The UK ‘Advertising Standards Authority‘ (ASA) received a complaint about an advertisement that stated:
“Homeopathy is used throughout the world to keep healthy … People in the UK have been using it to successfully help with migraine, anxiety, chronic pain, woman’s [sic] health issues, depression, eczema, chronic fatigue, asthma, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other conditions”.
The ‘Good Thinking Society‘ had challenged whether:
- the ad discouraged essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, namely migraines, chronic pain, women’s health issues, depression, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis; and
- the claim “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” was misleading and could be substantiated.
The response of the ASA has just been published. Here are the key excerpts from the ASA’s assessment:
The CAP Code required that marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. Among other conditions, the ad referred to “migraines”, “chronic pain”, “woman’s [sic] health issues”, “depression”, “asthma”, and “rheumatoid arthritis”, which we considered were conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, and therefore advice, diagnosis or treatment must be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. We noted that the practice was run by a GMC-registered GP, who we considered was a suitably qualified health professional. However, the individual homeopaths were not registered and did not hold the same qualifications. Therefore, Homeopathy UK had not shown that all treatment and diagnoses conducted at the practice would be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified medical professional. Because Homeopathy UK had not supplied evidence that treatment would always be carried out by a suitably qualified health professional, and because reference to the conditions listed in the ad could discourage consumers from seeking essential treatment under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional, we concluded that the ad had breached the Code.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
We considered that consumers would understand the claim “People in the UK have been using [homeopathy] to successfully help with anxiety, chronic pain … eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome … IBS” to mean that homeopathy could be used to successfully treat those conditions … when we reviewed the evidence provided by Homeopathy UK, we considered that the studies provided did not meet the standard of evidence we required for the types of claims being made, both in terms of adequacy and relevance…
The ad must not appear again in the form complained about. We told Homeopathy UK to ensure their future marketing communications did not to refer to conditions for which advice should be sought from suitably qualified health professionals. We also told them to ensure they did not make claims for homeopathy unless they were supported with robust evidence.
Am I reading this correctly?
The ASA seems to be saying that homeopaths are not suitably qualified health professionals and, as no therapeutic claims are supported by robust evidence, that claims for homeopathy are improper.
You may not like it, but we do seem to live in the age of the ‘alternative truth’. It might necessitate reconsidering some of our definitions. A lie, for instance, was formerly defined as making an untrue statement with intent to deceive. Does that definition need to be revised in the age of the ‘alternative truth’?
Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of the BBC, seems to think so. She recently published an interesting new definition of a lie: “… outright lying … is relatively rare. It is too easily found out. Only one senior politician still in the game has ever privately told me something that was utterly, entirely, and completely untrue.” She wrote this in an article about our PM, Boris Johnson who, by old standards, would probably qualify as a habitual liar. And as the BBC political editor cannot easily call him that, she conveniently moved the goal post and defined a lie to be something “utterly, entirely, and completely untrue”.
So, here we have it, the age of alternative truths has redefined the lie!
But I am not starting to write political rants – tempting though it often is – there is enough to rant about in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). The questions I asked myself are these: how does SCAM measure up to the new Kuenssberg definition, and how gullible have we become?
Let’s play a little game to find out, shall we?
I provide 10 statements commonly used by the SCAM fraternity, and I ask you to consider which of them is “utterly, entirely, and completely untrue”.
- Chiropractic manipulations have been proven to do more good than harm.
- Acupuncture is effective for chronic pain.
- Homeopathy is supported by sound evidence.
- Homeopathic remedies act as nano-particles.
- Natural means safe.
- Integrative medicine is in the best interest of patients.
- Chiropractic subluxations do exist.
- Detox is a concept that makes sense.
- SCAM practitioners treat the root causes of disease.
- SCAM is cost-effective.
Next, please count the number of statements that are “utterly, entirely, and completely untrue”. This will give you a figure between 0 and 10. I propose that it can be used as a measure of gullibility.
I suggest the following grading:
- 10 – 8 = not gullible
- 7 – 5 = gullible
- 4 – 2 = very gullible
- 1 – 0 = dangerously gullible.
And here you have the ‘Edzard Ernst measure of gullibility’!
Many chiropractors seem to view the present pandemic as a business opportunity and make no end of false claims to attract customers. This has now been outlawed in the US. Medscape reported that a US district court will decide whether a chiropractor who is charged with 10 counts of making false marketing claims related to COVID-19 will be the first person convicted under a new federal law.
On his website, chiropractor ‘Dr.’ Eric Neptune advertises his services as follows:
Have you ever been told by your medical doctor that you or a member of your family had a specific disease, syndrome, or sickness? Did your doctor then recommend a drug or surgery to fix the issue, or tell you that you would have to live with it for the rest of your life? If so, you are not alone!
Nepute Wellness Center is unlike any medical clinic you may have been to. The clinic team is focused on finding and fixing the CAUSE of your problem vs. seeking out and treating only the SYMPTOMS. Nepute Wellness Center is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and testing, as well as medical doctors, nurses, and chiropractors who have been uniquely trained to treat your whole body, regardless of age, and return your body to a healthy balance so that it can heal itself the way God intended.
If you are tired of trying to treat your symptoms using prescription and over-the-counter pills, or even considering surgery, then Nepute Wellness Center may be right for you! Or like many, you want to be proactive with your health and prevent sickness and disease before you begin to suffer any symptoms, allowing you to live the full life you deserve, then make Nepute Wellness Center your partner in health!
Already over a year ago, Eric Nepute, the owner of Quickwork, based in St. Louis, Missouri, managed to make headlines. He had recorded a video that racked up more than 21 million views and suggested that drinking tonic water would prevent COVID-19 infections. Now, Mr. Neptune is the first person charged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the new COVID- 19 Consumer Protection Act. His company which has several locations in St. Louis County advertised its vitamin D and zinc products on social media and the internet as drugs that could treat or prevent COVID-19 claiming that their products are “more effective than the available COVID-19 vaccines”.
The FTC warned Nepute’s company in May 2020 about making unsubstantiated claims for other products regarding efficacy against COVID-19 and advised him to immediately stop making claims that were not supported by scientific evidence. However, Nepute seemed undeterred.
The FTC is seeking to fine Nepute and Quickwork up to US$43,792 for each violation of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. In addition, the FTC seeks to bar the company from making health claims unless they are true and can be substantiated by scientific evidence.
Through his attorney, Neptune told the local NBC TV news affiliate, “I feel that I have not done anything wrong. I encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle during this unprecedented time. My attorneys are reviewing the complaint and I have no further comments at this time.”
Indian homeopaths aimed at evaluating the efficacy of individualized homeopathy (IH) for atopic dermatitis (AD). They conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, short-term, preliminary trial in an Indian homeopathy hospital. Patients were randomized to either IH (n = 30) or identical-looking placebo (n = 30) using computerized randomization and allocation. Outcomes were patient-oriented scoring of AD (PO-SCORAD; primary endpoint), Dermatological Life Quality Index (DLQI) score, and AD burden score for adults (ADBSA; secondary endpoints), measured monthly for 3 months. An intention-to-treat sample was analyzed after adjusting baseline differences.
On PO-SCORAD, improvement was higher in IH against placebo, but nonsignificant statistically (pmonth 1 = 0.433, pmonth 2 = 0.442, pmonth 3 = 0.229). Secondary outcomes were also nonsignificant – both DLQI and ADBSA (p > 0.05). Four adverse events (diarrhea, injury, common cold) were recorded.
The authors concluded that there was a small, but nonsignificant direction of effect towards homeopathy, which renders the trial inconclusive. A properly powered robust trial is indicated.
- Why use statistics only to ignore its results?
- Why discredit research into so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) in this way?
- Who on earth would publish such misleading conclusions?
This article was published in Complementary Medicine Research which claims to be an international peer-reviewed journal that aims to bridge the gap between conventional and complementary/alternative medicine on a sound scientific basis, promoting their mutual integration. It boasts that “experts of both conventional medicine and complementary/alternative medicine cooperate on the journal’s editorial board, ensuring a high standard of scientific quality”. Its editor is Harald Walach who we have met several times before.
I had a look at the long list of members of the editorial board and was unable to see many ‘experts in conventional medicine’. If that is so, the journal’s peer review process is bound to turn into a farcical procedure where any rubbish will pass.
The journal reminds authors that “published research must comply with internationally-accepted standards for research practice and reporting.” I believe that the internationally accepted standards of research reporting include something about not misleading the public by claiming that the absence of an effect is a small effect in favor of homeopathy. By revealing that there was no significant effect, the authors of this study demonstrate that IH was not effective as a treatment of AD. It is in my mind unethical to try to disguise this result by making it look like a small positive effect or claiming the result was inconclusive.
High standard of scientific quality?
No, quite the opposite!
In Germany, homeopathy had a free ride for a very long time. In recent years, however, several doctors, pharmacists, scientists, etc. have started opposing the fact that the public has to pay for ineffective treatments such as homeopathics. As a consequence, homeopaths have begun to fight back. The weapons they chose are often not the most subtle. Now they seem to have reached a new low; the Board of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians (DZVhÄ) has sent an open letter to the Board of the German Society of Internal Medicine (DGIM) and to the participating colleagues of the 127th Congress of the DGIM from April 17 – 20, 2021 in an attempt to stop an invited lecture of a critic of homeopathy.
Here is my translation of the letter:
Dear colleagues on the board of the DGIM,
We were very surprised to read that an ENT colleague will speak on homeopathy at the 127th Congress of Internal Medicine. Dr. Lübbers is known up and down the country as a media-active campaigner against homeopathy. His “awakening experience” he had, according to his own account, when he had to fish homeopathic pills out of the ear of a child with otitis, since then he is engaged – no: not for better education, in the mentioned case of the parents or other users – against the method homeopathy (which was certainly not “guilty” of the improper application!).
It has surely not escaped you that in all media again and again only a small handful of self-proclaimed “experts” – all from the clique of the skeptic movement! – are heard on the subject of homeopathy. A single (!) fighter against homeopathy is a physician who completed her training in homeopathy and practices for a time as a homeopath. All the others come from non-medical and other occupational groups. In contrast, there are several thousand medical colleagues throughout Germany who stand on the ground of evidence-based medicine, have learned conventional medicine, implement it in their practices, and have completed a recognized continuing education program in homeopathy.
In the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians – the oldest medical professional association in Germany – 146 qualified internists are currently registered as members, in addition to numerous other medical specialists, all of whom are actively practicing medicine.
Question: Why does the German Society for Internal Medicine invite an ENT specialist, of all people, who lectures on homeopathy without any expertise of his own? Why not at least a specialist colleague in internal medicine? Or even a colleague who could report on the subject from her own scientific or practical experience? For example, on the topic of “hyperaldosteronism,” would you also invite a urologist or orthodontist? And if so, why?
Dear Board of Directors of the DGIM: As an honorary board member of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians e.V.. (DZVhÄ) – and a specialist in internal medicine – I am quite sure that we could immediately name several colleagues with sufficient expertise as homeopathically trained and experienced internists, if you are really interested in a solid and correct discourse on the subject of homeopathy. Under the above-mentioned circumstances, there is, of course, rather the suspicion that it should not be about, but rather exclusively against homeopathy.
If it is planned for a later congress, e.g. in 2022, to deal again with the topic of homeopathy in a truly professionally well-founded and possibly even more balanced form: please contact us at any time! As medical colleagues, we are very interested in a fair and unprejudiced professional discourse.
Dr. med. Ulf Riker, Internist – Homeopathy – Naturopathy
2nd chairman DZVhÄ / 1st chairman LV Bayern
What are Riker and the DZVhÄ trying to say with this ill-advised, convoluted, and poorly written letter?
Let me try to put his points a little clearer:
- They are upset that the congress of internists invited a non-homeopath to give a lecture about homeopathy.
- The person in question, Dr. Lübbers, is an ENT specialist and, like all other German critics of homeopathy (apart from one, Dr. Grams), does not understand homeopathy.
- There are thousands of physicians who do understand it and are fully trained in homeopathy.
- They would therefore do a much better job in providing a lecture.
- So, would the German internists please invite homeopaths for their future meetings?
And what is Riker trying to achieve?
- It seems quite clear that he aims to prevent criticism of homeopathy.
- He wishes to replace it with pro-homeopathy propaganda.
- Essentially he wants to stifle free speech, it seems to me.
To reach these aims, he does not hesitate to embarrass himself by sending and making publicly available a very stupid letter. He also behaves in a most unprofessional fashion and does not mind putting a few untruths on paper.
Having said that, I will admit that they are in good company. Hahnemann was by all accounts a most intolerant and cantankerous chap himself. And during the last 200 years, his followers have given ample evidence that critical thinking has remained an alien concept for them. Consequently, such behavior seems not that unusual for German defenders of homeopathy. In recent times they have:
- Made the results of the largest investigation into homeopathy disappear because its results were devastatingly negative.
- Went to Liberia to cure Ebola with homeopathy.
- Published lots of untruths and exaggerations.
- Hired a journalist to systematically defame me and other critics.
- Likened critics to Roland Freisler, the infamous judge of the Nazi era.
- Threatened critics with legal action.
- Started a media campaign to promote homeopathy.
- Published libelous statements about me.
Quite a track record, wouldn’t you agree?
But, I think, attempting to suppress free speech beats it all and must be a new low in the history of homeopathy.
Battlefield Acupuncture (BFA) – I presume the name comes from the fact that it is so simple, it could even be used under combat situations – is a form of ear acupuncture developed 20 years ago by Dr Richard Niemtzow. BFA employs gold semipermanent needles that are placed at up to 5 specific sites in one or both ears. The BFA needles are small conical darts that pierce the outer ear in designated locations and remain in place until they fall out typically within 3–4 days.
The US Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management and the Veterans Health Administration National Pain Management Program Office recently completed a 3-year acupuncture education and training program, which deployed certified BFA trainers for the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration medical centers. Over 2800 practitioners were thus trained to provide BFA. The total costs amounted to $ 5.4 million.
This clearly begs the question:
DOES IT WORK?
This review aims to investigate the effects and safety of BFA in adults with pain. Electronic databases were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published in English evaluating efficacy and safety of BFA in adults with pain, from database inception to September 6, 2019. The primary outcome was pain intensity change, and the secondary outcome was safety. Nine RCTs were included in this review, and five trials involving 344 participants were analyzed quantitatively. Compared with no intervention, usual care, sham BFA, and delayed BFA interventions, BFA had no significant improvement in the pain intensity felt by adults suffering from pain. Few adverse effects (AEs) were reported with BFA therapy, but they were mild and transitory.
The authors of this review concluded that BFA is a safe, rapid, and easily learned acupuncture technique, mainly used in acute pain management, but no significant efficacy was found in adult individuals with pain, compared with the control groups. Given the poor methodological quality of the included studies, high-quality RCTs with rigorous evaluation methods are needed in the future.
And here are my comments:
- SAFE? Impossible to tell on the basis of 344 patients.
- RAPID? True, but meaningless, as it does not work.
- EASILY LEARNT? True, it’s simple and seems ever so stupid.
- NO SIGNIFICANT EFFICACY? That I can easily believe.
I am amazed that anyone would fall for an idea as naive as BFA. That it should be the US military is simply hilarious, in my view. I am furthermore baffled that anyone recommends more study of such monumental nonsense.
Why, oh why?
Acupuncture is far-fetched (to put it mildly). Ear acupuncture is positively ridiculous. BFA seems beyond ridiculous and must be the biggest military hoax since general Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin painted façades to fool Catherine the Great into thinking that an area was far richer than it truly was.
In the world of homeopathy, Prof Michael Frass is a famous man. He is the First Chairman of the Scientific Society for Homeopathy (WissHom), the president of the Umbrella organization of Austrian Doctors for Holistic Medicine, and the Vicepresident of the Doctors Association for Classical Homeopathy. Frass has featured on this blog before, not least because he has published numerous studies of homeopathy, none of which has ever failed to produce a positive result.
This is not just remarkable, in my view, it defies logic and the laws of nature. Even if homeopathy were a supremely effective therapy – a very broad consensus holds that it is not! – one would occasionally expect some negative results. No treatment works under all circumstances
… that is no treatment except homeopathy, according to Frass.
Recently Frass amazed even the world of oncology by publishing a study suggesting that homeopathy can prolong the survival of lung cancer patients. Every oncologist I know was flabbergasted.
Can this be true? This is the question, many people have been asking for some time in relation to Frass’s research.
In my quest to shine more light on it, I was recently alerted to an article by the formidable Austrian investigative journalist, Alwin Schönberger. In 2015, he came across a press release announcing that “HOMEOPATHY HAD BEEN PROVEN TO WORK AFTER ALL” (strikingly similar to one issued in 2018). It came from Austria’s leading manufacturer who was giving an award to an apparently outstanding thesis supervised by Frass. Even today, this piece of research has not been published in the peer-reviewed literature.
Yet, after some difficulties, Schönberger managed to obtain a copy. What he found was surprising, and he thus published his findings in the respected Austrian journal ‘Profil’ (2. Mai 2015 • profil 22).
Frass’s student had been given the task to systematically review all the homeopathy trials published between 2008 and 2012. Contrary to the hype of the press release, the meta-analysis merely suggested a very small effect. When digging deeper, Schönberger found several inconsistencies and mistakes in the analysis. They all were such that they produced a false-positive picture for homeopathy. Upon their correction, homeopathy turned out to be no longer significantly superior to placebo. Frass was then interviewed about it and claimed that the inconsistencies were only ‘errors’ but insisted that homeopathy is not a placebo therapy.
Yes, of course, errors happen in research. But if they all go in one direction and if that direction coincides with the interests of the researchers, we have the right, perhaps even the duty, to be suspicious. The questions that arise from this story are, I think, as follows:
- Have the errors been corrected?
- Are there perhaps other errors in Frass’s research?
- Can we trust anything that Frass says?
- Is it time to consider an official investigation into Frass’s studies of homeopathy?
Guest post by Alan Henness
When I discovered a homeopath admitting on camera that she believed she and her fellow homeopaths had managed to unblind a triple-blinded homeopathy trial they were taking part in, I submitted a complaint to the journal that published the paper on the trial, the university of the researcher who had conducted the trial and the current university of the homeopath who had subsequently moved into research.
The paper concerned is the 2004 paper by Weatherley-Jones et al. A randomised, controlled, triple-blind trial of the efficacy of homeopathic treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. This was published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
The homeopath was Clare Relton, currently Senior Lecturer in Clinical Trials at the Centre for Primary Care and Public Health at Queen Mary University of London and Honorary Senior Research Fellow, School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield.
She gave a presentation at the 2019 conference of the Homeopathy Research Institute. Billed as an International Homeopathy Research Conference, it was subtitled, Cutting edge research in homeopathy. The videos of the conference were sponsored by homeopathy manufacturing giant, Boiron.
My complaint email (see below) explains what I discovered and sets the context. As a result of the investigation by the journal, the current editor along with two former editors have just published a peer-reviewed paper on my complaint and their investigation:
Misconduct and unethical behaviour
It’s worth noting how serious the Journal of Psychosomatic Research considered the misconduct they identified by Relton and others. From the Results section of the paper:
We found the presentation by Dr. Relton disturbing on multiple grounds. This admission of unethical behavior calls her scientific integrity into question. The premise for her actions rests on an errant assumption widespread among clinicians, based on anecdotal experience, that one possesses an ultimate knowledge of what works and doesn’t work without the need for rigorous study. The history of medicine, unfortunately, has been littered by countless treatments that practitioners believed in and dispensed, only to be later found not beneficial or even harmful . This underscores the importance of rigorous study for treatments where equipoise exists in the scientific community, as it arguably did for the use of homeopathy for chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Relton likely did not hold that equipoise herself, but if she had ethical concerns about the study, the appropriate action would have been to not participate in it. Instead, she purports to have enlisted colleagues to deliberately and systematically undermine the study.
In watching the presentation, the purpose of this admission seemed to be to discount the results of a rigorous but essentially negative study in the context of promoting her own ideas related to trial design. While we cannot know for certain that her motivation was to discount the results of this study, what she said clearly seeks to undermine the credibility of a trial whose results challenged her firmly held but untested beliefs about the benefit of a treatment that she had high allegiance to. Regardless of her intent or what actually happened during the trial, Dr. Relton’s presentation is ipso facto evidence of either an admitted prior ethical breach or is itself an ethical breach for the following reasons. Either she indeed undermined an ambitious effort to study of the efficacy of homeopathy for chronic fatigue syndrome, negating the work of all other investigators, study staff, and participants involved in the study as well as the investment of the public, or she is conducting a late and inappropriate attack on the study’s credibility. Her presentation certainly warrants formal censure from the scientific community, and this paper may contribute to that. Despite this clear indictment, after discussing and considering the complaint of Mr. Henness for several months, we ultimately decided not to retract the paper.
They decided not to retract the paper but instead use it for ethical reflection. However, they concluded I had highlighted “undisputable evidence of scientific misconduct” by the homeopaths concerned:
When is lack of scientific integrity a reason for retracting a paper? A case study
Objective: The journal received a request to retract a paper reporting the results of a triple-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. The present and immediate past editors expand on the journal’s decision not to retract this paper in spite of undisputable evidence of scientific misconduct on behalf of one of the investigators.
Methods: The editors present an ethical reflection on the request to retract this randomized clinical trial with consideration of relevant guidelines from the committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) applied to the unique contextual issues of this case.
Results: In this case, scientific misconduct by a blinded provider of a homeopathy intervention attempted to undermine the study blind. As part of the study, the integrity of the study blind was assessed. Neither participants nor homeopaths were able to identify whether the participant was assigned to homeopathic medicine or placebo. Central to the decision not to retract the paper was the fact that the rigorous scientific design provided evidence that the outcome of the study was not affected by the misconduct. The misconduct itself was thought to be insufficient reason to retract the paper.
Conclusion: Retracting a paper of which the outcome is still valid was in itself considered unethical, as it takes away the opportunity to benefit from its results, rendering the whole study useless. In such cases, scientific misconduct is better handled through other professional channels.
The authors had additional ethical concerns:
Apart from the intention of ‘circumventing the blind’, there is another unethical aspect to the behavior of Dr. Relton, namely the fact that patients were systematically subject to an intervention (carcinosin administration) that was not part of the original research protocol and to which they did not consent as part of the study. Although the systematic administration of carcinosin was not part of the study protocol, it was administered only to patients taking part in the study, and because they took part in the study. Presumably, these patients were not properly informed, or maybe even misinformed, about the rationale of a double-blind trial design and/or the true reason for administrating carcinosin. Apparently, ‘deep listening and deep understanding’ does not necessarily need to be accompanied by an honest and open attitude towards patients that participate in research. Dr. Relton stated in her lecture ‘I’m not trained to be deceiving people’, but that is exactly what she did. Not only did she deceive patients, but also the researchers and study leaders that she is supposed to collaborate with as a colleague. [emphasis in original]
The authors said:
The authors are of the opinion that in case the misconduct was not conducted by or on behalf of the principal investigator – as is the case here -, the initiative for further action should lie with them. Not only is the principal investigator the one that was deceived, but they are in a better position to report the misconduct to the institution and funding body. If the principal investigator is responsible for the misconduct, the editor is probably the only one that can initiate further action, in which case the researcher’s institution should be informed and requested to take appropriate action.
It will be interesting to see what further action, if any, is taken by Weatherley-Jones as is suggested.
I had already brought my concerns to the attention of both the University of Sheffield and Queen Mary University of London. The former concluded:
This is to confirm that the University of Sheffield has now completed its assessment of this matter, and it has been agreed that it would not be appropriate for the University of Sheffield to undertake a research misconduct investigation of the allegation against Clare Relton, since she is not a current member of University staff, nor was she a member of staff at the time of the clinical trial in question.
In relation to the potential concerns about the reliability of the published research findings, the University is satisfied that the Journal of Psychosomatic Research is consulting with the authors and taking steps to address the concerns as appropriate. The University will therefore be taking no further action.
I received no response from Queen Mary University of London, despite their Principal being copied in on all the relevant correspondence.
I will be writing again to both and Weatherley-Jones now the paper has been published.
My thanks to Jess G. Fiedorowicz, Editor, Journal of Psychosomatic, for his thorough investigation of my complaint.
The results of a trial were published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 2004 (see attached copy):
A randomised, controlled, triple-blind trial of the efficacy of homeopathic treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome
Elaine Weatherley-Jones a,*, Jon P Nicholl a, Kate J Thomas a, Gareth J Parry a, Michael W McKendrickb, Stephen T Green b, Philip J Stanley c, Sean PJ Lynch d
a Medical Care Research Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Regent Court, 30 Regent Street, Sheffield, S1 4DA, UK
b Communicable Diseases Directorate, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, UK
c Seacroft Hospital, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, UK
d St. James’s University Hospital, University of Leeds, Beckett Street, Leeds, UK
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-114-222-0744; fax: +44-114-222-0749.
E-mail address: e.weatherley-jones@sheffield.
The paper is indexed in PubMed here.
Elaine Weatherley-Jones is listed as the Corresponding author at the Medical Care Research Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield as are others.
One of the homeopaths involved in providing treatment was Clare Relton, currently Senior Lecturer in Clinical Trials at the Centre for Primary Care and Public Health at Queen Mary University of London.
The full list of those involved in providing treatment during the trial is given as:
The Homeopathic Trials Group: Homeopaths— Gill de Boer, MBChB, MFHom, Maryjoan Foster, RSHom, Susanne Hartley, RSHom, Jane Howarth, BRCPHom, Pat Mayborne RSHom, Georgina Ramsayer RSHom, Clare Relton, RSHom, Pat Strong, MBBS, MFHom, Angela Zajac, BSc, RSHom, BRCPHom.
Dr Relton gave a talk at the Conference in London of the Homeopathy Research Institute held 14 to 16 June 2019. The video of her talk has recently been published: https://www.
I invite you to watch all 30 minutes of it.
She then goes on to describe how she took part as one of the homeopaths in the trial and relates how she came up with “a cunning way of circumventing the blinding”.
I offer the following transcript of the segment of her talk where she discusses this (all transcription errors are mine):
So while I was still a homeopath in the Wellforce clinic, a researcher from the University of Sheffield which was actually only five minutes away from my clinic which was really handy came along and said, “I’ve got some money from Lord Sainsbury to do a trial of chronic fatigue syndrome of homoeopathy” and she described the design and I remember thinking, “not sure what that’s going to show”.
But anyway there were ten homeopaths recruited in Sheffield and Leeds and we saw patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
A lot of us were getting patients with chronic fatigue syndrome anyway and particularly if they were never been well since glandular fever couple of doses of carcinosin 30 or 200 and they seem to make a really good recovery.
So we’re pretty confident about taking part in this trial.
So there were 130 or 140 patients recruited to the trial and then allocated to the homeopaths: there were five at our clinic and I was one of them.
Patients would arrive; you would do the normal thing, have the consultation with them. They seemed a bit standoffish, they were quite distant – I couldn’t work out why.
And then at the end of the consultation I had to say to them “well there’s a 50% chance that whatever I prescribe you is going to be a placebo”, which sort of sort of lowered the temperature in the in the in the Consulting room because you know they came because they have chronic fatigue; they came… didn’t come because they wanted to take part in an experimental game.
So we would ring the pharmacy up and tell them our prescription. Helios Pharmacy would then send out either placebo or the real remedy according to the allocation of the patient.
The patient would come back four weeks later and if they were better, great and if they weren’t it was really, really difficult. So, had I got the wrong prescription or were they on placebo?
So after about six months of this we started working out there was a cunning way of circumventing the blinding and we worked out, well if we give them all a dose of carcinosin they’re going to have some reaction: there’s going to be a dream there’s going to be some change and if when they come back at the second appointment they haven’t changed then we know they’re on placebo. So don’t bother doing all that trying to find the right remedy; just use all your other amazing skills you have as a homeopath: the deep listening we have the deep understanding of what we know about what’s toxic in our systems, about diet and counselling.
So that’s what we did. Because we’re homeopaths. We’re trained to treat people I’m not trained to be deceiving people. That’s what I do, that’s what I did then; that’s what all my colleagues did.
So ok, so the trial ended and at the end the results came out I’m sure quite a few of us are familiar with it.
There were two groups, so there was a group… everybody in the patient… everybody in the trial received treatment… a course of treatment by a homeopath and 50% of them received a placebo remedy 50% the real remedy, the verum.
And the results… both groups got better and the group that received the real remedy improved better than the group that received the placebo but was the difference clinically significant? Not quite. How many trials do we have that? So this trial was so much realisation, so many questions came out of my experience being inside, inside a double-blind placebo randomised controlled trial. What is seen as the… you know the… summit of evidence-based medicine in terms of rigorousness, I just thought “what is this doing?” I don’t know what… I don’t know what this has shown.
This is what’s called an explanatory trial and I thought well it’s explaining nothing to me, apart from the fact that the system for designing and conducting randomised controlled trials at the moment isn’t working.
So lots of questions.
The paper states:
Patients were successfully blinded to their group allocation, and therefore we have assumed that whatever the reasons for nonresponse, they are the same for the treatment arm and the placebo arm and that the data are comparable. Therefore, intention to treat analyses was done on actual data plus imputed missing item data, but all unit missing data were excluded from analyses.
Checking of double blinding showed that prediction of treatment group was made by neither homeopaths (j =. 07, P c.60) nor patients (j = 0.11, P c.48).
The trial was of a triple-blind design but there is no mention of the deliberate attempts to circumvent the blinding in the paper. The effects on participants by the actions – inadvertent or otherwise – of Relton and her colleagues are not considered and not known.
I believe the actions of Relton, the other four homeopaths at her clinic whom she clearly implicates in this circumvention of blinding, and possibly the remaining four homeopaths if they were all known to each other and in contact with each other since they were all in the same area of Leeds/Sheffield, compromised the trial design, rendered the results unreliable and seriously undermined the integrity of the paper and its conclusions. I do not believe it matters whether or not they were in fact able to circumvent the blinding, but it does matter that Relton and others believed they had because she admits it led to different behaviour on their part resulting in contamination of the results.
I believe the actions amount to misconduct.
I note additional criticism of this paper by Prof Edzard Ernst (see attached).
I ask that Sheffield University investigate this matter and that along with Queen Mary University of London and the Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Jess Fiedorowicz, MD, PhD, decide what actions to take. I ask that consideration is given to retracting this unsound paper.
Please consider this email as a formal complaint against Dr Clare Relton and others.
Please acknowledge receipt by return and keep me informed of your progress in investigating this matter and of your conclusions and outcome.
If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
The homeopath’s name is Grace DaSilva-Hill. She has been a professional homeopath since 1997, with a clinic in Charing (Kent) and international on Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp video. She practises Sensation Homeopathy as refined by Drs Joshis (Mumbai), and Homeopathic Detox Therapy as developed by Dr Ton Jensen. She is also a practitioner of EFT-Tapping. In 2014, Grace very nearly saved the world with homeopathy – well, at least she gave it her very best try. Here is her original plan:
Yes, I agree, that’s hilarious! And it’s hilarious in more than one way:
- It is funnier than any comedian’s attempt to ridicule homeopathy.
- It is a highly effective approach by homeopaths to discrediting themselves.
But, at the same time, it is also worrying. Homeopaths are taken seriously by many influential people. Think of Prince Charles, for instance, or consider the way German homeopaths have convinced the government of Bavaria to invest in research into the question of how homeopathy can be used to reduce antibiotic resistance.
At the time, the formidable Andy Lewis on his QUACKOMETER commented as follows:
We might dismiss this as the fantasies of a small group of homeopaths. However, such thinking is widespread in homeopathic circles and has consequences. Grace is a well known homeopath in the UK, and in the past, has been a trustee and treasurer for the Ghana Homeopathy Project – an organisation that has been exporting this European form of quackery to West Africa. Grace believes that serious illnesses can be treated by a homeopath. For an article in the journal of the Alliance of Registered Homeoapths, Grace discusses treating such conditions as menigitis, malaria and stroke.
Homeopaths in West Africa have hit the news this week as a group tried to enter Liberia in order to use their spells on people with Ebola. The WHO fortunately tried not let them near any actual sick people and they have been kicking and screaming since. The Daily Mail’s rather dreadful article reported that they
“had used homeopathic treatments on patients, despite the instructions from health officials in the capital Monrovia not to do so. She said she had not felt the need to quarantine herself after returning to India but was monitoring her own condition for any signs of the disease.”
The homeopaths appear to have absolutely no understanding how dangerous and irresponsible their actions have been….
Homeopathy is stupid. Magical thinking. A nonsense. Anything goes. And whilst those doctors in the NHS who insist on spending public money on it without taking a responsible stand against the common and dangerous excesses, they can expect to remain under constant fire from those who think they are doing a great deal of harm.
Meanwhile, the public funding of homeopathy in England has stopped; France followed suit. Surely Grace’s invaluable help in these achievements needs to be acknowledged! If we regularly remind decision-makers and the general public of Grace’s attempt to save the world and similarly barmy things homeopaths are up to, perhaps the rest of the world will speed up the process of realizing the truth about homeopathy!?
In March 2020, ITV reported that a faith healer has been accused of “exploiting” people’s anxiety about the coronavirus crisis by selling a “plague protection kit” for £91. Bishop Climate Wiseman, head of the Kingdom Church in Camberwell, south London, has promised his followers the small bottle of oil and piece of red yarn will protect them from Covid-19. In a blog post, Bishop Wiseman claimed his concoction of cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn acts as “an invisible barrier to the powers of darkness”. He wrote: “It is by faith that you can be saved from the coronavirus pandemic by covering yourself with the divine plague protection oil and wearing the scarlet yarn on your body. That is why I want to encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to get your divine plague protection kit today!”
He claimed that the remedy was based on a passage from chapter 14 of the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. It reads: “Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn, and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times. In this way, he will make atonement for the house, and it will be clean.”
Bishop Wiseman told the PA news agency the church had sold more than 1,000 of the kits. “This is based on the Bible – I’m a Christian and there is a way that the Bible says to protect us from plagues.” One can also buy miracle money house blessing oil and anointed oil for court cases. On the Kingdom Church’s website, it claims thousands of people have been healed from “all sorts” of sickness and disease since it was founded in 2005.
Now, the Charity Commission has appointed an interim manager to the church following concerns raised by the National Secular Society about ‘plague protection kits’ sold by its bishop. England and Wales’s charity regulator announced that it appointed an interim manager to The Kingdom Church GB in February, who will “consider the charity’s future operation and viability”.
Elsewhere, the oil is advertised as follows:
Plagues Divine Protection Anointing Oil Have you been battling with countless amount of fear due to an economical wide spread of plaques and viruses? Then this Anointing Oil is for you.
The Plagues Divine Protection Anointing Oil was created by Master Prophet, Prophet Climate Wiseman through divine guidance and instruction from the Holy Spirit. This oil contains two biblical integrant which is biblically proven to remove plagues of all kind. These two Integrants are Hyssop and Cedar wood. The Bible clearly tells us in the book of Leviticus 14:51-53 “Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times. He shall purify the house with the bird’s blood, the fresh water, the live bird, the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn. Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. In this way he will make atonement for anointedoils
The commission said it had “serious ongoing concerns” about the charity’s administration and the financial relationship with its two subsidiary companies. It found the charity does not have a bank account and charity funds have instead been deposited into the charity’s subsidiaries’ bank accounts. It is investigating the legality of this relationship. The commission only appoints interim managers to charities “after very careful consideration” if there is misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of a charity, or if it is necessary or desirable to protect the charity’s property.
The post originally included claims that “every coronavirus and any other deadly thing” would “pass over” those using the oil and yarn. It was later edited to remove some specific references to coronavirus, but continued to claim people could “be saved from every pandemic” by using the oil and string.