Homeopathy is quackery, there is nothing remotelyÂ beneficialÂ to their treatments other than it is just water and water is good for you. Their claims are fanciful but it doesn’t stop the lunatics from promoting their snake oil “remedies” to desperate people.
In the UK the Advertising StandardsÂ AuthorityÂ has been whacking the loons hard…and now they are upset….really, really upset.
Iâve always envied reporters who cover big protests. The protests I end up at never seem quite in the same league, be they a group of environmentalists baking breadÂ under a tree in Rothamsted,Â or, as I witnessed last week, a contingent of miffed homeopaths demonstrating outside the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). While you couldn’t question the zeal of the 20 or so polite men and women who turned up with their banners, it’s difficult to imagine the state being overturned by people who are convinced that putting water in a tube, banging it against something repeatedly, then pouring it over little sugary pills can cure diseases like malaria and typhoid.
Most reasonable people dismissed the idea that homeopathy might be able to benefit anyone years ago. It’s been around since the 18th century, so it’s not quite as old as trepanning, but it’s roughly as illogical as drilling a hole in your head to cure a headache. For some reason, the practice has been allowed to continue. Treating what are essentially placebos as legitimate medicine may be harmless if you’re buying them from an upscale pharmacy like the Boots in Hampstead because your millionaire husband snores too loudly, but it’s more dangerous if you’re aÂ refugee in NairobiÂ being told that homeopathy can cure your daughter’s life-threatening illness. Â
But somewhere along the line, homeopaths may have shot themselves in the foot. A few years ago, critics of homeopathy examined the Code of Ethics published by the Society of Homeopaths (SoH), a professional bodywith ambitionsÂ of becoming the statutory regulator of the industry. TheyÂ spotted an interesting clauseÂ in it, in which SoH members were told that they must comply with the British Code of Advertising Practice, as enforced by the ASA, andÂ avoid claiming that their pills could cure specific diseases. As it happens, the SoH arenât the most enthusiastic enforcers of their own code, but given the ASAâs strong record on tackling bogus remedies, skeptics fresh from battling the British Chiropractic Association sensed an opportunity to take down another foe. Mass complaints were organized, supported by theÂ Nightingale Collaboration, a consumer group set up by the science writer Simon Singh.
A number of punitive rulings later and homeopaths were getting seriously pissed off.
Yeah all 20 of them mounted a protest against the ASA.
William Alderson was leading the protest and displaying plenty of the energy and commitment that had earned him the nickname “homeopathic Duracell Bunny” from the antiquack bloggerÂ Andy Lewis. (Alderson was wearing bunny ears in a reference to this at one point, but wouldn’t let me photograph him wearing them.) Every so often, two charming ladies would lead a cheerââHomeopathy WORKS! Homeopathy WORKS!ââblissfully unaware of the dagger eyes being thrown their way by workers exiting the office buildings nearby.
I spoke to Jennifer, a homeopath who had seen her own ad rejected by the ASA on the grounds that she had failed to provide enough supporting evidence for her claims. To her, it seemed terribly unfair. âWhat I find a joke isâŠ I was watching TV with my grandson and a Lucozade advert came on, and it says, ‘Lucozade hydrates better than water!â So my grandsonâs like, âGet us some Lucozade, itâs really good!â and itâs got bright colors and itâs on childrenâs television. I went into the supermarket and I looked at the ingredientsâfirst ingredient is water, all the other ingredients are chemicals. Nothing that helps the body hydrate. They got away with advertising thatâwhereâs their proof? Whereâs their evidence?â
I asked her why she felt there were different standards. âMoney!â she replied. Capitalism came up with almost everyone I spoke to in one form or another, with protesters variously criticizing Monsanto, Nestle, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. Some of their arguments had merit, and I found myself nodding along in agreement on more than one occasion. It was easy to see why alternative medicine has beenÂ so welcome in the anti-big-business Green Party over the years.
Hmmm…interesting, I wonder if our Greens are into homeopathy? It appears they are…with them pushing for homeopathy products to be exempt from product notification.
The people I spoke to seemed very much in favor of science and the NHS, but had to square that with the seemingly inexplicable rejection of their medicine by the world around them. Conspiracy theories offered an attractive way out of their intellectual cul de sac. Alderson connected spurious dots between a Swiss government report that he believes upset “Big Pharma,” the medical journal theÂ Lancet’s rejection of homeopathy in the mid-00s, the creation of Sense About Science and individual skeptics and campaigners. âYou can see a whole pattern of using different organizations and individuals to push this attack [on homeopathy] in the public arena. The ASA is just the latest in this line of attacks.”
Itâs all very plausible, except that it falls into the skepticâs fallacy: assuming that beliefs you donât understand canât be sincerely held. People campaign against homeopathy because itâs quack medicine, becauseÂ belief in it can be dangerousÂ and because treatments that donât work shouldnât be funded with tax payers’ money. Many of the most prominent critics of homeopathy have alsoÂ attacked practices in the pharmaceutical industry.
Another subtext was the threat of “poison”âa word I heard so many times that it felt like subliminal messaging. Almost every person I spoke to used the word “poison” in reference to real medicine. Alderson himself described Sense About Scienceâs campaigns on vaccination as “propaganda.” Coupled with the proud boasts of parents who treated their own children with homeopathy (one man asked me to photograph his four children “All raised on homeopathy!”), a disturbing picture began to emerge: a community of people, suspicious of corporations, believing that modern medicine is poison and treating patients and their own families with an array of homebrew “remedies” that are actuallyÂ nothing but water.
Weirdoes and charlatans.