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.

See also:


This is so embarrassing:

BBC: Monarch faith role 'should stay'

Prince Charles should not become defender of all faiths rather than just Christianity when he becomes King, the Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted.

Yes, that's right, embarrassing.

We Brits have a head of state whose job it is to defend religious faith—specifically the one, true Anglican Protestant faith (not the whole of Christianity, as the Archbishop conveniently forgets).

Look on a coin: ELIZABETH II D.G. REG. F.D. (or, to give it its full Latin, ELIZABETH II DEI GRATIA REGINA FIDEI DEFENSOR)—Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen and Defender of the Faith. A daily reminder that our monarch is required by our famously unwritten constitution to defend one particular brand of religious mumbo-jumbo. Defender of the Faith: a title first conferred on a delighted Henry VIII by Pope Leo X (a Roman Catholic) after Henry wrote a book utterly condemning the new-fangled Protestantism. Go figure.

I mean, if it wasn't embarrassing enough in the first place for a country governed by the so-called Mother of Parliaments to have a hereditary monarch as a head of state, we should hang our heads in shame that the land that gave the world Newton, Hooke, Darwin, Faraday, Lyell, Kelvin, and a host of other enlightened geniuses—not to mention the sodding Industrial Revolution—still has a boss who is supposed to defend to the death one ridiculous religious sect against all others.

To think that we shake our heads in (hopefully literal) disbelief at what's going on in the Middle East and Sudan. Talk about motes and planks.

Utterly, utterly embarrassing.

Shambhala lies: Dawkins tries mumbo-jumbo

Televisual highlight of week was a mystical Shambhala therapist explaining to Richard Dawkins (of all people) that "DNA is very interesting right now in our evolution of the human race". I almost felt sorry for her. Did she have any idea who she was talking to?

She went on to explain to Dawkins, author of numerous best-selling books on evolution and genetics and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, that "every human being except a very small percentage has a double-helix in the cell". When a surprised Dawkins asked whether this meant that some people don't have a double-helix of DNA, the mystic explained that "a very small percentage do not—they have got more strands. We used to have, in Atlantis, twelve stands, and they're in the form of four triangles facing in in each cell. And we forgot who we were in the experiment after Atlantis and everything changed…"

When asked how she knew all this, the woman explained that "it comes from the Akashic record—the record of all vibration on this planet—but we also have […] The Deep Knowing, and the Deep Knowing, it really can't be argued".

No it can't. She made an utterly convincing case. In her own mind, at least.

The woman then went on top up Dawkins's quota of DNA strands. I don't know if she charged him the going rate of £58 for doing this, but we actually got to see her "put the last triangle in". She did this by closing her eyes and waving her hands about in a manoeuvre that will have been spookily familiar to any student of Rixology. Sadly, she did not explain whether Dawkins's missing triangle had been an isosceles triangle, a Bermuda triangle or a Dairylea triangle.

All of which made me wonder, do any of these alternative therapy adherents have any sceptical faculties whatsoever? Do Chakra healers ever get into heated arguments with homeopaths? Do acupuncturists ever accuse Reiki Masters of being charlatans? Do crystal healers ever point out that aromatherapists are spouting a load of old wank?

If people from different religious backgrounds can have violent disagreements about utter nonsense, then why not different snake oil merchants?

Or is someone out there trying to link all these specious disciplines together into a Grand Unified Theory of Mumbo-Jumbo?

Perhaps we could call it Gumbo for short.

Calling a spade a spade

Observer: The Dawkins delusion: science good, the rest bad

Thanks to Richard Dawkins I [Neil 'I Lie for a Living' Spencer] have just acquired a new title. It's official: I am an 'Enemy of Reason', a wily opponent of rationalism interviewed (in my capacity as The Observer magazine's astrologer) by Dawkins for a new two-part TV documentary.

Dawkins is right, and you, Neil 'Shite Merchant' Spencer, are, without doubt, a charlatan, enemy of reason, opponent of rationalism, and complete and utter tosser. You're a fucking astrologer, for Pete's sake!

Why in the name of Holy Bollocks does The Observer—an otherwise sensible newspaper—feel the need to have a sodding astrologer on its staff? Answer me that!

Neil Spencer claims he can predict people's futures based on the time of their birth and the arrangements of the planets. You'll notice I say claims and not believes. He sells his specious prognostications to dupes who either do genuinely believe in such bullshit, or wrongly think it's just a bit of harmless fun. Either way, that makes Spencer an Enemy of Reason, and he knows it.


As I believe I have made abundantly clear, I have no time at all for the snake-oil-peddling charlatans that go by the name of homeopaths.

Criticising so-called complementary medicine comes second only to suggesting that we should cut smokers a bit of slack when it comes to provoking virulent email attacks. For a bunch of tree-hugging hippies with flowers in their hair, the alt.therapy brigade sure can turn pretty belligerent when you call a placebo a placebo. Here is some recent feedback:

Material doses of medicine are very last century. Physicists are realizing that there is so much out there that we don't understand and just because we don't understand it doesn't make it bad or mad or wrong. The world was believed to be flat and people died because of their belief that the world was round.

For material doses, read actual doses. And note the almost obligatory use of the we-used-to-think-the-world-was-flat argument. Well, at least they didn't try to rope in Galileo as a persecuted predecessor this time. In an earlier email, the same correspondent advised me (in capital letters) to:

THINK before you speak and learn the true facts

…and pointed out:

Homeopathy at least has never KILLED ANYONE

To which I rather wearily replied:

You are correct when you say that real medicines sometimes kill people, whereas homeopathic ones never have. Just listen to what you're saying. Don't those facts tell you anything? Real medicines have active ingredients which sometimes affect people in undesirable ways (they're known as side-effects). They also happen to have rid the world of smallpox, scarlet fever and (very nearly) polio. Homeopathic medicines have no active ingredients, so cannot possibly harm (or cure) anyone.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe homeopathy isn't so harmless after all:

BBC: Malaria advice 'risks lives'

Some high street homeopaths claim they can prevent malaria, a Newsnight investigation has found.

Secret filming revealed homeopaths were claiming their preparations could be used instead of anti-malarial drugs to protect travellers in high risk areas such as sub-saharan Africa…

Dr Behrens [of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine] has treated patients who fell for the homeopaths claims "We've certainly had patients admitted to our unit with the malignant form of malaria who have been taking homeopathic remedies and without a doubt the reason that they were taking them and not effective drugs was the reason they had malaria."

It's time someone put a stop to this nonsense. They'll be trying to tell us our kids don't need MMR jabs next.

Quack(er)s part deux

Whoa! STOP PRESS! I've just realised something:

That BBC news report I quoted in my previous item about homeopathy says the following (my emphasis added):

The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital is run by doctors who are also homeopaths and who treat conditions such as hay fever and rheumatism. They are also furious that some homeopaths are making these false claims about malaria.

The hospital's Director Peter Fisher told Newsnight "I'm very angry about it because people are going to get malaria—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."

But hang on a cotton-picking nanosecond, what about this other BBC article which I have referred to previously (again, with my emphasis added—and I have merged some of the paragraphs to save space):

BBC (10-Apr-2005): Malaria row inspired homeopathy

…This weekend, supporters of homeopathy are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Hahnemann—the man widely accepted as the founder of homeopathy…

[I]t was while translating medical texts that he made his biggest breakthrough—the realisation that taking quinine to treat malaria produced the same symptoms as the illness itself. Dr Hahnemann found a piece by another doctor, Cullen, who was examining the use of quinine (which he referred to as Peruvian Bark) to treat malaria—or Marsh Fever as it was then known. Dr Cullen said the bark was successful because of its astringent and purgative properties. But Dr Hahnemann took issue with this. He argued that other medicines had the same properties—but had no effect on malaria. To prove his point, he decided to experiment with quinine, taking the drug himself. The results were to prove hugely significant.

According to John Saxton, president of the faculty of homeopathy which promotes the academic and scientific development of the discipline, they effectively laid the foundation stone for the creation of homeopathy. "He took a dose of Peruvian Bark—four drams—and developed all the symptoms of malaria apart from the fever. For as long as he continued to take the bark, he had the symptoms and when he stopped it, they stopped. It set him thinking." Dr Hahnemann came to the conclusion that it was the very fact that quinine produced symptoms so similar to malaria itself that made it a useful medicine—in effect he discovered that like can be used to fight like.

In other words, although "there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria", the belief that like can be used to fight like specifically with malaria "laid the foundation stone for the creation of homeopathy".

I'm sorry (actually, I'm not), but doesn't that totally destroy the supposed foundation of homeopathy?