Jun 29 2010

UK – Ban Homeopathy

Homeopathy is on the ropes in the UK. Earlier in the year The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC) released a report, Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, essentially saying that homeopathy is bunk and should no longer be supported. Recently representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) condemned homeopathy as “witchcraft.”

Now the BMA is going one step further – calling for a ban on homeopathy in the UK. They do not want homeopathy to be illegal, but they want a ban on any National Health Service (NHS) support for homeopathy. The NHS currently spends about 20 million pounds a year on homeopathic remedies (about 0.01% of the NHS budget) and maintains four homeopathic hospitals. This is a small amount overall – but anything spent on homeopathy is a waste. More importantly, as the BMA notes, homeopathy has “‘no place in the modern health service.’

The BMA specifically recommends that the NHS stop paying for homeopathic treatments, and that doctors in training can no longer receive any of that training at any of the four homeopathic hospitals, as they are not compatible with modern “evidence-based” medicine. They also suggest that homeopathic remedies should not be sold in pharmacies unless they are clearly labeled as placebos, rather than medicine.

This is all good. It seems to be a result of attention being paid to homeopathy recently – both systematic reviews of evidence showing that it is non-scientific and does not work, as well as public ridicule – such as the  10^23 campaign and their recent mass suicide with homeopathic “remedies.”

There are now similar efforts to ban homeopathy in other countries, like India, which claims to have the largest homeopathic infrastructure in the world.

I love reading the comments to news articles like the one on the UK ban. Random citizen Hanna writes:

“Well the large pharmaceutical companies are losing out on all the sales that go to these homeopathic companies, that’s why this is happening . People aren’t stupid. They’re not going to take medicines that don’t work. Homeopathic remedies have helped peeps for 1000s of years and will continue to do so. Shame on the NHS.”

There are so many false premises and logical fallacies in this one short statement, which is fairly typical of CAM apologetics. Hanna’s immediate knee-jerk assumption is that evil
Big Pharma” must be behind it – even though this is a statement by a professional organization. The article itself states that homeopathic sales are a tiny sliver of pharmaceutical sales – certainly not even on the radar of the big companies. And in any case, the response of pharmaceutical companies to competition (for what it’s worth) from homeopathy and supplements is to start selling homeopathy and supplements. They recognize that being able to make pseudo health claims and market health products without having to invest millions in research is a gold mine. Homeopathic remedies don’t even have anything in them – what’s better than selling nothing?

Hanna’s next premise is that “people aren’t stupid.” This is a vague and useless statement, because “stupidity” is like “intelligence” – it is a multi-faceted thing. More to the point – the inability to tell if a treatment is working, because of the various placebo effects that create the illusion of a treatment effect even where none exists, is not about intelligence or stupidity. It’s like saying that people who are fooled by clever magician tricks are stupid. No, they are just people. Everyone can be fooled. Everyone can be fooled by anecdotes and placebo effects.

This is an established historical fact – millions of people thought they were cured by Abram’s Oscilloclast, which was nothing but a black box filled with useless machine parts. Radioactive tonics were popular around the turn of the 20th century. And blood letting was popular in many cultures for thousands of years.

Hanna also believes that homeopathic remedies have “helped peeps for 1000s of years.” I infer from this statement that she likely does not know what homeopathy really is. She may think it is just “natural” or plant-based remedies, when in fact it is witchcraft based upon pre-scientific superstitions. Further, homeopathy is only about 200 years old, developed at the end of the 18th century by Hahnemann.

I know picking on a random commenter on an online article may seem arbitrary – but her comments really are representative of the average homeopathy defender (not homeopath, but the average person’s knowledge about homeopathy).

It is good to see the fruits of critical commentary on homeopathy – dragging it into the light of modern science and showing to be the fraud that it is. Hopefully the BMA’s recommendations will be adopted, and then further replicated throughout the world. Humanity really is better off without this particular pseudoscience.

21 responses so far

21 thoughts on “UK – Ban Homeopathy”

  1. SpicyCupcake says:

    I had a similar experience with a friend on facebook. I was going to read an article about the efficacy of a drug I had never heard of and in the first like it said it was “…homeopathic (non-Herbal)…” As a result I through the first line up until that point with a note for thanking the author for saving my time since Homepathy = H2O+Magical Thinking. I had a relatively new person in my world jump to try and save homeopathy with a lovely straw man that “just because it didn’t come out of some pharmaceutical company’s lab doesn’t mean it doesn’t work”. I came to a conclusion that she also did not know what Homeopathy was. I informed her of its tenants and she simply said she didn’t know any of that. =) It’s good to live in a town where homeopathy isn’t embedded and supported at every turn!

    Remember kids, Homeopathy is the bottled water of medicine! It’s natural, it’s “safe”, and it has the memory of every deer that peed in that mountain we all pretend it came from!

  2. Timmyson says:

    I don’t like the term “witchcraft”. To me, the term implies that it works but has a supernatural or fraudulant basis.

    In first year physics, tilting a spinning bicycle wheel caused a student on a rotating platform to rotate. He could stop his rotation by tilting the wheel back. This is well understood by people with a strong background in conservation of angular momentum.

    The professor asked why, and a student shouted out, “He’s a witch!” and everyone laughed. Everyone saw that something was going on, but the cause was mysterious, so it was amusing to imagine that it was supernatural in origin.

  3. ccbowers says:

    “To me, the term implies that it works but has a supernatural or fraudulant basis.”

    Well, either of these can be consistent with homeopathy. So whats the problem? Someone selling homeopathy either knows that it doesn’t work (fraud) or believes in a supernatural explanation for a mechanism. This is assuming that they’ve actually thought about a mechanism (I’m sure many people who take it don’t think about this very much, but we’re talking about sellers or manufacturers). The negative connotation of the term “witchcraft” is precisely the point.

  4. MKandefer says:

    Steve said,

    “And in any case, the response of pharmaceutical companies to competition (for what it’s worth) from homeopathy and supplements is to start selling homeopathy and supplements. They recognize that being able to make pseudo health claims and market health products without having to invest millions in research is a gold mine.”

    I’ve seen this claimed, but have never seen a link provided. In effort to build a better evidence-base, do you have any sources? I found the following article:


    But I’d like a few more, especially on manufacturing water capsules (i.e., homeopathic “remedies”). Thanks!

  5. SpicyCupcake says:

    #ccbowers I think his point was that many people believe “there are things science just can’t explain” and that warrants “super natural”. Timmyson seems to be concerned with the spin that is added to homeopathy when you add supernatural plausibility to the general public.

    Most homeopath websites insist it works and has been proven to work, but it baffles science and either there is a supernatural or quantum mechanic reason for it. We know this is misinformation. There is no effect so there is no need to explain a mechanism. The general public will go, “Oh! it works and scientist say it’s witchcraft because they don’t know how it works.” That is getting into the word war and proper uses of words vs the connotation they carry with the public. Call it witchcraft to hardcore Christians and they’ll stay away. Call it witchcraft to wiccan, masseuse, or twilight fan, you get a very different reaction.

    In reality, it is witchcraft. To a lot of people that means it works and it’s magic. To us it means it doesn’t work and has no plausible mechanism.

  6. juga says:

    I think the issue here is not homeopathy, it’s the NHS. How do you provide an evidence-based, cost-efffective health service, where patients do not pay for the treatments they receive, and do not care about the cost of the treatments?

    If you took a cross section of the British population with a cross section of minor ailments, you would find some who never visit a doctor. Some would visit rarely, and some would have many visits, costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds in doctor hours and drugs.

    Where is the evidence base which justifies that variation in health expenditure? If is surely the case that many of those treatments are unnecessary. Doctors spend time talking to people who are just lonely. Unncessary drugs are prescribed for the children of anxious parents. Drugs are prescribed for patients who the doctor knows will not complete the course. One doctor will favour one treatment and another doctor, a different one costing more. Varying degrees of hypochondria are catered to.

    Is it really the most important thing that in such a system, patients (whose taxes pay for it) should not have a homeopathic remedy they believe to be effective, as opposed to some other remedy?

  7. SARA says:

    I think this comic is a great way to educate people on the homeopathy.

  8. lizditz says:

    SARA thanks for the link to Darryl’s cartoon about homeopathy why it can’t work and the dangers of relying on homeopathy.

  9. Simiankolya says:

    Is anyone worried that the use of the term “witchcraft” will only encourage the burgeoning persecution complex that so many CAM practitioners seem to have, by likening the scientific medical establishment to the Inquisition?

  10. CivilUnrest says:


    I see your concern, but what is the alternative? In the UK, health care costs are lower per person than in the US and health care costs comprise a smaller portion of their GDP.

    The system in the US, where people have small co-pays for routine things, but then have to pay for some percentage (around 20% for me) of really expensive procedures doesn’t seem like it works any better.

  11. Talisker says:

    @juga: You are conflating the ideas of “evidence-based” and “cost-effective” when in fact they are two different things.

    The NHS provides evidence-based treatment, quite simply, by assessing the evidence: http://www.nice.org.uk/aboutnice/

    Unfortunately NICE, the body that does this, has effectively been bypassed in the case of homeopathy. As a UK taxpayer, I object to any of my money being spent on something which so clearly does not work.

    General control of health costs is a long way off topic, but as CivilUnrest points out, the NHS is far more successful at cost control than the US system.

    Also, I really don’t understand what people demanding unnecessary medical treatment has to do with any of this — it is hardly an impossibility in the US system, it’s just restricted to those with the cash and/or insurance to fund it (or to those old enough to quality for Medicare).

  12. relativitydrive says:

    This is good news indeed.

    I’m English and live in the UK and I finally have something to be proud of: and no, I’m not really talking about the 4-1 defeat to Germany.

    From personal experience many, many people believe in this stuff and the best approach has so far been to inform then leave people with the questions they then look for answers to. Now I have the government on my side – we must applaud and hope that this becomes ‘law’ with the caveats mentioned in the articles i.e. clearly labelled as placebos, are carried out, because trying to remove it in any other fashion doesn’t work well.

    And on to ‘natural’ remedies and vitamin supplementation, which I hope will be next up for STC treatment – do these people really know that Big Pharma (cough) synthesises in large quantities the adjuncts (vitamins etc.) that go into the bottles? I worked for Roche years ago on the HIV Protease Inhibitor project in the ’80s and they boasted about the huge tonnage of Vitamin C they produced. Now see this single reference from wiki about the 110,000 tonnes per year that appear in all those lovely ‘natural’ alt med/SCAM medications http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_C#Industrial_synthesis.

    Thanks again Steve.

  13. SteveA says:

    Spicy Cupcake: “I came to a conclusion that she also did not know what Homeopathy was.”

    This is my experience too. Hardly anyone I come across realises that Homeopathy is the name of a…what shall I call it?…a specific type of bullcrap. Many take it as a catch-all phrase for ‘natural’ or ‘alternative’.

    I recently pick up a cat-fanciers’ magazine in a waiting room and looked at the ‘ask the expert’ pages. Many queries were related to cat health and, to my surprise, many of the questions were answered by some sort of homeopathic vet.

    It seems that homeopathy is very big in cat circles as many people were specifically asking for homeopathic cures for various problems. Did they know what homeopathy was? I would guess not: one reader asked if there was a homeopathic way of stopping neighbourhood strays using her cat flap and stealing her pet’s food.

    As a consequence I am now rebranding my Magic Turnip Oil (Pat Pending) as a combination hair restorer ‘and’ cat repellent.

  14. justincase11 says:

    Not to change the subject, I think a lot of folks would appreciate your thoughts on CTE in the wake of the findings on Chris Henry, a 26 year old active NFL player who died in a car accident.

    He had a string of what we call bad behavior but his autopsy showed he was suffering from an advanced case of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

    As a lot of new evidence is coming to light about long term affects of concussions and sub-concussive hits, those of us who played football, ice hockey, wrestled or soccer in high school, college or even just weekend warrior style are concerned.

    Should we allow our kids to play these rough contact sports? When does CTE start? How soon is it to stop? Pop Warner, Junior High, High school?

    How many cases of irrational or violent behavior can be attributed to undisclosed cases of CTE?

    Is it just professional athletes at risk or anyone whose played contact sports for a long time?

    There are semi pro football leagues, fireman vs. policeman leagues, full contact flag football leagues, adult ice hockey leagues, etc…etc…

    Can many cases of Alzheimer’s really be CTE misdiagnosed?

    And since there is no way of diagnosing it while alive, is there anything that can be done about it?

    Please consider the subject. A lot of concerned former players and parents to future players would really like your insight on this very important subject.

    Thank you.

  15. tmac57 says:

    I just flashed on this image of the ‘roaring 20’s’ in the U.S. during prohibition and the resulting ‘ bathtub gin’ era. What will the homeopaths resort to…’bathtub water’ ?

  16. eiskrystal says:

    This is good news indeed.

    It is however still appalling that “magical” water was allowed as medicine at all… and that it has taken this long to get noticed.

  17. Oculus says:

    “anything spent on homeopathy is a waste”

    I disagree. Homeopathy has its uses. For one, it’s a very useful placebo, a real effect that requires belief to work. People in these age are often overmedicated, gobbling up pills for the slightest of ailments. Often, what people really need is a good placebo and the caring and reassuring personal attention that many homeopaths provide, unlike to many cold and clinical “allopaths”. There may well be good ethical arguments against the use of such “deceit” in treatment, but entirely useless, it isn’t.

    Or who knows, maybe I’m just clutching at straws to rationalize my guilt of having had most of my life financed by the wasted money of poor dupes who got suckered by the well-meaning and sincerely-held passion for homeopathy that my dad has always wielded in his often delusional zeal to save people. Maybe I should join my fellow sceptics in the stalwart condemnation of this irrational scourge of the world and push to make my father lose the job through which I was fed and educated since childhood…

  18. SGUfanCPH says:

    I’d really like to know where homeopathy money goes. For one, I know that a Danish bank, Merkur Bank, is helping Steiner heads build hospitals in Africa – which I am 100% sure will be a homeopathic dispensary. http://www.merkur.dkhttp://living-village.com/Living-village/Afrika.html – they also fund waldorf schools, biodynamics, “organic” farming etc.

    Ever been to a Steiner follower’s home? They are flooded with Weleda products. Weleda is part of the Steiner business: http://www.answers.com/topic/weleda-ag

    Weleda also produces a homeopathic cancer remedy, Iscador, which I am sure will be peddled in the above mentioned hospital in Africa.

    I haven’t got time right now, but will look into this more. Hope to have sparked some interest

  19. anuraguniyal says:

    I am really pissed off by govt. of india’ stand on it, which display advertisements like
    “it works, is safe and without side effects”

    I have opened a general page on facebook to get ideas what can be done


  20. bryusa says:

    I can only say that if modern scientific methods of determining efficacy cannot provide substantiation of the value of liquid high potencies of homeopathic substances, then the lower potencies should be thoroughly studied thoroughly first. I use “traditional medicine” and “complementary” both, and each can work beautifully, both on humans and animals. For example:

    A 12X potency of Belladonna completely eradicated my daughter’s sudden onset high fevers on every occasion. And within three minutes. Using Tylenol, liquids and bed rest did nothing to bring her fevers down throughout childhood.

    A 12C potency of Lachesis resolved an unexplained and severe inflammation of one of my taste buds in thirty minutes, after having it for several days.

    One dose of a 30C potency of both Ruta Graveolens and Arnica Montana enabled me to walk normally minutes after a knee dislocation on more than one occasion. For years prior to trying homeopathics, it would be two weeks before I could walk normally.

    I have had three surgeries in my forty nine years, belong to a fabulous PPO, and appreciate the value of traditional medicine equally. I’m not fond of the myriad of side effects of many synthetic pharmaceutical medications, but many times the benefits can outweigh those side effects so am not averse to having a doctor explain the action of a “standard” medication and then using it as prescribed.

    I guess my point is, homeopathy can’t simply be the placebo effect at work, as it works beautifully on pets and children and babies who have no concept of science, medicine, and the placebo effect. And since science is an ongoing and changeable systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge, close-mindedness has no place in furthering our knowledge. Quantum physics may indeed explain it, so how about we let those with the expansive and brilliant minds resolve the issue.

    Perhaps the answer to the money issue may lie in continuing to offer the lower pellet potencies to the public, and should they seek the higher liquid potencies that dumbfound the scientific community, require them to pay for them out of pocket.

    This of course is just the sharing of one person’s experience and thoughts. No bashing, no taking sides, no fanaticism here. If homeopathy works (even if inexplicably) for some and causes no harm, why not relax and simply put a disclaimer on all homeopathic remedies that they are not a substitute for consulting a physician or traditional medicine.

    Bringing occultism, witchcraft, name calling and outrage into the discussion helps to resolve nothing.

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