Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A busy retirement: Loretta Marron, CEO FoSiM

A shy, retiring stay-at-home person the new CEO of "Friends of Science in Medicine" (FoSiM) is not, twice being declared "Australia Skeptic of the Year", appearing on TV and being written up in the media.
She become well known by Australian media, a 2009 piece, "Loretta Marron, Health Hero, On Australia’s A Current Affair", describes her as "a science graduate with a business background".

The Sunday Mail, the weekend edition of the QLD Courier Mail, published a long (1000+ wd) profile on 15-Jan 2012, ten days before the media release that created a storm on interest. The next day, local radio station, 4BC, in "Debunking Myths", also "caught up with Loretta Marron, Inaugural CEO, Friends of Science in Medicine, ...". The new CEO seems well known and well liked by her home-town media.

The Sunday Mail piece, "Campaigner ready to take on the quacks", anticipating the FoSiM release,  starts with the synopsis:
ARMED with critical thinking and humour, Queensland scientist and sceptic Loretta Marron has attracted both praise and derision in her fight against modern-day quackery.
From the article:
Science is her weapon and protecting vulnerable, often terminally ill, people is her motivation.

Marron, a physicist with more than 20 years' experience in computer science, has devoted years of her retirement to challenging the claims of alternative health practitioners and complementary medicines.

In her quest to rid the marketplace of dodgy pseudo-medical devices, she lobbies Australia's oft-besieged watchdog, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), for regulatory reform.

Marron's campaigning led to 31 medical devices being cancelled last year and nine in 2010.
The sentiment echoes through her campaigns, waged entirely from the bush-buffered Queenslander at Burpengary, north of Brisbane, she is renovating with Gavin, her husband of 32 years.

"If it's not right, I have to act," Marron says, leaning forward to unconsciously emphasise her earnestness.
So, Marron compiled and distributed a booklet listing sources of credible information and telephone services to patients, surgeries and support groups.
She had found her calling. Humorous stunts became her trademark.

Marron garnered national media attention as the Jelly Bean Lady ...
This month Marron became chief executive officer (CEO) of the newly formed Friends of Science in Medicine, a group of medical and scientific specialists and consumer advocates, formed in response to Australian tertiary facilities introducing studies in "unproven alternative therapies such as 'fundamentalist' chiropractic, homeopathy, iridology, naturopathy, acupuncture and 'energy medicine'."
Marron almost off-handedly refers to her full-time, self-funded pursuit as the equivalent of Gavin's obsession with veteran and vintage cars.
FoSiM was wrtiten up in the well respected daily paper, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), two days after the media release: "Scientists urge unis to axe alternative medicine courses".
Prof. Dwyer, described as "co-founder", spoke for the group. A week or so later, an on-line Poll was run on the topic following a "News Review" feature/discussion on the topic.

The SMH Poll was "gamed" by FoSiM supporters, creating a furore and written up two weeks later: "Vote on alternative medicine falls victim to dark arts of the internet".  An inauspicious and perhaps overly zealous start?

Loretta Marron describes herself on the I2P site as:
"a science graduate with a business background, was Australian Skeptic of the Year for 2007 and in 2011. She edits the website"

On this, her main and a sister site, senior years, Marron notes her qualifications: "Loretta Marron BSc Assoc Dip Bus(Accnt) AAII MACS"
MACS: Member of ACS (Australian Computer Society).
AAII:  Associate of Australian Insurance Institute. (presumably)

Confusingly, she also describes herself as "retired scientist" [from Australia or Queensland and sometimes also 'business woman'], whilst the few Google Scholar publications listed for "Marron, LJ" or "Mutton, LJ" only occur after her TGA campaign begins.

The main website promotes just one piece/publication of hers,  a 2009 "A Current Affair" segment where she is both on-camera and credited as "going undercover":  "A Current Affair - exposing Cancer Quacks".

It appears that Marron's husband also shares her retirement passion and interest, apparently not just "veteran and vintage cars", a fact overlooked in the various profiles and bio's:

Her husband wrote to the TGA in August 2010, responding to its consultation on advertising arrangements. His style and a detailed 20-point list of questions/points raised closely reflect Marron's own style. His 2 page letter opens:
When a therapeutic good is accepted onto the ARTG, this good may be purchased by 100 practitioners, who may use them on 100 patients per year. In a one year period this equates to 10,000 consultations that have been paid for by patients which give them false and misleading, potentially harmful, health information.
From 2009, in the comments section of an Adelaide Now article, Marron's spouse first comments with detailed knowledge, as good or better as hers.  Again, their writing styles and content closely reflect one another. Perhaps the outcome of 32 years of marriage? :

Gavin Mutton of Queensland Posted at 1:41 PM July 07, 2009
 Pharmacy owners are leading the way in selling placebo products in their 'natural' remedies section. It's easy money for them. Studies now show that glucosamine hydrochloride, promensil (red clover) and Gingko are all failing to show any benefit. Ear Candles are banned in Canada and detox(and detox pads) are nonsense. These are one of the most trusted professionals in Australia and they put profit over patient well-being. It is not OK to sell placebos - and they know that what works and what doesn't. Some herbal remedies are fantastic, but most of them don't provide any benefit. As for Alternative Therapies - where is the evidence? A panadol and a bit of TLC work just as well (if not better). 
Comment 47 of 52

 Loretta Marron of Queensland Posted at 2:35 PM July 07, 2009
 On March 16, 2009, the NPS announced that following a six month study by 20 complementary experts from around Australia, that they had identified 'highest quality complementary medicines resources'. As the Tier One recommended sites, including the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Medicines Database, are subscription, it's just a matter of time (a year perhaps) before they are available to all consumers and health practitioners. It is a bit sad that pharmacists don't pay for access because then consumers would be able to make informed choices when buying their non-prescription drugs. As for Alternative Therapists - all I can say is there is only one type of therapist that should be offering health care, and that is one who practices a therapy that is scientifically proven to work. Sadly this is currently not the case (anecdotal evidence, for health, is not appropriate)- so it's 'buyer beware. '
Comment 48 of 52

An article in The Australian, July 2011, "The chiro kids":
A lot of these practitioners think these devices work," says Marron.
"They care about people - if they were nurses, they'd be great. But they're getting ripped off, they're investing tens of thousands of dollars in a device they think will help their patients.
The practitioners aren't my enemy.
My enemy is the TGA for not regulating [the devices] properly".
Seems at direct odds with a piece in Crikey! the year before [2010], "McGrath Foundation should break their ties with Blackmores" where she is aggressively lobbying against a local manufacturer, not the TGA.

Marron repeatedly uses the phrase "At my urging, ..." about academics and medical experts who have represented her views to organisations.

From the Crikey! piece, some more insights into and commentary on Marron, and that she isn't only campaigning against the TGA:
If she hadn't earned a physics degree and spent 20 years working in
computer science,
Marron could have made a career in comedy.
From her home at Burpengary, an hour north of Brisbane,
  this motor-mouthed 59-year-old has spent the past five years waging a one-woman fatwa against:
  • the Blakoe Energiser,
  • the Bioptron,
  • the Vega,
  • the QXCI,
  • the Bicom 2000 and
  • sundry other dubious devices sold in the name of natural healthcare.
Marron's stunt-activism ... (Jelly Beans as effective as magnets)
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has delisted dozens of devices Marron lodged complaints about, forcing hundreds of alternative practitioners to stop advertising them.

But her campaign took a new turn later last year after she learnt that Australian chiropractors were treating children for allergies, ADHD and a range of other complaints.

Marron was shocked that RMIT University in Melbourne - one of only three universities in Australia authorised to train registered chiropractors - operated a suburban clinic that treated children.

In March she enlisted 11 scientists, including Ian Frazer and John Dwyer, to put their names to a letter demanding that the Gillard Government close the clinic.
Marron had been published before [2009] in Crikey!, "Quacks, charlatans and witch doctors", with the description "a former Australian Sceptic of the Year". She starts this piece with some confusing and unsupported claims written not in a logical, rational, scientific style, but in the emotive, sensationalist tabloid style. What's of particular concern is her absolutist, "they all do this", statements. There are no modifiers, such as "some" or "in my opinion" or "my belief". It's stirring copy, but does it befit her status as a scientifically-driven sceptic or even pave the way for defamation actions?
Alternative therapists are spreading unchecked and unchallenged into the heart of our communities.
Trumpeting the benefits of tradition, these unregulated and uninsured health practitioners are setting up makeshift clinics everywhere from under homes in quiet backstreets to glamorous high street locations.

Offering holistic treatments they don white coats and claim they can cure nearly every real and imaginary health condition with an inexhaustible and continually mutating toolbox of scientifically implausible treatments and remedies.
In April, 2011, Australian Doctor also wrote of Marron and her 'chiro kids' campaign in "Blurring the lines":
 Last month, Loretta Marron, a former Australian Skeptic of the Year and one-woman crusader for science, wrote to the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon, urging her to shut down RMIT's paediatric clinic in Bundoora,
 Her 20-page submission ...
Marron, in her first article for "I2P" (Information to Pharmacists), "Hiring Harry Potter?" May 2008, a magazine edited by a management-consultant turned pharmacist outside Lismore, wrote of herself:
Loretta Marron BSc
From a Skeptics Perspective

Issue 71: May 2008

Physics major, cancer survivor, researcher – that’s me.
Filling in for Nutritionist Stuart Adams who has his nose in a textbook as he pounds the pavement at his local Uni.
I don’t know much about medicine but I’m not too bad with the science.
One of my favourite topics is about ‘Energy’ healing modalities.
I can’t help it; I just love my Physics.

In January this year I was published in the Medical Journal of Australia (1) as I have an interest in herbal remedies.
I’ve also attended courses at Bond Uni on Evidence Based Medicine and Cochrane, so for my first article, I thought I’d talk about sex.

1. Commercialism, choice and consumer protection: regulation of complementary medicines in Australia
In a retrospective/summary piece for I2P, Feb 2011, covering seven years of effort, "The Terror of the TGA", Marron says of herself:
Despite a career as a computer professional, I too remained frustrated with the TGAs website, but drawn to the challenge that there might be something useful in it for consumers, I persevered.

A year passed before my persistence was rewarded when I stumbled upon the primitive Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) database.  Consisting of little more than a list of numbers, products and sponsors, to my delight it included a basic search facility.  If I was to prove that the TGA was endorsing thousands of placebos, it was all I needed.
Marron points in this piece to a restricted webpage, "Call to de-list natural therapies" [Nov 2006], where she self-describes as "a retired scientist from Queensland" and is quoted as saying:
the system meant the TGA was giving fake legitimacy to remedies with no basis in science, such as homeopathy. (sic)
In February 2012, the editor and possibly owner, of I2P, Neil Johnston wrote a piece very supportive of Marron and the "Friends of Science in Medicine" initiative.
Johnston and I2P are to be commended for publishing a balancing viewpoint in the same issue. Although attributed to "staff writer" in I2P, the piece by Evelin Tiralongo of Griffith Uni was first published in "The Conversation": "Why universities should teach alternative medicine".

I found Marron's reply/comment on Tiralongo's piece intemperate and more assertion/accusation as favoured by tabloids than measured, rational and scientific, as you'd expect from an acclaimed sceptic [formatted for clarity]:
Submitted by Loretta Marron on Thu, 09/02/2012 - 09:07.

Government funded 'Faith healing' has no place in medical or health related degrees.

The real questions that no-one who supports quackery is prepared to answer are:
  •  "Should tertiary institutions be teaching homeopathy, iridology, tactile healing, reiki, reflexology, kinesiology, 'fundamentalist' chiropractic and 'energy medicine' as belief systems?"
  • "Should they be indoctrinating 17 year olds (as first year students) that "innate intelligence", qi, meridians and chakras as a fact?", and
  • "Should we be paying for these services in our health funds?"
If it is 'allied health' (such as hypnotherapy and massage) call it that, instead of CAM, which is an umbrella that covers all sorts of nonsense.

Of course test herbal remedies in universities but why not put "Trick or Treatment" (Ernst & Singh) as a text for all health students (some universities are already doing so) - so that students can learn about CAM from Prof. Edzard Ernst the first Chair of CAM in the world, instead of from texts full of mumbo-jumbo.
 Johnston began his piece with:
A powerful group (The Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM)) comprised of medical academics and interested professionals has sprung into existence under the guidance of CEO Loretta Marron  (Australian Skeptic of the Year 2011), Professor Alastair MacLennan, Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, Professor Rob Morrison and Professor Marcello Costa and a cast of 400 Australian and international names.

The aim of this group is to directly challenge those universities that provide education and degrees to support some health disciplines, not deemed to be evidence-based.

This is in effect, a full-frontal confrontation to the universities that appear on the "naughty list (and there are quite a number).

It will also be confrontational to government and the agencies involved with regulating and monitoring the various health disciplines.
Notably, this was the only place I could find an unabridged copy of the 500+ word "Media Release" dated 24-Jan 2012, put out by FoSiM, "Quack Treatments Duck for Cover".

Johnston helpfully provided links to important FoSiM documents, saved on his site:
 The "Invitation" is undated, though dates in the PDF file are 30-Dec 2011 and 28-Jan 2012.
It is signed by "Executives of Friends of Science in Medicine" without Marron identified as CEO,
  • Loretta Marron,
  • Prof. Marcello Costa
  • Prof. John Dwyer
  • Prof. Alastair MacLennan
  • Prof. Rob Morrison.
The letter begins with:
Our Vision Statement:
"To reverse the current trend which sees government-funded tertiary institutions offering health care ‘science’ courses not based on scientific principles nor supported by scientific evidence”.
An unnamed PhD candidate researching "gut disorders", possibly in Adelaide, wrote a very supportive piece: "New ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’ combating pseudoscience in Australian universities", but then, strangely, had to follow it up with this piece:

Wow! Friends of Science in Medicine certainly got lots of people Googling for more information. FSM really should get their own website explaining their principles, so everyone who’s looking for information isn’t getting it from second-hand sources, such as the news, blogs, and their opponents. Plus then the public could go there to vent their spleen, rather than on my little blog. [Update: looks like FSM are discussing creating a website]
Links are provided to Facebook and LinkedIn groups for FoSiM. However, attempting to contact FoSiM via them or join the groups got me no response.

The press and discussion on FoSiM has led to many replies, rebuttals and comment - and interestingly, a backlash from some sectors of mainstream medicine. A selection:
Some Herbologists opined that "Professor Dwyer sounds like he is more interested in a witch hunt than evidence."

All this leaves me with questions about Loretta Marron and her motivations.
  • Just what is Marron's background and expertise?
    She has no on-line CV, Publication list or Bio and makes a number of different claims about her expertise and working life.
    The scientists I worked for and with at CSIRO and ANU would've taken umbrage if I used my BSc to claim "I am a scientist".
    As a strident and vociferous critic of others, especially calling for "Science in Medicine", this issue is very important. It calls into question her understanding of "Science", the meaning of "scientist" and the standards she expects of others.
    Allowing herself to be described as "a physicist" when there is no public support is equally unrealistic.
    Marron not only has to demonstrate exceptional integrity, but unreproachable behaviour and unimpeachable credentials to be credible and respected in her campaign. Otherwise she is just another nutter from Queensland wanting attention for herself and pursuing a rather destructive agenda without apparent purpose or public benefit.
    • As a sub-issue, does she ever pass herself off as her husband, or does he equally share her interest, passion and expertise?
      It'd be good if they were a team, but where's the evidence??
      I'm sure the TGA, and possibly AFP, would be unimpressed if she used another identity.
  • Just who is funding "Friends of Science in Medicine"?
    and, as CEO, is this a paid or honorary position for her? The ACCC gives CEO a very specific meaning: both Board Member and the most senior employee. Employees are by definition, paid.
    This issue goes to the heart of independence and transparency/good governance: FoSiM need to publicly declare their sponsors and funding sources to meet these standards.
    Marron is well aware of the problems of Conflict of Interest and transparency, having a "Zero Product Advertising Policy" on her websites.
  • If FoSiM is a modern Association wanting to be taken seriously, where is its on-line presence?
    Marron declared she worked "in Computer Science" for 20 years, presumably to imply competence in I.T. and web. She also publicly denigrated the TGA's public database as "primitive" in her "Terror of the TGA" piece.
    Calls for good on-line documents are even coming from FoSiM's supporters.
    As CEO, Marron is directly responsible for the public launch of the Association, preparations for that (DNS name, website hosting, contents, ...) and hiring folk to execute an suitably professional site available on launch day.
    That Marron doesn't understand these issues, or rate them of importance, is demonstrated by their total absence.
    A single "bigpond" email address is not a credible professional operation.
  • Is FoSiM just one person, working from home without pay?Her Courier Mail profile lacks any mention of associates and staff.
    Is this whole thing just Marron engaging in a media beat-up and outrageous self-promotion?
  • Marron demonstrated in her Crikey! piece that she has considerable networking and self-promotion skills and a fine ability to influence and persuade academics, researchers and medical experts to support her position and campaigns.
    Is FoSiM just the latest and largest version of this?
  • Is Marron and FoSiM a 2012 rerun of Sheryle Moon and "Alliance of Australian Retailers" in 2010?
    Articles: SMH, ABC radio, Lateline.
    AAR Website and Disclosure statement:
    • We are supported by:
      • British American Tobacco Australia Limited (ACN 000 151 100);
      • Philip Morris Limited (ACN 004 694 428); and
      •  Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited (ACN 088 148 681).
      •  Authorised by R. Stanton for the Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd (ACN 145 378 589) of 14 Ross Street, North Parramatta, NSW, 2151.
All my concerns and questions can be summed up simply:
Show me the same Evidence about yourself and "Friends of Science in Medicine" that you are demanding of others.

Steve Jenkin.
PO Box 48, Kippax ACT 2615.
(m) 0412 786 915.

Created:  Wed 15 Feb 2012 17:46:22 EST. ~3000 words.

Statement of Interests:
I am not, nor ever have been. a medical practitioner, mainstream or Complementary/Alternative.
Nor do I have a financial or business interest in any organisation or association related to Medicine or Health issues.

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