HON Violators

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
January 26, 2005
The Internet’s most widely recognized standard-setting organization is the Geneva-based Health on the Net (HON) Foundation. Sites that follow its code of conduct are welcome to display a HONcode seal. The HONcode principles evolved from discussions with Webmasters and medical professionals in several countries. These principles are sound, but compliance is voluntary and some sites displaying the seal contain unreliable information or link to other sites that contain unreliable information. To legitimately use the seal, a Web site must apply for registration. If accepted, it must subsequently comply with eight principles enumerated in the HONcode. To check whether a site is actually registered, click on the HONcode seal, which should be linked to a registration status report on the HON site.

When a noncompliant site is reported, HONcode officials ask that the problem be corrected or the seal be removed — and most sites comply. The HON Foundation also reviews Web sites and posts the results. However, its reviews of sites providing unreliable information on “alternative” methods have been descriptive rather than critical-and thus offer little or no guidance to Web browsers. In addition, its search engine does not limit its searches to reliable sites.

HON asks members of the Net community who consider a Website displaying the HONcode logo to be violating any of its principles to notify the Webmaster/owner of that site by email with a copy to honcode@hon.ch. (If you see any, please also notify Quackwatch.) The principles most related to information quality are:

  • Principle 4: Attribution. Where appropriate, information contained on this site will be supported by clear references to source data and, where possible, have specific HTML links to that data.
  • Principle 5: Justifiability. Any claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product, or service will be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence in the manner outlined in Principle 4.

HON states that if a violation is reported, the Health On the Net Foundation will ask the site owner to either justify its contents or make appropriate modifications. HON also states if requested modifications are not made, the site owner will be instructed to remove the logo and that failure to do so will result in “appropriate action.” Most sites receiving such notices comply with them. Sites that display the HONcode can be located by placing the phrase “we subscribe to the HONcode principles” into the “exact phrase” box of Google’s Advanced Search page. Violators can be located by scanning the list or adding common quackery-related terms like “amalgam toxicity,” “detoxification,” or “chelation therapy” to Google’s “all of the words” box.

Most of the sites listed below have been the object of at least one complaint.

Violative Sites That Display the HONcode Seal

These sites contain misleading information that is not supported by clear references to valid source data. In many cases, they do not reference statements, but even if they did, they would still violate Principles 4 and 5 because they advocate or promote invalid concepts. Although most of these sites contain accurate information about science-based methods, their information on “alternative” and “complementary” methods is overly promotional. The bracketed date is the last time I checked the site.

  • Aetna InteliHealth: Contains many articles about “alternative therapies” that are overly promotional and misleading. [12/15/03]
  • AHealthyMe (BlueCross Blue Shield Association of Massachusetts): Promotes nonsensical methods such as ayurvedic body typing, cranial therapy, reiki. Also recommends and links to highly unreliable sites. [12/15/03]
  • Alternative Medicine Foundation [2/09/04]
  • Aromacaring: Contains unsubstantiated therappeutic claims. [2/09/04]
  • eGeneralMedical.com. Site has no original medical content, just ads for products, many of which are dubious. Has announced lans to add content from the US Centers fr Disease Control, but this will have little relevance to the products. [2/28/04]
  • Endometriosis Research Center: The excerpt from the Center’s “Alternative Treatment: Diet and Nutrition Booklet” promotes the unscientific notions of Bruce Miller, DDS. [12/15/03]
  • HealthAtoZ: Contains many irresponsible articles promoting homeopathy and other “complementary and alternative” methods. [11/1/04]
  • Healthfinder: Contains a searchable database of Web sites that it considers reliable. Although the site’s operators state that sites are listed after “careful evaluation,” the database includes more than thirty sites that promote misinformation,. For example, it includes the American College for Advancement in Medicine, which is under an FTC cease-and-desist order not to misrepresent chelation therapy in advertising yet continues to do so on its Web site. [12/15/03]
  • Homeopathy Helpline: Irresponsible promotion of homeopathy with statements such as “Homeopathy has the power to heal so many problems, including those that doctors cannot help.” [2/09/04]
  • Mayo Clinic.com: Many of its articles about and “complementary and alternative” methods are misleading. [12/04/03]
  • The Modern Herbalist: Provides misleading advice and sells unsubstantiated products for managing “candidiasis,” “heavy metal poisoning,” and other “fad” diagnoses. [1/26/05]
  • NaturalHealingDoctor.com: Sells many products with claims that are false and illegal. [2/28/04]
  • Second Opinion: Contains unfounded attacks on fluoridation and other well-established mainstream medical methods and beliefs. [5/13/04]
  • WebMD Health: Contains many articles that promote nonsensical “alternative” methods. [4/11/05]
  • Wellmark BlueCross BlueShield: [4/5/04]
  • WorldHealth.net: The site makes hundreds of unsubstantiated recommendations. [12/15/03]
Sites Displaying a Seal without Authorization

Authorized sites contain a link from their seal to a confirmatory page on the HON site. These sites either contain no link or connect to a link which states that they are not authorized because they violate HONcode principles. The bracketed date is the last time I checked the site.

  • Cynthia P. Buxton, ND, LAc [2/9/04]
  • Homeopathy World: Promotes homeopathic misconceptions and claims that homeopathic immunization products are safer and more effective than standard vaccines. HON withdrew its authorization on 1/20/04 [2/9/04]
  • Medical Mailbox.com: Promotes a variety of unsubstantiated “alternative” methods. [2/9/04]
  • Rx forWellness: Made false claims for HGH product, provides nonsensical “Detoxification Survey” test. [2/9/04]
  • VHI Healthcare contains the false claim that “A trained homeopathic practitioner, working at the constitutional level, will seek to rebalance the child’s vital force, eliminating the imbalanced behavior of bed-wetting.” [2/9/04]
  • Victoria Blood Analysis (Robert Whittle promotes live cell analysis, a bogus diagnostic test) [2/1/04]
Violators No Longer Displaying the Seal

These are sites that removed their HONcode seal after someone complained about violative material. in some cases, HON ordered its seal removed. In others, the site removed the seal after it received the complaint and presumably realized that it could not meet the standards.

This article was updated January 26, 2005.