Responding to concerns that NHS England’s plans to stop prescribing some medicines as part of cost-cutting measures, but still spends £4 million on homeopathic medicine, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 31.3.17 that homeopathic medicine is ‘placebo at best’ and it is ‘absurd’ for doctors to prescribe it. The online recording of the interview is available for the next month on Radio 4’s website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08k1b4s).
The Committee Against Pseudoscience and Falsification of Scientific Research under the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences has prepared a memorandum “About pseudoscientific status of the homeopathy.” The document says: “The treatment of ultra-low doses of homeopathic remedies does not have scientific basis”. The Committee offered to withdraw all homeopathic medicines from public clinics, prevent misleading advertising for them and do not offer customers homeopathy alongside traditional medicines. The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS Russia) supported this memorandum. The Ministry of Health promised to respond to the arguments of the memorandum after it goes into the possession of the Office.
In the UK, advertisements thought to be misleading may be reported to the Advertising Standards Agency. The ASA will investigate them and may instruct that the advert must be amended or withdrawn. ‘The Society of Homeopaths seemed to be taking responsible action to curb the claims of their members. But what’s been going on behind the scenes?’ The Nightingale Collaboration investigates.
Skeptics in several European cities have taken homeopathic overdoses today to show there’s nothing in it. Despite the lack of any active ingredients, manufacturers and homeopaths claim it becomes dangerous if the prescribed dosage of a homeopathically diluted and shaken remedy is consumed several times. But that’s a myth, the skeptics say, which they’ve gone to prove today.
The events are the latest edition of the 10:23 Campaign, first held by SKEPP in Ghent, Belgium in 2004. In 2010, the event was reinvented by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, and first named 10:23 after Avogadro’s number, in several British cities. In 2011, the campaign expanded to a worldwide protest against homeopathy, with people on all seven continents (yes, that includes Antarctica) across 30 countries in 70 cities, with at least 30 participants per city attempting to commit homeopathic suicide.
An interview with the Czech Skeptics’ Club Sisyfos chairman Leoš Kyša can be read here (Czech).
Other interesting participants were the three pro-homeopathy demonstrators, who were disgusted with the whole lot, and left soon after they found out none of the media – TV stations and newspeople – paid them any attention. Pets, cats and dogs, could have been spotted in the crowd, being given homeopathic remedies by their owners.
To make things a little more interesting, the Prague skeptics demonstrated the making of a homeopathic remedy, using rum as the original substance to be diluted.
In the end, even small children, participating in the even with their parents, were allowed to drink the homeopathic rum.
Outrageous?! Why? There’s nothing in it.
More photos: Lidovky
Article photos credits: Vendy
Belgian philosopher Maarten Boudry (SKEPP member) wrote in an NRC Handelsblad opinion piece that medicines that rely solely on the placebo effect have one vital ingredient that patients need to supply themselves: belief. However, one cannot choose to believe something; you either believe something or you don’t, depending on circumstances you can’t control. We can’t force ourselves to believe a glass of ordinary tap water can relieve our headache. Likewise, once you know a certain medicine is nothing but a sugar pill, the placebo effect has worn off. Boudry calls this the ‘involuntary nature of belief’.
He therefore disagrees with the seemingly reasonable suggestion of ethnologist Peter Jan Margry, who argued we should draw a sharp line in alternative medicine between healthy and dangerous treatments. You can’t choose your own illusions, Boudry says, and illusions are always prone to harmful side-effects.
Unlike regular medicines, homeopathy may be said to be side-effect free: a sugar pill or a bit of shaken water does nothing whatsoever, neither good nor bad, and some people may get a placebo effect from it. ‘Should we therefore ban the Dutch Society against Quackery (Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij), and all start swallowing shaken water, in the hope we’ll someday all believe it works?’ Boudry asks. He points to an undercover investigation by Simon Singh and Alice Tuff (Sense about Science), who found all ten homeopaths they consulted recommended shaken water against malaria: potentially lethal illusions.
Homeopathy itself may therefore not be dangerous, but belief in it can be, especially when it’s considered a valid replacement of real medicine. Besides, the latter also offers a placebo bonus, so why resort to possibly harmful alternatives?