Homeopathy and the 10:23 Campaign


10:23 Campaign

The 10:23 Campaign

On January 30th, 2010, at exactly 10:23am, large groups of skeptics will gather in the town centres of around a dozen cities in the UK and consume a full bottle of homeopathic pills, in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of homeopathy. Marsh explains why…

Homeopathy in the UK is alarmingly pervasive – setting aside the fact that the industry is worth an estimated £40million per year, the National Health Service actually plows £4million per year of taxpayers’ money into providing sugar pills as a Complementary Alternative Medicine – much of which goes into the upkeep of the four government-run homeopathic hospitals. That figure doesn’t even take into account the £20 million spent on the redevelopment of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. According to the British Homeopathy Association, more than 400 GPs regularly refer patients to homeopaths. Homeopathy is everywhere. And then we have the UK’s leading pharmacy, Boots…

Boots are as much a British national institution as the Royal family, the BBC and the sense of quiet superiority over our former colonies. Yet this well-respected and trusted organisation lends its well-earned reputation to quackery in the sale of homeopathic remedies (including it’s own-brand range) alongside real medicine. What’s more, their decision to stock these sugar pills is compounded by the fact that they have no real belief in their effectiveness, as became clear in the laugh-a-minute evidence check session, where Boots’ Professional Stand-up Com… sorry, Professional Standards Director Paul Bennett admitted the company’s policy of selling homeopathic remedies was based not on a belief that they work, but in a belief that they sell, and sell well. And that’s before we even take a look inside the Pandora’s box that is the Boots Learning Store – Alternative Medicine module (sample statement: ‘Foxglove (Digitalis) extract is used in the treatment of heart failure’).

Fortunately, homeopathy hasn’t been without its detractors and skeptical voices here in the UK – with David ColquhounSimon Singh & Edzard Ernst, James Randi (of course) and a whole range of other science writers and bloggers confronting homeopathy with sanity. Still, it’s not the science writers who have had the most success in getting information to the public of late – while having real science to hand is essential in helping dispense with the pseudoscience, it’s perhaps been the contributions of comedians and satirists that have had most success in spreading real information to the man on the street. For every Edzard Ernst picking apart the latest meta-analysis, we need a Dara Ó Briain telling the world ‘It’s just fecking water’; for every Quackometer showing where regulation is failing to keep homeopathy in check, we need a Mitchell & Webb to show us how ludicrous homeopathic healthcare actually is; for every Tim Farley answering the question ‘What’s The Harm?‘, we need a Tim Minchin asking the question ‘if water can remember a long lost drop of onion juice, how come it forgets all the poo it’s had in it?’ (the best answer to this, by the way, came from a satirist who claimed it was due to succussion: ‘As you beat the memory into the water, you beat the shit out of it’).

In short, the fight to raise awareness of homeopathy is best fought when everyone can bring what they have to the table, whether they’re ‘experts’ or otherwise. And this, essentially, was the inspiration behind the 10:23 campaign.

At the Merseyside Skeptics Society, we took inspiration from the success of the Australian Skeptics campaigning against ear candles via the publishing of an open letter, stealing the idea outright to pen An Open Letter To Alliance Boots appealing to them to remove homeopathic remedies from their shelves. From there, the 10:23 campaign grew – a website was launched with the aim to have a resource where people can go for basic information on homeopathy in simple, accessible English.

The goals of the 10:23 campaign are equally simple and accessible – to help raise awareness of what homeopathy is (and what it very much isn’t); to give individual writers and bloggers a banner and brand name to use when doing their day-to-day homeopathy-debunking, helping make their work easier to find and promote (do a quick search for #ten23 on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean); and to promote critical thinking to a wider audience.

As the campaign’s progressed, two questions have come up time and time again, and it’s probably a good idea to answer them now: ‘What’s next for the 10:23 campaign?’ and ‘Why is it called the 10:23 campaign anyway?’ I’ll answer the latter first… Yes, it is partly to do with the Avogadro constant. There are those that may think using this as the name for the campaign is something of an exclusive, scientific in-joke that would put off the non-science-savvy – here, I must disagree. Instead I believe it gives an opportunity to talk about the levels of dilution involved in homeopathy, and what effect they have on the ingredients of the sugar pills. What’s more, there’s more to the name than simply Avogadro, which leads me to the second questions…

On January 30th, 2010, at exactly 10:23am, large groups of skeptics will gather in the town centres of around a dozen cities in the UK and consume a full bottle of homeopathic pills, in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of homeopathy. Similar events will be taking place in the US, Canada and Australia. While the scientific evidence is there for people to find, we’re hoping this very public demonstration will help give people the motivation to go look for it.

Contact your nearest Skeptics in the Pub group for information about how to get involved. Organisers of local skeptical groups can email contact@1023.org.uk for more information. See you on January 30th!

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  1. #1 by Jonathan B on January 25, 2010 - 23:55

    Hi,

    I have commented on the ‘Skeptics in the Pub’/ ’10.23’ campaign against homeopathy on both the ‘Leicester Mercury’ website and the ‘Daily Telegraph’ Comments Board but since the discussion on both forums seems to have degenerated into a slanging match, I thought I’d send this to you direct.

    Incidentally, I should say that I don’t have any particular interest in homeopathy or any other ‘alternative medicine’. I’ve never taken a homeopathic product in my life. I’m not even particularly convinced by the arguments put forward by proponents of homeopathy. I do have some knowledge of research and evaluation (albeit from a social science perspective) and a professional interest in the care of people with long-term chronic illnesses (particularly neurological conditions).

    First, I think that campaigners against homeopathy have been guilty of distorting the evidence: homeopathy, in robust Randomised Control Trial experiments, tends to perform no better than placebos. However, this does not prove that ‘homeopathy doesn’t work’; the placebo effect is widely recognised and quite powerful in certain circumstances. It is probably more important in conventional medicine than one might think. A study has ascribed most of the effects of anti-depressant medication to ‘placebo’, and I suspect that quite a lot of conventional prescribing by doctors employs it, even if it is not made explicit. If homeopathic treatments consistently produced effects equivalent to those experienced by the ‘no treatment’ groups in RCTs, the conclusion that they ‘don’t work’ would be justified, but that’s not the case. There is no entirely conclusive explanation of the placebo effect, but it is most probably the result of some interaction between psychology and neurology: people expect to feel better because they are being ‘treated’, so they do feel better. I’d say, therefore, that the accurate verdict on homeopathy, given the evidence, is that it may be of benefit to people who believe it will be effective.

    This seems to me to be particularly important in the context of chronic and incurable conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and the like: there is a very close relationship between physical health and emotional well-being. Fear, hopelessness and powerlessness are all psychologically debilitating, and my view would be that anything that counteracts them by offering a sense of control and optimism has the potential to be beneficial, even if its ‘real’ physiological effects are illusory. There is of course an ethical issue here that is quite intractable: is it always better to ‘know the truth’? And does anyone have the right to impose knowledge of ‘the truth’ on anyone else? However, given that it is easy enough to find out about the evidence base for homeopathy, I think that people should be able to do so if they wish and make their own decisions about what they buy and consume. To put it another way, if a placebos can help people, but their efficacy is dependent on the patient’s ignorance, is it right to deny the patient their benefits?

    The other crucial point, of course is whether Homeopathy is harmful; ironically, the article by Simon Singh ‘Homeopathy; what’s the harm?’ on the 10.23 website provides perfect illustrations of every mistake that can be made in scientific research:

    It relies on anecdotal evidence: ‘Stories of people abandoning real medicine in favour of quack cures, with disastrous results, are not hard to find’. (And of course stories people who have benefited from ‘quack cures’ are not hard to find, either).

    It cites ‘experiments’ based on samples so small that they are meaningless: ‘Next Tuff found … homeopaths by searching on the internet, …. She then visited or phoned ten of them….’ (So if I find eight homeopaths from a sample of ten who give sensible advice, that’ll disprove the argument, won’t it?)

    There is evidence of pre-existing bias on the part of the Researchers: ‘Working with …. the charity Sense About Science’. (I don’t think Sense About Science can be said to be free from preconceptions in this debate).

    The basic facts are distorted: ‘This was in 2002 when the controversy over MMR was subsiding and the scientific evidence was clearly in favour of vaccination.’ (One of the [now discredited] papers that appeared to link MMR to Autism was actually published in 2002).

    The ‘findings’ of the research are distorted to support preconceived notions: ‘Of the 77 [homeopath] respondents, only two advised the mother to immunize.’ (Maybe the reluctance to recommend immunisation was a specific response to the MMR controversy, rather than the result of hostility to immunisation per se… the experiment would have been much more significant if it had asked about a vaccination that was not the subject of any controversy).

    And actually, the whole argument is based on the assumption that if advice from Homeopaths is wrong, homeopathy is dangerous… yet there are countless examples of ‘real’ doctors giving flawed advice; does that mean that ‘real’ medicine is dangerous? And does it not also imply that if homeopaths and other practitioners of ‘alternative medicine’ followed an appropriate code of practice that ensured that patients were advised only to use these remedies as ‘complementary medicine’, there would be no risk?

    It seems to me to be supremely ironic that those who oppose homeopathy on the grounds that it is unscientific throw scientific principles out of the window in their zeal to attack it.

    I also think that homeopathy should be considered in the context of medicine more generally: a review published last year by the Cochrane Collaboration, suggested that there was no evidence for the effectiveness of proprietary cough medicines (the sorts of treatment that Boots sell ‘over the counter’); so, what’s the difference between these and homeopathic remedies? I’m tempted to give the cynical answer that the former are more lucrative for pharmaceutical companies, or the provocative one that they are not subjected to the same scrutiny as ‘alternative’ medicine because they seem to be protected by the legitimacy of ‘real science’. However, it seems to me that the most important difference is that they carry a significant risk of unpleasant side effects. With proprietary cold remedies (the two sorts are often combined) these risks can include fatal overdose. So one might add to the caveat about homeopathic treatments (bearing in mind the extreme dilution of ‘active ingredients’) that they are at least safer than most of the non-prescription drugs that Boots sells.

    If homeopathic medicine was killing hundreds of people every year, then I, (and I suspect most people) would get angry about it; that, however, is exactly what proper ‘rationalist’, ‘scientific’, ‘evidence-based’ medicine appears to be doing. A study published by the Dept. of Health last year found that 1,800 people with dementia die in this country each year because they are prescribed anti-psychotic medication. A similar number suffer non-fatal strokes. That is a scandal, and I’d suggest that the sale of homeopathic treatments pales into insignificance by comparison.

    I suspect that the ‘Skeptic’ position is based, ultimately, on a value judgement (that it’s ‘better’ to act on the basis of ‘scientific truth’ than ‘belief’ that cannot be supported by empirical evidence). I have no problem with that view, but I think that foisting any value judgement onto other people and using a very partial presentation of the evidence to justify doing so looks very similar to the behaviour of those who can fairly be described as ‘bigoted’. And I find it enormously depressing that the ‘Skeptic’ movement ignores the tragic consequences of mistakes in modern medicine and science.

    But most importantly, I think that the evidence is that homeopathy is at worst harmless and may even have mild benefits for those who believe in it; and many of those who do believe in it have very little else that offers them hope and a sense of control. To take those things away from them, just to make a point about the primacy of science seems to me to be pretty brutal.

    Anyway, I am interested in a real debate about this, rather than just the exchange of insults that seems to typify most online discussion fora; if you’re not, then I’m sorry!

    All the Best,

    Jonathan B

  2. #2 by Sean on January 27, 2010 - 14:54

    I feel compelled to respond to the comment above. Please note I am not a member of Merseyside sceptics and this response represents only myself.

    “First, I think that campaigners against homeopathy have been guilty of distorting the evidence: homeopathy, in robust Randomised Control Trial experiments, tends to perform no better than placebos. However, this does not prove that ‘homeopathy doesn’t work’; the placebo effect is widely recognised and quite powerful in certain circumstances.”

    The final sentence of this paragraph is a straw man argument. Nobody has claimed that placebo has no effect so I wont even bother to respond to that.

    I find it very difficult to believe that you have not entered into this discussion with pre-conceived notions. The fact that homeopathy is demonstrably no more effective than a placebo is incontrovertible proof that homeopathy “does not work”.

    Just now, this afternoon, I have invented a therapy which involves imbuing pieces of paper with properties resulting from shining differently coloured lights on the paper. If you carry this paper around in your wallet, the energy which the paper is now storing will re-align your bodies quantum field. This will relieve the symptoms of many common ailments.

    Can I get some funding from the government to set up a hospital which practices my therapy now please? No, of course I can’t, my therapy is BS. Why should homeopathy be treated differently? In fact, my therapy is *more valid* than homeopathy, mine is just unproven as opposed to having been repeatedly proven to be false.

    “It is probably more important in conventional medicine than one might think. A study has ascribed most of the effects of anti-depressant medication to ‘placebo’, and I suspect that quite a lot of conventional prescribing by doctors employs it, even if it is not made explicit.”

    A study on drugs whose observable effects on the patient are subjective and non-quantifiable really doesn’t cut it in this discussion. The simple fact remains that in order to become a licensed medical treatment in this country, a drug must be proven to have an effect *above and beyond* placebo. The suggestion that “a lot of conventional prescribing by doctors employs it” is not relevant, conventional treatments have been *proven to work*.

    “If homeopathic treatments consistently produced effects equivalent to those experienced by the ‘no treatment’ groups in RCTs, the conclusion that they ‘don’t work’ would be justified, but that’s not the case.”

    The conclusion is entirely justified. If a person is ill and requires treatment, why give them the “alternative remedy” which is demonstrably ineffective and *might* help with a little placebo effect as opposed to a therapy which is demonstrably effective and might also provide some placebo benefit.

    “There is no entirely conclusive explanation of the placebo effect, but it is most probably the result of some interaction between psychology and neurology: people expect to feel better because they are being ‘treated’, so they do feel better. I’d say, therefore, that the accurate verdict on homeopathy, given the evidence, is that it may be of benefit to people who believe it will be effective.”

    Once again I simply say this: if a person is ill, provide them with the treatment which is proven. If they believe homeopathy is more effective than the proven treatment, it is the job of the rational sceptics amongst us to help them understand so that there is no desire to use the homeopathic “remedies” – taking away their homeopathy does not take away their placebo, it just means they get it from the treatments which might actually do them some good as well.

    “This seems to me to be particularly important in the context of chronic and incurable conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and the like: there is a very close relationship between physical health and emotional well-being. Fear, hopelessness and powerlessness are all psychologically debilitating, and my view would be that anything that counteracts them by offering a sense of control and optimism has the potential to be beneficial, even if its ‘real’ physiological effects are illusory.”

    It is in chronic, incurable and debilitating conditions like those that it is *most important* that we inform people not to waste their time with homeopathy. The fact that the culture of permissiveness around snake oil treatments exists and has caused many tragic incidents is in itself reason to ensure that people possess the full facts. See above, if I decide my therapy is effective for MS and market it as such, should that be allowed? No, because it is BS and dangerous BS at that. Why should it be any different for homeopathy? People are making millions, MILLIONS, of pounds from lying to the sick and discouraging them from seeking proper treatment.

    “There is of course an ethical issue here that is quite intractable: is it always better to ‘know the truth’? And does anyone have the right to impose knowledge of ‘the truth’ on anyone else? However, given that it is easy enough to find out about the evidence base for homeopathy, I think that people should be able to do so if they wish and make their own decisions about what they buy and consume. To put it another way, if a placebos can help people, but their efficacy is dependent on the patient’s ignorance, is it right to deny the patient their benefits?”

    I am not intellectually equipped to argue the ethical point so I wont try. The only response I will make to this segment is that my aim is not to impose the truth on consumers so much as on the people who market this rubbish and make a handsome living from their lies, THIS is what I want stopped. If somebody fancies mixing up some home homeopathic remedies at home and believing they will work, I wont stop them (though I will offer them the facts). In that scenario it becomes a religion-like issue – nobody is being exploited, the decision is entirely down to the person. The problem lies with allowing people to encourage others to act in a dangerous fashion.

    “The other crucial point, of course is whether Homeopathy is harmful; ironically, the article by Simon Singh ‘Homeopathy; what’s the harm?’ on the 10.23 website provides perfect illustrations of every mistake that can be made in scientific research:

    It relies on anecdotal evidence: ‘Stories of people abandoning real medicine in favour of quack cures, with disastrous results, are not hard to find’. (And of course stories people who have benefited from ‘quack cures’ are not hard to find, either).”

    Nobody has demonstrably benefited from homeopathy. People have demonstrably been injured as a result of failing to seek proper medical attention. Yes, of course, anecdotes are not terribly relevant in terms of proving or disproving something. You speak as if the argument is based on the anecdote, however carefully neglecting the wealth of actual, real evidence which supports that. Simon used the anecdote to *illustrate his point*, not to prove it, the science does that for us. The use of the anecdote is therefore valid.

    “It cites ‘experiments’ based on samples so small that they are meaningless: ‘Next Tuff found … homeopaths by searching on the internet, …. She then visited or phoned ten of them….’ (So if I find eight homeopaths from a sample of ten who give sensible advice, that’ll disprove the argument, won’t it?)”

    Re-read the article, the word experiment is not used. No scientist would dream of claiming a survey could be used to prove an argument. The value of a survey lies in giving us a vague idea about a subject, that is all – we have the real evidence, derived from randomised, controlled, double-blind experiments to back it up. Do the homeopaths?

    “There is evidence of pre-existing bias on the part of the Researchers: ‘Working with …. the charity Sense About Science’. (I don’t think Sense About Science can be said to be free from preconceptions in this debate).”

    This paragraph is very revealing of your own bias – anybody who claims to be a scientist and enters into the study of a topic with a preconception, in the context you are using it (i.e. a static, immutable position), needs to go read up on the scientific method again. Yes, when we hypothesise we may have an idea of how we think a result might turn out but in no way does this diminish our willingness to alter that opinion based on factual evidence. Show us the proof that homeopathy is useful and we will be HAPPY that the veil of our ignorance has been lifted; we will also be able to benefit from all the wonderful effects it will bring to us!

    “The basic facts are distorted: ‘This was in 2002 when the controversy over MMR was subsiding and the scientific evidence was clearly in favour of vaccination.’ (One of the [now discredited] papers that appeared to link MMR to Autism was actually published in 2002).

    The ‘findings’ of the research are distorted to support preconceived notions: ‘Of the 77 [homeopath] respondents, only two advised the mother to immunize.’ (Maybe the reluctance to recommend immunisation was a specific response to the MMR controversy, rather than the result of hostility to immunisation per se… the experiment would have been much more significant if it had asked about a vaccination that was not the subject of any controversy).”

    Once again, this is entirely irrelevant. Re-read the article. At the time the *survey* was conducted, the evidence to prove that MMR vaccine is both efficacious and safe was widely available. The homeopaths chose to ignore this evidence as they so frequently do and still offered extremely dangerous advice, advice which was almost certainly repeated thousands of times over by thousands of other homeopaths.

    “And actually, the whole argument is based on the assumption that if advice from Homeopaths is wrong, homeopathy is dangerous… yet there are countless examples of ‘real’ doctors giving flawed advice; does that mean that ‘real’ medicine is dangerous? And does it not also imply that if homeopaths and other practitioners of ‘alternative medicine’ followed an appropriate code of practice that ensured that patients were advised only to use these remedies as ‘complementary medicine’, there would be no risk?”

    The difference being that when real doctors (once again your use of quotation around the word real is VERY revealing) discover that a treatment is ineffective and/or dangerous, they immediately stop using that treatment.

    “It seems to me to be supremely ironic that those who oppose homeopathy on the grounds that it is unscientific throw scientific principles out of the window in their zeal to attack it.”

    I think I have already sufficiently refuted this suggestion. I keep coming back to this but any zeal you observe from the rational camp comes from the EVIDENCE we have.

    “I also think that homeopathy should be considered in the context of medicine more generally: a review published last year by the Cochrane Collaboration, suggested that there was no evidence for the effectiveness of proprietary cough medicines (the sorts of treatment that Boots sell ‘over the counter’); so, what’s the difference between these and homeopathic remedies?”

    I’d like to see a link to this. If it is demonstrable that these remedies do not work, they should also not be marketed. In that situation, there is *zero* difference between these and homeopathic treatment and the cough medicines should of course be removed from the market.

    “I’m tempted to give the cynical answer that the former are more lucrative for pharmaceutical companies, or the provocative one that they are not subjected to the same scrutiny as ‘alternative’ medicine because they seem to be protected by the legitimacy of ‘real science’.”

    The very fact that a review has taken place shows that there *has* been scrutiny. If the real science proves the remedies are not effective, they will eventually be withdrawn.

    “However, it seems to me that the most important difference is that they carry a significant risk of unpleasant side effects. With proprietary cold remedies (the two sorts are often combined) these risks can include fatal overdose. So one might add to the caveat about homeopathic treatments (bearing in mind the extreme dilution of ‘active ingredients’) that they are at least safer than most of the non-prescription drugs that Boots sells.”

    You speak of safety as an absolute which is wrong. The safety of a drug treatment is determined (as so many other important decisions in life!), in simple terms, by looking at a risk:reward ratio. Essentially, the quantifiable benefits of these drugs have been determined to outweigh the risk of problems caused by them (lets make it clear we are talking about cold remedies now, the active ingredient in which (paracetamol) is very much effective and not disputed). It is up to individual consumers not to overdose themselves so that is a very poor argument to use. Also, nobody claimed that the actual act of taking homeopathic remedies is at all dangerous, simply that convincing people that they are useful could cause people to *behave* in a dangerous way.

    “If homeopathic medicine was killing hundreds of people every year, then I, (and I suspect most people) would get angry about it; that, however, is exactly what proper ‘rationalist’, ’scientific’, ‘evidence-based’ medicine appears to be doing. A study published by the Dept. of Health last year found that 1,800 people with dementia die in this country each year because they are prescribed anti-psychotic medication. A similar number suffer non-fatal strokes. That is a scandal, and I’d suggest that the sale of homeopathic treatments pales into insignificance by comparison.”

    Of course that is dreadful. As a result of the study doctors were advised to be more judicious about who those drugs are prescribed to. If the scandal was caused by individuals deliberately and inappropriately recommending treatments then those persons should of course be brought to justice. Once again, we come to risk:reward. Sure, medicine has probably killed a bunch of people but it has also saved and improved the lives of hundreds of millions. Homeopathy can make no such claim. Also, there you go again revealing your own personal bias against rational, scientific thinking with the inappropriate and extensive use of quotations in that paragraph.

    “I suspect that the ‘Skeptic’ position is based, ultimately, on a value judgement (that it’s ‘better’ to act on the basis of ’scientific truth’ than ‘belief’ that cannot be supported by empirical evidence).”

    This is partially true. The position is based upon that and the desire to protect people from being harmed by charlatans. The second part is most important for me and, I suspect, most of the others who share my view.

    “I have no problem with that view, but I think that foisting any value judgement onto other people and using a very partial presentation of the evidence to justify doing so looks very similar to the behaviour of those who can fairly be described as ‘bigoted’. And I find it enormously depressing that the ‘Skeptic’ movement ignores the tragic consequences of mistakes in modern medicine and science.”

    Please demonstrate to me where anybody has presented a partial view of the evidence. Implying that bigotry has any part to play in science and this argument in particular shows a thorough lack of understanding of the principles and aims of scientific thought.

    “But most importantly, I think that the evidence is that homeopathy is at worst harmless and may even have mild benefits for those who believe in it; and many of those who do believe in it have very little else that offers them hope and a sense of control. To take those things away from them, just to make a point about the primacy of science seems to me to be pretty brutal.”

    The homeopathic remedies themselves are harmless, yes, as evidenced by the fact that in roughly three days a bunch of people are going to “overdose” on them and will suffer no harm whatsoever. Nobody claimed the remedies themselves are harmful, the harm lies in the culture of deception which surrounds “alternative medicine”.

    “Anyway, I am interested in a real debate about this, rather than just the exchange of insults that seems to typify most online discussion fora; if you’re not, then I’m sorry!”

    Normal person+audience+anonymity=complete ass, the internet is full of people who will argue nearly any point just to be contentious. I and many others are more than willing to hold a reasonable discussion – this does not mean, however, that we will not call out bias and logical fallacies presented to us as reasonable debate.

    Regards,

    Sean

  3. #3 by Sean on January 27, 2010 - 15:17

    Aha thank you to whichever kind mod properly quoted that for me, does [quote] [/quote] work on here?

  4. #4 by Marsh on January 27, 2010 - 19:17

    No, but I have uber admin powers!

  5. #5 by Marsh on January 27, 2010 - 19:18

    I’d like to point out that although Sean isn’t involved with the Merseyside Skeptics, his counter-argument here is a clear and concise summary of our position, and the skeptical position on homeopathy in general. Well done, Sean.

  6. #6 by Jonathan B on January 28, 2010 - 23:21

    Sean,
    First, thanks for your response; I genuinely appreciate it. Do I have ‘pre-conceived notions? That’s a good question; I’d say that I’m fairly open-minded (but then I would, wouldn’t I?) at times in the past I’ve been very dubious about homeopathy and other alternative medicine. Now, I’m not so sure, and I think that there is genuinely room for debate.

    I’m not going to try to make the ‘quotes’ feature work because I always make a pig’s ear of those things, however, I think that the key points boil down to these:

    Placebo. I think that you have misunderstood the argument I was making about placebos: I would suggest that the crucial point (and the one you don’t address) is that they work because people ‘think’ that they are ‘real’ treatments. So the effectiveness of your ‘magic’ paper would be dependent on your success in convincing people that it is effective. I’m not aware of any experiment that demonstrates the placebo effect in which the subjects were aware that they were receiving a placebo (though I’m no expert). So, by definition, the Placebo effect is dependent on the subject believing that s/he is being treated with something that ‘works’. Therefore, undermining belief in the placebo is likely to undermine its (potentially beneficial) effect; you say that you are ‘… not intellectually equipped to argue the ethical point so [you] wont try’. With all due respect, I think that’s a bit of a cop-out, not least because a particular ethical position is implicit in your argument anyway.

    Illness; insofar as I have preconceptions, they are largely based on experience, both personal and professional, of people who have taken homeopathic remedies (and other alternative treatments such as reflexology) and claim to have benefited as a result. In most cases, these were people suffering from chronic, incurable and debilitating conditions. The problem I have with your argument ‘provide them with the treatment which is proven’ is that it assumes that such treatments exist. The ‘evidence-based’ medical approach to these sorts of conditions is usually to offer a variety of symptomatic treatments (since no ‘cure’ is available). Many of these are of variable effectiveness; sometimes they have unpleasant and dangerous side effects (the phenomenon of addiction to prescribed painkillers is the obvious one, but not unique). They often deliver diminishing returns; and (again, in my experience) often a number of different medicines are prescribed over time, so that the patient is eventually taking a cocktail of drugs, (some of which may even counteract each other). Of course, this is a failing of conventional medicine (which is to some extent being addressed through the promotion of ‘medication reviews’), but the underlying issues are that often doctors are offering prescriptions almost for the sake of doing so, and that symptom management is much a less straightforward matter than simply providing a treatment that ‘works’ physiologically.

    The problem (which is one of medical practice as opposed to medical science) is how to mitigate the consequences of these kinds of illness. And this is where I think psychology starts to become important: I have encountered people with these kinds of condition who say that homeopathy or some other ‘alternative’ remedy is making them feel better. I actually think that most of the time this is because they are experiencing a sense of control and optimism, based on a belief that the treatment is working, rather than because it is necessarily affecting them physiologically; there are exceptions such as the use of hyperbaric oxygen in MS. But what has been clear to me is that some of these patients are happier, less anxious and less depressed. If that’s the result of the Placebo effect, I’d say it doesn’t matter what they’re using as long as it’s not harmful, but that, crucially, they probably need to ‘believe in it’.

    That leads on to the question of whether homeopathy might be harmful: and I have to say that you have provided no real evidence that it is; you say ‘Nobody has demonstrably benefited from homeopathy. People have demonstrably been injured as a result of failing to seek proper medical attention. Yes, of course, anecdotes are not terribly relevant in terms of proving or disproving something. You speak as if the argument is based on the anecdote, however carefully neglecting the wealth of actual, real evidence which supports that. Simon used the anecdote to *illustrate his point*, not to prove it, the science does that for us. The use of the anecdote is therefore valid.’
    The problem is that the ‘wealth of actual, real evidence’ isn’t there; the science does not prove that homeopathy is harmful. If it did, then presumably Simon Singh would be able to offer something more convincing than a couple of surveys that, as you say, are of limited value. You claim that ‘…we have the real evidence, derived from randomised, controlled, double-blind experiments to back it up’; assuming that you are referring to evidence that homeopathy causes harm, I’d simply ask you to cite it.
    As an aside, in respect of the MMR survey, you say that at ‘the time the *survey* was conducted [2002], the evidence to prove that MMR vaccine is both efficacious and safe was widely available’; that’s true to an extent, but it’s also true to say that Dr Wakefield’s research was still being published in respectable scientific journals at that time, and whilst the tide was certainly turning against him, the controversy still appeared to be a ‘live’ one. The really conclusive research refuting his claims, and the retraction of support for his work by his colleagues didn’t come until 2004.
    The nearest I can find to evidence that homeopathy does harm is on the American ‘What’s the Harm?’ website; it claims to have evidence that 437 people were harmed by homeopathy. The problem is that that the cases cited include people who suffered ‘harm’ because they ‘wasted time on pointless treatments’, those who died after receiving both conventional treatment and alternative medicine (so there may be no effect either way attributable to the alternative therapy), those who might have died whatever treatment they received, those who may quite conceivably have rejected conventional treatment for unconnected reasons (its intrusiveness or side effects) but chose to take alternative remedies (so they were not used as a substitute), a case that relies on the unproven assumptions made by the Israeli police and one where a homeopath posed as a cosmetic surgeon (so if my plumber does some electrical work and leaves my house in a dangerous state, that means that plumbers are dangerous?). Oh, and apparently Paula Radcliffe missed out on a Gold Medal in Athens because she’d taken a homeopathic treatment.
    This assemblage of ‘evidence’ would actually be funny if it wasn’t that so much of it had its roots in human tragedy; what is clear is that to produce evidence that homeopathy is harmful (as opposed to ineffective), its opponents are reduced to the sorts of intellectual contortions and reliance on spurious method that they ridicule when employed by homeopaths.
    The one argument that I think does deserve to be treated seriously is that homeopaths may discourage patients from seeking the advice of conventional medics; my view is that a professional code of practice reinforced by law should require any practitioner of ‘alternative medicine’ to advise the patient to see their GP anyway; and homeopathic products should carry the standard warning ‘if symptoms persist consult your doctor’. Properly enforced, those measures would eliminate the one potential risk that any alternative treatment implies and mean that they could properly be regarded as ‘complementary’ medicine – and utterly harmless.
    Finally, on conventional medicine; you claim that ‘ when real doctors …. discover that a treatment is ineffective and/or dangerous, they immediately stop using that treatment’. If only that were true: despite the fact that prescribing anti-psychotic medication to 180,000 people with dementia each year is generally inappropriate and dangerous and that this has been recognised, it continues. The National Audit Office has just published a report (it’s quoted in Private Eye this week) showing that the practice is not changing (and, incidentally, pointing out the reasons; it’s a cheaper way of controlling people than caring for them properly).

    On the cough remedy issue, I can’t access the Cochrane research directly, but it’s reported here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1576306/Dont-waste-money-on-shop-cough-remedies.html
    Incidentally, Boots also sell ‘electronic nit combs’ for which there is no evidence of effectiveness, and I’d suggest that the evidence that a lot of their ‘conventional’ products, from shampoo through to electric toothbrushes, ‘work’ is pretty thin, to say the least.

    Actually, I’d say that my ‘preconceptions’ are more reservations about conventional medicine than any particular enthusiasm for alternative treatments; I think that you tend to assume that it is a fairly straightforward application of ‘pure’ science. I think that it’s a much more complex activity in which a variety of factors including professional judgment, commercial interests, morality, bureaucracy and politics interact.

    To sum up, I think that there is enough evidence (albeit inconclusive and essentially anecdotal) that homeopathy ‘works’ to defend its availability; that there is a fundamental ethical dilemma, given that it probably works through the placebo effect and that this is reliant on patients ‘believing in it,’ that has to be addressed before it is attacked; that there is no evidence that it is harmful per se, and that proper regulation would adequately address the risk that it might divert patients from necessary conventional treatment; and that many of the secondary criticisms aimed at it are equally applicable to conventional medicine.

    Anyway, I do appreciate your response, and my use of inverted commas was more for emphasis than to imply sarcasm!

    All the Best
    Jonathan

  7. #7 by AndyB on January 29, 2010 - 08:04

    Jonathan likes long letters and I have little time to type today so I will keep it short.

    Homeopathy is astrology with pills and potions.

  8. #8 by Lance on January 29, 2010 - 16:26

    I find it hilarious that people go out of their way to try and programme other’s views and opinions of the world and its contents. If you don’t think or can apparently prove that homeopathy does not work, make that your own personal truth and live it rather than try and tell everyone else that it should be their truth. My family use belladonna for fevers in children, as it cause’s a drop in temperature (oh and it works!) alot better than calpol (which is full of artificial sweetners and man made chemicals ‘proven’ to cause cancer and behavioural changes). This is’nt to say that belladonna is ‘better’ than calpol, just that it works better in my personal truth, but i’m not going to protest and tell others to believe what i believe, that is their choice. This apparent ‘protest’ is nothing more than trying to make everyone just like you (by this i mean this apparent skeptical society), see your own truth and leave others truth alone, oh and check who comissioned your ‘facts’ and ‘statistics’, as drug companies make no profit from homeopathic remedy as they can’t patent them as they are NATURAL, that strange thing, subject to universal laws. We survived for millenia on natural remedy, and have been slaughtered by ‘medicine’ for hundreds of years (again, my own personal truth, developed from my own experience, and not absorbed from somebody else’s). Word of warning, 84% of people make all of their decisions in life, soley based on someone else’s opinion’s, make sure you know where yours come from.
    Peace and the good stuff to all.

  9. #9 by Jonathan B on January 29, 2010 - 19:50

    AndyB
    I’m actually just interested in the debate… and I thought that might be part of the reason for the website’s existence.
    All the Best
    J

  10. #10 by Marcel Toaste on January 29, 2010 - 20:53

    MSS purveyors of ‘real medicine’ sponsored by GSK

  11. #11 by Marsh on January 30, 2010 - 09:37

    MSS is a non-prophet organisation – if only we had sponsorship, we could do so much more! As it is, there’s no money to be made in the truth, only money to be made in selling ineffective or dangerous alternatives.

  12. #12 by AndyD on January 30, 2010 - 13:26

    Yep. I recall when the average lifespan was around 90 years using witchcraft whereas today, with modern medicine, it’s around 30 or something – isn’t it?

  13. #13 by Camilla Noble-Warren on January 30, 2010 - 14:51

    Hi there,

    I think that this demonstration is very interesting and I think its a good initiative. But I think it will only be valuable if the people who have taken the whole bottles of homeopathic remedies report back to us truthfully about the symptoms, if any, that they experience. It would be a way to prove or disprove homeopathy.

    According to the philosophy of homeopathy, it is ‘like cures like’ so if you have a symptom and you take a remedy that isnt ‘the one’ for you, youll actually start showing symptoms of the illness that the remedy would have cured if youd had actually had the illness initially. This is what Heinemann claimed happened to him at the beginning of the last century when he was first researching homeopathy and developing it. He claimed to use remedies on himself and other healthy patients over many years and he noted down how they developed particular types of symptoms, and this was how he was able to determine and create a reference of which remedies would conceivably cure which illnesses. (I read about this a long time ago but I can look for the citation of that if anyone is interested)

    In fact… this could conceivably be an argument as to why some people could be harmed by homepathy… according to the philosophy, this could happen if they have not been prescribed properly and taken the wrong remedy. I am not saying I believe in though. I am sitting on the fence, I dont know what to think. That is why I think this demonstration would serve as a great experiment to see if that was true.

    But this is only valid if you promise not to cover up anything in the future just because it doesnt suit your argument! (Please!) I think you are doing very well, but please can you promise to be honest with us about what has happened in the weeks after taking those bottles??

    Jonathan, they are very interesting arguments that you raise, I am equally interested in seeing Sean’s response. I am not sure if I read everything you said carefully enough, but can you please cite any hard evidence of homeopathy actually working if they exist? Have there been reliable studies?

    Of course, this just anecdotal, but I once had a friend who said he had an illness and nothing else worked for him, he didnt believe in homeopathy but he tried it and he said it had worked for him. However he still refused to accept its validity and continues not to believe in it – so placebo conceivably doesnt always have to play a part… 🙂 It is an irony then, because I was very skeptical before until I heard him say that, and I began to read more about it. Now I am less sure, so would really appreciate an honest account of what happens to you guys symptomatically (out of the ordinary), if at all.

    Thankyou!

  14. #14 by Mike on January 30, 2010 - 15:02

    Hi Camilla,

    We aren’t interested in propping up any pre-conceived beliefs. We’re interested in what is true and what is not. If what we believe doesn’t fit with what is true, then we will adjust what we believe.

    That is what skepticism is all about.

  15. #15 by Dr Henry Potts on January 30, 2010 - 17:31

    May I commend the following No. 10 petition to the MSS and any others skeptical of homeopathy: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/NHSHomeopathy/

  16. #16 by Peter on January 30, 2010 - 17:39

    I cannot see what the problem is. As it happens I have seen homoeopathic products work on cats, infants, and in at least one case where conventional medecine had failed to cure and things were getting bad again.

    But let us say it does not work.

    What then is your problem with those who think it does? What harm are they doing you or society? Why must they be stopped anymore than someone who votes for a political party never likely to reach office?

    As for the funding argument, we all know the funds mentioned are trivial in relation to overall expenditure and compare with many ‘loony’ expenditures. That being the case, and having regard to the paragrraph above, what harm in its being spent – it is keeping those who use them away from using other NHS funds that would need to be spent on them and other NHS facilitiies that would need to be devoted to them. The cost of homoeopathic preparations is a tiny fraction fo the cost of conventional medecines (whcih are often the subject of debate as to the amount they do cost, the amount others receive for recommending or selling them etc).

    I can only thnk the sceptics have nothing better to do with their time and object to anything that offends what they believe.

  17. #17 by Eric Matthews on January 30, 2010 - 17:54

    Just heard about this disgusting demonstration and would like to ask how you can justify attempting to have something banned because you do not believe it works. People should be free to choose. Just because scientific opinion at present denounces homeopathy doesn’t mean that opinion is correct or will be the same in 10 or 20 years. Look at previous opinions on radiation levels as an example. The present antagonistic attitude of ‘science’ to homeopathy largely stems from the Channel 4 farce where ‘ the Amazing Randi’ a magician and self-proclaimed ‘fraud buster’ ruined the reputation of a talented french doctor. No one thought to question his motives. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

  18. #18 by Darryl Cook on January 30, 2010 - 18:20

    A good point well made. Some might argue that the method was in slightly poor taste. But even the people that make a lot of money out of this guff had to concede that no harm would be done by what would normally be considered a massive overdose. Try walking away from doing that with a box of 100 co-codamol. Which curiously does what is says on the box. Provides relief from pain.

  19. #19 by `shaun on January 30, 2010 - 18:51

    get a life folks and mind your own business.if folk wnat take homeopthy whats it got do with you ?get alife

  20. #20 by Eric Matthews on January 30, 2010 - 18:59

    The fact that a full bottle of homeopathic tablets will have no ill effects is irrelevant and shows that you haven’t even bothered to study the basic tenets of homeopathy. Ill effects in homeopathy only occur with the incorrect repetition of a dose over a period of time. The effect of the remedy is as a stimulus to the body, one hundred pills in one dose will have the same effect as two tablets, as you ‘scientists’ should well know given your knowledge of the amount of substance contained in the diluted remedy. Your whole demonstration is therefore irrelevant.

  21. #21 by Jonathan B on January 30, 2010 - 19:41

    Mike :Hi Camilla,
    We aren’t interested in propping up any pre-conceived beliefs. We’re interested in what is true and what is not. If what we believe doesn’t fit with what is true, then we will adjust what we believe.
    That is what skepticism is all about.

    The problem is, Mike, that you don’t seem to be interested in debating anything or considering viewpoints that don’t fit your own either; just deciding that a fairly narrow viewpoint is ‘the truth’ and then trying to publicise it doesn’t look much like ‘science’ to me. It just smacks of a kind of evangelism.

    Camilla,
    No, I don’t have any conclusive proof of the sort that would resolve the argument; the evidence I do have for homeopathy’s effectiveness is ultimately anecdotal. However, that anecdotal evidence actually represents real people who feel better and attribute that to homeopathy.

    My starting point is that the “skeptics'” position (homeopathy is no better than placebo when subjected to rigorous testing; therefore it doesn’t work) is false, because placebos do work well enough to have a legitimate place in medicine.

    And attacking the belief that sustains a placebo effect is ethically questionable, particularly when it ignores the fact that the evidence base for some conventional medicine is no stronger.

    And finally, I think that the evidence that homeopathy is harmful is actually much weaker than the evidence that it does any good.

  22. #22 by Jonathan B on January 30, 2010 - 19:42

    Marsh :MSS is a non-prophet organisation – if only we had sponsorship, we could do so much more!

    Well you know what they say about prophets in their own land….

  23. #23 by Tom Marshall on January 30, 2010 - 20:07

    Homeopathy makes for an interesting debate. Let me assess the facts as they seem to me.

    Homeopathy has a body of theory with a set of beliefs that informs practice. The theory dates from about 200 years ago and was informed by a scepticism about the medicine of the time. But there is nothing to support either the claims of homeopathy or its practice.

    The practice means selling concoctions to the public that basically contain non active ingredients or too little to have any effect.

    Homeopathy is popular and widely believed to work. But it is basically a placebo. Expensive, complicated placebos with a veneer of science work better than simple placebos.

    Does this matters? The beauty industry sells billions of pounds worth of products that have no evidence for their supposed effects on skin or the ageing process. Most are no better than simple moisturisers. But nobody complains much about this. Surely we have the right to believe nonsense and spend our money on quackery?

    For me there are two key questions about homeopathy or any other form of quackery.

    First should quackery be funded from taxation. The NHS provides homeopathy through many GPs. It also provides plenty of treatments for which there is no evidence of benefit or even evidence of no benefit (knee arthroscopy and washour, tonsillectomy for recurrent throat infection in adults). This is frankly immoral. We waste public money on things that don’t work and have less money for things that do.

    Second is it honest? I personally think it is wrong to tell people things that you know to be false (eg: your illness is caused by a virus, when I don’t know what caused it). So I find it hard to justify telling people things that are such obvious nonsense as homeopathy.

    But well done to Merseyside Skeptics for raising the debate. Perhaps the next boycott should be a provider of NHS funded homeopathy.

    Regards.

  24. #24 by Camilla Noble-Warren on January 30, 2010 - 21:47

    To Eric Matthews – Sorry of course you are right. The philosophy goes that you have to repeat the wrong dose, and that many pills does not make a difference (I forgot my mistake). So then obviously instead of making lots of clever arguments, we could just have the truth once and for all, if the demonstrators decided to take those same pills over a period of time, and then we could observe them to see what happens!
    It would resolve it once and for all wouldnt it? If we are going to prove against homeopathy then it has to be done based on an actual understanding of what the philosophy of homeopathy is and is claiming.

    I am not interested in propping any beliefs at all, Im just fascinated to see the evidence, and look at what happens with an open mind. So will you guys be willing to take the remedies over a period of time?

    If you do not, then for me at least, I can not take what you say seriously, because you are not showing a willingness to put yourselves at risk for what you believe in (id like to believe in you, im not supporting or defending homeopathy). Maybe Eric Matthews would tell us what a good period of time would be? If anyone else reading this also thinks it would be good to do, please say so.

  25. #25 by Tom Marshall on January 30, 2010 - 21:51

    Some of the bloggers seem to think they can’t access the Cochrane Library directly.

    You can get access here: http://www.cochrane.co.uk/en/clib.html

    Regarding Hahneman’s methodology, it preceded the development of the placebo controlled trial, so it would be unfair to expect his observations to be repeatable with a better research design.

    Everyone has anecdotes about “cures”. My grandmother used to pray to St Anthony when she lost something – and often found it afterwards. Is this sufficient proof of St. Anthony’s powers? Let’s put it this way, it is unlikely to persuade a Hindu.

  26. #26 by Camilla Noble-Warren on January 30, 2010 - 21:55

    To Jonathan, yes I see your point. It makes sense, but I see also that there is morally something wrong with selling someone a product that does not actually do anything. It would be better then to study the effect of the mind on the body and help people more directly that way (Ive seen positive affirmation therapies for e.g), rather than fooling them with sugar tablets that do not have any physical effect.

    But of course, as a slightly separate issue, we can not be sure it is just placebo. How you reconcile what happens when the person does not believe it will work and the apparent success with animals as someone mentioned above?

    Anyway, this is still just conjecture. Please do that experiment 🙂

  27. #27 by Eric Matthews on January 30, 2010 - 22:12

    The point I would like to make is that medicine, alternative or otherwise, is not a game. The reactions of a group of people taking homeopathic medicines over a period of time would be very subjective and would not really prove anything. People are thinking of these medicines in the same way they think of conventional medicines, where the consequences of overdose are severe and potentially lethal. This is not the case with homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic medicines are generally not related to specific illnesses, but are related to the patient’s specific reaction to an illness. If you take a homeopathic medicine for no good reason, when you are perfectly well, you will probably experience no effect whatsoever. Homeopathy’s founder Hahnemann took much larger doses than we use today and consequently did experience sometimes drastic effects, but this is generally not the reaction. However, I certainly wouldn’t recommend people to try taking homeopathic medicines repeatedly over time just to prove a point. If today’s experiment proves anything, providing no-one dies in the next few weeks, it is that homeopathic medicines are very safe to use. To sceptics this will just be proof that it doesn’t work at all. The problem is one of a double standard; when a doctor prescribes a conventional drug and a patient appears to get better, he takes the credit and science is validated. When a patient takes a homeopathic remedy and gets better people just say that they probably would have got better anyway. We can never say what might have been.

  28. #28 by Camilla Noble-Warren on January 30, 2010 - 22:25

    To Mr. Matthews – thankyou for clarifying that. But then why cant the demonstrators simply take the remedies in the same dose that Hahnemann took them? What dose was that? And over what period of time? Why does no one simply repeat what he did (or claims to have done)?
    If they really believe homeopathy does not make any difference to the body, then they should not be afraid to do that.

  29. #29 by Eric Matthews on January 30, 2010 - 23:22

    To Camilla – That’s a good point, but I think the main argument of the sceptics against Homeopathy IS concerning the dilution. They may or may not agree that substances in larger doses can have a curative effect, but the scientific case is that at the dilutions used in modern homeopathy there can be no molecules of the original substance left in the medicine and therefore have no other effect than that of pure water. This, too me, seems a very limited view, but unfortunately that is the position of science at present. It is a very solid, physical attitude toward the universe. One which not so many years ago dismissed the danger of living near power lines. Admittedly, the jury may be still out on that one, as on the use of mobile phones, but many people believe that the human body is not just a mechanical machine, and that electro-magnetic forces for example may have significant effects on our health. My point being that science is all well and good, but that science evolves and changes over time, and needs to be viewed with perspective. At the present moment in time science cannot acknowledge that homeopathy could possibly work. That doesn’t mean that it won’t one day be proved, and to try to get homeopathic medicines banned on the basis that they cannot be proved to work seems outrageous to me. The argument goes that people with serious illnesses may be sidetracked and avoid consulting their GP by trying these alternative medicines. The homeopathic medicines just sit there on the shelf, you choose to take them or not. A homeopathic doctor costs money, so most people don’t even try it. Doctor’s waiting rooms are packed, doctors are overworked. I do not see a great campaign to lure people into the trap of alternative medicine, it is not stopping people from seeking ‘proper’ medical attention, it is just there as an alternative for people.

  30. #30 by Camilla Noble-Warren on January 31, 2010 - 00:07

    I still think the skeptics should act based on what the homeopaths claim, otherwise none of us can see what is true.

    They may not believe in the power of dilution, but they must act as if it is true in order to prove their point, otherwise those who support homeopathy will always be able to say, “well you just didnt do it properly,” and the controversy will stay, and nothing will be changed, except for just creating extra confusion. Its the only way this issue can be resolved at present. It seems to far off in the future for science to prove it.

    Can you possibly say what dose Hahnemann did the experiments with and for how long? Otherwise I guess we could find out. I understand based on your beliefs that you dont want to be responsible for damage to people, but homeopathy could not be denounced as damaging, because that high dose would never be available to the public.

  31. #31 by Miguel Corkhill on January 31, 2010 - 00:32

    Here´s my take on why I support what the MSS are doing. There was a time, not so long ago, when I´d never heard of James Randi, the JREF or skeptic movement. My understanding of critical thinking and the scientific method, was hazy at best.
    I used to suffer from persistent allergies (until I moved to Spain), that made my life miserable. I would have done anything to get some relief from my symptoms. Like many people I believed that homeopathy must have something to it. I mean, it sounds sciency doesn´t it? So I went to the natural helath store and and spent 7 quid a pop on some pills they were selling, and it seemed to work… except on the days that it didn´t. So those days I just put down to there being a particularly high pollen count or whatever.
    I subsequently find out there is no scientific evidence for the the eficacy of homeopathy and i´m amazed. What none?!! I´ve been duped, and I´m pissed off. It seemed so plausible. I must have lined the pockets of these fraudsters to the tune of about 100 quid. Which to me is a lot of money.
    So anyway, my point is that I don´t like being duped and I don´t want to see the frausters getting away with it any longer. They´ve had 200 years, that should be long enough to come up with some evidence. Its time to pull the plug on them.

  32. #32 by Monica Mattos on January 31, 2010 - 00:54

    Homeopathy:
    – The quantity of “active ingredients” is near zero. So why do you pay so much for that?
    – 2010… If it works, why can’t you prove that?

    They’ve already proved there is no evidence that homepathy works better than placebos.
    They’ve already proved so many things but people continue to go to the church, to use burkas, to support communists…
    You can do whatever you want with your money, you are free to do so, just don’t use my money / tax to buy homeopathy because this is appalling.

  33. #33 by Michiel Mans on January 31, 2010 - 03:27

    Eric Matthews wrote,

    Eric Matthews :Just heard about this disgusting demonstration and would like to ask how you can justify attempting to have something banned because you do not believe it works.

    The point is, it has nothing to do with believing. Belief is the problem of the homeopathy endorsers. Each and every time science seriously (double blind tests) investigates the merits of homeopathy, it finds no proof for this remembering water to heal or cure anything whatsoever, apart from some placebo effects. “Yes but my neighbour’s daughter got rid of bad rash after rubbing FlimFlam 6X on it.” That kind of anecdotal proof is as reliable as “Yes but my neighbour’s daughter saw a UFO with her own eyes”. It proofs nothing.

    And how about turning things around? “How you can justify attempting to have something paid for by NHS when the workings of the medicines are only based on belief?”. There are many firm believers in the healing properties of magnetic stones or grinded rhino horns -which incidentally also make you horny all day-, but they are not paid for by NHS (I hope). There is as yet only one reasonably reliable way to prove the healing properties of medicine. The scientific way. If we continue taking quack medicine like homeopathy serious, grinded rhino is next on the accepted list of NHS medicine. And witch doctors will walk the corridors of hospitals, because some/many people believe they do good. See Africa.

  34. #34 by Venkat on January 31, 2010 - 08:59

    I am keen to know if protestors swallowed simply the sweet pills or the sweet pills dipped in homeopathic medicinal fluids. If so, what are the names of medicines.

    regards,
    Venkat

  35. #35 by Mike Hall on January 31, 2010 - 12:22

    Jonathan B :
    My starting point is that the “skeptics’” position (homeopathy is no better than placebo when subjected to rigorous testing; therefore it doesn’t work) is false, because placebos do work well enough to have a legitimate place in medicine.

    In medical terms, to say that a treatment has no effect beyond placebo is to say it has no effect. If an intervention is no more effective than a sham intervention, then that intervention is medically worthless. We may as well use the sham treatments.

    If Glaxo were to submit a pill for independent evaluation today, and their new treatment was found to have the same efficacy as homeopathy, the same efficacy as placebo, that pill would not receive a license from the MHRA to be sold as medicine in the UK.

    And attacking the belief that sustains a placebo effect is ethically questionable, particularly when it ignores the fact that the evidence base for some conventional medicine is no stronger.

    I strongly disagree, I think it is medically unethical to prescribe placebos as their effect relies upon deceiving the patient and convincing them the intervention is effective. Whether the practitioner is complicit in that deceit or not is irrelevant. Administering dummy medicines and telling people they are effective is unethical. We’re beyond the “paternalistic”, “doctor-knows-best” days of medicine. Informed consent means you can’t lie to your patients.

    Additionally, that some conventional medicines have a poor evidence base is no argument. If there are conventional medicines with an evidence base similar to that of homeopathic treatments, I would strongly advocate those conventional treatments be withdrawn as well. And, indeed, over the last 200 years many treatments have been abandoned because they were ultimately found to be worthless.

    This isn’t about “homeopathy vs conventional medicine”. It is about “does this work vs does this not work”. If the evidence base says it doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be administered as if it does, regardless of which philosophy of medicine it comes from.

    And finally, I think that the evidence that homeopathy is harmful is actually much weaker than the evidence that it does any good.

    In and of itself, there is no harm to homeopathy. It’s just water and sugar pills. However, when the belief in an ineffective treatment leads people to consider it as an alternative to medicine, then we start getting into trouble.

    For example, many homeopaths will happily prescribe homeopathic anti-malarials and advise patients they need not seen proper malarial prophylaxis.

    There are homeopathic practitioners in Africa telling HIV sufferers to stop taking anti-retrovirals and take homeopathy instead. Or worse, they’re telling them that the anti-retroviral treatments themselves actually cause AIDS.

    There are homeopathic practitioners claiming they can cure cancer (which is actually illegal under the Cancer Act 1939).

    No placebo effect is going to save you from malaria, cancer or AIDS. These are the real harms of homeopathy.

  36. #36 by Rene Ahn on January 31, 2010 - 15:36

    Well, on their website the skeptics say:

    ” The *choice* between real medicine and homeopathy comes down to a simple question – would you rather opt for a placebo plus a treatment that has been proven to work, or just a placebo?”

    Ok, that is your view. I understand.
    But why will you then usurp my right to *choose*?
    And try to prevent me *having* a choice?
    I do not understand that, nor do I appreciate it.
    I think it is simply arrogant.
    My choice is *my* choice, which I make on the grounds that I deem relevant. I do grant you your choices, so why don’t skeptics grant me mine?

  37. #37 by David on January 31, 2010 - 19:40

    So astroturfing has crossed the pond, has it?

  38. #38 by Camilla Noble-Warren on January 31, 2010 - 20:38

    To Miguel Corkhill – As was explained above, according to the philosophy of the way homeopathy should be taken, you will not be able to see any reaction by going to the pharmacy and guessing what remedy is right for you. Its not like normal medicine, where you simply take something for symptoms to feel. You apparently need to see a certified homeopath who will ask you many questions about you as a person and your family history, and find the right remedy for uniquely YOU, give you the exact dose you need and tell you how often and for how long you should take it. Im just saying how can you knock it before you do it the way they advise you to take it? Doesnt that make sense?

    I am just as skeptical as you are, but if you are going to criticise something, shouldnt you make sure you read up first on what the methodology is supposed to be before criticising it? I cant understand why people are so quick to judge things before making more of an effort to really weigh up all the necessary elements,

    To Monica Mattos – Do you by any chance have access to evidence of that proof you are talking about or know where to find it?

  39. #39 by Jonathan B on January 31, 2010 - 21:19

    Mike Hall,
    Thanks for your response; to be honest, I’m not at all sure that I want to see homeopathic treatment available on the NHS. I certainly believe that persuading patients to use homeopathic remedies as an alternative to a proven treatment for a condition that can be cured is to be condemned. This however could be avoided if homeopathy and other alternative medicine were to be regulated. Paradoxically, (and apologies if I’m wrong) my guess is that ‘skeptics’ would oppose this on the grounds that it would legitimise such treatments. However, it would offer a pragmatic and effective means of preventing the only ‘real’ risk that these practices pose.

    ‘I think it is medically unethical to prescribe placebos as their effect relies upon deceiving the patient and convincing them the intervention is effective. Whether the practitioner is complicit in that deceit or not is irrelevant.’

    That’s a perfectly reasonable position; but it’s one with which I disagree. I think that a medical practitioner’s first objective should be to reduce suffering. If that can be achieved through a placebo effect (homeopathic or otherwise), and that relies on deception, then I think it’s acceptable. But it’s a subjective judgement.

    ‘We’re beyond the “paternalistic”, “doctor-knows-best” days of medicine. Informed consent means you can’t lie to your patients.’

    I think that this is based on a utopian view of medical practice; I’d cite (again) the widespread use of anti-psychotic drugs to control the behaviour of people with dementia, quite a lot of prescribing in psychiatry and most particularly, prescribing practice for people with chronic, incurable conditions. And I think that you are assuming a straightforward distinction exists between ‘telling the truth’ and ‘lying’ in medicine, when the reality is often much more subtle and nuanced.

    ‘If there are conventional medicines with an evidence base similar to that of homeopathic treatments, I would strongly advocate those conventional treatments be withdrawn as well. ‘

    The 10.23 campaign was about the ‘over the counter’ availability of homeopathic products; as I said in my first post, the evidence base for proprietary cough remedies (not paracetamol based ‘cold remedies’) has been shown to be non-existent by research published on Cochrane.

    So why campaign against Boots selling homeopathic products rather than cough mixture?

  40. #40 by jetsun on January 31, 2010 - 21:27

    take Lachesis 30c every day for a month, you may find you have long term paralysis of the left arm, who wants to give it a go?

  41. #41 by Mike Hall on January 31, 2010 - 21:34

    Happy to – where can I get some?

  42. #42 by Miguel Corkhill on January 31, 2010 - 21:40

    @Camilla. I´m very familiar with the arguments for and the philosophy behind homeopathy. They are beyond ridicule. I´m not new to critical thinking or skepticism. Using myself as a guinea pig to test homeopathy would prove nothing, as the test would not be double blinded or controlled and my personal bias would have an effect on the results. However, many such double blind, controlled tests have been done, and they show that homeopathy works no better than placebo. So then it becomes a simple matter of deciding whether you accept the scientific concensus or not. Or you can believe that there´s some big conspiracy to keep the plucky homeopaths from succeeding in their benign aim of curing us all in the way that nature intended.

    @David. That´s a pretty nasty slander. Got any evidence? For anyone who doesn´t know; An astroturf group is a pressure group that appears to be a grassroots organisation, but have been secretly set up by P.R. firms on behalf of buisnesses or governments. ´The Iraqi National Congress´ is a good example. Skeptical groups and individuals are often accused of this by their detractors.

  43. #43 by Mike Hall on January 31, 2010 - 21:45

    Jonathan B :This however could be avoided if homeopathy and other alternative medicine were to be regulated. Paradoxically, (and apologies if I’m wrong) my guess is that ’skeptics’ would oppose this on the grounds that it would legitimise such treatments.

    Yes, regulation perhaps would help. Equally, it may also legitimise. To be honest I don’t yet know where I stand on this issue.

    I think that this is based on a utopian view of medical practice;

    Maybe so, but I’d argue that it is still an ideal to strive for.

    And I think that you are assuming a straightforward distinction exists between ‘telling the truth’ and ‘lying’ in medicine, when the reality is often much more subtle and nuanced.

    Perhaps “untruth” would be a better word to use, as “lie” does imply intent. I don’t mean to suggest that the practitioner is always aware that they are feeding their patients untruths, because clearly most (all?) homeopaths believe they are prescribing effective remedies. That belief doesn’t, however, alter the fact that the remedies do not have a robust evidence base that supports efficacy beyond placebo. It is still an untruth to tell a patient that a homeopathic intervention will treat their condition, even if the homeopath is unaware it is an untruth.

    The 10.23 campaign was about the ‘over the counter’ availability of homeopathic products; as I said in my first post, the evidence base for proprietary cough remedies (not paracetamol based ‘cold remedies’) has been shown to be non-existent by research published on Cochrane.
    So why campaign against Boots selling homeopathic products rather than cough mixture?

    Maybe we will. But no-one is in Africa telling AIDS patients that cough mixture will cure them.

  44. #44 by David on January 31, 2010 - 21:53

    Hello Miguel,

    Thanks for your response, Slander is spoken. You mean I’ve made a pretty nasty libel.

    You certainly look and act like astroturfers.

    I challenge you to give me some RIGOROUS SCIENTIFIC PROOF that you aren’t. Until then I’ll reserve my right to be sceptical and just see things at face value.

    David

  45. #45 by Jonathan B on January 31, 2010 - 22:14

    Mike Hall,
    ‘That belief doesn’t, however, alter the fact that the remedies do not have a robust evidence base that supports efficacy beyond placebo. It is still an untruth to tell a patient that a homeopathic intervention will treat their condition, even if the homeopath is unaware it is an untruth.’

    So what’s wrong with a homeopath saying ‘this may work’ (which is what one could say honestly about any placebo)?

    ‘Maybe we will. But no-one is in Africa telling AIDS patients that cough mixture will cure them.’

    Indeed; but if anyone is telling them that, I doubt very much if it’s Boots…

    All the Best; I appreciate your willingness to debat this.
    J

  46. #46 by kk on January 31, 2010 - 22:59

    I think your group are wrong to try and ram your beliefs down other people’s throats. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but they are not entitled to harm others, which is what you do to many who actually believe in their homeopathic medicine and therefore have a better quality of life as a result, whether the improvement is scientific or not is neither here nor there for people who are suffering and find relief in whatever way possible. As people have said on here the placebo effect is very powerful and it is only with belief that has its full power. It is also true that pharmecutical drugs that have scientific evidence are also dependent on the placebo effect, so in essence to the people homeopathic medicine benefits there is no difference. Go ahead be a sceptic, pretend you know all the answers, which incidentally nobody does, but stop being bigotted pests.

  47. #47 by Marsh on February 1, 2010 - 00:21

    Hi ‘KK’, thanks for your informative and well-thought-out views. A couple of points:

    – We’ve never once tried to ban homeopathy, we’re in no way espousing beliefs (we’re advocating people actually read what homeopathy is AS DEFINED BY HOMEOPATHS no less) and we’re in no way causing harm to other
    – The belief in homeopathy has been proven to be harmful – be it in the neglect to get real medical care, the spread of alternative modalities where the placebo effect has no ability to help (preventing malaria, for example), or simply the advice from well-meaning homeopaths to forego chemotherapy in favour of homeopathy. No amount of placebo and sugar will fight cancer.
    – The placebo effect is present in real medicine, in no less measure than in homeopathy – in fact, largely, it’s MORE effective in real medicine. Studies show the greater and more authoritarian-seeming the intervention, the stronger the placebo – getting an saline injection from a man in a white coat works better for placebo than a sugar pill. Fortunately, medicine has a wonderful way of side-stepping the issue of misleading people with placebo treatments – it uses treatments that actually work. Couple that up with a bigger dose of placebo than homeopathy can provide, and you’ve got a working system there. Placebo is not homeopathy-specific – science found it, science isolated it, and science uses it a damn sight better than sugar pills and shaken waters.
    – No difference between homeopathy and real medicine in terms of effects? Take a look at a review of the data, talk to a doctor, or simply switch a diabetic friend’s insulin for homeopathic remedy – sure, you’ll do them irreparable damage in swapping their life-saving medicine for magic water, but you’ll at least see how easy it is to tell what works and what doesn’t.
    – Glad you agree that nobody knows all of the answers – we’ve never claimed anything of the sort, so at least we’re on common ground there. However, we do think that some people do have SOME of the answers. We can see that AIDS medicine works better than sugar pills. We can watch cancer go into remission via the use of chemotherapy while cancer patients denied life-saving medicine by their homeopaths die. We can look at these sugar pills and see they’re just sugar. We can find some of the answers. Have a look around, you may even stumble on some of them yourself.
    – Bigotted pests? I’d like to point out the tone of the piece above shows no bigotry, and speaks only of education and awareness. I believe you’re the one leaving aggressive, insulting and confrontational comments.

    Thanks for your excellent feedback,
    Marsh
    10:23

  48. #48 by Marsh on February 1, 2010 - 00:24

    Hi David

    Happy for you to be sceptical – it’s what we’re here for. Also, happy to clear up your worries about astroturfing – we’re a non-profit organisation, we take no donations, hold no funds, we all have day jobs (not working for pharmaceutical companies 🙂 ), we address Big Pharma when they step out of line (you might not be aware, but our campaign is actually aimed at Boots – one of the Biggest Pharmas in the UK) and we do all of this work in our own time, from our own pocket, and for our own peace of mind. This is just an issue we feel strongly about, and that the UK media, science community, BMJ, BMA and a myriad of other charities, organisations, writers, broadcasters, entertainers and activists feel the same way is just our good fortune.

    Hope that helped!
    Marsh

  49. #49 by Gittins on February 1, 2010 - 11:47

    The phrase “my own personal truth” rings alarm bells in my head. Real truth is universal, “personal truth” is a fantasy. Everyone’s opinions are not always equally valid. We are not all special little snowflakes, entitled to our own beliefs. Sometimes we are just plain wrong.

    Homeopathy is not an ancient natural healing system. It is a product of 18th century superstition and scientific ignorance. That it still exists today with a veneer of respectability is a demonstration of the scientific illiteracy of the general public.

  50. #50 by gareth binks on February 1, 2010 - 13:43

    If its not been put on here then there is news from New Zealand of some note….

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/GE1001/S00073.htm

(will not be published)