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