Yes, sometimes I do get filled with self-doubts, usually in the night. It soon passes. But you see, there is just so much quackery out there that any rational and honest thinker must fully entertain the idea that they have got something horribly wrong. After all, the sceptic should always be challenging their own assumptions. Is the black duck guilty of close-minded, self-dissembling and narrow thinking?
Now, in the UK , the body responsible for policing medicines (the MHRA), has recently given an endorsement to the homeopath scammers to keep pushing their sweeties as if they were medicines. Under pressure, the MHRA has handed them a nice get-out-of-gaol-free card. How can I be so sure I am right when such august bodies are against me?
The MHRA is extending their exemption to homeopaths to enable them to make claims of efficacy without any proof that they actually work. This is in direct contradiction with the MHRA’s stated goals:
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the government agency which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe.
So, the MHRA appears to be simply abrogating its responsibility to ensure that medicines work by allowing the quack community to get away with its usual trickery.
The sweetie pushers have already leaped into these new opportunities by packaging up their chocolate-free smarties as cures for hay-fever, colds and the like, which will sit next to the aspirins, antihistamines and paracetamols in places like Boots. They have been able to get these new products to market so quickly as there was no expensive R&D involved, no extensive clinical trials, no licenses to submit and no new manufacturing processes to set up. They just needed an inexpensive skateboarding graphic designer to sit at their mac and redesign some packaging for the same old little sugar pills that undoubtedly come out of one huge bucket. I can hear the laughter in the board room of Nelson’s from here.
This situation surely cannot last long. The inherent contradictions in this rushed bit of legislation must surely show up sooner or later. One question I would like to know is this. If I suspect that a product has not been prepared homeopathically, but is labeled as such, what test could the MHRA inspectors apply to see if fraud has been at work? As we discussed recently, all homeopathic remedies end up identical. The ‘active’ ingredient has been diluted out of it. In most pills and solutions, not one single molecule of the stated ingredient is actually being bought by the consumer. No need to inform the consumer, no need to label carefully. One tub of pills is the same as any other. All have the same ingredients list – lactose. So, no test could tell an ordinary sugar pill from a ‘legitimate’ homeopathically prepared one. Could lorry loads of Far Eastern counterfeit homeopathic treatments flood our high streets? How would we know? Would we care? It would be illegal under these new laws, but it will just result in one set of quack activities being replaced by another.
So, with such huge forces against the likes of me, it is natural to have a little self-doubt now and again. I am not saying that I am cleverer than these people. The quackometer project is not supposed to be some fount of Delphic wisdom about which medicines work and which do not. No, the project and blog are about critical thinking, about not taking someones word for it when they make extraordinary claims. It’s about scepticism when scepticism is required.
If a claim is made about healing that is in someway difficult to reconcile with the broader knowledge of medicine and science then there ought to be some pretty damn good evidence for it. When claims are continuously made without that evidence coming forward then we can justifiably call ‘quackery!’. When pseudoscientific nonsense is presented instead of evidence. Quackery! When the best trials presented are small, poorly designed and badly controlled, and published in tame ‘journals’. Quackery! When the best ‘proof’ given on a web site is just an overabundance of meaningless anecdote and testimonial. Quackery!
Homeopathy has had two hundred years to support its claims and the evidence to date is dismal. The science base presented is nothing more than mumbo-jumbo magical thinking. Quackery!
So, thanks to quackometer user, Jonathan Ramsay, who sent me an email about his side-business (Boffin Productions) of making greeting cards that take the piss out of such nonsense. Jonathan is a private tutor who is dismayed at the level of support found amongst his students for woo and quackery. The greeting card I liked the best demonstrated the central idiocy of homeopathy with instructions for homeopaths on how to make a cup of coffee. You can probably guess the theme. The strongest homeopathic coffee is indeed that prepared with no coffee in sight. There is probably some homeopathic idiot out there that would give a glowing testimonial about how wonderful this coffee is and what a kick it gives them in the morning.
It’s Monday morning now and being a bitter, closed-minded conventionalist, I am off to get a proper, old-fashioned cup of allopathically prepared coffee.