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Queen’s Birthday honour for Ken Harvey

Dr Ken Harvey, one of Australia’s leading campaigners against pseudomedicine, has been honoured with a Member (AM) in the general division of the Order of Australia in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Harvey is well-known to Skeptics for his ongoing battle, both through and with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, over claims made by alt med companies in their advertising and promotional material. His complaints have all been upheld upon investigation.

The Birthday Honour was given “for significant service to community health and the pharmaceutical industry through roles in developing guidelines for the ethical use of antibiotics”.

Harvey told Australian Doctor “It’s a touch unusual I guess. I think quite a few of my colleagues would be surprised to hear that I had made a contribution [to the pharmaceutical industry].” The industry itself has described him as an “agitator”, a tag he has readily accepted (along with Choice describing him – positively – as a “serial complainer”).

Harvey is a previous winner of several awards from Australian Skeptics, including the Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason in 2011, life membership in 2013, and joint winner (with Mal Vickers) of the Skeptic of the Year in 2016.

Choice named Harvey its Consumer Champion for 2012, and he was also the recipient of the 2016 ANZAAS Medal from the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. The Medal is awarded annually for services for the advancement of science.

In 2011, the SensaSlim ‘diet’ product company took him to court in a SLAP suit because of his strong criticism of the product through the TGA’s Complaints Resolution Panel. Australian Skeptics Inc organised a public fund-raising exercise to cover his legal expenses. He won the case.

In 2014, he resigned his position as Adjunct Associate Professor in LaTrobe University’s School of Public Health over a proposed deal between the university and supplements company Swisse Wellness. He is now Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, at Monash University.

For the AM, he has been honoured for his leading role in improving antibiotic prescribing in Australia.

In the late 1970s, he was among a group of doctors working in Melbourne’s teaching hospitals increasingly concerned about the incidence of antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms and inappropriate prescribing. It led to the creation of a working party, which produced what Harvey describes as a “slim booklet” of guidelines.

Nearly 40 years later, the guidelines have been through 15 editions running to 30 chapters, with antibiotics and their continuing misuse recognised across the medical profession as a global concern.

He said he was “pleased and honoured” to be given the award. “It is good to know you have made a difference.”

Tim Mendham: