Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Unleash the Hounds

An Open Letter to Georgia Straight Advertisers:

I am writing as one of a group of concerned citizens who have noted significant advertising by you in the Vancouver’s Georgia Straight Weekly newspaper. We have some important concerns about the Georgia Straight’s editorial policies and specific factually incorrect information that has been published which directly endangers individual and more importantly public health. We thought you might be interested that your money is being spent in tacit support of these issues.
A recent article by homeopath Sonya McLeod in the Georgia Straight strongly advocates the forsaking of vaccinations against the H1N1 flu. She unequivocally recommends homeopathy – a therapy which has never shown any true efficacy in properly structured independent scientific studies. (Many studies by homeopaths have ‘proven’ an effect, but none of these have ever been placebo-controlled, double-blinded or reproduced in an experiment that was properly structured in such a fashion.) Vaccine denial is a reprehensible position which demonstrably puts the individual at risk and weakens herd-immunity amongst the public (where the overall immunity is boosted by the sheer numbers of individuals who are vaccinated).

As if this was not enough, there are questions about the editorial policies surrounding the article itself. Sonya McLeod is not only an advertiser in the Georgia Straight, she is also apparently related to the publisher, Dan McLeod. The article is in part taken, without appropriate credit, from another easily found and identified source. When discussion of the facts and editorial policies of the magazine began mounting up in the comment thread on the article, many of the critical comments that were posted failed to appear in the thread – which could simply be coincidence, but the optics are bad none the less.
Homeopathy as therapy has failed to show any level of efficacy practically from the very beginning of its history. No properly structured scientific study has even been able to find any effect, nor is there any plausible mechanic for the alleged effect. Indeed, if suddenly scientifically sound homeopathy studies began showing an effect, the most basic rules of biology, chemistry and physics would need to be rewritten.

In short, homeopathy proposes to work by treating the symptoms of a disease (as opposed to the cause) by matching the symptoms with substances that are somehow determined to create the same effect. A simple example would be to treat insomnia with caffeine. If this were not implausible enough, the caffeine is then diluted to such a huge degree that it is mathematically unlikely in the extreme that even a single molecule of the original substance even exists. For a more detailed description of homeopathy, the Wikipedia entry on homeopathy does a reasonably good job of outlining the fundamentals of the process and revealing the absurdity of the proposed ‘science’ behind it. Another good source is quackwatch.com.
It is common to defend homeopathy with the oft heard phrase ‘what is the harm?’ Conveniently there is a website - whatstheharm.net - which demonstrates that using homeopathy to the exclusion of evidence based medicine can result in injury or death.

Every one of the studies and stats mentioned by the author are studies that have been shown to have significant scientific flaws. They were either based upon self-reporting by homeopaths; were not peer-reviewed by anyone outside of the discipline; have clearly demonstrable procedural faults; or are the product of laughable misrepresentation.

Sonya McLeod goes well beyond the realm of merely advocating homeopathy. She also eschews the values of vaccination, a practice which is far more dangerous to public health - particularly with the spectre of H1N1 a.k.a. the Swine Flu looming. There is a lot to be said about vaccine denial, more than can be said concisely here. Whatstheharm.net helps illuminate the dangers. On the face of it, the bulk of the information disseminated by the anti-vaccination lobby is beyond being un-true. It is wilfully negligent, and solidly disproven. Yet the anti-vaxers continue to loft the same debunked arguments as ‘proof’ time and again. Worst amongst this is the bogus claim that vaccines cause autism – a claim has long since gone well past the point of cautious rationality into hysterical unfounded paranoia.
It is true that a small number of people have varying levels of adverse responses to vaccines. The vast majority of these are temporary effects, but even if you take all the bad reactions and put them together in one pool, the number of people who are hurt by vaccines is vastly dwarfed by the number of people who have been helped. Small pox has been eliminated from the world due to vaccinations. It was once a brutal disease. Polio was nearly eliminated too until progress was undermined by the anti-vax lobby. Other infectious diseases including measles, mumps and whooping cough similarly have been on the rise because less people vaccinate because of specious anti-vax propaganda.
Foremost amongst the public damage caused by the failure to vaccinate is the undermining of herd immunity. In short, viruses have a threshold wherein if a percentage (a large percentage) of the population is vaccinated it becomes practically impossible for a virus to spread even among the unvaccinated. For a variety of reasons there are people who cannot be vaccinated or like newborns have not been vaccinated yet – herd immunity protects them. Herd immunity has been compromised by the anti-vaccination movement.
It almost goes without saying that not being vaccinated leaves the individual susceptible to disease. Adding to that the undermining of herd immunity, and the adverse effects that has upon the public as a whole. When people do as Sonya McLeod proudly boasts that she is not vaccinating her girls she is not only putting her own children at risk, but worse; she is putting other people’s children at risk. It is extremely irresponsible for the Georgia Straight to assist in the dissemination of this false and demonstrably dangerous information; in fact if a single person were to die from H1N1 as a result of taking this bad information to heart, the paper would be (un-actionably) party to negligent loss of life. This goes far beyond a 'matter of opinion' or journalistic balance. Indeed there is no balance in their reporting on this matter - it is all one-side of an issue which should have no sides, the facts are plain at is s day. The claims made in the article point to fear-mongering about the expected pandemic, when in fact the position of what Sonya McLeod has had published is a case of fear mongering of the worst sort - scaring the public from real preventative treatment.
On top of the publically irresponsible aspects of the article there are a number of editorially questionable elements. For one, several portions of Sonya McLeod’s article are verbatim quotes from a book excerpt by book excerpt by Randall Neustaedter.
This is to say nothing of the poor referencing of alleged ‘facts’ throughout. It is perfectly reasonable to extrapolate from this that the reported ‘facts’ are not facts as primary sources are scarce and/or discredited.
Sonya McLeod is an advertiser on the Georgia Straight website – her company’s website is advertised clearly the right hand side of the page. Indeed her company has an “October Special” on Homeopathic Flu Immunizations. A clear conflict of interest. The article was not so much a news item as a thinly veiled advertisement in its own right.
Sonya McLeod appears to be the daughter of Georgia Straight publisher, Dan McLeod. On top of all issues this personal connection is a conflict of interest which makes the rest all the more egregious.
Should there be any real question remaining as to the reliability of the information Sonya McLeod presents in her articles, one should also consider the source itself. Her fourth and final graduate project in her education as a homeopath involved the use of raccoon fur as the initial ingredient in a homeopathic solution. Despite using some scientific words, the paper is extremely unscientific, delving into dream interpretation and implying that any observation within its absurdly small sample size was an effect caused by the homeopathic solution, even when the opposite effect was noted in other subjects of the study – which, of course was similarly noted as an effect of the solution.
Once the discussion of the article heated up and the advocates of science and reason began to dominate the conversation, there was a period where many commenters from the Google group on Canadian Skepticism noted that their messages were not being posted even when extra care was being made to keep comments civil. Eventually scattered comments began appearing again – presumably once the deluge of angered voices abated. Should the limiting of comments critical of the article prove to be true this represents a particularly egregious effort to limit the public voice on the issue on the part of the Georgia Straight.
We hope this information was useful to you and that you will consider it with gravity when choosing how to spend your advertising dollars. The Georgia Straight deserves a chance to clean up its act and make efforts to ameliorate the damage done by their poor representation of facts that severely effect public health and to adjust their poor editorial policies, but until they do you may want to reconsider who you are aligning yourself with and take your business elsewhere. This affects you; it affects your family; it affects your children.
If someone was so inclined, they could pass this letter or one like it to as many Georgia Straight advertisers as they so desired.
Their contact information is quite easily found.... it's public information found quite easily in the paper itself or on their website.

(NOTE: Or one could use the list of advertisers I compiled when this was still a current issue. Note that what is done with this information is ultimately up to the person who uses it, I am merely compiling information that is already publically available.)

Original list follows:

Live Nation - livenation.com - CustomerService@LiveNation.com
Freedman Shoes - freedmanshoes.com - info@freedmanshoes.com
The Public Market - granvilleisland.com - info@granvilleisland.com
Donnelly Night Clubs - dhmbars.ca - ap@dhmbars.ca
Carman Fox & Friends - carmanfox.com - carman@carmanfox.com
The Chan Centre - chancentre.com - chan.centre@ubc.ca
Luna - polyhomes.com - comments@polyhomes.com
Greens Plus - customerservice@genuinehealth.com

Koodo Mobile - koodomobile.com - customerservice@koodomobile.com
V6A - onni.com - customerservice@onni.com
Vancouver Symphony Arts - vancouversymphony.ca - customerservice@vancouversymphony.ca
Inspiration Furniture - inspirationinteriors.ca - customersvc-bc@inspirationfurniture.ca
Biltmore Cabaret - biltmorecabaret.com - darius@biltmorecabaret.com - zak@biltmorecabaret.com
Locarno - locarno.ca - efefer@jerichowest.ca
HMV - hmv.com - enquiries@hmvgroup.com
Alexander Keith's - keiths.ca - guest@labatt.com
River Rock/Red Robinson Theatre - riverrock.com / blvdcasino.com - hblank@gcgaming.com
Rio Theatre - riotheatre.ca - info@ riotheatre.ca
O2 - englishbayliving.com - info@barcoalliance.com
Boy's Co - boysco.com - info@boysco.com
City Centre Realty - concretecondos.com - info@concretecondos.com
Dance House - dancehouse.ca - info@dancehouse.ca
Homelessness Action Week - stophomelessness.ca - info@ethosstrategygroup.com
Kitsilano Business Assn. - kitsilano4thavenue.com - info@kitsilano4thavenue.com
L2 Leone - l2leone.ca - info@L2Leone.com
Memento - ledmac.com - info@ledmac.com
Pulse - liveatpulse.com - info@liveatpulse.com
W Six - wsix.ca - info@magnumprojects.ca
Euro Furniture - info@monaeurofurniture.ca
Music on Main - musiconmain.ca - info@musiconmain.ca
Organic Meadow - organicmeadow.com - info@organicmeadow.com
Ginger - gingerliving.com - info@portedevelopment.com
Powervibe Fitness - powervibe.ca - info@powervibe.ca
Ultra X-Press - printprint.ca - info@printprint.ca
Millennium Water - millenniumwater.com - info@rennie.com
The Roxy - roxyvan.com - info@roxyvan.com
See Seven Arts - seeseven.bc.ca - info@seeseven.bc.ca
Sofa So Good - sofasogood.ca - info@sofasogood.ca
Commercial Drive - thedrive.ca - info@thedrive.ca
Cultural Olympiad - vancouver2010.com/culturalolympiad - info@vancouver2010.com
Dr. Sherri Wise - wisedental.ca - info@wisedental.ca
Griffith University - griffith.edu.au/masterofteaching - international@griffith.edu.au4
Sealed with a Kiss - presents sealedwithakisspresents.com - jason@sealedwithakisspresents.com - malcolm@sealedwithakisspresents.com
District - southmaindistrict.com - live@southmaindistrict.com
Lux Salon - sphinxexport.com - luxsalonbathrooms@shaw.ca
Maple Pictures - maplepictures.com - info@maplepictures.com
Fitness World - fitnessworld.ca - marketing@fitnessworld.ca
Flight Centre - flightcentre.ca - marketing@flightcentre.ca
Atlas Pots - atlaspots.com - nv@atlaspots.com
Club Card Printing - clubcard.ca - sales@clubcard.ca
Friends of the Environment - tdfef.com - tdfef@td.com
100.5 The Peak - thepeak.fm - thepeak@thepeak.fm
Morrey Mazda - soclosemorrey.com - vancouver@morreymazda.com
Vancouver International Film Festival - viff.org - viff@viff.org
Telus High Speed - telus.com
The Boathouse - boathouserestaurants.ca
Earls - earls.ca
Exchange - exchangeliving.com
Extreme Style - extremestyle.ca
Fabutan - fabutan.com
Integrative Healing Arts - integrative.ca
Moe's Home Collection - moeshome.ca
Steamworks - steamworks.ca
Watermark - watermarkrestaurant.ca
Alliance Films - alliancefilms.com
Besy Buy - bestbuy.ca
Durex - durex.com
Larry & Willy - jackfm.com
Pacific Boarder - pacificboarder.com
Pacific Fertility - pacificfertility.ca
HTC Phones - rogers.com
Capers - wholefoodsmarket.com
Vancity - vancity.com
Ford - bcford.ca

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