Homeopathy 5

Today was the day of the Wellbeing Fair, where the homeopaths at the Edinburgh University Settlement had set up a stall alongside a reflexologist and all the other health foods companies and stuff like that. Over the weekend a made a load of flyers (for some reason WordPress won’t upload Publisher files, I see what I can do to get them up) on homeopathy, informing people just how diluted the remedies are, which I’ve found to be a good way of dissuading people who believed in it before. They also mentioned how homeopaths theorise that it works (energy signals, succussion etc), and links to further information on the subject, including some studies.

I also sent an email to Naomi Hunter and Adam Ramsay (EUSA VP Societies and Activities and President, respectively), which I didn’t intend to be rude, but upon reading back this morning it did seem a tad over the mark towards the end. Anyway Adam replied to me by email that he agreed with me about it being a con, but that the University Settlement is part of the university community and it would be unfair to ban them. I disagree but I think that’s less of an issue to take up with EUSA and more with the University. Naomi spoke to me in person and said “everyone’s got different tastes” (I don’t really think it’s a matter of taste) but she also didn’t have a problem with me flyering the fair and even offered me a stall of my own! I politely declined because I had class at various points throughout the day, but it was good to get a response.

Generally speaking I was fairly pleased. Not all that many people came to the Fair, and many of those who did skipped straight past the homeopathy stall to others with more freebies. Of those that did peruse their materials, I made sure they also got one of my flyers so they weren’t just reading propaganda, like I was originally. One of Stuart’s friends, Max, was running the self defence society’s stall right next to the homeopathy one, so I got a load of flyers on that table and stood around handing flyers to anyone who walked through that section, which wasn’t too many. I still have loads left, but they’re easily reused, especially if we’re going to take this up further with the University.

What surprised me most was the attitudes of other people I spoke with throughout the day. An acquaintance of mine in the Christian Union asked what I was up to today, and when I told her, she didn’t see the problem with homeopathy. What amazed me most is that she’s a medical student! She said that all medicines go through stages of skepticism before they’re proven, and it’s clear to her that homeopathy works. I didn’t get chance to reply, but the way I see it they’ve already tried to prove it and failed, so it’s not like it works and just hasn’t been tested. If they somehow prove it does work, I very much doubt that it works in the way they say it does. I spoke to her flatmate later in the day and she said they’d had a similar conversation the previous night with some of their vet friends. Apparently they were skeptics, but they did a unit on acupuncture on horses or something.

Plenty of other people have expressed the opinion that if they’re benefitting from the placebo, we shouldn’t intervene, but I have a problem with lying to people to make use of the placebo, particularly in such a mumbo-jumboish way, as I’ve posted previously. One thing my acquaintance did say is that it works on eczema, and that’s not the placebo effect. I’ve had a quick look online and there doesn’t seem to have been much research or dialogue on that issue. So, thing’s I’d like to see more of are alternative medicine and placebo usage on animals, on very young children and on eczema. If you know anything about that, or where I can find some more information, let me know.

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9 Responses to Homeopathy 5

  1. Zoe says:

    This is my first time commenting on your blog and I am slightly nervous about doing so, so please be kind.

    I completely understand your objection to homeopaths making money by promoting products which are clearly ineffective and possibly divert people from pursuing tested conventional treatments. An extreme example of the damage that this might cause would be the use of homeopathic treatments taking the place of AIDs medication in Africa.

    However, your CU friend’s comment about medicines going through “stages of skepticism before they’re proven” struck a chord with me. Over the years, the area of ‘alternative’ medicine has been a launching pad for treatments later tested and adopted for use in conventional medicine. One example would be the use of colloidal gold as a homeopathic treatment for improving memory. It has been used as an alternative treatment for many centuries and, although it had been researched before, its effectiveness and prevalence has in recent times brought it more firmly to the attention of medical researchers who have since tested it and are now launching it as a legitimate treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, among other things. Who knows whether the use of many current homeopathic treatments, subjected to appropriate testing and research, may lead to similar discoveries.

  2. grammarking says:

    Hi Zoe, welcome to the blog.

    If we were talking about other types of alternative medicine such as herbal remedies, I would concede the point. Substances *used* in homeopathic remedies may well have medicinal properties, such as colloidal gold (although I was under the impression that this is merely used as a carrier for other drugs, I’ve encountered this example in the past). St John’s Wort is another well known alternative medicine which has been found to work (although I would note that as soon as this happens, it ceases to be called ‘alternative’ and becomes just plain old real medicine).

    However, in these examples, at least the patient is getting something. With homeopathic remedies, they do not, it’s too diluted. The research has been done into homeopathic remedies and it can not be proven that they work. It’s not like they work and we don’t know why. Time and time again homeopaths have been given a vial of remedy and a vial of water, and been unable to tell the difference. Jaques Benveniste’s claim that he can prove water has a memory landed on it’s arse. There are also several anecdotes (which I don’t think are particularly ethical) about people switching homeopathic remedies around, or replacing them with water/sugar pills, and nobody ever noticing.

    There is also the issue that for homeopathic remedies to work, there would have to be a massive revision of several laws of physics and chemistry which at the moment seem to be universal. This is a somewhat extraordinary claim, way more unlikely than the possibility that some other alternative medicines could work. As such, it requires some extraordinary, good quality evidence. The odd bad quality trial just doesn’t cut it.

    I’d also like to point out that the majority of the research into homeopathy is by genuine scientists. Homeopaths themselves seem perfectly willing to thrive in the anti-establishment mystery which surrounds alternative culture. They don’t seem to want to prove anything. ‘Prove’ in the non-homeopathic sense.

  3. Gareth says:

    It’s worth adding that Zoe is really making a good argument for continued testing of the claims of alternative medicine, NOT the continued promotion of homeopathy as an effective treatment for anything. In the words of Tim Minchin (who did an excellent 9-minute on alternative medicine at the Edinburgh Festival last year): there’s a reason it’s called alternative medicine; when it’s proved to work, it gets called medicine.

    It is certainly the case that medical claims go through stages of scepticism before they’re accepted. This is exactly how it should be. Controlled scientific testing is applied scepticism, and it is this that allows us to distinguish things that work from things that don’t. It’s just irresponsible to use a method to treat people before that method has been shown to work, even if there is good reason to suppose that it will. Even if most scientists thought homeopathy was likely to have a beneficial effect beyond the placebo effect, it would be wrong to use it or to promote its use until it had been shown, by properly controlled scientific trials, to have this effect.

  4. Gareth says:

    That should read: “Tim Minchin (who did an excellent 9-minute beat poem on alternative medicine at the Edinburgh Festival last year).” It’s linked to here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/10/if_you_open_your_mind_too_much_your_brai.php

  5. grammarking says:

    Quite right, I hope I didn’t suggest anything otherwise.

  6. Dr. Nancy Malik says:

    Homeopathy: Micro Doses Mega Results

  7. grammarking says:

    Nancy Malik is a homeopath who’s been posting recently on thinkhumanism about homeopathy. She has so far been unable (to say the least) to substantiate any of her claims.

  8. Dr. Nancy Malik says:

    Homeopathy is evidence based modern medicine for the 21st century

  9. grammarking says:

    Thanks for another totally unsubstantiated claim. I really appreciate that. I hope I can reference that in a dissertation one day. :/

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