The pseudoscience of the creator of pseudoscience’s petty petition

My recent frowning response to what is, in effect, a defensive CAM-promoting petition brought informative comment on its creator. Hence, I’ve learned that the ‘M’ in ‘Jessica Braid (formerly M. United Kingdom’ [sic], indicates Middleton. Who, it turns out, is a CAM practitioner of some notoriety. I’ve looked again at Braid’s petition, and considered her reasoning for raising it. And I remain of the opinion that: i) it gives a misleading account of the motivation of the Advertising Standards Authority; ii) it itself constitutes promotion of CAM; iii) its affording of a platform by Avaaz is misguided. I have twice flagged it as inappropriate; I have twice resent my original complaint. Moreover, I have sent these messages via both the (seemingly malfunctioning) ‘Help’ and ‘Contact Avaaz’ facilities on its website, and via e-mail. No-one has seen fit to even acknowledge my reasonable messages. However, I know someone there has read me: when I tried to post my concerns on Avaaz’s Facebook page – whereon can be found, on the issue of climate change, much championing of the necessity to heed scientific evidence – my comments were removed within minutes.

Avaaz does include a disclaimer with the petition:

‘This petition has been created by Jessica Braid (formerly M. and may not represent the views of the Avaaz community.’

It also, under its Commitment to Accuracy, states:

‘In addition, if any campaign has been conducted on the basis of a serious inaccuracy, we are committed to informing the people who have joined the campaign and offering them a chance to withdraw their support.’

I maintain my opinion that this particular campaign is founded on an inaccuracy: the allegation that the ASA is biased against – and is actively censoring – the marketing material of CAM therapists. Yet, Avaaz has not, as far as I’m aware, informed the signatories to this petition, which remains open.

Jessica Braid BSC(Hons), MBChB, MLCHom, MARH, DCMAc, CCosD, CHMMD brands herself as ‘The Natural Doctor, who uses (here we go…) ‘the power of nature to heal the body & mind…’. Her website includes a blog (comprising, as I write, two posts) where she also plants her whining flag:

‘This is a high level of censorship in which they use their identity protected ‘expert’ to refute any evidence submitted. They have ignored the 600 pages of scientific evidence I submitted and also ruled against 45 studies submitted by the Royal London College Hospital which has a Complementary Medicine clinic giving out leaflets.’

Braid is (according to some of the many letters proudly displayed after her name) scientifically and medically trained. One might then, not unreasonably, presume her to have an appreciation of what constitutes scientific evidence. So, there are two possibilities: either she has submitted valid evidence, but the ASA is ignoring and/or disregarding it (her interpretation); or the copious material she has submitted is invalid as evidence. Well, as she neither displays nor cites this material, it is difficult to be certain, absolutely. However, the reiteration of the slur on the motivation of the ASA is telling. Because I happen to consider that advertising standards are important and should apply without privileged exemption, I also alerted the ASA to this petition, but its remit does not extend to contending such tactics. Moreover, because I believe in being open about these things, I have also attempted, via the facility at Braid’s blog, to post comment:

‘Are you not being disingenuous?

The ASA is an impartial body that is not stopping anyone from advertising; what it does is work to ensure that advertising is not misleading – a remit which includes advertising on all UK websites. It does not ‘censor’ mention of medical conditions; rather, in likely accordance with Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) stipulation (on, for example, homeopathic products), it does not permit ‘indications’ – ie the description of disease/conditions – when there is insufficient evidence of medical/therapeutic effectiveness thereon. And genuine patient testimonials are not ‘banned’; rather, because implying efficacy of unproven treatments is potentially misleading, they are restricted to ‘… general references to an improved sense of wellbeing.’

This is not censorship by the ASA – it is the policing of advertising standards and the protection of consumers.’

And which, as I write (five days later), remains ‘under moderation.’ Meaning I cannot deduce absolutely that my comment is being censored. Perhaps, unlike the positive testimonials she has been barred from displaying, it is deemed too negative. And negativity does not align philosophically at such places.

I maintain that publicly-made statements of a contentious nature are fair game for challenge and critique – particularly when they concern matters of public health. If you are interested in Braid’s (presented) understanding of what constitutes evidence, then take a look at her public website (because that is what it is there for). I don’t know the extent of the content before she felt the ASA heat. But it remains risible.

Except it isn’t funny.

Under the tab for the page headed ‘Therapies’… which drops down a menu of available ‘treatments’… you can immerse yourself in a cornucopia of dubiosity. The usual pointers abound: appeals to quoted ‘authorities’; appeal to popularity; historical background to emphasise ‘ancient wisdom’; beguiling pseudoscience; RCT double standardising; and copious sprinkling with the ‘energy’ lingo. Top of the list is that favourite delusion – homeopathy: here you can read fascinating stuff about the ‘science’ of water (I will leave you to draw your own conclusion); and a helpful illustration of how serial dilution and succussion increases the potency of touted remedies. When you read this, again bear in mind that this lady is scientifically and medically qualified. Information which is presumably meant to add authoritative weight to the statements here.

The versatile Braid also dabbles in those other CAM favourites – acupuncture and traditional Chinese (herbal) medicine, with mentions of Qi (‘vital energy of the body’), and ‘balance’. And here she takes another swipe at the ASA, inviting you to telephone to discuss that information she has been prevented from publicly displaying. As she also does for the next string to her polyonymous bow – Therapeutic Energy Kinesiology. (Hey, yet another variant!) More ‘balance’ and ‘energy’, with coupling to her homeopathy and… flower essences (I kid you not).

I find this exhausting, so I’ll end with her resort to that other favourite CAM-ite tool – the appeal to glamorous celebrity (I do wish the ASA would clamp down on this), here as somehow validating ‘Cosmetic Acupuncture.’ And she’ll also ‘cup’ you to help you lose weight.

Braid is not alone in this reaction to the tempering influence of the ASA. Those Junk Science jokers (why’d they drop the ‘?’ ?) have also adopted the tactic of subverting the concept of free expression, objecting to what they present as censorship by sceptics who brought the ASA’s attention to the flagrant advertising in its favourite QuackRag. Note the tactics: Big Pharma shill conspiracy; accusations of fabrication and erroneousness (which constitute a refusal to recognise ASA impartiality), and of wilful denial of choice and information beneficial to health. Presenting themselves as the real, rational sceptics, genuinely challenging ‘mainstream medical mythology.’

It would be interesting to learn whether the scientifically and medically trained Jessica Braid views (to unnecessarily qualify) ‘mainstream’ medicine so.


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