The homeopathy saga continues…

February 2, 2009

After my last post, Dan Gorman, the Project Manager at the Edinburgh University Settlement, got in touch with me and we arranged a meeting, where he was able to answer some of our concerns.

He asked us to come and meet him in a place called the Roxy, an old church which has become a Festival venue but for the rest of the year is abandoned. The Settlement have moved into it and currently they’re doing it out to be a community centre throughout the rest of the year. It seems to me that they’re doing some amazing work, with literacy schemes, mental health programmes, art projects, meeting spaces etc, as well as a bar in the basement open to the public. Stuart and I were impressed. There was a lot going on there we had no idea about.

It seems there are no links between the University/EUSA and the Settlement. The Settlement own the office in Potterrow where the homeopath is based, they don’t rent it and they weren’t given it, they bought it in the 50’s or something. This makes things difficult, because we can’t contest the homeopath’s presence, and basically neither the University nor EUSA hold sway with them. This isn’t a desirable situation to be in (and I wonder what bright spark signed up to it), because it’s an independent organisation that could be doing anything. What if they were… running a brothel or recruiting for a cult or something? Nevertheless they’re not doing anything that bad at the moment so I’m prepared to leave it be for now.

Dan outlined his position. Helen the homeopath has been involved in the Settlement for a long time, and it’s fairly popular with about 3 or 4 consultations a day, most of which will be repeat consultations. She doesn’t make any money off it. He sees it as a way for people to get involved with other parts of the Settlement organisation, and doesn’t really have an ethical problem with it, whether or not homeopathy works. Try as we did to get him to see that homeopathy promotes irrationality and undermines science (which is particularly misplaced in an educational environment), he didn’t see it that way, it wasn’t putting anyone in danger. I suppose such things are understandably a lot lower on his priorities list than on mine. I can see where he’s coming from, as long as Helen also recommends getting real medical advice to her patients too.

So we left the Roxy feeling quite bemused. We couldn’t see why such a great organisation would want to get itself involved in homeopathy. Without it, we’d be more than happy to get more involved in promoting the Roxy and the Settlement, except now we don’t really want to be associated with the homeopathy clinic along with the rest of it. To me, it seems like we have 3 options remaining:

1. Minimise the prominence of the homeopathy clinic on campus. This might involve speaking to EUSA about what posters they’re allowed to put up on noticeboards or asking that homeopathy is not included in EUSA run things like the Wellbeing Fair, although I’m not really all that enthusiastic about this option because of the work the Settlement does. Dan very much wants to get more students involved in the Settlement, and I’d encourage that too, just not through the clinic.

2. Raise awareness on alternative medicine. We could incorporate this into a more general consciousness-raising on the issue involving debates, presentations, campaigns etc.

3. Whenever the clinic is involved in anything on campus, or whenever it tries to raise its profile, we can be there to argue against it and provide the science.

So we’re a bit at a loss, really.

Homeopathy 6

January 24, 2009

Just a quick one before I head out.

Those following the Homeopathy series may remember that the clinic we’re objecting to is at the office of the Edinburgh University Settlement. This is an independent charity linked to the University through which graduates can volunteer in various ways. The homeopath at the clinic is a history graduate. Recently I’ve been emailing EUSA President Adam Ramsay, who appears to be sympathetic to our cause, over who best to contact at the University about this. He, along with everyone else it would appear, didn’t know what the links between the two are, but the best person to ask would be the University secretary. He then emailed me again and advised me that, since the Settlement is a totally separate organisation, it would be best to campaign directly against them, because any complaint to the University is likely to be a waste of time.

So, let’s just recap a little. We have an organisation which has been granted a privileged position on campus (it couldn’t be any more privileged, the office is within the union building), and is seen as a member of the university community (hence their inclusion in the Wellbeing Fair). This organisation is now promoting irrationality at our educational institution, and it seems they don’t answer to anyone! Brilliant!

There must be some link somewhere, else how would they have got the office right there? There are banks which hire premises on the other side of the building but I’m sure this is different. I think the key thing to do is to find out who agreed to have a homeopathic clinic at the Settlement. This person may be able to do something.

Homeopathy 4

January 15, 2009

It appears the homeopaths at the University are on the warpath. We got back to University this week and the EUSA Vice President Society and Activities (a paid sabbatical position at the student union elected by the student body), Naomi Hunter, sent out an email welcoming us all back and informing us all about the things going on in the coming weeks. It all looked fine until I came across this little gem:

“If you are feeling a wee bit sluggish after the New Year festivities,
get yourself over our very first Wellbeing Fair! There will be lots of
freebies, advice, makeovers, hair consultations, reflexology,
homeopathy, massage, good food and smoothies. The fairs take place on
Monday 19th January, 11-3 Potterrow Dome, and Tuesday 20th January,
12-2 in KB House.”

Now I was initially in two minds about this development. On the one hand, they appear to be promoting homeopathy and reflexology. On the other, they’re putting them next to hair consultations and makeovers as a feelgood kind of thing, which is essentially what it is. Maybe this shows that EUSA know it doesn’t really work… So although I wasn’t particularly happy, I thought a protest about it was a bit out of order.

Anyway I’ve changed my mind. I was speaking to Stuart about it today at the Refresher’s Fair and he made the very good point that regardless of whether EUSA know it doesn’t work, or that it’s right next to a hair and makeover stand, they are lending a platform for homeopaths and reflexologists to peddle their nonsense. The homeopaths aren’t going to make out that it’s a load of rubbish and that they’re only doing it to make people feel better, are they? More likely they’ll be saying “come in next time you’re feeling a bit unwell, I might be able to cure that cold…” or something similar. The Fair is a way for them to clamber into the student consciousness, why else would they do it? That is undoubtedly a bad thing. I’m not trying to suggest that they’re going to rip students off, but as I’ve previously posted I have more objections to homeopathy than that.

So I think a disappointed letter to EUSA and handing a few leaflets out at the Fair itself is in order. More on this (and perhaps other alternative medicines) in later posts.


November 1, 2008

Sorry posting is a little irregular around here but I’ve had essays due in and the blog’s kind of on the backburner at the moment. It’s a pity because I’ve missed a few key events. In short, the society was invited to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and it was awesome. I just wish humanists had something similar. It appears I’m mellowing out in my relative old age as well, I may soon have to relinquish the title of Not So Friendly Humanist as it’s not that appropriate anymore. I’ve no idea if that’s a good or bad thing.

Anyway, I noticed a couple of weeks ago a set of posters around DHT Basement advertising a homeopathy service running at something called the Edinburgh University Settlement. Apparently that is a charity which isn’t part of the University but has had close links with it since its foundation in 1905, and the homeopathy programme has been running for 5 years. They operate out of the Potterrow Student Union in Bristo Square, so to me it seems like the University is openly condoning Homeopathy, something which obviously as a society we’re not too happy about.

So after reading some of their literature, I went into the Settlement office to speak with someone, hopefully to clear up how closely related it is with the University, but instead the only person who was there was the homeopath herself, Helen Campbell, so she invited me into her office and I asked her lots of questions. First of all, she was absolutely adamant that homeopathy works (my more cynical side is telling me that she would be, seeing as it’s her job), but most of her evidence was very much anecdotal. What she said, however, did seem fairly compelling. For example she told me that once her foot got run over, and through the use of homeopathic remedy, the swelling had gone down completely by the next morning.

So, I’m caught in a bit of a confusing situation. On the one hand I don’t want to be so closed-minded as to dismiss homeopathy totally out of hand. One of my flatmates is very much into her homeopathy, in fact her sister is a practicing homeopath, so I can’t be dismissive, and neither would I want to be. But on the other hand it seems so obviously to be a load of rubbish. A leaflet I read said that the process of dilution and succussion (how they prepare homeopathic remedies) appears to leave the electromagnetic energy signal of the substance on the water in which it is diluted. This balances out the energy signal of the patient which may be out of sync, similar to the way TV aerials work, apparently. Obviously that’s a load of bull, but that’s not to say homeopathy doesn’t work in some other way, which perhaps hasn’t been discovered, even if it’s just by placebo.

I asked the homeopath how she responded to people who claim that homeopathy is just a placebo and that’s why it appears to work, and she said that they obviously just don’t understand, but that doesn’t put her off talking about it, which of course didn’t answer my question. Indeed nobody does understand homeopathy, not even those who practice it!

Of course there’s also the point that homeopathy is very popular in France, and is used side-by-side with what they call “Western Medicine” in Eastern Asia, so I think it’s unfair to dismiss it totally out of hand. What I will say though, is that it is up to homeopaths to prove it is not a placebo, to prove it works, and make some kind of effort to explain how it works, before people will take it seriously in the mainstream. At the moment they seem reluctant to subject their work to any kind of scientific research, thriving in the mystery which surrounds it at the moment, and to let my cynical side through again, making a lot of money from people who like ‘alternative’ culture. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no alternative. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There’s nothing alternative about it. Perhaps it’s because people involved in homeopathy don’t tend to have a scientific background, but to me it seems totally incompatible with the humanist viewpoint.

We hope to do a debate on the subject soon.