While fact-checking for my last post I reread the Society of Homeopath’s press release which they issued following the Newsnight/Sense About Science malaria sting. Since they cite this in their letter to the Guardian as evidence of how seriously they took the revelations about homeopaths giving potentially lethal advice on avoiding malaria, I thought I’d reproduce it in full with my comments.
“The Society of Homeopaths, the UK’s largest body of professional homeopaths, recognises that malaria is a serious and life-threatening disease and supports the right of the individual to make an informed choice when considering preventative treatment.”
People should indeed be able to make an informed choice. There are three different malaria prophylactics which actually work (with differing side effects), there are insecticides to spray around your room, there are insect-repellents to put on your skin and there are nets to put over your bed. The latter two will make it less likely you being bitten in the first place and the drug will almost certainly prevent malaria developing if a mozzie slips through your defences.
None of these were mentioned by the homeopaths in the film, instead the investigators were told that water and sugar pills would “fill the malaria shaped hole in your energy”. With this sort of advice, the individual has no chance of making an informed choice,
“At present, there is no large scale research evidence to support the use of homeopathy in preventing malaria. However, the historical use of homeopathic remedies to strengthen the individual’s immune system, with the intention of helping prevent infectious diseases, is well documented.”
There is indeed no evidence that homeopathy can prevent malaria. Are the SoH planning on doing any? Perhaps we should be told.
The historical use of a treatment proves nothing about its usefulness. There is well-documented historical use of blood-letting to cure disease. Furthermore, when homeopathy was invented the germ theory had yet to be formulated and the intention of homeopathic remedies was to treat the symptoms of disease as they appeared. There was no concept of preventative medicine. Finally doing something with an “intention” is not proof that the intended result will occur.
“Consequently, there is substantial anecdotal evidence from around the world to suggest that homeopathy may offer a gentle, yet effective, complementary or alternative approach.”
Despite the use of the word “Consequently”, this statement does not follow from the previous one. Apart from the fact that the plural of anecdote is not data, this anecdotal evidence is not presented.
“Society Chief Executive, Paula Ross, comments “we acknowledge that there is much anecdotal and scientific evidence to support the arguments presented for and against orthodox anti-malarial treatment. We also believe that homeopathy has something to offer in this area. Clearly, this needs more research. Nevertheless, absence of evidence is not the same as evidence as inefficacy”
I have never heard of any evidence that holistic methods such using sprays and nets to prevent the mosquitoes from biting you were a bad idea and Ross does not present any here. If she is talking about side-effects of prophylactics, there are side effects but there are three different anti-malarials to choose from. A doctor with experience in dealing with malaria – such as those at the Institute of Tropical Medicine – can advise on which is best for you.
Just because Ross believes homeopathy has something to offer does not mean it is true. Again, she offers no evidence to back up this assertion. Her assertion that more research is needed does not follow. If I believed that there was an invisible unicorn in my back garden, the unicorn would not be brought into existence by my belief. Nor would the fact that you could not find it be a reason to do more research into invisible unicorns.
Finally, the evidence of inefficacy of homeopathic remedies is two-fold:
- The sugar pills and water peddled by homeopaths contain not a trace of active ingredient.
- In double-blinded tests, homeopathic remedies prove to be no better than placebo.
There is not a trace of concern about the homeopaths caught on film giving dangerous advice to be found in this press release. Do the SoH actually care? We need to know.