Thursday, March 19, 2009

Responding to criticism - The Alternative Way

Responding to criticism is a tricky business.

Let's face it, nobody likes to be criticised, but a robust response addressing the points made, providing evidence to back up your position and accepting mistakes if appropriate can put you in a stronger position than you previously were.

It's already very clear the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Industry do not like criticism and do not respond well to it. The first line is often a legal chill - silence dissent by threatening libel. The list grows almost daily with Jeni Barnett, Matthias Rath, Society of Homeopaths, Ann Walker, British Chiropractic Association, and Derek Draper using draconian British libel laws to avoid having to answer their critics. In the majority of cases, The Streisand Effect has ensured that thousands more people were made aware of the criticism than would ever had heard about had the person not gone running to mummy.

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, perhaps the Quackery (CAM) industry has realised that legal threats are counterproductive. This week had two examples of an alternative Alternative response, which were suitably hand-wavy and free of substance, much like the pills and tinctures they purvey.

Firstly, the Society of Homeopaths woke from a daze - they haven't put out a press release since last November (no doubt their members are thrilled the fees have been put to such hard work). In response to a piece in Private Eye about Jeremy Sherr, they have put all of their talents together, diluted & succussed them to 30c and produced this. For anybody who wants to know the full Jeremy "I'm trying to cure AIDS with homeopathy" Sherr story, enjoy the ride at Gimpy's Blog. He has also blogged a tremendous fisk of the SoH response to the Private Eye note here. For the purposes of this blogpost, the salient points are that the SoH made a statement that contained untruths, disingenuous statements and weasel words - the evidence of this is clear in Gimpy's Post.

The second similar statement came from business arm of our Royal Quackpot, Prince Charles' Duchy Originals in response to criticism from Professor Edzard Ernst from the Peninsula Medical School. This isn't the first time that Charlie and Eddy have had a set-to. Prof Ernst has spoken out about the Prince's quackery before, which resulted in Clarence House complaining to the Vice-Chancellor, seemingly suggesting it might be suitable to sack the Prof. How very sporting, what, what?

This time, Prof Ernst has stated that the Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture which contains globe artichoke and dandelion has no efficacy in 'detoxing' (whatever the hell that word means) and is a pretty pill for the middle class worried well, who perhaps like to think that overindulgence can be cured that way. (Edit: See Cargo Cult Science for a similar takedown)

The response is brilliant in its hand-waving, untruths, disingenuous statements and weasel words (where have I heard that before?) - ah yes, three paragraphs ago.
Following recent press articles regarding our Duchy Herbals range, we are aware that some of our customers may be seeking reassurance about the range.

Our CEO, Andrew Baker, says:

'Together with our partners, Nelsons - leaders in the field of natural medicine, we spent many years researching and developing our first range of herbal tinctures. It is a range that we are truly proud of.

Well, they probably are seeking 'reassurance' - they don't really like being told that they are fools easily partable with their money. Even though they are. I have spent many years researching and developing a range of Dr*T's herbal tinctures. Like the Duchy's, they don't work.
Our Duchy Herbals Echina-Relief Tincture and Duchy Herbals Hyperi-lift Tincture have both been approved and licensed as traditional herbal medicines by the UK regulatory authorities, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Come on, 'fess up, Mr Baker. You and I both know that MHRA approval does not give any indication as to effectiveness. The MHRA never make any claims as to a products efficacy, just that it is safe to use and has been well manufactured and won't kill you. But you wouldn't be trying to hide that fact, would you?

Our Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture, which is traded as a food supplement, has been produced to the highest quality standards and within the regulatory framework of both UK and European food law

Ah, a 'food supplement' - I am confused. Why are making medicine-like claims but you sell it as a 'food supplement'? Anything to do with trying your very best to imply it is a medicine, but not making any bold claims, because it doesn't work? I have no doubt it's extremely high quality snakeoil, but it remains snakeoil. (In any case, I still don't understand what "eliminating toxins" means, or indeed "aiding digestion".)
I do hope, therefore, that you are able to share our confidence in the compliance of the Duchy Herbals range to the very highest regulatory standards
Well, I do. This product is very high quality, well-made, and completely benign quackery. This sums up the Duchy's attempt to reassure their customer chumps - the criticism was to say that the product is make-believe nonsense, the response is not to deny that, but to assert that it is quality make-believe nonsense.

Outside of the statement, the Telegraph has quoted a Duchy Originals' (or Dodgy Originals as Prof E likes to call them) spokesperson as saying:
It is not – and has never been described as – a medicine, remedy or cure for any disease.
Compare with the Dodgy Originals Facebook page:
Each of our tinctures provides an alternative and natural way of treating common ailments such as colds and flu.

There is place on the Duchy's website to write a comment - despite a number of Bad Sciencers leaving their thoughts, the Duchy has not deemed it suitable to print them.

That does not deserve a response.

With thanks to Tristan and stvb2170 on Bad Science.



  1. Excellent.
    Nice summing up of the alt. med. attitude to critiquing of their claims.

  2. I'm sure it'll just be a matter of time before they publish my comment...n

    Maybe I should't have used the phrase 'Dodgy Originals', though. :-)

  3. I am confused!

    You write: "Ah, a 'food supplement' - I am confused. Why would the MHRA licence it as a traditional herbal **medicine** but you sell it as a 'food supplement'?"

    But I thought that only the Echina-Relief and Hyperi-lift Tincture had been sent down the MHRA licensing path.

  4. Hi Ray,

    SILENCE! You'll be hearing from my lawyers.... etc...

    You are correct - I've clarified the passage.

    CHeers :)


  5. I've blogged this too and linked to here. Cheers!