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.

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

NZ political parties’ transgender health plans - Honest Universe

Aug 31, 2017

Access to gender affirmation surgery in New Zealand is abysmal, with waiting lists that are decades long. I’ve asked our major political parties what they will do about it if elected. On the 27th of July, I sent emails to four political parties outlining the issue of access to gender affirmation surgery*. I contacted the healthcare spokespersons for the Green, Labour, and National parties, and the co-leaders of the Māori party since I couldn’t find any health spokesperson for them. They each received a version of this email: Tēnā koe, Since the US president Donald Trump announced this morning that transgender Americans would not be allowed to join the US military, saying that their healthcare is too expensive[1], I have been reminded of a similar issue that we face here in New Zealand. For many transgender people, gender affirmation surgery … Read More

New Zealand should not regulate naturopaths - Honest Universe

Aug 28, 2017

Naturopaths can kill, but regulating them is not the answer. Over the weekend, the Sunday Star Times published an article by Simon Maude on an unnamed naturopath whose inept attempts at cancer treatment led to the death of an Auckland woman last year: Naturopathy under microscope after cancer sufferers speak from under shadow of death At the same time, an article syndicated to Stuff from the Sydney Morning Herald detailed a court case in which a naturopath in Australia nearly killed a baby through their dietary advice for the infant’s eczema: Australian naturopath admits ‘raw food’ diet advice endangered baby’s life As a result, the question has been raised of whether or not naturopaths should be regulated in the same way as medical doctors, pharmacists, and chiropractors. In the Sunday Star Times article, … Read More

Pharmacy Ethics: Have Your Say - Honest Universe

Jul 24, 2017

The Pharmacy Council has opened consultations on a proposed new code of ethics. Following an initial consultation in 2015 where they’d proposed changing one part of the existing code, the council has since decided the whole code could do with a review. The Pharmacy Council is the regulatory body for pharmacists in New Zealand, set up by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003. As well as overseeing the registration of pharmacists, they are also responsible under Section 118(i) of the Act for setting standards of ethical conduct to be observed by pharmacists. I met with the Pharmacy Council just prior to the new consultation being opened, as part of my volunteer work with the Society for Science Based Healthcare. They told us that the revised code is intended to be more principle-driven, … Read More

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