“In Defense of Homeopathy”

One of the automatic links generated by WordPress for a previous blogpost led to this, which turned out to be a cut-and-paste job of Jeanette Winterson’s article “In Defense of Homeopathy” from the 13 November 2007 edition of The Guardian.

She begins:-

“Picture this. I am staying in a remote cottage in Cornwall without a car. I have a temperature of 102, spots on my throat, delirium, and a book to finish writing. My desperate publisher suggests I call Hilary Fairclough, a homeopath who has practices in London and Penzance. She sends round a remedy called Lachesis, made from snake venom. Four hours later I have no symptoms whatsoever.”

Homeopaths claim to be “holistic” and claim to take a full history, treat the whole person and so on but the phrase “sends round a remedy” rather implies that Fairclough made a diagnosis and prescription without actually seeing Winterson at all. I am also surprised that, given Winterson’s dramatic symptoms -which we must of course accept at face value, she or her publisher did not think of calling an ambulance.

She continues:-

“Dramatic stuff, and enough to convince me that while it might use snake venom, homeopathy is no snake oil designed for gullible hypochrondriacs.”

This seems to imply some sort of epiphany, converting Winterson to a belief in homeopathy but later she says that she is “on record as supporting homeopathic practice”. So I doubt the events descibed above “convinced” her as it would appear she was already convinced.

“The organisation Sense About Science and journalists such as Ben Goldacre and Nick Cohen are targeting a symposium in London in December that will discuss HIV and Aids and the homeopathic response to such diseases. Of particular concern is a claim by the British homeopath Peter Chapel and his Dutch colleague, Harry Van Der Zee, that Chapel has developed a remedy, PC1, that can be used to treat the HIV virus.”

Goldacre, Cohen et al are right to be concerned. Chapel claims to have converted the ‘vibrations’ of an AIDS ‘cure’ to MP3 form so that he can cure AIDS via the internet. Winterson says she is dismayed by any claims that may deter people with HIV from taking anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). Credit where credit is due, Winterson says something that most homeopathy enthusiasts refuse to say. But I still find her disapproval a little wishy-washy. Possibly she lacks the scientific knowledge to recognise Capel’s claim for the dangerous nonsense that it is. Certainly she relies on homeopathic authority to back up her position by citing Dr Peter Fisher who, she reminds us irrelevently, is “homeopath to the Queen.”. Other than some kind of argument from authority, I cannot see the point of this remark.

Since this article was published, Jeremy Sherr has gained infamy by proclaiming his desire to “cure” AIDS in Tanzania with homeopathy and has repeatedly denigrated ARVs. If Winterson condemned this behaviour, I missed it.

She says:-

“Good homeopaths know the value of conventional medicine and do not seek to undermine that value.”

Anybody reading pro-homeopathy literature and websites will realise that good homeopaths must be few and far between. Outide of homeopathy’s sensible fringe such as Dr Fisher, I would say there are none.

She continues:-

“Fairclough’s clinic, and her talk at the symposium, concentrate on using homeopathy to support the ARV programme by alleviating the side-effects of ARVs, and boosting the patient’s immune system so they are better able to fight off the opportunistic viruses that follow behind HIV, and the drugs necessary to suppress it. There is no suggestion that homeopathy can replace ARVs.”

The clinic referred to is the Maun Homeopathy Project in Botswana whose staff, as I have previously noted, appear to believe that ARVs should be reserved for advanced AIDS cases. In fact, the sooner the infected begin to take ARVs, the more likely they are to remain healthy. Furthermore there is no evidence that homeopathy “boosts the immune system”. The above quote appears to betray a basic lack of understanding the effect HIV has on the body. The virus attacks the immune-system, specifically the T-cells. ARVs attack the virus and so the T-cell count can return to healthy levels and it is this which prevents opportunistic infections. To put it in terms Winterson might understand, ARVs boost the immune system if it has been depressed by HIV infection, homeopathic nostrums do nothing and are unnecessary.

She goes on to accuse homeopathy’s critics of “homeophobia”. This single word is, to me, the most irritating thing about the entire article. It is a clear attempt to draw parallels with homophobia and thus play the victim card. Sue Young was very fond of this tactic. In case Winterson is unaware, homophobia involved discrimination, imprisonment and gay-bashing violence. Of what discrimination have homeopaths been the victim? Have the police been raiding homeopathic clinics and carting off everybody within? Have the Cochrane Collaboration been beating up homeopaths in dark alleys? Of course not. Winterson is just being pathetic here.

She appears to demonstrate a misunderstanding of homeopathic dilutions:-

“Objections to homeopathy begin with what are viewed as the impossible dilutions of the remedies, so that only nano amounts of the original active substance remain…We do not know whether this has a bearing on homeopathic dilutions, but it may well be that nanoparticles offer a clue.”

Err, no. Nano-amounts do not reamain. The prefix nano- means one part in a thousand million. A typical homeopathic remedy has been diluted to one part in 10^60 – this is equivalent to one molecule of remedy in a globe of water almost the size of Earth’s orbit. “Nano-particles” have nothing to do with homeopathy. To be fair to Winterson, she is not alone in pushing this misconception. Dana Ullman is not averse to promulgating this notion and she may have made the mistake of believing he knows what he is talking about.

In her concluding paragraph she says:-

“I would like to see homeopathy better regulated. I would like to see the Society of Homeopaths engaging with its critics, as well as initiating more research.”

The Society’s preferred method of engaging with its critics is to threaten to sue them. They are useless as regulators – they have done nothing about Peter Chapel or Jeremy Sherr. As for getting them to undertake decent research – good luck with that.


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6 Responses to ““In Defense of Homeopathy””

  1. gimpy Says:

    The Society’s preferred method of engaging with its critics is to threaten to sue them.

    These days they prefer not to engage. They just ignore everything. Don’t know what is worse really, defending the likes of van der Zee or just ignoring what is done in the name of their members.

  2. Michael K Gray Says:

    <Regrettably removed>

  3. jaycueaitch Says:

    Michael – I agree with the sentiments you expressed but I once left similar comments on Ben Goldacres’s blog & he was sued by Matthias Rath shortly afterwards.

    Rath would have sued anyway but I don’t think my comment helped. Lacking the backing of expensive lawyers I can’t take any chances.

  4. Michael K Gray Says:

    I understand…

  5. Dr. Nancy Malik Says:

    Till 2010 there have been 204 human studies published in 86 peer-reviewed international medical journals out of which 96+ are FULL TEXT out of which 94 are PDF which can be downloaded at http://drnancymalik.wordpress.com/article/scientific-research-in-homeopathy/

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