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Healthy Skepticism International News

The Healthy Skepticism Mangement Group decided in March 2011 to discontinue Healthy Skepticism International News. It had been published nearly once a month since 2000. It was a continuation of MaLAM News and MaLAM letters that commenced in 1983.

The last Int News issue was:

Public information as a marketing tool: Promotion of diseases and medicines
November 2010
Sandra van Nuland and Zamire Damen work for Gezonde scepsis (Healthy Skepticism in The Netherlands). They have produced a report on pharmaceutical promotion via"information" for the general public. As part of this research, they examined campaigns around restless legs syndrome (RLS), overactive bladder (OAB) and heartburn. These three case studies demonstrate that elements of the public information are not in accordance with the guidelines set by the Dutch General Practitioners Society (NHG). For example, information about side effects and information about when medicinal intervention is warranted.

In collaboration with the Dutch critical consumer programme Tros Radar, a fake public information campaign around the issue of flatulence was designed, in order to demonstrate the mechanisms typically used in these campaigns and their effects on the public. They established a fictitious company with its own website (,, and commissioned TNS NIPO to carry out research into the disease burden. Promotional materials were prepared and distributed to GP surgeries, pharmacies and through the website. Based on the research conducted by TNS NIPO, they sent out a press release and quickly obtained the desired results: flatulence got a lot of attention in the media.
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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909