Activist’s anti-science adverts found misleading – again

The activist Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) organisation have had a bad year with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They have had half a dozen complaints against them for misleading advertising upheld.

The latest complaint referred to FFNZ’s adverts for a meeting they organised in Rotorua last July. This advert claimed

“Informed Doctors and Dentists say:
KEEP FLUORIDE OUT
Keep Rotorua’s water safe. It’s our right to choose.
Swallowing Fluoride

Is unsafe for babies
Doesn’t protect teeth
Can cause harm.”

The complaint basically was that these claims were presented as matters of fact, rather than opinion. And the declarations of harm, danger to babies and lack of effectiveness protecting teeth were effectively claims implying scientific  substantiation. It also raised the issue of misrepresentation of the views of New Zealand doctors and dentists – implying that the claims are supported by a majority of these professional when they aren’t. Quite the opposite.

In fact, FFNZ can get only about half a dozen such professionals willing to promote their message. It is dishonest to then use these handful of mavericks to imply the whole profession supports the anti-fluoride claims.

The complainant also pointed out the advert was effectively indulging in scaremongering because it claimed there was harm, when there wasn’t any, and it appeared to be promoting the advice of professionals, when professionals weren’t saying what was claimed.

The ASA ruling concludes:

“The Complaints Board said the advertisement was likely to mislead as the claims were presented as facts, but were not substantiated by the Advertiser, in breach of Basic Principle 3 and Rule 2 and was not saved by advocacy, in breach of Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics. It said the advertisement unjustifiably played on fear, in breach of Rule 6 of the Code of Ethics and was socially irresponsible in breach Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics and the Complaints Board ruled the matter was upheld.

It is good to see more people coming forward to make these sort of complaints. The anti-science lobby has been getting away with this sort of misrepresentation for years. Hopefully the experience of the ASA upholding such complaints will embarrass organisation like this to be more careful in their advertising.

In many cases all it takes is a simple sentence to clarify the advert is presenting the viewpoint or belief  of the advertiser, rather than scientifically established facts.

6 responses to “Activist’s anti-science adverts found misleading – again

  1. What proportion of the panel have a science PhD?

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  2. I don’t think anyone in the Fluoride Free NZ panel or leadership have science PhDs. But let’s not hold that against them. The real problem is the lies they have been telling.

    >

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  3. All that shows is what we already know that the ASCA are mere stooges of the status quo . . . :}

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  4. How about any Science PhDs in the ASA decisions panel?

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  5. The members of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board are listed here: http://asa.co.nz/ascb.php

    It sounds like this would be the only person with relevant expertise:
    Dr Deborah Read: – Registered medical practitioner with specialist qualifications in public health medicine. Public Health Consultant and Associate Professor at the Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University. Former Deputy Chair, Medical Council of New Zealand.

    I’m also aware that the ASA has the capacity to seek independent scientific advice, although they rarely feel the need to do this. Importantly, the ASA does not consider itself an arbiter of scientific fact. They require that advertisers be able to produce robust scientific substantiation where relevant, and in this case FANNZ simply failed to do that. This is why the ASA’s codes require that claims must be *substantiated*, and that is what they test as opposed to whether or not a claim is true.

    In this way their codes is similar to the recently updated Fair Trading Act, which prohibits “unsubstantiated representations” in trade. Although this standard was used by the ASA long before it made it into the Fair Trading Act.

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