Thursday, July 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, Homeopathic Malaria Sting!

On Thursday 13th July 2006, BBC's Newsnight broadcast an investigation by Simon Singh (in association with Sense About Science) into how some homeopaths were advising people to use homeopathic products for malaria instead of referring them to a GP or conventional travel clinics where proven effective medicines are available.

In the two years from then til now, what has changed and what has happened in the UK with regards to homeopathy and malaria?

I thought it might be useful to document some of the milestones that have passed in the last two years.

July 2006

BBC's Newsnight broadcasts the Sense about Science sting - the transcript is here and some video clips are here.

The responses from Society of Homeopaths and Faculty of Homeopaths is surprisingly different. Compare SoH(WORD doc):

... there is substantial anecdotal evidence from around the world to suggest that homeopathy may offer a gentle, yet effective, complementary or alternative approach

with the FoH:

The Faculty of Homeopathy [...] does not promote the use of homeopathy for the prevention of malaria...there is no published evidence to support the use of homeopathy in the prevention of malaria

September 2006

The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency push through regulations in Parliament to permit homeopathic products to make medical claims but exempt them from providing any scientific evidence that they are effective. The Sense about Science report is here and Master Blogger, DC Colquhoun kept track of the story.

March 2007

David Colquhoun writes a piece in Nature, which gets picked up by the popular media, about British Universities offering degrees in complimentary medicine including homeopathy.

Summer 2007

An explosion of nerds and science spods who had previously been congregating on Ben Goldacre's Bad Science forum, took up the challenge to start blogging all manner of pseudoscience and quackery in the media, on teh internet and in RealLife® - this blog was one of many that spawned from that period, the list to the right of this column gives the links to many more.

September 2007

Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital had its funding removed by the NHS, effectively closing it down.

Elsevier's Journal "Homeopathy" publishes the Memory of Water issue. This is met by a call to join the Bad Science Homeopathy Journal Club where the journal articles were comprehensively discussed and debunked - see here.

October 2007

The Quackometer publishes its seminal treatise on The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing, describing the attitudes and inconsistencies in the Society of Homeopath's regulations and attitudes to its members.

The Society of Homeopaths responded by suing The Quackometer, forcing the removal of the article from the site. Nothing is forgotten on the internet though, and within hours, hundreds of faithful bloggers had reprinted the article all over the world. The SoH did not follow through on its threats. To get an idea of how many copies where made, have a look at the Google result of "Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing".

After The Guardian printed Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column on the affair, Paula Ross from Society of Homeopaths complained to Press Complaints Commission - an offer of response to Ms Ross was enough to resolve the complaint, proving their legal pressure had all been flannel.

January 2008

The Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council is formed to be an 'independent self-regulatory body for complementary therapists. It quickly becomes dubbed as OfQuack. The Department of Health awarded a grant of £900,000 over the three-year period 2005 to 2008 to get an umbrella regulatory body set up, which sparked a turf war with the Society of Homeopaths. Their press release (WORD doc) contained the telling phrase:

The Society of Homeopaths has yet to assess the suitability and standards of the Natural Healthcare Council for the purpose of providing regulation of homeopaths.

It seems they never did.

April 2008

BBC's Inside Out program (Southwest UK only) decided to investigate claims by Neal's Yard that homeopathic remedies it sells in its stores can help prevent and treat serious fatal diseases such as malaria. YouTube video here and transcript here. This included the comedy gold of Susan Curtis (Medicines director at Neal's Yard) walking out of the interview in a strop.
The PR fallout of the program (caused by blogs such as this one) has meant a Google search for 'Susan Curtis Neal's Yard' gives this blog in the top 3 results!

May 2008

The MHRA wrap the knuckles of Neals Yard for selling an unregistered product and force it to remove the products from their shelves.

June 2008

The Society of Homeopaths had their annual "Homeopathy Awareness Week". But no-one noticed.

July 2008

So what has changed since the Newsnight investigation into Homeopathic Malaria treatments?

Well, for starters, Helios Homeopathy, (who were questioned during the Newsnight investigation) are still selling Malaria Officinalis.

On a much more positive note, a Google search for "Homeopathy malaria" gives a barrage of sites pointing out the failures and idiocy of trying to combat a potentially lethal disease like malaria with homeopathy.

That is the big difference between July 2008 and July 2006.

If there are other homeopathy-related milestones which you think are worthy of a mention, please leave a comment. Also, if you liked the post, please StumbleIt. I've no idea what that will do, but I am assured it is a Good Thing. Ta.


  1. Thanks. That's a nice summary of the main events. The Royal London Homeopathic has been cut back quite a lot too. And some real physicists have shown what the rest of us suspected, that the quantum-bollocks of the likes of Lionel Milgrom are baseless.

    If it wasn't for the pernicious influence of HRH the Quacktitioner Royal, combining with boneheaded HR folks to write "competences" in distant healing we'd be doing rather well.

  2. Although Neal's Yard were forced to stop selling their lethal Malaria pills, Ainsworths, their suppliers, still do. The MHRA have been rather passive in the face of all this relying on complaints before hauling themselves to do anything.

    I think, however, we will see the end of such pills before the year is out.

  3. "And some real physicists have shown what the rest of us suspected, that the quantum-bollocks of the likes of Lionel Milgrom are baseless."

    There's been another response in that series published today:

    "Milgrom's work is not physics and neither for that matter is Hankey's."

  4. Thanks David - I've edited the blog to include a bit on the formation of OfQuack in Jan 08.

    LCN - The MHRA are now aware of Helios Homeopathy's continued selling of malaria officinalis.

    Cheers Mojo - Good on them for printing it.

  5. Summing - you have done a little, boys, unfortunately.
    Because - you are too kind to quacks (particularly to "repented" quacks) .
    Well... Good luck for future.

    PS. By the way today is Colquhoun's Birthday.


  6. Generally, now your victories look as a sort of Killicrancie...

  7. Thanks (I think) for your comments, Svetlana. They are not exactly illuminating. Please feel free to make sense of any of your posts and explain them more fully.


  8. I can't explain them more fully. Colquhoun has silenced me.
    He knows whom (and how) to silence with impunity.

  9. Dr* T
    I shall express my opinion in other blog. I shall give you the link when (if!) my comment will be published.
    I hope that it will be published.

  10. Here is:

  11. Thanks Svetlana - I've been following that one.

    Prof Ernst seems to be getting in the neck from his 'own kind'.

    I think he is doing a very good job at making sure that if there is anything in alternative medicine worth retaining it will be retained.

    Everything else should go.


  12. Thank you Dr*T
    Certainly, any person considers his opinion like most right :)) It is psychology.

    However, typically, extreme views turn out most right and saving.

    My opinion is extreme. And I hope that it will be useful for people.