ASA swamped with complaints re: Homeopathy.

March 18, 2011

Quickie about a letter from the ASA to all who have complained about website with homeopathic levels of honesty.

As you may or may not be aware, the Nightingale Collaboration has co-ordinated a campaign to highlight and complain about some of the ridiculous and unsupportable claims that alternative medicine practitioners make on their websites – the current project is targeting homeopathy websites within the UK.

As someone who has complained recently about a homeopathic website or two, I recently received this bulk mail-out from the ASA:

Dear Sir/Madam


Thank you for your recent complaint.

As you may know, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received over a hundred and fifty complaints about over a hundred different websites for homeopathy.  Complaints cover a range of issues from specific claims made by individual advertisers to general concerns about the sector as a whole.  Because of the volume of complaints, we are sending this letter to everyone who contacted us on these issues to let you know what action we intend to take.

The ASA has an established position on claims that can be made, and those claims that are not likely to be acceptable for homeopathy, based on the requirements set out in the CAP Code and previous ASA adjudications.  Although we have not historically received many complaints about advertising for homeopathy, the Code has general requirements for substantiation of claims in the health sector and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) offers specific advice on marketing health-related products and services. Further information about the requirements of the advertising Code is available on our website and from

We are seeking to enforce compliance with the Code even-handedly across the sector by contacting all of the advertisers we have received complaints about as well as the bodies that represent homeopaths and homeopathy in the UK.  We will be explaining the Code’s requirements, giving advice on how to ensure advertising claims do not breach the Code, and asking advertisers to remove any claims which do not comply.  More information about what that means in practice is provided in the CAP Help Notes on Substantiation for Health, Beauty and Slimming claims and Health, Beauty and Slimming Marketing Communications that Refer to Medical Conditions.  You can find these documents on our Copy Advice website, as indicated above.  Because the ASA has only been regulating websites since 1 March many of the advertisers we contact will not be familiar with us or the work we do and will need help and assistance from us.  For that reason, we plan to monitor compliance 3 months after making our expectations of them clear. We feel that this will give advertisers, some of whom are very small and have limited resources, sufficient time to make the necessary changes.

The ASA will not be publishing individual adjudications on this occasion.  We will however publish specific, up-to-date advice to the industry and its representative bodies in due course and we will work with them to ensure that advertising for homeopathy is compliant with the Code.

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us.  While you will not see immediate results please be assured that we are working hard in the background to resolve the issues that have been complained about.

Yours sincerely

What do I think about this?

First off  it shows that the Nightingale Collaboration (NC) has been successful in co-ordinating a fair few complaints within the 2-and-a-half weeks it has been running this campaign – whether this number of complaints matches the expectations of the NC, only they know.

It would appear that the ASA recognise that UK-based homeopaths are often making unsupportable claims about the efficacy of their sugar pills on their websites – to such an extent that they are going contact both the complained-about homeopaths and their ‘regulatory’ bodies (ARH, SoH, BHA etc) about these breaches, and make them aware of the rules that they should be adhering too. If after 3 months they have not complied with UK advertising regulations – the ASA may take further action.

Whilst individual complainers may miss out on the satisfaction of seeing adjudications against the websites they have complained about – the end result should be the same – and in fact much more far reaching. This wholesale action against all UK-homeopaths (via their ‘professional’ bodies) by the ASA should ensure that they are no longer allowed to make outrageous claims about efficacy (or claim that they were unaware of the rules).

Provided the ASA take a suitably tough line with the homeopaths, and they ensure that the rules are adhered to, I think that this can be seen as a very effective first strike by the Nightingale Collaboration.

Homeopathic guide to “conflict of interest”

March 10, 2011

Skeptics of alternative medicine are often accused of being in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industry (the “big pharma shills” argument).
Here is a ‘handy-cut-out-and-keep’ guide to COI.

I could go on…

The Wonders of the Universe Drinking game rules!

March 6, 2011

Jusht Cuz.

Stop Press: Apparently Prof Cox is aware of the drinking game. So by not participating, not only will you be letting yourself down, you’ll be letting him down too. Do it. You know it makes sense.

Take 1 finger of drink when Prof Cox says:

Take 2 fingers of drink for:

  • “Billions*”
  • 2nd law of thermodynamics
  • Any use of props (like salt and pepper shakers) or drawing in the sand with a stick (ht Rob and @carolwhead)

Take 3 fingers of drink for:

Half-a-pint for:

  • “Wonders”
  • “Scientific explanation”

Finish your drink whenever you see Brian in silhouette up a mountain somewhere.

* The more conservative ethanol-enthusiasts out there may like to take advantage of a modification suggested in the comments by @Nullifidian whereby each mention of million/billion/trillion in a row be counted as a single occurrence – eg “one billion billion billion billionth” would count as 2 fingers of drink, not 8. Either way, you can blame @Kashfarooq for the original rule :).

Tip o’the hat to @fibularis and @imascientist for other ideas.

Add more below and I’ll add them to the list…

“You know you’ve worked in the lab too long when…”

March 1, 2011

Shamelessly stolen from Kausik Datta, refurbished with my own answers.

“You know you’ve worked in the lab too long when…”


  1. You say “mills” and “migs”. ✔
  2. You say “orders of magnitude” in regular sentences. ✔
  3. You say “conjugation” instead of “sex”, and “pili” sounds dirty.
  4. You can no longer spell normal words but have no trouble with spelling things like immunohistochemistry or deoxyribonucleic acid. ✔
  5. You refer to your children as the F1.
  6. You think the following is a quality insult: “I’ve seen cells more competent than you!” ✔
  7. You use acronyms for everything and never stop to elaborate. ✔
  8. You use the word “aliquot” in regular sentences, especially with reference to tea, coffee or curry. ✔
  9. You flinch when you hear the word “significant”. ✔
  10. For you, media is something which increases your culture. ✔
  11. When you hear tween, you think of the surfactant not the age group. ✔
  12. You are fed up of people saying alcohol, when they mean ethanol.
  13. SOB is not an insult; it’s what you grow your bugs in. ✔
  14. You actually threaten your cells whilst waving a bottle of virkon or some other disinfectant. ✔
  15. You give the lab equipment motivational pep talks: “Work for me today or I’ll reprogram you with a fire axe” is my favorite.


  1. You’ve seen how far away you can hit a target with a squirty water bottle or seeing how far away from the bin you can fire pipette tips. ✔
  2. You still get amusement out of “freezing” things in liquid nitrogen. ✔
  3. You rejoice when grabbing a handful of eppendorfs/bijous/anything and it turns outs to be the exact number you needed. ✔
  4. You decide the courses and conference you want to go on by the quality of the food served.
  5. When you start making patterns in your pipette tip box as you take the tips out. ✔
  6. You’ve played Battleship using tip boxes.
  7. You’ve used, “I’d like to get into your genes” as a pickup line. (✔ – only in jest)
  8. You have made some kind of puppet out of a nitrile glove and kept it as a pet. ✔
  9. The scent of latex reminds you of work, not play.


  1. Safety equipment is optional unless it makes you look cool. ✔
  2. A timer clipped to the hip is not only practical, but dead sexy. ✔
  3. People wearing shorts under a lab coat disturb you slightly as they look as though they might be naked underneath. ✔
  4. You can tell what cheap and expensive white coats look like. ✔
  5. You hate having to change your lab coat to a new one because ‘it just won’t fit right’ and because the wrist bits are way too tight. ✔
  6. You’ve never worn a clean lab coat.
  7. You have an irresistible urge to rip your shirt off superman style because it has press stud fasteners just like your lab coat… Most often occurring as you walk through a door just like exiting the lab… (I prefer to apply the Hulk style to disposable PPE) ✔
  8. You’ve left the lab wearing a piece of PPE (personal protective equipment) because you forgot you had it on. ✔
  9. You consider a green laser pointer to be science bling. ✔
  10. You own Invitrogen t-shirts and actually wear them.

Kitchen and home skillz:

  1. No matter what the timings in the experiment protocol, there is always time for lunch in the middle. ✔
  2. When you organize your kitchen cupboard contents the way you would your chemicals… all labeled in alphabetical order.
  3. Although all cooking is a glorified chemistry experiment you just still can’t seem to get it right. ✔
  4. You’re also very good at transferring small amounts of liquid between containers. ✔
  5. You’re very good at diluting things. ✔ (Not as good as homeopaths though)
  6. When your fruits go bad and you get fruit flies, you can’t help but check their eye color.
  7. You open the toothpaste with one hand.
  8. You want to have parafilm at home too. ✔
  9. You wonder what absolute alcohol tastes like with orange juice.


  1. Showing up at 10AM and having a coffee is a productive day. ✔
  2. You’ve worked out that a trained chimp could probably do 90% of your job. ✔
  3. You always seem to use the microscope after the person with the impossibly close-set eyes. ✔
  4. When you say goodnight to your microscope on a Friday night and tearfully hug it goodbye as you won’t see it all weekend.
  5. You can identify organs on roadkills. ✔
  6. You can’t wait for lab clean-up because you get to do random pointless “experiments” to figure out what’s in all the dodgy unlabeled bottles.

Accidents & discomfort:

  1. Accident reports are a badge of honor.
  2. Warning labels invoke curiosity rather than caution. ✔
  3. Blinking real fast has saved your eyesight on more than one occasion. ✔
  4. Burning eyes, nose and throat indicate that you haven’t actually turned on the fumehood/ downdraft bench. ✔
  5. Liquid nitrogen is only about a 1/3 as dangerous as you thought. ✔
  6. You bitch about not being able to pipette by mouth any more.
  7. When you wonder: how much will it hurt if I pour just a smidgen of this phenol/chloroform/ trichloroacetic acid/ any random chemical on myself?
  8. The fire alarm ceases to bug you. You only evacuate when you see the fire. (Hand on the floor to check for heat is a good indicator.) ✔

C’est la vie:

  1. No one in your family has any idea what you do. ✔
  2. Sometime you momentarily vanish from social activities because of a time-point. ✔
  3. The front page of Science is your light reading. ✔
  4. You realize that almost anything can be classed as background reading. ✔
  5. When a non-scientist asks you what you do for a living, you roll your eyes and talk science at them until they’ve lost the will to live. ✔
  6. When you rejoice when grabbing a handful of eppendorfs/bijous/anything and it turns outs to be the exact number you needed. ✔
  7. When you’ve got that callus on the side of your thumb from opening PCR tubes (0.5ml and 1.5ml eppendorf tubes for me). ✔
  8. You are strangely proud of the collection of junk you’ve stolen from vendors at trade shows. ✔


  1. You can make a short film in Powerpoint. ✔
  2. You can’t watch CSI without cursing at least one scientific inaccuracy. ✔
  3. You don’t fear rodents, rodents fear you. ✔
  4. You have to check the web to find out what the weather is outside. ✔
  5. You’ve bent down to pick something up off the floor only to scatter the contents of your top pocket under the largest machine in the lab. ✔

Health and Hygiene:

  1. You wash your hands before and after using the washroom. ✔
  2. You’ve suffered carpal tunnel from the pipetman. ✔
  3. You’ve used Kimwipes as Kleenex. ✔
  4. You’ve wondered why you can’t drink distilled water in the lab- shouldn’t it be clean? ✔
  5. Your nose invariably itches when you’re doing mucky stuff with your hands so you develop the habit of scratching it on your upper arm. Unfortunately, you sometimes carry this habit over to real life, where it looks like you’re sniffing your armpits. ✔
  6. You are slightly too fond of the smell of (pick one or many) Xylene/ Agar/ Ethanol/ Undergraduates/ Alcoholic hand-wash. ✔
  7. You’ve removed your gloves to find a small hole which has left you with either – wrinkly old person hands, a brightly colored finger (histologists especially) or a burning sensation and dermatitis at some point.

Tada! Done 🙂