Homeopathy is quackery, there is nothing remotely beneficial 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 Standards Authority has been whacking the loons hard…and now they are upset….really, really upset.
I’ve 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 bread under a tree in Rothamsted, 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 a refugee in Nairobi being told that homeopathy can cure your daughter’s life-threatening illness.
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 ambitions of becoming the statutory regulator of the industry. They spotted an interesting clause in it, in which SoH members were told that they must comply with the British Code of Advertising Practice, as enforced by the ASA, and avoid claiming that their pills could cure specific diseases. As it happens, the SoH aren’t the most enthusiastic enforcers of their own code, but given the ASA’s 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 the 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 blogger 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 cheer—“Homeopathy WORKS! Homeopathy WORKS!”—blissfully 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. “What I find a joke is… I was watching TV with my grandson and a Lucozade advert came on, and it says, ‘Lucozade hydrates better than water!’ So my grandson’s like, ‘Get us some Lucozade, it’s really good!’ and it’s got bright colors and it’s on children’s television. I went into the supermarket and I looked at the ingredients—first ingredient is water, all the other ingredients are chemicals. Nothing that helps the body hydrate. They got away with advertising that—where’s their proof? Where’s their evidence?”
I asked her why she felt there were different standards. “Money!” 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 been 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 the Lancet’s rejection of homeopathy in the mid-00s, the creation of Sense About Science and individual skeptics and campaigners. “You 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.”
It’s all very plausible, except that it falls into the skeptic’s fallacy: assuming that beliefs you don’t understand can’t be sincerely held. People campaign against homeopathy because it’s quack medicine, because belief in it can be dangerous and because treatments that don’t work shouldn’t be funded with tax payers’ money. Many of the most prominent critics of homeopathy have also attacked practices in the pharmaceutical industry.
Another subtext was the threat of “poison”—a 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 Science’s 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 actually nothing but water.
Weirdoes and charlatans.