Mark Hanna

Mark Hanna is a consumer advocate, intersectional feminist, amateur astronomer, and science lover living in New Zealand. He writes primarily about consumer protection with a focus on the alternative health industry, but also about other topics that he finds interesting or frustrating.

A failure to regulate - Honest Universe

Apr 19, 2017

New Zealand has several layers of regulation to protect us against misleading health claims. Sometimes they all fail. My struggle against quackery over the last few years has given me some familiarity with the ways we’re protected against it, and with their shortcomings. Misleading people about their healthcare options is something that is clearly unethical. To quote the alt text of Randall Munroe’s xkcd comic strip Alternative Literature: Telling someone who trusts you that you’re giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying–it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong. Alternative Literature | xkcd Whether or not someone making misleading health claims knows they’re not true, this is something that can pretty clearly cause harm. At the lower end, … Read More

Are local quacks getting away with health fraud? - Honest Universe

Dec 15, 2016

A decades old loophole in New Zealand’s patient protection legislation is letting quacks get away with what could amount to health fraud, right under the regulator’s nose. In New Zealand, patients are protected from “health fraud scams” by the Medicines Act. This legislation, which is enforced by Medsafe, only allows products making strong health claims to be sold if they have been approved by the Minister of Health. In order to get approved, a medicine needs to pass a rigorous submission process that includes providing robust evidence to substantiate all of the health claims that will be made about it. In this way, patients should be protected against health fraud scams. When I say “health fraud scam”, I am referring to something specific. The US Food & Drug Administration has a nice clear definition of what a health … Read More

Can the Greens ditch their anti-science baggage? - Honest Universe

Dec 15, 2016

Steffan Browning will leave his role as an MP next year, which is a great opportunity for the Green Party to ditch their anti-science baggage. I have a love-hate relationship with the Green Party. I love their social policies, but as someone who dedicates a lot of my time to fighting pseudoscience I have a hard time justifying support for a political party with anti-science tendencies. In the lead up to the 2014 general election, when I was considering where I would place my party vote, I emailed the Greens’ then health spokesperson Kevin Hague with some questions about Green Party health policy. Hague’s response satisfied me that, despite the party’s reputation, references in their health policy to being evidence-based were more than just lip service. I voted for them. Then, just a month later, Green MP Steffan … Read More

Bad Science Case Study: Dog Bones - Honest Universe

Oct 31, 2016

The New Zealand Herald and Jimbo’s have provided us with an idealised “bad science” case study. The New Zealand Herald article Today, the Herald published an article about a “trial” published by pet food manufacturer Jimbo’s: No bones about bones The trial was intended to evaluate how eating bones affects the dental health of dogs. Thankfully the article makes it pretty clear why Jimbo’s would be looking into this, although it reads more like a quote from a press release than the declaration of a conflict of interest that it really is: Jimbo’s sells over 300 tonnes of bones per year which help thousands of cats and dogs keep healthier teeth. This trial seems rather special in that it’s a rare composite of just about every aspect of poor methodology all put together at once. I think … Read More

A Sceptical Guide to DHB Voting - Honest Universe

Sep 30, 2016

I’ve looked into this year’s district health board candidates to help you keep quacks off your DHB this election. Unless you live in Southland, this year you probably get to vote for several spots on your local district health board. With the move to DHBs making decisions about water fluoridation, there’s a danger that some of the candidates standing could be anti-fluoride or worse. And if they’re crafty, they likely won’t make that clear in their candidate profile that you get in the post with your voting papers. Over the past week or so, I’ve looked through all the profiles for DHB candidates throughout the country, and followed up on anything that looked like a red flag for quackery. While many candidates looked great, I also found some that you probably don’t want to vote for … Read More

Colloidal Silver Blues - Honest Universe

Jun 16, 2016

Don’t be fooled, colloidal silver sprays and creams won’t benefit your health. In the continuing trend of the New Zealand media advertising ineffective health products as though it’s news, stuff.co.nz has published an article pushing colloidal silver for treating infections and skin conditions. The article quotes a naturopath and sales representative from Skybright Natural Health, a company that sells colloidal silver products, saying that: Ionic colloidal silver is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It supports the immune system when the body is under attack and micro-organisms cannot build up resistance to it. It’s also completely safe for every single person in the family to use, babies included. Lorelle O’Halloran What the article doesn’t tell you is that there’s no evidence colloidal silver can do any of that. And we’ve known this for quite some time. In 1999, … Read More

$26m for Acupuncture - Honest Universe

May 04, 2016

Last week, ACC’s spending on alternative therapies was in the media spotlight. There were pieces on both TV3’s Story and Stuff asking the question of whether or not this spending is justified. This was prompted by some new information that’s been released by ACC under the Official Information Act, regarding their funding of acupuncture treatments. ACC reports spending over $25 million per year on acupuncture, even though ACC’s reviews of the evidence for acupuncture have been largely inconclusive or negative. There were only three types of injury for which they have concluded acupuncture may be effective: Frozen shoulder: The ACC guideline titled, ‘Diagnosis and Management of Soft Tissue Shoulder Injuries and Related Disorders’ (2004) states that there is “some evidence that exercise and acupuncture, compared with exercise alone, may lead to better outcomes.” Chronic … Read More

Misleading claims common among chiropractors - Honest Universe

Apr 01, 2016

Most New Zealand chiropractors make misleading claims. Through my role as the chair of the Society for Science Based Healthcare, I see a lot of misleading health claims in advertisements. Many of them are pretty clearly bogus; I’ve seen claims that drinking “harmonized water” is as good as sunscreen and that bacteria make your cells each lose a positive electron. But not all misleading claims are obvious. Many might sound plausible, especially if you don’t know much about the therapy or if they come from someone in a position of authority. This, I think, is where they can be the most dangerous. Luckily we have rules in place to prevent this, but the complaint-based systems we rely on require cooperation from advertisers. When the rules are widely ignored, we simply aren’t protected. In 2015 … Read More

Misleading claims common among chiropractors - Honest Universe

Apr 01, 2016

Most New Zealand chiropractors make misleading claims. Through my role as the chair of the Society for Science Based Healthcare, I see a lot of misleading health claims in advertisements. Many of them are pretty clearly bogus; I’ve seen claims that drinking “harmonized water” is as good as sunscreen and that bacteria make your cells each lose a positive electron. But not all misleading claims are obvious. Many might sound plausible, especially if you don’t know much about the therapy or if they come from someone in a position of authority. This, I think, is where they can be the most dangerous. Luckily we have rules in place to prevent this, but the complaint-based systems we rely on require cooperation from advertisers. When the rules are widely ignored, we simply aren’t protected. In 2015 … Read More

Are You an Organ Donor? - Honest Universe

Mar 08, 2016

Organ donation is important. When a person dies in a way that leaves them brain dead but their other organs still viable, such as an intracranial haemorrhage in an intensive care unit, their organs can be transplanted to save others’ lives in a way nothing else can. Only a few organs, kidneys for example, can be donated by live donors. But others, like lungs and hearts, can only be given posthumously. This is something most of us will already know, but it’s something else entirely for it to have saved the life of someone you know. I want to start this article by telling you a story. Poppy McKay is a family friend. She’s 24 years old, and she is probably alive today because of an organ donor who is sadly not. She was diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis, … Read More