1. United KingdomThe text below the line is a comment that I wrote in response to Andy Lewis' Quackometer post(1) about the latest entertainment from the UK's Society of Homeopaths.
In response to the recently 'reaffirmed' guidance (perhaps read that as "you've got away with it for a bit too long and we've had enough") from the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) on homeopathy marketing the SoH have objected to a focus on homeopaths (which has largely been driven by skeptics - we've also got the ASA to look more closely at other things and they've produced guidance on live blood analysis for example).
They consider that the ASA is unfairly targeting them (though as Alan Henness, writing on the Nightingale Collaboration website(2), notes - they implicitly acknowledge that it's the same law for everyone) and they are [tee hee] considering mounting some sort of legal challenge [ha ha] against the ASA.
No-one is sure why. Even if their actions were to wipe out the ASA there's still Trading Standards (TS) to contend with and we can all report homeopaths directly to TS, who can instigate criminal proceedings. The ASA is a bit like a fuse or canary in the coalmine and if homeopaths (only the ones that make misleading health claims) work with them they can probably avoid further trouble.
I expect homeopaths will make a legal challenge to skeptics to try and stop us from reporting their misleading peers to any regulatory body ;)
It may be helpful for homeopaths to understand the following, I'm not sure if they do. The UK's regulations for marketing in the UK cover obvious things like websites and leaflets but they also cover Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts. Many homeopaths have blocked skeptics from these social media but they'd do well to understand that unless the account is private blocked people can just log out to view posts (or use third party apps, or scrape tweets directly from Twitter's API via IFTTT etc). In short, we can see your posts, so please don't post misleading stuff, thanks.
Here's my response to Andy's post.
If I understand correctly then this would seem to be pretty good news for skeptics. By having a bit of a comedy bleat these homeopaths will
1. Surely lose
2. Waste money
3. Draw yet more attention to homeopathy’s poor evidence
4. Open themselves up to public ridicule (OK less ‘will’ and more ‘already are’)
Less good news for both skeptics and homeopaths is the risk that a homeopath is going to end up with a criminal case against them via Trading Standards (for all my mocking of their behaviour I think we could all do without that, although… it would be a bit schadenfreude-y). Then there’s the awful risk of someone coming to real harm by being misdirected on health advice.
Trading Standards have already taken action on cases referred to them by the ASA (though not yet, as far as I’m aware, any to do with homeopathy) – the outcome of these can be read on their website here https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Trading-Standards-referrals.aspx. There’s no feasible legal objection to ASA’s involvement in this that’s available to them, as far as I can see. Trading Stds’ interventions have resulted in people amending their websites, taking their websites down and / or ceasing trading and one marketer has been prosecuted. It seems that most people, when contacted by Trading Standards, manage to find the edit button for their website.
I strongly agree with your point about the possibility of the ASA having been seen as a kind of critical friend to homeopaths and I’d naively hoped that skeptics might even have been able to do something similar too, a little further upstream.
“I’ve always thought that it would seem to be a kindness to give a company an opportunity to avoid a citation on the ASA’s website by seeing if it’s possible to resolve the misleading claims before snitching on them.” – from a blog post of mine in 2013 http://brodiesnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/if-youve-received-askforevidence-tweet.html
Sadly my utopian dream did not come true and I’m mostly reporting homeopaths to the ASA and even Trading Stds directly – I wonder if the Society of Homeopaths has any thoughts about the legal basis for skeptics complaining to the regulators! I still reply to misleading homeopathy tweets (probably unseen by the homeopath given that they’ve blocked all of us, but visible to everyone else of course).
It’s a shame they’re telling their supporters that ‘homeopathy denialists’ have been “trounced” in many countries as that’s flat out wrong, to the point that I had to add an international section to the Skeptic Successes in Homeopathy storify https://storify.com/jobrodie/skeptic-successes-in-homeopathy
I shall watch this with interest – I may have to update the even more recently-added section, on “Homeopaths’ own goals” 😉
2. United States
This is quite a big deal in direct-to-consumer #homeopathy marketing (née fibbing). US (&UK!) is scrutinising this nonsense more closely. https://t.co/duTyyCttuB— Jo Brodie (@JoBrodie) November 21, 2016
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the US also appears to have had it up to here (makes head-height gestures) with homeopaths implying that homeopathy is something akin to medicine when it really should be in the home baking or tea-sweetening aisles. They have published new guidelines(3) requiring homeopathic products to state clearly on the labelling that there's no scientific evidence that they work.
This should prove interesting...
In the world of science communication we have understood for some time that giving people more information about science, or correcting misinformation, doesn't automatically lead to people being more favourable towards science. In fact it can just as easily backfire and make them more entrenched. People who believe in homeopathy probably aren't going to care (or even notice) that people they already don't trust are telling them products they like are rubbish. I suspect the new labelling will not be a very effective leverage point for skeptics to use in keeping homeopathy marketing honest in the US.
I wonder if the FTC has inadvertently done homeopathy manufacturers a favour though as presumably it will no longer be possible for anyone to get a refund (or for groups of people to start a class action against a manufacturer) if they find that they don't get better after taking the product. The new packaging specifically highlights, albeit obliquely, that the contents don't work as described.