So you’ve seen a dodgy advert…

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I get loads of emails and Facebook messages from strangers telling me about dodgy advertising they’ve discovered that they think breaches the CAP codes, as though the idea that people make false claims in adverts is shocking and new. Sadly it isn’t, and even before I was involved with the Righteous Indignation Podcast (through which people know me best) I was submitting complaints about adverts that made evidenceless claims. Before I received abuse from podcast listeners and, more recently, Christians for my skeptical approach to the claims of others, it was psychic healers and homeopaths abusing and threatening me because I had made complaints about them.

I think it’s great that people are seeing these adverts, realising something isn’t right and that it needs addressing – but it’s not through emailing me that you can take the appropriate action. So I’ve created this:

Hayley’s quick guide to busting bogus ads

Step one: go and install the Fishbarrel plug in created by Simon Perry to aid the submission on complaints about online advertising. Seriously, it saves you so much time with the ASA and Trading Standards online complaints form, and also highlights adverts that have already been complained about by other Fishbarrel users.

Step two: Sign up to email newsletters from The Nightingale Collaboration.

Step three: Read about the experiences of others who submit complaints regularly. Visit the Skeptic Letter blog and Josephine Jones’ blog to name two of many.

Tips:

– Always take a leaflet or cut the advert out. If you can’t then take a photo. It’s best not to confront the advertiser there and then because things can (and do) turn malicious, fast.
– Always Google the people responsible for the advert and see if the same claims are made online too. Internet advertising now falls under the Remit of the ASA so it’s always worth using Fishbarrel.
– Remember that testimonials used on websites can count as false advertising – I have included the use of testimonials on many ASA complaints which have been upheld.
– It’s important to remember that when you submit a complaint you will always remain anonymous unless you should choose to come forward and expose yourself as the complainant.
– It’s probably best to remain anonymous to avoid abuse. This is something I wish I had done from the very start.

Please note: although I complained to the ASA about ‘Healing on the Streets’ in Bath, the adjudication to the case only covered the Bath group. If you think your local group are breaching the CAP codes in the same way then don’t tell me, make your own complaint!

Respect is earned: A follow on

After writing my initial blog post about the complaint group on Facebook, I got into a discussion on the group wall about what the creator of the group felt was being misinterpreted by the BBC that warranted a complaint. Here is the dialogue:

Hayley: Could you explain what you mean about them not having a concept of what mediumship is? What is mediumship and how did they misrepresent it? I’m genuinely confused. Thanks.

Sam: Mediumship is not fortune telling. Mediumship is communicating with the dead. Personally I don’t believe that mediums are able to see the future. I was referring to the terminology that the BBC used.

Hayley: what terminology did the BBC use?

Sam: On the programme, mediums were referred to as fortune tellers, which is not true. They also attempted to bring horoscopes into the mix, which has nothing to do with mediums. The BBC obviously didn’t research this.

Hayley: If there will always be people who claim to be mediums while also doing tarot cards and psychic readings and healing and such, doesn’t that mean that something needs to be done to regulate who uses the term ‘medium’ when they sell services? How have the BBC abused the definition of the word, if there are people who claim to be mediums doing the very same thing?

Sam: The word medium describes a go-between, a channel between worlds. Nothing more, nothing less. If someone can display mediumship through testing, like for example the practical SNU testing, then they are a medium.

Hayley: I am questioning, though, the ‘misrepresentation’ you claim the BBC made, when in fact, every day, people who claim to be mediums also make that misrepresentation…

Sam: The world is full of misrepresentation, which is why I am endeavouring to educate people, regardless of their belief, what mediums do.

Hayley: but you’re blaming the BBC for that? When the misinterpretation actually has its roots in the medium and psychic industries? Why? Why wouldn’t sorting out who claims to be a medium or psychic take priority? Is it even something that can be sorted out?

I genuinely do not believe that it is the BBC’s fault for using the ‘fortune teller’ definition of mediumship when, actually, mediums represent it in such a manner in the first place.

As I mentioned in the last article, the SNU self-regulate the mediumship industry, with people choosing to be regulated by the SNU – it isn’t independent regulation, and the definition of mediumship from the SNU is the one they’ve chosen to use, but it isn’t set in stone and it isn’t compulsory for all mediums to use that definition.

Instead of blaming the BBC for using the “wrong definition”, I think that the mediumship industry should take a hard look at itself as it’s exactly where the problem of misrepresentation comes from.

The Q-link pendant

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Update: TheCharmQuark has brought this article on BadScience about the Q-link to my attention that confirms my inital thoughts.

On March 1st, online advertising fell into the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority. Before they could only investigate paid for advertising in the form of pop ups or banners on websites but now they can cover marketing messages on websites, marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under the advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and marketing communications on all UK websites, regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation. This is pretty good news because before this change many people who were making dubious claims and selling products or services that were potentially misleading or illegal could advertise online without being challenged, now that isn’t the case.

I recently interviewed Alan Henness of The Nightingale Collaboration about this change. The collaboration are using the new remit of the ASA to start tackling the claims that alternative medicine practitioners make online where they were exempt from regulation before the remit change. You should head to their website and see if you can help because you might be surprised at the change one person can make.

I, on the other hand used the change on March 1st to complain about a product I had seen on sale on a paranormal equipment website called ‘Toms Gadgets’ for the last two years (possibly longer) that I knew had nonsense claims attached to it which now fell into the remit of the ASA.

The product is called ‘The Q-link classic Pendant’ and the site states:

“This is the classic Q-Link which its makers claim counteracts the effects EMFs have on our bodies.

Every day, our biofields are negatively impacted by flickering computer monitors, irate bosses, cell phones, emotional stress, tabloid television, and traffic jams. We are literally bombarded with frequencies that wear us down. That’s why it is essential to recharge.

Q-Link products tune up your biofield through a resonant effect that harmonizes your energy and helps you to navigate smoothly through a stressful world. Think of them like tuning forks that remind your biofield of its optimal functioning state. Worldly stress causes the biofield to become more chaotic and incoherent. The Q-Link reverses this process, ensuring efficiency, harmony, and balance.”

The underlined text was what I complained about as I felt they were claims that could not be backed up or proven – I mean, what the heck is a biofield and how does one charge it?

The product as seen on the site

I submitted a compalint to the ASA stating:

On the site I have linked to the advert for the product states:

“Q-Link products tune up your biofield through a resonant effect that harmonizes your energy and helps you to navigate smoothly through a stressful world. Think of them like tuning forks that remind your biofield of its optimal functioning state. Worldly stress causes the biofield to become more chaotic and incoherent. The Q-Link reverses this process, ensuring efficiency, harmony, and balance. ”

I do not believe this to be a factual claim, They do not demonstrate how it “reminds your biofield of its optimal functioning state” or even if that is possible. They do not even explain what a “biofield” is and I think this is a made up term.

It also suggests that the environment we are all exposed to can have a harmful effect and I feel that people may be fooled into thinking they’re in danger with this claim:

“Every day, our biofields are negatively impacted by flickering computer monitors, irate bosses, cell phones, emotional stress, tabloid television, and traffic jams. We are literally bombarded with frequencies that wear us down. That’s why it is essential to recharge.”

I think they are preying on peoples fear that things such as electricity pylons and mobile phone masts etc. can harm people through ‘Electromagnetic hypersensetivity’ when this has been shown not to be the case.”

I have today received a reply from the ASA that states that they are dealing with my complaint under their formal investigations procedure, which is GREAT news!

I have a feeling that Tomsgadgets will reply that they don’t have to prove the product works because they buy it from a supplier and, on their site state:

“This is the classic Q-Link which its makers claim counteracts the effects EMFs have on our bodies.”

Which is why today, knowing that the ASA agree that the claims on the Tomsgadgets website about the Q-link pendant require evidence to support them, I have submitted a complaint to the ASA about each claim being made on the website of ‘Q-link pendants’ who supply the range of products that the one sold on ‘Toms Gadgets’ is part of. On their site they claim:

“The Q-Link may, among other benefits, increase physical stamina, reduce stress, increase ability to focus and reduce the effect of jet lag. Crucially, it may help the body protect itself from the environmental stresses of EMF.”

and

“The technology contained in the QLink is called Sympathetic Resonance Technology. SRT is engineered from a scientific field called ’subtle energy’. We are discovering how subtle energy refinement can make quantum electromagnetic, chemical and biological phenomena more functional. Since 1991, Clarus has been developing and testing this technology.

To examine whether the responses we see in the QLink are simply placebo responses, double-blind, controlled, and in vitro studies have been and are being conducted at some of the finest institutes in the world, including Stanford University, USA, Imperial College, London and the institute of Cancer at the University of Vienna”

and,

“The study of brain changes in 24 normal adults, conducted by Dr Rodney Croft, at the Brain & Behaviour Research Institute at the University of Wollongong, Australia, in collaboration with the Dept of Cognitive Neuroscience and Behaviour at Imperial College Medical School, London and the department of Psychology at Coventry University, England, indicated that wearing the Q-Link reduced the effects of active mobile phones on human brain cells.”

It sounds impressive, however, a little digging into the study conducted shows that it was only a pilot study and that the conclusion isn’t a concrete one (as no peer review has taken place, as far as I can find).

I also had a problem with the following quote taken from the study literature as, to me, it reads as though they are claiming the technology in q-link products works but can’t be proven to as science isn’t advanced enough yet, which looks like goalposts being shifted to me…

“It is argued by the developer that this EMF acts as a carrier wave for subatomic ‘information’, and that this information assists in strengthening an organism’s resilience to stressors. However, there are a number of elements to the above theory that are not verifiable (some because critical details have not been made available by the developer, and others because science does not have the requisite tools at present).

I will keep visitors to my blog updated with the response I recieve from both the ‘Tomsgadgets complaint’ and the ‘Q-link complaint’ as I hear from the ASA. I’m willing to see evidence provided that proves these products really do what the manufactuers and providers claim they do, but I’m not holding my breath.