Claims Of Unethical Skeptics: A Mirror Image Of The Truth

August 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm (Anti-Vaccination, Homeopathy, Miscellaneous) (, , , , , , )

Over the years, I have seen a number of baseless claims made by anti-vaccinationists and advocates of alternative medicine regarding unethical behaviour by skeptics. They imagine conspiracies and financial interests. They make claims that their opponents are dishonest and mislead people. Yet there never seems to be any evidence that the skeptics they smear have done anything unethical.There is evidence, though, that some anti-vaccinationists and advocates of alternative medicine have been involved in unethical behaviour.

Apart from the allegations of unethical behaviour, they also claim that the skeptics who criticise them are dogmatic, closed-minded, and ‘pseudo-skeptics’ in that they fail to provide evidence. This is, generally, untrue of the skeptics they seek to denigrate. Anti-vaccinationists and alternative medicine advocates, on the other hand…

Some of the cases involving unethical behaviour are rather interesting – in particular those of the fantasist Martin Walker and the companies who paid Claus Fritzsche to denigrate critics of homeopathy. The case of homeopath Steve Scrutton is rather different. It is a marvellous example of a homeopath failing to provide any evidence whatsoever while falsely complaining, entirely without irony, that skeptics do not provide evidence.

Claus Fritzsche

A journalist critical of those who are skeptical of alternative medicine, Fritzsche was paid by German homeopathy companies. Andy Lewis wrote that:

There is something of an irony is this scandal. Of course, people should be free to express their views in blogs and newspapers. People should even be free to be consistently wrong and absurd. But this is a clear example of where a writer is being paid by a vested interest to continue activities systematically denigrating an academic over his published work. What is ironic is that it is an axiomatic belief in homeopathic circles that people like me are paid large sums of money by pharmaceutical companies to carry out the writing and speaking that I do. It is of course nonsense. And yet here are homeopaths doing exactly what they say is so immoral and despicable about sceptics of homeopathy.

Maybe the reason that those who support homeopathy assume others are shills with unspoken vested interests is because it is true of them. Perhaps the advocates of homeopathy who visit my blog to falsely accuse me of being a shill are in fact shills themselves?

Martin J Walker

Brian Deer has a page on Martin Walker that describes the “false, defamatory (and badly-written) allegations” made by Walker. There are attempts to smear Brian Deer, including insinuations of conspiracy and the acceptance of payments. Deer writes:

Stupidity aside, underlying Walker’s message is the insinuation that I’m on the take. On this point, his smearing snidery came to the fore early on. In 2007, he peddled this filth:

“One unanswered question remains writ large, ‘Does anyone other than the Sunday Times newspaper, fund Brian Deer to carry out this work?'”

As so often in such things, the truth is the mirror-image: it has been Martin J Walker taking money from vested interests.

According to Deer, Walker took money from supporters of Andrew Wakefield. This was the man who attempted to smear critics of the discredited Andrew Wakefield by implying they had conflicts of interest. Was anyone other than the media funding Brian Deer? No. As Deer explains:

For me, there’s a relationship between truth and freedom. It’s what brought me into journalism in the first place. That’s one reason why my work on MMR has been supported solely on a proper basis: with no income from any source with any agenda. Apart from a cheque I received from Wakefield’s lawyers, on his behalf, and payments for contributions to the BMJ, my investigation has been financed solely by Times Newspapers Ltd and Channel 4 Television. Nobody else – but me – has contributed one cent.

Walker hints I’m on the take because he is.

Deer’s view on all this? “It’s a mirroring behaviour. Walker looks at others, but sees only himself.” Like the homeopaths.

Steve Scrutton

Here, homeopath Steve Scrutton writes of skeptics:

Usually it is just pure denial; ‘homeopathy just cannot work’; yet in support of this statement Denialist’s offer no evidence. It is just pure denial.

There are repeated references to the position of skeptics being “pure denial” with “no evidence” and he seems to think that this is worthy of criticism. I would agree. If it were actually true. Scrutton gives this example of a skeptic’s denialism and  failure to provide evidence:

Alan Henness. LOL! No, the Swiss Gov didn’t decide homeopathy to be good”. Back to pure denial, without, of course, evidence to support his assertion.

Now, the original tweet that Scrutton is commenting on contains a link to this blog post in support of the statement made. Scrutton’s selective quoting of Alan Henness’s tweet omitted the link provided by Henness. So there was evidence in support of the statement made, but Scrutton excluded it. I had to look up the tweet that Scrutton was referring to myself, because nowhere in the blog post in question is there any kind of link or reference to any source material. (Which is especially problematic when Scrutton makes dodgy claims about vaccination, an important public health initiative. See the update at the end of this post for discussion of Scrutton’s unsubstantiated claims about pertussis and vaccination.)

Scrutton, while complaining that skeptics do not provide evidence (even when they actually do!), himself provides no evidence in support of any of the statements he makes. Again, this is an example of somebody falsely accusing skeptics of doing something that they themselves actually do.

Scrutton also complains of a Big Pharma campaign to attack homeopathy (but provides no evidence of such a campaign) and alleges (again, without any evidence) that skeptics are part of this campaign – implying that skeptics have financial vested interests in criticising homeopathy. As far as I know, there are no skeptics who are paid by Big Pharma to attack homeopathy – and Scrutton provides zero evidence that this might be the case. Scrutton, on the other hand, does have vested financial interests that are relevant when he comments on homeopathy.

Steve Scrutton, though, might well disagree with that seemingly obvious point. He certainly seemed to believe that making statements about homeopathy, on a website that promoted his homeopathy practice, did not constitute marketing. Steve Scrutton believed the two web pages in question were editorial information relating to homeopathy in general. He did not believe the web pages were marketing, and considered them to be outside the remit of the ASA. The ASA upheld the complaint, considering that, in the context of a website for homeopathic services, Scrutton’s statements meant the web page was marketing his services as a homeopath. They also upheld another complaint, ruling that claims made by Scrutton breached rules on misleading advertising and substantiation. Like his blog post, his website made unsubstantiated claims – which is exactly what he unfairly accused skeptics of doing.

When Scrutton talks of others being denialists who offer no evidence, he is looking at others but seeing only himself.

13 Comments

  1. Acleron (@Acleron1) said,

    There are two parts to this.
    1) The projection often seen in those who are delusionary.
    2) The Big Lie technique, say it loud enough and often enough and it will be believed.

    I’ve seen enough debates with homeopaths to conclude that a lot of them know it doesn’t work, they know there is evidence against their practice and they know they have no evidence to support it. Yet they will just repeat the same mantras you have discussed immediately after they have been conclusively debunked.

  2. Skepticat_UK said,

    Nicely done, J.

    “Perhaps the advocates of homeopathy who visit my blog to falsely accuse me of being a shill are in fact shills themselves?”

    Or perhaps they are just people who’ve invested a lot of time and money in becoming practitioners of this worthless cult therapy and are trying to scratch a living out of it. There is certainly an irony in their accusation that campaigners against homeopathy are only doing what they do because of some financial incentive and homeopaths generally seem too self-interested and too blinkered to understand why we challenge the kind of claims that have led to needless deaths. If they had that understanding they wouldn’t have become quacks in the first place.

    Scrutton’s silly post was no better than I’ve come to expect from any of them. I suppose he sees it as part of the fightback. LOL!

  3. magufo said,

    It should be understood that there are two basic types of skeptics: Some are mere puppets mocking bloggers or repeating the same as “homeopathy is just water” and pseudo activists. And the others are opinion leaders (Andy Lewis, Steve Novella, Harrietr hall) for example.
    The other skeptics are those who are linked to multinational organizations such as the Center for Inquiry or GWUP. An institution that is holding the NCAFH, Quackwatch, CSI, and other organizations and influences as Rational Wiki (?).
    Skeptics are professional communicators Edzard Ernst, Simon Sigh, Ben Goldacre, and others.
    Skeptics and elite leaders would James Randi, Mario Bunge, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Wissemann.

    Are senior skeptics who are linked to Sense About Science, and this in turn to financial interests. The same thing happens with some alternative elite and D. Chopra.

  4. magufo said,

    Anyway, all the above are usually pseudo skeptics.
    But the funny thing is that the entry attempts to validate the view as legitimate, known pseudo skeptics. Instead of citing the peer reviewed journals. Another double standard.

  5. jdc325 said,

    @magufo,

    But the funny thing is that the entry attempts to validate the view as legitimate, known pseudo skeptics. Instead of citing the peer reviewed journals. Another double standard.

    Can you please explain what your point is here? What view am I ‘attempting to validate as legitimate’?

  6. ChrisP said,

    magufo, homeopathy is, on average, just water. The whole basis behind the claims of how homeopathy works have zero evidence base.

  7. Martin said,

    To be fair, there’s plenty of evidence of dodgy practice in the medical industry, as Ben Goldacre for example frequently points at. The motivations may be financial greed, fame/reputation, or simply strong belief in certain biological mechanisms and treatments (see eg acid vs bacterial causes for stomach ulcers) – rather similar to the motivations of alternative medical practitioners, ie the motivations of most people. We can add ‘righteous cause’ and ‘ideology’ to try to understand why ‘other people’ behave so ‘stupidly’.

    Since we can find similar motivations in most places, it’s fairly simple to accuse ‘the opposition’ of not only being motivated by these things but to attempt to discredit them *becase* they are motivated by them. It seems fairly common in a number of modern debates to accuse the opposition of being shills to some industry and/or ideologically motivated. So everyone does this and we get a conversation that drifts away from, or distracts from, the evaluation of actual evidence.

  8. jdc325 said,

    @Martin,

    It seems fairly common in a number of modern debates to accuse the opposition of being shills to some industry and/or ideologically motivated. So everyone does this and we get a conversation that drifts away from, or distracts from, the evaluation of actual evidence.

    An excellent point. A good example of this (wrt ideological motivations and claims thereof) is the climate change debate, where I’ve seen some debates degenerate into shouting matches where those who accept AGW are labelled as “‘mentalists” (the implication being a slur on the mental health of “environmentalists”) and those who are sceptical are labelled as “deluders” (another slur) and each side claims the other are basing their positions on ‘religious’ beliefs rather than the best available evidence. Which, ironically, means neither side ends up talking about said evidence.

  9. Balwinder S Dheeman said,

    Seems, you’re also paid by allopathic pharmaceutical mafia :P

  10. magufo said,

    jdc325 is a selective:

    If you decontextualizes the original meaning of pseudo skeptic. Refuses to be labeled as such, although you do not say this ad-hominem nadade as “quackery, charlatans, woo-woo …” continuously used by some commentators as GuyChapaman or SkeptikCat.

    You say that cites studies?
    1. The UK report is invalid DULY it was rejected by the British government.
    2. About the Swiss report, but has some flaws is better prepared than the British report. Failures can be corrected in a few years.
    3. you say there is no evidence, even says they are skeptics who provide evidence that homeopathy does not work. Their evidence usually “reviews” spurious and hence are not a scientific journal, but the author’s views so angry:

    https://apgaylard.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/editing-reality/

  11. jdc325 said,

    Magufo,

    I pointed out that Alan Henness had included a link in his original tweet and that Scrutton removed this link before posting the quote, claiming that Henness has failed to provide evidence in support of his assertion. The evidence provided by Alan Henness was a blog post (which I made quite clear in my post). You seem to be complaining that I’ve wrongly said that Henness cited studies. I think it’s quite clear that I didn’t.

    Your claim that the UK report was invalid presumably refers to the select committee’s evidence check on homeopathy. If you think the report was ‘invalid’, then do feel free to point out why this is the case. I should point out though that it was not ‘rejected by the British government’ on the grounds that it was invalid. The Department of Health based its decision to continue funding homeopathy on “choice”, not efficacy.

    You say the Swiss report was better prepared than the British report – please feel free to substantiate this claim.

    You mistakenly assert that the evidence that homeopathy does not work is “spurious” and “not a scientific journal” and complain about angry authors. I’m afraid this is simply nonsense. Here’s a paper from the Annals of Internal Medicine (“There is a lack of conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for most conditions. Homeopathy deserves an open-minded opportunity to demonstrate its value by using evidence-based principles, but it should not be substituted for proven therapies.”) Here is a paper from The Lancet (“Biases are present in placebo-controlled trials of both homoeopathy and conventional medicine. When account was taken for these biases in the analysis, there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects.”)

  12. magufo said,

    As they always do the same?
    Studies linking you already knew. Do not give me stupid believe me. The study was refuted Shag and then P. Winston published a critique Rutten in homeopathy, but did not refute the reanalysis.
    All appointments are just entering an attitude of double standards and bias.

    The Swiss report evaluated clearly in a better way the evidence. That may have errors, you may. What I advocate is that this best done.
    The report that you defend was totally a trick of Sesne About Sciencie (SAS) with his manager (puppet) Tracey Brown and Evan Harris a single voter. Otherwise SAS is dedicated to defaming omitting homeopathy it comes bibliography British report.

  13. jdc325 said,

    I’m finding it difficult to follow your posts here magufo, but if you think Rutten and Stolper refuted Shang et al then I have to disagree.

    http://hawk-handsaw.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/homeopathy-paper-published.html

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