Why NHS Homeopathy Must End

malariaOn the 28th of June, the British Medical Association will be meeting for their Annual Representative Meeting. Amongst a diverse range of business, the attendees will be asked to vote on a number of motions to stop or restrict the availability of NHS funded homeopathic treatment.

A motion (301) [pdf] by the agenda committee reads “there should be no further commissioning of, nor funding for, homeopathic remedies or homeopathic hospitals in the NHS” and that “”no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy”.

In addition, the motion proposes that “pharmacists and chemists should remove homeopathic remedies from shelves indicating they are ‘medicines’ of any description, and place them on shelves clearly labelled ‘placebos’”.

A number of BMA divisions and LMCs add their own motions stating, for example, that “homeopathy should be first in line for NHS cuts” and that, if it is to be retained, then that should not be “until the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) determines the cost-effectiveness of such medicines”.

Naturally, the homeopaths are panicking. There is undoubtedly the feeling that we are now in the end days for the public funding of this superstitious medicine. The Faculty of Homeopaths, the body that represents the strange bunch of doctors who practice homeopathy, are attempting to get a demonstration going in Brighton on the morning of the 30th of June as a protest against these motions. They are recruiting from the ranks of lay homeopaths and their patients to turn up on the day as “we obviously need a good crowd not to look pathetic.”

I am afraid the medical homeopaths already look pathetic and that is why they deserve to lose their public funding. They have had plenty of chances to be left alone to do their thing, but that time is now over. Let me explain.

The NHS legitimises the use of superstitious treatments such as homeopathy

On the face of it, these motions look somewhat overblown. The amount of money spent of homeopathy on the NHS is undoubtedly small. (Although, it is undoubtedly hugely understated by homeopaths as no-one really knows the true cost.) Not much money will be freed up by axing these services, but, nonetheless, any wasted money in public healthcare should not be taken lightly. Homeopathy, to be sure, does not deserve a free ride when so many difficult decisions are made over meaningful treatments.

Nor is it, I would argue, that concerning that these doctors are prescribing placebo treatments. Yes, there are significant ethical problems with deceiving patients with homeopathy, but I would struggle to defend that this might be one of the most serious problems in modern healthcare.

What I do find deeply worrying are two things. Firstly, and generally, in providing funding, the NHS legitimises the use of superstitious treatments such as homeopathy. It implicitly supports the actions of homeopaths, mostly non-medically trained homeopaths, both here in the UK and abroad. The unethical and dangerous behaviour of lay homeopaths has been thoroughly documented on this blog. Their hatred of modern medicine, their distortions of science and their refusal to engage in critical appraisal of their own actions are all reasons for them to be condemned. My concerns with them have never been properly addressed. When I raised concerns that the Society of Homeopaths failed to uphold its code of ethics with its members and allowed homeopaths to treat dangerous conditions both here and abroad, the Society chose to threaten me with legal action rather than address the criticism. Homeopaths shut their ears to these serious concerns and accuse their critics of being in the pay of pharmaceutical companies.

And secondly, medical homeopaths deserve to lose their funding because they have failed to speak out against the deluded and appalling practices of lay homeopaths. Only Dr Peter Fisher has ever made a critical remark about homeopaths when he stated that attempting to prevent malaria with homeopathy would kill people. Homeopaths continue to support their missions in Africa telling the poorest people that sugar pills can cure HIV, TB and malaria. At home, homeopaths undermine public health messages regarding vaccines.

Fisher’s sole criticism stands out in contrast to the total silence from the rest of the homeopathic supporting medical profession. The Faculty appears to be more comfortable issuing press releases actually encouraging the dangerous and irresponsible use of these sugar pills.

The lay profession is rotten to its core. Perhaps this can be best illustrated with an email message that recently appeared on the Minutus homeopathy discussion board,

baby eczema

Have had this baby on Sulphur 6 and initially he did well, then because I was going away I went and gave Mum Sulphur 30 to keep in , just in case the 6c stopped working. She decided to give the 30 and he agg!!! She gave his 6C last night and this morning things are better. This is another one where the consultants are threatening to keep him in and wet wrap with steroids but mum doesn’t want this because they saw him after she had given the Sulphur 30. Baby appears to be worse from any creams with petroleum in. Baby is very restless. The characteristic thing is that all the time he is kicking out his hands and legs furiously. He seems to be a happy child. Mum has just started trying bits of food and has found he is definitely adverse to apple, cooked or raw or disguised in baby rice!!  He is a hot child, kicks off the covers, scratches furiously whenever not occupied and this cases further eruptions. We also think there is itch without eruption.

Although eczema started at 10 weeks after vaccinations he was actually diagnosed with eczema at 8 weeks when mum though he just had very dry skin . Mum has tried many creams SOS worked for a bit but now doesn’t , Robin Logan’s 7herbs (?) didn’t help.

Have told mum to continue with sulphur 6 daily. Any other suggestions??? We want it clear again before she has to take him back to the hospital in 2 weeks!!

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Rochelle

Registered Homeopath with The Society of Homeopaths

Let me decode some of this for you.

Sulphur 6 and Sulphur 30 are just names for plain sugar pills. Both contain no real medicine. (Although there might be biologically insignificant traces in the Sulphur 6). Homeopaths believe the more you dilute a substance, the more potent a medicine is. Hence the ‘30’ version must be handled with care.

So, this poor baby has eczema – a condition that is subject to periodic flare-ups and worsening of symptoms. During periods with fewer symptoms the homeopath will be taking credit for the success of the sugar pills. But in this case, the baby appears to have been suffering, so the mother went for the ‘strong stuff’ and gave Sulphur 30. The baby got worse and so the homeopath decided this was an ‘agg’ – an aggravation- a worsening of symptoms caused by the sugar pills – often when too ‘strong’ a potency is used.

Everything that is happening to this baby is explainable within the internal logic of the homeopathic narrative. If the symptoms get better, then homeopathy is working. If things get worse, then we have an ‘aggravation’. If things stay the same, then change the remedy. At no point would a homeopath stop and ask if they are simply observing the natural course of an illness. They are the agents of everything that happens. Belief in the pills is total. The homeopath has to keep trying different remedies and different potencies – and the patient should avoid the ‘allopath’ at all costs. And a significant part of that narrative is the evil of vaccination and medicine. Anti-vaccination views are not fringe beliefs, but thoroughly mainstream within this world. Rochelle does not have to explain why it is significant that the eczema started after vaccinations. The other homeopaths will understand that these were undoubtedly a probable cause of this baby’s distress.

This is mainstream lay homeopathy. Rochelle is a tutor at a homeopathic college. The Society of Homeopaths describe what they do as a “a complete system of medicine, suitable for everyone”. This is not complementary medicine, designed to work alongside real medicine. It is strictly alternative, designed to fully replace ‘false’ systems of medicine. The homeopaths job is to keep their customer away from the ‘allopath’ who they see as the cause of chronic illnesses and totally corrupted by the financial power of pharmaceutical companies. Homeopaths are taught that it is acceptable to conspire with their patients to deceive their doctors if it ensures they will enable further homeopathic treatment.

The failure of the medical homeopaths to criticise the way non-medical homeopaths drive wedges between their customer and their doctors is, to my mind, the fatal mistake that means I have no qualms about their demise. I think it is possible that the BMA conference would not be proposing such terminal motions if the medical homeopaths had taken an unequivocal and condemning stance about the obviously unethical, nonsensical and dangerous practices of their lay colleagues. If they had shown how homeopathy could be practiced with restraint, a sense of ethics and with a respect for the science and evidence, then they might just survive.

But they have not. And there will be many examples going on, just like this baby (and unrecorded) of unnecessary and prolonged suffering because of the delusions of a homeopath. I hope the baby with eczema soon gets the proper medical care it deserves. This is not a trivial matter. In Australia recently, a similar baby died under homeopathic care for eczema after her sores become infected and she died a rather nasty death. Gloria’s parents are now in jail.

It might be argued that removing the option of NHS homeopathy might drive more people into the arms of deluded and irresponsible lay homeopaths. That might be so. But it will done without the imprimatur of state backed homeopathy. The homeopaths will no longer have their homeopathic hospitals to look towards, no matter how vestigial they are now, and they also do not have the direct support of Prince Charles and Foundation for Integrated Health after it was recently closed amid arrests for fraud and money laundering. Perhaps all they will have is a few actresses like Nadia Sawalha who are prepared to say that homeopathy cured their eczema, oblivious to absurdity of what they are endorsing.

And importantly, the homeopaths in India and Africa will not be able to point back to London and show how the UK supports this quackery. Any issues we have here are nothing compared to the people in these countries who have no access to healthcare bar the state sanctioned (or tolerated) homeopaths who swap life saving healthcare for sugar pills.

38 comments for “Why NHS Homeopathy Must End

  1. Badly Shaved Monkey
    June 17, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Great article and good news if the BMA maintain the courage of their convictions and vote for this action to be taken.

    • Richard Rawlins
      June 29, 2010 at 5:19 pm

      We just have!

      Richard Rawlins FRCS

      Member, Representative Body, BMA.

  2. AndyD
    June 18, 2010 at 6:15 am

    And then there’s the case of Penelope Dingle, wife of Australian wellness guru Peter Dingle, who died after allowing treatment of her rectal cancer with homeopathy.

    The inquest continues…

  3. June 18, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Cracking post – we must end this madness now!

  4. June 18, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Excellent as always. Rochelle should be in jail.

    (And you’ve got ‘will voting’ in the standfirst).

  5. JimR
    June 18, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I don’t know what sugars are used in the pills, but shouldn’t there be warnings on the label for diabetics. If lactose is used a warning for folks unable to digest it would also be needed.

  6. Richard Rawlins (FRCS)
    June 18, 2010 at 9:52 am

    It’s been a hard road. In 2008 I submitted a motion calling for NICE to report on Homeopathy- but no time was found in the agenda for a full debate.

    By the device of attaching my motion to others about scientific standards I was able to establish BMA policy that NICE should report. But of course, they have not done so.

    It has been reported that when he was Minister of Health, Andy Burnham, had ‘discussions’ with Prince Charles about the issue. Though those are confidential. They should not be.

    If Prince Charles has an opinion about homeopathy which he wishes to influence public policy, then he must tell us what it is and what evidence he has for holding the opinions he does. He must not deny us the secret of his insights. As a past President of the BMA he must enter the public debate. Or keep silent.

    NICE stated at the Parliamentary Committee on Homeopathy (February 2010) that they would report on homeopathy “when we are asked”.

    So, rather that simply asking (which hasn’t worked), I am now demanding that no more money be spent by the NHS on homeopathy “unless and until NICE reports”.

    Given the paucity of evidence, it shouldn’t take them very long.

    That’s it. The End.

    It’s now up to those who support NHS Homeopathy to get their evidence together and persuade NICE otherwise. And if they were to succeed, I would recommend all NHS patients have homeopathy. But the default position must be – no expenditure without evidence.

    And most certainly Boots should not be allowed to sell homeopathic products as ‘medicines’. When even they admitted they had no evidence of efficaciousness. And even Prince Charles ‘Tonics’ had to be moved to shelves under “Food Supplements” not “Medicines”. (At the behest of the Advertising Standards Authority.)

  7. June 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I’m not sure that NHS funding of homeopathy legitimises the activities of lay homeopaths, except in the minds of the lay homeopaths and their supporters. It’s symptomatic of their strange world view. NHS homeopathy is carried out by doctors and I always thought that some of the lay homeopaths have it in for both doctors and the NHS? There is an element of having your cake and eating it.

    • Antares
      June 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      I’d not be too sure that many homeopathy customers know or appreciate the difference between NHS and lay homeopathy. And if they don’t, why would the general public?

      No matter their infighting, to the outsider “NHS funds homeopathy” must sound like “homeopathy is a legitimate treatment”, much like the “keep away from children” warning on the sugar pill bottles makes them appear more like actual medicine.

      So, although it may be a detail, I’ll be very much relieved once this quackery is thrown under the bus.

  8. JimR
    June 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    playing with an anagram solver produced this:

    homeopathy = empathy + hoo

  9. DigitalGoldfish
    June 28, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I beleive the motion will be read on Wednesday

    http://www.bma.org.uk/images/armagenda2010_tcm41-197493.pdf
    Homeopathy
    * 301 Motion by THE AGENDA COMMITTEE: That this Meeting believes that, in the absence of valid
    scientific evidence of benefit:
    (i) there should be no further commissioning of, nor funding for, homeopathic remedies or
    homeopathic hospitals in the NHS;
    (ii) no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy;
    (iii) pharmacists and chemists should remove homeopathic remedies from shelves indicating
    they are ‘medicines’ of any description, and place them on shelves clearly labelled
    ‘placebos’.
    301a Motion by SHROPSHIRE DIVISION: That this Meeting demands that homeopathy should not be funded by
    the NHS due to lack of convincing evidence that it is effective. In fact there is recent evidence that it does
    not work any better than a placebo and can divert patients away from more evidence based therapy that
    they may require.
    301b Motion by SCOTTISH COUNCIL: That this Meeting believes that, given the complete lack of valid scientific
    evidence of benefit:
    (i) homeopathy should no longer be funded by the NHS;
    (ii) no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy.
    301c Motion by SOUTH DEVON DIVISION: That this Meeting is concerned to improve patients’ fully informed
    choice, and calls for those pharmacists and chemists regulated by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of
    Great Britain (or its successor during 2010 – the General Pharmaceutical Council) to remove homeopathic
    remedicines from shelves indicating they are ‘medicines’ of any description, and to place them on shelves
    clearly labelled ‘placebos’.
    301d Motion by CONFERENCE OF HONORARY SECRETARIES OF BMA DIVISIONS: That this Meeting calls for
    there to be no further commissioning of nor funding for homeopathic medicines within or by the NHS
    unless or until the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) determines the cost-effectiveness of such
    medicines and sets out guidelines and recommendations for their use in the NHS.
    301e Motion by SHROPSHIRE LMC: That this Meeting believes there is insufficient clinical evidence to justify
    NHS funding for homeopathy clinics.
    301f Motion by NORTHAMPTONSHIRE LMC: That this Meeting requests that homeopathy should be first in line
    for NHS cuts in this economic crisis since it is unproven and expensive, and patronage by royalty should not
    ensure funding for unproven treatments. Homeopathic hospitals should be paid for and funding for
    homeopathic drugs should no longer be available on the NHS.
    Contingency time Wednesday 11.05-11.10

  10. JimR.
    June 28, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    The Independent reports on the BMA in “Doctors call for total NHS ban on homoeopathy” at:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/doctors-call-for-total-nhs-ban-on-homoeopathy-2011735.html

    This is a “balanced” article with a plea at the end to not ban NHS funding.

  11. JimR.
    June 29, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Darryl Cunningham has produced a story strip about homeopathy.

    http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/2010/06/homeopathy.html

  12. Perspective
    July 7, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Have a look at this one:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/ministers-declare-war-on-britains-tranquilliser-crisis-2017933.html

    How much is the cost of all this? ‘£8 billion a year’
    How many people affected? ’1.5 million’

    A bit of perspective is needed

    • Le Canard Noir
      July 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm

      Perspective – I address this point. Please read my post. Cost is the not the central issue for me. It is that homeopaths cannot keep their own house in order and prevent dangerous beliefs spreading that kill people. The NHS should not be endorsing such stupidity. When homeopaths sort themselves out, then I would no longer object.

  13. Perspective
    July 10, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Le Canard Noir

    OK, costs may not be the main issue for you but what about the 1.5 million people affected?

    Here’s another example of the overuse of drugs;

    http://www.fftimes.com/node/229972

    As for the baby with eczema how do you know what happened in that case? Your comments are presumptions that fit in with your own ideas. You could have equally said ‘the baby made a full recovery without the risks of side effects from the steroid creams.’

    What gets me is the hysteria emanating from the anti-homeopathy brigade. your comments are mild compared with some I have seen.

    I have used homeopathic remedies on occasions, on a trial and error basis and found them to be both effective and ineffective. Effective when the correct remedy is used but ineffective when the incorrect remedy is used, suggesting that there are medicinal differences between the sugar pills.

    Perspective still needed

    • Le Canard Noir
      July 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      No matter what the problems with real medicine, it does not mean that homeopathy works. Homeopathy has to present its case on its own merits. And no matter what, it is still pseudo-scientific gibberish – with practitioners who are dangers to their clients.

      PS You appear to believe the pills worked for you. How do you know it was not just the natural course of your illness and you have post hoc rationalised your experiences?

      • Perspective
        August 3, 2010 at 9:30 pm

        Oh dear, I spot a massive overdose of hypocrisy and double standards. That’s what comes from focusing on a negative.
        At least the government have shown some sense on this issue.
        The anti-homeopathy brigade have not advanced a single argument against the effectiveness of homeopathy all we get is tabloid style verbiage- mumbo-jumbo, wichcraft, magick potions and so on.

        As for my own illness, as you know (but deny to yourself), homeopathy works by stimulating the immune system and when this starts, you get a feeling of well being. This has only occurred on the occasions I have used homeopathy, proving to me that it works. It’s happened several times over the years. Now that effect never happened with aspirin.

        PS, Jules, pregancy is not a disease.

  14. jules
    July 19, 2010 at 8:05 am

    I,ll believe homeopathy works the day I see a homeopathic birth control pill, that no one gets pregnant on while using it…

  15. gabe
    March 16, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Amazing!! You cite evidence of homeopathy actually working in your own anti-homeopathy litany, (and lets not pretend this article is not extremely and openly biased, written very much like an article in the Sun Newspaper) and then mock the person stating homeopathy cured them. Your argument is totally circular.

    Homeopathy works for her therefor she believes in homeopathy
    She believes in homeopathy therefor she must be a loon
    She is a loon and believes in homeopathy, therefor only lunatics believe in homeopathy

    Just as a bit of background… I suffered with asthma for many years. I was given inhalers and they cured the attacks when they happened, but the attacks soon became more frequent. my dosage was upped. the attacks skyrocketed. my inhaler was changed, that week i ended up in hospital unable to breathe. From that day (aged 8) I outright refused to take inhalers any more. Over 6 months the asthma faded. I am now 29 and havent had an attack in 20 years. If homeopathy is nothing more than sugar pills, at least they wont do me any harm. conventional medicine nearly killed me. There is enormous evidence that homeopathy is effective, but hey, who cares about evidence when your mind is already made up.

  16. gabe
    March 16, 2012 at 12:19 am

    ( AGED 8 )

  17. Le Canard Noir
    March 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Gabe – you are making the fundamental error that all believers in homeopathy make. Let’s be clear – anecdotes are not evidence. Just because you witness an improvement in health after a treatment does not mean that treatment was the cause of that improvement. An improvement does not mean ‘works’.

    Asthma and eczema are common childhood ailments. The key word here is ‘childhood’ as for many, the conditions will improve over time and disappear by adulthood. For your anecdote to become evidence you would have to demonstrate that the improvements you saw were the specific result of your taking homeopathy and not just an expected improvement over time. Many children lose their asthma from childhood without taking homeopathy. How do you know you were not just like these children?

    This is hard to do. That is while properly controlled trials are so important. And that is one of the key ways we know homeopathy is totally ineffective.

  18. gabe
    March 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Erm… I did not take any homeopathic remedy for my asthma. I simply stopped taking my “conventional” medicine. The problem cleared up almost immediately. While taking the medicine the problem had been accelerating rapidly. I am not particularly a believer in homeopathy, any more than I am a believer in conventional medicine. In my mind they are both, in most cases, merely nice people trying to cure other peoples ailments. The problem is when money becomes involved peoples priorities shift. This is an almost universal truth. Im not saying money makes you evil or anything as hard and fast as that, just that it adds another dimension to what was before a simple “you are ill, I know how to fix you.”

    I believe that whatever was in my inhaler was NOT the right treatment for me. I also strongly suspect that the doctor who prescribed it to me has not lost much sleep over this matter, in his extremely expensive comfortable bed. The same can be said of the doctor who prescribed me antidepressants within 5 minutes of me stating “Ive been having trouble getting up in the morning and concentrating at college.” No more questions were asked. I was prescribed some (rather expensive) antidepressants and told that was that. I didnt take them. I haven’t visited any sort of doctor, homeopathic or otherwise since. I have also been a shining example of good health ever since.

    My point is: There is an enormous amount of money in conventional medicine. For the doctors (unfortunately not the nurses), for the consultants, and the companies making medicines. This makes me wary of them. There may be money in homeopathy but a tiny sliver in comparison. How often do you hear golddiggers say “I’m gonna find me a rich homeopath”? The fact that there is little money in homeopathy makes me feel that although there is a lot of evidence against its validity, the people who practice it (for the large part at least, and yes there will be exceptions) are doing it because they want to make sick people healthy.

    I have had this Evidence/Anecdote argument before and I dont think it holds water. Yes a proper scientifically controlled trial is the best way to determine if something works. but there are flaws in that method. For it to be effective, you have to KNOW that you have taken into account EVERY variable. This is usually nigh on impossible. With homeopathy it is even more difficult as the idea behind the treatment is to give the bodies immune defences the tiniest of nudges in the right direction and hoping it will essentially “get the idea” and cure the disease itself. People who do these sorts of trials are often guilty of assuming that they are infallible and also that the 10’000 layman outside banging on their door shouting “IT WORKED FOR ME!” are nothing more than uneducated ill-informed irritations. Anecdotal EVIDENCE should not be totally discounted, especially when it comes from a very large number of sources. Perhaps they know of a variable the scientist doing the trial failed to notice.

    I dont mean to be aggressive but this article has angered me with its sensationalist, unbalanced approach, sounding more like it is drumming up unnecessary anger and division, rather than aiming to get people the best medical help they can get. It is extremely easy to bash the “fringes” and nowhere is this more prevalent than on the internet. People can be called “quacks” “loonies” “conspiracy theorists” all safe in the knowledge that they are miles and miles away, and as long as the original article includes enough derision and mocking, any attempt to defend themselves will be met by a crowd of insults, normally not from the original writer, but from the totally uninformed masses who know nothing about the matter other than what they have read in this awful article. Homeopathy is not “totally ineffective” Even if it is nothing more than a placebo, placebos work. If it is more than a placebo, then thats a bonus.

    I guess what I am trying to say, is that before making statements like “And that is one of the key ways we KNOW homeopathy is totally ineffective” you should look inside yourself and ask a few questions.
    “Why am I so certain of myself, have I personally proved without any shadow of a doubt that my views are correct, or am I making a bit of a leap of faith? Do I feel comfortable making this leap of faith because I am “with” the status quo and “against” the fringes? Would I be so very bold if I had to meet a large room containing all the people my words will effect, or would I choose my words more carefully? Perhaps your answers to these questions will all affirm your previous views unequivocally. However if that is the case, then from my point of view, you are no scientist.

    • Will
      March 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      gabe,

      I looked inside myself…

      “Why am I so certain of myself”

      Because it’s obvious (to an open mind). Homoeopathy doesn’t work. Homoeopathy can’t work. This has been proven time and time again. To ignore all the data is closed-minded. Which is not good. How it doesn’t work is utterly irrelevant. You’re quite right that not all tests are perfect, but the fairer the test, the stronger the conclusion that homoeopathy doesn’t work.

      “have I personally proved without any shadow of a doubt that my views are correct”

      I have ‘proof enough’ to get on with my life leaving this, and many other bits of nonsense behind. Like I have ‘proof enough’ that there are no tigers in my kitchen (sorry LCN!). I mean I can’t be 100% sure that a crazy zoo keeper hasn’t put some in there whilst I was at work, but the probability is so low that I’m not going to sweat it.

      “or am I making a bit of a leap of faith?”

      No.

      “Do I feel comfortable making this leap of faith because I am “with” the status quo and “against” the fringes?”

      No. It’s because anyone with a high school education can understand that homoeopathy is rubbish. It only gets complicated when a psychological deficiency trumps very simple reasoning and a need to believe some nonsense arises. Do you take a ‘leap of faith’ in disbelieving the moon is made of cheese? Because you are ‘with the status quo’? ‘Against the fringes’? No. You disbelieve it because it’s stupid.

      “Would I be so very bold if I had to meet a large room containing all the people my words will effect”

      Yes.

      “or would I choose my words more carefully?”

      No.

      “Perhaps your answers to these questions will all affirm your previous views unequivocally.”

      They won’t alter my previous views one bit, because these questions do not add to or detract from the available evidence regarding the efficacy of homoeopathy. That is all my views are based on.

      “However if that is the case, then from my point of view, you are no scientist.”

      You clearly have a very strong idea of what you think a scientist is. Unfortunately, you, like the vast majority of the population, do not understand what science is, or what it does. It’s OK. Should you want to, you can find out.

      But, I suspect that you are more interested in building up a ‘straw man’ scientist, who is the opposite to you and at whom you can go “BOOO!!! HISSSS!!!” like a pantomime baddie. If that makes you feel better, good for you. But please don’t think that this affects what scientists actually are/do or that it amounts to ‘thinking’. It’s more like playing with yourself.

  19. Le Canard Noir
    March 16, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    gabe

    My article is about how homeopaths promote their sugar pills for malaria. Do you believe placebos can prevent or treat this lethal disease? I am not sure you understand to what sense a placebo can be said to ‘work’. They alter beliefs – not the course of a disease.

    You also appear to be under many illusions. Presuming you are from the UK, how much money do you think your doctor makes from prescribing certain drugs to you? In any country, getting kick backs for prescriptions is totally unethical and something that only nutritionists do.

    And I am quite happy to defend that homeopathy is a nonsense with any room of people. The science, reason and evidence is on my side. And I would be very condemning of any homeopath who defended the use of their sugar pills against dangerous diseases. My conscience would allow nothing else.

  20. gabe
    March 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Your article is about how homeopaths should be totally ousted from the NHS and not only that but ridiculed at the same time. I do not believe sugar pills alone can cure malaria. I also do not believe that conventional medicine is much better. A point highlighted by the fact that a friend of mine who spent two years digging wells in some of the poorer areas of Africa caught malaria despite taking every precaution under the sun, including the harsh regime of anti malaria tablets that have caused irreparable damage to her liver which she will live with for the rest of her life.

    I am indeed from the UK but lived in Texas at the time of the treatments I mentioned and the totally ineffective treatments cost my parents a fairly large chunk of their not so large income. My total refusal to take the medicines prescribed scared them immensely, and they tried for some weeks to persuade me to take them, until they saw my symptoms fading. In the end my refusal to take the medicine not only cured the problem but also saved them a large sum of money. I am very sure I understand how a placebo can be said to work. Its quite simple. Placebo taken-Problem goes. Yes I understand that the placebo does not actively effect the disease, it effects the mind of the person it is administered too. The human mind/body/immune systems are incredibly powerful and complex things. Things which we as a race do not fully understand. We know a lot about them, but in no way know everything about them.

    Do you know absolutely everything there is to know about the human mind/body/immune systems? If so I withdraw, defeated. If not perhaps you should be a little more scientific in your approach. By all means stand against homeopathy, but your tabloid-esqe writing style leads me to believe you are less concerned about finding the truth, more concerned that people merely agree with your entrenched, unmovable, almost religious belief that all homeopaths are fools and should be ridiculed and ignored at all costs. Until then, I remain, resolutely, a fence sitter. Open and willing to listen to both sides of the argument, as long as they remain sensible and dont descend into mere closed minded volleys of abuse from either side.

    By the way, what does your conscience tell you about “conventional” doctors prescribing medicines that are not only ineffective, but counter productive? A placebo will at best cure the problem, at worst do nothing. Putting large amounts of chemicals into the body on the grounds that one effect they appear to have is to cure the disease in question, can and has killed, and will no doubt do so many many times again.

  21. Le Canard Noir
    March 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    gabe – you appear to be confusing ‘closed mindedness’ with ‘coming to conclusions based on reason and evidence’.

    I am very open minded about evidence. As you will see on the front page of this site, I have been running a simple challenge to homeopaths for 222 weeks. (Versions of this challenge have been running for 170 years). If a homeopath can demonstrate a very simple experiment to confirm what they say then I will change my mind. Being closed minded is not being able to countenace changing your mind no matter what. Ask a homeopath what experiment they would conduct that will change their mind – you will not get an answer.

    You are also very confused about placebos. Placebos do not cure diseases – by definition – they are inert treatments. What can happen though is peoples beliefs can be manipulated, expectations changed etc. Giving a placebo is a deceit. Pure and simple. You may have good intentions in giving a placebo – but it is still lying.

    And yes, I can get quite angry at people like you who claim to ‘fence sit’. Giving ineffective treatments to people who need real treatments will harm them. You sit on a fence whilst harm is being done. Do you see why people might get a tad angry about that?

    So, a simple question:

    Is it possible, like so many other children, you had a period where you suffered from asthma, and then grew out of it, naturally?

  22. gabe
    March 17, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Hehe, this response amuses me.

    “you, like the vast majority of the population, do not understand what science is, or what it does. It’s Ok. Should you want to, you can find out.”

    WOW! Did you use your magic science to look into my brain? Im glad you have reassured me that it’s ok and that I can find out. You see I was starting to worry that with my unfortunate background of a silly father who is little more than an honorary fellow of cambridge university due to the advances he has made in theoretical physics, an ill-educated mother who scrapes a living teaching psychology and cognitive therapy and a sister who has a doctorate in the history of science, that I was ill equipped to understand science, but seeing as a black duck has reassured me, now I feel better.

    You make the rather odd assumption that I have something against scientists purely because I say you aren’t one? You sir, need to keep your ego in check. Anyway, this is all getting a bit personal, a sure sign of a flawed argument….

    and on that note…you keep trying to persuade me that i am confused about the meanings of words. Although I am suggesting nothing about your argument in particular, I would like to mention that usually when someone argues their point by picking fault with the language I use rather than the general idea I am quite obviously attempting to put across or attacking me in an argumentum ad hominem style, it makes me wonder whether they are interested in coming to the correct conclusion together, or merely appearing to be correct to any onlookers who do not understand the argument itself.

    I will say again….I am not confused about placebos. In fact I may as well just cut and paste my previous statement: “Its quite simple. Placebo taken-Problem goes. Yes I understand that the placebo does not actively effect the disease, it effects the mind of the person it is administered too.” I know the placebo does not act directly on the disease, but merely tricks the mind into believing it will get better, at which point quite astoundingly, it does get better. If taking the placebo makes the disease go away, the placebo has worked, no matter the mechanism by which it did so. To cure someone with no chemical invasion, no side effects, and certainly no long term liver damage is an amazing thing in my opinion, and should not be scoffed at merely because it doesn’t require years of training and a cocktail of complex chemicals.

    I am in no way trying to persuade you that homeopathy is fantastic, but simply that writing the whole thing off as useless superstition despite its long history, its innumerable practitioners and the enormous wealth of people who will happily tell you when and how it improved their lives, is little more than self indulgent egotism.

    “And yes, I can get quite angry at people like you who claim to ‘fence sit’. Giving ineffective treatments to people who need real treatments will harm them. You sit on a fence whilst harm is being done. Do you see why people might get a tad angry about that?”

    Giving ineffective treatments to people who need real treatments will not harm them, it simply won’t help either. Giving harmful treatments to someone, such as malaria tablets that cause liver damage, and apparently don’t prevent malaria, does actively harm them. But the people selling the malaria tablets apparently aren’t that bothered. Giving me ventolin nearly killed me. I don’t know why and probably never will. Some sort of dependency/tolerance issue I assume. It seems the people selling the ventolin don’t particularly care. Yes I understand that you, I, and many others get angry when they see someone who is desperately in need of proper medical treatment being treated by someone who is not helping them in the slightest. Just the way I get angry when I think back to the useless doctor getting paid god knows how much an hour to do little more than throw antidepressants at every patient who comes genuinely asking for help. I did not need antidepressants any more than I needed ventolin. You see many doctors are just as bad as many homeopaths. However I doubt very much you would call for the NHS to cut all funding to conventional medicine, because of a few bad eggs.

    I also understand that a huge number of people have chosen to avoid conventional medicine for whatever reason, and despite a lack of positive results in controlled medical trials have found homeopathy improves their quality of life. What you are suggesting is not tighter controls on homeopathic practice, it is the total eradication of homeopathy. You are essentially trying to take away an option that helps many ill people recover. You are doing exactly what you claim makes you so angry. Placebo or not, it makes some people healthier.

    In answer to your question, yes there is a chance that my asthma accelerated rapidly of its own accord. Totally unconnected from the ever increasing medication. There is a chance that my young body got over the asthma at coincidentally exactly the same time that i made the decision to throw away the medicine and try letting my own immune system do its job. This is entirely possible. I do not personally believe this to be the case. But I will not rule it out. You appear to be suggesting that the many thousands (probably millions, if not more) of people who found they got better shortly after taking a homeopathic remedy were all affected by the same fluke. A greater or lesser probability than 1:720 I wonder…..

    We as a race are by no means at the end of our education. We do not know everything about the body. We know remarkably little about the mind. We do not fully understand the interactions of particles, in water, out of water, totally unconnected from water. What we do know is that many people appear to have their lives improved by homeopathy, and just because we cannot work out how, you suggest we bin the whole idea. And then you have the arrogance to insult MY scientific credibility.

    In regard to the experiment you outline on the front page of your website. It seems you are suggesting a perfectly healthy person take 6 random medicines and then in some manner akin to a wine tasting, tell you what six remedies they just took. I fully understand why no one has taken you up on the offer. I suggest you try injecting six different mystery vaccines and then telling me what you are now supposedly immune to.

    In fact I don’t suggest you do this. Despite your rather offensive language towards me I wish no ill upon you, and would suggest you actually avoid ingesting any unnecessary medication unless you are about to croak, your (probably weakened from years of obseletion from premature medical intervention) immune system has failed you and you have no other option. The fact that there are major arguments against the efficacy of vaccination I have no real desire to get bogged down in now.

    What I would really like to see, is a website giving a full and balanced argument. Perhaps essays from leading “experts” from both sides. Discussions and forums where the science is the focus, not the nature of the person speaking. It may well be that after researching the matter, I find I totally agree that homeopathy is nothing more than superstition. It is equally possible that after reading all the information I can I will decide that there is more to homeopathy than our current understanding of science allows us to unravel. However, your sensationalist style, in my opinion, does more harm than good to your cause. All it will achieve is to draw in the dumb, the easily persuaded, those weak minded enough to be swayed by your tabloid-esqe style of writing, and drive away anyone with enough confidence in their own intelligence to make their own decisions when faced with complete arguments from both sides.

    • Will
      March 17, 2012 at 9:55 am

      Gabe,

      You complain at the way you have been attacked, but I am only challenging your logic.

      The truth is this: There is a continuous stream of people writing here who disagree with LCN’s writing. They pull out every logical fallacy in the book, but never any evidence. Then they go away.

      By logical fallacy I mean things like ‘homoeopathy worked for me’. It didn’t. Time and time again I have engaged with people who have made this claim and it has ALWAYS been the case that they were suffering from a mild, or a self-limiting, or a psychosomatic condition. No one on here has written to honestly claim that they were cured of a serious, acute, maybe even lethal condition by alternative medicine.

      Things like ‘millions of people believe…’ So?

      Things like ‘But I DO understand science…’ Yeah? So why all the logical fallacies and no evidence?

      Things like ‘but conventional medicine killed x, y and z…’ Yes. And that is tragic. But do you want to return to Victorian levels of infant mortality? Do you want to return to a life expectancy of 30 or 40 years? A time when almost any infection would be fatal? That would be more tragic, no? Modern medicine has had much to learn and is improving all the time. We all know the bad things about side effects, suppressed trial data and big bad Pharma; but these things in of themselves do not make homoeopathy real.

      Things like appealing to authority. I am making no claims about your parents, but how can informing us of their scientific credentials support your argument, which has none? I am asserting that you don’t get science because of what you have written. Only that. Also, don’t make us drag out the list of people who have climbed very high in science/academia and are frauds, or believe a lot of rubbish.

      You say “I will say again….I am not confused about placebos.” but I’m afraid you are. You seem to keep suggesting that the placebo effect can cure any disease, so if homoeopathy has only the placebo effect then it can cure any disease. This is wrong. The placebo effect is mental, so will only have an effect on conditions that have a mental component (not a broken leg, say). Many conditions; non-specific aches and pains, depression, anxiety, some respiratory conditions etc. are psychosomatic. A placebo could help here. Malaria and AIDS etc. are not psychosomatic and a sugar pill will not help (which you basically acknowledge). Also, the tendency for homoeopaths to encourage patients to eschew conventional medicine (don’t be under the false impression that homoeopathy is ‘complimentary’) has led to missed diagnoses and death on many occasions.

      You focus on bad things that have happened to people being treated conventionally, but (like many contributors on this blog) ignore the number of people who have been completely and unequivocally cured with conventional medicine. No one has ever demonstrated a cure using homoeopathy. Ever.

      Which is why when you say “…simply that writing the whole thing off as useless superstition despite its long history, its innumerable practitioners and the enormous wealth of people who will happily tell you when and how it improved their lives…” is preposterous. You can say exactly the same thing about any number of bonkers superstitions. How is that even an argument for you? Can you imagine your physicist father (who I shall assume is a fine scientist) writing a paper discrediting the theory that the Earth is round, arguing that there is a ‘long history’ of people believing that it’s flat? No. There are ‘millions of people’ who would have sworn that the Sun goes round the Earth “look it’s obvious! There it goes! Round and Round!! See the evidence with your own eyes! How can you deny THAT?!” These arguments just don’t work. You can find people who swear by African witch doctors, but I bet you didn’t ‘sit on the fence’ when you heard about Kristy Bamu. You will have been as disgusted as the rest of us. Or did you want to hear ‘complete arguments from both sides’? Well, I find people setting up homoeopathy clinics in Africa and telling people to come off their antiretrovirals and take sugar pills to be in the same league.

      Your parents may be Albert Einstein and Florence Nightingale, but for you to say “Giving ineffective treatments to people who need real treatments will not harm them…” is simply stunningly stupid and irresponsible.

      Read this website (http://whatstheharm.net/homeopathy.html) from start to finish and then make some funny glib comment about “but think it unlikely that i could be killed by a sugar tablet unless it was administered at an extremely high velocity.”

      • gabe
        March 17, 2012 at 10:56 pm

        After reading the suggested website it seems clear to me that none of these people were harmed by a sugar tablet. By poor advice, by mis-understanding the facts, by their own stupidity (and I apologise for any offence caused by this comment), and to a very large extent, by the personal bias of the person trying to treat them. The woman who died of an asthma attack is a good example. A short term bronchodilater would most likely have saved her life. The fact she didn’t take it I have to assume was because she had been convinced by someone, not that she should avoid them where possible, but that they were in some way evil. This is exactly the sort of thing I am trying to stop. I agree that they should be avoided where possible. I personally believe all medicine should be avoided where possible. But when it is totally necessary, personal fear/hatred of a treatment can have extremely negative effects. Just like a fear/hatred of homeopathy rather than a simple distrust, or even disbelief can only have negative effects.

  23. gabe
    March 17, 2012 at 4:29 am

    On an interesting side note, I have just happened upon this:

    http://abchomeopathy.com/scientific.htm

    “You may be wondering why all the notable trials of homeopathy compare it to a placebo. This is because an empty ‘placebo’ pill has been proven to be beneficial in treating many conditions. For example, see this article on CNN (http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/11/27/ethics.matters/). It is worth noting that at least homeopathy has never been proven worse than placebo, unlike conventional medicines, such as Seroxat – the anti-depressant that lead to suicides.”

    Seroxat was in fact the antidepressant I was wrongly prescribed. I binned the prescription on my way home. I had not heard of it causing suicides before today and certainly had no idea at the time of being given the prescription. Apparently after a few weeks of medication a large number of people attempted suicide, whereas a statistically significantly smaller number attempted suicide when given placebos. I am somewhat gobsmacked. I now think myself INCREDIBLY lucky. My ingrained distaste for putting unnecessary chemicals in my body has now possibly saved my life twice it seems.

    I have never visited a homeopath, but think it unlikely that i could be killed by a sugar tablet unless it was administered at an extremely high velocity. What I would give to visit the doctors who prescribed me these medicines, and sit down for a little chat with them over tea and perhaps a biscuit. Perhaps administered at extreme velocity.

    • Vicky
      March 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

      Gabe, if you had happened upon a study from GSK saying “Seroxat doesn’t increase the risk of suicide”, would you believe it? Probably not, so why would you cite “abchomeopathy”? And why is it so interesting to read that what is most likely* a placebo “at least isn’t outperformed by other placebos”? That’s what you’d expect if the trials are properly blinded.

      Seroxat isn’t the only antidepressant that may “lead to suicides” (or rather make people act upon their suicidal thoughts – the “sluggishness” often goes before the mood increases), it’s a known side effect of antidepressants.

      Your last argument is a straw man – nobody here is saying that (high potency) homeopathy is actively harmful. It’s the time lost when “treating” serious conditions with homeopathy and the philosophy (telling people that pharmaceutical medicine is only “driving the disease more deeply into your body”) that is harmful. Do I want it banned? No, as long as people know exactly what it is they’re free to use it anyway, but I prefer they use their own money on it. As long as it’s an informed choice I’m OK with them using “alternative” treatments even if that means they’ll die from a treatable disease. They can do pretty much whatever they want (with their own health), but unfortunately we cannot rely on homeopaths to properly inform them.
      Did your friend know that antimalarials aren’t 100% effective – I bet she did. The homeopaths “treating”/”preventing” malaria don’t tell their patients that their sugar pills are ineffective (because they don’t believe they are – homeopathic philosophy says they should be effective).

      *I think that given the universal claims of homeopathy’s philosophy, there may be some “low potency” homeopathic preparations that really work, but since the process of selecting the “remedy” is based on nonsense you have to be extremely lucky to be treated with the “right one” even if you’re treated with a pharmacologically active “remedy”.
      And, btw, there are trials where the placebo outperformed the homeopathic preparation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9758072

      • gabe
        March 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

        A placebo outperformed a homeopathic remedy in clinical trials??

        This suggests one of three things to me:

        1) The trial showed that there is a measurably different effect after administering a placebo sugar pill, and a sugar pill with added homeopathy.

        2) The trial has proven a sugar tablet to be measurably more effective a treatment than… a sugar tablet.

        3) The results are statistically similar, but because the actual numbers work in favour of your argument, you have chosen to throw statistics out the window.

      • gabe
        March 17, 2012 at 10:41 pm

        In fact I will comment again as this post highlights the point I am trying hard to make clear.

        “Did your friend know that antimalarials aren’t 100% effective – I bet she did. The homeopaths “treating”/”preventing” malaria don’t tell their patients that their sugar pills are ineffective (because they don’t believe they are – homeopathic philosophy says they should be effective).”

        I am not trying to defend homeopathy, I am trying to point out that the obvious personal bias in the language used in the article takes away from its credibility. You “bet” my friend knew the tablets were not 100% effective. You apparently know for certain “homeopaths “treating”/”preventing” malaria don’t tell their patients that their sugar pills are” (and now for the sake of balance I end quote) not 100% effective. It seems very clear to me that you WANT homeopathy to be wrong, and that you allow that to colour your judgement when reviewing the evidence. I don’t care whether you believe homeopathy works or not, but if you mis-inform people, on purpose or through lack of self awareness, you are doing them a dis-service. If some people want homeopathy as it improves their quality of life, then why take that away from them? If the NHS is not there to improve quality of life, then what is it for? By all means call for stricter guidelines. I totally agree that any medic who promotes lying to any other medic needs a serious talking too, and if they don’t change then yes, inform the relevant parties. But removing an option that many people use and are happier for it, merely because you don’t understand why they like it, is nothing more than egotistical self righteousness.

      • Vicky
        March 17, 2012 at 11:19 pm

        gabe, instead of theorising about what the result suggests to you you could have looked at it (or at least at the abstract)?

        Why do I bet that your friend knew that antimalarials aren’t 100% effective – because it’s in the patient information sheet. I have no doubt that homeopaths tell their “patients” that their pills aren’t 100% effective, but the problem is that in the absence of positive evidence that the pills do anything they should tell their patients that the pills probably won’t work and they should not use them as a substitute for antimalarials.
        Why would I want homeopathy to be wrong? It would be great if this worked – but careful analysis of the trials done so far tell us that it doesn’t. Yet homeopaths tell their “patients” that it does, and trials just don’t show it because RCTs cannot test homeopathy.

        “Many people like it” shouldn’t be a reason to publicly fund a therapy that has no proven benefit.

  24. Badly Shaved Monkey
    March 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

    gabe

    You persistently labour under the misconception that placebos can “cure” disease. For significant physical conditions the accumulating evidence is firmly that this is not true. 

    Read this;

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/spin-city-placebos-and-asthma/

    You will see that it relates to asthma and deals directly with the dangerous divergence that exists between what a patient reports to be their subjective experience under the conditions of a trial and that it can be in defiance of the objective facts of their medical status. Can you come up with reasons why patients would do this? If you can, it would show you have properly grasped the mechanics of placebo-controlled studies. You might want to tell us about the Hawthorne Effect as part of your answer.

    You have become very touchy at implications that you have not really got a good understanding of the need for scientific trials and the near-uselessness of anecdote, but everything you write suggests you have not. The scientific credentials of your family are not terribly helpful here when we are discussing the arguments that you are presenting. It is not fallaciously ad hominem to say that your arguments are ill-founded and infer that your understanding of the scientific method is weak. It is a sad truth that it is weak for many people even doctors and people who work as scientists. The ways in which medical trials can deceive and confuse are actually quite subtle. 

    If you read that SBM article you will also gain an insight into the way that SCAM promoters spin trial results in flagrant contradiction of what actually occurred. 

    The other point that bears repeating is that reiterating the mantra that Big Pharma can be naughty lends exactly zero credibility to homeopathy. There are many good discussions to be had about how to control drug companies, but promoting homeopathy, and almost any other SCAM modality that you might cite, is just an unhelpful distraction the net effect of which is to diffuse the criticism of Big Pharma by making its most vociferous opponents look like easily dismissed loons precisely because they are easily dismissed loons. 

  25. Badly Shaved Monkey
    March 17, 2012 at 10:10 am

    gabe

    It might be helpful to get you to answer another specifif question. You have repeated, “Placebo taken-Problem goes. ” How do we measure whether a problem has ‘gone’?

    • gabe
      March 17, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      The patient should be the judge of that I suppose. If they feel their quality of life has improved, if they feel less hindered by the symptoms, essentially if they are happier and feel an improvement over an extended period (rather than just an initial “high” after being treated), then the placebo can be said to have worked. Quality of life is what this is all about after all.

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