... the archaic word "quacksalver," of Dutch origin (spelt kwakzalver in contemporary Dutch), meaning "boaster who applies a salve." The meaning of the German word "quacksalber" is "questionable salesperson (literal translation: quack salver)."
The dictionary defines it as:
1. An untrained person who pretends to be a physician and dispenses medical advice and treatment.
And so, a band of duck-noisers have claimed the area in fighting pseudoscience; hence we get QuackWatch and the excellent Quackometer, and the newly created Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council being dubbed Ofquack in The Times. (Incidentally, I think the first recorded use of the term was here by The Quackometer in January 2008. Just so as you know.)
Anyway, once again the Advertising Standards Authority, the fantastically vigilant, thorough (but ultimately rubber-toothed) guardian of the advertising world has struck quack-gold. (For other Thinking Is Dangerous entries on the ASA, see here)
Let me introduce CHEF, or , to give him his full name, Christian Hamilton Edward Farthing, the main man behind the "Ideal Spine Centre" in Canterbury, UK. He also likes to be called 'Dr', although on his website he has two interesting statements:
... [Dr Christian Farthing] attended the University at the Royal Melbourne Institute of (RMIT) Technology in Melbourne, Victoria. In 1997 he gained a double degree in Bachelor of Applied Science (Clinical Science) and Bachelor of Chiropractic Science and swore an oath to become a Doctor of Chiropractic
Dr. Farthing is not a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Medical Doctor.
Ah hmmmm.....Let me see, now; he swore an oath to become a Doctor, but not a Doctor in any traditional sense of the word. He's definately not a Chiropractor, as the General Chiropractic Council chucked him out a few years back following a "dispute with the regulatory body".
Indeed a previous ruling by the ASA in February 2008 (see further down for more) considered that
the references in the main text to "Dr Farthing", "The Family Doctor" and "Spinal Specialist" gave the impression that Christian Farthing was a registered medical doctor who was a specialist in the spinal field. We considered that the disclaimer, which appeared in small print, could be overlooked.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness)
As has been found before, ASA rulings don't cover the interweb and so CHEF can call himself a Doctor (providing Trading Standards aren't told about it). I'll call him CHEF.
CHEF first came to the eyes of the ASA from adverts for his book, "The World's Best Kept Health Secrets - REVEALED" (which raises the questions, who is keeping them and how did CHEF find out? What is it about Quacks and conspiracy theories?). The webpage contains an anonymous quote (possibly even CHEF's own):
This book takes you directly to the center of the Human Universe. Without a full understanding of Subluxation, you can never remain forever young
Eh? Of course, he is being somewhat disingenuous. The meanings of subluxation (medical) and vertebral subluxation (metaphysical chiropractic) are not the same. Complimetary and Alternative Medicine practitioners have a nasty habit of taking sciency sounding words and changing the meaning for their own ends (have a listen here to Ben Goldacre speaking to Sue McGinty from BANT - she tries to redefine 'phenotype' for her own dubious purposes). In addition, I'm still pretty young but even I have figured out that no-one remains forever young, regardless of their subluxation understanding levels.
One of the gems on the advert for the book said:
If you're sick, the wellness messages are being trapped or interrupted, probably somewhere along the spine...
Are they really? And pray, what proof have you for this? *Silence*. So the ASA ruled that the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.1 (Health and beauty products and therapies). The full blurb is here.
His next flirtation with the ASA happened in February this year. He popped a few leaflets hither and thither authored by:
Dr Christian Farthing BappSc (ClinSc); BCSc. WELLNESS DOCTOR & SPINAL WELLNESS PRACTITIONER”.
Remember, that's 'Doctor' as in 'not a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Medical Doctor' but as in 'Wellness Doctor'. See how he gives the words new meanings. He (or Ideal Spine Clinic) also offered the excuse that:
...they had not realised the leaflet to be within ASA's remit
Oh I see, so as long as it isn't policed, you can write what you like. This is an insight into the mentality that perhaps their belief in their 'wellness' regimes is not as strong as their paying punters'.
Given his penchant for double meanings, this testamonial caught my eye:
I had been down the endless road of doctors, specialists and consultants. However, the Ideal Spine Centre has provided correction to my spine and I have never looked back.
Heh, not such a good testimonial after all...
Anyway, as mentioned above, the ASA said using the title Doctor was likely to mislead. Funny that, what with him not being a medical Doctor and all. The ASA also got CHEF and ISC to admit:
that chiropractors could not treat serious or prolonged conditions but that they did not claim to cure them, and that they merely corrected spinal dysfunction, better known as vertebral subluxation, and the body functioned better.
And so to the present, and three regional adverts from the Ideal Spine Centre - which made a number of bizarre claims. The full gory affair is documented here on the ASA website. Needless to say (as twice before) it wasn't in the mood for such paltry things as 'proof' or 'references':
Some of the adverts Claims:
1. Hospital admissions from errors relating to medication had hit an all time high
2. Vertebral Subluxation affects 75% of the population, and can be caused by ... chemical imbalances and mental stress within the body
3. Vertebral Subluxation (misalignment of the spine) can manifest itself in all sorts of ways - headaches, migraines, neck pain, numbness, asthma, high blood pressure, pins and needles, poor concentration, sciatica, neuralgia, scoliosis, behavioural problems, bedwetting, and ear infections in children, lowered immunity, indigestion and back pain just to name a few
4. the facts tell us that our planet is now sicker than ever before in recorded history
The comparison to conventional medicine
1. An average 300 people die each day due to errors made by medicine. That number has increased in the past five years to make medicine the leading cause of death in the UK after heart disease and cancer
2. the new model for health that is sweeping the nation and the world is WELLNESS CARE and it works. [Conventional Medicine is] useless and [is] the world's greatest failure
3. The power that made you, is the same power that keeps you and is the power that heals you. It is the same healing power the planet's best surgeons rely on for you to recover from life-saving surgery. That power is better known as 'innate intelligence' and it runs through your nervous system
Wow. Those are pretty big claims. The ISC website doesn't stop at providing case studies of chiropractic help for behavioural problems, high blood pressure and ear infections. No, you'll find cancer, autism and diabetes to name a few, oh, and AIDS.
So what happened when the ASA asked for proof of the claims? ISC said they:
were unable to send evidence to substantiate the claims at this point in time
Same games played three times. Say what you want, then shrug your shoulders when the ASA comes knocking. It is a real disgrace that CHEF and ISC can get away with the nonsense they are advertising. As I've written before, I would like to see the ASA get some real teeth - repeat offenders should be subject to public flogging, or at least a fine. Otherwise, what is to stop it happening again? And again?
Ironically, "Dr" Christian Farthing has a registered trademark "GET IT STRAIGHT UK" - let's hope he does from now on, eh?