• 09 APR 17
    • 0

    Australia’s NH&MRC accused of bias and misleading the public

    In the below press release from the Australian Hom”opathic Association, they make the allegation that the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) has misled the public over the effectiveness of homeopathic medicine and has systematic conflicts of interest in its scientific evaluation. Well, if proven, that is nothing new. For example see Professor Martin Brian’s 1986 paper; Bias in awarding research grants, published in British Medical Journal.

    From the abstract:

    In many branches of science research grants play a key part in funding researchers and projects. In English speaking countries a fairly high proportion of research money is administered through grant systems. Yet despite the importance of research grants there has been little study of biases affecting the grant giving process.

    A key mechanism in most grant systems is peer review, which has been the focus of increasing attention in recent years.[1,2] A major difficulty in studying biases in peer review is the anonymity of reviewers. Recently, freedom of information legislation in Australia was used to expose a case of apparent bias in the denial of a research grant proposal, thus illustrating a number of important aspects of the general problem of bias.

    The NH&MRC is Australia’s premier scientific research institution and essentially holds the purse strings for most mainstream research projects in the nation. To quote:

    NHMRC funding supports research across the full spectrum of health and medical research, from basic science through to clinical, public health and health services research.

    As for the NH&MRC and telecommunications health research in Australia, the problem of an industry bias is all to obvious and this is examined in detail in my chapter 16 of the book: Corporate Ties That Bind: An Examination of Corporate Manipulation and Vested Interest in Public Health.To briefly quote from my chapter:

    In 1996 NH&MRC did establish an expert committee along the lines of the CSIRO recommendations. Concerned about the potential involvement of the telecommunications industry in this process, Sarah Benson, a researcher for Senator Lyn Allison, wrote to the NH&MRC in early December 1996 asking about industry representation. On December 30 Richard Morris, Assistant Secretary of the Health Research Branch, replied, stating that members of the telecommunications industry would not be involved:

    “In regard to your concern about the involvement of industry in the NH&MRC process, let me assure you that members of the NH&MRC Expert Committee will be active researchers without links to the telecommunications industry. This independence from industry is seen as being of great importance to NH&MRC” (52).

    Despite this assurance from the NH&MRC, when it came to appointing a key expert radiation adviser to its EME Expert committee, they chose Dr. Ken Joyner, Motorola”s Director of “Global EME Strategy and Regulatory Affairs” (53). Dr. Joyner has also represented the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, an industry group, on the telecommunications standards committee (54) and had also represented the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (55).

    Such a complete reversal of their former stance that “independence from industry is seen as being of great importance” was most likely a result of direct political interference by the federal government. Joyner has been closely associated with the formulation of government policy on RF exposure. This is seen in the Bioelectromagnetics Newsletter of July/August 1998. In his article titled “Australian Government Action on Electromagnetic Energy Public Health Issues” Joyner”s affiliation was given as representing the Australian Federal Department of Communications and the Arts.

    In the above light, perhaps the NH&MRC can be considered more of a “captured agency” firmly binded to government and industry policy, and ignoring ‘inconvenient’ evidence.

    Now the NH&MRC is firmly behind funding the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR), a group what I consider to be running pro-industry ‘EME strategy’ policy that any possible adverse health impacts from wireless technology (other than heating at acute exposure levels) are merely a psychosomatic condition on part of an unnecessarily worried public (the nocebo effect).

    Perhaps reflecting my own biases, I highly recommend readers get a copy of Corporate Ties That Bind. My chapter is but one of twenty four very interesting chapters on the topic of corporate interference in public health and science.

    NOTE that all authors were not paid for their chapters. Only the publishers and science itself profits from the effort.

    Don Maisch


    New investigation and complaint against top Government agency


    A NEW documentary has brought Australia’s scientific research community under international scrutiny with a premiere in London overnight. (April 6, 2017)

    The film, Just One Drop, reveals Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is accused of bias and misleading the public over a damning report into the effectiveness of homeopathy in 2015.

    The film shows never before seen evidence and examines the findings of a rigorous two year Australia/UK investigation which reveals the NHMRC used “unprecedented” scientific methods and had multiple conflicts of interest. A formal complaint against the NHMRC is now before the Australian Ombudsman detailing procedural and research flaws, conflicts of interest, and reporting inaccuracies.

    In an Executive Summary of the complaint it concludes the NHMRC’s findings are “inaccurate, highly misleading to the public and unjustly damaging to the credibility of the homeopathy sector”. One of Australia’s top health lawyers, Dr Teresa Nicoletti of law firm Mills Oakley provided independent written advice raising concerns about the NHMRC’s apparent bias, conflicts and flawed procedure surrounding the review.

    Gerry Dendrinos of the Australian Homoeopathic Association (AHA) was involved in the investigation along with the UK’s Homeopathy Research Institute and features in the film. Mr Dendrinos said Freedom of Information documents show NHMRC’s own expert advisers disagreed with the “overly definitive findings” of the Review.

    The highly respected Australasian Cochrane Centre advised that the NHMRC’s finding of “‘no reliable evidence’ does not seem an accurate reflection of the body of evidence”.

    The Ombudsman Complaint reveals:

    * NHMRC did the review twice – the first review was never made public.

    * The first reviewer was sacked and the review’s existence, its cost and findings never made public.
    * The first report was rejected despite being undertaken by a highly respected scientist and author of the NHMRC’s own guidelines on reviewing health evidence.
    NHMRC misled the public
    * NHMRC said the findings of the 2015 report were based on a “rigorous assessment of over 1800 studies”. In fact the findings were based on only 176 papers.
    * NHMRC said it used “standardised accepted methods” but it didn’t.
    * To be “reliable” NHMRC made the arbitrary decision that a trial had to have at least 150 participants and meet an unusually high threshold for quality.

    Mr Dendrinos says: “Our investigation shows NHMRC ‘invented’ unprecedented and arbitrary rules that dismissed 171 of the 176 studies leaving 5 that were considered ‘reliable’. Of the five, one was positive for homeopathy but the NHMRC still refused to accept its findings.”
    University of Washington Professor, Doctor Jennifer Jacobs, also interviewed in Just One Drop:

    “I’ve never read anywhere that there must be at least 150 subjects in a study for it to be considered valid so it is just an artificial delineation they seem to have made”.

    The NHMRC regularly funds and collaborates on trials with fewer than 150 subjects.

    Conflicts of Interest

    The Complaint to the Ombudsman details how NHMRC failed to disclose or manage multiple anti-homeopathy conflicts of interest.

    Example: The original Chair of the NHMRC committee, Professor Peter Brooks, was a member of the anti-homeopathy lobby group, Friends of Science in Medicine.

    The NHMRC also excluded homeopathy experts from the working committee in breach of its own mandatory research standards.

    Gerry Dendrinos: “The NHMRC’s job was to accurately summarise all of the evidence for homeopathy. What we ended up with was a review that was biased, ignored positive evidence, violated mandatory administrative and research standards.

    “Not only is it bad science, it also raises major concerns regarding the validity of NHMRC reviews. That’s why this had to be taken to the Ombudsman.”

    “Positive, high quality studies do exist, and show that homeopathy works for a number of medical conditions such as hay fever, sinusitis and cough. These studies were excluded from the findings, as was all real-world clinical studies, which consistently demonstrate the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and safety of homeopathy in healthcare,” he said.

    The report cost taxpayers more than $800,000. The documentary Just One Drop premieres in Australia later this year.

    Just One Drop Trailer


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