Richard Easther, Professor of Physics (and Head of Department) at the University of Auckland, weighs in on the current debate over a Press Council decision against North & South Magazine regarding an article on homeopathy (also covered by Siouxsie Wiles and Michael Edmonds on SciBlogs.co.nz).
An excerpt from the post on his blog, Excursionset.com (read in full here):
Wellington, we have a problem…
Last year, North and South magazine ran a feature on alt-med that came down robustly on the side of science and evidence-based medicine. So far, so good.
Incensed by the phrase “homeopathic remedies have failed every randomised, evidence-based scientific study seeking to verify their claims of healing powers” a Tauranga-based homeopathist took a complaint to the Press Council, New Zealand’s media watchdog — as is his right. So far, again, so good. The Press Council is an industry body, and its rules allow for at most two rounds of argument and counter-argument. But in this case they decided to allow a third — unusual, but perhaps not a terrible sin.
The third round of argument took the form of a letter from one Dr David St George. His submission begins with a recitation of his qualifications, which are not insignificant — he has a medical degree from the University of Auckland, and further qualifications in medical statistics — so far, so good.
However, it is hard to see Dr David St George as an “independent” expert, although he appears to have been treated as such by the Press Council, as he is deeply involved with “complementary medicine”. The list of credentials that open his letter cite his role as “Chief Advisor-Integrative Care” with New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, and a previous role with the NHS in the United Kingdom. But nowhere does it mention he was on the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board, or that he was — as Siouxsie Wiles discovered — “Director of Research” at the The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, an alt-med group which closed in somewhat unsavory circumstances. If he had disclosed these interests, it would have presumably been clear to the Press Council that Dr St George was someone who both advocated for, promoted and practiced complementary medicine.