Monday, 31 May 2010


There's been a lot of talk in the media this year about homeopathy; most of it negative, despite the BBC's efforts to spin it back the other way in the interests of their holy grail/poison chalice of "balance". This year we've had the 1023 homeopathic "overdose" events (a public demonstration to wake the general population up to the fact that homeopathy is not like herbal medicine, but in fact has nothing in it); the publication of the Parliamentary Select Committee's Evidence Check on Homeopathy (There is no credible evidence for its efficacy or effectiveness, and the NHS should cease funding it), and a parliamentary Early Day Motion in response to it (by a crackpot MP who claimed £500 in expenses for astrology software, and thinks the government should fund research into "Medical Astrology" among other bullshit); a statement by the members of the British Medical Association that "Homeopathy is witchcraft"; the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland stating that "there is no scientific or clinical evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathic products, beyond a placebo effect", among other reports.

When Dr Simon Singh came to speak on alternative medicines at Skeptics in the Pub Brighton (blatant plug) recently, a few of the same old invalid and disproven arguments1 for homeopathy came up during Q&A: "How come it works on animals?", "Even if it is only placebo, where's the harm?" etc. These issues, and others, come up again and again, so I thought I'd try to definitively answer all of them in a series of blog posts2. These posts are intended to be a useful resource for directing people to when they speak in defence of homeopathy so I'm going to try to keep the scorn to a minimum to avoid alienating people. We'll see how I get on :-/

These posts will address many of the claims commonly made by homeopathic practitioners and supporters, including:
  • It's an ancient tradition (and therefore must work)
  • It's natural (and therefore is better for you)
  • It's holistic (and therefore fuck knows what?)
  • It treats the person and not the disease.
  • It worked for me!
  • Like cures like.
  • Dilution (and succussion) increase the potency of a medicine
  • Not all homeopathic remedies are in such high dilutions
  • It works a bit like a vaccine (but without the potential for side-effects)
  • It encourages the body to cure itself.
  • Sometimes it makes you get a bit worse before you get better (the "Healing Crisis")
  • Illnesses are caused by "Miasms" (disturbances in one's "vital force")
  • Water has memory (and that memory is effective at treating disease)
  • There are clinical trials demonstrating its efficacy
  • Clinical trials are an inappropriate mechanism for testing the efficacy of these "remedies" 
  • It works on babies and animals.
  • Lots of other countries use it.  
  • It doesn't do any harm.
  • It's cost effective (even if it is just a placebo)
  • It's offering patients a "choice" (even if it is just a placebo)
  • Critics of Homeopathy are in the pay of Big Pharma.
  • Conventional medicine is evil.
...and many more. Also on the way we'll talk about why clinical trials are set up the way they are and the nature of the placebo effect etc.

By way of an intro, the next post will be a primer in the history and practice of homeopathy, with as little criticism as I can manage of homeopathy itself, although I may take some swipes at some of the idiocy that attends it. We'll see if I've ground my teeth away to nothing by the end of it, thereby possibly making them more effective ;-). In subsequent posts I'll pull apart the fallacious reasoning and dodgy thinking that went into its invention, and continue to perpetuate this massive embarrassment to the medical profession.

1 Ben Goldacre calls these "Zombie Arguments" because they "survive, immortal and resistant to all refutation, because they do not live or die by the normal standards of mortal arguments." or in other words no matter how many times you kill them, they just will not fucking die.

2 Actually, originally it was going to be one post, but it quickly became clear that a single post with all the detail I want to put in would be somewhat unwieldy.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Desirism - A worked example?

Prompted by this idiocy, I started pondering about the issue of abortion and I thought maybe a worked example how desirism might help us make moral decisions would be greatly aid my comprehension of it.

With that in mind, would it be possible to explain how we might decide:

  • Whether to abort a foetus when the life of the mother is threatened?
  • At what age it might be ethical to do so if the foetus was not threatening the life of the mother.?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Desirism - an interlude.

Martin's most recent post "Letters to a lapsed Pagan III" in response to my "Desirism II" has been up a little while.
 Apologies for the delay in response but I'm busy with lots of other stuff, and still cogitating on what Martin is telling me. I've also been reading some more of Sam Harris' output on morality (this article among them) and trying to work out why it is I agree with almost everything Harris says, and find myself resisting, and even struggling to understand, some of the things Martin says. I suspect some considerable confirmation bias is involved. :-/
When my brain has sorted itself out enough to ask more questions, I'll post again.

Friday, 7 May 2010

What Caroline Lucas' blog said.

The following article went missing from Caroline Lucas' blog in Feb, and when asked she denied all knowledge of it. It's also now expired from Google's cache, but luckily I took a copy first. Although the Greens as a party have a little change of heart over alternative medicines, it's worth remembering what their leader, who as of this morning is the MP for Brighton Pavilion, believes (or at least professed to believe last year).

Complementary therapies - Greens ahead of the game on health (again)

31 May 2009
It was interesting to see last week the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - commonly known as NICE - recommending patients with persistent back pain be offered complementary therapies on the NHS.
Going against the grain, the watchdog took a brave decision in endorsing acupuncture, massages and other exercises for treating this common condition.
When you consider that some £1.5 million is spent each year on treating back pain, and that this initiative could actually save money - by reducing reliance on other techniques - I believe it makes complete sense.
Whilst the best treatment programmes probably dip into both conventional and alternative medicine (reliance on alternative alone would probably be unwise) the Green Party has been way ahead of the game for years in advocating this greater integration of complementary and alternative medicines into NHS services.
Here in Brighton we are lucky to be served by an excellent network of complementary and alternative medicine practicioners.
The Green Party would fully integrate their services and expertise into NHS treatment plans, not only improving patient choices but helping to boost this important sector of the local economy.
Complementary and alternative medicine may be written off by drug companies and other sceptics as "mumbo jumbo" medicine, but recent evidence strongly contradicts such claims.
A little reported year-long pilot scheme in Northern Ireland recently found complementary and alternative medicine offers significant health improvements to NHS patients.
After receiving a range of such treatments on referral from their GP, 81% of patients reported an improvement in physical health and 79% in mental health.
The majority, 84%, directly linked improvements in their health and wellbeing to the alternative treatments they had received. 94% said they would recommend it to others with a similar condition.
Therapies offered included acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy administered by local practitioners.
The scheme was the brainchild of the excellent social enterprise Get Well UK ( ) which campaigns to improve access to complementary therapy on the public health service.
The study backs up our own findings: people we talk to time and again say they want to be offered complimentary medicines, either on their own or in combination with other treatments. They want the choice.
But choice is not something easily associated with Labour's current record on health.
They're selling hospitals and health care services to private companies which actually costs tax payers more money, and reduces the ability of clinical staff to provide good health care.
The supposed promotion of choice offered by this ill-lanned sell off does little to ensure that efficient - and effective - health care is provided locally and actually limits the options available to many people.
The reversal of this healthcare privatisation is a key priority for the Green Party - and a major focus of our current manifesto pledge ( )
We want to give people their choice back.