Sense About Science is a charitable trust that works in partnership with scientific bodies, research publishers, policy makers, the public and the media. They aim to change public discussions about science and evidence and equip people to make sense of scientific and medical claims.
Their latest campaign, Ask For Evidence, backed by some high-profile performers, Professors and presenters, concerns an issue which is close to my heart: putting a stop to misleading claims about science and medicine.
The aim is to get more members of the public asking advertisers, companies, government bodies and other organisations to set out the evidence they have for their claims. Sense About Science advise:
If you are concerned about the risks or benefits that are being claimed on a website, product, advert, advice, publication or policy announcement, ask the people responsible to show you their evidence.
They give clear instructions on how to go about this, suggesting who you should be complaining to and how to go about it.
You don’t need to be a scientist to Ask for Evidence. Sense About Science stress that they have over 5,000 scientists and hundreds of organisations who are able to help and to publicise your concerns.
In this spirit (and time permitting), I will continue to write to newspapers when I find articles which misreport science. I will look out for MPs, public figures and organisations making statements based on bad science and will write to (and about) them. I will continue to write to regulatory bodies such as the MHRA, Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority where relevant.
Which brings me to the ASA… Since they extended their online remit in March of this year, they have been dealing with an unprecedented number of complaints, a disproportionate quantity of which they say have been about ‘alternative therapy’. I have been told (for example here and here) that dealing with these is hampering them from providing a good service to all their customers. I am of the understanding that the ASA are well aware of the broader issues with CAM advertising. They say they’re dealing with mainstream therapies to begin with (they have already issued this statement about homeopathy) and will then move on to the less well known therapies.
While I understand the ASA’s position and do not want to overwhelm them further, it has recently been very frustrating to sit back and ignore the wealth of quackery and pseudoscience I’m confronted with, whether it be therapists’ leaflets, company websites or promotional emails dropping into my inbox each morning.
The Ask for Evidence campaign will hopefully give me the impetus and the courage to approach companies directly.