Homeopathy Awareness Week

British Homeopathic Association: ‘Homeopathy Awareness Week’
Every year between 14–21 June* we encourage people to raise awareness about homeopathy.

Fair enough. For the uninitiated, homeopathy is a bogus medical treatment based on impossible, unscientific premises. Its medicinal benefits, such as they are, are indistinguishable from those derived from far cheaper placebo treatments. Homeopathic medicine is, quite literally, sugar pills.

In 2010, the UK parliament's Science and Technology Select Committee ruled that homeopathy is useless and unethical. When used in place of genuine medicine, it can also be extremely dangerous.

If you are feeling poorly, go and see a proper doctor.

For more on this specious medical practice, please see my numerous earlier posts on homeopathy.

I trust you are all now suitably aware.

[* Postscript added 10-Apr-2014: Since this article was written, ‘Homeopathy Awareness Week’ has been moved to 10–16 April—and, the great news is, sceptics have blagged the domain name!]

Inconsistency

The above BBC headline is completely correct: it is a myth that antibiotics can cure most coughs and colds, and that myth is rife.

But can you imagine the BBC publishing the following headline?

Myth of homeopathic efficacy still rife

No, me neither. The second headline is equally correct, but the BBC seems scared to say so. Instead, they remain neutral, saying stuff like:

  • Supporters believe homeopathy helps relieve a range of minor ailments from bruising to insomnia
  • But critics say it is no better than sugar pills and people only get better because they believe the treatment will work - the so-called placebo effect

There are scientifically valid ways of testing medical efficacy. Antibiotics fail these tests for most coughs and colds. Homeopathy fails these tests for all medical conditions. But the BBC, bizarrely and irresponsibly, seems only prepared to report quite categorically the former.

Oh, and in case you were wondering which other 'minor ailments' homeopathy's supporters claim that it can treat (not just 'relieve'), well, for a start, there is malaria and aids.

Nothing works as well as homeopathy

Let it not be said that our political representatives never say anything sensible:

Guardian Science Blog: MPs deliver their damning verdict: Homeopathy is useless and unethical

Today the Science and Technology Select Committee delivered its verdict on homeopathy and it was devastating. The committee has called for the complete withdrawal of NHS funding and official licensing of homeopathy.

Hurrah! So, of course, the funding will be withdrawn immediately…

Oh no, that's right, there's a General Election in the offing. Do you really think the government is going to withdraw funding for quack homeopathic treatment, when hundreds of thousands of idiots swear by the stuff? That's hundreds of thousands of voting idiots.

Do me a favour. Should any politican come canvassing at your door in the next couple of months, ask them about their position on NHS funding for homeopathy. Then listen to them not answering the question.

We still have some way to go.

Getting beyond a joke

BBC: Concern over HIV homeopathy role

Doctors and health charities have expressed concern about a conference which will examine the role of homeopathy in treating HIV.

The event includes discussion of what have been described as "healing remedies" for HIV and AIDS.

One of the speakers believes that the treatment, involving flower essences, can be used to halt the AIDS epidemic.

In case any of these homeopaths were wondering, the 'V' in HIV stands for virus. Viruses are parasitic segments of genetic code which replicate by incorporating themselves into their host's own genetic material and piggybacking on the host's genetic replication process. It is debatable whether viruses should be viewed as living organisms at all, but they often participate in evolutionary arms races with their hosts as the hosts evolve counter-measures against the viruses and the viruses evolve corresponding counter-counter measures.

Antibiotics, the most powerful form of medicine known to man, have no effect on viruses. In order to fight viruses such as HIV, we need to develop special anti-viral drugs. In the case of HIV treatment, patients require a cocktail of other drugs to treat the undesirable side-effects of the anti-viral drugs—and other drugs to overcome the side-effects of some of those drugs. It's far from an ideal situation, but it's the best we have at present—and it has vastly extended the life-expectancy of those people with HIV who are lucky enough to live in countries which can afford such treatments.

Adding a few homeopathic sugar-pills to the cocktail of real medicines given to people with HIV will not (and, indeed, cannot) do any harm. But be in no doubt whatsoever that near-infinite dilutions of flower essences have no role to play in our genetic war against the human immunodeficiency virus.

Anyone who advocates homeopathy as an alternative treatment to HIV, however, deserves to be set on fire. Then put out very slowly.

With a spade.

Double-blimey!

Guardian: What's wrong with homeopathy

Time after time, properly conducted scientific studies have proved that homeopathic remedies work no better than simple placebos. So why do so many sensible people swear by them? And why do homeopaths believe they are victims of a smear campaign? Ben Goldacre follows a trail of fudged statistics, bogus surveys and widespread self-deception.

I find it incredible that people like Ben Goldacre still need to write articles describing the concept of double-blind trials, which show that so-called homeopathic remedies are indistinguishable from placebos.

Goldacre is too polite to point out that the homeopathic concept (I won't dignify it by calling it a theory) of almost infinitely dilute solutions' being able to cure people is pseudoscientific bullshit. Every glass of water we drink contains almost infinitely dilute solutions (and less) of pretty much anything you care to mention. They also contain far, far greater amounts of many other things you might prefer to gloss over—such as Napoleon's last piss.


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