Monthly Archives: January 2017

One of the questions I hear frequently is ‘HOW CAN I BE SURE THIS STUDY IS SOUND’? Even though I have spent much of my professional life on this issue, I am invariably struggling to provide an answer. Firstly, because a comprehensive reply must inevitably have the size of a book, perhaps even several books. And secondly, to most lay people, the reply would be intensely boring, I am afraid.

Yet many readers of this blog evidently search for some guidance – so, let me try to provide a few indicators – indicators, not more!!! – as to what might signify a good and a poor clinical trial (other types of research would need different criteria).


  • Author from a respected institution.
  • Article published in a respected journal.
  • A clear research question.
  • Full description of the methods used such that an independent researcher could repeat the study.
  • Randomisation of study participants into experimental and control groups.
  • Use of a placebo in the control group where possible.
  • Blinding of patients.
  • Blinding of investigators, including clinicians administering the treatments.
  • Clear definition of a primary outcome measure.
  • Sufficiently large sample size demonstrated with a power calculation.
  • Adequate statistical analyses.
  • Clear presentation of the data such that an independent assessor can check them.
  • Understandable write-up of the entire study.
  • A discussion that puts the study into the context of all the important previous work in this area.
  • Self-critical analysis of the study design, conduct and interpretation of the results.
  • Cautious conclusion which are strictly based on the data presented.
  • Full disclosure of ethics approval and informed consent,
  • Full disclosure of funding sources.
  • Full disclosure of conflicts of interest.
  • List of references is up-to-date and includes also studies that contradict the authors’ findings.

I told you this would be boring! Not only that, but each bullet point is far too short to make real sense, and any full explanation would be even more boring to a lay person, I am sure.

What might be a little more fun is to list features of a clinical trial that might signify a poor study. So, let’s try that.


  • published in one of the many dodgy CAM journals (or in a book, blog or similar),
  • single author,
  • authors are known to be proponents of the treatment tested,
  • author has previously published only positive studies of the therapy in question (or member of my ‘ALT MED HALL OF FAME’),
  • lack of plausible rationale for the study,
  • lack of plausible rationale for the therapy that is being tested,
  • stated aim of the study is ‘to demonstrate the effectiveness of…’ (clinical trials are for testing, not demonstrating effectiveness or efficacy),
  • stated aim ‘to establish the effectiveness AND SAFETY of…’ (even large trials are usually far too small for establishing the safety of an intervention),
  • text full of mistakes, e. g. spelling, grammar, etc.
  • sample size is tiny,
  • pilot study reporting anything other than the feasibility of a definitive trial,
  • methods not described in sufficient detail,
  • mismatch between aim, method, and conclusions of the study,
  • results presented only as a graph (rather than figures which others can re-calculate),
  • statistical approach inadequate or not sufficiently detailed,
  • discussion without critical input,
  • lack of disclosures of ethics, funding or conflicts of interest,
  • conclusions which are not based on the results.

The problem here (as above) is that one would need to write at least an entire chapter on each point to render it comprehensible. Without further detailed explanations, the issues raised remain rather abstract or nebulous. Another problem is that both of the above lists are, of course, far from complete; they are merely an expression of my own experience in assessing clinical trials.

Despite these caveats, I hope that those readers who are not complete novices to the critical evaluation of clinical trials might be able to use my ‘warning signals’ as a form of check list that helps them to tell the chaff from the wheat.

Nobody really likes to be criticised; it can be painful. Painful but often necessary! Criticism produces progress. Criticism is therefore important. So, let’s think about criticism for a moment.

Obviously I am not talking of criticism such as ‘YOU ARE AN IDIOT’. In fact, that’s not criticism at all; it’s an insult. I am also not thinking about criticism like ‘YOUR ARGUMENT IS IDIOTIC’. I prefer to focus on criticism that is constructive, well-argued and based on evidence.

In healthcare, there is plenty of that type of criticism – luckily, I hasten to add. Its aim is to improve healthcare of the future. We need criticism to make progress. Without it, things come to a standstill or regress. This is why all the major medical journals are full of it, and many medical conferences are entirely or partly focussed on such aspects . For instance, frequently-cited papers in the BMJ, Lancet, NEJM, etc. point out that:

  • much of the current medical research is unreliable,
  • many therapies in current use have severe adverse effects,
  • patients frequently do not get the optimal treatment in a timely fashion,
  • modern medicine is too often inhumane.

The hope is that by disclosing these and many other deficits, appropriate actions can be found and taken to improve the situation and make progress. This process is hardly ever straight forward. All too often it is slow, inadequate and impeded by logistic and other obstacles. Therefore, it is crucial that constructive criticism continues to be voiced. Many clinicians, researchers and other experts have dedicated their lives to this very task.

Now, let’s look at the realm of alternative medicine.

There is certainly not less to criticise here than in conventional medicine. So, are all the journals of alternative medicine full of criticism of alternative medicine? Are there regular conferences focussed on criticism? Are alternative practitioners keen to hear about the weaknesses of their beliefs, practice, etc.?

The short answer is, no!

Yet, advocates of alternative medicine are, of course, not adverse to voicing criticism. In fact, they criticise almost non stop – at least this is the impression I get from reading their comments on this blog and from continually discussing with them since 1993.

But there is a fundamental difference: they criticise (often rightly) conventional medicine, and they criticise those (sometimes rightly) who criticise alternative medicine. When it comes to criticising their own practices, however, there is an almost deafening silence.

In my view, these differences between alternative and conventional medicine are far from trivial. In conventional medicine:

  • There is a long tradition of criticism.
  • Criticism is published and discussed prominently.
  • Criticism is usually well-accepted.
  • Criticism is often taken on board and appropriate action follows.
  • Criticism thus can and often does lead to progress.

By contrast, in alternative medicine almost nothing of the above ever happens. Criticism is directed almost exclusively towards those who are outside the realm. Criticism from the inside is as good as non-existent.

The consequences of this situation are easy to see for everyone, and they can be dramatic:

  • The journals of alternative medicine publish nothing that could be perceived to be negative for the practice of alternative medicine.
  • Self-critical thinking has no tradition and has remained an almost alien concept.
  • The very few people from the ‘inside’ who dare to criticise alternative practices are ousted and/or declared to be incompetent or worse.
  • No action is taken to initiate change.
  • The assumptions of alternative medicine remain unaltered for centuries.
  • Progress is all but absent.

It is time that the world of alternative medicine finally understands that constructive criticism is a necessary step towards progress!

Hyperthyroidism is, so I am told, a frequent veterinary problem, particularly in elderly cats. Homeopathic treatment is sometimes used to treat this condition. One article even provided encouraging details based on 4 case-reports. All 4 cats showed resolution of clinical signs; three attained normal thyroid hormone levels.  The authors concluded that homeopathic and complementary therapies avoid the potential side effects of methimazole and surgical thyroidectomy, they are less costly than radioactive iodine treatment, and they provide an option for clients who decline conventional therapies.

Yes, you guessed correctly: such a paper can only be published in the journal ‘HOMEOPATHY‘, respectable journals would not allow such conclusions based on 4 case-reports. They don’t permit inferences as to cause and effect. We have no idea what would have happened to these animals without homeopathy – perhaps they would have fared even better!

What we need is a proper controlled trial. The good news is that such a study has just been published. This double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomised trial was aimed at testing the efficacy of individualised homeopathy in the treatment of feline hyperthyroidism. Cats were randomised into two treatment arms. Either a placebo or a homeopathic treatment was given to each cat blindly.

After 21 days, the T4 levels, weight (Wt) and heart rate (HR) were compared with pre-treatment values. There were no statistically significant differences in the changes seen between the two treatment arms following placebo or homeopathic treatment, or between the means of each parameter for either treatment arm before and after placebo or homeopathic treatment. In a second phase of the study, patients in both treatment arms were given methimazole treatment for 21 days and T4, Wt and HR determined again. Subsequently, statistically significant reductions were noted in T4 (P<0.0001) and HR (P=0.02), and a statistically significant increase was observed in Wt (P=0.004).

The authors concluded that the results of this study failed to provide any evidence of the efficacy of homeopathic treatment of feline hyperthyroidism.

So, homeopathy does not work – not in humans nor in animals. This statement, backed by solid facts, proves all those wrong who cannot resist uttering the notion that HOMEOPATHY CANNOT BE A PLACEBO BECAUSE IT WORKS IN ANIMALS.

It doesn’t!

And we have seen the evidence for the correctness of this fact so often (for instance here, here, here and here) that I feel embarrassed to say it again: highly diluted homeopathic remedies are placebos. As soon as we adequately control for placebo and other non-specific effects in properly controlled studies, the alleged effects, reported in anecdotes and other uncontrolled studies, simply disappear.


I am sure this  FDA press-release will interest many readers (we reported about this case before):

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that its laboratory analysis found inconsistent amounts of belladonna, a toxic substance, in certain homeopathic teething tablets, sometimes far exceeding the amount claimed on the label. The agency is warning consumers that homeopathic teething tablets containing belladonna pose an unnecessary risk to infants and children and urges consumers not to use these products.

In light of these findings, the FDA contacted Standard Homeopathic Company in Los Angeles, the manufacturer of Hyland’s homeopathic teething products, regarding a recall of its homeopathic teething tablet products labeled as containing belladonna, in order to protect consumers from inconsistent levels of belladonna. At this time, the company has not agreed to conduct a recall. The FDA recommends that consumers stop using these products marketed by Hyland’s immediately and dispose of any in their possession. In November 2016, Raritan Pharmaceuticals (East Brunswick, New Jersey) recalled three belladonna-containing homeopathic products, two of which were marketed by CVS.

“The body’s response to belladonna in children under two years of age is unpredictable and puts them at unnecessary risk,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. ”We recommend that parents and caregivers not give these homeopathic teething tablets to children and seek advice from their health care professional for safe alternatives.”

Homeopathic teething products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safety or effectiveness. The agency is unaware of any proven health benefit of the products, which are labeled to relieve teething symptoms in children. In September 2016, the FDA warned against the use of these products after receiving adverse event reports.

Consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation after using homeopathic teething products.

The FDA encourages health care professionals and consumers to report adverse events or quality problems experienced with the use of homeopathic teething products to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program:

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The Agency is also responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.


Well, this will be irritating to many homeopathy-fans, not least to our friend Dana Ullman. He likes to publish articles alleging that the US authorities have recently taken to being ever so unfair to the homeopathic industry. I commented recently on his paper entitled “Extreme Bias in FTC’s Ruling on Homeopathic Medicine” where he displays the well-known biases and ignorance of his trade in exemplary fashion, including the often firm anti-vaccination stance of homeopaths. Dana can also not resist claiming that ‘the Swiss government’s “Health Technology Assessment” on homeopathic medicine is much more comprehensive than any previous governmental report written on this subject to date’ and – how could it be otherwise? – is sufficient proof that homeopathy works.

In case you believe in what Ullman says, you ought to read the intriguing evidence about Ullman after being called as an expert witness in an US class action. On this occasion, the judge stated:

The Defendant presented the testimony of Gregory Dana Ullman who is a homeopathic practitioner. He outlined the theory of homeopathic treatment and presented his opinion as to the value and effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. The Court found Mr. Ullman’s testimony to be not credible. Mr. Ullman’s bias in favor of homeopathy and against conventional medicine was readily apparent from his testimony. He admitted that he was not an impartial expert but rather is a passionate advocate of homeopathy. He posted on Twitter that he views conventional medicine as witchcraft. He opined that conventional medical science cannot be trusted.
Mr. Ullman’s testimony was unhelpful in understanding the purported efficacy of the ingredients of SnoreStop to reduce the symptoms of snoring. Although he is familiar with the theory of homeopathic treatment, his opinions regarding its effectiveness was unsupported and biased. The Court gave no weight to his testimony.(Rosendez v. Green Pharmaceuticals)

Say no more!

We have repeatedly discussed the risks of chiropractic spinal manipulation (see, for instance here, here and here). Some chiropractors seem to believe that using a hand-held manipulator, called ‘activator’, better controls the forces used on the spine and therefore is safer. This recent paper raises doubts on this hypothesis.

A neurosurgeon from Florida published the case-report of a 75-year-old active woman who presented to a local hospital emergency room with a 3-day history of the acute onset of severe left temporal headache, initially self-treated with non-steroidals, to which they were resistant. Additional complaints included some vague right eye blurring of vision and a mild speech disturbance. Her primary-care physician had ordered an outpatient MRI, which was interpreted as showing a small sub-acute left posterior temporal lobe haemorrhage. He then referred her to the emergency room where she was categorized as a “stroke alert” and evaluated according to the hospital “stroke-alert” protocol.

There was no prior history of migraine, but some mild treated hypertension. The patient subsequently gave a history of chronic neck and back pain, but no headache, for which she had intermittently received chiropractic adjustments. Her current problem started after an activator treatment to the base of the left side at the junction of the skull with the upper cervical spine. She became concerned enough a few days later, because of the persistence of unremitting headache, to contact her primary-care physician. The patient was not taking any anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents and had a relatively unremarkable past medical and surgical history. Although she did not have a formal visual field examination or an ophthalmology consultation, she was found to have an incomplete right homonymous hemi-anopsia on clinical exam by the neurologist.

Based on MRI characteristics, the haemorrhage was determined to be primarily subarachnoid and displacing but not involving any brain parenchyma, and without any extra-axial component. After a 4-day hospitalization for evaluation and observation, the patient was discharged, neurologically improved in terms of visual and speech symptoms as well as headache complaints, to outpatient follow-up. She has remained well with resolution of imaging abnormalities and no reoccurrence of symptoms.

The authors explain how difficult it is to prove specific causation in such cases. It is frequently inferred by epidemiological reasoning or evidence. While there are other potential causes of the haemorrhage that occurred in this case, none is as or more likely than the activator stimulus. In support of the activator as the cause of the haemorrhage, the symptoms began almost immediately after the activator treatment (a temporal relationship), the area to which the activator was applied is almost directly superficial to the area of haemorrhage (a spatial relationship), the anatomic location of this haemorrhage is statistically unusual for any underlying and/or preexisting conditions, including stroke. The MRI confirmed that there was no infarction underlying the area of haemorrhage. The MRA disclosed no dissections or vascular lesions present. The only mechanisms left are trauma or cryptic vascular lesion that ruptured, obliterated itself, and occurred coincident to the activator stimulus. Although Activator stimulus is not high energy, it nonetheless was targeted to the cervico-occipital junction, an area where neural tissue is among the most vulnerable and least protected and closest to the skin (as opposed to the lower cervical or any of the thoracic or lumbar spine). There are many articles that make reference to minor or trivial head injury as a likely cause of intracranial haemorrhage.

The author concluded that he was unable to find a single documented case in which a brain hemorrhage in any location was reported from activator treatment. As such, this case appears to represent the first well-documented and reported brain hemorrhage plausibly a consequence of activator treatment. In the absence of any relevant information in the chiropractic or medical literature regarding cerebral hemorrhage as a consequence of activator treatment, this case should be instructive to the clinician who is faced with a diagnostic dilemma and should not forget to inquire about activator treatment as a potential cause of this complication. Our case had a benign course, but we do not rule out a more serious or potentially dangerous clinical course or adverse outcome. This is of heightened concern in the elderly and/or those with treatment-induced coagulopathy or platelet inhibition.

In light of all of the difficulties inherent in linking chiropractic treatments, including activator treatments, with serious neurological events, it is very possible that intracranial hemorrhage is far more frequent than reported. Several articles comment on the likelihood that complications of this type are almost certainly underreported. Most of the incidents mentioned in case series or surveys had never been previously reported. Neurologists, neurosurgeons, and chiropractors should be more vigilant both in the application and evaluation of these methods in all patients who report new neurologic-type symptoms following a manipulation (including an activator application) to the occiput or the cranio-cervical junction.

I think that case-report speaks for itself.

Chiropractors will, of course, argue (yet again) that:

  • conventional treatments cause much more harm,
  • spinal manipulation is highly effective,
  • such complications are extreme rarities,
  • the risk/benefit profile of spinal manipulation is positive,
  • some studies have failed to show a risk of spinal manipulation,
  • case-reports cannot establish causality.

We have rehearsed these arguments ad nauseam on this blog. The bottom line is well-expressed in the above conclusions: it is very possible that intracranial hemorrhage is far more frequent than reported. And that obviously applies to all other types of complications after chiropractic treatments.

Mike Cummings recently stated on this blog “I’m not into blog banter.” Is he perhaps referring to some ‘alternative facts’? The truth seems to be that he blogs happily, regularly and – I am sad to say – disgracefully. This is a quote from his new post about the discussions regarding an acupuncture trial which was in the press a few days ago, (and also has been discussed on this blog):


So there has been a big response to this paper press released by BMJ on behalf of the journal Acupuncture in Medicine. The response has been influenced by the usual characters – retired professors who are professional bloggers and vocal critics of anything in the realm of complementary medicine. They thrive on oiling up and flexing their EBM muscles for a baying mob of fellow sceptics (see my ‘stereotypical mental image’ here). Their target in this instant is a relatively small trial on acupuncture for infantile colic.[1] Deserving of being press released by virtue of being the largest to date in the field, but by no means because it gave a definitive answer to the question of the efficacy of acupuncture in the condition. We need to wait for an SR where the data from the 4 trials to date can be combined. On this occasion I had the pleasure of joining a short segment on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 led by John Humphreys. My protagonist was the ever-amusing David Colquhoun (DC), who spent his short air-time complaining that the journal was even allowed to be published in the first place. You can learn all about DC care of Wikipedia – he seems to have a surprisingly long write up for someone whose profession career was devoted to single ion channels, perhaps because a significant section of the page is devoted to his activities as a quack-busting blogger. So why would BBC Radio 4 invite a retired basic scientist and professional sceptic blogger to be interviewed alongside one of the journal editors – a clinician with expertise in acupuncture (WMA)? At no point was it made manifest that only one of the two had ever been in a position to try to help parents with a baby that they think cries excessively. Of course there are a lot of potential causes of excessive crying, but I am sure DC would agree that it is unlikely to be attributable to a single ion channel…


I encourage everyone to read Cummings post in full; it’s full of surprises. Here I just want to comment very briefly why I find his post disgraceful (the Cummings quotes are in bold followed by my comments):

….usual characters….. Disrespectful to the point of being derogatory, in my view

….retired professors….. Not true, non-retired professionals commented as well

….professional bloggers…. Meaning people who earn their income by blogging? Certainly not true!

….vocal critics of anything in the realm of complementary medicine…. Critic not of ‘anything’ but merely of things that are false or misleading like the trial in question

….a baying mob of fellow sceptics…. Unquestionably meant to be insulting and arguably libelous

….Deserving of being press released by virtue of being the largest to date in the field…. Large is not necessarily a virtue that merits a press-release, particularly, if it is not matched with quality

….We need to wait for an SR where the data from the 4 trials to date can be combined…. More than doubtful that we ‘need to wait’. The 4 trials in question are all very weak and therefore cannot provide a firm answer via a systematic review

….the ever-amusing David Colquhoun…. Derogatory to the extreme

….why would BBC Radio 4 invite a retired basic scientist and professional sceptic blogger…. The answer could be because he understands science and has vast experience exposing false claims

….only one of the two had ever been in a position to try to help parents with a baby that they think cries excessively…. This does not necessarily mean that such a person understands science, and Cummings might even be an example for this

….is unlikely to be attributable to a single ion channel…. Even Cummings’ attempts at humour are quite appalling.


The comments of Dr Mike Cummings MB ChB Dip Med Ac, I am afraid, befit an ill-educated acupuncturist who feels personally hurt because his views have been challenged and who is not quite bright enough to have a rational discussion about his favourite subject, particularly with someone who has a superior grasp of the issues at hand (which are clearly not ‘how to stick a needle in a baby’). However, Cummings is not a simple acupuncturist; he happens to be a member of the medical profession, a medical director of the British Medical Acupuncture Society and (as he seems keen to point out) a journal editor. With these credentials, he should, in my view, be able to argue a bit more intelligently, truthfully and a lot more gracefully.

Sad, really!

One could almost think he wants to give acupuncture a bad name!!!

Acupuncture is often recommended as a treatment for shoulder pain, but its effectiveness is far from proven. A new study has just been published; but does it change this uncertainty?

A total of 227 patients with subacromial pain syndrome were recruited to this RCT. The patients were allocated to three groups who received either A) group exercise, B) group exercise plus acupuncture or C) group exercise plus electro-acupuncture. The primary outcome measure was the Oxford Shoulder Score. Follow-up was post treatment, and at 6 and 12 months. Data were analysed on intention-to-treat principles with imputation of missing values.

Treatment groups were similar at baseline. All treatment groups demonstrated improvements over time. Between-group estimates were, however, small and non-significant.

The authors concluded that neither acupuncture nor electro-acupuncture were found to be more beneficial than exercise alone in the treatment of subacromial pain syndrome. 

Well, that was to be expected!… I hear the rationalists amongst us exclaim.

Actually, I am not so sure.

One could easily have expected that the acupuncture groups (B and C) show a significant advantage over group A.


Because acupuncture is a ‘theatrical placebo’, a ritual that impresses patients and thus impacts on results, particularly on subjective outcomes like pain. If the results had shown a benefit for acupuncture + exercise (groups B and C) versus exercise alone (group A), what would we have made of it? Acupuncture fans would surely have claimed that it is evidence confirming acupuncture’s effectiveness. Sceptics, on the other hand, would have rightly insisted that it demonstrates nothing of the sort – it merely confirms that placebo effects can affect clinical outcomes such as pain.

As it turned out, however, this trial results happened to indicate that these placebo-effects can be so small that they fail to reach the level of statistical significance.

I think there is one noteworthy message here: RCTs with such a design (no adequate control for placebo effects) can easily generate false-positive results (in this case, this did not happen, but it was nevertheless a possible outcome). Such studies are popular but utterly useless: they don’t advance our knowledge one single iota. If that is so, we should not waste our resources on them because, in the final analysis, this is not ethical. In other words, we must stop funding research that has little or no chance of advancing our knowledge.

First she promoted vaginal steam baths and now Gwyneth Paltrow claims that putting a ball of jade (which you can order from her online-business, if you happen to have the cash) in their vaginas is good for women.

Yes, I kid you not; this is what she states on her website:

The strictly guarded secret of Chinese royalty in antiquity—queens and concubines used them to stay in shape for emperors—jade eggs harness the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice. Fans say regular use increases chi, orgasms, vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy in general. Shiva Rose has been practicing with them for about seven years, and raves about the results; we tried them, too, and were so convinced we put them into the goop shop. Jade eggs’ power to cleanse and clear make them ideal for detox…

But if you think that Gwyneth is somehow fixated on her feminine parts, you are probably mistaken. She is much more versatile than that and seems to employ her vagina merely for drumming up publicity for her business. If you browse her site, you find no end of baffling, vagina-unrelated wonders and purchasable products from the world of alternative medicine.

Here are just two further examples.

Flower  remedies

A flower essence is a bioenergetic preparation. Through the use of sunlight and water, we are able to capture the energy of a flower and use it for healing purposes: A freshly harvested flower is placed on the surface of water for a specific length of time and exposed to sunlight, resulting in the vibrational imprint of the flower in water. The flower essence is then used as an energetic remedy, with each flower having its own range of unique therapeutic benefits.

Vibrational imprint?

Unique therapeutic benefit?

Pull the other one! The truth about (Bach) flower remedies is much simpler: they are expensive placebos.

A method for getting rid of the parasites we allegedly all suffer from

…an eight-day, mono-diet goat-milk cleanse—accompanied by a specific vermifuge made of anti-parasitic herbs—is the most successful treatment. Parasites primarily live in the mucus lining of the gut system, where they feed on nutrients before they enter the body. Think of the goat milk as bait—parasites come out of the gut lining to drink the milk, which they love, but they also consume the vermifuge, which will eventually eradicate them. On top of being highly effective, this method is a much more gentle medicine than bombarding them—and your body—with a harsh drug.

Are they for real?

This is pure and potentially very dangerous, unethical nonsense!

Oh sorry – I forgot: we now must call it differently now: we are obviously dealing with Gwyeneth’s ‘alternative facts’.

Why has homeopathy such a bad name?

Why have the most ardent defenders of homeopathy become the laughing stock of the science community?

Why is there, after >200 years., still no proof of homeopathy’s efficacy?

Why is there not more research into homeopathy?

Why is there not more money in homeopathy?

Why is there so much opposition to homeopathy?

Nothing to do, of course, with the fact that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos. No, no, no! It is because BIG PHARMA is doing everything they can to supress homeopathy!!! They have no choice: if the good news about homeopathy would go any further, they would go bankrupt.

On this blog, we have heard such ludicrous notions regularly. Homeopaths seem to believe that, according homeopathy’s ‘like cures like’ principle, their ‘alternative facts’ can be converted into real facts.

The homeopathic industry tries very hard to keep the image of the poor little victim, while, in fact, it is not really much different from the pharmaceutical industry. This is, of course, what we have been pointing out repeatedly on this blog; yet somehow the message does not seem to get across to many homeopaths. Perhaps this excellent comment by Thomas Mohr (I don’t know who he is) might be more successful:

“…homeopathic companies work exactly like any other pharmaceutical company to the point that homeopathic companies can patent homeopathic drugs and do that. The reason why this is not extensively used in the field of homeopathy is not the impossibility, but the necessity to provide at least feasible examples of efficacy with the patent application – which fails in most cases.

If one looks at the balance of Boiron, one of the largest manufacturers of homeopathic drugs one notes that the profit is comparable, if not higher than any pharmaceutical company (e.g. Pfitzer, etc.) but research costs are one tenth. That means that homeopathic companies have a far lower risk to benefit ratio while yielding the same profit. The same time pharmaceutical companies have a high failure rate (e.g. substances screened to drugs marketable) whereas the failure rate of homeopathic companies is almost zero. I.o.W. investing into homeopathic companies is far safer than into pharmaceutical companies. No company would try to destroy a low risk : benefit concurrent. A company would try to purchase it. Why is that not done with homeopathic companies ? Because the market is very limited due to the ineffectiveness of the drugs.

The comment was prompted by an article of Dana Ullman entitled “Extreme Bias in FTC’s Ruling on Homeopathic Medicine” where he, yet again, displays his well-known biases and ignorance. There you can, if you want, read all the misconceptions and stupidities about homeopathy you ever need to know about. They include the firm anti-vaccination stance of deluded homeopaths, and the fact that Dana can never resist claiming that ‘the Swiss government’s “Health Technology Assessment” on homeopathic medicine is much more comprehensive than any previous governmental report written on this subject to date’ and – how could it be otherwise? – is sufficient proof that homeopathy works.

Personally, I also find certain temptations too difficult to resist – like citing the intriguing evidence on Ullman being called as an expert witness in a class action against a homeopathy vendor for misleading marketing claims. On this occasion, the judge stated:

The Defendant presented the testimony of Gregory Dana Ullman who is a homeopathic practitioner. He outlined the theory of homeopathic treatment and presented his opinion as to the value and effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. The Court found Mr. Ullman’s testimony to be not credible. Mr. Ullman’s bias in favor of homeopathy and against conventional medicine was readily apparent from his testimony. He admitted that he was not an impartial expert but rather is a passionate advocate of homeopathy. He posted on Twitter that he views conventional medicine as witchcraft. He opined that conventional medical science cannot be trusted.
Mr. Ullman’s testimony was unhelpful in understanding the purported efficacy of the ingredients of SnoreStop to reduce the symptoms of snoring. Although he is familiar with the theory of homeopathic treatment, his opinions regarding its effectiveness was unsupported and biased. The Court gave no weight to his testimony.(Rosendez v. Green Pharmaceuticals)

Ullman is a rich source of ‘alternative facts’. For the ral facts about homeopathy, however, I should direct you elsewhere (for instance, here) and, if I may, to my latest book.



*** another thing I cannot not resist is to use this new term (recently coined by the Trump team) to describe outright lies.

We all know that alternative medicine is currently popular, and much of the evidence suggested that this is mostly because mostly people in the midst of their lives are using it. This may be so, but it is about to change; it stands to reason that these ‘baby boomers’ are getting older, and therefore the typical user of alternative medicine is or will soon be an elderly person. In addition, the ‘oldies’ (I am one of them) are likely to be multi-morbid and therefore have more reason to try everything that is on offer.

Not convinced? But that is roughly is what this website seems to suggest:


Geriatric population is more susceptible to chronic diseases such as heart problems, joint disorders and others. Therefore, this population group needs regular use of the medicines to prevent the disease conditions. The use of complementary and alternative medicines is increasing among the geriatric population globally due to the fact that CAMs decreases the risk of adverse reactions and drug interactions.

Complementary and alternative medicines include products such as dietary medicine and herbal medicine products. These medicines can be used for the management of both communicable (i.e. tuberculosis, hantavirus and others) and non communicable diseases (i.e. chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular and others) in geriatric population. These medicines (i.e. CAM) treat the patients by healing therapies which is not based on principles of conventional medicine.

Geographically, North America is considered as the largest market of geriatric complementary and alternative medicines owing to high use of CAMs in this region. For example, Health and Retirement Study conducted one survey which concluded that around 85% of the geriatric population in North America reported the use of complementary and alternative medicines. Thus, high use of CAM modalities will establish healthy platform to develop the growth of geriatric complementary and alternative medicines market.

Europe is the second largest market of geriatric complementary and alternative medicines. The growth is mainly attributed to the increasing aging population coupled with rising use of complementary and alternative medicines in Europe. According to European Commission (Eurostat) report published in 2013, around 17.8% of the European population were aged 65 years and above. The organization has also stated that aging population is expected to increase at high rate in coming year in Europe. In addition, Asia-Pacific is the emerging market for geriatric complementary and alternative medicines market because of rising interest of key companies to expand their presence in Asia Pacific.

Key companies operating in the market for geriatric complementary and alternative medicines include Geriatric & Medical Companies, Inc., Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation. Geri-Care pharmaceuticals, UAS Laboratories.


I know, this text includes several glaring errors. But the main claim that alternative medicine is fast becoming a thing for the elderly might well be true. This, of course, has implications for marketing, research, etc. For us on this blog it means that we need to find better ways to get through to people who are no spring chickens any longer.

The elderly have special needs and can be vulnerable in several ways. When they are ill, they need efficacious treatments. By and large, this excludes alternative therapies. The elderly may also be more susceptible to the risks of alternative medicine. Moreover, they are often not that affluent and might need to watch their expenses. Making them spend large amounts of cash on treatments that are ineffective is therefore a particularly unethical.

I think that messages like these might convince some elderly people to stop putting unreasonable hope in, and wasting their time/money on bogus therapies. But I am very keen to hear from my readers about further ideas how to curb the boom of alternative medicine in this age group.

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