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In May 2016, LearningRx Franchise Corporation (“LearningRx”) settled an advertising investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as part of an ongoing review by the FTC of marketing practices within the exciting, innovative, and highly promising new field of cognitive (“brain”) training. The FTC inquiry was the first and only time in the 15-year history of LearningRx that its business practices had been questioned by any regulatory agency, federal, state, or local.
LearningRx vigorously disputed the FTC’s allegations that claims for its pioneering methods of personalized, intensive, one-on-one brain training lacked adequate scientific support. LearningRx has completed Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) on cognitive skills and IQ, (see pages 17-20 of the 2019 Research Results and Client Outcomes booklet), as well as several quasi-experimental controlled studies and numerous observational studies using pre- and post-standardized assessments from thousands of clients. This large body of clinical data demonstrates that LearningRx brain training programs increase cognitive skills (including clients with diagnoses), IQ scores, reading skills, and standardized reading and math test scores for their clients regardless of previous diagnosis.
Nevertheless, while their studies show that their advertising claims satisfy the FTC’s traditional substantiation standard of “competent and reliable scientific evidence,” LearningRx made the pragmatic decision to settle its differences with the FTC, without any admission of liability or wrongdoing. After weighing the costs of time and energy to continue to defend their claims, they chose instead to focus their attention on conducting new research and studies, including several randomized control trials that are underway with major universities and independent researchers. LearningRx is highly confident that its future advertising will meet all legal standards of truthfulness, as it has in the past.
II. Some Important Facts About the FTC Matter:
- LearningRx hired world-renowned expert Dr. Howard Wainer to examine their research and data. He concluded that LearningRx does have competent and scientifically reliable evidence to back claims made on cognitive skills, IQ, reading, and training different populations like ADHD, seniors, autism, TBI, and dyslexia. Dr. Wainer is a distinguished research scientist, American statistician, and author, most recently, of “Truth or Truthiness: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction by Learning to Think like a Data Scientist” (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
- The FTC, a non-scientific agency, has made the scientific judgment – wrong in LearningRx’s judgment – that many brain training claims must be held to the same standards of proof applied to the testing of pharmaceutical drugs, namely, randomized controlled trials, or RCTs. Since 2015, it has been applying this standard in settlements not just with LearningRx, but a number of other companies in the brain training industry.
- At the beginning of 2016, the LearningRx team met with the FTC Commissioners. Based on their research and studies, they were successful in persuading the FTC to drop a number of claims from its complaint, including improvements in IQ and cognitive functioning of dyslexic clients.
- RCTs are not the only permissible experimental method in the research guidelines of any field linked to cognitive training, including education and psychology. Nevertheless, the FTC unilaterally has decided that advertising claims for cognitive training services, which pose no health or safety risk, must have the same standard of proof as drug claims. To LearningRx’s great consternation, the FTC also retroactively applied this new rigid standard to claims it was making as far back as 2010, when there was no reason to believe that brain training claims could only be supported by an RCT.In a 2015 settlement with a vision training company, over 75 scientists posted a response on the FTC’s website that supported the company’s research and opposed the FTC’s decision to create this new standard without consulting a broad array of experts in the industry. See https://www.ftc.gov/policy/public-comments/initiative-625