MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Sometimes it is helpful when journalists tackle complex medical issues – and sometimes it is not.

The recent article in THE SPECTATOR entitled “The war on homeopathy isn’t working. We need to call a truce” is a good example for the latter scenario. Here are a few crucial excerpts from it [my comments are in square brackets and bold letters]:

No matter how many trials and meta-analyses are carried out, despite multiple experts opining [if what they say is based on good evidence, it is misleading to call it ‘opinion’] that, to borrow scientific language, ‘it’s all a bunch of fluff’, and despite arousing the ire of the entire medical establishment en masse, homeopathy refuses to die [he obviously has not seen the statistics on homeopathy usage on the NHS]. It remains the treatment of choice for millions of patients, sales of homeopathic remedies appear to be increasing [do they really?] and thousands of practitioners are registered in the UK alone, not to mention the fact that it is available on our very own NHS [see my previous comment].

Prominent supporters include HRH the Prince of Wales, and the Honourable Member for South West Surrey, the Secretary of State for Health. Homeopathy stimulates great emotion on both sides. Supporters all have their stories of miracles, of chronic diseases cured or relieved when allopathic medicine failed [as you say, they are stories and not evidence], and are usually dismissed out of hand as though they were simpletons [no, they are corrected in that stories are no evidence], something that only drives patients further towards the homeopaths [that is what you think; here you could have used the term OPINION correctly].

Opponents can be especially nasty [really], as I discovered when I mistakenly suggested we keep an open mind on the subject, and was rewarded with sustained online abuse [and that’s your evidence for this very far reaching statement? All you demonstrate here is that you have an axe to grind, in my view]. The vitriol of the attack could not have been more appropriate had I suggested we start drowning little children (and kittens) at the bedside of cancer patients, whilst smearing honey on our faces and howling at the moon, instead of using chemotherapy [this overblown analogy loses you the last bit of credibility as an objective science journalist, I think]…

Given that homeopathy costs the NHS between £4 million and £12 million a year, the issue really has to be put to bed once and for all. I would suggest that prominent members of the British Homeopathic Society and relevant specialists in the medical/surgical fields call a truce, come together, and agree to settle the question definitively, to the satisfaction of all concerned [I can probably name more than 100 occasions where this has happened already and generated a negative result for homeopathy. The still largest research program in homeopathy was done by the Nazis in the 1930s. The entire homeopathic elite was involved and later made the results disappear].

How? Simply subject homeopathy to several, high-quality, randomised trials as this one, with the study design carried out by homeopaths, thus rendering the argument that the trial was biased against homeopathy from the beginning obsolete, and supervised by those with training and experience in the administration of clinical trials, thus rendering the argument that the trials were methodologically weak inapplicable. Funding for these trials will not be out of the public purse but can be provided in a transparent fashion by private donors, with the results being completely accessible in the public domain in the same way the full statin trial results aren’t [see my previous comment].

If positive results are obtained, well and good. If not, instead of arrogantly dismissing homeopathy [really? this is what you think of experts who have sound evidence from ~400 clinical trials and ~1000 pre-clinical papers which, in total, generate a negative result for the validity of homeopathy?] and by extension the millions of patients who have benefited from it, even as a placebo, medics can simply declare the debate over — and the real debate as to whether it should be accessible on the NHS can begin [this debate has long begun and, in the face of overwhelming evidence is about to end].

As I stated above, sometimes it is unhelpful when journalists tackle complex medical issues – particularly, if they are ill-informed.

16 Responses to Really? A WAR on homeopathy? No! It’s a struggle against misinformation

  • … and the harpies descend.

  • Don’t rise to the bait!
    Dr Arab is a gynaecologist of repute who writes health columns. He knows perfectly well that the principles underpinning homeopathy have been shown (over 200+ years) not to hold rational water – but saying that does not get your article in the Spectator.
    Dr Arab is a consultant iconoclast.

    I’m not keen on satire or irony in serious scientific debate, but talk of a ‘war’ with homeopathy is neither serious, nor scientific, nor, come to that, in any sense valid.

    Leave him to it.
    He’s pulling his readers’ legs.
    Both of them.
    (Legs that is, but possibly, readers!)

    • He’s not pulling legs based on his comments below the article: he’s speaking as a champion for “patient choice” while simultaneously promulgating the homeopathic lie that the debate is not already very well settled.

  • An all-to-common media sin is committing the fallacy of false balance. That is to say, that they present some dichotomy — i.e.: homeopathy works v. homeopathy is hogwash — as being equally weighted positions. As you may have noticed, Dr. Ernst, this is also a common rhetorical trick in political discourse.

  • Your trite little piece might have been a little more credible had you demonstrated an understanding of the subtlety of the argument instead of a knee jerk reaction, a less ” Little Englander” mentality ( do you HONESTLY think that the millions of patients refer only to UK patients)but furthermore attempted to be objective instead of making snide little side comments.

    It is attitudes like this that make patients turn away from the medical profession and seek solace elsewhere, rendering them open to suggestion from all manner of people / fields where they are made to feel welcome and accepted but where they may then be exposed to all manner of quackery.

    Some advice: next time you write a blog, do some basic research first; ascertain the target audience of a blog you may be criticising( I welcome all comments) and also an accurate idea of who your protagonist is. I’m not a science journalist and by not even knowing that, you destroy all pretence at credibility.

    • I don’t really care what is your profession [it was posted that you are a gynae]. I do care, however, that you write a lot of tosh on a subject that you don’t understand.

    • Tarek

      “Some advice: next time you write a blog, do some basic research first”

      As should you. You would find the questions already answered, the studies you postulate already done and the questions answered. The problem is that the homeopaths fail to accept the answers.

    • “Some advice: next time you write a blog, do some basic research first; ascertain the target audience of a blog you may be criticising( I welcome all comments) and also an accurate idea of who your protagonist is. I’m not a science journalist and by not even knowing that, you destroy all pretence at credibility.”

      Are you the gyno from Saudi Arabia who can write articles in the Western free press but can’t where you live? I thought you would have bigger fish to fry if you were concerned about humanity, such as the atrocious human rights record in SA. I know my point is a bit Red Herring, however, I think you might refrain from pejoratives about the prof’s place of residence when half of your population can’t even drive cars.

  • Unfortunately, the approach evident in the article works well with those prone to believe homeopathy offers anything other than placebo. The failed logic Edzard picks apart will be missed by those incapable of critical thinking (a fundamental skill that expose the deception in this article and the practice of homeopathy.)

    As much as people blather when rational thinking is applied to the poor quality of evidence for homeopathy, it appears to be having an effect. Green shoots are appearing in more places that challenge the irrational views on the practice – hat tip to Ezard on his appearance on CBC radio discussing Health Canada’s new regulations on homeopathy child care products.

    The effort to call out nonsense isn’t something that should be avoided or set aside. Rather, it is the practice of nonsense supported by magical believes that needs to end.

  • Yeah, asking for credible evidence for their doctrines and claims is totally the same as carpet bombing Dresden. Any idiot can see that. Though non-idiots might struggle.

  • >> “The war on homeopathy isn’t working. We need to call a truce”

    Not too bad a headline though. A lookalike blogpost title (“The war is over, homeopathy won”) in Germany in July 2015 (http://www.ruhrbarone.de/homeopathy-won/109814), headlining an article proposing to move on to something more promising, earned itself a lot of flak from within the skeptical community and ended up to be the trigger for the foundation of a loose “Information Network On Homeopathy” – loose but until now, barely five weeks into its existence, successfully orchestrating an information campaign in facebook and blog comments, local and national lead media, and soon to go on-line with two websites offering neutral and scientifically sound information for those who care (double meaning) and those who doubt the biased Blah that they are handed down from homeopathy preachers and followers.

    p.s. my nickname means “better look twice”.

  • “Really? this is what you think of experts who have sound evidence from ~400 clinical trials and ~1000 pre-clinical papers which, in total, generate a negative result for the validity of homeopathy?”

    Edzard, Guy and Crank O, Clownsick Data:

    Feel free share the ~1000 pre-clinical papers with “total negative result”.

    And feel free share the ~400 clinical trials.

    Please, references.

  • Most sentences that start “I am (not)…but” should be viewed closely. After many paragraphs the author ends by considering the millions who have benefitted from homeopathy. An assistant professor wrote this.

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