Having written about and campaigned against homeopathy extensively in the past, I’ve seen a number of counter-arguments and issues raised by people who either disagree with the 10:23 Campaign (primarily homeopaths, admittedly). The one which crops up most regularly and seem to have, at least on the surface, the most sway is: if homeopathy IS just a placebo, is that so bad? Placebos, after all, can be shown to have an effect, and if judicially used could form a perfectly legitimate part of mainstream healthcare.
Persuasive as this sounds, the answer is actually pretty simple – leaving aside the implications for doctor-patient trust (handing out pills known to be ineffective and claiming they’re medicine definitely doesn’t gel with the important notion of informed consent), incorporating homeopathy into proven medicine lends the modality legitimacy, which can lead to things like this (screencapped from an email):
Following the link from that alert takes you to the Homeopathy Plus website, with their advice on how to deal with the side effects of Chemotherapy – advice they believe to be equally applicable to radiation poisoning. Just to make it absolutely clear, as if I even needed to, there is a HUGE difference between the side-effects experienced after having a well-controlled, targeted and managed dose of chemotherapy to fight cancer, and being randomly exposed to an uncontrolled amount radiation following a damaged nuclear power plant. It goes without saying that this is irresponsible and dangerous advice, and by all means it should be ignored.
This advice from Homeopathy Plus is a clear demonstration of one of the hardest to grasp issues surrounding homeopathy – almost overwhelmingly, homeopaths aren’t conmen, aren’t charlatans and aren’t frauds. I absolutely believe that the majority – the vast majority – of homeopaths and proponents of homeopathy are utterly sincere and well-meaning. They genuinely think homeopathic preparations work, they absolutely believe the remedies are effective – this is why they turn up to Haiti to give away their pills, and it’s why they advise potentially-radiation-poisoned people to take homeopathy as a cure. It’s an act of kindness – albeit a tragically misguided one. Keeping this fact in mind is the hardest thing to do, especially at a time of overwhelming tragedy such as in the wake of events in Japan.
I’d be fascinated to see if any homeopaths are brave enough to speak out against the advice from Homeopathy Plus – particularly the Society of Homeopaths and British Homeopathic Association. When individual groups or practitioners offer dangerous or irresponsible advice, it’s rare in the extreme that the rest of the homeopathic community condemn their actions – often they instead choose to stay silent, and let the dangerous advice continue to be spread in favour of presenting a united front. At such a time of extreme tragedy I’d like to believe there are homeopaths out there responsible enough to break this policy and speak out against this utterly dangerous advice. Any homeopath willing to do so will have the respect of the 10:23 Campaign in this instance.
In the mean time, if you do want to do something genuinely useful to help in Japan, Phil Plait has collected together links to organisations who could use your money to do some genuine good.
(Hat Tip to Richard Saunders for alerting me to this – check out The Skeptic Zone for more of his excellent work).