Category Archives: Evidence

Humbug is rife: cancer quackery, 1892 and 2015

Bleach is among the dangerous fake ‘cures’ for cancer and other serious diseases being offered for sale to people in the UK, according to recent reports:

MMS is a 28% sodium chlorite solution, which is equivalent to industrial-strength bleach. When taken as directed it could cause severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, potentially leading to dehydration and reduced blood pressure. If the solution is diluted less than instructed, it could cause damage to the gut and red blood cells, potentially resulting in respiratory failure.

This so-called “miracle mineral solution” appears to target vulnerable people and those suffering serious illnesses who are asked to pay large sums of money for a product which not only doesn’t work but could be dangerous.

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A sense of deja vu: the advertising of e-cigarettes

Glamourising smoking, targeting advertising at young people, using imagery of healthy, sporty smokers – all old, outlawed techniques for the tobacco industry. But the advent of e-cigarettes has lit the embers of this debate again. The BMA has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about a television advertisement for e-cigarettes, saying it breaches two of the new rules that were announced by the Committees of Advertising Practice in October. They came into effect on  Monday 10 November, the same day the ad was aired for the first time.

The manufacturer, VIP Electronic Cigarette, says this is the first time the act of using an electronic cigarette – or vaping – has been shown on television. It appeared in an ad break in Grantchester, ITV1’s smoke-wreathed drama about a 1950s country vicar who falls over corpses in between lighting cigarettes. Continue reading

Opening the evidence up to policymakers

A group of UK academics and researchers is planning to launch a UK Evidence Information Service (EIS) for politicians. It is now asking members of the public to volunteer to interview local elected politicians, providing feedback that will help shape the service. Continue reading

Bridging the gap between evidence and policy

Nature recently published an excellent list of 20 things policymakers should understand about interpreting scientific claims, by William J Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter and Mark A Burgman, academics from Cambridge and Melbourne. Included are reminders that “scientists are human” and that “correlation does not imply causation”, as well as practical examples explaining why “regression to the mean can mislead” or how to “beware the base rate fallacy”. Continue reading

Medical journals and the tobacco industry

The BMJ has announced that it will no longer consider consider research funded by the tobacco industry, in whole or part, for publication. It is time, say the editors of the BMJ, Heart,
Thorax, and BMJ Open, “to cease supporting the now discredited notion that tobacco industry funded research is just like any other research”. They cite the increasing evidence that peer review and declaration of funding is not enough: funding can Continue reading

Naming and shaming sites that make dubious health claims

Legal, decent, honest and truthful. It doesn’t sound too much to ask, but many traders
continue to use misleading advertising claims on their websites – and the list is dominated by health products.

If the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decides that an online ad does not comply with the UK Advertising Code, it will make repeated requests for the dubious claim to be
amended: if traders still fail to comply, then details of the claim and the ASA decision are published. Looking down the list, it is dominated by health products, including something I misread as psychic dentistry. Continue reading

AllTrials not SomeTrials: no more invisible evidence

To assess the evidence, you need to know it is there.

Properly conducted clinical trials provide the best evidence for whether drugs work and are safe. But about half have never been published, and trials with positive results – where the drug concerned is shown to be safe and effective – are more likely to be published than negative ones. Patients can be harmed – for example if a treatment found to be harmful in an invisible trial is then given to patients in a new one – or medicines used ineffectively or wastefully, as a result. Researchers can’t plan research properly because they don’t know what has gone before. The problems with this situation have been well documented for years, but things may now be going to change.

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