Friday, June 20, 2008

Homeopathy Unawareness Week

In case you didn't know (and apart from knowledgeable bloggers and sugar-pill providers, you probably didn't) it was Homeopathy Awareness Week this week, from the 14th - 21st June 2008.

Although I am fairly biased in my view, it's pretty clear that the week was largely a waste of time and went unnoticed by the general public.

It's hardly an ASTM method, I know, but a pretty good way of finding out how successful your media campaign was, is to use Google.

As I write this (17.11pm 20th June 2008) the Google return for "Homeopathy Awareness Week" gives the following results:

1. Society of Homeopaths website and their PR for this momentous week.
2. The Quackometer's excellent article on "Self Awareness in Homeopathy Awareness Week"
3. PR Newswire story with information of Homeopathy Awareness Week 2002
4. The NHS National Library for Health's entry on Homeopathy Awareness Week 2007
5. Apathy Sketchpad's comprehensive roundup of misconceptions of homeopathy in the media this week.
6. The Skeptic Magazine newspaper - against homeopathy
7. "Journey Through a Burning Mind" blog spelling out how nonsense homeopathy is - and it's directed at World Homeopathy Awareness Week last April.

So, in the three horse race of homeopathy vs Science vs irrelevant information, I would say the score is 1 : 4 : 2. Way to go, PR!

I think it's clear that Homeopathy Awareness Week has passed by without anyone realising it, and if it wasn't for Bad Science bloggers pointing out the nonsense of trying to cure diseases using sugar pills, I'm not sure even the homeopaths would have known.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Business Model of Quackery

It's fair to say that most of the users and proponents of quackery (however misguidedly) believe completely and wholeheartedly in their brand of snakeoil. Hence, to question it is to question their core values and core beliefs, which can result in a fruitless tirade of firmly held but empty arguments.

That aside, what about the business aspect? For instance, international seller of homeopathic sugar-pills, Boiron are expecting 2008 sales of about €500 million. Does everyone in the company wholeheartedly believe in homeopathy? Perhaps it is a tickbox on the application form?

It's fair to say a loose-moralled sceptic could easily start selling pills to homeopaths (they won't be able to distinguish them, so why bother with the theatre?) - hey, go the whole hog and buy some shares in Tate & Lyle while you are at it.

I've written before about Artrosilium. The proof-free silica-containing gel purportedly for arthritis has been slapped by the ASA (here) while under C.I. Research, Jersey. After a brief trip to Guernsey, the product is being "distributed" by Intramed Ltd in Switzerland, according to the Artrosilium website.

Bear in mind, Artrosilium had already been put on the MHRA list of products not allowed to be marketed in the UK - see here, page 61.

The site has a page cached on Artrosilium which provides the name Dominic Phipps, which leads to MatDom Web Design, possibly the worst website ever encountered. The Portfolio page has all manner of fun and quackery in it including an expert guide on how to "Talk to Your Cat" and one on how to Make your body invulnerable to disease. The latter of these websites has Artrosilium pedlar, Intramed Ltd, as the

From the Artrosilium site there is a link to The Micro Doctor which claims to make you "100% pain free in less than two weeks" with a price reduction from just under £300 to less than £100. Surely a bargain! MHRA are investigating it as we speak.

So, we have a number of dubious products, all websites by one person, and a link to a company called Intramed Ltd in Switzerland. What they need is a site which collates all these bits of quackery and promotes them accordingly. Step up Dr Bruce, or The People's Doctor. Whether or not Dr B is real, I have no idea, but I am glad he is no longer practicing as a GP. His website is also registered by MatDom and (surprise, surprise) is very positive about products such as Artrosilium, The MicroDoctor and other similar 'treatments'. So of course as Dr Bruce is not selling anything (just heavily promoting) he doesn't need to provide details of location, address, registration etc, anymore than I do to write this blog. He is free to promote the Pain Away Pen to his heart's content.

But if Dr Bruce is not selling, just promoting, then there needs to be a shop where people can hand over their disposable income. (As one folklore conman said "If the customer is going to spend their money on quack nonsense, they may as well spend it on mine.")

2 sites seem to fit the bill: - Registered to Intramed Ltd, Switzerland
- one of the pages proudly displayed on MatDom's website.

Health & Harmony, which is a surprisingly large site given that their strapline is "searching the world for natural remedies that work", seem quite happy to sell Artrosilium, despite MHRA blacklisting, ASA wrist slapping etc etc.

Oh look, Windsor products also sell the MicroDoctor, although at a cheaper original price than The Microdoctor site. It turns out they are based in Romsey, and indeed hold stock of device in UK - I'll be sure to let the MHRA know.

All of these sites, such as the Pain and Brain Formula, Artrosilium, TheMicroDoctor, LiverPure tonic, Balsam of the Samurai (in fact there is a list of them here) all direct the buyer to, which looks like a definite misnomer - try this. I'd be very wary of putting details into such a shoddy looking site - I wanted to for the sake of journalistic investigation, but ...nah.

So there you have it. The full Business Model of Quackery - get a raft of incredulous ly nonsensical products, hire a webbuddy to put up the cheapest possible websites for all of them, get an allegedly ex-GP in Spain to pimp your products to the hilt, collate all the products together in one or two e-shops and direct everybody through the same the website to pay.

Between me and you, it is my suggestion that (possibly unlike the pedlars of homeopathic sugar pills) the good people of Intramed Ltd, Switzerland do not wholeheartedly believe in their products and are an operation designed purely and cynically to extract as much money from simple but well meaning people for products Intramed know are bogus.

It's just a hunch, you understand.

EDIT: Read a brief US exchange discussing Artrosilium's dodgy-ness here.

EDIT (15/9/08): IntraMed have once again been censured by the ASA for their product Ginkgo Biloba. Same old nonsense.