MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

The ‘SOCIETY OF HOMEOPATHS’ (SoH) have published an official complaint they recently filed with the BBC. As it gives an intriguing insight into their mind-set, I could not resist reproducing it here (warts and all):

“Prompted by the interview with Simon Stevens of NHS England on the Today Programme, on 31st March, the Society of Homeopaths deplores the lack of balance in the BBC’s coverage of Homeopathy and urges you to review your approach to coverage of the subject.

During the Today interview, following wide-ranging discussion of issues around the future of the NHS, Sarah Montague suddenly threw in a question about the amount spent on Homeopathy within the NHS, evidently catching Mr Stevens unawares.

The annual budget of the NHS is approximately £110billion.  Of this, £4million per year (0.0036 of the NHS budget) is spent on Homeopathy.  This hardly justifies the unbalanced and hectoring approach from Sarah Montague.

We acknowledge that it is not always possible or necessary to achieve balance on a particular topic within a single programme but the BBC seems to have a consistent line across all of its platforms of opposition to, and disparagement of, Homeopathy.  A recent example is a piece on the Health section of the BBC website in October 2106 by Nick Tiggle which displayed no balance at all and denigrated Homeopathy and Homeopaths with little or no space given to alternative views.

From these and other instances, it seems clear that the BBC has a biased attitude towards Homeopathy, which may be the result of relying too heavily on a small number of ‘experts’, who openly and persistently campaign against complementary and alternative medicine. These ‘experts’ operate in a similar way to climate change deniers, referring to a limited range of research, often of poor quality, to support their claims that there is ‘no evidence for homeopathy’.

We look forward to BBC programmes which fulfill its mission to explain and provide balance and coverage of the positive effects of Homeopathy.

Mark Taylor Chief Executive Society of Homeopaths”

END OF QUOTE

This hardly needs a comment – perhaps just 6 short points:

  • To the best of my knowledge, the BBC has a policy of not being seen to be biased. The discussion referred to above was about the NHS stopping to pay for treatments that are either not effective (e. g. cough syrups) or cheaper to buy OTC than on prescription (e. g. paracetamol). Homeopathy is both. Therefore it would have even been biased NOT to bring homeopathy into the discussion.
  • To claim the BBC-interviewer caught Stevens off guard is just silly: when you go on the radio to discuss such issues, homeopathy MUST be on your mind.
  • To claim that the BBC is generally biased against homeopathy (on the basis of two anecdotes) is equally silly. The SoH should have done some systematic research on this – perhaps they did and found it failed to support their point? – this would have shown that there is plenty of (far too much) pro-homeopathy stuff on the BBC.
  • To say or imply that homeopathy is of debatable or even no value to the NHS does not disclose bias; on the contrary, it is a reflection of the scientific truth which the BBC has an obligation to report.
  • With their complaint, the SoH disclose an embarrassing degree of naivety and an alarming detachment from reality.
  • Whichever way a rational observer might look at this, the BBC should in future become a much more outspoken defender of the scientific truth – on homeopathy and everything else!!!

85 Responses to Is the BBC biased against homeopathy?

  • Two anecdotes may not seem much evidence to you, but their effect when diluted across thousands of hours of broadcasting can be potent beyond belief.

  • As far as SoH is concerned, anyone who doesn’t agree with their views is biased. So of course the BBC is biased. And Wikipedia. And the NHS. And lots of governments. They, like all homeopaths and homeopathy supporters, will trot out the same, tired, long-refuted arguments in support of their religious faith. And they will continue to be laughed at by everyone with anything but the most tenuous grasp of science and reality.

  • “The SoH should have done some systematic research on this – perhaps they did and found it failed to support their point? – this would have shown that there is plenty of (far too much) pro-homeopathy stuff on the BBC.

    Perhaps you would be so kind as to provide details of this “plenty of (far too much) pro-homeopathy stuff on the BBC”
    that has seemingly missed the attention of the majority of us.

    • why should I do the work for the SoH, pray?

      • As a self-acclaimed expert of “science and truth” you have made a statement that many people would reasonable believe not to be true and your response is potentially supportive of that view. Whilst I am not privy to the facts of this complain and how it was made, I assume that the SoH did not make a public announcement of their complaint. With that in mind, I would be interested to hear as to how you have gained access to this information.

      • I have just done what Colin “Like any good investigator, I like to get my facts straight!” might have done in the first place, if he thinks the BBC doesn’t do enough pieces pro homeopathy. I searched the BBC website for ‘homeopathy’. The result was a mass of hits, detailing radio and TV programmes in which the subject is discussed. From the brief descriptions the programmes typically have a spokesman pro and con.

        Unfortunately the search results are not listed in date order, and they appear only 10-11 entries at a time, with a “show more results” bar to display another page. I therefore opened 11 pages of results for analysis (a similar search for ‘chiropractic’ was complete in 11 pages). A copy and paste into Microsoft Office software followed by code that deleted all lines except those containing the words ‘published date’ allowed me to strip out and sort the published dates for all items with a date. (Undated broadcasts were therefore excluded.) I repeated the procedure with searched for ‘chiropractic’ and ‘astrology’.

        The results show that, between January 2010 and March this year there were 68 programmes that dealt, however briefly, with homeopathy, 32 that dealt with chiropractic and 71 with astrology. Homeopaths should therefore content themselves that their brand nonsense is dealt with by the BBC equally often as the nonsense of astrology and more than twice as often as the nonsense of chiropractic.

        Perhaps Colin will want to make a video of this, so it can be documented in a manner he considers proper.

        • The job is not done until you have listened or watched each one to see if it was conducted in the “pro” manner as suggested by Ezard at the start of this blog. As you well know, most are initiated by the sceptics with the token homeopath or other spokesperson being contacted at the last minute to put the case in defence within a few shot and often derisive minutes, which is an entirely bias form of broadcasting.

          What I am not hearing is an agreement by any of you to make a detailed and balanced programme in the manner I suggested earlier in this blog. I am confident that the BBC will never air a programme initiated by the “pro” side of the debate so that their case can be fairly presented and I am sure that I am more likely to see pigs fly than have the genuine support of any of your sceptic colleague advisers to the BBC to participate. I wonder why?

          • “…most are initiated by the sceptics with the token homeopath or other spokesperson being contacted at the last minute to put the case in defence within a few shot and often derisive minutes, which is an entirely bias form of broadcasting.”
            ANY EVIDENCE, OR PURE CONJECTURE?
            “…your sceptic colleague advisers to the BBC to participate.”
            CAN YOU NAME JUST ONE OR TWO?

          • It may be fair to give homepathy 0.0036 of the time on BBC science programmes.

          • Again, you are making assumptions. Some of us have been scrutinising the BBC’s coverage of nonsense for a long time and have seen most if not all of those pieces already. The BBC has a long history of promoting homeopathy through false balance. In fact, SoH’s main complaint appears to be that it is losing this false balance.

            When you are accustomed to unwarranted privilege, equality always looks like oppression.

          • Olle Kjellin said:

            It may be fair to give homepathy 0.0036 of the time on BBC science programmes.

            I think a 10C dilution of the age of the Universe would be more appropriate. That’s a full one millisecond.

          • When you have nothing, the call for equal treatment is attractive but wrong. You have had 200+ years to make the case and failed, why should anybody give you free advertising?

    • I understand your problem here: the BBC routinely engages in false balance, putting a lone member of the reality-based community against someone like Peter Fisher (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34810016), and you think this is fine, but the rest of the world knows it’s not, for exactly the same reason that it’s wrong to put a scientist up against a climate change denier or an antivaxer.

      Any story on homeopathy where a prominent believer is allowed anything close to equal time, is pro-homeopathy propaganda.

      • The debate you have so kindly highlighted is precisely what I am referring to. It was clearly initiated by the pressure from Simon Singh and his legal threats and Peter Fisher was called on at the last minute to offer the token defence. That is not a balanced programme and was far too short to do the subject any form of justice. The BMJ Ernst v Fisher head to head was better but was not televised and they were not face to face either.

        The NHS spend on homeopathic remedies was said to be £110,000 not £4M. The patients still need to visit the hospital and be attended by a doctor whether homeopathic or allopathic.

        • “…clearly initiated by the pressure from Simon Singh and his legal threats…”
          ANY EVIDENCE?
          “The BMJ Ernst v Fisher head to head was better…”
          NOT BBC! plus fraught with problems; see below:
          http://edzardernst.com/2015/07/debating-with-the-queens-homeopath/
          http://edzardernst.com/2015/07/bmj-should-doctors-recommend-homeopathy-was-it-worth-it/
          The BMJ debate highlights an important issue, I think: the pro-homeopaths regularly spin the truth/tell lies which are then difficult or impossible to correct. as a result, the debate gets distorted and the reader/listener/viewer gets a misleading overall impression.

          • He threatened action against the NHS and now another person is challenging the Charities Commission. All attention grabbing stuff when you can afford to back it up!

          • No, he did not “threaten legal action against the NHS”. The Good Thinking Society has taken legal advice on two matters: consultations by individual NHS CCGs which are not run, or not run according to the rules governing such processes, and the Department of Health’s failure to maintain and update the prescriptions blacklist in accordance with the law that underpins it. In both cases these are technical matters. The groups in question are mandated to review the evidence base for things they fund, and have failed to do so.

            This is only a threat to homeopathy because it is not based on evidence. If the things homeopaths claim were demonstrably true, based in empirically verified fact, then this would not be an issue for them or you. A review of prescribing practice is viewed as an existential threat by the world of homeopathy because – and only because – that world knows it has lost the argument on the science.

            The corpse may still be twitching, with the cottage industry of pseudoscientists still churning out their papers in a succession of journals that never fall for it a second time, but the concept of scientific homeopathy is busted. Benveniste probably did most to turn the attention of the reality based community on the pseudoscience of homeopathy. That was really your best shot, and it was unmasked fairly promptly.

          • Calling well intentioned and dedicated professional people liars and fraudsters isn’t misleading the viewer? Somehow I think that sensible people will see through that, which is why you will avoid the offer of an interview.

          • If I am free, I will certainly try to do such an interview, as long as it is for a neutral network like the BBC.

          • Peter Fisher is no doubt well intentioned and sincere. He still lied about the Matthie paper. Homeopathy is still a fraud regardless of how sincerely you might believe it.

        • What legal threats? All Good Thinking have ever done is ask for the existing law to be applied correctly. Of course, when the law is applied, the result is not to your liking, but that’s not really their problem. The core issue is that the law requires objective criteria to be used, and homeopathy fails objective tests because it’s wrong.

          This is not unique to homeopathy, by the way. Iridology, most of chiropractic, acupuncture, reflexology, reiki and many other things are also based on nonsense and fail the same objective tests. And adherents to these incorrect beliefs all react in exactly the same way: they demand a double standard. Medical treatments should have to pass properly objective and robust tests, but their woo should not. And this position has been arrived at after decades of trying to fake the kind of results that would pass the test.

          If you want to see legal threats, look at British Chiropractic Association v. Singh. That was a legal threat. A judicial review forcing the government to do its job in reviewing the blacklist? Not so much. That will affect a number of reality-based treatments, and the fact that it also affects bullshit like homeopathy is nothing to do with the legal review or the process and everything to do with homeopathy being bullshit.

          • In your opinion! Fairly present both arguments and let the public decide for themselves.

          • That’s not how it works. Science is not a vote. You do not create “balance” by presenting ideas side by side, you have to take account of external validity. You can put a climate denialist up against a scientist, the denialist may well be able to Gish-gallop their way to a “win”, it makes no difference at all to the fact that the climate is changing.

            Similarly, however persuasive Peter Fisher might be in misleadingly presenting the results of the Matthie study, and however diligently he might obfuscate the lack of evidence for any of the core claims of homeopathy, however plausible he might be, however plausible he might be in using the fallacious appeal to authority inherent in his role as the Queen’s purveyor of magick, that has absolutely no bearing on the fact that homeopathy is a belief system with no basis in objective reality.

            The BBC has a mission to inform, that confers no obligation to present wrong ideas as if they were correct, and certainly not to give equal prominence to the promoters of incorrect beliefs.

          • Will this interview abide by the BBC’s standards for impartiality and accuracy in the coverage of science? If not, why not?

          • Last year Colin told us people making their case in his videos were better evidence than boring scientific papers (words something like that). As a reminder, this is Colin. His interests are ‘film making & astrology’. I don’t think Edzard should agree to appear in one of Colin’s videos unless Venus is in opposition to the moon and Jupiter is in conjunction with Uranus.

          • I always said that I will appear in any broadcast that is independent and about finding and telling the truth or best scientific evidence. It is now up to Colin to convince me that the film/video he is proposing to make falls into this category.

          • I am happy to discuss this project with you in confidence and on a one to one basis, provided it is conducted in a responsible atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. If you wish to take advantage of this opportunity, then feel free to make direct contact with me, as I have no intention of discussing my offer any further in any open forum.

          • I have sent you an email

          • Why on earth not discuss it in public?

            But I’ll ask again: Will this interview abide by the BBC’s standards for impartiality and accuracy in the coverage of science? If not, why not?

  • I am complaining to the BBC at their persistent programming which features fairies (of one kind or another), and sometimes unicorns, but which present these concepts as being nothing more than fiction.

  • Correct direct link for the PDF is http://www.homeopathy-soh.org/images/news-images/BBCComplaint2017.pdf (it was http://www.homeopathy-soh.org/images/news-images/BBC-Complaint.pdf which no longer works).

    For Colin – the PDF is linked on the SoH’s page, http://www.homeopathy-soh.org/326-society-condemns-biased-attitude-towards-homeopathy – at the end of the 1st paragraph it says ‘click here’ and it’s hyperlinked.

    It was posted on their site on the 18th, Edzard linked to it here on the 19th. At some point the PDF link was changed (I strongly doubt it was anything sinister like an attempt to hide it as the link was updated on the SoH’s page making it fairly findable as the only clickable link in the three paragraphs of text).

    Jo

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/our_work/editorial_standards/impartiality/science_impartiality.html is worth a read.

    I do hope the Society of Homeopaths ran their comment past a PR person. They’ve made a number of recent pronouncements that just make them look foolish such as seeking legal advice to challenge the status of the ASA, claiming that the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) are “happy” with them and that complaints by “skeptics” mean that they must be doing something right.

    The “experts” canard? Well, it begs the question as who the SoH think is qualified to make a judgment?

    • they have not enough money for a PR person, so they hired someone on the payroll of ‘BIG PHARMA’

    • It doesn’t even look like they proof-read it: they missed out a percent sign, saying:

      Of this, £4million per year (0.0036 of the NHS budget) is spent on Homeopathy.

      and

      A recent example is a piece on the Health section of the BBC website in October 2106

      …which is 90 years in the future…

      As Jo points out the original document that had these basic errors has been removed, but the new one still misses out the percent sign, making it plainly wrong. Mind you, homeopaths aren’t good with numbers at the best of times.

  • The SoH are doing their job so long as you lot blog and complain about SoH statements!

  • Tell me it ain’t true.

    You don’t think climate change is a Chinese hoax do you Edzard?

    • what the devil makes you think that?

      • The SoH has seriously shaken my faith in experts like yourself. 😉

        • In order for the SoH to shake anyone’s faith in the scientific community, that faith would have to be based on seriously incorrect premises.

          For a start, the role of experts in science is not to dictate facts, it’s to uncover and explain them. Prof. Ernst has done this in his professional life. In his personal life he is also critical of the terrible pseudoscientific “research” that underpins a lot of alternative medicine. This is perfectly acceptable and does not conflict with his professional role as an expert in any way.

          The SoH should actually have shaken your faith in industry groups. The bitter personal attacks they and their members have launched against Prof. Ernst are indefensible. This is a body that was very happy for Exeter to set up a chair in complementary and alternative medicine, only to throw its toys out of the pram when the holder of that chair actually did his job, rather than acting as a PR engine for them, as they had originally hoped.

          It’s worth remembering that there is an entire department of the US National Institutes for Health called (now) the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. They have spent around $3bn – yes, three BILLION dollars – in the quest to validate alternative treatments. They were specifically set up to do that: to *validate* them, not to test them. To date, they have not actually validated a single alternative treatment. Not one. All the tests, even when carried out with maximal sympathy, still fail.

          And NCCIH won’t even fund investigations of homeopathy any more. The body most sympathetic to alternative medicine, started by a believer in homeopathy, has realised that this is a fool’s errand.

          But SoH would have you believe that homeopathy in the UK is unjustly oppressed simply because of the opinions of experts, primarily one man: Prof. Ernst. And that, apparently, undermines your faith in experts.

    • for a moment, you had me worried!

      • This time I am being serious.

        It seems like we live in the age of the loons. Side by side with science. I would like to believe it’s the twilight of the loons but I have a feeling that in the end-times they may flourish.

        People have always believed in weird and not so wonderful things but one would hope that in an age of science such beliefs would implode one by one. Instead, true believers of scientifically discredited beliefs proclaim them with religious zeal.

        Antivaxxers; anti-evolutioners; anti-climate changers; anti-big-pharmas. CAM believers; aliens-are-here believers; et al. et al.

  • “……….Of this, £4million per year (0.0036 of the NHS budget) is spent on Homeopathy. This hardly justifies the unbalanced and hectoring approach from Sarah Montague.” – but if the stuff is worthless (as it is) even 4 pence spent on it would be too much, what an extraordinary argument. I might put in for a few million myself, on the grounds they’d hardly notice such a small percentage.

    • but for a homeopath 0.0036% is really powerful!

    • For me, the real issue about the promotion of homeopathy is not the amount of wasted time and money, but the perversion of mindset, flight from science, avoidance of responsibility to think critically, and delusion.
      That is where the real harm lies.

      It is in that intellectual environment that some NHS funded patients receive ‘Reiki’ and other energy therapies – which are ultra-homeopathy in that not only is there no active ingredient in the pillule – there is no pillule!
      And we pay.
      And patients are quacked.
      Unethical in my book.

      • Is Dr. Richard Rawlins biased against homeopaths?

        Dr Rawlins, you have not replied to this topic from previous blog:

        Dr. Rawlins, the problem is that you don’t know for certain that homeopathic remedies do not have a medicinal effect. (See: Robert Mathie’s study)

        Therefore, if it is not certainly known that remedies are pure placebos, why should homeopaths state that they are?

        You have not addressed this:
        Greg on Thursday 13 April 2017 at 06:53

        Dr Rawlins, please go through these comments and explain:

        10 April

        Greg: After a lifetime of investigating homeopathy, Edzard should be able to provide a concise ‘head of argument’ for the case against homeopathy. Perhaps he could also try to do this in a dispassionate scientific manner to support his prosecutorial rhetoric: homeopaths are ignorant, corrupt, charlatans, frauds, quacks, criminals, ‘kill your entire family’ (see your listed article above).

        What if his case is wrong? Perhaps he would not feel any sense of shame for insulting so many people?

        Dr Rawlins: ‘Homeopaths are ignorant, corrupt, charlatans, frauds, quacks, criminals.’
        What evidence is there that they are not?

        Greg: Dr Rawlins, I would not have thought of you as the type of person to jump into this with your statement:
        ‘Homeopaths are ignorant, corrupt, charlatans, frauds, quacks, criminals.’
        What evidence is there that they are not?

        What if the model and method of ‘investigating’ homeopathy is wrong? I have stated several times on this site that I consider the method (RCT) and model allopathic/clinical homeopathy used in most of the investigations into homeopathy are likely to fail P=F.

        If someone devises a way to test homeopathy properly and evidence of efficacy is found, what will you say then?

        Greg: Crimen injuria is a crime under South African common law, defined to be the act of “unlawfully, intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another. (Wikipedia)

        Does this law apply in the UK?

        11 April
        Dr Rawlins:
        I made no allegations.
        I was quoting another post.
        That is why my comment was in quotation marks.
        I have no idea whether any homeopath is ignorant, corrupt, a quack, charlatan, fraud or criminal.
        Do you?
        How do we tell?

        We are dealing here with probabilities and likelihoods, That’s why a proper scientific approach is necessary.
        Which is more likely, that homeopaths are ignorant, quacks or frauds – or that they have discovered a quite remarkable phenomenon which requires all current knowledge of natural sciences to be set aside?
        Which do you think more likely?

        Dr Rawlins: No – nor in SA either.
        Folks in the categories we are considering here have no dignity which can be impaired.

        End of quotes

        The conflicting statements in the text are:

        I have no idea whether any homeopath is ignorant, corrupt, a quack, charlatan, fraud or criminal.
        Folks in the categories we are considering here have no dignity which can be impaired.
        What evidence is there that they are not?

        These statements appear inconsistent, please would you clarify, thank you.

        • I don’t know why you reiterated your fallacious nonsense, but I did notice your reversal of the burden of proof in there. Nobody has to prove homeopathy wrong, homeopathy has to prove itself right, and it has never done that.

          No good evidence has ever been provided to show that “like cures like” is valid as a basis of selecting treatments for any condition. The basis on which Hahnemann made this claim has been refuted for over a century. No property of matter has ever been demonstrated which would support the claimed effects of homeopathy, and in fact no property of matter has been identified which is even consistent with said claimed effects. No study outcome has been produced which is provably inconsistent with the null hypothesis, and I cannot find one single independently authenticated case where homeopathy has been objectively proven to have cured anybody of anything, ever.

          The burden of proof lies with homeopaths. Homeopaths, for their part, can do the lying, but not the proof.

          • Indeed. So far, with all the sys reviews and meta analyses conducted – including both of Mathie’s – the conclusions are a world removed from the many, varied and widespread claims made by homeopaths everywhere. These claims include treating the common cold to curing cancer but it’s high time homeopaths – and particularly those in positions of influence in the homeopathic industry – started to match their claims to the best evidence. That would virtually obliterate their businesses, of course, but that’s their problem.

          • the conflict of interest seems obvious: if homeopaths speak the truth, they are out of business. therefore, they are taught untruths from the first day of their training and eventually end up believing them. there is only one solution, as far as I can see: regulators must prevent them from making false claims. if not, this will go on for another 200 years and damage many patients’ health.

          • If you truly believe that, then you will surely be happy to say that to camera. You will of course expect a response from someone who disagrees with you and why.

          • I HAVE NEVER SHYED AWAY FROM SAYING WHAT I THINK ON CAMERA

          • Here is your opportunity!

          • Somewhere in East Anglia next week?

          • to film for the BBC?

        • Greg

          Have you seen the episode of Animal Planet where a lone lion faces a pack of dogs over a kill. The pack attacks the lion from all sides and all attacks are feigns and from the rear. The pack continue to jabber at each other, to distract the lion and every time the lion focuses on one dog, another howls to distract the lion.

          This continues until the lion either goes away, or it breaks the neck of one dog and kills it. The pack slinks away for a new chance another day.

          Does this sound familiar?

  • Anthropogenic climate change: Overwhelmingly supported by scientists, governments and the prevailing weight of the evidence.

    Climate change deniers: bunch of minority fringe nutters who cherry-pick and distort evidence to try and support their long-ago disproven evangelical beliefs, refusing to recognise what science tells them. (C/f flat-Earthers, geocentrists, young-Earth creationists, Moon landing deniers, etc)

    Maybe the SoH should rethink the category into which they place those who question their beliefs.

  • I am all for balance. What proportion of scientists do you think believe in homeopathy? 1%? Fewer? I’d be happy if every homeopath on the BBC was balanced by 99 scientists explaining the reality-based view.

  • Sometimes it’s not a question of ‘balance’, especially where science is concerned. Some things, such as homeopathy, are just plain wrong.

    Mind you I’d be up for writing a dead-pan script for an explanatory programme about homeopathy. “Here, the homeopath scrapes off a small portion of the Berlin Wall in order to prepare his remedy, known to be devastatingly effective in the treatment of a wide range of mild and self-limiting conditions…” Most of homeopathy is beyond parody.

    Niall

  • There is only too much debate on the alleged effects of homeopathic remedies. But please have them explain how they collect some of their mother tinctures, such as black holes, Saturnus’ rings, or X-ray. I would really like to know how to contain these “substances” and how to dilute them.
    I fear the nonsense would be very obvious then.

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