One of our main aims with the 10:23 campaign was to get people involved. For a long time, people have railed against the sheer nonsense of homeopathy, but have done so in their own homes, the pub, their workplaces, the pub again, and then bed. Instead, we tried to get people to take that energy and passion and turn it to more productive action… which is why I was delighted to hear from an old friend (and long time MSS supporter) who, inspired by our campaign, has emailed MEPs in order to get their thoughts on EU Homeopathy Day – the entirely-self-elected-and-utterly-unofficial-Europe-wide-quackery-awareness-day. Marc (for that is his name, and you’ll see him comment on this blog from time to time) forwarded me his email, and I was happy to read it over and see some of the fruits of our campaigning.
I’d love to tell you our MEPs he contacted were scientifically-literate and met Marc’s concerns and appeals with a rational response. I’d even be OK with telling you that they were reluctant to get too involved, but were polite and diplomatic in their answers. However, as the below response from Godfrey Bloom of UKIP (I know, I know) will show, I can’t. FYI, Godfrey Bloom also has a blog outlining his opinions on climate change, as well as some very misogynistic views towards women:
“No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”.
That’s not poisoning the well by the way – that’s context. Anyway, Marc’s email read:
From: Marc Callinan
Sent: 23 March 2010 10:46
Dear Edward McMillan-Scott, Linda McAvan, Godfrey Bloom, Timothy Kirkhope, Andrew Brons and Diana Wallis,
I am writing to you all as my MEP’s with regards to the 3rd EU Homoeopathy Day. I sincerely hope that you all will reject its call for ”politicians and decision makers in Brussels to take action in favour of homeopathy for the benefit of European patients and citizens, as part of a more integrated and holistic approach to health care in Europe.” (Quote taken from the website: http://www.euhomeopathyday.eu/more)
Homoeopathy has been proven through research to work on the placebo effect. One of the key beliefs of homoeopathy is that water can remember a substance that has been diluted out of it. After 12C there is statistically not one single molecule of the original substance left in the dilution and homoeopathy happily sells solutions of 30C and even 200C. Funding and support should not be given to a treatment that has no benefit beyond a placebo, after all the placebo effect can be obtained much more cheaply by using sugar pills that have not been exposed to water that many dilutions ago was exposed to something that may or may not have any healing properties to begin with. The recent 1023 campaign did a wonderful job of raising awareness of what homoeopathy is and isn’t and showing that there literally is nothing in it.
Again I ask of you do not be taken in by misrepresented studies and cherry picked low quality trials as was presented to the commons select comity when it conducted the evidence check of homoeopathy. The evidence check was able to cut through the smoke and mirrors to see that homoeopathy should not be funded by the NHS in the UK let alone supported and given false credibility on a European scale.
Many thanks for your time
As I’m sure you’ll agree, Marc was polite, to the point, and most of all accurate. So, imagine his surprise when the following response dropped through his metaphorical inbox door:
From: Godfrey Bloom <email@example.com
Sent: Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 10:55 AM
Dear Mr Callinan
Thank you for your letter concerning homeopathy.
Unfortunately for your case, homeopathy works. You apply tests appropriate to pharmaceutical drugs in order to ‘prove’ that homeopathic remedies are no better than placebos. I feel sure that you would not wish to test pharmaceutical products on the reverse principal.
There are many good reasons for using homeopathy as the first resort, but the main one is that homeopathy can do no harm – one of the first aims of Hippocrates – as opposed to the long printed list of dangerous side effects accompanying most pharmaceutical products, and we believe that people should have a choice.
Incidentally, the Royal Family seem to survive pretty well on homeopathy.
For those of you counting fallacies, I make that 1 special pleading, 1 strawman, 2 appeals to authority, 1 Big Pharma/Western Medicine/Teh Pharmaceuticalz paranoia, 1 false dichotomy involving patient choice, and 2 outright factual untruth. It’s a fallacial buffet.
What’s more, the response is curt, smug and with an underlying sneer – note the casual ‘unfortunately for your case’ and the ‘incidental’ appeal to authority (were I Marc, I’d point out that it’s likely quite easy to survive pretty well when you’re born into one of the richest and most privileged families on the planet, not to mention the fact that the Royals also use real medicine – the very best, in fact). The whole email from Bloom strikes me as having the air of self-importance we often see of the science-illiterate when championing their ‘your science doesn’t know everything’ nonsense. For the record, taking his ‘points’ in order:
- Unfortunately for his smug sense of superiority, homeopathy doesn’t work
- A test is a test – there is no special science set aside by which homeopathy works. Tests are appropriate to pharmaceuticals because they’re appropriate to reality. Many pharmaceutical drugs fail these tests – presumably Bloom’s happy for those to be sold too, based on the idea that the tests weren’t appropriate to them?
- I’m not quite sure what reverse principal he wants drugs to be tested on, that makes them fail when compared to homeopathy. I’m not quite sure he’d be sure either, but I’d be delighted to have him write out a test criteria and we could go over it together.
- There are no good reasons to use homeopathy as a first resort – it doesn’t work. It’s not a first resort. It’s not even a resort.
- Homeopathy can do harm – see? See? OK, so the harm isn’t direct (there’s nothing in it!), but in the omission of a real first resort people can get very sick very quickly. Or, if they’re lucky, they’re just throwing their money away.
- Pharmaceutical products do often have side effects, and some of these can be dangerous (not most, as Bloom believes). And it was Science that discovered that, not magic, and not homeopathy. So he’s happy to go with science when it supports his quackery, but to lambast it the rest of the time. What’s more, we know about those side effects, and we can therefore judge accordingly – consumers are rarely given this depth of information on homeopathy, because if they did they wouldn’t buy it.
- People should have a choice, but an uninformed choice is not a real choice. Homeopathy has been proven not to work – to deny this fact is to really deny people the right to choose.
- The Royal Family are not doctors, they’re not scientists and they’re not experts. They are, however, in a position of rare privilege whereby they can afford to dabble with quackery, safe in the knowledge that the very best help is at hand when conditions start to get more serious. Most people don’t have the wealth and the privilege to afford this luxury, and even if they did – it’s their choice to make, based on real information.
Phew. OK, rant over. Still, I’m not alone in my annoyance with Bloom’s attitude and response, and in fact Marc has followed up with a second email:
From: Marc Callinan
Sent: 30 March 2010 11:39
Dear Mr Bloom
Many thanks for taking the time to reply to my email regarding Homoeopathy, I appreciate the effort you took in doing this.
I certainly would not wish to test pharmaceutical drugs in the same way that homoeopathy is tested, relying on anecdotal ‘evidence’ has been shown to be a terrible method of testing treatments.That however does not mean that homoeopathic pills should not be required to prove their efficacy with high quality trials. DBRCT’s are more than capable of testing the efficacy of homoeopathy and unfortunately they show it to work as a placebo.
You say that homoeopathy can do no harm, while for direct harm it is true that homoeopathy being an inactive substance will cause no ill effects, this is because an inactive substance causes no effects. However I believe that in the recent evidence check a claim was made that homoeopathy could not be a placebo because it can cause side effects, clearly this is something that homoeopaths disagree on. There is also the indirect harm that can be caused by homoeopathy, are you familiar with what happened to Baby Gloria Thomas? Her father is a homoeopath that mistakenly believed that homoeopathy could cure her eczema, this sadly was not the case and at the age of 9 months she lost her life to a disease that can be treated very easily by medicine. Had homoeopathy been required to meet the same standards of proving efficacy before being allowed to be sold as a treatment then this little girl would still be alive today.
I have no issue with people choosing to use homoeopathy if they wish, however I do not believe that it should be funded with public money until it proves its efficacy. Placebos can be a great treatment for self limiting illnesses such as headaches or colds etc. however they need to be regulated so they are not supplied in place of malaria tablets or other essential medical interventions.
The Royal family may be supporters of homoeopathy but this is still no proof of its efficacy. If Public money is to be used on a treatment of any sort do you not feel that there should be strong evidence for its efficacy? this is the case with conventional treatments why should it be any different for homoeopathy?
Again many thanks for taking the time to reply to my correspondence
I eagerly await the response he receives from Bloom, and from the other MEPs he contacted. Great work, Marc.