Givealittle being used to fund bogus treatments

November 10, 2021

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Scam

About a year ago a colleague and I wrote to Give A Little, an organisation in NZ that runs an online platform which allows people to fundraise for needy causes. We expressed our concerns about misuse of the platform:

We have recently been concerned by the number of causes on your website where money is being requested to fund a wide variety of pseudoscientific, often dangerous, medical treatments.

It would be great to see Givealittle do more to protect both donors and recipients, and to reduce the amount of money being donated to fundraisers where the funds will be spent on unproven therapies. Has Givealittle considered... not allowing pseudoscientific treatment claims to be made by users of the website, making it clear to donors that for certain causes their money will go towards funding non evidence-based treatments and not allowing fundraising for treatments that are not evidence based?

We included a list of donation pages where the therapies mentioned were obviously never going to help the people asking for the money - for cancer alone, we found people fundraising for vitamin C treatment, magnet therapy, dietary supplements, osteopathy, acupuncture, superfoods, detoxes, cleanses and a Shaman. We stated that these fundraising pages seemed to breach Give A Little’s own terms and conditions about not using inaccurate, ambiguous, exaggerated or untrue information.

At the time, Give A Little responded that:

"Whilst we do not allow pseudoscientific treatment claims to be made on a Givealittle page, we will not restrict fundraising for pages for treatments that are not evidence based… Givealittle is a neutral platform"

Well, that was obviously untrue - we had no problems finding pseudoscientific treatment claims on their website. We responded:

"It’s sad to read that you consider that neutrality is an acceptable position to take when it comes to the serious topic of people’s health, often including terminal illness, and the raising of money to pay unscrupulous alternative medicine practitioners for unproven, frequently dangerous, treatments"

It was obvious we were getting nowhere, but we remained concerned about the site being used in this way. Fast forward to a year later, and this week Give A Little has come under fire for allowing over $7,000 to be raised (opens new window) for a case where Casey from Auckland has supposedly been injured (opens new window) by the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

This is a very sad case, where Casey is obviously going through a lot - suffering from uncontrollable spasms which make driving, working or even walking impossible for her. The video on the Givealittle page is heartbreaking, and I truly feel sorry for her. (opens new window)

However, as a Stuff article points out, evidence for the vaccine being responsible for any of Casey’s symptoms is lacking. We also know that similar cases of unusual reactions to vaccines in the past have been shown to be psychogenic, where the source of the problem is mental rather than due to vaccine injury. Desiree Jennings is one well known case (opens new window) from around 10 years ago, with symptoms including only being able to walk normally if she walked backwards, and speaking in a British accent - all after having had a flu shot. Inconsistencies soon started appearing in her story. Shawn Skelton and Angelia Desselle are two recent cases where claimed symptoms (opens new window) from COVID shots are unlikely to have been caused by the vaccine.

And, unsurprisingly, the "treatments" mentioned on the fundraising page are all very alternative: vitamin c infusions, glutathione, lipoic acid, detoxing, magnesium. Given the lack of plausibility of the vaccine causing the kinds of symptoms Casey is experiencing, and the push to use the money raised on unproven treatments, I suspect that there’s more going on in this case than meets the eye.

Professor Graham Le Gros called the page a "scam", and Helen Petousis-Harris said to Stuff:

"There is no easy way to verify the legitimacy of people who seek funding, and scams have been known to occur. This should not be seen as evidence that the girl’s symptoms have been caused by a vaccine."

Speaking of which, this year’s Skeptics conference is being held online in a week and a half, and we have a panel I’m really looking forward to with Helen Petousis-Harris, Kate Hannah, Siouxsie Wiles and Ashley Bloomfield talking about the importance of effective science communication and the dangers of misinformation.