Homeopathy: someone should tell the government that there’s nothing in it

January 5th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, alternative medicine, bad science, homeopathy, references, statistics | 75 Comments »

Homeopathy: someone should tell the government that there’s nothing in it

Ben Goldacre
Saturday December 31, 2005
The Guardian

My first new year’s resolution is to write less about homeopaths, partly because teasing them is starting to bore me, and partly because we’ve won. Yes. Won. I’m talking about huge meta-analyses, summing together vast numbers of little trials, adding all the numbers up, and finding that overall, homeopathy is no better than placebo. That’s not absence of evidence that it works. That’s positive evidence that homeopathy does not work better than placebo.

Before we go any further, I have two special messages for the alternative therapists reading this: firstly, please, if you’re going to write in to the letters page, alluding triumphantly to some single obscure positive homeopathy study, can you at least explain why this string of huge meta-analyses are not valid? It’s getting a bit embarrassing the way you all just pretend they don’t exist. The British Homeopathic Association doesn’t even list them – the biggest, most definitive studies on homeopathy – in its list of research on homeopathy at Trusthomeopathy.org .

And secondly, please, a plea on behalf of the state: it was very expensive to do all these trials, and if you make us do that for every little notion you concoct from your imagination, you will bring the country to its knees. If that was the plan all along then I salute you.

Anyway, as I said, I was going to shut up and leave them alone, but they’re not making it easy. Because, quietly, the government, headed by our first new-age premier, is sneaking through an amendment to the regulation on labelling homeopathic tablets in shops, due to come into force this year.

Now, homeopathic tablets in shops are a bit of a weird one for the homeopaths because most of the clever ones have retreated from all the placebo controlled literature – showing homeopathy is rubbish – by saying that homeopathy is all about the ritual of the consultation, not about the pills, and that makes buying them over the counter in shops pretty useless, even by the homeopaths’ own espoused belief system.

But no matter: at the moment, the law forces all homeopathic tablet peddlers to admit that their products are without an evidence base and prominently display the following text on the label: “Homeopathic medicinal product without approved therapeutic indications.” This goes for all homeopathic tablets, unless they’re very old, and happen to have a licence to claim efficacy in a particular condition left over from before the current laws came in, in 1968. “No deviation from this wording is permissible” says the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the people who run medicines regulation.

But under regulations due to come in on January 1 these homeopathic remedy peddlers, sorry salespeople, sorry, selfless public servants, are able to apply for a licence for their homeopathy tablets, where they are allowed to print what their sugar pill “treats” on the label. All you need is evidence of manufacturing quality and safety, and “bibliographic evidence that the product has been used in the indications sought”.

What you don’t need, of course, is any evidence that your tablets treat the thing you’re selling them as treating. Which is lucky since there is evidence, and it says, collectively, that homeopathic remedies don’t work.

By now the pound signs are bouncing about all over the place in the magically gleaming eyes of the industry barons. Over to Robert Wilson, chairman of leading homeopathic medicines manufacturer Nelsonbach, who said, in Natural Products magazine (a publication to which I am naturally a subscriber): “This is a breakthrough for the industry as a whole. The fact that therapeutic indications may now be included on the packaging of licensed homeopathic medicines not only opens up the practice of homeopathy to new users but also gives it added credibility as a safe and natural complement to orthodox medicine.”

We are changing the regulations, a year after the axe finally fell on homeopathy. Bravo and ker-ching.

(sorry to be late posting this on the site, I’m nowhere near computers at the mo…)

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

75 Responses

  1. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 5, 2006 at 8:46 pm


    Placebo defect

    Monday January 2, 2006
    The Guardian

    Ben Goldace is surely correct in noting that homeopathy performs no better than placebos (Bad Science, December 31). But since the placebo effect requires genuine belief in the medication, how else can the general public harness this remarkable medicinal phenomenon?
    Francis Bacon

  2. Martin g said,

    January 5, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    I’ve often wondered what happens to the bottles and flasks in which homeopathic medicines are prepared.

    Presumably, at some stage, they have to be washed out.

    Following homeopathic theory, would this process not be in danger of ‘ concentrating ‘ the potion to an alarming degree ?

    As in – the more you rinse – the stronger it gets ?

  3. interbreeding said,

    January 5, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    what is your answer to that letter, Ben? Would you rather have GPs giving out the placebos as God intended? (Great article today, BTW)

  4. C. Augusto Valdés said,

    January 5, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    First of all, Mr. Goldacre, great work you’re doing.

    We critical thinkers are doomed to suffer the ‘Cassandra Effect’. Even when the outcome is crystal clear for us we will have a hard time convincing others.

    I am an enterpreneurial trainer and work up close with management executives and their assistants. Last year the executive assistant for the ground manager, a kind lady, was absent for a long time and then she reappeared, she excused herself by saying she was being evaluated by her physician, and much to her dismay and her family’s she was diagnosed lupus.
    Upon evaluating the treatments (Lupus is treated with regular dosis of cortisone, which excises a great toll upon the body) she decided to go with homeopathy because it would be kinder for her.

    I advised her to consult her doctor again, that homeopathy may be good on the common cold (it isn’t, I know) but for major medical conditions it wouldn’t do any good. but she already had her mind set and she and her family would pray harder for her.

    I have lost contact with her ever since, but it still angers me witnessing homeopathy taking another victim.

    if they win the war the casualties will be many more.

  5. Rob Sang said,

    January 6, 2006 at 12:14 am

    I suggest a few Bad Science devotees get together and apply for a licence for one of these Homeopathic cures. In fact, it would make a good “undercover” type documentary, where we sell placebo tablets claiming they cure all sorts of things without any evidence that they actually do so.

  6. rich13 said,

    January 6, 2006 at 12:14 am

    Crikey. Bonkers comments. Anyway.

    It’s an obvious thing to say, but the people who are making money out of homeopathy are either totally mad or amazingly stupid or pointlessly nasty or all of the above. I suspect the latter.

    It’s utterly fucking amazing that anything like this exists in the world. If it wasn’t so sad it would be hilarious. But it is so it’s not.

    Just the tip of a rather terrifyingly large iceberg, though.

    Bravo and ker-ching, indeed. Compare and contrast.



  7. RaymondSpigot said,

    January 6, 2006 at 2:27 am

    Selling the stuff directly without even giving patients the benefit of a nice reassuring fuzzy (chargeable) mystical mumbojumbo session to carefully evaluate which flavour of sugar tablet to prescribe has always seemed to push well past the boundary of acceptable exploitation of the gullible to me. On the grounds that

    a) it’s a sugar pill. Or made of water. Or something. So far you’ve not been able to prove it does anything at all really, let alone represents an effective treatment for whatever malady I might have. Explain why I might want to pay for that again?

    b) it’s a sugar pill. Or made of water. Or something. Development costs typically associated with a new treatment were minimal, as the whole idea that this particular flavour of sugar pill might work against whatever I’ve got was presumably sort of pulled out of someone’s 4rse anyway

    c) it’s a sugar pill. Or made of water. Or something. There weren’t any expensive active ingredients to buy to put in it. At all. Manufacturing costs can’t be all that high. Maybe wear and tear on serial dilution test tubes and things, I don’t know. (It must be a hard life for a homeopathy test tube, all that trying not to get the water to remember the wrong thing)

    d) it’s a sugar pill. Or made of water. Or something. But if it *is* the amazing effective cure-all you claim, and you’d like to be accepted as part of a holistic inclusive healthcare system then you should be thinking primarily of the wellbeing of your patients and want them to benefit from your profound knowledge by getting over their illnesses and feeling better. The pills cost next to nothing to make. Give them away.

  8. Chris Cottee said,

    January 6, 2006 at 9:43 am

    I wonder if I could interest you in my new unique synergistic combination of aromatherapy and homeopathy. By a process of repeated dilution and activation* in pure air the efficacy of an aromatherapy treatment can be enhanced by up to 500% or more. This also reduces the possibility of alarming smells or other side effects.
    Postage and packing is also very cheap as UPS treat an Aromeopathic treatment kit as an empty cardboard box.

    Yours Enthusiastically
    Dr. Chris Cottee MA, MSc, PhD

    At the moment I can’t indicate what this would be suitable to treat but suffice to say that all conditions would benefit equally.

    * The process of activation is superficially similar to waving your arms around in an empty room but in fact uses elements of Tai Chi and Feng shui to achieve mixing and dispersal of energy states and auras.

  9. BobP said,

    January 6, 2006 at 10:19 am

    Methinks Ben has exaggerated slightly. The MRHA rules (if I read them rightly) only permit indications for “minor, self limiting conditions”. Examples supplied by the MRHA include chilblains and travel sickness.
    And, of course, I’ve not seen any suggestion that this should be available on the NHS. People have the right to spend their money as they will, and if they are prepared to pop a homeopathic pill instead of bugging their GP for a minor illness then I guess the department of health would be all in favour.

  10. Michael P. said,

    January 6, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    But that’s the point BobP – the homeopaths can’t lose face, so at least some of them make claims about all sorts of major conditions. People do have the right to spend their money on whatever they want, but claiming to own Blackpool Tower to sell it to a willing customer is still illegal. It’s a false claim to make cash. I’m sure there’s a definition for that!

  11. RS said,

    January 6, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    “People have the right to spend their money as they will, and if they are prepared to pop a homeopathic pill instead of bugging their GP for a minor illness then I guess the department of health would be all in favour.”

    In which case i presume you’d be happy with the lifting of all restrictions on claiming medicinal benefit for any treatment? ‘Snake oil, snake oil for sale…’

  12. Tessa K said,

    January 6, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    As Derren Brown’s latest tv show Heist worryingly illustrated, if you bombard some people with enough subtle persuasion, you can make them do anything. The insidiousness of ‘alternative’ treatment advertising is hard to combat. No one likes to think they are easy to manipulate or con but it is hard to avoid the idea that homeopathy works, that it is ‘kinder’ to your body and that homeopaths invest more in your cure than over-worked GPs can.

    A logical appeal often fails because the come-back is something along the lines of ‘well it worked for my auntie’ or ‘ yes but I got better’ or ‘you can’t prove that’. Perhaps it’s time to fight fire with fire and go for the emotional appeal.

    Perhaps if, as well as trying to expose snake-oil salesmen and women, GPs and their receptionists were trained to make sympathetic noises, nod caringly and give the impression that the prescription they write is somehow special to that particular patient, people would be less vulnerable to the constant drip of lies. Packaging medicines in soft-coloured wrappers with pictures of flowers and fluffy bunnies might help too.

  13. profnick said,

    January 6, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    Sorry Ben, may have missed it but where was the analysis published and is it widely available?


  14. Delster said,

    January 6, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    It’s amazing what they are letting people get away with….. so provided i used appropriate manufacturing processes i could sell almost anything and claim it’s used for almost any condition.

    So who fancies getting together and selling small amphules of distilled water with an accompanying 10 inch thick book listing all known illnesses with the statement that this “magic” water can be used in treatment of them all….. who know’s it may finally get the point over….. nah, who am i kidding

  15. Nick Jeffreys said,

    January 6, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    I have tried diluting alcohol down to homeopathic concentrations – and have drunk in vast quantities – but this cheap way of getting pissed does not work.

    I suppose you could then say that homepathic alcohol is a diruetic – but I think its all that excess water!!!

  16. Jo said,

    January 6, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Hi people,

    my lovely, if slightly irrational mother has been suffering for a number of years from digestive problems. She is now in the grip of homeopathy and is spending who knows what out of her hard earned salary on the sugar pills.

    What I want to know is should I jolt her out of her bubble or leave her there? I’ve tried sending her your articles in the past but she counters with a pre-Enlightenment cry of “it works for me after all those doctors ignored me”.

    Failing that can you do what a previous poster suggested and start marketing a range yourselves, cos if she’s going to pay money for sugar pills, she might as well hand it over to me…

  17. Jonathan Kaye said,

    January 6, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Ben,
    Great article (as always). Regarding the “huge meta-analyses” are you referring to Shang et al. (2005) which appeared in the Lancet? or have I missed some others? Would you know if labelling comes under EU law at all? or is it up to the member states to set up their own regulations?
    Thanks and keep up the great work.

  18. jonnyW said,

    January 6, 2006 at 6:34 pm


    As I under stand it it is a “goverments” interpretation of article 16.2 of the European Medical Directive 2001/83/EC which can be found here

    a copy of the MRHA cosultation document MLX 312 can be found here


    point b) sounds like a new remedy to me “Winnit Arsicus” (www.milkinfirst.com/dictionary/w.htm#winnit) or similar anyone fancy being a prover on that. Would still makes me squirm at 200C, but suppose that must be the placebo effect for you? not sure what it cure mind?

  19. Guillaume said,

    January 7, 2006 at 3:10 am

    Jo: the placebo effect is obviously doing it for her, why would you want it to not work? Some homeopathy goes for amazing prices, but I’m sure you can get something similar to what she’s taking for quite cheap. You could just get her some ‘generic’ homeopathy in bottles and top them up with distilled water.

  20. wilksie said,

    January 7, 2006 at 11:50 am

    “What I want to know is should I jolt her out of her bubble or leave her there? I’ve tried sending her your articles in the past but she counters with a pre-Enlightenment cry of “it works for me after all those doctors ignored me”.

    Has she changed her diet at all at the same time? If her digestive problems have improved it may be this that has helped. Could you present her with research showing that dietary methods work better than homeopathy for her condition and see if she will try them?
    I sympathise as I have managed to persuade my mother not to buy a biomagnetic bracelet for her sciatica but have found there is no reasoning with my brother who has spent hundreds of pounds on alternative remedies and who sees auras around leaves.
    Has anyone ever here ever changed the mind of someone committed to alternative medicine?

  21. jimbob said,

    January 7, 2006 at 11:53 am

    I am going to use homeopathic logic to show that it is effective.

    There is a great amount of data that shows homeopathy doesn’t work, but there are some small scale studies, which say there might be an effect.

    All these trials which show there isn’t an effect are “diluting” the effect of the positive trials.

    This means that as each non-positive trial comes in, “homeopathic logic” would dictate that the evidence for homeopathy is getting stronger…

    Actually thinknig about it… I seem to recal that homeopathic remadies are supposed to consist of something that provoked similar symptoms in real amounts, so the homeopathic alcohol would stop you getting drunk, which I’m sure it would; I suppose it should also act as an anti-diruetic as well, which it didn’t… I can’t explain that unless homeopathic alcolhol is no doifferent to water, and homeoopathy is bunk…


  22. profnick said,

    January 7, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    RE: Jonathon Kaye’s comment: the following might help:


  23. Jonathan Kaye said,

    January 7, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks Profnick,
    Just what I was looking for.
    Cheers mate,
    Jonathan (with an “a”)

  24. Bortle said,

    January 8, 2006 at 10:37 am


  25. Santiago said,

    January 8, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    I´m with you,critical thinkers about this junk named homeopathy. But How can we explain to believers the fact of so many educated people and phisicyans using it?

  26. rachel said,

    January 8, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    With great difficulty Santiago. I have tried for a long time but now just give up. The fraudsters at the top are the worst – the previously good doctors who have decided to cash in on the NHS gravy train. See the glasgow homeopathic clinic (fully supported by the NHS as part of the Gartnaval Hospital complex) web page to see what I mean. Lots of fancy art work, gorgeous ambiance and lots of meaningless (but seemingly deep) comments from the doctor(s) who organised this. I guess if you are going to bother explaining to peope why so many educated people / physicians use it you could at least point to the gravy train and self importance for the physicians and a lack of critical thinking on the part of the others.

    ho hum……as Ben says we’ve won this fight. Anyone still using homeopathy is a bit daft or taking the mickey.

  27. Santiago said,

    January 8, 2006 at 11:27 pm

    So,money and/or igorance are the keys. I think the latter is also present in doctors.Science is not their job,or they think so…

  28. Mongrel said,

    January 9, 2006 at 9:33 am

    Santiago, I’ve had this discussion with my girlfriend regarding homeopathic medicines in Pharmacy. Unfortunately it boils down to money. If her pharmacy didn’t sell that rubbish then the “informed” patient would go down the road to one that does and since corporate policy forbids driving away customers…

  29. Ian said,

    January 9, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Maybe we should set up a company, as people have suggested, offering the Placebo (TM) Range of homeopathic treatments, containing distilled water and/or sugar. We challenge homeopaths to split their caseload 50/50, and half of them get our ‘medication’ in a double-blind trial. We then ask homeopaths to identify who gets what. All profits (including winnings of side bets) go to science education and a selection of medical charities.

    As a random thought – presumably there is little or no difference in the production cost of homeopathic treaments, no matter what they are sold for. Is there a difference in the reported improvements relating to cost of treatment? I know that the more people pay for wine, the more thay are likely to say they enjoyed it. Perhaps there’s a reason that homeopaths charge so much for water – the more they charge, the more the patients think they have got better…

  30. BSM said,

    January 9, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    “Maybe we should set up a company, as people have suggested, offering the Placebo â„¢ Range of homeopathic treatments, containing distilled water and/or sugar”

    The remedies that are currently licensed for sale have exploited the existing rules to enable their sale and the protection of that regulation probably would mean it would be difficult literally to sell water or sugar labelled as a homeopathic remedy. But, just as they play fast and loose with the rules, to sneak through their therapeutic claims I wonder whether we could dress something up as a homeopathic remedy but without crossing the line into outright lying.

    I’ve just thought of a real example. I’m a vet and Bob Martin’s sell a spot-on flea product for use in cats. I was becoming increasingly confused by the number of clients telling me they were using a monthly spot-on yet I was finding their cat’s fur to be full of flea droppings. The trick became obvious when I got a client to bring in the packet “Bob Martin’s Spot-On” actually says it “repels fleas and ticks”. I wrote to the company who told me about some trial data that showed an 85% reduction in adult fleas on animals in a simulated home environment. So, yes, the product is genuinely a repellent, but the lesson is that this degree of repelling of adults is irrelevant to the real world problem of controlling fleas in a household. So much for the preamble, here’s the point: people buy this product because they latch onto the key words on the packet- Spot-On, Fleas, Ticks. A market has been created by real spot-ons that kill fleas and control flea problems really well. The packet doesn’t need to lie the consumers helpfully fill in the gaps themselves.

    So, Ben and everyone, here’s the idea: we copy the look and feel of real homeopathic remedies and use as many jargon terms as we can truthfully employ to sell bottles of water or sugar pills.

  31. AndrewT said,

    January 9, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    BSM – I actually thought for quite some time how you could do this (a bit sad i know)
    I propose an office, with which is a medicinal cabinet with lots of drawers. 26 across and 26 high. I think it is important that it is a dark wood affair, with brass handles.

    In these drawers would be amazing pills of many differernt colours and deisgns. A client comes in, lets say his initials are AT. We give the hour long consultation and choose a remedy entirely suited to the individual. It would come from the first draw on the left (for the A) and the 20th draw down (for the T). If it was for me, i would be hoping it would be a capsule that was dark green but with pink spots on it. It would be ‘sold’ (ie given away) under the name Auratus Iugerum. Good names for products (Capillatus Simius?) can be generated here


    You could use ‘truthful’ marketing terminology such as ‘the safe and natural cheaper alternative to homeopathy’ which kind of implies that it is homeopathic in nature perhaps? Given that it is a placebo, you could argue that ‘large scale clinical trials have shown it to be as effective as homeopathy’ or maybe even ‘developed in the homeopathic tradition’ which is entirely true if it contains no active ingredient….

    Actually, I think i should be given a TV show to do this.

  32. Santiago said,

    January 9, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    Very interesting,rachel and mongrel.Thanks a lot.
    I´m a physiotherapist (fisioterapeuta,here in Spain),and it seems as all kind of old procerures are becoming moderns ones:homeopathy,kinesiologie,acupuncture,Bach flowers,and so on…
    There is no a mg of Science in them,but they sells a good deal.
    Money moves the whole world,yes.

  33. hardik said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    we r not here to put forward some empty speculations, first understand the science,
    i think it must be beyond your imagination how the remedy works if u r talking on the basis of LANCET article ,it is a kind of mere prejudism please use ur reason gifted mind dont waste ur time for silly things understand the logic behind CAUSE & EFFECT…WHOLE BASE OF HOMOEOPATHY IS IN IMMUNOLOGY AND NEUROENDOCRINOLOGY …..YOUR SCIENCE HAS TO WORK VERY HARD TO UNDERSTAND THIS GREAT FIELD OF THERAPUTICS

  34. BSM said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:34 pm


    Prove Itâ„¢

  35. BSM said,

    January 10, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve also been thinking. If we claim our water/sugar is a. as safe and b. as effective on whom does the burden of proof and expense lie if someone claims are water either killed them or didn’t work?

    I would hope that the same loopholes are available to us as they are for the homeopathic pharmacies, but I think that the entertainment value of the exercise would be enhanced by testing the diameter of those loopholes by making claims as ‘strong’ as we think we can get away with.

    One option would be for our remedies to promote as a benefit the fact that they don’t include any of the toxic plants and chemicals that are the basis of ‘conventional’ homeopathic remedies.

    “Goldacre’s” has a nice ring for a dodgy health product: vague connotations of value and naturalness. So,

    “Goldacre’s Aqua. Contains aqua as a Mother Tincture. Unlike regular homeopathic remedies, no toxic plants or chemicals have been used in the manufacture of this product.

    Avoid all unpleasant aggravations associated with strong homeopathic remedies. Guaranteed to be as effective as any homeopathic remedy for any medical condition including asthma and eczema, irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety states. No quibble money-back guarantee.

    Not tested on animals. Do not exceed stated dose (1 drop daily), but known to be safe at doses more than 20,000 times the usual dose.”

    Also available;

    “Goldacre’s Pillules. etc etc as above”

  36. Michael Harman said,

    January 10, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    What are the chances of someone claiming that the remedy is dangerous and citing the DHMO controversy in support? (See www.dhmo.org/.) And read through your professional insurance policy.

    How do you propose to start the business? Presumably a web site and ads in suitable papers.

    Are you going to start a company? Can we buy shares in it?

    And check what the GMC (if that’s the right body) allows you to do. Will the directors need to be qualified – or would you be better not being a director?

  37. Michael Harman said,

    January 10, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Sorry, I meant to say this as well; what is the Greek (or some Eastern language) for placebo?

  38. JonnyW said,

    January 10, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    Some celebrity endorsement might be helpful to
    www.abchomeopathy.com/who.htm sure there some better examples out there.

    If you doing it online you could also do a remedy finder as can be seen on the above site all pointing to the same remedy.
    Although I would suggested being a little more helpfull than this one or others listed.
    As it did just recommend “belladonna” for the following symptoms which i think may require a more traditional intervention:-
    mind; behavior; habits; plays with genitals
    mind; behavior; makes noises; growling like a dog; grunting.
    mind; behavior; roving about naked; senseless, insane
    mind; desires, wants; death;
    mind; desires, wants; to kill;
    aswell as many other symptoms such paranoia etc etc. and others are listed that belladonna does apply to which seem to sort of completely contradict the above.
    (in case your worried i was just messing about and have absolutely no desire to kill anyone and haven’t taken to roving about naked either!! possibly may admit to playing with my genitals now and again mind)
    Have to be careful what I say here but u should give it ago so here’s the link
    when you finally get to the result. (don’t tick to many options on the first page) you do get a warning/disclaimer in a smaller font at the top with a (See details) check it out. You’d may need one of those on any web site that sells stuff.
    (also wonder if this of symptoms would count as indications under the new rules.)

    Got a bit carried away with remedy finders they seem to piss me off so here a few more. Try checking multiple symptoms. (these ones contain no warning or disclaimer or ant really usefull advice, that I could find either)
    Bach flower
    www.powerofmusic.com/remedyfinder/remedy.html (Bach flower music??. Check out the testimonials via the home page need some of them too.)
    much simpler and for dogs

  39. Blue Bubble said,

    January 11, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    I like BSM’s idea. It would start to add a “scaremonger” element into homeopathy.

    You could also add that the Goldacre Aqua remedies are guaranteed suitable for Vegans, Vegetarians, Carnivores and Omnivores, thus sowing the seeds of doubt in the woo-woo customers, many of whom will belong to the first two groups, that standard homeopathic remedies are not. You could also appeal to the “food miles” idea by claiming that the Goldacre Aqua remedies have not had to be transported from great distance. And last, but not least, you could also appeal to the notion of not filling the coffers of the large and nasty “big pharma” companies (like Boiron).

    So when do we start the business ? Sign me up !

  40. BSM said,

    January 11, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    “So when do we start the business ? Sign me up ! ”

    You’re right, it does begin to look like a genuine bit of fun and possibly even financially rewarding

  41. Janet W said,

    January 11, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    I think Ian’s question (“Is there a difference in the reported improvements relating to cost of treatment?”) is an interesting one. I’d like to know the answer to this one too.

  42. RS said,

    January 12, 2006 at 3:15 pm


    You sure the basis isn’t quantum physics? Science has to work hard to understand that too. Or how about neuroscience? Cosmology? Any other ‘difficult’ fields out there we can hide our obfuscation behind?

  43. Robert Carnegie said,

    January 13, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    As for what homeopathic vessels are washed out with, I suggest a common digestive antacid treatment – can you still get milk of magnesia, or is that bad science too? A simple effective scientific chemically active treatment immediately neutralises the dangerously amplified homeopathy.

  44. Santiago said,

    January 16, 2006 at 9:37 am

    Incredible! Magnesia neutralises the dangeerous existence of…nothing.

  45. PK said,

    January 16, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    I’m all for the “Goldacre Aqua” company. We can make a product called “Placebo”, prescribed the world over, more popular than Aspirin or Viagra. After all, everybody has heared of the “Placebo effect” (slogan: “You’ve heared about the effect, now you can have the treatment — Placebo, by Goldacre Aqua”).

    Most importantly, though, we should get a good PR firm to launch the company. Stir up some controversy about harmful trace chemicals in homeopathic products, really use all the tricks from the nasty book (i.e., Karl Rove’s). Get that general feeling out there that there’s something fishy about homeopathy.

  46. tom p said,

    January 17, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve finally got round to actually reading the MHRA document that JohnnyW linked to in post 18 (which is clearly what Ben’s talking about), and although it’s an insult to our collective intelligence as a nation to allow any homeopathic products at all, this could be quite beneficial to doctors and to the NHS as a whole.

    The list of what homeopathy’s allowed to claim as a treatment are conditions which are self-limiting and really rather minor. They’re the kinds of things that doctors’ surgeries are overrun with (according to GPs I know) and so it could hopefully reduce the pressure on doctors if patients who have nothing that should be treated by a doctor wrong with them don’t go to the doc and instead waste a few quid on tiny bottles of water.

    It makes perfect economic sense for the government to be doing this, it just doesn’t make any scientific sense.

  47. justpassin said,

    January 18, 2006 at 12:24 am

    whats the homeopathic cure for thirst?

  48. pv said,

    January 19, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    On the subject of water here’s one of my favourite articles demonstratiing why homeopathy is fraudulent.


  49. David Colquhoun said,

    January 20, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Unfortunately we have very far from won on homeopathy. What is really worrying is that we haven’t even won the battle to keep homeopathy out of ‘universities’, never mind reduced its popularity in the general population. The last entry I posted on my quackery pages concerns to pressure that has been brought to bear by the University College London Hospitals Trust to ensure that their (much-praised) Use of Medicines Committtee turns a blind eye to the ‘treatments’ used by the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital.

  50. Noumenon said,

    January 22, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    Homeopathy humor.

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 29, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Just stumbled upon this excellently amusing document whilst looking for something else. I’m sorry they never emailed this “response” to me as I’d have liked to have seen it sooner. Never mind.

    It’s a bit confused, as you can see. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever asked the SoH for a response on Egger et al, or indeed any academic paper, nor have I ever received one from them: I do, however, enjoy pointing out that they keep all the negative meta-analyses off their list of meta-analyses on their website, where they choose only to refer to one flawed early paper.



    Press statements
    31.12.05 – Response to The Guardian On-line; BAD SCIENCE

    Dear Sir

    Thank goodness Ben Goldacre has decided to “write less about homepaths”. Hooray for that.

    He asks for a proper response from homeopaths to the “huge meta-analysis”, presumably the Swiss study (Matthias Egger et al) published in The Lancet last August. He’s had that already from us, but OK, here it is again.

    Firstly, I wonder what Ben Goldacre means by “huge”? The Swiss study took into account only eight homeopathy trials, when previous similar studies examined a greater number and came up with a different result, that homeopathy has an effect over and above placebo.

    The Swiss authors ostensibly compared homeopathy with conventional medicine, but used a misguided measure with which to assess the efficacy of homeopathy. They made a basic scientific assumption that can not be applied either to homeopathic research or to homeopathy in practice. It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised trial (RCT) is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy.

    In her research on this subject, Dr. Elaine Weatherley-Jones (Sheffield SCHARR) states, “it is time to halt the misguided task of conducting placebo-controlled RCTs to test the efficacy of individualised treatments”.

    The RCT cannot hope to measure specific effects from homeopathic medicine: new models of research are being established to reflect what truly happens in the consulting room. Homeopaths acknowledge the powerful therapeutic effect of homeopathy, which is removed under RCT conditions.

    What is urgently needed is pragmatic research that reflects what actually happens in homeopathic practice (homeopaths do not conduct “clinical homeopathy”: giving the same remedy to everyone with a similar ailment) where the medicine is tailored to the patient and not to their medical diagnosis. Such research would provide useful evidence for clinicians on which to base their decisions and referrals.

    I refer Ben Goldacre to our website where he will find a full critique of the Swiss study carried out by qualified researchers at Sheffield and Preston Universities. He will also see a listing of research into homeopathy including previous meta-analyses.

    Melanie Oxley
    Communications Manager

  52. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 29, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Oh lordy, this really is a galaxy of joy:


  53. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 29, 2006 at 4:37 pm



    Whilst more men are turning to homeopathy for their sexual health problems, the majority still suffer in silence. Homeopathy offers almost 200 remedies for erectile dysfunction, but the right remedy must be found by a fully qualified homeopath.

    In addressing erectile dysfunction and impotence, homeopaths often find a mental/emotional root-cause, which homeopathy is especially fitted to treat, offering hope for many men. Remedies such as Lycopodium for lack of self-confidence, Phos-acid for disappointment in love and Ignatia after the loss of a loved one, can have an important part to play, and individualised treatment can be extremely successful.

    The Society of Homeopaths theme in 2005 is Homeopathy for Men and Women, running through Homeopathy Awareness Week (14-21 June) and conference presentations in March and September. The issue of male impotence forms part of our work this year.

    With one in ten men in the UK over the age of 21 suffering from these conditions, we recommend men contact the Society of Homeopaths for a free copy of our Register of over 1000 fully qualified homeopaths:

    Phone: 0845 xxx xxxx
    E-mail: info@homeopathy-soh.org
    Web: www.homeopathy-soh.org

  54. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 29, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    Ohhh these really are too good. In their letter to the papers about how homeopathy should be used to treat depression in children Paula Ross, their leader, spells serotonin as “S-E-R-A-T-O-N-I-N”.

    I wouldn’t normally harp on about spelling like this, but I’ve noticed recently that misspelling words like serotonin – perhaps because they are unfamiliar to their users, despite the confidence with which they are thrown about – does seem to be significantly associated with other forms of pseudoscientific buffoonery:


  55. j said,

    January 29, 2006 at 11:01 pm



  56. JonnyW said,

    January 30, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Found this resoponse to the piece on a blog dated 4th Jan

    “Ben Goldacre’s crime is that he has judged something solely on the evidence against it.”


  57. rachel said,

    January 30, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Hilarious – For Melanie Oxley, Communications Manager (or is that mis-communications manager?) says it’s how we test homeopathy that’s the problem and reason for it not showing up any effect. Strangely RCT isn’t appropriate for homeopathy. Funny how it’s used as a standard measure on other drugs (i.e. ones that actually have an effect) to test them. The EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES! Doh!

  58. Vivek said,

    January 30, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I am a researcher at one of the leading universities in the USA and very well versed in statistics. I would like to believe homeopathy is a fraud, but unfortunately I am unable to. Everytime I have taken homeopathy medicines, it has worked wonders. If I were told it was a placebo, it would shock me enough to believe that placebos can be so powerful. Whatever it is, homeopathy has almost worked on me without failure. I wish, we develop science to a level, that we can prove and know why homeopathy works. If not, let’s do some more research on homeopathy.

  59. Robert Carnegie said,

    January 31, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    Dr Ben quotes,

    “In addressing erectile dysfunction and impotence, homeopaths often find a mental/emotional root-cause,”

    Nicely put.

    “The Society of Homeopaths theme in 2005 is Homeopathy for Men and Women,”

    As opposed to…?

  60. Alternative Medicine: Faith-healing at wongaBlog said,

    January 31, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    […] Next week’s show confronts my favourite of all the alternative medicines: homeopathy. The craziness is actually quite inspired – I don’t think I could come up with anything as contrary to reality if you asked me! Although the final result is a given, it’ll be interesting to see the approach the show takes. recognisable from BBC4’s Mind Games, which I didn’t realise for aaaaages [back]I knew somebody who suffered from glandular fever at secondary school, and afterwards began to exhibit the signs of M.E, which is apparently quite common. She put her recovery entirely down to a new doctor who assured her that he was going to ‘get her better’ – she vividly remembered the conversation. Not scientific, but interesting [back] […]

  61. homeosexual said,

    February 2, 2006 at 11:58 pm

    “Everytime I have taken homeopathy medicines, it has worked wonders. If I were told it was a placebo, it would shock me enough to believe that placebos can be so powerful. Whatever it is, homeopathy has almost worked on me without failure.”

    Yeah, like anecdotal evidence is sooo convincing: skepdic.com/testimon.html

    And I note the word “almost”

  62. jim said,

    February 4, 2006 at 7:29 am

    I wish we would stop knocking placebo effect. It is the result of the human relationship between the ‘therapist’ and patient. It is not trickery, not a fraud and was first measured in trials of anti-psychotic drugs. The patients improved on placebo because someone took an interest in them.

  63. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 4, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, the placebo effect is hugely important:


  64. Richard Seamon said,

    February 7, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    By the magic of the internet, something I don’t really understand but trust implicitly (sometimes) to work, the statistics package on my blog, Goat Food, reffed above, have pointed me back to here. I had no intention of picking an argument, I would rather people could just live and let live. Bigotry has no place in society, whether it be religious, racial or scientific, as belief counts for too much. Try rationalising with people who have a deep religious belief – we’re seeing it at the moment – people and governments trying to talk sense to people who have no intention of ever thinking the way “we” do. Pointless. If someone wants to believe, let them. I’m an atheist but I don’t need to proselytise my (non)belief like some do. Belief adds colour, texture and meaning to so many people’s lives I wouldn’t want to destroy that for them. Likewise, people’s belief in the efficacy of homeopathy. “Good” science has proved there’s nothing inherently wrong with the “bad” science behind it. So it may only be placebo by another name, dressed up to look different but I wasn’t aware this was wrong – cars perform more or less the same basic fiunction, getting us from here to there, but some of us like to do it faster, prettier or louder than others. Something’s bothering me though; isn’t the placebo effect a more recent “discovery” than homeopathy, which has been around for 200 years or so?

    My favourite doctors are the ones that combine a sound grounding in conventional science and medecine combined with a deep faith. Square that one please, Ben.

  65. Paul said,

    February 9, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    “If someone wants to believe, let them”

    We’re all quite happy with that my friend, but when people pretend that they have an efficicaious treatment for which they get a lot of money then aren’t we justified in in pointing out that the evidence that they cite (and cite it they continually do) is flawed? You appear to be advocating a strange form of post modernism whereby the fervour and tenacity with which one holds an opinion is all that is required to make that opinion right. Seems a bit silly to me.

    “Something’s bothering me though; isn’t the placebo effect a more recent “discovery” than homeopathy, which has been around for 200 years or so? ”

    And what has that got to do with anything? If longevity of beliefs ensured precedence, we’d still all be flat-earthers (I hasten to add, for fear of offending you, that I truly respect the belief that the earth is flat. We’d be all the poorer if everyone was convinced, by evidence and reasoning, that it wasn’t)

  66. Polecat said,

    February 9, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Everyone seems to agree that the placebo effect is real, and quite powerful.

    But you can’t go into a pharmacist and buy yourself a big bottle of “placebos”. The fact that you know they are placebos would negate their effect.

    This is why homeopathic remedies are useful. You can buy placebos for yourself without knowing it. Of course skeptics like us can’t benefit, but at least we can point and laugh at the credulous public. What’s the point of “winning” this battle ? Most people don’t mind being fooled.

  67. Richard Seamon said,

    February 10, 2006 at 12:22 am

    Ach! Bad editing. There most definitely are sheds of cats eating blue pills in Kent. Sort of.

  68. Organic Potatoes said,

    February 14, 2006 at 11:25 pm


  69. Organic Potatoes said,

    February 17, 2006 at 1:12 am


    to that bit of advertising asking me to buy something (now removed)

  70. rachel said,

    March 1, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    Indeed, let people believe what they want to. As for Mr Seamon being an atheist ,as far as I’m aware, nobody has yet proved scientifically either the existence or non-existence of God. So, not really comparable to homeopathy which has been scientifically proven not to work.

    As a believer I do not have a need to proselytise. Don’t need Mr S or any government to “talk sense” to me either. These are common and lazy assumptions many atheists make in relation to those of us who have chosen to believe in God.

  71. DanBandini said,

    March 28, 2006 at 2:23 pm


    A few months ago I temped at a children’s hospital . The parent’s of one child had misgivings about the treatment the hospital was supplying. The parents searched for a suitable Homeopath to help their child. The homeopath who suited their requirements promised to ‘cure’ the child. The homeopath told the parents to stop giving the child medicine prescribed by the consultants at the hospital and to rely on his.. well.. small amounts of water…a week later the child was admitted to the hospital on an emergency admission.

    The parents were extremely worried for their child. They were desperate. The child had a serious condition and, as any parent can understand, it was extremely emotionally straining to see their child in the situation. After referring the child to the adjoining Homeopathay hospital the parents were persuaded to start the child back on the real medicine.

    I very much applaud Ben Goldacre for his collumn, in a newspaper where the science section appears to be shrinking, for his ‘crusade’ and hope sense infiltrates the bullshit that is permeating our countries beleif.

    Anyway… I recommend reading Mind Body Spirit Festival brochure. I have scientificaly proven that it causes my stomach to tighten, induces in me dizzy spells of disbeleif, and causes fury of gigantic proportions…a superficial and often contradictory and offensive blend of beliefs, conspiracy theories, angels and nonsense-science. Unfortunately people do beleive this. I know enough peole who do, unfortunately…


    ‘The Dynamics of RaphaYad Bioenergy Healing

    This form of healing is used for chronic or difficult illnesses. It works with the body’s electromagnetic circuitry to access connective pathways & neurological systems’

    That’s ‘chronic and difficult illnesses’. I have no doubt there are people vulnerable and desperate enough to beleive, unfortunatly.

  72. Two Extremes of Medicine (at wongaBlog) said,

    September 1, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    […] Previously, homeopathic ‘remedies’ were required to say “Homeopathic medicinal product without approved therapeutic indications” on the label. From today, however, the labels can instead claim to ‘treat’ medical conditions. According to Bad Science: All you need is evidence of manufacturing quality and safety, and “bibliographic evidence that the product has been used in the indications sought”. […]

  73. Evil advice from homeopaths about malaria prevention said,

    June 5, 2008 at 8:33 am

    […] the programme, Melanie Oxley, from the Society of Homeopaths, wriggled uncomfortably when faced with the evidence (and Simon […]

  74. MS and Vulnerability « Life, the Universe, MS & Me said,

    December 1, 2009 at 11:07 am

    […] www.badscience.net/2006/01/homeopathy-someone-should-tell-the-government-that-theres-nothing-… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Warning: Microsoft Word FlawM-1 Abrams Vulnerability Cover-up? Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Click here to cancel reply. Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <pre> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> […]

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