WDDTY, Guy Hudson and Electrosmog: Editorial or a misleading advertorial?

Editorial or Advertising?

The latest edition of What Doctors Don’t Tell You (December 2013) contains an article from self styled ‘Electrosmog Doctor’ (and dowser) Guy Hudson. I say article, but perhaps that is open to question, since amongst the general (and free to implement) recommendations he suggests some very specific and potentially costly measures readers should take which he is rather familiar with.

Top of the 10 point plan for reducing electrosmog in the bedroom is this

1. Sleep earthed and reduce dirty electricity.  To start with, when I’m surveying I give absolute priority to creating a beneficial environment for each persons sleeping environment

and how does Guy suggest doing this?

a) getting them to sleep earthed and shielded from microwaves; and b) filtering dirty electricity from the mains wiring. These are quickly and easily achieved by using shielding earth sheets—polycotton sheets with stainlesssteel filaments tightly woven in—for the bed and Stetzer filters—devices that plug into electrical outlets to reduce the amount of dirty electricity in your home—which involve no real changes in habits or use of technology. These devices are available online from http://www.stetzer.co.uk.

The filters sound perfect for the concerned, yet lazy electrosensitive individual. Did he mention they are available from Stetzer? Oh he did and gave the website.

Stetzer wall socket filters cost between £225 (pack of 3) and £1050 (pack of 15), available from this website, who also happen to sell the recommended earth sheets (£80 for a single) and who provide a link to an ‘associated’ website who can provide surveys to see whether you need them.

The company that Stetzer recommend for the survey is Beneficial Environments Ltd and the surveyor they suggest is, of course, Guy Hudson. He was the founder of Beneficial Environments ltd – although according to Companies House is no longer a director – and in his own words they are

“UK Distributor for Stetzers – We distribute them because I couldn’t get them for myself! – simple plug-in filters – filter out potentially poisonous dirty electricity from the mains wiring in buildings.”

Now none of the above is illegal.

But I think the failure to mention this potential conflict of interest in recommending Stetzer in the ‘article’ is misleading. I also think it allows Guy a platform to make a series of claims about electrosensitivity and certain products, which are not supported by the evidence, and might be interpreted as an attempt to bypass the Advertising Standards Authority scrutiny.

In my opinion, this piece is presented as a editorial from an independent expert when it might rightly be considered to be a marketing communication, an advertorial.

The CAP Codes – What is an Advertorial?

The UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotions and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) requirements defines advertorials in this help note

“Care needs to be taken so that readers are not confused about whether the copy is marketing or editorial….[…]…An advertorial is an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion, the content of which is controlled by the marketer, not the publisher[…]…

with the rules stating

Rule 2.4 Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications, for example by heading them “advertisement feature”.

So there is no problem with publishing advertorials, as long as they are clearly marked as an advertising feature. The benefits of not doing this however are obvious. A well constructed deceptive advertorial can appear to be a third party endorsing a product or service and can be passed off as  opinion or editorial content, making a range of claims not allowable in an advert.

CAP suggest that

A good benchmark is whether or not the company has final approval of text and any visuals used.

So what about Guys feature (p59-61 WDDTY December 2013)? I don’t know the editorial process that a seasoned journalist/editor like Lynne McTaggart goes through, but I would think an article in which

Physicist and seasoned electrosmog specialist Guy Hudson offers a 10-point plan for lowering electrosmog in your bedroom

and recommendations are clearly made by Guy in his expert capacity as a ‘electromagnetic surveyor’

To start with, when I’m surveying…[…]…I strongly advise having a corded phone that doesn’t need mains power…I don’t recommend low-energy bulbs…[…] I also recommend…[…]…

you might be forgiven for thinking he had direct control over the content, or authored it himself. He certainly had enough control to recommend the product he sells!

There is also a second criteria to the CAP definition of advertorials which is that they are

…disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement

meaning

Money does not always change hands when an advertisement feature appears but some other arrangement may have been made in place of direct payment…an advertisement feature covering a whole page may be run free of charge if the marketers agree to insert a paid-for advertisement at a later date.

This part is obviously quite tricky to establish, but its worth considering some of the ASA rulings to appreciate the wideness of the ASAs interpretation of reciprocal arrangements.

ASA Rulings on Advertorials

The ASA has ruled on a number of advertorial cases, most notably against Unilever and their seemingly on-going battle with Express Newspapers which are well worth reading.  The latter was especially interesting because the newspaper was publishing their own editorials independent of the advertiser which extolled the virtues of products next to the adverts which didn’t make the claims and the ASA ruled against them.

Now there is nothing as blatant and repeated as the above examples in WDDTY but others have speculated on the possible correlation between advertising and general editorial content making misleading claims.

I don’t know what arrangements Stetzer have with WDDTY  and I don’t pretend to. But Stetzer have certainly advertised in WDDTY previously and in my opinion, the piece is very open about pointing readers to their products. I think this should have carried a label to say it was an Advertisement Promotion’ or ‘Advertisement Feature’ and so I have submitted a complaint to the ASA to establish this.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the article repeats similar claims for Stetzer filters as those already found to be misleading by the ASA. I have written to WDDTY and Guy Hudson asking for clarification about the article.

Why are advertorials potentially important to WDDTY?

Now you may think, so what? Why bother complaining to the ASA about suspected advertorials?

The simple reason is that I think advertorials will become increasingly important to WDDTY as time goes by. This is because through the efforts of the Nightingale Collaboration and others, publishing a misleading advert in WDDTY seems to be a very quick and sure fire way of getting an ASA complaint upheld against you. It may be tempting in the future for advertisers to have a sponsored column disguised as editorial, or make reciprocal arrangements for favourable editorial content in exchange for advertising to avoid ASA scrutiny.

The second reason why advertorials are important is described in the CAP Help Notes

Responsibility both for the clear identification of the promotion and for its content rests equally with the marketer, publisher and agency. In the event of a complaint, the marketer and publisher are named jointly in any subsequently published ASA adjudication. The agency would also be identified.

So, while I wouldn’t recommend making complaints for the sake of it please keep your eyes peeled for obvious advertorials in WDDTY as they may lead to joint ASA adjudications against both the advertiser and publisher.

*******************

Update 09/12/2013

The ASA have considered the complaint and rejected it:-

Dear Slipp

YOUR COMPLAINT ABOUT STETZER ELECTRIC INC

Thank you for contacting the ASA.

I’m sorry to tell you that we can’t deal with your complaint because, on the information available, it would appear to relate to editorial material, which we are not entitled to regulate, rather than an advertising feature within the remit of the Code.

Having contacted the publisher about the article from Guy Hudson, we understand that they commissioned him to write the article, as opposed to him paying to place it or there being a reciprocal agreement which lead to its placement.  As such, it would seem that this material does not conform to the definition of an ‘advertorial’ for our purposes and we can therefore not pursue your complaint further on this occasion.  I would suggest writing to the Editor of the publication with your concerns.

Yours sincerely

ASA

So there you have it.

As long as your are ‘commissioned’ to write a piece of editorial content in a magazine you can seemingly make whatever claims you like for a very specific product, as long as there is no obvious reciprocal arrangement in place.

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Oncologist: Lynne McTaggart’s use of chemotherapy figures “quite misleading to patients”

Lynne McTaggart recently published another blog post titled ‘Medical McCarthyism‘ defending the content of What Doctors Don’t Tell You. In the post she attacks Cancer Research UK:-

According to Cancer Research UK, just over half of cancer patients survive beyond five years. This is the very attractive figure now being bandied about to convince us all that we’re winning the war on cancer.”

If you look at Cancer Research UK webpage you will find survival statistics and yes, the predicted overall five year survival figures for those diagnosed with cancer in 2007 is 46% of men and 56% of women.

Despite these figures, Lynne goes on to quote some figures which she believes supports her case that conventional treatments are actually failing:-

“Actually, as WDDTY has reported, after cherrypicking the very best clinical trials showing positive results, Australia’s leading oncologists found that chemotherapy’s contribution to five-year survival was only 2.3 per cent in Australia and 2.1 per cent in the US (Ann Oncol, 2013; doi: 10: 1093/annonc/mds636).”

These claims were featured in What Doctors Don’t Tell You Volume 23 no 11.

Now ignoring the fact that chemotherapy is only one of a range of conventional treatments, this is quite a broad, unqualified statement which would give a lay person the impression that chemotherapy is very ineffective against ‘cancer’ full stop.

Cancer is however a complex range of diseases which respond differently to chemotherapy, so I was very curious where Lynne got these figures from – it turns out the reference quoted is a paper titled Bias in reporting of end points of efficacy and toxicity in randomized, clinical trials for women with breast cancer.

Now, I am not an expert on cancer and I couldn’t get access to the full paper, but just from the abstract it seems pretty clear to me that the paper cannot possibly support a broad statement about the overall efficacy, or failure of chemotherapy. I suspected that the paper Lynne meant to refer to was The contribution of cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adult malignancies which is deconstructed brilliantly by David Gorski here.

So I asked Lynne if this reference was a mistake on her blog. I got no response, which is worrying as the veracity of these claims and the evidence to support them – even in a blog post – is important. Lynne has also recently defended herself by claimed that she simply reports the finding of research without bias to allow people to make up their own mind.

I thought the best way to clear this up would be to contact the lead author of the original paper Lynne cited and ask him whether the quote above regarding his paper was accurate. He was kind enough to email me and his response I reproduce below, without further comment:

I think the statement is probably accurate but quite misleading to patients. Across all cancers, I suspect the contribution of chemotherapy to long-term survival  is quite low, given the prevalence of disease in the elderly and those never treated because of comorbidity, and the prevalence of minimally responsive common tumours (pancreas, lung, colon etc) where there will be little impact on 5yr survival.

However adjuvant chemo for breast and other cancers can have a substantial effect to improve long-term survival and there are many less common types (testis, lymphoma, leukemia, childhood cancers) where the effects are large.

It would be a tragedy if a young or middle-aged  woman with breast cancer or a man with metastatic testis cancer refused chemo because they believed there was only a 2% increase in long term survival.

With kind regards,

Ian Tannock

Ian F. Tannock MD, PhD, DSc
Professor of Medical Oncology,
Princess Margaret Hospital and University of Toronto