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.

Some rules need to change - Honest Universe

Feb 20, 2019

Content note: This article discusses transphobia, and includes examples of it. I’ve always been big on rules. When I was a kid, I had a lot of trouble grasping the idea that there was a difference between “right and wrong” and “following the rules”. My parents used to quip that I’d probably grow up to be a lawyer. I don’t think the idea that some rules are just wrong really clicked for me until my early twenties. I’m sure the transition was far more gradual than I recall, but I can remember one moment that certainly feels like a turning point in retrospect. When I was 21, my partner at the time complained to me about a set of traffic lights that turned red far too quickly, and as a result many people would just drive through after they had … Read More

Official information kept secret too long - Honest Universe

Aug 20, 2018

Official information is being kept secret for longer than it should be. For the past few months, I have been gathering and analysing data from 12 government agencies, looking at how they handle requests made under the Official Information Act. My findings reflect what many have observed more anecdotally: responses to requests for information are often sent at the very last minute, and seem to often be delayed unnecessarily. Though it can be difficult to demonstrate that a response was not sent “as soon as reasonably practicable” — a requirement under the law — in any particular case, looking at a larger data set reveals some of the strategies used to delay the release of official information. You can read my article here: Official information kept secret too long … Read More

Chiropractors struggle to drop testimonials - Honest Universe

Jul 01, 2018

The latest newsletter from the regulator of chiropractors offers an insight into the industry’s culture problems. In their June newsletter, the chair of the Chiropractic Board has admonished chiropractors for a discussion on how to circumvent consumer protection regulations: At a recent chiropractic function, a presentation was given on advertising, chiropractors’ responsibilities and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The information was well presented and informative however ensuing discussion revealed that the message is clearly not being heard by all. I urge you to please refer to my email of 30 August 2017 that clearly outlines your responsibilities, and reiterates very important points set out in the Board’s Advertising and Social Media Policy, and references to all other responsibilities. I was particularly disappointed in discussion among practitioners on how to best circumvent the prohibition on posting testimonials on … Read More

NZ Police pursuits keep killing people - Honest Universe

May 28, 2018

Despite a repeated cycle of calls for change, people keep dying in police pursuits in New Zealand. Just today, a teenager and a child died as the result of a police pursuit in Palmerston North. News stories like these keep appearing. In February this year I asked NZ Police to release a number of statistics regarding police pursuits so I could examine what, if anything, has changed. I began to write about it in March but didn’t end up publishing it, having intended to put it on a new “features” subdomain I’ve been working on where I’ll be able to do some more complicated stuff than WordPress will allow. One of the statistics I included was the number of people who have died as a result of police pursuits since the most recent review began. I’ve gotten … Read More

Personalised Supplements - Honest Universe

May 08, 2018

Can an online quiz give good recommendations for taking supplements? Stuff today published an article about two New Zealand companies that launched recently, Vitally and Wondermins, which each use online quizzes to sell “personalised vitamins”. Unfortunately, Stuff chose to focus on the question “What’s the point?” rather than “What’s the evidence?”. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to run through each of these quizzes to discover what supplements they would each recommend to me if I told them I had no health problems. Both quizzes also included a bunch of questions about my current relationship to vitamins. Questions such as whether or not I already take any, how knowledgeable I am about them, were accompanied by questions about my health such as whether or not I took a long time to recover from infections. For … Read More

What we owe our pets - Honest Universe

Mar 22, 2018

I recently complained about a vet promoting quackery in the Bay of Plenty Times. In response to my complaint, the editor agreed to publish a response I wrote, regarding what we owe our pets. Now that it’s been up for a little while, I’m also publishing it here on my blog. The Bay of Plenty Times recently published an opinion piece by veterinarian Liza Schneider about avoiding and treating cat abscesses. Liza Schneider runs the Holistic Vets clinic in Tauranga, and is the president of a special interest group of New Zealand vets focused on “complementary veterinary medicine”. At the end of her article, she said “complementary therapies like homeopathy, herbal medicine, ozonated gel, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and others can help aid healing tremendously.” The claimed efficacy of homeopathy is in stark contrast with … Read More

New Rules for Pharmacists - Honest Universe

Mar 07, 2018

The Pharmacy Council has (finally) published their new Code of Ethics 2018. I’ve written several times on the ongoing saga of the Pharmacy Council’s Code of Ethics. In late 2014 we put together a complaint at the Society for Science Based Healthcare arguing that their Code of Ethics 2011 had been violated by an Auckland pharmacy, in which a salesperson had recommended and sold a homeopathic product to someone who didn’t realise they were buying quackery. Following this complaint, the Pharmacy Council decided they would not enforce the rule in their Code of Ethics at the time that prohibited pharmacies from purchasing or supplying any health product that was not backed by “credible evidence of efficacy”. This led to two protracted consultation processes, first about that specific part of the code and then … Read More

Can you trust Band-Aids? - Honest Universe

Nov 29, 2017

Band-Aid is a household name, but can you trust the way they’re promoted? For years Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturers of Band-Aid adhesive bandages, have been making a simple claim about them. If you put a Band-Aid on a cut, it will heal faster than it would have if left uncovered. Specifically, they say it will heal twice as fast:     Johnson & Johnson is a large, well-known medical company. As well as Band-Aids, they make many other health and health adjacent products such as shampoo for babies, cold medicines, and mouthwash. For better or for worse, this means many of us are willing to accept their claims at face value. In an ideal world, that would be fine. They don’t have a reputation for being misleading, like the reputation Reckitt Benckiser has earned for its … Read More

OIA Accessibility - Honest Universe

Nov 20, 2017

The Official Information Act has an accessibility problem. I wrote recently about asking the government for information, having just published a guide to using the OIA. The OIA is a powerful tool, but it can be limited by how government agencies choose to follow it. One particular limitation that comes up, again and again, is accessibility. There is a hashtag on Twitter that’s often used by journalists and activists, myself included, to talk about issues with the Official Information Act: #fixtheOIA Today Nikki Macdonald, senior feature writer at the Dominion Post, started a discussion about a widespread and rather infuriating practice for responding to requests for official information: Is there a reason – other than being obstructive – that government departments insist on sending OIA data as scanned pdfs, … Read More

Asking the government for information - Honest Universe

Oct 31, 2017

You have the right to ask the government for information. Because of a law called the Official Information Act (OIA), they’re obliged to give it to you unless there is a good reason not to. You’ve likely seen the OIA mentioned in the news. Phrases like “Documents released to [news outlet] under the Official Information Act” can often be found in important news stories. It’s an indispensable tool for holding the government to account. Some of my articles here have also been based on information that I only had access to because of the OIA. For example, my articles about ACC’s funding of acupuncture have all been based heavily on information released under the OIA. My articles on strip searches in prisons, organ donation, and the history of the complementary medicines industry … Read More