The desire for homeopaths to obtain state-recognised legitimacy has been tearing the trade apart for a decade or more. On one side are those with ambitions to be seen as mainstream and respectable. On the other side, those that want to remain ‘alternative’, anti-establishment and to be able to make whatever claims they like about homeopathy.
The latest instalment concerns homeopathy lobby group, HMC21. They plan to hold a demonstration outside the Advertising Regulator’s offices in London later this month. The lobby group appears to have lost its appeal against a ruling made by the ASA that one of its adverts was untruthful and misleading. The advert was originally placed in New Statesman magazine in the Autumn of 2010. The advert was absurd and borderline libellous against critics of homeopathy. Nonetheless, it took the ASA a year to adjudicate on the advert mainly because HMC21 kept on submitted absurdly long objections each time the ASA drafted a ruling. (I know as a I was one of the five original complainants.)
Behind HMC21 is a homeopath, and ex-director of the Society of Homeopaths, called William Alderson. His main skill in battling the ASA is having absolutely no idea when he has been beaten. His stubbornness has resulted in the ASA having to work for years to respond to his ridiculous complaints and objections. Nearly, three years after the original advert was published, it looks like the ASA are going to issue a final and appealed adjudication.
From what I hear, nothing substantive will have changed from the original ruling. But homeopathic Duracell bunny, William Alderson, will never stop. And hence his plan to protest on the streets of London outside the ASA offices.
The HMC21 web site tells its supporters,
We believe that the H:MC21 case provides categorical evidence that the ASA is not abiding by the requirement to base its decisions on “the available scientific knowledge” (CAP Code 12.1), but is making decisions on the basis of an ideological position that the only valid evidence in medicine is evidence of efficacy derived from randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This position is not only in contradiction to scientific knowledge, in contradiction to the paradigm of evidence based medicine (EBM) and in contradiction to good medical practice, but its endorsement is hazardous to public health.
Furthermore, we believe that the investigation provides categorical evidence that the ASA regards unsupported opinions which accord with its ideological position to be of greater weight than demonstrable facts which do not.
H:MC21 is also profoundly concerned at the impact the ASA can have on patient choice. During the last two-and-a-half years the ASA has increased the scope of its work to include information published on websites. Interest groups opposed to homeopathy and other CAM therapies have seized on this as an opportunity to restrict and even deny the public access to information about alternatives to conventional medicine by making complaints about advertisements and websites to the ASA.
In this context, it is essential that the ASA should not be allowed to simply adopt the ideological position of these interest groups, but should base its decisions on “the available scientific knowledge”.
Alderson then goes on to say that “H:MC21 trustees feel so strongly about this issue that they are taking legal advice on challenging the ASA decision at a judicial review.”
But all is not well in Homeopathy Land about HMC21’s course of action here. The Society of Homeopaths has stated that it wants to become an accredited register with the Professional Standards Authority. During the process of accreditation, the Society needs to look like they are good boys and girls and are a responsible and trustworthy organisation that can protect the public from the harms of homeopaths. Being at war with the advertising regulator would not look good. Amongst regulators, the ASA is widely regarded as doing a very good job. Many companies occasionally get complaints and some are upheld. Almost all businesses are happy to comply and amend their advertising if it is found to be wanting. The big exception to this is in the world of alternative medicine where this is seen as an attack on their very being.
And so, a little dicky bird tells me that all the main homeopathy bodies in the UK, including the Society of Homeopaths, the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths, the Friends of RLHIM and the British Homeopathic Association have all asked William not to go ahead with the demo.
This places William Alderson and HMC21 in direct conflict with the Homeopathy PR group known as 4Homeopathy. This other group is coordinated by officers within the association that represents medical homeopaths (trained doctors who dabble in sugerpillery) the British Homeopathic Association. 4Homeopathy was set up to coordinate PR efforts across the world of UK homeopathy against the many threats facing it, including the defunding of NHS homeopathy. The medical homeopaths appear to be winning in keeping their lay homeopaths in line and getting them to not do anything that would remove the golden goose of state funding for their livelihoods.
The ambitions of the Society of Homeopaths and the funding of the medical homeopaths could be put at risk if homeopaths were seen to be unable to accept the rulings of the ASA. They would be seen to be calling the trustworthiness and honesty of the regulator into question. And despite other homeopaths having a word with William to back off, Mr Stubborn is marching on with his plans.
The irony here is that recently the Society of Homeopaths presented William Alderson with an “Award for Outstanding Achievement” for battling the ASA. Their chairwoman said, “Over the last few years we have seen your dedication and ability to analyse, critique and comment for the profession. This award is an insignificant symbol of appreciation for all of the time you put into this work”. Now Alderson is putting in a little bit too much time that will threaten them, they have dropped him like a stone.
Meanwhile, the Society are stepping up their quest for respectability. They are advertising for a Professional Conduct Officer to run their complaints process. Will this person have to look into the behaviour of homeopaths who attend this demo and in doing so call their “profession” into disrepute? It remains to be seen who turns up for the demo when all the authorities in the world of homeopathy have said this should not happen. My guess is that grass roots homeoapths with have much sympathy with Alderson. Who will be there? A good viewing platform will be the pub opposite – the Penderel’s Oak.
You know where that is of course.
6th June 2013
The following email has been sent out to followers of HMC21. Oh dear. It looks like Alderson has complained about me to the ASA.
Tuesday 25 June
Outside the ASA from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
followed by a Lobby of Parliament at 2.30 p.m.
We are pleased to say that we are getting many messages of support and people saying they are coming to the protest and the Lobby.
Jayney Goddard of the Complementary Medicine Association has emailed us to say:”Absolutely brilliant news! Let me know what we can do to at The Complementary Medical Association to support this initiative.”
Some supporters have asked if we will come and speak to their groups about the Advertising Standards Authority. The answer is YES! If you arrange a meeting, we will come and tell you about our case which affects all homeopaths and other CAM therapists as well.
Some supporters have already contacted their MPs with great success. Please contact your MP and let us know about it. Click here for material to use when contacting your MP, which is now available on the website.
Click here for a map and a summary of the key arguments, also available on the website.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Strange news about 4Homeopathy
H:MC21 has received a number of letters from representatives of the organisations in the 4Homeopathy (4H) group asking us to call off the protest and saying that they would not support it. We have been told that some 4H organisations are telling their members not to come to ‘the events’.
H:MC21 has supported campaigns by 4H and 4H members in the past and does not see why 4H cannot reciprocate this solidarity. They are not only preventing their members exercising their democratic right to protest but opposing part of the democratic process enshrined in the parliamentary system: the right to lobby your MP.
H:MC21 has now organised two lobbies of Parliament and we know that this right is encouraged by Parliament, being one of the ways in which an MP can know what is affecting his or her constituents. We have sent a full reply to 4H from H:MC21 trustees.
There were two reasons given for not supporting the ‘events’:
- The numbers will be small.
- The general public regards the ASA as a trustworthy organisation and a protest outside will be counter-productive.
We don’t agree! We don’t intend to be a small group, and 4H could help by encouraging more people to come, rather than by discouraging people and being divisive.
When the British Homeopathic Association organised a protest outside the British Medical Association (BMA) conference in 2010, we did not oppose the action and say that this is a trustworthy organisation, though we are sure that the public would see the BMA as a lot more trustworthy than the ASA.
CAM therapists are thoroughly fed up with having their websites attacked by people like Andy Lewis (see below) and being told that they cannot say there is any evidence that their therapy works when there is!
An email we sent to perhaps a dozen people, was forwarded to an email list accessed by Andy Lewis of Quackometer (who frequently attacks homeopathy). Lewis gleefully posted that William Alderson had been “hung out to dry” by homeopaths! Well, as usual he has not got it right, since it is 4H disowning H:MC21’s activity, not homeopaths generally disowning William!
He went on to call William Alderson “Duracell Bunny” because of his refusal to give up the fight against the ASA on our behalf. Nobody at H:MC21 is giving up now after all the work we have put in. We would rather have Duracell Bunny on our side than a whole lot of ostriches with flat batteries.
Curiously Andy claimed that H:MC21 “submitted absurdly long objections each time the ASA drafted a ruling. (I know as a I was one of the five original complainants.)” According to the ASA, they “can confirm that none of the complainants would have been given access to your responses and that the correspondence between us has been kept confidential.”
So how does Andy know whether or not we submitted long objections? Is he lying, or has someone at the ASA passed on information to the complainants? The ASA is not planning to take any action against Andy for suggesting that they have passed information on, because it “is editorial content, which is outside of the ASA’s remit”. No comment!