Yesterday, I saw a Tweet stating:

Homeopath in Cornwall specialising in Women’s Health #fertility #naturalconception #pcos #pms

It was followed by a list of specific indications:

  • Pregnancy
  • Infertility
  • PCOS
  • PMS
  • Fibroids
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and much more…

I responded to this Tweet by tweeting:

Homeopath in Cornwall specialising in misleading women

Minutes later I received a response from a homeopathy-fan:

That could be called libel Edzard. I would be careful.

So, should I be careful, and if so why?

Reading the thinly veiled threat, I wasn’t exactly shaking in my boots with fear (I was deeply involved in helping Simon Singh in his defence against the BCA’s libel action), but I nevertheless wanted to be sure of my position and conducted some ‘rough and ready’ searches for recent evidence to suggesting that homeopathy is effective for any of the conditions mentioned above. Here is what I found:

  • Pregnancy. Yes, there is an RCT! It concluded that “homeopathy does not appear to prevent excessive body mass gain in pregnant women…” And another one concluding that “neither Pentazocine, or Chamomilla recutita offer substantial analgesia during labor.”
  • Infertility. No RCT or other sound evidence.
  • PCOS. Nothing
  • PMS. No clinical trials.
  • Fibroids. No clinical trials
  • Depression. Even leading homeopaths seem to agree that there is no good evidence.
  • Anxiety. Again, I could not find any sound evidence.

Don’t get me wrong, these statements are not based on full systematic reviews; that would take a while and hardly seems worth it. (If you want a good systematic review, I recommend this one; it concluded: “Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness. People who are considering whether to use homeopathy should first get advice from a registered health practitioner. Those who use homeopathy should tell their health practitioner and should keep taking any prescribed treatments.“) But my quick glance at the evidence is enough, I think, to justify my statement that the above claims by a homeopath are misleading. In fact, I believe that I could have used much stronger terminology without the slightest risk of being sued.


11 Responses to Could/should homeopaths sue me for libel?

  • She is a Society of Homeopaths member. As you probably saw they are struggling to comply with PSA conditions for accreditation:

    I am feeding them reports on non-compliant members. This is a clear breach of their Code of Ethics, and this one will go on the list.

  • As a homeopath I would be extremely careful to sue somebody for libel. It could be that the first line of defense in a libel case, namely that it is actually true could grip. With a good probabilisticiannamely one considering pior probabilities in evaluating the p-value of RCTs the chance that such a defense grips is very high.

  • It’s my understanding of libel laws that for something to be libellous, it has to be untrue. As we know from our discussions with homeopaths and homeopathy fans, their understanding of the concept of truth is not entirely concordant with that of everyone else. They would consider what Edzard’s said to be untrue and libellous. A court of law would be unlikely to agree with them.

    • That sounds right! There appears to be no positive evidence for and function of very dilute solutions and we can hardly expect homeopathists to present evidence of research as it risks undermining their income. We don’t have to mention there is no method by which it could work.

    • FAO Lenny:

      What you said is correct in some jurisdictions, in others it is not. In the UK, for example, truth is not an absolute defense against defamation. In the USA, my understanding is that yes, if the defamatory statement is true, the judge will give a lot of weight to that, because their freedom of speech rights are understood to be *really* important. Still, it’s not a “everything goes” rule 🙂

      My understanding of the UK rules is that the person making the charges will need to prove that there as a defamatory statement, that there was intention to cause harm, and what that harm was. It’s complicated to prove intention, but the accuracy of the defamatory statement is not that relevant. It certainly is not an absolute defense.

      If you’re interested in these matters, try listening to Opening Arguments podcast. They are USA based and discuss this sort of important matter there. Recently they interviewed Britt Hermes in the context of her German-based lawsuit. It is fascinating!

      • US States vary in their defamation laws. Colorado being one example.

        Germany has the concept of criminal defamation whereas England abolished criminal libel in 2010 (although prosecutions were extremely rare). Scottish law is different from English law.

  • Maybe a supporter of homeopathy had learned a new word that day? I’ve noticed that when they do, they often like to use it frequently even if they don’t understand the definition. It seems to take years for the novelty of a new word to wear off unless they counter an even more exciting new word.

    A UK homeopath or supporter of homeopathy would have be both well funded and be able to find lawyers daft enough to take the case on. They would also have to be prepared to lose all their money. Homeopathy has never really been put on trial in the UK but a halfdecent lawyer could make a mockery of it and paint supporters as delusional, if well meaning.

    When discussing homeopathy and the law it is obligatory to mention Dana Ullman and Rosendez v Green Pharmaceuticals. The Judge said

    “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.”

  • I want to ask Natasha Burns:
    “If it is not your intention to mislead patients, take advantage of the gullible and vulnerable, defraud them and practice as a quack, why do you promote ideas about healthcare which you must surely know are not supported by the majority of mainstream doctors, and for which there has been no plausible reproducible evidence of any benefit which can be accepted by knowledgeable doctors such as the Chief Medical Officer (who said: ‘Homeopathy is rubbish’)?
    Please will you publish on your web site (or even on this blog) the details of the informed consent which you obtain from your patients before treating them?
    If you do not obtain fully informed consent, is that not unethical healthcare practice?
    Are you a fraud?”

    Just asking – I make no allegations.

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