Homeopathic censorship

We’re a bit late to the party with this one. Homeopathy isn’t really a religion per se, but it is certainly faith-based. As this story shows, their reaction to critics of the faith is identical: try silence them.

The Quackometer is “a project based around the automation of debunking quack medicine on the web” run by Dr Andy Lewis. He published an article criticising the Society of Homeopaths (Europe’s largest professional homeopathic association) for its inadequate reaction to a Newsnight investigation in which it was revealed a lot of homeopathic practitioners were giving dangerous advice about malaria to travellers (ie, homeopathy will protect you) .

The SoH wheeled out its lawyers and forced Quackometer’s web host (the Isle of Man based Netcetera) to pull the article.

So here it is:


The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programmeexposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel- worded press statements. The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48 · Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority. · No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimatedto be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ‘she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

UPDATE: (22 Oct) Bad Science has more details, including the polite letter sent by Andy Lewis to the SoH, which was rudely met with more legal threats.

Also, a commenter on DC’s Improbable Science makes this rather amusing observation:

I’m a bit stumped by this. Surely, shouldn’t the SoH folk, of all people, know that removing every detectable trace of the offending post from the blogosphere will just increase its effectiveness?

(Tip Cabalamat)

6 Responses to “Homeopathic censorship”

  1. marc says:

    I think homeopathy is relevant – as Prof. Dawkins does. The most powerful homeopathic medicine is so dilute that there are less molecules of the active ingredient in the water than there are atoms in the universe IIRC. They rely on the “memory of water” for it do its magic.

    Homeopathy uses the powerful placebo affect, but that’s all. It’s also likely that practitions spend more time with their hypochondriacs, sorry, patients than allopathic practioners would – which gives the patient a feeling of well-being.

    I fought a recent chest infection without any antibiotics (which is the usual practice) and I got over it. Had I taken homeopathic medicine I would have gotten better just as quickly. The anti-biotics would be faster because they actually do what they say; but my body fought and won.

  2. Dominic says:

    I saw that Newsnight programme. It was mentioned, but few remember, that the undercover reporter told the people she was setting up that she didn’t want conventional antimalarial treatment. The programme made it look as if homoeopathic prophylaxis was offered straight off. The rep from the Society of Homoeopaths was not quick or forthright enough to pick up on this or deal adequately with the bigotry of the rep from “Sense about Science”.

    If conventional medicine is so brilliant (and free at the point of delivery on the NHS), and homoeopathy is ineffective, why do countless people pay for it and report how good it is? Surely, after 200 years the public that Newsnight treated as a bunch of fools would have found that homoeopathy didn’t work at all.

    Orthodox medics talk grandly about “evidence-based medicine”, and write off 200 years of homoeopathic treatment (and therefore millions of successes) as “anecdotal”. This implies the patients and practitioners are making it up! This evidence is, in fact, empirical, and is used by conventional medics every time they prescribe a drug that helps with a condition it isn’t licensed for: they call it “clinical evidence” and will go on prescribing it even if no evidence by their own standards ever emerges.

  3. Joe says:

    If conventional medicine is so brilliant (and free at the point of delivery on the NHS), and homoeopathy is ineffective, why do countless people pay for it and report how good it is? Surely, after 200 years the public that Newsnight treated as a bunch of fools would have found that homoeopathy didn’t work at all.

    Similarly, those blokes who sell dog piss and coloured water as ‘designer perfume’ along Oxford Street must be selling the real thing, because they still get customers.

    Homeopathy is good in one respect, in that it increases the chances the terminally gullible will die young.

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