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Anti-quackery Committee

On 31 October, 2002, the Minister for Health in the New South Wales Government (Australia) held a press conference to announce the formation of a committee (the Health Claims and Consumer Protection Advisory Committee) to review some of the more objectionable aspects of "alternative" medicine. You can read the press release about this here and a newspaper report here. (One of the triggers for this action by the Minister was some work done by members of the Australian Skeptics which exposed the fraud of homeopathic vaccines against meningococcal disease.)

Here is a video of the press conference, made by my friend Richard Saunders of The Skeptic Zone.

Nobody thought that the purveyors of quackery would accept this committee without saying anything. Not surprisingly, the responses took the form of ad hominem attacks, lies, fabrications and deliberate disregard for the truth. What they can't seem to say is that they have nothing to worry about because what they do and sell actually works. An organisation was set up to fight the committee, and the media release announcing its formation lists a "Who's Who" of the quackery industry.

The Chairman of the committee is Professor John Dwyer, who is an obvious target for vilification and ad hominem attack. You can read Professor Dwyer's qualifications here. (My favourite attack on him so far is someone who told a mailing list "Not hard to see where he is coming from.." with no other comment other than a link to these impressive qualifications.) I am an advisor to the committee, which means that I don't receive any payment for my involvement but I am available to offer suggestions about the matters the committee should consider, the directions it might take, and the evidence it might consider. Part of the attack on me has been a demand in the NSW Parliament for all correspondence between me and anyone else concerning the committee. I was also repeatedly challenged over my qualifications to be involved with the committee, to which I finally responded:

My qualifications are that I am a scientifically-literate, concerned citizen with a particular interest in medical quackery. I am sick of seeing liars and thieves get away with their lying and thieving. I am sick of hearing stories about families being impoverished in order to pay for useless medical treatments for their sick children. I am sick of hearing about desperate people being robbed of their life savings by charlatans who only care about money. I am sick of hearing that murderers are heroes and heroes are murderers. Or, as George Mallory said: "Because it's there".

Here are some examples of the opposition, listed by the name of the person responsible. (The members of the NSW Parliament who jumped on the bandwagon fall into two categories – fringe dwellers and people who believe that a person's ethnic background should have some bearing on the type of medical care that should be available to them. The idea that people should be expected to want sub-standard, unscientific health care because such witchcraft was a traditional part of the cultures in the countries that their forebears escaped from is racist, of course, but I would not expect any proponent of this to admit it.)

The committee was eventually sabotaged and neutered by the inclusion of representatives of the very quackery industry that it was set up to investigate. One of these fifth column additions was a close associate and representative of someone who had been threatened with prosecution by the ACCC for selling useless medical procedures.



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