[Long post alert - much ranting and a full reprint of someone else's article here, so approach with caution. There, um, is a song though, if that helps]
Alternative medicine almost, but not quite entirely, pisses me off. Basically it is a loathsome industry based around selling people meaningless rituals in lieu of real and frequently much-needed medical assistance. It absorbs vast quantities of cash and exploits people’s fear hope and ignorance to make enormous profits for its peddlers. Truly disgusting, disgraceful and possibly one of the only industries in the world capable of making Big Pharma look honourable.
I don’t trust the major pharmaceutical companies any more than the alties, before you get all excited. I have done a lot of work for them and the only thing they care about is indeed money (as a whole) and looking good in front of their superiors (individually, as with any large company). But ultimately, the sheer deceit of the alternative medicine industry makes me sick.
I am not contending that all alternative therapies are entirely without merit of course. The placebo effect is powerful and well-documented, and their elaborately vacuous pantomimes deliver a superlative placebo, they really do. And herbalism must occasionally work because a very large number of modern medicines are basically a controlled form of herbalism, in the sense that scientists isolate the active ingredients and then deliver them to the patient in a controlled and safe manner, rather than the haphazard guess-work of the herbalists themselves. Various forms of vaguely hippy yoga shite for musculo-skeletal issues such as a bad back can also be effective of course – they’re basically just exercise, and I have yet to meet a genuine medical doctor who advises against gentle exercise and stretching when one has a bad back.
Homeopathy, however, is nothing but placebo. It is poison (often, not always) added to water and then diluted such that you would get only a single molecule of that ingredient (of dubious efficacy to begin with) in a body of water whose diameter was equal to that of the Earth’s orbit. Homeopathic remedies are either water or sugar pills and are not medicine. Its lame apologetics insist that the water retains memory of the substance with which it has been in contact but fail to explain how these microstructures that they invoke come to last any longer than the microseconds for which they are shown to exist. They also fail to explain how the water is supposed to retain memory of the particular ingredient to which they claim to expose it, yet conveniently retains no memory whatsoever of any of the myriad other substances with which it has come into contact over the course of time.
The general argument, when you really push them, is that mainstream science and Big Pharma is trying to silence their revolutionary new discoveries in order to protect their markets on one hand or hegemonic dominance of intellectual authority on the other. The fact that homeopathy was invented a couple of hundred years ago and since then has been the instigator of not one single scientific discovery – or even a single modest advance – and this despite the hunger of emerging scientists for exposure, novelty and the fame that would come from demonstrating anything even half so revolutionary, would seem to rather contradict this pathetic sniveling.
That said, 99% of what these hucksters peddle, while no more than a sickeningly cynical attempt to get rich by exploiting the fear and unhappiness of others, is pretty harmless. Unfortunately homeopathy has recently gone from being a harmless distraction for people with no brains and money to burn, to a dangerous lie, capable of causing death on a frightening scale. How so? Well they have recently started advocating using their sugar pills to combat … wait for it … Malaria and HIV! Yes, two of the world class killers of the disease world. Malaria is an illness that ravages millions across the world and is currently spreading North as the planet warms and the mosquitoes which actually carry the parasite find they can now happily survive at more northerly latitudes. I’m often surprised how few people know of the seriousness of malaria actually, but HIV needs no such introductions.
Advocating this sort of nonsense as effective treatment for diseases such as HIV and Malaria, which are clearly defined clinical diseases, as opposed to the vaguer emotional ills for which placebo may be a helpful treatment, is beyond indulgent rubbish. It is murderous and is utterly beyond me why this sort of lying and reckless endangerment of human life in the interests of personal profit have not been outlawed. Of course, they couldn’t get away with this over here – no never! Advocating the use of sugar pills as a treatment for malaria would be laughed at, because we are largely protected from people making false claims which cannot be backed up by facts.
So where do they peddle this homicidal dishonesty? The same place Big Pharma chooses to mostly F people in the A of course – Africa! Where no-one is protected, and no law can stop the huckster, and that big, all-excusing flag of helping the poor people can be self-righteously waved with the left hand, whilst the right hand shovels the last pennies of the poor bastards with whose lives they are so disgustingly playing into some very deep pockets indeed.
Could there be any more appropriate song for me to choose to accompany this story:
The Strokes – Killing Lies
There are several splendid websites in this country dedicated to fighting these avaricious charlatans, and I salute their dedication: Improbable Science and Bad Science spring most obviously to mind. Read them. Also read the Quackometer. Read it especially now, because these poor put-upon conspiracy theorists at the Society of Homeopaths have been opening everyone’s eyes to their new healing by … erm … using legal bullying tactics to shut down criticism of their chicanery. They had their lawyers write to the host of The Quackometer site and make threats, so the host spinelessly capitulated and removed the offending post.
So it is with great pleasure that I reproduce the original here, word for word, as my little way of saying Fuck You to the Society of Homeopaths and their pathetic attempts to close down public debate of their dubious methods not by countering with argument and evidence, but with bullying. What an unspeakable bunch of cunts:
The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.
The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.
As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:
48 • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
• No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.
72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.
The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me. Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,
Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.
Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,
Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…
Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.
Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,
The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.
This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.
However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ‘she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.
A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,
introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.
I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,
is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria.
Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.
This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.
Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.
there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.
Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.
Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?
I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?
It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?
At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?