Last month I reported on the pain being felt by alternative medicine practitioners in the UK as a result of the activism of Nightingale Collaboration. Part of that effort was streamlined via a piece of software created by Simon Perry called Fishbarrel. This tool modifies Google’s free Chrome web browser to provide simple ways to highlight dubious claims, comment on them, and automatically gather them into a properly formatted government complaint. I blogged about Fishbarrel back when it was released.
Initially Fishbarrel only supported agencies in the UK, and Simon has gradually added support for other countries. I’m pleased to relay the news that the Fishbarrel software can now be used by skeptics in the United States to file complaints with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
Read on for more details and some tips.
Go to Simon’s original blog post on Fishbarrel to download the updated software and view the tutorial video. If you previously downloaded it, you’ll need to update to the new version to get the US support. (It may happen automatically, or you can go to the Extensions page in Chrome and click the update button).
Once installed, a button will appear in your browser that looks like a rubber duck. Click it and pick Options to tell it you live in the USA and fill in other useful settings that you can learn more about in the tutorial.
Now, skeptics must keep in mind what FDA does and does not regulate in order to make these complaints effective. The agency regulates the labeling and advertising of prescription drugs and devices prescribed by a medical practitioner. Other advertising claims and anything involving other product categories would be a matter for the FTC or perhaps even state agencies. (Fishbarrel does not support those agencies yet).
Herbals and other vitamins and supplements covered under the DSHEA law of 1994 may be a prime target for this. Under the law vendors are allowed to make vague structure or function claims such as “supports a healthy metabolism” or “promotes wellness.” However they are not allowed to make specific claims such as “cures asthma” or “eliminates cancer.” That goes beyond what DSHEA allows and skeptics should be seeking out these violations. You can highlight the offending phrases with Fishbarrel and quickly make a report.
More tips on what to report and what not to report can be found with the FDA reporting form on their site. I encourage discussion of things to look out for and report in the comments below.
Update! Now comes word that FishBarrel can be used in Canada too: