Auskepcon 2012, Photos, Sunday

10 December, 2012

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Sunday’s Convention Photos

Sunday was another line up of excellent speakers, DJ Grothe, Dr Ken Harvey, Dr Rachael Dunlop, Stephen Mayne, Lawrence Leung, James “The Amazing” Randi and many more. Look carefully in this set of images for a certain life member and secretary of a state branch jamming with Paul Conroy on guitar.

Dr Ken Harvey Awarded CHOICE “Consumer Champion”

2 April, 2012

Congratulations to Dr Ken Harvey. The Australian Consumers Association has named Dr Ken Harvey as the CHOICE “Consumer Champion of 2012”.

It seems if there is a shonky medical product on sale, Dr Harvey knows about it and works tirelessly to highlight the problem to government authorities and the public at large; and to improve policy and regulation to reduce the harm and financial burden that shonky products impose on consumers.

The award is well deserved. The number of committees, policy groups and organisations on which Dr Harvey serves and is actively involved with is bewildering.

Most notably in the last twelve months, Dr Harvey was faced with a problem that every consumer advocate dreads facing. He was sued for defamation by the promoters of a slimming product called SensaSlim. He did not back down in his criticisms of the claims made for the product. Eventually Read the rest of this entry »

TGA, Dr Ken Harvey and SensaSlim News

6 March, 2012

by Mal Vickers

 OK - I admit I’ve been somewhat critical of the TGA in the past. However, in the spirit of fairness, when they do something right, I think I should say – hurrah!

As of the 29th of February, the TGA website announced:

The TGA will be making a final decision on the weight loss product, the SUPPREXXA Hunger Buster kit, after consideration of material provided by the sponsor, Chika Health Pty Ltd, in support of the claims made about the kit.

(Insert sound of clapping)

The promoter’s claims under scrutiny are that the product will:

Assist Weight Loss, Decrease Hunger, Fight Fatigue, Stimulate Fat Burn and Improve Energy

The promoters also say it should be used:

…in conjunction with a healthy, energy controlled diet and exercise program.

To me, this looks like bait and switch advertising. Potential customers are seduced by the weight loss message, however, it may be that the only way weight is lost is by putting in the hard work with the diet and exercise program. Could potential customers simply not buy the kit (thereby saving $50) and Read the rest of this entry »

Where Did the TGA Reforms Go?

29 December, 2011

by: Mal Vickers

I think everyone is aware of the problem – magnetic underlays, ear candles, homeopathy and bogus weight loss products, to name but a few examples of modern day snake oil; products that make therapeutic claims but are unsupported by evidence that they work. The government agency responsible for protecting consumers from the greed and self-interest of quack medical products, the Therapeutic Goods Agency (TGA) appears powerless to stop it.

For quite some time there have been calls for change and the government appeared to be listening. With the SensaSlim scandal, the deaths of Gloria Sam and Penelope Dingle and the astonishing 90% level of non-compliance found with a random check of the ARTG by the Auditor General, changes seemed inevitable.

What happened? Where did the expected reforms go?

The first week of December saw some strange goings-on at the TGA Read the rest of this entry »

Giving the Tiger Some Teeth – A Forum

20 October, 2011

It’s no secret that this site has been heavily involved in Alt Med issues recently – partly due to circumstance, and partly because we’ve taken some initiatives.

A great source of frustration is that statutory regulatory bodies like the Therapeutic Goods Administration can’t (or won’t) provide real consumer protection in ensuring that alternative medical products live up to their claims.

Vic Skeptics have arranged a forum to investigate this issue, on Wednesday evening 16th November at La Notte Restaurant in Carlton, featuring a distinguished panel:

Dr Stephen Basser

 Dr Ken Harvey

Dr Michael Vagg

Loretta Marron 

Further details, including how to book: HERE

The Pharmacy Guild Deal with Blackmores

19 October, 2011

Dr Ken Harvey

The Pharmacy Guild says its deal to promote Blackmores complementary medicines (CMs) has been withdrawn in view of “media reporting of the endorsement which was ill-informed and inflammatory”. My own view is that the deal itself was ill-informed and inflammatory. It involved an undisclosed payment by Blackmores to enable GuildCare dispensing software to prompt pharmacists entering prescriptions to on-sell Blackmores “Companion” products.

The four Guild-endorsed Blackmores products were a probiotic to be promoted with antibiotics, zinc with blood pressure drugs, coenzyme Q10 with vitamin D3 for statins and magnesium with proton pump inhibitors.

Dr Ken Harvey

The National Prescribing Service (NPS) and others have pointed out that there is no good evidence to support the routine use of these supplements with the prescription drugs targeted.

In addition, this practice would unnecessarily add to the “medication burden” experienced by many patients taking multiple drugs, including compliance difficulties, increased cost and potential drug interactions.

Finally, it presents ethical problems for GuildCare (who were recommending one brand only) and for individual pharmacists (who would benefit financially if they went along with prompts that may not be in their patient’s best interest).

Several polls have shown that Read the rest of this entry »

Cleaning up the Medicine Cupboard

19 July, 2011

This post is a mixed bag of alternative medicine news featuring the TGA, Dr Ken Harvey, magic bracelets, magic pills and magic spray.

Do you recall our story about the health giving jewellery that could be purchased from Qantas duty free? Dr Ken Harvey put in a complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)’s Complaints Resolution Panel (CRP) about the same. The complaint was upheld; the CRP asked for the withdrawal of advertising.

click full size

A company called Alpha Flight Services Pty Ltd handles the sale of duty free items on Qantas flights.

Alpha Flight Services Pty Ltd also stated that, in response to the complaint, they had “acted promptly to withdraw all promotion of the products online” and had stopped selling the products.

In part the decision says:

The Panel was therefore satisfied that the advertisements contained many claims that had not been verified, were likely to arouse unwarranted expectations, and were misleading. These included the claims that the advertised products could improve heath, improve metabolism, improve or encourage blood circulation, expel toxins, reduce stress, improve sleep, lift alkaline levels in the body, neutralise acidic toxins, return the body to a natural state of balance, enhanced the immune system, reduce stress Read the rest of this entry »

SensaSlim Backdown

4 July, 2011
Dr Ken Harvey at Skeptics of Vic

Dr Ken Harvey

The libel case brought by SensaSlim against Dr Ken Harvey is almost over, with SensaSlim eventually backing down.  The only remaining issue is one of costs.

Dr Ken Harvey says:

Subsequent to the ACCC freezing SensaSlim’s Australian bank account, their lawyers (Kennedys) have withdrawn from the case; an external administrator / liquidator was appointed to take over the company on 30/06/2011; a revised statement of claim was not submitted by the final date allowed by the court (July 1, 2011) and my lawyers will now apply to have the case finally stuck out (and costs awarded) at the next sitting of the defamation list judge on July 11, 2011.

However, this is likely to be a pyrrhic victory as it is very doubtful if any money from the liquidator will be available to pay the costs awarded!

The case has highlighted some fundamental flaws in Australian regulation concerning complementary medicines and the promotion of therapeutic goods which have been the subject of many submissions to recent government enquires. Hopefully, some reforms will emerge.



In further news, the SensaSlim case has made news in the UK.  Dr Capehorn gives his thoughts as to what happened, here.

Dr Ken Harvey

Dr Ken can now take the gag off.

SensaSlim and the IRI’s Borrowed Photographs

29 June, 2011

An update on the Dr Ken Harvey libel case. Plus the removal of photographs from the web page of the institute that is said to have done research supporting the product.

Much has happened regarding the libel case against Dr Ken Harvey since writing the last post on this topic.

On the 14th of June, Dr Ken Harvey’s legal people found there were problems with the original statement of claim put forward by SensaSlim’s legal people.  Harvey’s legal people requested the libel action be struck out.  However the NSW Supreme court allowed SensaSlim’s legal people to withdraw the statement of claim and lodge an amended one, they have until 1st of July to do so.

On the 16th of June the ACCC began investigating SensaSlim. On the 23rd of June the ACCC applied to the federal court to put a freeze on SensaSlim’s Australian assets, which was granted. Read the rest of this entry »

Simon Singh Supports Dr Ken Harvey

28 June, 2011
Simon Singh

Dr Simon Singh

Simon Singh, the UK based science writer well known to Skeptics everywhere for having successfully defended himself in a libel case involving the British Chiropractic Association, has been in touch with Vic Skeptics.

Simon made the following statement in support of Dr Ken Harvey:

Having been sued for libel in London, I had admired the libel reforms in Australia, which seemed to offer you the free speech that we all deserve. However, I am now astonished and saddened that a respected Australian medical expert has been silenced by a defamation action by SensaSlim. This seems like a disgraceful state of affairs – for speaking out on a matter of public interest, Dr Ken Harvey has been forced to endure the massive personal and financial pressure of a potentially lengthy legal case. In the meantime, the Australian public is not informed about an apparently infective slimming treatment.

Simon Singh

28th of June 2011

Pledge Your Support

At present, the personal cost to Dr Ken Harvey for legal expenses is not known.  We’re not asking for direct financial assistance at this time.  However, you can show your support by making a pledge. Write to, with your name, phone number, and how much you are pledging.


The SensaSlim Libel Action Against Dr Ken Harvey. How Did it Happen?

11 June, 2011
Dr Ken Harvey

Dr Ken Harvey

After the last brief post about this issue, readers may be interested in the details, (as far as an amateur blog writer like myself can establish), as to what occurred between SensaSlim, the TGA and Dr Ken Harvey.

[Note: Links have been added to the end of this post to keep readers up to date with the legal case and to provide further reading.  Recently, this story has had significant coverage in the mainstream press.]

February 2008

A whois search shows that the Sensaslim dot com web site was registered in February 2008.

A Queensland manager of a SensaSlim distribution operation says the company is owned by a Peter O’Brien.

November 2009

The company was registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), on the 2nd of November 2009.

September 2010

SensaSlim, as a product, was listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) on the 20th of September 2010.  The ARTG product number is 176003. Only the sponsoring company is listed “SensaSlim Australia Pty Ltd” at a Sydney address, no individual’s names are shown.

As has been stated before on this site, listing on the ARTG simply means that the TGA considers the product not likely to be harmful. The TGA does not test whether the product is effective, whether supporting evidence for the claims made by the sponsor exists, or whether the claimed underlying scientific mechanisms are real.

The claims as shown on the register include:

….encourages the body’s natural fat burning processes.

….contains Camellia Sinensis (green tea) which is an antioxidant containing caffeine to assist with thermogenesis.

Thermogenesis being the nice technical Read the rest of this entry »

Ken Harvey Taken to Court

1 June, 2011

Dr Ken Harvey is well known to Vic Skeptics and readers of this site as a tireless campaigner against the sale of unproven medicinal products. His actions leading to adverse findings against the Power Balance Wrist Band have been well documented here. Now SensaSlim Australia Pty. Ltd have labelled Dr Harvey’s complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration about the promotion of their slimming product as “defamatory”. Their legal action, which seeks punitive damages has also successfully stalled the complaint process.

This podcast from ABC’s The Health Report discusses the use of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) writs and the deficiency in current legislation which permits their use against TGA complaints.

For a more comprehensive report and information about making a pledge to assist with Dr Ken Harvey’s legal expenses, please see this story on the Australian Skeptics national web site.

The audio from The Health Report featuring the interview with Dr Ken Harvey can be heard here:

[or download the MP3 file]

Power Balance: the End of a Shonky Fad

5 May, 2011

What can we learn from the short history of the Power Balance wrist bands in Australia?  It was a pseudo science fad that the Australian Skeptics played a part in ending.

The recent ACCC threat to prosecute retailers who continued to sell them has had an immediate chill effect.

Sports shops, health shops and retailers of all kinds have now removed Power Balance wrist bands from shelves and counters all over Australia.

How did it happen?  Who’s behind it?  Can we do the same to (insert your favourite pseudo science product here)?

What follows is a potted history of the end of the Power Balance fad.  (If you disagree or have more to add please make a comment below.)

How did it all start?

2007 (USA)

Two young entrepreneurial brothers, in Orange County California, Troy Rodarmel and Josh Rodarmel started the company in early 2007.

The business model is quite straight forward: design colourful, stylish wrist bands that can be manufactured very cheaply in China and sell them locally at a much higher price.  Market the bands by making health and technology claims and Read the rest of this entry »

ACA: Miracle Fruit or Fruity Marketing?

19 March, 2011

Another new miracle skin product suddenly appears on our retail shelves. Another uncritical product promotion gets a run on the ACA. There’s nothing new there, but this time ACA may have gone too far, by claiming that the product is TGA approved.

Sorry about all the acronyms in the opening splash. Just in case you’re not keeping up:

ACA = Channel Nine’s A Current Affair (It’s on between the news and Two and a Half Men.)

TGA = Therapeutic Goods Administration (Our thin line of government defense against medical quackery.)

I think we need to come up with a snappy name or acronym for that period of time between the introduction of a new miracle health product to our retail shelves, and the eventual release of data from clinical trials showing a distinct lack of the miraculous. Read the rest of this entry »

TGA calls on Power Balance to withdraw claims and advertising

16 November, 2010

The promoters of Power Balance wrist bands are in trouble again. This time the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has ruled against them. 

In part the decision says:

In reaching this conclusion, the Panel noted that the claims made in the advertisements were extraordinary to such a degree that no reasonable retailer could publish them on the basis of assurances from the product sponsor, without requesting evidence that such claims could lawfully be made about the product.

The TGA are asking for the: Withdrawal of representations, Withdrawal of advertisement and the Publication of a retraction.

To re-cap;  Power Balance wrist bands are coloured silicone rings with two small plastic holograms glued on.  The popular silicone bands sell for about $60 (Aus).  A pendant version of the Power Balance sells for about $90 (Aus). The promoters of Power Balance claim Read the rest of this entry »


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