Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Newsletter 116, Summer 2021

Published: August 2021

Read the articles and news in Newsletter 116 below, or access the printable 8-page pdf here.

Here are the latest updates on HealthWatch projects and people. Read on for bitesize news items on events, new publications from our members and award winners, our contributions to public consultations, webinar catchups, and HealthWatch's Private Eye debut!

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by Arianne Shahvisi

In 2008, Hollywood actor Gwyneth Paltrow launched her lifestyle company, Goop, claiming she “wanted it to be a word that means nothing and could mean anything.” Over the last decade, the claims and recommendations made by the company have been widely criticized. Goop claimed that underwire bras cause breast cancer, suggested that women ought to be increasing their sexual energy using vagina eggs and vaginal steaming, and recommended the use of coffee enemas. Experts have shown these recommendations to be spurious and sometimes dangerous.

Around the same time that I heard about Goop, I was becoming more interested in feminism as an area of research. In speaking to other women about their experiences of gender inequality, an issue that came up time and again is the way in which medicine neglects women’s needs. I met several women who were dabbling in alternative remedies only marginally less ridiculous than those espoused by Paltrow’s site. These women were not unintelligent or uncritical. Their serious long-term health issues were not being addressed by mainstream medicine, and they were desperately casting around for other solutions.

It occurred to me that medicine’s poor treatment of women might be pushing them towards alternative remedies that are often expensive or dangerous, and generally just don’t work. I started a research project to investigate women’s relationship to conventional medicine and alternative medicine.

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By Les Rose and Mandy Payne

At HealthWatch we have for some time been concerned that the marketers of so-called "bioresonance devices" persist in making therapeutic and diagnostic claims in the absence of any robust evidence. A recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority reported a device marketed as "the Resonator" claiming to cure infections including Covid-19, treat long Covid, and even replace vaccines. The ASA quoted text from its website including: “viruses are not alive, so they cannot be killed. They have to be destroyed, and the only safe way to destroy a virus is to shake it to pieces, which is what the Resonator does … Yes, it can replace vaccines as it will – if used, destroys any virus, parasite, or bad bacteria that invade the body.”

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by Stephen Bradley

The work of patient activists, campaigning clinicians and researchers in the field of meta-research (‘research on research’), has been crucial in exposing the crises in medical research. Achievements like mandatory registration of clinical trials and the increasing popularity of open science practices show that change is possible, but we still have a long way to go in making research more transparent and rewarding academics for genuine discovery rather than obtaining ‘positive’ or newsworthy results. 

Without promoting clear and achievable remedies to these problems our mediocre status quo will persist. Although many fantastic initiatives are having a real impact on improving research culture we cannot rely on these efforts alone.  We should not tolerate a situation in which the basic documentation that is necessary to scrutinise publically funded research is frequently unavailable and there is still no straightforward way to find out about researchers’ conflicts of interest. Whilst there are basic measures that could improve this situation we must surely demand their implementation. 

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by Till Bruckner

“Transparency, Power and Influence in the Pharmaceutical Industry: Policy Gain or Confidence Game?”, edited by By Katherine Fierlbeck, Janice Graham and Matthew Herder, was published 4 July 2021 by University of Toronto Press. RRP £23.59, paperback, 304 pages.

Public and academic discussions around transparency tend to take on Manichean overtones. Transparency, like democracy or participation, is often conceived as an intrinsic good worth pursuing for its own sake, and more transparency, more democracy, and more participation are always better. The edited volume “Transparency, Power and the Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry” provides a welcome departure from this simplistic framing.

Katherine Fierlbeck throws down the gauntlet in the first chapter. After providing a detailed overview of the different kinds of transparency applicable to pharmaceuticals, including a typology of clinical trial data, she warns that transparency does not always translate into real-life benefits. For example, making data accessible does not automatically result in more data being accessed, and “too much transparency” can drive decision-making processes underground.

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