Publication Date 01/07/2014         Volume. 6 No. 6   
Information to Pharmacists

Editorial

From the desk of the editor

Welcome to the July 2014 homepage edition of i2P (Information to Pharmacists) E-Magazine.
At the commencement of 2014 i2P focused on the need for the entire profession of pharmacy and its associated industry supports to undergo a renewal and regeneration.
We are now half-way through this year and it is quite apparent that pharmacy leaders do not yet have a cohesive and clear sense of direction.
Maybe the new initiative by Woolworths to deliver clinical service through young pharmacists and nurses may sharpen their focus.
If not, community pharmacy can look forward to losing a substantial and profitable market share of the clinical services market.
Who would you blame when that happens?
But I have to admit there is some effort, even though the results are but meagre.
In this edition of i2P we focus on the need for research about community pharmacy, the lack of activity from practicing pharmacists and when some research is delivered, a disconnect appears in its interpretation and implementation.

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Are Blackmores blatantly behaving like blaggards?

Loretta Marron OAM BSc

articles by this author...

From a Skeptics Perspective: Loretta Marron, a science graduate with a business background, was Australian Skeptic of the Year for 2007 and in 2011. She is the Chief Executive Officer of the Friends of Science in Medicine and that organisation won Australian Skeptic of the Year for 2012. On Australia Day 2014 she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM ) for "service to community health"  Loretta edits the websites www.healthinformation.com.au & www.scienceinmedicine.org.au

Some complementary medicines (CM)'s have clinically proven benefits and I will freely admit that I don't mind experimenting with the occasional natural product. 
So when asked what brands I would buy I have been known to mention Blackmores. 
But that's all changed now, after what appears to be an act of treachery, they will never deserve my support again.

In 2008, I was invited to be part of a team that spent six months investigating worldwide CM resources to identify a short list that health professionals and consumers could refer to " with confidence". 
One of the databases selected was the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
, a subscription website  used by over 100,000 Australians. 
It even lists some of Blackmores products. 
When my friends want to try a new remedy, I look up their relevant monograph and send it to them so at least I know that they are "making informed choices".

The active ingredients in plants vary from their leaves, bark, seeds, flowers, roots, stems and fruit. 
It varies on where the plant is grown, the time of year it is grown and the species of plant. 
This means that two different brands of the same CM may be considerably different. 
If you buy the herb from China you may not even be getting the right ingredients and it could even be laced with a
prescription drug,  faecal matter or pesticide. 

It's a case of buyer beware. 

Blackmores have over 350 products listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration. 
On the positive side they do not appear to promote homeopathic remedies. 
When a CM is found to be harmful,  such as Hawthorn and Black Cohosh, it even seems to disappear from their range. 
On the other hand, if a CM is found to be useless, but may not be harmful, it continues to be sold. 

So even if a product is a placebo or has insufficient research, provided it may not be dangerous, it is important to me that people at least know this and that they get what they pay for.
 

As one of the five founding members of the 'Friends of Science in Medicine' (FSM), following a Sydney Morning Herald's article about us, I was watching their associated poll "Should universities teach alternative medicine?"   

After four days, the Poll was ticking along slowly and the "No" votes were running at 84%.

Being on the email list of CM organisations has the advantage of keeping me informed as to what is happening with herbal research.  You can imagine my surprise when I received a personal email, from what appeared to be from Blackmores that asked:

 "are you passionate about complementary medicine education? 
Support university education in complementary medicine.  
The Sydney Morning Herald is currently running an online poll on whether or not natural medicine should be taught in universities.
If you are passionate about Complementary Medicine, can you please take a minute and vote YES today."

I then received another personal email from what appeared to be from Justin Howden the Political and Consumer Affairs Director of the Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia!

This one was far worse.

It stated:

"I think we need to send this viral and we have til tomorrow.
I have sent to the Board and they are onto it, and the Marketing and Communications Committee also.  We need to fight fire with fire.......ie get viral and please send to all staff/colleagues and ask them to vote (hopefully yes) asap.

The smaller the gap we can engineer the less fuel for the "Friends of Science in Medicine". 
Happy to discuss but time is of the essence, anyone we can forward this to we should!!"

I noticed that the morning after these emails went out that the votes dropped from 84% to 54%.

The evidence that these emails did in fact come from the stated sources was borne out by an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in which the journalist had researched the origins of them and declared them to be legitimate.

This article pursued the topic of poll manipulation with some vigour, and it is worth reading to see what lengths those who insist that they follow "scientific and evidence-based methodology" will go to distort the truth when it suits them.

I searched the internet to find that vote gaming was apparently being conducted by Reflexology Australia,  the  National Institute of Integrative Medicine and the anti-vaccination website, and the AVN.

The National Herbalist Association website were also spreading misinformation and stated:

"A significant number of researchers and Doctors are pulling out of FSM as they feel they were 'hoodwinked' and weren't aware of the full picture.  It is anticipated that even more members will withdraw in the next few weeks."

That was news to me.  
As the CEO of FSM I can categorically declare that, during the poll, the numbers of FSM supporters continued to steadily climb as we headed for our 500th supporter.

The FSM has a vision statement:

"to reverse the current trend which sees government funded tertiary institutions offer courses in health care science that are not based on scientific principles or supported by scientific evidence".

We are not trying to stop public access to alternative therapies provided that the public is fully informed about the lack of, or minimal evidence for, safety and efficacy of these alleged treatments and we are in favour of discussing the place of alternative therapies, their placebo effect and the testing of these therapies in well-designed trials.

There is an overwhelming amount of paranoid scaremongering that the FSM hates all CM's and is banning its research, whereas we are more about challenging the teaching of alternative belief systems as if they were evidence-based, and the pretence that pseudoscience is actually science and has followed its well understood methodology.
Many of these spurious treatments could legitimately be placed in theology, but are positioned under the umbrella of health. 
Change the discipline to put them under religion and we have no complaints.

It begs the question as to why all these organisations are trying to undermine what we are trying to achieve.
Could it be that they know that many of their therapies or CM's don't work? 
It would seem so!

Return to home

Submitted by setve jenkin on Wed, 11/07/2012 - 16:23.

Marron is considerably less than honest in her reporting of the gaming of the Poll.
The SMH felt moved to write an article on this: it was highly unusual and, for them, highly disturbing behaviour. But Marron makes no mention of this.

She withheld the two most important facts, for me, from the SMH artilce:

1. "The end result was 70 per cent no, 30 per cent yes."
[ie. the crude attempt from Blackmoore et al was unsuccessful]

2. "The number of votes in the poll was about eight times more than the number of online readers of the story, a clear indicator that the poll had been gamed.
Fairfax technical staff said the poll logs all but confirmed that the voting had been manipulated."

==> After she saw a successful but unsophisticated attack on the "NO" vote, 'magically" the situation was reversed with poll gaming that was sophisticated enough that the SMH techs couldn't identify the source in their logs, unlike the simplistic "YES" votes from Blackmoore's et al.

Marron is a self-confessed technical wiz as are a number of her fellows from Australian Skeptics Inc. We've no way of knowing if any of them took part in this sophisticated "poll gaming", but we absolutely know that the poll was gamed for both "Yes" and "No" votes and Blackmoore's et al "Yes" vote was relatively crude and traceable.

I find it more than disingenuous that Marron doesn't comment on the final outcome of the poll or that supporters of the FoSiM position were far more "evil" in their approach, probably illegal hacking if done programatically.

Again Marron doesn't mention that FoSiM's Founder, John Dwyer, was approached by the SMH to comment on the poll and it being gamed...

Dwyer was appalled and surprised.

But not Ms Marron, despite her obvious technical knowledge and proficiency.

Does this mean she didn't read the full SMH article, didn't notice they'd won, didn't understand the import of the whole article and its various questions, didn't think it was very strange of "her team" suddenly and untraceably surged ahead, simply ignored inconvenient statements and questions or did she know much, much more about this illegal hacking?

All we know if that she ignored what I regard as the most important, pertinent facts of the story that carry very serious implications of amorality and illegal actions.

If I'd been on the "NO" side and noticed the opposition were gaming the poll - and had the interest, tools and lack of morals to do some sophisticated hacking - I'd have manipulated the result to be "just a win", NOT the better than 2:1 landslide it finished at...

An even more convincing outcome would've been to NOT game the poll with illegal hacking, just bring the crude attempts from Blackmoore's to the attention of the SMH, suggest they write their article on poll gaming, identify the culprits (as was done) AND to remove all the suspect votes and republish the poll with a credible win for "NO'.

==> that approach would've been wholly legal and produced two wins, one on the corrected poll plus a moral victory against Blackmoore's et al.

I can't believe that anyone without a very strong interest in the topic, which is FoSiM vs Everyone Else, could be bothered or motivated to game a poll in this way.

How could the large-scale, untracable "NO" vote be anything _other_ than the work of FoSiM 'Friends'?? I can't see why anyone else would undertake such alarming illegal hacking, but then, I don't claim omniscience and would love to understand this.

It would also explain why Marron ONLY mention one this side of the affair, but so would many other things like bigotry, bias and "spin doctoring".

None of which bring Marron or her little "Friends" any credit.

I find what she's purposefully omitted from this article to be damning. Or was that just incompetence?

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