Hayley is a Ghost

Some fish are woo

Posted on: May 8, 2011

Sometimes I feel guilty for sending complaints to Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding Alternative Medicine practitioners and I’m not really sure why. Part of my thinks it could be because when I once challenged a local homeopath about claims he was making in a local magazine he used his family as a way to try and stop me from proceeding with my complaint. It was something that made me feel like an awful person at the time and I think it is something that plays at the back of my mind when I’m submitting my complaints – “this person could have a family who depend on their trade” – but then I think of people who are seriously harmed, or even killed as a result of dodgy alt-med treatment and advice, and I submit my complaints regardless.

It’s a tricky thing to do, but deep down I know I am doing the right thing, even if numerous people think otherwise and see fit to be abusive in response.

I have been keeping a keen eye on print based adverts and online adverts of local (and not so local…) alt-med practitioners ever since I first saw an advert for local spiritual healer and psychic surgeon, Nina Knowland, in my local paper asking for parents of children with Cystic Fibrosis to come forwards for her help in healing their children. It was the first time I had ever taken a stand against an alt-med practitioner because of claims they were making.

Since then I have lodged dozens and dozens of complaints to the ASA and Trading Standards about all sorts of claims that are made – some with great success. So you can imagine just how excited I was when it was announced that a plugin had been created that would enable people to make such complaints in mere seconds.

It’s called ‘Fishbarrel‘ and it’s a Google Chrome Plugin created by Simon Perry from Leicester Skeptics in the Pub and the ‘Adventures in Nonsense‘ blog. He created the plugin last month but I have only just started to use it because I was a very loyal Firefox fan who was too stuck in her ways to even consider downloading a new browser.

However, my impatience with having to copy and paste stuff into the ASA online complaint system soon saw me wave goodbye to Firefox (and my plan to wait until Simon developed something similar for my beloved Firefox browser…) and download Google Chrome simply so that I could start logging complaints in minutes, rather than the hours it would take me before.

All in all, Fishbarrel is genius! GENIUS! I have nothing but praise for it. Anybody who keeps a keen eye open for misleading claims should have the Fishbarrel plugin.

I like to think that the slight pang of guilt I feel every time I submit a complaint is an indication that I am considering both sides of the debate and is proof that I am human after all. When it comes to healthcare we cannot afford to make mistakes – evidence based health care is hugely important for all of us and without it I would have died five years ago and a lot of people reading this wouldn’t even be alive.

People have the right to choose to use alternative treatments if they so wish, but they should be able to make that decision based on correct information and without being misled, and that simply isn’t the case with the majority of websites that I visit that offer these alternative treatments. That’s why it is important to be vigilant and to be vocal, and luckily for those of us who are willing to speak up and complain about misleading claims, doing so is now as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

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6 Responses to "Some fish are woo"

People have the right to choose to use alternative treatments if they so wish, but they should be able to make that decision based on correct information and without being misled, and that simply isn’t the case with the majority of websites that I visit that offer these alternative treatments. That’s why it is important to be vigilant and to be vocal, and luckily for those of us who are willing to speak up and complain about misleading claims, doing so is now as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Well said, Hayley.

Hmm. It is MUCH faster. Though one wonders if the ASA appreciates the stream of complaints this no doubt allows.

…That came out a bit wrong, but you know what I mean: I’m a little worried that if we manage to increase their traffic too much, they may get overwhelmed.

This is a good add on, however, even if it meant saving the world, I don’t think I could bring myself to use Chrome. Will wait for Mr Perry to develop it for a real web browser….. 🙂

You may be aware of the case of British Chiropractic Association v Singh, whereby Mr Singh wrote a complelling article for the Guardian saying that many claims had been made by practitioners, that did not in his opinion, stand up to scientific scrutiny. The BCA took him to court for libel and initially won the case, but he had the decision overturned on appeal.

Homeopathic medicine falls into a similar category, in that there seems to be little scientific substance to back many of the claims of it’s practitioners other than what appears to be a placebo effect. This however, does not make it worthless, as if it works for some people, then they should have the right to use it.

As for the right to complain about the advertising, your are absolutely correct, if the product in question is making claims of being able to heal conditions, that are unproven, then it may in itelf prove a danger especially if not scientifically teste. After all, every mainstream medicine has to go through years of tests before being released on the public at large, and although many are still, in my humble opinion, dangerous, they at least have the proper and rigorous testing methods behind them.

Ross Hemsworth

Ross Hemsworth said:

The BCA took him to court for libel and initially won the case, but he had the decision overturned on appeal.

Not quite right. The BCA never won the case at all. They won a favourable initial ruling on the meaning of the words complained of. It was that meaning that was overturned by the Court of Appeal and the BCA subsequently dropped their action. The actual case on whether the words complained of were libellous never reached court.

On the subject of homeopathy, this news item has just been released: Homeopathy is ‘dangerous and wasteful’ says Abertay Expert

Dr Smith argues that in addition wasting valuable resources, government funding gives credibility to homeopathy, which puts patients at risk. “NHS funding for homeopathy legitimises it and suggests a scientific basis, the risk is then that people will avoid effective medicine, potentially damaging their health. The same applies to education providers running homeopathy courses.” he said.

“If placebo effect is the only form of benefit, then you’re effectively lying to the patient and going against a core principle of medical ethics – that patients must have all the information available to give fully informed consent.”

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Hayley is a ghost

Hayley Stevens is an advocate for science-based research into seemingly paranormal experiences and occurrences. With a background in the pseudo-scientific research into ghosts, Hayley offers a unique insight into the strange world of ghost hunting through her experience.

She describes herself as 'a ghost hunter who doesn't hunt for ghosts' and this is her personal blog where she writes about ghosts, people, and other interesting things. Read more here.

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