Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Friends of Science in Medicine": Credibility, Claims and Transparency

Yesterday I wrote up what I'd been able to find out on the web about "Friends of Science in Medicine" (FoSiM) - but it only begs more questions without any good answers. For a lobby group espousing the Scientific method in its very name and demanding the highest standards of evidence and rigour of others, this absence of transparency, rigour and completeness should be anathema. That it hasn't been addressed in a month starts to suggest this is no accident.

It's a long piece (3,000 wds) and, disturbingly, I could find few hard facts, only rather a lot of uncorroborated snippets. It's mostly "all smoke and mirrors".

Monday 30th January, 2012, I heard Fran Kelly of ABC Radio National, interview Prof. John Dwyer and Dr. Kerryn Phelps in "New lobby opposes teaching alternative medicine" and audio download.

Really interesting and important stuff, more so that someone whom I respect and consider a 'serious' journalist should seek to interview a former professor of Medicine and Oncology [in places falsely attributed as "Cervical Cancer Vaccine creator" - that was Ian Frazer, also a member of FoSiM] and an ex-President of the AMA and a very high-profile leader of "Integrative Medicine" in Australia.

I jumped on the 'Net and tried to find out more, but drew a blank.
Even though there has now been significant coverage in the mainstream media and a veritable barrage on-line, it's very difficult to get any information, let alone good answers, on anything to do with this lobby group.

Even something as simple as: "Who are you and what do you stand for?"
On-line, they are a vague, shadowy, even slippery group.

The ASIC "National Names" database has them incorporated in NSW (INC9896756) on 13-Feb 2012, which isn't consistent with the claim from "Quack Treatments Duck for Cover" republished/included by Neil Johnston.
It is all welcome news to the Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM), an Australian organisation formed in December of 2011...


If you casually search the media for "Friends of Science in Medicine", you'll find the phrase "John Dwyer, co-founder", but nobody else mentioned.
Digging finds a well known "Stunt Activist", Loretta Marron (or Mutton), both 'an Executive' and apparently CEO of the group. Is this The Power behind The Throne? I wasn't able to tell.

Important questions, especially for a high-profile Lobby Group in Health, one of our most sensitive and critical social and political areas, are unanswerable:
  • Exactly, what do you stand for?
    • Not an vague "Vision Statement", but something detailed and concrete.
  • Who are the people making decisions and taking action?
  • Who are the members?
  • What are the membership eligibility criteria?
  • What does membership entail?
  • How does the (registered) Association function?
    •  Decide it Aims?
    • Decide how it spends money, takes action?
    • Run or control the Association?
  • Most importantly, how are you funded?
    •  How does this influence you?
In the modern Internet Age, on-line presence is important and critical.
Any CEO or Executive, especially of a high-profile Lobby Group, one whom part of their aim is to influence Governments and force radical change on Health practitioners, who doesn't understand or act on this appears to be severely remiss in their duties.

There is a very strong culture in Health and Medicine of declaring "Interests and Conflicts" - of being Open and Transparent about influences, duties and loyalties. Good Governance is critical for Credibility.
For FoSiM to be officially completely opaque not only is absolutely counter-cultural, but should leave any publicly identified associate, especially those with strong reputations, very nervous indeed.

The only explanation, aside from pure naivety or ignorance, I can guess at for not creating a full, transparent website for this new Lobby Group, is deliberate obfuscation. I just don't know why...

But they have no official contact point, so I can't ask the question.

I could write to the claimed CEO at an advertised 'bigpond' address, but I can't validate it has any connection at all with the registered Association, nor if anyone replying would be whom they claim to be. Telstra hands bigpond email address out without any controls.


This is the whole of what I can glean are the Aims and Objectives of FoSiM Incorporated. It comes from an undated PDF file with an image/logo in the style of a "letterhead".  Do the signatories or the logo/letterhead correspond to the registered Association? Can't tell...
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”.
Do they have a more explicit and detailed agenda?

Neil Johnston in his piece, could be guessing or might be implying knowledge of the agenda and strategy:
Obviously as the "Friends of Science in Medicine" mobilise and begin to target and shoot down those activities on the "hit list", there will be an opposite reaction as the "targets" also mobilise to protect themselves.

What the "Friends of Science in Medicine" is trying to achieve is quite impressive and has the potential to clean up a lot of the "wrongs" in health generally.
As for any organisation there is the potential for some of its members to hijack the primary agenda and steer it down different pathways.

Funding for this new group will need to be adequate and at the same time remain pristine, because it represents considerable power that needs to be harnessed democratically.

It will be a magnet for every single "power broker" in the health industry.
So we are left guessing as to just what this Lobby Group is on about and what plans they might have.

That strong supporters are already sounding warnings related to Good Governance and careful control of the "Brand" should be a red-flag to those associated with FoSiM and especially anyone accepting or repeating their utterances.


What is non-accidental, incontrovertible and on-record is the "gaming" (massive manipulation) of an SMH on-line poll by FoSiM supporters:
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.

Despite his side scoring a majority in the poll, Professor John Dwyer, of the UNSW faculty of medicine and one of the founders of Friends of Science in Medicine, is dismayed that the poll was gamed.

He planned to use the result to support his argument against alternative medicine but ''clearly the numbers are all wrong and I think the poll was probably meaningless''.

Professor Dwyer said Friends of Science in Medicine members had nothing to do with the poll being rigged.
What is not on-record is an immediate, strong statement by an FoSiM spokesperson condemning the action (not mere dismay) and promising to investigate, find the culprits and completely disassociate from them. "Oh dear" is not a credible or sufficient official response.

This Lobby Group has shown it knows how to send out Media Releases, but hasn't responded here - that is a deliberate decision.
Official silence and the implied inaction and ambivalence towards the matter don't cover the group, their spokespeople, Executive or CEO with glory.  I can think of no kind interpretation for their inaction.

The apparent CEO is also on-record as using intemperate, denigrating language quite unsuitable as an official representative of a powerful, credible and important Lobby Group. This is no mere matter of a lapse of judgement, these words represent everyone associated with FoSiM and reflect very poorly on them.

In other Associations, this would be cause for instant dismissal, whilst in FoSiM it appears to be accepted without comment. Outsiders don't know if it's lauded: [edited down for brevity]
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... as belief systems?"
  • "Should they be indoctrinating 17 year olds (as first year students)... 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  as a text for all health students... - 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.
 Seemingly, the only stock phrases not trotted out were "Voodoo and Witchcraft" as in her 4BC interview, or "Quacks, charlatans and Witch Doctors" in Crikey!.

On another tack:
The complete lack of an official, verifiable site and contacts or representatives of this Lobby Group is exceedingly strange.

With the experience, background, knowledge and high standards of the good folk on the purported "list of supporters", or even the apparent "Executive" signatories (below), it is inconceivable to me that there's nothing official on-line. The non-CEO "Executive" signatories:
  • Prof. Marcello Costa
  • Prof. John Dwyer
  • Prof. Alastair MacLennan
  • Prof. Rob Morrison.
These are industry heavy-weights and experienced political players in this arena, how could they be making this naive, rookie mistake?

Why would they intentionally open themselves to question and ridicule at the very start of their campaign? It just doesn't make sense to me...

What make perfect sense to me is if, and I can't confirm this - only guess, this is yet another campaign being orchestrated by LJ Marron, described as, or who claims to be:
  • "a career as a computer professional" (post-nomials include MACS)
  • "a physicist with more than 20 years' experience in computer science",
  • "a science graduate with a business background",
  • "stunt activist", "Humorous stunts became her trademark." and "The Jelly Bean Lady",
  • "a science graduate with a business background",
  • "retired scientist" vs "Physics major, cancer survivor, researcher"
  • "one-woman crusader" and "(on a ) fatwa"
Is FoSiM just "a one-(wo)man band" posing as reputable and credible?
I'm still looking for evidence to disconfirm this.

What is possibly impressive and seemingly incontrovertible is Marron's assertion of the title "Australian Sceptic/Skeptic of the Year" for 2007 and 2011. Doubly so, when she is the only dual recipient of the title. Search on-line for Marron and these terms and you'll get a lot of hits.

But what you cannot find is any hard evidence:
  • There is no definitive list, not even on Wikipedia, of "Australian Sceptics of the Year" recipients.
  • There seems to be no published criteria for this accolade, nor any documented process for its bestowing. Rather important if you seek to trade on its status.
  • For a group basing its entire existence on being impartial, logical, rational and transparent, on being the arbiters of what's real or fakery, of being the ultimate in Evidence Based testing, this oversight cannot be for any good reason.
No organisation or person can hold others to high standards of Evidence and not require the same or better standards of itself without losing all credibility and being open to charges of hypocrisy and worse.

Marron seems to have traded on this 'title' to gain quite a profile and even fame, but it seems to me bogus and without credibility.

The more you look, the more this whole affair and the person seemingly behind it, is "mere puffery" and "all smoke and mirrors".

I look forward to be fully informed, to be provided with public, verifiable, official evidence...
Just like any good, paid-up member of Marron's Sceptic's Society would be.

There a great 'meme' out there, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog".
People are not just anonymous, but completely untraceable and unverified...

This strange group and their apparent driving force are a great example of this.

Steve Jenkin. stevej098@gmail.comPO Box 48, Kippax ACT 2615.
(m) 0412 786 915.

Created:  Thu 16 Feb 2012 14:14:53 EST. ~1750 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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