Like most civilized people, I think, I am not in favour of legalizing fraudulent practices. And when we think of fraudulent practices we tend to think of people being relieved of their savings by unscrupulous and usually unlicensed financial sharks and the like. But there are other kinds of fraud. For instance, what about homeopathy?

I wrote the following about the fraud known as homeopathy in response to a comment from another BadScience forum member, and on the prompting of yet another member I am posting it here.

Many people regard homeopathy as nothing more or less than fraud. It is a means of taking advantage of among others, desperate, vulnerable and gullible people.
Homeopaths say that people report being/feeling better after having used homeopathic preparations, as if that justifies its continued existence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that it works no better than a placebo, which is another way of saying it is self-deception; irrespective of what biological mechanisms that self-deception might trigger. There is not a single incontrovertibly verifiable case of homeopathy ever having cured a non-self-limiting condition, after 200 years of making claims. Any other success that homeopathy might claim for efficacy, which basically involves self-limiting, psychosomatic or non-existent conditions, can be put down to any of a number of more likely causes; not least of which is the self-limiting nature of the condition.
Homeopathy is a multi-million pound industry with very few of the overheads associated with pharmaceutical industry. There are no research costs (because there is no research, or more accurately nothing to research). Manufacturing costs are limited to basically sugar pills and bottled water. There are no active or esoteric ingredients to pay for.
The pharmaceutical industry pays for its own research and has to provide evidence of efficacy and safety before a drug is introduced into the market. It’s a process that can take ten years or more. Homeopathy on the other hand does no research and wants others to put up the money whenever they suggest something should be researched. They do not have to provide evidence of efficacy (there is none), and providing evidence of safety for sugar pills and water is a relatively easy and cheap thing to do.
Homeopaths don’t trust anyone else’s research and reject the idea of randomised, double-blind controlled trials (principally because they always fail them). Yet they want outside funding to conduct their own shoddily run trials, without controls, skewed to give the results they think they should have. The Society of Homeopaths has in the recent past touted what was nothing more than a customer satisfaction survey as incontrovertible evidence as to the efficacy of homeopathy. I could go on.
The SoH, in particular, behave in a manner not inconsistent with being a marketing front for a legalised scam.
Some people think it’s outrageous that a single penny of tax payers’ money should be spent on subsidising what is in effect a fraudulent practice. The question should be – “who thinks it’s ok that fraudulent practices should be supported by public money through the NHS?”
We take a dim view of people being defrauded by financial operators and institutions, yet we allow and actively support the same process when it is carried out by a homeopath.

Many thanks to Orac and Skeptico for this – the SoH’s blithering attempt at justifying their bullying and censorship of comments they don’t like.

The Society instructed lawyers to write to the Internet Service Provider of Dr. Lewis’ website because the content of his site was not merely critical but defamatory of The Society, with the effect that its reputation could have been lowered. Dr Lewis, in his article, stated as fact highly offensive comments about The Society and it is for that reason that The Society decided it had no option but to take action. The very crude abuse posted on various websites and e-mailed to The Society since our action suggests that these bloggers/authors are not people who are interested in a real debate on the basis of either science or the public good but who simply want to attack homeopathy, for the very sake of it.

Due to the unpleasantness and surprisingly vitriolic nature of the postings on the Quackometer website and others, The Society has taken a conscious decision not to respond to these bloggers.

Anyone who has tried complaining to the SoH, along with anyone acquainted with their comedy code of ethics, will know that Andy Lewis’s article was the epitome of restraint and factual to a degree to which the SoH seems incapable of aspiring. The Society of Homeopaths has a serious problem with honesty. In fact, just like the quackery they promote, their “justification” for their Stalinist approach to comments they just happen not to like is demonstrably dishonest. They were not defamed in any sense of the meaning of the word. Nothing false was printed, merely factual observations which they cannot deny. Any defamation, as I see it, is all coming from the SoH.
The fact that Andy Lewis’s observations were not flattering to the SoH is really neither here nor there. It is clear to me however that the Society’s censorship action was a monumentally incompetent attempt at a public relations exercise to counter what it sees as mounting bad publicity. It had nothing to do with any facts of the case, offensive or otherwise, as anyone with the ability to read English could easily discover. One might be tempted to come to the conclusion that their acquaintance with public relations and its purpose is as vague as it is with science or medicine.
It would not be defamatory to label someone who molests children as a paedophile, or someone who maliciously sets fire to property as an arsonist. In the same way it would not be defamatory to label an organisation that flouts its own code of ethics, allows its members to do likewise and ignores all complaints about ethics code violations, as a bunch of fraudulent shysters.
What the censorship of the Quackometer and the shoddy attempt at its justification show is that what lies at the heart of the contemptible marketing organisation masquerading as a professional body, known as the Society of Homeopaths, is unpleasantness, arrogance and mendacity.

Last week the SoH decided they didn’t like a comment on the Quackometer. As far as anyone knows there was nothing factually incorrect about the article. It merely demonstrates how negligent are the SoH when it comes to enforcing their own rules. So, instead of defending themselves by arguing their case and pointing out the errors in the Quackometer article they requested that host server remove the offending item or face further legal consequences. The host, being based in the UK, caved in rather than call the bluff of the SoH.

In the light of what can only be described as a fascistic attitude towards unfavorable comment many bloggers around the world have justifiably reacted against the bullying SoH and re-published the text of the original offending article written by Any Lewis, the Quackometer’s originator and master.

This is the first entry of this occasional blog and I can think of no better gesture than to join with the ranks of skeptic and BadScience blogs and re-publish, without further comment, “The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing”.

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48 • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
• No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72 To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ’she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

If I can just interject here — the above paragraph is quite incredibly ironic, and slightly prescient, given the development since. I particularly liked the bit about “Big Net manufacturers”… –Andrew

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?