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.
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.
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.