Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

Michael Specter at TED 2010: The danger of science denial


I end my brief blogging sabbatical by posting this superb lecture I saw from the TED podcast a couple of weeks ago.

Vaccine-autism claims, “Frankenfood” bans, the herbal cure craze: all point to the public’s growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter.  He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.

TED link page

Common Sense Atheism page

Michael Specter’s homepage

Michael Specter’s Wikipedia page

Michael Specter: Authors@Google

Homeopathy is a waste of NHS money says House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology


manicstreetpreacher salutes democracy in action/ power to the people/ sceptics’ voices being heard etc.

Previously on this blog, I have denounced homeopathy as a bogus pseudo-science, reported on The Merseyside Skeptics Society’s campaign to have it removed from the shelves of Boots following the company’s admission that it had no appreciable effect beyond placebo, and previewed The Big Swallow that demonstrated that it was impossible to “overdose” on homeopathic remedies.

The Big Swallow went ahead on 30 January 2010 at various cities across the country and attracted notices in the national press.  Now, The Daily Telegraph reports, along with BBC News that the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology has recommended that the NHS should cease using public money to provide homeopathic remedies.

From the Telegraph:

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said the diluted products were no more effective than placebo – the same as taking a sugar or dummy pill.

Furthermore, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow labels on homeopathic medicines to carry medical claims, it said.

Estimates on how much the NHS spends on homeopathy vary, with the Society of Homeopaths putting the figure at £4 million a year.

Health Minister Mike O’Brien told the committee the spend on homeopathic medicines is £152,000 a year.

The committee said the idea behind homeopathy – of diluting substances to the extent that a solution retains an “imprint” of what was originally dissolved – was implausible.

“We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.”…

The report said: “In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.”

It added: “There has been enough testing of homeopathy and plenty of evidence showing it is not efficacious.”

Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, who is chairman of the cross-party committee, said prescribing homeopathy as placebos on the NHS amounted to encouraging doctors to participate in “active deception” of their patients.

He said serious illnesses could be missed while people were on homeopathy.

The potions were “basically sugar pills or Smarties” and patients could be mislead into thinking they were getting better on them, he added.

He continued: “If homeopathy works then the whole of chemistry and physics would have to be overturned.”…

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The Department of Health and Government welcome the publication of the report and will give it, and any recommendations made, full consideration over the coming weeks.

“In the meantime, we would reiterate that we appreciate the strength of feeling both for and against the provision of homeopathy on the National Health Service.

“Our view is that the local NHS and clinicians, rather than Whitehall, are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients – this includes complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy.”

Full report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Download PDF)

In addition, Richard Dawkins has posted this essay on his website calling for readers to write to their MPs in support of the Committee’s recommendations and has devised a Double-Blind placebo-Controlled Randomised Trial (DBCRT) for testing the effectiveness of homeopathy on real patients.

The Big Swallow: 30 January 2010


manicstreetpreacher is looking forward to “overdosing” on placebos in two weeks!

A few weeks ago I reported on The Merseyside Skeptics Society’s involvement with the 10:23 Campaign to put pressure on Alliance Boots to withdraw sales of homeopathic remedies following an incredible admission by Paul Bennett, professional standards director for Boots, to the Commons Science and Technology Committee in November 2009 that the company knows full well that the “treatment” has no appreciable effect, but they continue to stock it simply because customers buy it.

If homeopathy has any effect whatsoever, theoretically, it should be possible to “overdose” on it.  To prove beyond doubt that this is not the case, the 10:23 Campaign – so called after the level of dilution that most homeopathic practitioners use in their potions – will be staging a series of swallowing events outside Boots stores in several cities throughout the UK at 10:23am on 30 January 2010: Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, Southampton and London, with sympathy protests in Australia, Canada and the United States.

At 10:23am on January 30th, more than three hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic “overdose” in protest at Boots’ continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them.

Sceptics and consumer rights activists will publicly swallow an entire bottle of homeopathic “pillules” to demonstrate that these “’remedies”, prepared according to a long-discredited 18th century ritual, are nothing but sugar pills.

The protest will raise public awareness about the reality of homeopathy, and put further pressure on Boots to live up to its responsibilities as the “scientist on the high street” and stop selling treatments which do not work.

If you want to get involved with the event, contact your nearest skeptics in the pub organisation. National press enquiries should be directed to Martin Robbins (

See also the thread on, as well as this article on The Daily Telegraph website:

Martin Robbins, a spokesman for the society, said: “The remedies themselves may not be directly harmful, but there is a real danger in misleading customers into thinking that homeopathy is somehow equivalent to real medicine.

“Patients may believe that they are treating themselves or their children adequately, and delay seeking appropriate treatment; or they may receive dangerous advice after consulting with homeopaths rather than their GPs.”

He added: “The ‘overdose’ is a dramatic way of demonstrating to the public that these remedies have literally nothing in them.  If eating an entire box of homeopathic sleeping pills fails to send one person to sleep, then how on Earth can their sale be justified?”

The group expects at least 300 people to take part.  I hope to be at the London “overdose”.

Homeopathy DOA



manicstreetpreacher gives his assessment of a form of snake oil that is still amazingly popular in the 21st century.

Homeopathy is an “alternative remedy” devised in the late 18th century by a German physician, Samuel Hahnemann.

It is based on the premise that “like cures like”.  However, unlike a vaccine that introduces a diminished form of a virus into a person’s body, thereby stimulating the immune system to becoming resistant to a potentially deadly dose of the virus, homeopathy on the other hand “works” by introducing an agent that induces similar symptoms into that person’s body and so fighting the symptoms of whatever it is that ails them.

For example, red onion is used to cure watery eyes, snake venom for stiffness, poison ivy for skin rash etc.  This is a completely unfounded premise that has no basis in science.


There is a further twist.  Homeopathic practitioners dilute the external agents with water to the extent that there are no active molecules present in the solution or tablets.  It’s basically just water that you’re taking.  Nevertheless, homeopathists claim that water has “memory” and the more diluted the solution, the more effective it is. Right.  And what about all the other impurities that water meets on its journey?  Do all the salt, urine and chemicals have a healing effect as well?

I remember my mother giving me homeopathic tablets when I was child suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea caused by an upset stomach, and do you know what?  They did the trick beautifully!  Whenever I started feeling queasy and I would have to rush to the loo within the next few minutes, I used to take a tablet and the sick feeling subsided.  Magic!

Knowing what I know now about homeopathic remedies, this was obviously just the placebo effect at work: my mind was tricked into believing that these sugar pills were an effective remedy and this had a positive effect on my body in combating the relatively mild condition from which I was suffering.  I certainly wouldn’t go to a homeopathic doctor if I found a suspicious lump.

It would be too easy to throw homeopathy into the same “harmless nonsense” drawer as other alternative remedies such as acupuncture and crystal therapy.  However, I’m not sure that homeopathy is so benign.  It is costing every single one of us in the UK a portion of our hard-earned (and begrudgingly parted with) money in taxation that would be better spent on more doctors and nurses in the NHS, not to mention reliable, conventional treatments that are supported by scientific research and statistical data review.

Richard Dawkins quite rightly tore homeopathy a new one in his 2007 Channel 4 television series, The Enemies of Reason, and exposed the vast quantities of tax-payers’ money that the British government is spending in using this puff alongside proven medical treatments.

It is clear from this clip that the longer periods of time that homeopathic practitioners spend with their patients in comparison to conventional general practitioners is a very important part of the treatment.  However, Hahnemann originally stated that a homeopathic remedy could only be prescribed after an examination of at least three hours!  In addition, Hahnemann also said that mint could diminish or eliminate the curative effects, so patients ought not to be using chewing gum or toothpaste.  So much for walk-in-and-buy-it-off-the-shelf-marketing; it seems that the central principles of the original founding-father have been sacrificed to the new god of $$$.

More seriously, however, a recent report from BBC News states that the “treatment” is being used in Third World countries to combat more serious conditions such as malaria and AIDS.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) responded to a letter from a group of young researchers, Voice of Young Science Network, and has condemned the use of homeopathic remedies to treat such diseases.

In a letter to the WHO in June, the medics from the UK and Africa said:

We are calling on the WHO to condemn the promotion of homeopathy for treating TB, infant diarrhoea, influenza, malaria and HIV.

Homeopathy does not protect people from, or treat, these diseases.

Those of us working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed.

When homeopathy stands in place of effective treatment, lives are lost.

Dr Nick Beeching, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, said:

Infections such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis all have a high mortality rate but can usually be controlled or cured by a variety of proven treatments, for which there is ample experience and scientific trial data.

There is no objective evidence that homeopathy has any effect on these infections, and I think it is irresponsible for a healthcare worker to promote the use of homeopathy in place of proven treatment for any life-threatening illness.

British comedians, Mitchell and Webb, conclusively debunk this piece of pseudo-scientific nonsense by demonstrating just what would happen if a car crash victim was treated with those little white pills:

Alternative remedies or proper A & E care? If I found myself with a life threatening disease or injury, I know which one I would go for.


Homeopathy is a bogus treatment that should be treated the same as snake oil.  I’m not saying that modern science is perfect.  Certainly pharmaceutical companies have much to atone for with their absolutist control of the market, particularly in the Third World, along with the manufacture of bogus drugs.

However, “alternative remedies” and/or “ancient remedies” are so-called because they are pre-scientific.  A patient treated with such “remedies” may well get better, but it will be despite the best efforts of the witch-doctor.  The health and well-being of the world’s population would be better served by abandoning them altogether and focusing on rational, testable and evolving methods.  It’s another example of how badly the human race needs to abandon its childish fantasies of magical cures.