Lionel Milgrom – Quality Homeopathic Debate

December 16th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, hate mail, homeopathy | 131 Comments »

Bit of a ramble, so feel free to bypass this post, but this is quite odd to me. When a chap receives a communique from one of the Directors of the Society of Homeopaths, that august representative body, it only seems fair to give it some thought and some space. This charming email from Lionel Milgrom arrived today: it’s unsolicited, we’ve never met, we have no pre-existing dialogue, it brings a new meaning to “please send your bad science to“, and is full of scorn, but he clearly hasn’t bothered to actually watch the video of the debate.

I’m happy to give this feedback some space, as it’s so representative both of what happened with the audience on that night, and because it’s representative of the kind of criticism one tends to get from the CAM industry, and the kinds of things I see said on discussion lists and emails forwarded to me from within the industry, and because of his seniority.

“Benjamin, oh lttle Benjamin,” he begins.

Lionel Milgrom standing next to some science

“I’ve just read your purile blog about the debate at the Natural History Museum. How did you know what Peter Fisher said? You missed most of it because you couldn’t be bothered to turn up on time. That makes you somewhat mendacious, wouldn’t you agree? Reporting about things for which you weren’t in attendance? A typical reorter’s scam. I thought better of you. What a major disappojntment you are.

“Lionel Milgrom”

Now, look, if you want to check whether I was there for the entirety of Peter’s talk you can see me in the very first frame of the video (that’s me on the right).

and then throughout the whole of the rest of it, listening carefully and dealing with an abusive and hostile crowd of homeopaths with courteousy and thoughtfulness, as you can see, it’s all on tape. Bizarre.

Lionel Milgrom, a Director of the Society of Homeopaths.

Looking on a wider scale, personal slights are one thing (and I’m afraid I do personally rather suspect that Lionel’s extensive popular journalism on homeopathy and quantum physics might betray the same low standards of factual accuracy and rhetoric as his email): but a great deal of what I said on that night was about the poor quality of popular discourse throughout the homeopathy industry.

On that very night, for example, I mentioned that published undercover survey data shows that most homeopaths are against the MMR vaccination, and at least half advised a researcher posing as a client against giving the MMR vaccine to her child.

The reaction of the homeopaths in the crowd was simply to deny that this had ever happened, to deny that such a thing was even possible, and to become angry and hostile. Even Peter Fisher seemed to find this regrettable.

There’s plenty that could conceivably be valuable to society in homeopathy, as I have said on many occasions. Moreover, homeopathy is a mature discipline, and there’s absolutely no reason why it cannot engage in reasoned self-appraisal, rather than simply holding its head in the sand. There’s no excuse for it, just like there’s no excuse for homeopaths performing endless methodologically inept trials, and selectively quoting those, or misrepresenting the published literature, or failing to police itself.

I don’t think this happens so much in other fields. Interestingly, I don’t think it happens so much in other countries either. I was recently lucky enough to have several long and fascinating conversations with representatives of the homeopathy industry from all over Europe at a conference on CAM in Exeter, and although there were things we disagreed on, for the most part they were intellectually rigorous, they were able to engage – engagingly – on ethical issues, cultural issues, and, where appropriate, on a level of odds ratios, confidence intervals, and methodological flaws in research literature, like you’d find in any other academic field.

I’m sorry to be a bore, but I’m starting to feel quite conflicted about this. I think alternative therapies are incredibly interesting for a whole host of reasons, for what they say about the cultural role of medicine, and for the way they provide such an excellent resource of simple methological flaws for my hobby horse of teaching the world about evidence based medicine. And of course the battiness of popular rhetoric in CAM is part of the appeal too. But the more I see of the British homeopathy industry – well represented in the crowd at the debate with Fisher, and the weekly crop of ill-argued vitriol that appears at badscience mansions – the lower my jaw drops.

Here are the two blog entries Milgrom is so upset about:

Here is my entire homeopathy output:

Yeah, I make jokes. I am also reasonable, knowledgeable, I have never lied, my articles are full of information, I give references where appropriate, but yes, I point it out when people misrepresent the scientific literature. I am also more than ready to engage on the issues with people who are able to discuss them, I welcome the opportunity to discuss things with Peter Fisher, and I have made it clear on countless occasions that I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues with anyone who was able to engage meaningfully. I’m trying not to take this to heart, and stay focused on the issues. But you homeopaths seriously have to grow up.

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

131 Responses

  1. Mojo said,

    December 16, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    I assume Milgrom wasn’t actually at the debate, otherwise he would have noticed that you were there (unless maybe he’d nodded off and only woken up half way through). Any idea where he got the idea that you weren’t there for most of what Fisher said?

  2. Mojo said,

    December 16, 2006 at 4:32 pm

    The tone of his e-mail also suggests that he needs to look up the definition of the word “puerile” as well as its spelling.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 16, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    amazingly, he says he was actually there, in the room. just goes to show some people are so narrow minded about counterveiling views that they don’t even register your presence on stage.

  4. Littleshim said,

    December 16, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I’m largely curious about where “Little Benjamin” came from. Is he a very tall chap, this Milgrom?

  5. Jut said,

    December 16, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    oh dear, what a pathetic little man he is.

  6. spindle said,

    December 16, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Given that homeopaths say that chemical compounds can be present in a solution while physically absent, perhaps poor old Lionel thought Ben was absent from the stage even though he was physically present.

  7. wewillfixit said,

    December 16, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Milgrom was present in homeopathic concentrations.

  8. crichmond said,

    December 16, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    People who endorse homeopathy shoud set an example by using it – not selectively, but for everything. For example, a hip replacement under homeopathy anaesthesia might focus the mind.

  9. ayupmeduck said,

    December 16, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, Milgrom was one of the few people that took Benvenisten seriously when he started claiming not only that water had memory, but that that “memory” was information that could then be transported across the internet. So it hardly surprises me that Milgrom is confused about what constitutes a physical presence (his and yours in this case).

  10. jackpt said,

    December 16, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    Inexplicable and hateful are about the sum of that email. I can only think he has a teenaged child that thought it would be funny to crank email you. If that’s the case no doubt other science writers got emails accusing them of various dubious things. It didn’t end on LM 4 PF 4 Eva did it?

    I jst red ur puerile blog & wts up dude you wasnt there and shit…

  11. Nebbish said,

    December 16, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    By definition the set of honest, sane homoeopaths is empty. Once you can justify telling patients with genuine ailments that plain water can have a therapeutic effect it’s a pretty small step to being able to justify lying in an attempt to intimidate a journalist. These people are a danger to society..

  12. jimbob said,

    December 16, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    @Nebbish #11.
    Not *entirely* empty:

    Some are just ignorant and innumerate.

  13. monkeychicken said,

    December 16, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    What is it, 10-20% of any drug effect is due to the placebo (or nocebo) effect? Is that right? And the more elaborate the witch-doctory, the more effectice the placebo (I should probably cite this weeks New Scientist)? It is difficult when doctors, men of science, have to do a certain amount of hood-winking all in the name of making the a patient feel better (I feel a research paper here somewhere).

  14. monkeychicken said,

    December 16, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    Sorry, I forgot to say Lionel is a doofus.

    Astonishing really, you seem to have a similar natural ability as me to seriously piss people off without even trying terribly hard.

  15. Dr Aust said,

    December 16, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    I think some of what you are seeing here relates to what MadDog was saying on the last Homeopathy thread – see post57 on

    – you are in effect asking people like Lionel Milgrom to consider that the basis of their life’s work is a total delusion, and unsurprisingly they cannot do it. So what you get instead is howls ot outrage and hostility. John Diamond wrote lucidly about this in “Snake Oil”.

    Medically-qualified homeopaths like Peter Fisher are interesting in this regard since they clearly ought to be able to see both why homeopathy APPEARS, to work and why this is illusory. This is why I would have liked to see him try and answer the question about “Can Over-The-Counter homeopathic remedies work?”, which I think is the medically-qualified-homeopath equivalent of asking an old calculator the square root of minus one.

  16. Dr Aust said,

    December 16, 2006 at 9:22 pm

    Re post 13 – the placebo effect CAN be much bigger than 10-20%, monkeychicken.

    The most high-profile recent debate on this concerns the use of antidepressants for mild depression, where the placebo effect is arguably as much as four-fifths of the effect of the medicine – see e.g.


    – these estimates are derived from studies using “active” placebos, which mimic the side effects of the drugs and therefore make really sure the patients can’ t work out whether they are in the treatment (drug) group or the placebo pill group.

    However, there seems to be some consensus that the more severe the depression, the greater the “extra” effect of the drug compared to the placebo.

    Anyway, placebo effects will vary. The point is that to get licensed drugs have to demonstrate SOME effect over placebo in reproducible properly-done trials. Contrast homeopathy.

  17. pv said,

    December 16, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    crichmond said,

    “December 16, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    People who endorse homeopathy shoud set an example by using it – not selectively, but for everything. For example, a hip replacement under homeopathy anaesthesia might focus the mind.”

    Something I wholeheartedly agree with. The irritating thing is that the homeopathy users I talk to say that when they are seriously ill they resort to “conventional” (i.e. real) medicine but supplement it with homeopathic remedies. Then the twits credit the homeopathy for their recovery. Seems like a pathological fom of denial regarding real, evidence based medicine.
    I certaily think that those who opt for homeopathy on the NHS should be barred from State supported access to any form of evidence based medicine. They would have no right to complain if they are forced to suffer the consequences of their choices. Surely the “confusion” surrounding the efficacy or otherwise of homeopathic treatment lies in the patients being able to hedge their bets with doses of medicine with actual active ingredients, all the while denying the effectiveness of those ingredients. I don’t understand why anyone should thnk it’s alright for adults to receive State protection from their own stupidity. And if people believe homeopathy is effective they shouldn’t need or seek that protection anyway.
    Just as one of my Italian State school head teachers describes Italian Catholics as liars with regard to their religion (because they are , in reality, Protestants or merely followers of Christian philosophy), so it is justifiable to describe most homeopathy users as liars and fantasists with regard to their medical choices because, when reality strikes and need arises, they are forced to resort to evidence based medicine, using evidence based active ingredients. Otherwise they die – or something close to it.
    Where I disagree with Ben is on the positive uses for homeopathy. With the exception of providing acres of examples of how not to perform medical trials, the only positive benefit I can think of is analogous to shoving a dummy in the mouth of a grizzling baby – as a comforter. But providing at huge cost on the NHS is deceitfully aiding and abetting a fraud. How is that helping anyone except the thieves and quacks who “manufacture” (put water in bottles, etc) and dispense it?

  18. Robert Carnegie said,

    December 16, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    I want to say again that we shouldn’t get hung up only on the “diluted out of existence” feature of homeopathic, um, water. The, um, discipline (look, Ben called it that) has several other quite stupid features – you treat an affliction by applying something that causes that affliction, etc. And it isn’t always diluted to theoretically-nothing-but-water.

    On the other hand, if water memory can be sent by e-mail then you’d better watch out for symptoms in case that one was doped, which presumably you can treat yourself by reading it again. It’s the exclusive-or theory of medicine, overwrite yourself with the bitwise model of the illness and thereby restore yourself to health… yes I’m babbling.

  19. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 17, 2006 at 1:12 am

    jesus, you should see the rest of the bile this guy has been sending me, he hates doctors, he hates medical students, my talk was rubbish, i couldnt understand his work because i’m not as clever as him, i should expect abuse and get used to it, etc. that video, my talk, you know, it’s there on tape before you, it was pretty friendly and factual.

    its really interesting to me how these guys find it so hard to engage on a serious level, i’m not even a threat, i dont think it should be illegal, i dont care if its funded by the nhs (although i worry about some of these characters), if homeopaths want to do GP-controlled pragmatic trials and honestly report the findings i’m happy, i just find people mispresenting science interesting. this stuff he’s sending is vicious, its not about having a discussion, it contains no facts, its about threatening, abusing, and silencing dissent. i just dont know other healthcare professions that so routinely go around letting off steam like that when their discipline is being examined. bizarre.

  20. Flaky said,

    December 17, 2006 at 1:44 am

    “Like cures like”. Fisher even talked about allergies being caused by a lack of exposure to allergenes. Why on earth would homeopaths be agains vaccination? While an honest inquiry of extraordinary claims is important for provide a source of facts for rational minds, it is clear that we are dealing with phenomenon of complete detachment from reality and arguments by reason alone are insufficient.

  21. Twm said,

    December 17, 2006 at 2:17 am

    A curious beast he is. I don’t even understand the bit “expecting abuse ” – is he kindly prepping you for inaccurate media coverage? What a gentleman.

    How can a ‘Director of the Society of Homeopaths’ fail to grasp the basics of human communication and reason. Since he is at least aware of your blog, he must understand that his dodgy outburst will be recorded and thus not do his personal reputation and by extension his profession any good.

  22. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 17, 2006 at 2:25 am

    it’s bizarre. in may he sent me a veeeeeeerrrrrryyyyy long email about how awful randomised controlled trials are, but he wasn’t nasty about it. i just dont know what he saw in the video that upset him so much. funny, really, how i gave a reasoned chat on EBM and then talked a bit at the end about the low quality of homeopaths’ discourse, and in return i get abuse, from a director of the society of homeopaths, no less.

  23. pseudomonas said,

    December 17, 2006 at 7:21 am

    The abuse bit is odd. I was actually going to criticise your blurb at the top on the basis that whilst the audience was certainly hostile to your point of view it really wasn’t what I’d call abusive (on the basis of the clip, AFAICT) to you personally.

  24. jackpt said,

    December 17, 2006 at 9:22 am

    I wonder if the anger at you is actually displaced anger at the audience. Maybe the best way to undermine a lot of stuff is to present the views of the audience as a product of the practitioners. Tarring them with their own audience.

  25. Robert Carnegie said,

    December 17, 2006 at 10:01 am

    I don’t think it’s fair to demand that homeopathy users should not use non-homeopathic drugs. Anaesthetic was mentioned… homeopathy is about wellness, anaesthesia is about interfering with nerve function or rendering you unconscious, I don’t know if a homeopathic anaesthetic is -possible-. There wouldn’t be a homeopathic antiseptic or antibiotic. All you could do is use homeopathy to make bacteria more well, and the homeopathic treatment would have to be prescribed individually to each bacterium. And so on.

    I do think that surely there’s a better way to harness the placebo effect than by talking up bottled water, but I’m not in a position to say what it is. It may be a matter of presentation, doctors need to be more theatrical in their consultations, more attentive, maybe they should have a system that text-messages patients frequently to ask how they’re feeling…

  26. Jut said,

    December 17, 2006 at 10:10 am

    The main concerns I have about allowing homeopathic “drugs” on the NHS is a) The NHS is already stretched enough for cash and the money could be spent on something else; and b) It’s the start of a very dangerous path where anyone peddling snakeoil can demand it be avalible on the NHS

  27. BSM said,

    December 17, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    “b) It’s the start of a very dangerous path where anyone peddling snakeoil can demand it be avalible on the NHS”

    And has already resulted in the MHRA and Vetereinary Medicines Directorate speaking with forked tongues, which cannot but have a corrosive effect on the requirement proper evidence for efficacy of medicines.

  28. fg said,

    December 17, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    Re @25 Robert Carnegie:

    While Homoeopathy might not work as an anaesthetic, there was a BBC
    news report suggesting certain, special forms of acupuncture might actually work – although, AFAIK, no peer reviewed research has yet been published on this. (And I hate to think how insufferable the CAM lobby will be, if it turns out that “acupuncture works”.)

    The report was at (or here, if live HTML is permitted.)

  29. Sid said,

    December 17, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    I think he may have confused you for the comedian Lee Evans. That’s probably why he didn’t see you there.

  30. banshee said,

    December 17, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    Hi First time on this board but this whole discussion reflects the differences between the process of treatment and the substance we use to treat….

    I work as a pharmacist in mental health and Dr Aust’s comments with regard to anti-depressant therapy are entirely correct – trials suggest that, on average, the impact of the actual antidepressant is actually slightly smaller than the placebo effect – and this in the context of a mental illness that tends to improve over time for many sufferers.

    One of the issues in mental health is the clear and unequivocal message that different treatments such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and anti-depressants are actually synergistic – as well as being proven therapies in themselves. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that the mere act of a therapeutic intervention can have a positive impact – whether that’s discussion with your GP/neighbour on why you feel so low to weekly sessions with a psychologist. What is interesting is how the “therapeutic relationship” impacts on the efficacy of the intervention – and, of course, it does.

    Here for me is the utility of the CAM’s debate – showing that if we get the therapeutic relationship right we can improve the efficacy of allopathic treatments – for example optimising the most effective antidepressant treatments including medication and “talking therapies”.

    I’ve also had the “honour” of being invited to an event on the whole issue of CAMS in mental health organised by the Prince fo Wales foundation for integrated health and held in Bristol. Which was a little like entering the lions den! (One of our psychiatrists was there and he and I have had discussions on the use of preparations based on lion’s dung in psychiatry……..)

    IMHO the presentations were very poor, the discussion focussed on how wonderful CAMS were and how the NHS should pay for it and little recognition of why people in the NHS and elsewhere may be somewhat sceptical around many claims. It was an interesting experience in a roomful of people who had made a career of providing CAMs therapies and seemed somewhat blind to the conflicts of interest that creates. And apparabtly adament that no trials could be undertaken despite the fact that there were 200 people in the room who made a living from CAM therapies……..and surely could organise suitable studies?

  31. Mojo said,

    December 17, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    Lion’s dung? Surely bovine excrement would be more appropriate.

  32. Littleshim said,

    December 17, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Re: 19, surely you could have him hauled up by the scuffers for sending hate mail?

  33. Bock The Robber said,

    December 17, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    He probably wanted to say much worse things to you.

    I’d say he watered down his comments.

  34. Michael Harman said,

    December 17, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Ayupmeduck’s comment on Benvenisten and transmission of homeopathic influences over the Internet has made me think. Perhaps we really *can* catch computer viruses. Scope for a whole new class of antivirus systems? And maybe those stories about people wrapping discs in plastic to avoid catching viruses from them may be true after all?

    And how long before we see stuff about it from woo practitioners (with suitably priced remedies)?

  35. Dr Aust said,

    December 17, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    Ben wrote:

    “you should see the rest of the bile this guy has been sending me, he hates doctors, he hates medical students, my talk was rubbish, i couldnt understand his work because i’m not as clever as him, i should expect abuse and get used to it, etc.”

    What I find interesting about this is the following disconnect.

    The Alt Med types repeatedly portray themselves as being unfairly excluded by the “cold dehumanised discourse” of evidence-based / allopathic medicine. They make endless noise about how the mainstream “discards time-tested healing wisdom ” [(c}Prince Charles]… aka spiritualist woo in all its forms.

    But then when asked hard but entirely reasonable questions about either (i) the underlying basis of their system, or (ii) the evidence that it is actually effective, they resort to the usual repertoire of refusal to engage on the evidence, bluster, obfuscation, accusations of “microfascism” and ad hom attacks.

    Go figure.

  36. Twm said,

    December 17, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    p.s The word woo is new to me. I like it (if this definition is acceptable

  37. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 18, 2006 at 12:40 am

    i like that definition, but i also like to imagine the people who believe in woo stuff waving their arms around mysteriously like mediaeval wise crones and going “wooooo” during their supernatural explanations.

  38. Sid said,

    December 18, 2006 at 1:19 am

    It worries me that Milgrom is from a science background and he has only jumped onto this band-wagon very recently (qualified-1999) from the bio on the Socio Homo’s.
    Along with Ennis and Benveniste(dig him up), along with Josephson and Sheldrake (did I miss anyone out?)
    It looks as though they have enough people to start up their own accredited university.

    What is the world coming to?

  39. katem said,

    December 18, 2006 at 9:14 am

    I tried to open the Directors’ Code of Conduct on the SOH website but couldn’t. Is anyone able to? (go to and scroll to the bottom of the page.) I imagine that the code of conduct of any professional body would make provision to cenure any of its members who engaged with a member of the public in such a disgraceful fashion.

  40. katem said,

    December 18, 2006 at 9:14 am

    That should be censure.

  41. le canard noir said,

    December 18, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Their Customer Service Charter commitment is illuminating.

    I quote…

    Customer Service Charter

    Our charter sets out our commitment and the standards of service we aim to provide. Our charter applies to everyone who has contact with the Society of Homeopaths, including:

    – Media

    Our commitment
    As Society staff we are committed to:

    – maintaining a professional manner
    – using plain or easy to understand language
    being courteous and helpful
    – listening carefully
    – providing clear and accurate information
    – responding to enquiries and requests promptly
    – being transparent and accountable
    – apologising if we make a mistake
    – being sensitive to special needs
    – being accessible
    – advising of all relevant timescales
    – continuously striving to improve or exceed our service standards


    Plenty to address there then.

  42. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    December 18, 2006 at 10:17 am

    “jesus, you should see the rest of the bile this guy has been sending me”

    I think we should too. Publish & be damned. And then send it to the Police claiming a course of conduct amounting to harassment contrary to s2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

  43. askakeyboardninja said,

    December 18, 2006 at 10:54 am

    oh good this give me an excuse to use the funniest homepathic quote / attack ever

    Lional this is just for you………[A homeopathic medication is] a soup made from the shadow of the wing of a pigeon that starved to death.
    – Abraham Lincoln

    see all here

  44. simongates said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:29 am

    RE #22 (Ben) – any chance we could have a read of his very long email if you’ve still got it? It’s always interesting to try to understand why people can persuade themselves that the normal rules don’t apply to their own particular beliefs (unless of course they find some answers that they like).

  45. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:58 am

    i wouldn’t want to go complaining to a professional body over a grumpy email, but i would be very interested to know what actual regulatory activity the SoH has ever been engaged in.

  46. apothecary said,

    December 18, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    re 28. Well there is some evidence that acupuncture has been helpful in chronic arthritis etc (compared to “sham” acupuncture ie needles at non-accupuncture sites). There’s even a quite well conducted, if small, RCT showing magnetic bracelets worked in a good proportion of OA patients as well. OK, these could be placebo effects, and what with submission bias and selection bias, it could be that only the 1 in 20 studies we’d expect to show a significant benefit by chance at P=0.05 get published. But if I had OA not very responsive to paracetramol, given the choice of long term NSAIDs (with the risk of GI and CV effects) – with very small mean effect size vs placebo – or trying acupuncture or magnetic braceklets, which are unlikely to do much harm even if they don’t benefit me – I’d give the “woo” stuff a whirl. Accupuncture could be expensive for the NHS, but magnetic bracelets could be cost-effective (they don’t cost much cf a few months of Cox 2 drug).

    Not that that really helps the homoeopathy debate. As we have said many, many times – most remedies are sold without the detailed consultation homoeopaths claim is so important . And I do think that it would be possible to do trials on “proper”, “full -on” homoeopathy, with a little ingenuity. A series of n of 1 trials, PROBE designs, etc.

    I know that the “more things in heaven and earth” line is used to justify all kinds of hocus pocus. But it is true that we are all (DG) more than simple biological or biochemical models, and in real life clinical practice other things matter as well, eg the faith in the remedy, and the practitioner, the patient’s affective state, etc. So, given that some people have chronic conditions which cause them a great deal of distress and for which conventional medicine can do very little, it may not be unreasonable for a very small selection to see a homoeopath like Fisher, on the NHS – even though the benefit they get is entirely due to the placebo effect. It might even be cost effective to the NHS. However – that does not of course support either the mass use of homoeopathic remedies over the counter etc, or the kind of dangerous and downright insulting stuff we see peddled by some/many/?most? homoeopaths

  47. le canard noir said,

    December 18, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Exactly ben. Their web site goes to great lengths to give the impression that this is a regulated profession with rules and standards. And yet, it is difficult to believe what sort of behaviour would trigger a reprimand or worse. The malaria sting resulted in nothing? Are all homeopaths absolute angels? Do they publicise the output of their regulatory activity so as to better protect the public from charlatans?

    My big bet is – not a chance in hell.

  48. superburger said,

    December 18, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    I complained to the SoH after the Newsnight malaria show.

    I emailed melanie oxley (she was made to look quite silly by Simon Singh, and was also at the Nat. Histoty Museum debate) three times with a complaint that “fellows” of the SoH were giving out dangerous advice.

    I didn’t get a single reply, so i wouldn’t imagine they do much in the way of actual regulation.

  49. Weirdbeard said,

    December 18, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    I watched the video last night and was amazed at how much Peter Fisher evaded questions by appearing to answer them while in reality he just obfuscated. The most telling example to me was when the guy in the audience, towards the end, said that he had problems getting his head around this water memory stuff and asked Fisher to explain it. Fisher’s fairly long answer simply restated his case that there was a memory effect without giving any clue about how it might work.

    The whole thing reminds me of a religion — if someone asks how something can possibly be you just say, often in a round-about way, that God works in mysterious ways.

    I had a personal experience a week ago of just how powerful the mere presence of someone you believe in can be. I was experiencing severe pains in my chest and left arm and called 999 to say I thought I was having a heart attack (it turned out later that I really was and so I did the right thing). Thing is that as soon as the paramedics turned up, but before they’d actually done anything other than ask me questions, I felt considerably better.

  50. Dr Aust said,

    December 18, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    “The whole thing reminds me of a religion”


    I know I’ve said this before, but let’s do the standard checklist.

    Ancient sacred book? Check.
    Full of mystical statements? Check.
    Authority of said book unquestioned? Check
    Priesthood-type cadre of “interpreters”? Check.
    ..Who give objects symbolic / mystic significance via arcane ritual? Check
    Sustained by fanatical faith of believers? Check
    Inconvenient intrusions of science & reality angrily denounced? Check

    Etc Etc ad nauseam.

  51. Delster said,

    December 18, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    it is actually possible to administer a homeopathic general anaesthetic. All you need is a large sturdy bottle of the medicinal water, a good wide stance and room to swing…. of course the concussion can be a bit of a sod

    I did once see something about the accupuncture though. They were using it to do an operation (think it was a C-Section) on a cow. Apparently the cow just stood there munching away quite happily while they did it. Unfortunatly i don;t have the source for this one any more.

  52. Mojo said,

    December 18, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    “The whole thing reminds me of a religion”

    Apart from one thing: many religions seem to instil feelings of guilt in their adherents. I haven’t seen any evidence of this in homoeopaths.

  53. BSM said,

    December 18, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    “Apart from one thing: many religions seem to instil feelings of guilt in their adherents. I haven’t seen any evidence of this in homoeopaths.”

    Hence its popularity:

    “HOMEOPATHY: All the benefits of a religion and never having to say you’re sorry”

  54. Dr Aust said,

    December 18, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Actually, that sounds a bit like a T-shirt slogan from the other thread:

    “Homeopathy: All the benefits of a religion without the guilt”

    “Homeopathy: like religion, only better”

    – although my favourite remains:

    “HOMEOPATHY: turning water into money since 1820”

  55. Dr Aust said,

    December 18, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    Apologies – got my dates wrong. The first publication of the Organon was 1810 so my T-shirt should read:

    “HOMEOPATHY: turning water into money since 1810″

    Just think, soon to be nearly two full centuries of relieving the gullible of their cash.

    It is a tribute to the enduring need of some sectors of humanity for spiritualist gobbledegook that Homeopathy thrives more than 150 years after it was clearly nailed as nonsense.

    Homeopathic beer anyone?

  56. CTWARD said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    Have you considered that some homeopathic doctors, ie real doctors who also use homeopathic treatments, don’t actually believe it works any more than you do. This could be why they are so annoyed with you. You are spoiling their game. Witch-doctoring will only work while people believe the magic. And you’re going round trying to convince people there is no magic. I get the impression, correct me if I’m wrong, that you are a hospital doctor, so most of your patients are actually ill rather than just having symptoms. Put yourself in the position of a GP with patients you can find nothing wrong with but who continue to show up in your surgery with their symptoms. You have at your disposal a treatment that actually works and may well make them better. It’s called placebo. But you can’t really use it. But if you hide it behind some pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo you can get away with it. And here is a wonderful system already set up. The royal family use it. It works on the corgis. There’s even some spurious scientific research involving cutting-edge physics to interest the nerdy types. Lots of clever people seem to believe it, so you won’t look like a complete wierdo. Would it not be tempting? Why else would anyone persist with a treatment that even in the most generous assessment performs only marginally better than placebo?
    Some would say that by using homeopathy they are giving credence to a sham and encouraging people to waste their money and possibly endanger their health.
    I can’t really argue with that, but they probably just see people getting better.

  57. superburger said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    Yes, but lying to a patient is kind of a breach of the trust the patients put in health care professionals.

    imagine that you knew your GP handed out homeopathic placebos. Could you trust that his/her every healthcare advice given to you was honest, and backed by a clear evidence base?

  58. CTWARD said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    I think I’d rather know that my GP was knowingly giving out homeopathic placebos than that s/he actually believed in it. Yes, lying to people when you know it may make them happier. I’m not saying you should do it but people do. Perhaps not very professional though.

  59. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    ctward: i absolutely agree, and i think that is one thing that could be useful in homeopathy, and i agree that many medical homeopaths must think about the issues you flag up. what i find mindboggling is that there is no open discussion of this. i mean i realise it might be difficult but it must happen somewhere surely, and not just over pints and pillows. why not in a journal? maybe it has. free piece of badscience merchandise for the first to find me one.

  60. CTWARD said,

    December 18, 2006 at 11:30 pm

    Perhaps the best thing would be a piece of research proving beyond all doubt that homeopathy is so effective that it has to presciption only. Then it could only be given as a placebo by someone qualified to make sure the patient didn’t have life-threatening disease.

  61. Twm said,

    December 19, 2006 at 12:37 am

    CTWARD – the issues you raised crossed my mind also.
    I was thinking that for much of the last few hundred years physicians were custodians of knowledge and dispensed it to a public who were grateful to have their ailment treated. And the medical establishment was perhaps a little superior in terms of choosing what to tell and not tell the patient.

    Imagine that approach magnified….
    If this was a graphic novel, then there would be a secret rulers of the world formed 200 years ago- a club where clandestine meetings occur between the philosophers, medics and generals who have recognised that the myth of homoeopathy is the most effective way of delivering the placebo. A sham story about water memory was concocted as a simple dumbed down ‘science bit’ to appeal to the lay person to effectively deliver the placebo.
    Unfortunately, the more people who know the truth, the less effective the treatment becomes and so of course the real truth must be protected at all cost. When curious young doctors snoop around, the secret rulers get very cross stating “this is on a level you can’t understand, just walk away…it’s for the good of humanity!”.

    The threats via email are all so clear now. This is bigger than soylent green!

  62. exarch said,

    December 19, 2006 at 5:08 am

    The comment about research funding came up a couple of times in that clip, and it keeps boggling me that homeopaths, who must have a huge profit margin on their medication, somehow seem to be unable to fund their own research.

    We’re not talking experimental medicine here, we’re talking the same classic placebo controlled trials that any medication has to pass before even being allowed to be sold in a pharmacy. Who pays for that? The company making the drug.

    A company like Boiron is just raking in the money. They have no research expenses. Any money they make above production cost is pure profit, and we are to believe that somehow, they can’t afford to run a few efficacy tests?

    It’s pretty clear why they don’t do tests: they already know that it’s going to cut into their profits. First because the trial costs money, and second because any negative trial will further discredit their industry. I would buy stock in Boiron if I was somehow able to overcome the tought of funding quackery.

    Turning water into money since 1810. Damn straight.

  63. exarch said,

    December 19, 2006 at 5:21 am

    In reply to homeopathy in the NHS:

    I would say, sure, why not, if they jump through all the hoops most (if not every) other medications and treatments currently in the NHS had to jump through to get there.

    And since they seem to already have resigned themselves to not being testable by science, I think we can safely open that door, since they’re unlikely to ever be able to reach the ledge, much less pass it.

    As someone in the audience said: they want to have their cake and eat it too.
    – They want to be treated by science, but they don’t want to be tested like science.
    – They want to be like the medical establishment, but they seem unable to do even elementary internal policing.
    – They want their remedies reimbursed, but they can’t pass the required efficacy tests to be considered medicine.

    I think the homeopaths are staring themselves blind on the “how does water memory work?” question, which for skeptics is just the icing on the cake, the final blow with which to kill the concept.
    But none of that really matters. If it works, we’ll use it. They just can’t show it to work, and therein lies the problem.

  64. three tigers said,

    December 19, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Re post #51 you can do a caesarian on a cow without an anaesthetic anyway, bogus acupuncture needles or not. Cows are generally very stoical and the worst they do is kick a bit when cutting into the peritoneal cavity and through the skin at the start (the most innervated bits), according to my vet husband.

    Re post #46 arthritis of any kind is known to have a massive TLC placebo effect. One of our clinical trials was totally bogged by a 50% ACR20 placebo effect.

  65. superburger said,

    December 19, 2006 at 11:29 am

    if you take the stance that any treatment given out by a doctor is to be considered appropriate as long as it ‘works’ then it must be equally valid for a GP to offer laying of hands, exorcism, voodoo potions, spells, charms, lucky rabbits feet, sprigs of heather etc. All of these will have an effect, and will probably ‘cure’ someone who was previously unresponsive to other approaches.

    Why not go the whole hog and sacrifice a blond virgin every now and again to cure some bad lumbago. The spectacle and ritual, especially when performed by a mild mannered GP suddenly transformed into a crazed witch doctor, speaking in tongues and raising his dagger high, surrounded by candles is bound to be effective.

  66. fg said,

    December 19, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Re apothecary @46 and the reset of acupuncture anaesthetics: the news story said they did a “brain scan” of people undergoing acupuncture with needles >1cm, and found deactivation of the limbic system. In China it’s used for open heart surgery, apparently (I didn’t watch the programme).

    Re value for money of Homoeopathy: What is the cost? Surely its just the salary of these people, who are essentially acting as counsellors – the very things that has been squeezed out the NHS. (Although I would rather have a trained counsellor than a homoeopath.) And are they any worse than the drug companies’ attempts to squeeze money out of the NHS (e.g. herceptin and prozac in inappropriate cases)?

    (BTW TWM @61, love the graphic novel.)

  67. fg said,

    December 19, 2006 at 11:38 am

    Re superburger @64 – I’m all for it; it would liven a consultation no end… 😉

  68. raygirvan said,

    December 19, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    In China it’s used for open heart surgery, apparently

    I forget the thread where we discussed this, but I recall that the publicity for the BBC2 programme was a wee bit naughty in implying that acupuncture was the sole anaesthetic. In fact the operations were conducted using acupuncture in addition to regional anaesthesia and sedation.

  69. apothecary said,

    December 19, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    OK – re accupuncture and OA – Clinical Evidence says re kneee OA “Two systematic reviews and three subsequent RCTs found limited evidence that acupuncture improved pain and function compared with control” and lists it as “likely to be beneficial”. For hip OA, it says “One RCT found no significant difference between traditional Chinese acupuncture and sham acupuncture for pain, function, and quality of life in people with osteoarthritis of the hip”.

    Re magnetic bracelets. I *really* wish I hadn’t mentioned it, but having done so, I feel the need to justify myself. The paper I referred to is Harlow T et al BMJ 2004; 329: 1450-4. DBRCT of 194 Pts with OA of hip or knee. Pts were randomised to receive one of three treatments: “standard” magnetic bracelet, “weak” bracelet (ie magnetic enough to attract keyes, etc but not thought “strong enough” to be therapeutic), or non-mganetic bracelet. Changes in WOMAC scores were significant in favour of the standard magentic group. The VAS pain score showed a mean (95%CI) difference of 11.4 (3.0 to 19.8), with 20% of the standard magnet group showing a “high level of improvement” (OMERACT standard) , cf 14% in the weak magnet group and 9% in the non-manet group. Pt’s guesses as to which group they had been allocated to did not correlate with reponses. Compare these results with the high quality MAs available on NSAIDs vs placebo and the results are in the same ball park.

    The magnet paper is only one study. It was small. Blinding is still a potential problem. There was no mention of concealment allocation. The results could easily be a fluke. I am absolutely *not* saying it is anything approaching conclusive evidence of benefits of magnetic bracelets – far from it.

    All I was trying to say in post 46 (at that point in the discussion, which has moved on now) was that one cannot lump all CAM together – crystal healing, iridology etc are all tripe, and so is homoeopathy. But accupuncture is “likely to be beneficial” in knee OA – and you don’t need to believe Chinese medical philosophy to accept that, any more than you need to accept doctrine of signatures or the four humours to think that western traditional herbal remedies to have a pharmacological effects. Let’s not be so fundamentalist as to refuse to countenance the *possibility* that one or two so-called CAMs might possibly have a genuine effect – provided that they are open to scientific testing.

  70. BSM said,

    December 19, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    “In China it’s used for open heart surgery, apparently (I didn’t watch the programme).”

    It was certainly used while open heart surgery was done, but the patient was drugged up to the eyeballs and also had local anaesthetics injected.

    The acupuncturist just added another source of infection in the room!

  71. BSM said,

    December 19, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    “many medical homeopaths must think about the issues you flag up. what i find mindboggling is that there is no open discussion of this. i mean i realise it might be difficult but it must happen somewhere surely, and not just over pints and pillows. why not in a journal?”

    I don’t think it really happens at all from my observations of them in their native habitats. They bicker about the minutiae of interpretations of the holy books but they do not discuss the validity of the system. When they discus science it is either to bleat on about science not recognising them or assert that they operate outside the scope of science.

    It is this utter lack of self-reflectiveness that makes me think of it as a cult more than a conventional religion.

  72. coracle said,

    December 19, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    @ superburger, #64
    Witchdoctors in tweed jackets – nice mental image!

  73. TimW said,

    December 19, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    By the way, does anybody know if there’s some other forum, then, where Homeopaths are discussing the Natural History Museum debate? Could be a laugh.

  74. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 19, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    that would be most enjoyable.

  75. nohassel said,

    December 19, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    How bloody depressing is all this homeopathic mumbo jumbo?.

    Ben – if it all get’s too much and you want to throw the towel in, why not go round to Lionel’s home and invite the world’s media to witness a “suicide bid using homeopathic sleeping pills to raise awareness of CAM fraud.”

    An amusing video here of Australian sceptics locked in a “suicide pact” and attempting this very feat:

  76. Twm said,

    December 19, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    Bit of a slow day at the office…some anti-mumbo jumbo images I knocked up:

  77. oneiros said,

    December 19, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Dr Aust wrote: “HOMEOPATHY: turning water into money since 1810″

    Love it! 😉

    So the woo-woos have got a big anniversary coming up in a few years time, eh? Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn that on its head and make 2010 the year we oust this nonsense for once and for all? Lead on Ben…

  78. Ben Goldacre said,

    December 19, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    genius twm.

  79. oneiros said,

    December 19, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    Just been wandering around the SOH site; in their “What is homeopathy?” section they tell us:

    “Repeated dilution results in the familiar 6x, 6c or 30c potencies that can be bought over the counter: the 30c contains less than 1 part per million of the original substance.”

    Yes; much, MUCH less!

  80. igb said,

    December 19, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I had my dislocated foot reset on Sunday afternoon — by a full Colonel, no less, my local hospital being part military — with the help of 50mg of IV ketamine. It was quite an experience. I wonder what the homeopathy brigade would have offered me?

  81. nohassel said,

    December 19, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    Is this the same Lionel Milgrom, literally lecturing to an auditorium of science journalists about science and its place in society?


  82. CTWARD said,

    December 19, 2006 at 9:15 pm

    igb’ s just given me an idea. Homeopathic recreational drugs. I could sell homeopathic ecstasy in my local club. Twenty percent of people would have a great time and the rest I could give their money back and I’d still make a fortune. And no worries about the law. I think I’m on to a winner here. If only you lot would stop telling people it doesn’t work.

  83. autism diva said,

    December 19, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    CTWARD, wouldn’t homeopathic ecstasy make people really sad?

    Like someone from the healthfruad listserv said that homeopathic chocolate is the perfect weight loss drug. Cacao30X or something.

    Homepathic caffeine would put one to sleep.

    I think Dr. Goldacre needs to figure out the homeopathic drug that makes people feel all cuddly and warm-hearted maybe one of the Bach flower remedies… and send it in an email to Dr Milgrom. Say,

    Dear Dr. Milgrom,

    I hope this (mugwort 10C?) makes you feel better. I know it will, just like you know it will.

    Sincerely, …..

    What could he say but, “Gosh, I feel much better now.. I’m sorry for attacking you like I did. My humors were out of alignment.”

  84. Mojo said,

    December 20, 2006 at 12:20 am

    oneiros said, “Just been wandering around the SOH site; in their “What is homeopathy?” section they tell us:

    “Repeated dilution results in the familiar 6x, 6c or 30c potencies that can be bought over the counter: the 30c contains less than 1 part per million of the original substance.”

    Yes; much, MUCH less!”

    I’m sure someone will correct me if I’ve got my arithmetic wrong here (it’s a bit late to be counting zeros rather than zeds) but, assuming that the mother tincture consists of the “original substance” in solution rather than pure “original substance”, woudn’t even 6x contain less than 1 part per million of the original substance? It would be 1 part per million of MT, wouldn’t it?

  85. apothecary said,

    December 20, 2006 at 8:47 am

    re 82 – yes, and as eny fule kno, Avagadro’s number is 6 x 10^23, so a whole mole of something diluted to 12c will contain, asyermightsay, less than one molecule of the original.

    Something I’ve never understood – homoeopaths say that succussion and dilution potensises the substance in the mother tincture. Let’s accept that for the moment and see where it takes us. Consider the remedy Nat Mur. Is it possible to obtain absolutely 100.0000000% pure NaCl? with absolutely no impurities? And what about the water diluent? Is that 100% pure H20? Surely then, all those impurities will be potensised at the same time. Do they control for those? Or could some of the (claimed) effects for Nat Mur be actually due to impurities? Which might be different batch to batch and from one manufacturer to another? (wasn’t that a crucial plot device in Jekyll and Hyde?). Oh – so only *some* things are potencised, and not others. I see. Well I’ll take that Nat Mur idea with a pinch of salt (phnah! phnah!)

  86. superburger said,

    December 20, 2006 at 9:14 am

    On the video debate the homeopaths make a great distinction between a potentised remedy and a homeopathic remedy. The only difference between them appears to be that homeopathic remedies are homeopathic because they say they are.

  87. oneiros said,

    December 20, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Mojo wrote: “[6x] would be 1 part per million of MT, wouldn’t it?”

    Yeah. It just amused me the way they suggested that 30c was “less than” 1ppm; like they were too embarrassed to reveal quite how ridiculous Hahnemann’s favoured dilution really was…

  88. Jut said,

    December 20, 2006 at 10:29 am

    does anyone know how commercial homeopathic “drugs” are manufactured? Do they go through the trouble of dilutions or just pour some tate and lyle into a machine and be done with it.

  89. Mojo said,

    December 20, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Re post 82: “Oh – so only *some* things are potencised, and not others. I see.”

    Yes, that’s the whole point. The water is very intelligent and highly trained, and only remembers what it is supposed to remember, much as a thermos flask is smart enough to know, without being told, whether it is supposed to be keeping its contents hot or cold. 😉

  90. Mojo said,

    December 20, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Re post 85:

    Commercial homoeopathic remedies (especially at higher potencies) are often prepared by machine, using the “Korsakov method”, in which, rather than taking a small amout of the preparation at each stage and diluting it (for an “x” preparation) one hundredfold, as for the method originally specified by Hahnemann, a single vial is used and repeatedly emptied and refilled with fresh solvent. It is assumed that one hundredth of the solution sticks to the sides of the vial at each stage.

    See here, for example:

    “The machine repeatedly empties and refills in a single vial (Korsakov method) until the desired potency is reached”

    Personally, I would call this “washing-up”.

  91. jjbp said,

    December 20, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    I dont suppose the placebo effect works so well with animals. My aunt had her dog treated by a CAM “vet”. The dog was developing bald patches, and it was prescribed something (I dont know what). Not a lot appeared to happen apart from the poor thing lost all the hair from its legs. The explanation for this was that the “toxins were draining back to the earth through the legs”. Over a few more months the dog got sicker and the practitioner explained that the lack of effectiveness was because the dog didnt keep the medicine under its tongue long enough. It died later of leukaemia.

  92. Jut said,

    December 20, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    Re: 87:

    You mean this voodoo science isn’t even doing accurate dilutions? I guess it’s to be expected, but it’s still giving my brain “does not compute” errors.

  93. Delster said,

    December 20, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    post 63. Re C-section on cows….. that’ll teach me to go research instead of digging something out of the old memory :-)

    TWM post 73. love that first pic… water memory :-) who’d have thought it would come with a usb interface!

  94. jj_hankinson said,

    December 20, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Homeopathy is a faith-based belief system – there’s as much point trying to point out the holes in potentisation to a homeopath as there is arguing that Mary couldn’t have been a virgin to a Christian.

    Grim but true I’m afraid.

  95. TimW said,

    December 20, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Re 89

    On the other hand accuracy is essential, sometimes, when all else fails, as Milgrom argues here:

  96. Mojo said,

    December 20, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Re post 88: “Not a lot appeared to happen apart from the poor thing lost all the hair from its legs. The explanation for this was that the “toxins were draining back to the earth through the legs”.”

    This will probably have been described by the homoeopath as an “aggravation”, which showed that the remedy was working. Basically they rely on the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, and assume that anything that happens after a remedy is administered was caused by the remedy. As homoeopaths “know” that homoeopathy is harmless and always works, any apparent adverse reaction must, by homoeopathic reasoning, be a good thing.

  97. TimW said,

    December 20, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Mojo: Any apparent adverse reaction, including death?

  98. Dr Aust said,

    December 20, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Death is just, like, the next stage in the cycle of life, Tim. The homeopath was just helping the dog complete it’s cosmic journey.

    To inject a note of juvenile facetiousness into the discussion, I found the folllowing rather brilliant comment on Samuel “Sam Da Man” Hahnemann, the august founding guru of homeopathy, in an online book “Homeopathy in Perspective” written by the British medical homeopath (and former consultant at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital) Anthony Campbell MRCP:

    – from Ch 3:

    “Dynamization [Hahnemann’s own word for potentization by diluting and shaking] was for Hahnemann a process of releasing an energy that he regarded as essentially immaterial and spiritual. As time went on he became more and more impressed with the power of the technique he had discovered and he issued dire warnings about the perils of dynamizing medicines too much. This might have serious or even fatal consequences, and he advised homeopaths not to carry medicines about in their waistcoat pockets lest they inadvertently make them too powerful. Eventually he even claimed that there was no need for patients to swallow the medicines at all; it was enough if they merely smelt them.”

  99. Dr Aust said,

    December 20, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Suggests another t-shirt:

    Cartoon of two men in white coats. One has tube in hand.

    Above the cartoon:

    Homeopathy: water can be fatal


    first white coat: “No! Don’t shake it! You’ll potentize the virus and kill us all!”

  100. askakeyboardninja said,

    December 20, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    good job homeopaths weren’t around in 500 years ago as they would be tried as witches with this woo….maybe that would have failed too as when chucking them in to the river to see if they float or sink as the water would have been a remedy / cure to them…etc

  101. Mojo said,

    December 20, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Re post 94: Some people have no sense of gratitude… 😉

  102. Dr Aust said,

    December 20, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    re post 97:

    And another (anachronistic) t-shirt:

    Picture of witch being dunked into pool of water:

    Caption (one peasant to another): Ha! I love it when we give one of these homeopaths a dose of his own medicine!

  103. Dr Aust said,

    December 20, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    On a more serious note, Anthony Campbell’s online book about Homeopathy (URL in post 95 above) is actually quite an interesting read.

    – Though having read the last two chapters, I’m not altogether sure Lionel M and Ben’s audience from the debate would recognise Campbell as a homeopath..!

    – from the final chapter:

    ” So are we to conclude that homeopathy is simply a powerful placebo? Probably, yes, but a placebo in the sense that psychotherapy is a powerful placebo. A homeopathic consultation affords the patient an opportunity to talk at length about her or his problems to an attentive and sympathetic listener in a structured environment, and this in itself is therapeutic..

    Psychotherapy is defined as “the talking cure”, and judged on that basis, homeopathy is a form of psychotherapy. This is true whether or not the homeopath recognizes that she is using psychotherapy. Many homeopaths would agree that there is an element of psychotherapy in the consultation, but they would not accept that that is the main part of it. However, homeopaths generally pride themselves, often with justification, on being people with good powers of intuition and empathy; indeed, unless they have these abilities they will not succeed in their profession. This also means that they are good psychotherapists.

    The psychiatrist Anthony Storr is sceptical about much psychoanalytic theory but nevertheless thinks that psychoanalysis can have beneficial effects on patients. I should say the same is true of homeopathy.”

    Campbell’s book gives an interesting account fo the history of homeopathic thought, which might shed some light on why the British homeopaths seem more “woo-ish”, and rabldly anti conventional medicine, than those in some other countries, e.g. in mainland Europe. Campbell stresses the influence in the late 19th century of the American James Tyler Kent (1849-1916), whose ideas

    “[represent] Hahnemann’s later, more extreme, ideas taken to their logical limit…”


    “….- Insistence on the theoretical aspects of Hahnemann’s thought, especially the miasm doctrine and vitalism.
    – A corresponding rejection of modern scientific and pathological knowledge as a guide to prescribing.
    – Great emphasis on the importance of psychological symptoms in prescribing.
    – Insistence on the use of very high potencies. [i.e. dilutions] ………..”

    Campbell also notes that

    ” In the early years of the twentieth century advocates of Kent’s ideas took over homeopathy in Britain almost completely, and as a result the notion of homeopathy that most people [in the U.K.] have today is based on Kentian homeopathy, which is an extreme and “fundamentalist” version”

    Campbell’s book traces the reasons why homeopathy has survived in Britain, including its royal patronage which dates back to the 1820s, and explains how the Homeopathic Hospitals became part of the NHS. Good fun if you’re into history.

  104. fg said,

    December 20, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    On a less serious note: if water has a memory, then surely—at some point in its history—its been urine. So can it remember that? Do two bottles of water reminisce about the time they were urinated by a brontosaurus, and moan how pathetic us primates are, sweating it all away? What about the stuff that’s been used as a coolant in a nuclear reactor? Gives you pause for thought, doesn’t it?

    Re: BSM @ 67
    “It was certainly used while open heart surgery was done, but the patient was drugged up to the eyeballs and also had local anaesthetics injected.”

    No…No…No….I recant my naïve, open-mindedness – these people are insane!

    Re Twm – loved them all. I emailed Ben my rather more pedestrian efforts.

  105. ayupmeduck said,

    December 20, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    Dunno if this will fit (or if the HTML) will work, but you can have it for a T-shirt if it will somehow fit:

  106. ayupmeduck said,

    December 20, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Hmm, guess the HTML didn’t work, here’s a link:

  107. Delster said,

    December 21, 2006 at 10:40 am

    re post 91…. hate to point it out but it’s fairly easy to get a virgin pregnant… mind you back then then may not have known this :-)

    ayupmeduck, you been reading the hitch hikers guide again? “it’s unplesently like being drunk” “whats wrong with being drunk” “ask a glass of water!”

  108. used to be jdc said,

    December 21, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    I’m sure I read somewhere recently that there were (in different places, different eras…) different definitions of the word virgin, which could mean pre-pubertal or post-menopausal. So the miracle of the virgin birth could be a little like those modern miracles in the red-top (“gran gives birth to triplets” etc…). Err… maybe.

  109. Dr Aust said,

    December 21, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    re. 105…talking religious doctrine

    If we’re talking New Testament textual analysis, my memory of this was that the Greek word in the original version of the relevant gospel didn’t necessarily mean” virgin” but rather “young woman”. When it was translated it became virgin, the irreligious neo-marxist historians’ view being that it suited the compilers of the early church in late Roman times to have Jesus born of a virgin, rather than being simply a child born to a married couple.

    This sort of argument is a source of endless fun annoying serious and/or dogmatic Christians, if that’s your kind of thing.

  110. Gordon said,

    December 21, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Steve Bell’s cartoon in today’s Guardian has a homeopathic interpretation – Bush diluted into Blair diluted into Cameron:,,1976707,00.html

  111. j said,

    December 21, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    “If we’re talking New Testament textual analysis, my memory of this was that the Greek word in the original version of the relevant gospel didn’t necessarily mean” virgin” but rather “young woman”. When it was translated it became virgin, the irreligious neo-marxist historians’ view being that it suited the compilers of the early church in late Roman times to have Jesus born of a virgin, rather than being simply a child born to a married couple.

    This sort of argument is a source of endless fun annoying serious and/or dogmatic Christians, if that’s your kind of thing. ”

    The christians are at it too nowadays. Christian ‘true love waits’ approaches to contraception often suggest that members can become ‘born again virgins’ when they take their pledge to abstain until marriage – even if they’ve already had sex.

  112. fg said,

    December 21, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    Sorry TWM, but I was so impressed by your USB water bottle I had to do my own –

    Hope you’re not too narked. There are some more designs here,

    starting with a post-feminist reinterpreation of “MMR is safe”. (I thought this needed to appeal to women – so I went pink and fluffy.)

  113. bootboy said,

    December 21, 2006 at 8:58 pm

    “Steve Bell’s cartoon in today’s Guardian has a homeopathic interpretation – Bush diluted into Blair diluted into Cameron:”

    At sufficent levels of dilution, that particular solution will bring eternal peace to the universe, infinite respect for people of all creeds and colours and a never-ending reign of social justice.

    If only this homeopathy stuff wasn’t a load of cobblers. sigh.

  114. oneiros said,

    December 22, 2006 at 8:07 am

    @107: Some nice ideas, but you might want to double-check your spelling on that first (water memory) one… 😉

  115. TimW said,

    December 22, 2006 at 11:10 pm

    I’m usually pretty good at spelling errors but I can’t spot it this time. Has it been fixed? Or is it Homoeopathic that you don’t approve of? Or something I’ve missed – gah!

  116. fg said,

    December 23, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    oneiros – please tell me what I’ve spelt wrong – as I’ve just put this slightly revised version (bottle has electrode, bubbles and label) through the spell checker, and beyond swearing at, there were no complaints.

  117. pseudomonas said,

    December 24, 2006 at 8:46 am

    fg: 850ml at 4Gb/ml doesn’t make the 4Tb on the label.

  118. abahachi said,

    December 25, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    Re 105: Why discredit this by attributing it to neo-Marxists? Lots of entirely non-Marxist conservative historians would happily agree that the whole ‘virgin birth’ issue is (a) pretty late in origin and (b) quite possibly due to mis-translation due to lack of cultural context.

    Re everyone else: basic problem is, given that homeopathy is so manifestly obviously barking – the memory of water??? – why is it that people, even apparently sane and sensible people, believe it? It’s all very well producing yet more witty expositions of why it’s ridiculous; the crucial question, to quote Shermer, is ‘why do people believe weird things?’.

    It lurks underneath almost every post here. Yes, sometimes there’s a clear enough divide between what the maths actually tells you and what seems normal, but too often we end up as a little clique of true science believers against the dark mass of astonishing unscientific ignorance. Since it’s Christmas, even I can get illogical at times; I want to believe in the possibility of enlightenment. So, what is it about ‘science’ that people seem to have lost faith? How much is that actually the problem?

  119. billgibson said,

    December 29, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    fg – it’s homeopathic not homOeopathic.

    It’s such a pain conversing with so many eaqgle-eyed pedants!


  120. billgibson said,

    December 29, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    And I’e just spotted the q in eagle. Bugger.

  121. Twm said,

    December 29, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Homeopathy (also spelled homœopathy or homoeopathy) from the Greek words όμοιος, hómoios (similar) and πάθος, páthos (suffering)[1],

  122. Mojo said,

    December 30, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    “it’s homeopathic not homOeopathic.”

    Someone had better tell the MHRA!

  123. Robert Carnegie said,

    December 30, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    They seem to be in two minds whether their “National Rules Scheme” applies to homoeopathic medicine, homeopathic medicine, or both.

    The “homeo-” form seems much more common on the Internet, and I’ll guess that it’s more emphatically the orthodox spelling in America, where they tend to leave off frills from words imported into English.

  124. jre said,

    January 10, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    In a gesture of Trans-Atlantic comity, I have decided to alternate between the two spellings.

  125. jimrog said,

    January 19, 2007 at 11:44 am

    This is all very intersting. You all seem to follow Ben in assuming that anyone who is interested in Homeopathy is a deluded fantasist who is in a flight from science.
    In fact many serious scientists engage with Homeopathy because they recognise that there is a puzzling phenomena that has some real evidence for it and therefore warrants further investigation.
    The truth is that not all of the scientific research shows Homeopathy to be no more than placebo. It is simply untrue and an evasion to suggest that any research which demonstrates some evidence for Homeopathy is of poor quality and can therefore be dismissed. There is clinical and pre clinical evidence which does demonstrate some action of ultra molecular dilutions.
    A scientific mind would say ” that’s interesting. lets investigate further”.
    Closed minds have already decided that Homeopathy cannot be true and will therefore dismiss it without properly examining the evidence.

    Just one recent example……………………………………………………………………..

    Research article
    Rat models of acute inflammation: a randomized controlled study on the effects of homeopathic remedies
    Anita Conforti , Paolo Bellavite , Simone Bertani , Flavia Chiarotti , Francesca Menniti-Ippolito and Roberto Raschetti

    BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2007, 7:1 doi:10.1186/1472-6882-7-1

    Published 17 January 2007

    Abstract (provisional)

    The complete article is available as a provisional PDF. The fully formatted PDF and HTML versions are in production.


    One of the cardinal principles of homeopathy is the “law of similarities”, according to which patients can be treated by administering substances which, when tested in healthy subjects, cause symptoms that are similar to those presented by the patients themselves. Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of pre-clinical (in vitro and animal) studies aimed at evaluating the pharmacological activity or efficacy of some homeopathic remedies under potentially reproducible conditions. However, in addition to some contradictory results, these studies have also highlighted a series of methodological difficulties. The present study was designed to explore the possibility to test in a controlled way the effects of homeopathic remedies on two known experimental models of acute inflammation in the rat. To this aim, the study considered six different remedies indicated by homeopathic practice for this type of symptom in two experimental edema models (carrageenan- and autologous blood-induced edema), using two treatment administration routes (sub-plantar injection and oral administration).


    In a first phase, the different remedies were tested in the four experimental conditions, following a single-blind (measurement) procedure. In a second phase, some of the remedies (in the same and in different dilutions) were tested by oral administration in the carrageenan-induced edema, under double-blind (treatment administration and measurement) and fully randomized conditions. Seven-hundred-twenty male Sprague Dawley rats weighing 170-180 g were used. Six homeopathic remedies (Arnica montana D4, Apis mellifica D4, D30, Atropa belladonna D4, Hamamelis virginiana D4, Lachesis D6, D30, Phosphorus D6, D30), saline and indomethacin were tested. Edema was measured using a water-based plethysmometer, before and at different times after edema induction. Data were analyzed by ANOVA and Student t test.


    In the first phase of experiments, some statistically significant effects of homeopathic remedies (Apis, Lachesis and Phosporus) were observed (the reduction in paw volume increase ranging from 10% to 28% at different times since edema induction). In the second phase of experiments, the effects of homeopathic remedies were not confirmed. On the contrary, the unblinded standard allopathic drug indomethacin exhibited its anti-inflammatory effect in both experimental phases (the reduction in paw volume increase ranging from 14% to 40% in the first phase, and from 18% to 38% in the second phase of experiments).

    The interesting thing here, in terms of Homeopathy is that only the more highly diluted and potentised remedies showed any action

    I would like to see more research and less polemic and ill informed deabte on both sides. Homeopathy is not a religion: it started as an effective evidence based medicine and should continue that way.

  126. Ben Goldacre said,

    January 19, 2007 at 11:57 am

    “You all seem to follow Ben in assuming that anyone who is interested in Homeopathy is a deluded fantasist who is in a flight from science.”

    where on earth have i said this? what i say is, the evidence goes very strongly against it, and homeopaths tend to rely on weak rhetorical tropes and abuse in preference to discussing the evidence. your opening sentence rather proves the point jim.

  127. jimrog said,

    January 22, 2007 at 8:52 am

    I have read all of the posts on your site in relation to Homeopathy. If you look at the vast majority of the responses to this deabte on Homeopathy most of your readers are convinced that there is NO scientific evidence at all for Homeopathy.
    Many view it as equivalent to religious belief. I am simply pointing out that there is SOME good scientific evidence that the ultra molecular dilutions have an effect. The evidence might be small but once it is there, the scientific response is to investigate further. You and your readers accuse Homeopaths of being selective but many of your readers are equally selective in ignoring this evidence, and refusing to recognise that there is something there that warrants further investigation. The real history of scientific trials of Homeopathy is actually quite fascinating – see for example Mike Emmans Deans book about this.

  128. darcysarto said,

    July 3, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Milgrom is in my office. He’s carrying a copy of this:

    I don’t know if it comes with a free tin hat.

  129. Michael Gray said,

    July 25, 2009 at 1:56 am

    I note that you failed to offer references for this ‘good scientific evidence’.

    I truly wonder why.

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  131. simoncuming48 said,

    July 16, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    I remember Milgrom from my days at Kingston University, 20 years ago. Always playing around with Porphyrins, hence the nickname Miligram! Very arrogant as a younger man, obviously worse now!