The Society of Homeopaths Still Do Not Get It

[BPSDB] The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has has recommended that the NHS should no longer fund homeopathy and that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency should ban medical claims on homeopathic remedies. I am not going to blog about that as it has been done already, such as here. What I am going to blog about is the all too predictable head-in-the-sand attitude of the Society of Homeopaths.

You can read their press release here.

First they moan that the Committe had dared to investigate whether or not homeopathy actually works:-

Central to these concerns was a clarification issued at the outset of the oral evidence check by the Chair of the Committee itself, Phil Willis MP, who stated :

“…because there seems to be a little confusion about the nature of the work that we are doing, this is not an inquiry into whether homeopathy works or not. This is an inquiry which follows a series of evidence checks across a number of government departments to see whether in fact there was any evidence to support the Government’s policy towards homeopathy. I want to make that absolutely clear.”

Nevertheless, what then followed was clearly an inquiry into whether homeopathy works or not…

They were checking to see whether there was any evidence to support Government policy on homeopathy. Since current policy is to fund it as a medical treatment, inevitably a check on that evidence will be a acheck on whether homeopathy works. If it does not, then there is no evidence to support Government Policy.

The press release continues:-

…with those giving oral evidence including a journalist who was investigated by the Press Complaints Commission for his previous and unsubstantiated comments about homeopaths; a charity that has long publicly opposed homeopathy along with one of its key funders and a PCT that had already decommissioned homeopathy as one of its services.

The witness described as a journalist was Ben Goldacre. The fact that one is investigated is not proof of guilt and indeed I have not found any PCC adjudications against Dr Goldacre. I emailed him earlier this evening to ask if it was he to whom they refer but he had “no idea”. Perhaps they mean “a journalist we complained about because he criticised us”.

The charity is Sense About Science who do seem to boringly insist on evidence rather than rely on wishful thinking. And who caught Society Members out recommending homeopathic anti-malarials. The PCT probably prefers to spend its limited funds on medicines that actully work.

The above quote gives the impression that the deck was stacked against homeopathy by having uniformly hostile witnesses. It entirely fails to mention that other witnesses were Robert Wilson, Chairman, British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, Dr Peter Fisher, Director of Research, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and Dr Robert Mathie, Research Development Advisor, British Homeopathic Association.

Perhaps they were having a strop because they were not invited.

The Society of Homeopaths, as the largest body representing professional homeopaths, applied to give oral evidence alongside its written evidence but was refused.

They were having a strop. Personally I think they should have been invited. The Committee could have asked them about Society luminaries such as Peter Chappel who thinks that homeopathic ‘vibrations’ can be sent by email to cure patients and Jeremy Sherr who claimed he could cure AIDS with sugar pills and was planning totally unethical trials until he was exposed. It would have been fascinating to see the SoH in the spotlight, unable to avoid the questions on this matter.

The press release then continues with the same tired old PRATTs, such as:-

In summarising that there is no evidence for homeopathy, the committee inexplicably overlooks the fact that, by the end of 2009, there were 74 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of homeopathy published in peer-reviewed journals which describe statistically significant results, from which firm conclusions can be drawn. Of these RCTs comparing homeopathy either with placebo or established conventional treatments, 63 were positive for homeopathy and 11 were negative.

Dr Robert Mathie, who they cite for this was one of the witnesses the release failed to mention. Perhaps he skated over this evidence because it is nowhere near as good as the SoH seem to think.

They also say:-

In its press release today, the Committee advises the government that “prescribing pure placebos is bad medicine’. Clearly, it is not aware that a 2008 meta-analysis involving 35 clinical trials and 5,000 patients suffering from depression found that commonly prescribed antidepressants have little more effect than ‘dummy’ placebo pills.

And yet, prescriptions for anti-depressants are at record levels, with 31 million written in 2006 at a cost to the NHS of almost £300million.

The old “Big Pharma is evil therefore homeopathy works” argument.

Chief Executive, Paula Ross, said “…we would have preferred to see the government put money into much needed research into how
actually homeopathy works…”

There is no evidence that it works. If the SoH think otherwise, perhaps they could put up the research money. They are the ones making the claims, why should the taxpayer have to pay for them?

Finally:-

Notes to editors
Homeopathy is a system of medicine which is based on treating the individual with highly diluted substances given in mainly tablet form, which triggers the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their experience of their symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to the patient.

Earlier in the press release, Chief Executive Paula Ross demands “research into how homeopathy actually works”. Now they claim to know. Not there is one jot of evidence that homeopathy “triggers the body’s natural system of healing”.

Even though the evidence is mounting against them, and more and more people are seeing homeopathy for the nonsense that it is, the Society of Homeopathy insists that their inactive sugar-pills work. I really do not know whether this is wiful ignorance or delusion.

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4 Responses to “The Society of Homeopaths Still Do Not Get It”

  1. zeno Says:

    You’d have thought that an organisation attempting to represent the best interests of it members would try very hard to issue well-researched and thought-out press releases…Oh, I just came over all funny there with a feeling of déjà vu.

  2. Joe Says:

    Just replace each “Homeopathy” with “Placebo” gives us “research into how placebos actually work”. That actually could be a very useful bit of research:
    Which diseases are most susceptible to placebos?
    which patients are most susceptible?
    are susceptible patients equally susceptible to all placebos?
    is the effectiveness of the placebo affected by whether the doctor believes in it?
    is the effectiveness dependent on the number of minutes the doctor spends with the patient?

    If anti-depressants are no better than placebos then lets look at ways of maximising the effectiveness of placebos!

    • endlesspsych Says:

      I’d suggest we already know the answer to many of these questions and it would still be more worthwhile actually focusing efforts on researching actual medicine. Afterall studying actual drugs and other interventions involved studying the placebo effect as well.

      Which diseases are most suceptible to placebos? – Self limiting conditions.

      Which patients are more suceptible? – I dare say it varies from placebo to placebo. It might be worth doing a study based around beliefs and the like and perhaps measuring patients credulity levels somehow.

      is the effectiveness of the placebo affected by whether the doctor believes in it? – Yes. It’s marginally more effective I believe. Although I don’t think that there is a substantive difference.

      is the effectiveness dependent on the number of minutes the doctor spends with the patient? – There is plenty of research into the patient-doctor consultation process. The manner of the doctor probably matters more then the actual time spent with the patient.

      If you want to maximise the effect of a placebo in pill form make the pill larger or give twice as many or make the pill really, really small.
      Administering the placebo by injection also increases the effect.

      Therre is other research on this dotted about the place here and there. But ultimatly it’s not worth throwing cash at because you get a placebo effect with drugs anyway (branded painkillers are better then unbranded for instance)…

  3. FatBigot Says:

    Assuming that homeopathy is just placebo effect, and that people have died from treatable conditions because they or their carers insisted on homeopathy, where does that leave us?

    In the UK doctors are pestered by people with no clear symptoms, or with self-limiting condidtions such as influenza. Would it not be best to allow doctors to prescribe homeopathic remedies for their placebo effect, rather than over-prescribe antibiotics when they will do no good? Obviously any further symptoms must be reported to the doctor and treated appropriately.

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