Homeopathy Spokesperson Has Eccentric Views On Malaria Shocker

July 14th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 23 Comments »

Just very briefly, I wouldn’t want you to miss Melanie Oxley, spokesperson from the Society of Homeopaths, making her deeply worrying noises about the benefits of homeopathy for malaria at the end of Newsnight last night. It’s not hilarious, but it gets pretty worrying at the end. Anyone got a link for the full clip, including the bit where, if memory serves, she says the people caught out were not members of the SoH, and Singh comes back and says two were, and one was even a fellow?

Watch the Newsnight undercover footage here.

news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/help/3681938.stm

Click here to find Melanie’s previous press statements from the Society of Homeopaths, including (weirdly) a few that seem to be directly addressed directly to me, but which they never made me aware of. It was a nice surprise to find them.

Incidentally, this Newsnight is already being flogged out mightily in the forums here.

I’m in love with Youtube.


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

23 Responses



  1. superburger said,

    July 14, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    How does it feel to be described as an “allegedly infamous quack-buster” by the UK’s most prestigious homeopathic coven?

    Perhaps you could have some sort of snazzy business card made up?

  2. Ithika said,

    July 14, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    What planet indeed! That was brilliant.

  3. JimTheBrit said,

    July 14, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    “Anyone got a link for the full clip, including the bit where, if memory serves, she says the people caught out were not members of the SoH, and Singh comes back and says two were, and one was even a fellow?”

    Newsnight episodes are archived for 24 hours here: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/default.stm

    If you read this response only after Thursday’s programme has been removed, post here and I’ll make the file available.

  4. Richard said,

    July 14, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    In the words of Charlie Brown – good grief.

    Newsnight is available on BBCi for a day or two after it’s broadcast: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/default.stm

  5. jd said,

    July 14, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    The “malarial shaped hole” underlines the real problem with these pseudo-sciences. It’s not the cures, it’s the underlying “theories”.
    The simple fact is that homeopathy, iridology, etc, will never be able to provide a real, verifiable cure because they are based on a set of “theories” that have no relationship to the real world.

  6. stever said,

    July 14, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    this is hilarious. they are inreal high profile trouble. should push things on a bit…..

  7. sconnor said,

    July 15, 2006 at 3:35 am

    Um, granted, my knowledge of homeopathy is spotty, but I was under the impression that their remedies consisted of dilutions of the pathogenic agent, not the cure. In fact (oh, this is troubling), since their homeopathic “cures” seem not to be working in the case of malaria, and, since they consist of dilutions of the scientific cure (i.e. quinine), maybe the problem is that homeopathic theory actually works! But they’re giving a homeopathic cure for the cure, thus actually making their patients more vulnerable to the disease!

    Which would also be interesting since it would mean that the theory works, but that the practitioners are nonetheless still too stupid to realize that they’re curing the wrong thing.

  8. BSM said,

    July 15, 2006 at 7:11 am

    ” But they’re giving a homeopathic cure for the cure, thus actually making their patients more vulnerable to the disease!”

    etc. etc.

    One of the problems with homeopathy is that it is riddled with internal contradictions. It is meant to cure disease by giving you an individualised remedy that matches your own symptoms. Full stop. That means that the concept of prophylaxis simply dosn’t exist for them.

    But, some of them tell you you can take something called a constitutional remedy all the time to “strengthen your immune system” (insert any of a number of meaningless claptrap duckspeak phrases at that point). This is hotly contended among the homs, but not widely discussed in front of the public. Basically, it is logically impossible for both camps to be right.

    Again, you may take a ‘nosode’ to prevent infectious disease. This is made of the infectious agent itself and it will “strengthen your immune system” specifically against that disease. But, other homs would disagree with this.

    Both of these are nice little earners because it means giving out sugar and water to healthy pople without them having to go to all the bother of getting ill before they come and pay you a nice juicy consultation fee.

    In the Newsnight report, it seems that homeopathic quinine was being recommended, but in a completely unindividualised manner. Yet individualisation is allegedly at the heart of homeopathy and this form of generic prescribing is wholly illegitimate.

    Is anyone else thinking that they just make this stuff up as they go along?

  9. Mojo said,

    July 15, 2006 at 9:09 am

    “One of the problems with homeopathy is that it is riddled with internal contradictions. It is meant to cure disease by giving you an individualised remedy that matches your own symptoms. Full stop. ”

    Of course, what this actually means is that is that they just keep giving the patient different remedies until they get better, or go away. The “individualised remedy” is just the last one they tried.

    “In the Newsnight report, it seems that homeopathic quinine was being recommended, but in a completely unindividualised manner. Yet individualisation is allegedly at the heart of homeopathy and this form of generic prescribing is wholly illegitimate.”

    And remember that “individualisation” is also at the heart of their objections to double blind placebo controlled tests (along with the inconvenient fact that they show it doesn’t work, of course), despite the fact that it is perfectly possible to carry out DBPC testing of individualised homoeopathy. You just give the control group a placebo instead of the individualised remedies prescribed by the homoeopath.

  10. CDavis said,

    July 15, 2006 at 10:22 am

    La Oxley was clearly a little miffed at having to condemn fellow homoeopaths, when underneath it all she agreed with them. I guess she’d been hoping for a nice uninformed debate about how effective these ‘remedies’ actually are.

    She got the edge of her oar in at the end, when she began spouting off about malaria being the first homoeopathic remedy even ‘proven’. Yes indeed: the discovery in the late 1700s by that twat Hahnemann that overdoses of quinine produced symptoms that he believed, wrongly, were identical to malaria itself, was the original conceptual blunder that started the entire lunatic enterprise.

    And some decades later, Pasteur found out what really causes disease.

    So in a sense people like Hahnemann can’t be blamed: no-one had any idea where disease originated, nor how to cure it. At that time there seems to have been a feeling that it was some grotesque puzzle to be unlocked. The idea that symptoms are the body’s way of telling you that you need a tiny trace of something was no more whacky than many other prevailing theories.

    But for this patent rubbish to have persisted to this day – and to have, if anything, grown in stature – is a ringing endorsement of human stupidity and gullibility, and the power of our immune systems.

    CD

  11. pv said,

    July 15, 2006 at 11:00 am

    “But for this patent rubbish to have persisted to this day – and to have, if anything, grown in stature – is a ringing endorsement of human stupidity and gullibility, and the power of our immune systems.”

    The reason it has “grown in stature” is because it’s an easy and lucrative business. It takes advantage of wishful-thinkers who want medcine with no side-effects (a contradiction) and it exploits the vulnerable and the gullible.

  12. Mojo said,

    July 15, 2006 at 11:09 am

    “So in a sense people like Hahnemann can’t be blamed…”

    Certainly, it’s not his fault. He was working at a time when much of “main-stream” medicine was little, if any, better than quackery. His treatments appeared better than the “orthodox” treatments of the day because at least they didn’t actually kill the patients. But he simply didn’t have all the information we now have. At the time Hahnemann was coming up with omoeopathy, the germ theory of disease and the atomic theory of matter were not yet established. The value of Avogadro’s constant, for example, wasn’t estimated until the 1860s.

    Medicine, and science generally, have moved on since Hahnemann’s time. The problem is that homoeopathy hasn’t. The Organon is viewed as some sort of holy book, and anything that contradicts it is carefully ignored.

  13. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    July 17, 2006 at 10:22 am

    The irony of this is that it was malaria and quinine that were the inspiration for homeopathic ‘theory.’

    It rather gives the game away that, where there is a very real, very fatal and above all measurable illness, homeopaths run for the hills.

  14. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 17, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    well yeah, except the loopy Society of Homeopaths and Melanie Oxley don’t seem to be running for the hills. I asked Oxley to clarify what she meant by the end of her newsnight appearance, where she stood on homeopathy for malaria prophylaxis, i got this:

    Dear Ben

    Sorry – am on hols in fact.
    Please see our press release on the website. People should be free to
    choose having been given as much information as possible. I choose
    homeopathy because I would rather not feel sick, have sun sensitive skin
    or trigger depression. I have not had malaria but have visited malarious
    countries. I expect the same feelings account for others using homeopathy
    alone.
    I hope you realise that anti-malarials are not 100% effective?

    Best wishes
    Melanie

    it really is as if she thinks that any shortfalls in proper medicine are somehow subtracted and given to alternative therapists as a benefit.

  15. YellowDuck said,

    July 17, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    Oh! Make it stop! I’m not a scientist, medic, or anything that can be remotely identified as sensible. But it’s silly little comment like this “I hope you realise that anti-malarials are not 100% effective?” that make it impossible for me to convince my girlfriend – who incidentally studies medicine – that homeopathy is just that: make believe.

    Case study in point: our 1 and half year old daughter has developed a food allergy apparently against milk, egg, soy and wheat. My girlfriend insists we see a homeopath before we even visit an allergy specialist or even discuss our course of action further with our pediatrician (who is not averse to alternative remedies, but only as a last resort). The homeopath prescribes a strict diet of spelt, butter, milk, egg and soy and three drops of sulphur every morning. Needless to say, our daughter’s skin doesn’t get any better, but her skin rash is blamed on the sulphur.

    This goes on for a month until I finally manage to convince my girlfriend to just have our daughter’s blood tested for food allergies (despite the fact that – apparently – blood tests cannot be wholly reliable for young children, but I’d like someone else’s view on this). Result: food allergies against the above mentioned, sulphur treatment and bizarre diet is terminated and with the help of some cortizone ointments the rash has finally more or less vanished and our daughter can sleep normally again.

    But just try telling my girlfriend that the homeopath was full of hokum. She wants to go back for more….

  16. Dr Aust said,

    July 18, 2006 at 12:41 am

    Of course, the nasty mainstream antimalarials might just stop you dying of cerebral malaria…

    Anyway, good to know that the people in charge of the mainstream homeopathic societies genuinely are as floridly barking as their barking-est members.

    Wonder if the medically-qualified homeopaths at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital are wincing?

    I suppose it is too much to hope that Ms Oxley is going trekking in deepest Thailand or somewhere equally malarial…

    I am going to spend some time developing my theory that homeopathy is actually a RELIGION, or at least a cult. (Though doubtless other people have said this before):
    homeopathy is not scientific, and it IS a belief system founded on faith (it only works if you believe it does, thanks to the placebo effect). Homeopathy shares many of the essential features of religion, including a mystic founder, an unchanging Holy Book whose authority cannot be questioned, a priesthood (the homeopaths) and a large mass of adherents who attach “cultural value” to artifacts (the homeopathic remedies) which have been endowed with special status through the ritual actions of the homeopath/priest.

    ..PLUS… If the homeopaths reclassified themselves as a religion they would get charitable status…although they’ve probably got that already.

    PS Have just chedcked out the website of the Society of Homeopaths:

    www.homeopathy-soh.org/

    ..which is a masterpiece of disinformation. I particularly enjoyed (if that’s the word) the page on “What is Homeopathy”:

    www.homeopathy-soh.org/about-homeopathy/what-is-homeopathy/

    …I tried to count the number of untruths on this page but gave up at fifteen.

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 18, 2006 at 12:48 am

    “Patients are treated as individuals, not as a collection of disease labels.”

    its interesting how much of this is about anger at mainstream medicine.

  18. CDavis said,

    July 18, 2006 at 12:49 am

    I find it intriguing that both Oxtail and that other berk Jaguar03 both cite the fact that real medicine sometimes makes you feel crap as valid reason to reject it.

    I’ve just pointed out to Mr Jaguar that cleaving unto ‘Nutrition Therapy’ just because their cures for hypertension don’t hurt is a teensy bit short on logic. It’s interesting, though: can people be so out of touch with the realities of sickness and health that this factor – in isolation – is enough to commit them to an entire body of knowledge?

    Scarily, I suspect they can: after all, they elect actors to be senior politicians because they like the characters they play. They select which creator of the universe to believe in by how closely His reputed attitude to homosexuality matches their own.

    Ethical medicine may need to take note of this. I’m sure any wavering homoeopaths could be persuaded if every medical procedure was accompanied by stonking doses of diamorphine. It’d keep ‘em coming back, too.

    CD

  19. Dr Aust said,

    July 18, 2006 at 1:20 am

    Yes, the writing on the SOH site is a very carefully-worded poke at all peoples’ gripes about mainstream medicine.

    Think John Diamond highlighted this facet of Alt-ism in “Snake Oil” – despite all the progress of the last 50+ years especially, conventional science/medicine cannot make you young and ailment-free forever. BUT THEY PROMISED!!!

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 18, 2006 at 1:31 am

    cdavis, is that jaguar03 from this link on the forums?

    www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/F2766778?thread=3247877

    i tried to register with the bbc chat boards as bengoldacre and reply – i was only dropping in to say i couldnt agree more how ridiculous it is that i get asked on – but i got a weird email back from some bbc moderator saying i was impersonating myself:

    Dear BBC community member,

    Your Nickname ‘bengoldacre’ has been changed back to
    ‘4900187’, since it contravenes the House Rules –

    www.bbc.co.uk/messageboards/newguide/popup_house_rules.html

    Nicknames will be failed if they:

    Contain website or email addresses
    Appear to impersonate someone else
    Contain swearwords or other words which may cause offence
    Break the general messageboard House Rules in some way

    If you’re not sure why your Nickname has been failed, please refer to the Nickname moderation guidelines at www.bbc.co.uk/dna/hub/A792821#9

    Please change your nickname to something more appropriate. You can find out how to change your Nickname here:

    www.bbc.co.uk/messageboards/newguide/popup_nicknames.html

    If you repeatedly break the House Rules, or use an inappropriate Nickname, action may be taken against your account.

  21. JQH said,

    July 18, 2006 at 7:46 am

    I read the SOH press release. They admit nothing and give the impression by careful weasley use of the English language that homeopathic anti-malarials actually work.

    Given their refusal to accept reality and the latest argument that homeopathic remedies only work if prepared by a homeopath, then I have to say Dr Aust is correct to say that homeopathy is a cult.

  22. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    July 18, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Okay, who volunteers to go to upstate Ghana, only take homeopathic anti-malarials, get malaria, die, then sue their stupid homeopathic asses?

    Oh, wait – die….

    and then have their exectutors and dependants sue their stupid homeopathic asses.

  23. CYvonne said,

    July 21, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    OK, the Society of Homeopaths acknowledges that there “…is no large scale research evidence to support the use of homeopathy in preventing malaria…..” but they persist in implying that it might work and, in the absence of evidence-based research, they’re going to carry on advising people to take homeopathic remedies because malaria tablets might make you feel bad (and how bad does malaria feel?). I am therefore developing the following research proposal:

    Take a statistically significant sample of homeopaths (I will let the staticistians decide how many I need – but I guess it’ll be in the 100s). Randomly assign them to one of two groups. Give one group a well-tolerated malarial prophylactic such as Malarone and one group a homeopathic remedy for malaria (blinded to the volunteers and the dispensing homepath). Either send them to a known malarial area or get them to sleep in a room of malaria carrying mosquitos for, say, a fortnight……

    Given that malaria kills millions worldwide a working homepathic remedy would be cheap and therefore worth testing….. and if it doesn’t work, well we’ve only lost some homeopaths, so no problem with ethics there.

You must be logged in to post a comment.