Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Better monitoring of homeopaths advertising CEASE therapy for autism in the UK - hooray

There's some more good news for homeopathy skeptics in the UK and for people with autism. @UKHomeopathyReg on Twitter alerted me to this new publication yesterday...

CEASE, which stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression, is a problematic multi-stranded 'therapy' which is marketed as a treatment for autism in the UK.

There appears to be no good evidence that it has any useful effect in people with autism (let alone the rather troubling framing of autism as something to be eliminated) and plenty of possibility that it could do harm. The therapeutic package includes megadoses of Vitamin C (which can lead to diarrhoea until the dose is adjusted) and is promoted to parents as a marvellous thing for their child with autism. The therapy is offered by 'CEASE trained' homeopaths (homeopathy is just one of the strands in the package) who mostly support the idea that autism is the fault of vaccination.

In other words parents have the experience of a treatment being promoted to them which doesn't work, which costs money and time, which blames them for their child having autism while suggesting it is curable, and which may give their child diarrhoea. As a bonus both the name and acronym market the treatment misleadingly. There are additional dietary restrictions, which may cause distress to a child with autism.

A number of skeptics and skeptic organisations have successfully raised concerns about the homeopaths who claim that they have something to offer families with a child with autism.

I'm hoping this image conveys 'hot air' as that's what I think of homeopathy

In terms of previous regulatory action we already had (2015) an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) adjudication against one UK homeopath offering CEASE. Teddington Homeopathy did make some changes to their website after the ASA asked them to, but they also made it onto the ASA's list of non-compliant online advertisers after failing to make all of the required amendments.

Almond Homeopathy in Ireland were also told (in 2017) not to make claims that their treatment could reduce the symptoms of autism (though their treatments didn't relate to CEASE therapy).

While skeptics have had lots of small-level success in getting homeopathy websites amended, to a degree, many homeopaths persist in ignoring requests from the ASA. I'm not aware which homeopaths, if any, are scheduled to be reported to Trading Standards and the ASA may be prioritising other misleading advertisers first. However most homeopaths deal with patients who can at least give informed consent (perhaps less so with younger patients) but CEASE therapy deliberately targets a vulnerable -subpopulation, may cause harm and provides no benefit while costing money. It seems fairly clear that this is problematic so we needed a way of addressing this more directly. [See update to this at the end of this post]

It looks like we might have found another useful leverage point.

There are several professional homeopathic organisations in the UK (see Homeopathy Societies below) and one of them, the Societ of Homeopaths (SoH), managed to get its register of members accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). This accreditation doesn't confer any status on homeopathy or homeopaths beyond the presumption that members are conducting themselves professionally, have insurance and that sort of thing - it says nothing about the efficacy of homeopathy. To be fair, there's not much to be said.

Of course I'd assume that the SoH and its members are happy to have this accreditation and most members reference this on their pages.

A number of people skeptical of CEASE expressed concern to the PSA about a subset of SoH members who were making claims about CEASE and autism. These are outlines on pages 8 to 10 in the document below, along with the PSA's considerations. As a result of these complaints the PSA has now imposed a condition on the SoH's re-accreditation (for 2018) and other recommended requirements.

These require the Society of Homeopaths to produce a position statement on the treatment, on how it will be advertised by their members and also produce a document about the risks from CEASE - more details in the 'box' below. This is quite a big deal.

PSA Accreditation Panel's decision on the Society of Homeopaths
2017/2018 accreditation (18 page PDF)
The panel required several things to be addressed by the Society of Homeopaths within a particular timeframe. These fall under Conditions (which must be met to retain accreditation), Instructions (strong recommendations but probably no more than that) and Learning Points (a sort of 'things you might do better').

The PSA panel imposed one condition (p2 of the document linked above) - to improve governance on CEASE therapists and advertising (if this is not met then accreditation may be rescinded). The condition has three parts: (i) a position statement on CEASE therapy and on its advertising by homeopath members, (ii) develop some mechanism to ensure that homeopath members offering CEASE don't breach the Society's Code of Ethics, (iii) review the risks relating to CEASE therapy (and other treatments too).

The panel gave the SoH four instructions (p3), one of which is particular of interest to skeptics - "The Society is to develop and publish its persistent or vexatious complaints policy to make clear where it considers contact from people or organisations to be unreasonably persistent or vexatious and the approach it will take" - skeptic queries and complaints are often automatically treated as vexatious. That hasn't been my own experience (I've only contacted the SoH twice about a particular topic) but I've heard from others who felt they've been given the runaround.

The panel also gave the SoH two learning points (p3) and I think the second one will be of most interest here - "The Society should consider submitting its web page on ‘The evidence base for homeopathy’ to the Advertising Standards Authority’s Copy Advice team for independent review.". Heh.

Incidentally last year's accreditation resulted in no conditions, instructions or learning points.

I think all of us who complained about the SoH member CEASE therapists did so directly to the SoH first (I certainly did). Their response to me was prompt and courteous indicating that they'd take a look at the websites and if there was a problem they'd take action. Sadly the websites didn't change which suggested to me either that (i) the SoH didn't think there was a problem or (ii) they did think there was a problem, and communicated this to their members who then ignored them. As far as I could see the SoH were not effectively monitoring those members making these misleading claims about autism, so I escalated my concerns to the PSA (though, as it happens, after they'd made their decisions based on complaints from other skeptics - so I can't actually take any credit for this helpful outcome!).

This was the thinking behind my complaint (I can't speak for the other people and organisations who made the complaints that actually resulted in this change though). Several homeopaths offer CEASE therapy. Some are members of the SoH, some aren't (and not all SoH members offer CEASE!). But those that are members on SoH's accredited register should abide by the society's terms and conditions (the SoH also provides a support document to help members abide by the ASA's guidelines on advertising!) so it is fairly straightforward to find people who are members, offering CEASE and making misleading claims. I found five, complained and followed up my complaint when nothing happened.

Professional Societies
Society of Homeopaths - the subject of this post
Faculty of Homeopaths - for homeopaths who also have a medical degree
Alliance of Registered Homeopaths
There are probably others.

The Society of Homeopaths will be hosting its Annual General Meeting at UCL's School of Pharmacy in April. To kick things off they'll screen a pro-homeopathy film called Magic Pills.

Update 28 July 2018
Since this post was published in February 2018 skeptics have learned that the ASA / CAP have in fact (as of May / June 2018) been writing to CEASE homeopaths in the UK to remind them of what they may and may not say in their marketing material / websites. This was discovered thanks to two of the homeopaths writing on their websites about their exchanges with the ASA, as well as amending the claims on their websites as requested. According to their information the ASA / CAP sent UK homeopaths an Enforcement Notice relating to CEASE advertising. The enforcement notice isn't currently published on CAP's website. It would also be interesting to know how many homeopaths received a copy, and the compliance rate.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Scientific talks in London - 2018 edition

by @JoBrodie,

14 February 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
The Geology of Italy - Dr Lidia Lonergan (Imperial College, London)

15 February 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
A Map of the Invisible - Prof Jonathan Butterworth (UCL)

16 February 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
The Cassini Legacy and JUICE with Dr Greg Hunt, Imperial College
MARCH 2018

1 March 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Weird and wacky plants project - Michael Perry aka Mr Plant Geek

8 March 2018 - Thursday
6-9pm - Linnean Society
Symbiotic Earth: How Lynn Margulis rocked the boat and started a scientific revolution 

14 March 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
Beekeeping - Simon Silvester

15 March 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
Spider silks and webs - Mr Yue Jin Oh (Oxford University)

15 March 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Chocolate: drink of the Gods - Chantal Coady

16 March 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
MRI - Imaging & 3D Modelling Prior to Surgery with Dr David Nordsletten, Kings College
APRIL 2018
11 April 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
Conservation of Photographic Materials - Jackquie Moon (National Archives, Kew)

19 April 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
Responding to major emergencies - Prof Paul Leonard (Society for Radiological Protection)

20 April 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
Positive Thought & Behaviour Boost the Immune System with Dr Fulvio D'Acquisto, William Harvey Institute
MAY 2018
9 May 2018 - Wednesday
8pm - Richmond Scientific Society
Medieval Mottes and Prehistoric Mounds - Dr James Leary (Reading University)

17 May 2018 - Thursday
8.15pm - Hampstead Scientific Society
Maternal nutrition and the foetus - Prof Michael A Crawford (Imperial College, London)

18 May 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
Discovering Earthlike Planets with Dr Guillem Anglada, Queen Mary College

JULY 2018
19 July 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Delicious Garden Drinks - Rachel de Thample and Ciara Jean Roberts

1 November 2018 - Thursday
6pm (talk at 7pm, option to buy supper with sitting at 5.45 or 8.30pm) - Chelsea Physic Garden
Unnatural selection - Katrina van Grouw

Already happened
19 January 2018 - Friday
7.45pm, Mycenae House, Blackheath Scientific Society
Light, Sleep and Time - and how they interact with Dr Russel Foster, Nuffield - Ophthalmology