many others I congratulate the ANH for winning The Exit Door’s first CAM News Spin Fail of the Month Award. The prize is a Bic ‘for her’ Pen in electric pink, and Assange’s Legal Bill (postage not included on the pen).
If you see a CAM News Spin Fail you think should be featured next month please let me know on Twitter: @Slipp_Digby, or email it to me.