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.