Archive for October, 2010

Snake Oil Or Solution? An Interview With Jim Humble

Proper snake oil salesmen are a dying breed. Time was, travelling grifters with lotions and tonics to cure what ails you were as commonplace as deaths from diseases they claimed to cure. Depictions in pop culture of Victorian-era or Wild-Western vendors of elixirs and tinctures with exotic and wonderous names – and even more glorious claims – are now ubiquitous to the point of cliché. They even show their face in the Cher song ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves‘ (interestingly enough, in combination with evangelicism: ‘Papa would do whatever he could / Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good’ – more of which later).

However, you might say they don’t make them like they used to – while bullshit inevitably still bobs to the surface and the desperate and willing are still taken for their money by sham products, the claims have tended towards a more reserved, vague, wishy-washy and intangible nature. No longer will a smiling charlatan claim to cure you, instead they’ll ‘boost your immune system’ or ‘increase your energy’ or something equally weasel-worded, to avoid making solid and testable claims, and mitigate the potential for angry customers – after all, while the hucksters of yore could back up their medicine cabinet and hop on the first stage coach out of town before their victims smelt a rat, in today’s world it’s far harder to disappear without a trace, and far more lucrative not to have to. Quackery got marketing savvy, you might say. As such, snake oil – with it’s extravagant names and bold claims – has fallen to the wayside.

Or so I thought. However, I was given cause to reassess this line of rationale – if not nostalgia for a time when pseudoscience was so potentially transparent – when I first encountered Jim Humble, and his Miracle Mineral Solution. With a name most Wild-Western-novelists would shun for being somewhat lazily ironic, and a product whose miraculous monicker is matched only by it’s catalogue of cures, it seemed to me like we had a genuine snake oil salesman on our hands. Initial reports of MMS and Jim’s activities did nothing to dissuade me – while we’re now well-acquainted with the experiences of Rhys Morgan when highlighting the dangers of the solution in ‘treating’ Crohn’s disease, it was reports from Martin Robbins (not least in the Guardian) and the blogger Noodlemaz which most solidified my preconception of our Humble salesman.

It’s also what convinced me I had to try and get an interview with him.

For readers who don’t know, and I can perfectly understand that there may be plenty, I co-host the Righteous Indignation podcast. On the show, we’ve often had guests who are themselves proponents of a belief traditionally considered pseudoscientific, and we give them the space and open forum to put across their case, which we debate in polite but often firm tones. It was this offer I emailed to Jim – a friendly-yet-firm forum, and the chance to put forward the case for MMS. I must admit, I submitted the interview request half in jest, so it was an enormous surprise to me when he agreed to speak to us. Read the rest of this entry »

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NHS Highland ends support for homeopathy

10:23 Campaign

The 10:23 Campaign

In light of the recommendation by Dr Margaret Somerville to end support for homeopathy on the NHS in Scotland, the 10:23 Campaign reiterate our stance that NHS support for this disproven quackery must be withdrawn immediately.

Speaking in response to an investigation by the BBC, which included the exposure of three homeopaths willing to treat patients with ineffective homeopathic ‘alternatives’ to the life-saving MMR vaccine, Dr Somerville described a “settled, clear and unambiguous clinical opinion” that homeopathy should not be used in the NHS and advised support be ended immediately – advice which has been taken on board by the NHS Highland, who opted to cease funding for the treatments today.

Michael Marshall, speaking on behalf of the 10:23 Campaign, today offered support for Dr Somerville’s statement:

“It’s immensely encouraging to see the Director of Public Health for the NHS Highland making so categorical and clear a statement, and to see the board follow through with decisive action. The evidence for the use of homeopathy is at best poor, and at worst non-existent. While belief may exist amongst practitioners that further studies are needed, such studies should be undertaken at their expense, rather than supporting the ineffective therapy with funding from taxpayer’s money in the meantime.

Speaking of the revelations in the BBC investigation, Mr Marshall continued:

“That the BBC found homeopaths willing to partake in some highly dubious and downright dangerous practices is little surprise to those of us familiar with the system of homeopathy. While homeopathic treatments themselves are often harmless – indeed, they’re chemically indistinguishable from simple sugar pills – the associated anti-scientific philosophy is often a breeding ground for poor health information and anti-vaccination propaganda.

This isn’t the first time such dangerous advice given by homeopaths has been exposed – a previous BBC investigation revealed homeopaths willing to offer ineffective replacements for anti-malarial drugs, and our own investigations have found countless tales of other homeopaths willing to offer treatments for AIDS, cancer and all manner of genuinely serious illnesses, based on no proof of efficacy and no reason to believe homeopathy to be useful.

This investigation didn’t reveal merely three rotten apples in an otherwise sound barrel, it exposed symptoms of a rotten system – teaching anti-science and actively promoting dangerous health information. It’s for these reasons that we applaud Dr Somerville, and all who similarly campaign for sense to triuph over nonsense, and it’s for these reasons that we strongly applaud the action from the NHS Highland and urge other areas of the NHS to follow suit”.

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