The BBC have found someone whose cancer was cured by homeopathy

February 23rd, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, homeopathy | 128 Comments »

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have hit the bottom of the barrel. Homeopathy cured my cancer, on BBC News.

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

128 Responses

  1. skyesteve said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    @sair-fecht – I raised the issue with them too

  2. davegould said,

    February 27, 2010 at 5:04 am

    The Fisher & Greenberg paper I quoted earlier is the first one to read.

    Part of the reason I’m here is that I’m hoping a rational and courteous skeptic will put my mind at ease.

    If you can point to particular assertions you want me to back up, I will check back every day or so and endeavour to satisfy your queries.

    Can you point me at a study on say, one of the heavily marketed SSRIs where the blind was verified?
    With respect, I don’t know you from Adam, and it may well be that we have very different ideas about what constitutes a good evidence base.
    Maybe things have changed in the last few years? What would you say is the market share ($) of drugs proven better than placebo (ie verified blind)?

    The same applies to new drug vs older drug tests – if the patient knows which is which and holds any kind of bias it will skew the results.

    This is the Bad Science blog. I’m surprised more of you aren’t outraged that the blind isn’t verified ALL the time.

  3. skyesteve said,

    February 27, 2010 at 11:07 am

    @davegould – “The same applies to new drug vs older drug tests – if the patient knows which is which and holds any kind of bias it will skew the results”.

    That depends what your measuring – it’s hard to fake your own blood results, CT scan findings, blood pressure, etc.

  4. Geph said,

    February 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I was once prescribed homeopathic medicines for depression which came in 100ml pharmacy bottles from ASDA pharmacy, with a drop or so of memory water diluted in 95% alcohol, can’t say that it did much for my depression, but it certainly had an effect when I o’dd on it. Of cawlsh homithingummy workshh!

  5. Geph said,

    February 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    PS Ben, in correct usage of the English language should the verb not agree with the subject, thus giving “The BBC has …”?

  6. Quick2kill said,

    February 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    @DrMG Don’t worry I understood your point and didn’t think you were defending woo. It was precisely because you appeared to care about correct arguments that i enjoyed your posts. As for Dawkins I’ve been through that discussion on here before (see comment 8 and on in:, but I don’t really have any desire to repeat it.

    As to my point I wasn’t saying you can falsify one specific phenomenological prediction by another. My point is that often a research scientist will not simply be interested in testing specific phenomena and cataloging them “pulling lever x causes y”. instead we are testing a theory which says F=ma and this has many predictions, including “pulling lever x causes y” and falsifying one of the predictions falsifies the theory as a whole.

    I don’t really care about the specifics regarding homeopathy, but I was concerned that your general statemnent was because you often heard scientists talk about demonstrationg a theory was false, and misunderstood becauase you assosiate the name we give to the theory with a specific phenomena instead. For example you might think Newton’s theory of gravity is that the planets orbit the sun and not that the force grows with inverse square of the distance. You would then not understand how scientists could discuss falsifying it by testing other phenomena, like lab experiments with pendulums.

    With regards to homeopathy, one can test theory that the effects of substances are transmitted to a host by serial dillution and succussion due to the “memory retention” of water. You can falsify this either by demonstating there is no effect transmitted or by by showing that water does not retain a “memory” of the substance. Randi might have meant this “theory” when he referred to homeopathy. If you read the section ‘The memory of water’ in the link you provided you can see it uses quites similar langauge so it seems plausible, but obv i haven’t seen the documentary. and tbh i don’t care either way on that specific statement, I just want to make sure you are not generally misunderstanding the statements made by scientists in this way.

  7. Guy said,

    February 27, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Dave, you request
    “Can you point me at a study on say, one of the heavily marketed SSRIs where the blind was verified?

    Good example. You may have noticed that I posted on this a couple of topics before this one, about the lack of evidence for SSRI’s and how they are largely placebo effect. Interestingly the doctors on here went rather quiet when I questioned the place of placebo when used by qualified doctors who know what they’re treating, rather than homeopathy which is nothing but placebo and people kidding themselves!

    I hope this demonstrates that though you don’t know me from Adam, I am willing to recognise where medicine is letting patients down!

  8. DrJG said,

    February 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    @Guy – re placebos used by qualified doctors.

    My uncertainty re this is exactly what I was trying to waffle abour – perhaps badly – in post #33 on Ben’s previous article

    with no great conclusions. SkyeSteve felt, with plenty of justification, that using placebos is paternalism (he also said that he thought that it was an approach regarded as unethical by the BMA and the GMC, though some of us might regard that as actually an argument in favour of the approach!)

    The scientist in me wants to be scientific, the therapist in me wants to find what helps my patients to feel better, as long as it is safe, and to boot knows that I do not have well-validated remedies for many of the problems my patients consult with. OK, many of these conditions may be self-limiting, but not necessarily quickly so, and there can be considerable mortality in the intervening period. Add in the fact that the other title for my chosen career is “family medicine”, and I also see the knock-on effects on others. This all makes me reluctant to dismiss paternalism out-of-hand if it can still make a difference. This is my day-to-day dilemma, not a comfortable computer-chair academic debate.

    So, I don’t have any answer I can comfortably accept as “correct”, but if I went quiet, it was only because I thought that people might be getting tired of my repeated ramblings on the subject!

  9. DrJG said,

    February 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    @Quick2Kill – I may be getting too pedantic here, but I am going to justify it on the basis that too many con-merchants make their living in the gaps in arguments.

    All that I think can really be said with confidence is that “method x of testing for water-memory has been proven false.” This does not rule out the possibility that someone will not come along tomorrow with method y of testing which may or may not show different results. So I am still not confident in being able to falsify the entire edifice in this way. I am only talking about this specific situation here, I am sure that there are other situations where your methodology would hold true.

    Hadn’t read much of the discussion you reference – probably precisely because a certain name tends to encourage me to go and do something else! Probably a good thing too, I’ve had to restrain myself from answering half of the comments two months too late – Andanotherthing…!

  10. waster said,

    February 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    This page takes apart her slippery story:

    What was the date of the original broadcast, and BBC channel? I want to make a complaint.

  11. skyesteve said,

    February 27, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    @Guy – rather than “going quiet” I thought I gave quite a reasoned response to the SSRIs question…

  12. DKaye said,

    February 27, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    It’s like watching a horrible horrible train crash.

    Loved Rhodri’s comment by the way. I was particularly amused at the fact that, when challenged about the massive evidence deficit that hangs over homeopathy like its imminent death, she attempts to defend her profession by saying “There’s plenty of scientif… of evidence!”. I am pleased to see though that even she’s aware there’s not a femtogram of science to back this stuff up.

  13. davegould said,

    February 27, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I don’t understand your last post.

    Mental health is my field and I often have to clear up consequences of SSRI prescriptions: addiction, side-effects mistaken for symptoms of anxiety & depression, not to mention the people who’ve given up. I’d still be interested in what % share of the $600bn drugs market is actually proven to work better than placebo.

  14. skyesteve said,

    February 28, 2010 at 10:57 am

    @davegould – so sorry if I was being obtuse. If I read you correctly you feel patients can often guess accurately whether they are getting placebo or not. I was trying to say that with modern trials placebo is seldom used or recommended as usually you are comparing a new treatment to an older one for the same condition and, indeed, as far as I understand, modern “gold standards” for clinical trials say that what you should do and that you should not use placebo.
    But even if you were comparing it to placebo whilst patients might be able to tell which was which they would NOT be able to “alter” their own biochemical results or CT scan findings or whatever so you still have objective measures to see whether what you are testing is “better” than placebo or indeed the older treatment.
    What actually worries me more, however, is the way so many trials a reported as relative improvement rather than actual improvement or numbers needed to treat. As a doc that’s the type information I really need. Some new drug may reduce the incidence of something by 50% but if the original incidence of that thing was only one in 10,000 that doesn’t impress me much. Likewise if I need to treat 5000 patients to prevent one of them having an event that doesn’t impress me much either. That’s the kind of info that I and my patients need before we can make appropriate informed decisions.
    Oh, and I share you own (and Guy’s) worries about SSRIs (in primary care at least)…

  15. DrJG said,

    February 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    @davegould – to play devil’s advocate somewhat: What objective measures do you use to determine which are side effects and which are genuine symptoms of the illness? I have already mentioned the ease with which side effects can be “induced” with a simple placebo and misdirection, and suspect that patient information leaflets included in drug packets may well play a part in similar phenomena – I certainly have patients who tell me that they deliberately avoid reading the leaflets for that reason.
    I ask because it is not an unusual situation for a patient to come and report “side effects” from a drug which are pretty much identical to the symptoms they were recorded as reporting before they started the drug. For example, selected side-effects listed in the Sept 08 edition of the British National Formulary under SSRIs include: “constipation…anorexia with weight loss (increased appetite and weight gain also reported)…arthralgia, myalgia and photosensitivity…nervousness, anxiety, headache, insomnia…sexual dysfunction…” none of which are exactly unheard of in depressive illness. On a related note, I have a couple of patients who are convinced that a particular SSRI improves their intermittent depression, but at the cost of loss of libido, and a couple more who are equally sure that their SSRI improves their intermittent depression along with the loss of libido which, for them, is a significant symptom of that depression (please note I am making no claims about benefits beyond placebo here, merely reporting experiences that to some patients are symptoms, to others are side effects).

    You have, with some justification, (even if with, in some of our views some overstatement) raised concerns over the scientific rationale behind certain areas of therapeutics, so I would like to know how vigorous your rationale is for making assessments in your own field.

  16. Guy said,

    February 28, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    I have to agree with Dave on this one. Checking the adequacy of the blinding in a placebo controlled trial is quick and easy. Yet it is seldom done and reduces the power of studies hugely. Some types of drugs such as those for overactive bladder have strong obvious side effects like dry mouth. The best studies use active placebos that mimic the side effects without having impact on the bladder. I suspect that many other drugs are much harder to know which you are taking, but it should still be a basic tenet of study design that the adequacy of the blinding is checked.

    I suspect that most of the doctors on here are not saying that everything is OK in medicine and that everything is evidence based. Simply that Western medicine does respond (sometimes slowly) to new evidence and there is a growing trend for things to be evidence based. So lots of work to be done, but not a job that homeopathy or other placebo/quack/alternative therapies will ever undertake.

  17. Filias Cupio said,

    March 2, 2010 at 3:07 am

    @61 oldmansteptoe:

    “I accidently cut off the end of my finger while working a lathe. I was bleeding all over our brand new carpet. What’s better? Stitches or a sugar pill?”

    I recommend one of two actions: Either move the lathe out of the living room and into your workshop, or move your brand new carpet out of the workshop and into your living room.

  18. mein crustacean said,

    March 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    BBC hates science loves holocaust denial shocker!

    The BBC just got round to replying to my complaint. It was the usual,’we need to present impartially both sides of the argument’ until I asked him if they would give holocaust deniers equal impartiality, at first he said know then he realised that it ruined his argument and so he said he would.

    I asked if they’d checked with the womans specialist but he avoided answering the question.

    I suggested that where people make claims that they have evidence that the BBC should ask them to produce it and provide links to it. Apparently the BBC already do this and he directed me toward a number of articles which had a link to the homepage of the society of homeopaths on it. I explained that it wasn’t quite the same thing but it was well over his head.

  19. mein crustacean said,

    March 2, 2010 at 7:57 pm


    Brilliant. Although i’m a bit disappointed they didn’t reply to me.

  20. frunobulax007 said,

    March 5, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Science reporters – we suspected that they can’t count, now we know they don’t even bother to read their own copy:

    “Whaling worsens carbon release, scientists warn” – headline news item on the Science section of the BBC website.

    “A century of whaling may have released more than 100 million tonnes – or a large forest’s worth – of carbon into the atmosphere, scientists say.”

    However, further down the article: “Dr Pershing stressed that this was still a relatively tiny amount when compared to the billions of tonnes produced by human activity every year.” Er, so it’s *not* actually a “news item”. No more so than would be an article, say, on the carbon released by my sigh on reading this hyper-inflated non-story.

    So, should we be surprised by the reporting of “cured” homeopath?

  21. Martin said,

    March 7, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    I’d be slightly more impressed if there was a story about a homeopath being salted and smoked!

  22. DrJG said,

    March 23, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Just had a reply to my complaint to the BBC. Surprise surprise, they think that the questioning was perfectly reasonable, and seem unconcerned that, even when sensible questions were asked, wholly inadequate answers went unchallenged. I may challenge them to obtain Paxman or Humphreys opinion on the adequacy of the questioning.
    They have completely ignored my comments that the interview was only carried out because of spurious notions of what constitutes impartiality, and my question of why this does not also mean that reports of the Darfur genocide are not balanced with equal representation for a representative of the Janjaweed.

  23. humphrgs said,

    April 10, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I found myself wondering whether the BBC should share responsibility for any premature deaths caused by this “news” story.

    Doctors are wrong and someone lives, brilliant.

    BBC is caught giving out impartial advice about the benefits of homeopathy and someone dies, manslaughter.

  24. Julie said,

    November 28, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Have you heard about the collaboration between Boiron Laboratories (France) and the Banerji Foundation (in India, see [1]) ?

    Lately, I’ve seen a french webpage [2] shared over the social platforms (FB, blogs). They explained that the doctors at the Banerji Foundation have developped homeopathic cures for cancers. They also explained that “Big Pharma” wants to hide this good news to the occidental countries where it dominates the market, and so on.. They also explained (without being concerned the least by the implicit contradiction with the previous point) that the Banerji’s try to get their cure accepted in the USA. To this end, they published some papers (e.g. [3]). Yep, in India you apparently don’t need to get published before to make bad jokes to patients, but in the USA, you have to pretend (at least) to follow some rules.

    While reading the paper [3], I was thinking: “These idiots are testing alcohol and not homeopathy”. This was confirmed by a skeptical review of the paper [4] and also, and that’s the most suprising part, by one of the study’s author [5]. But in this review, they unfortunately don’t notice that Boiron provided part of the products for the homeopathics remedies (The ultra-diluted remedies used by PBHRF were obtained from Sharda Boiron Laboratories Ltd India and ?). One can then wonder if Boiron knows about the false claims about curing cancer with homeopathy… And as a matter of fact, Boiron does know and collaborates with the Foundation (see [6,7,8] and also [7,8,9] to see that Boiron likes to refer to Banerji papers to justify homeopathy).

    I’m quite shocked by this because in its usual marketing bullshits, Boiron always says something like “homeopathy is not for curing cancer, but for reducing the side effects of allopathic cures”. I think that this example of double speech is a perfect demonstration of why homeopathy is dangerous and not only a nice and innofensive hobby for “too much concerned mothers”.



    Ps: I apologise for my pontentially bad use of English.


  25. atilla_the_hun said,

    September 9, 2013 at 9:22 am

    I don’t use homeopathy. But I hate when truth is being distorted. Let’s be clear on something: water memory effect has been detected in many experiments. One of them is a famous virologist and Nobel prize winner dr. Luc Montagnier.

    In fact, his recent discovery that was published in New Scientist shows that you don’t need even a single molecule of the original chemical. In this experiment enzymes were able to reproduce a fragment of DNA in a test tube – out of PURE WATER, just using electromagnetic waves and water memory:

    This definitely defeats the main argument of its opponents: “the solution is so diluted that it can’t have any effect”. This one was diluted to infinity.

    Now, if you really want to see some quack science and “most expensive liquid on the planet” turn your radar towards “cancer treatment” chemotherapy, because chemotherapy has efficiency just slightly above placebo, but the price tag is 100,000 times higher.

  26. Cancerkiller said,

    September 30, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Let everybody know – The End Of Cancer Has Come! – And much more than that – The End Of All Infectious Diseases – plagues like HIV/AIDS, Flues, Malaria, etc. (to name a few) – no epidemics or pandemics worldwide can be at all possible in the future. Travelling around the world, nobody will feel concerned of any infections, for such will not exist anywhere on Earth.
    I am The Lord of the Cancers and Infections – Because I got the PCK – The Personal Cancer Killer – a devastating weapon of unlimited power against any cancers and infectious diseases on Earth – the prevention and cure for kids and adults of any diseases – from the common cold to cancer – just an exercise, done for a minute a day for prevention and for 3 – 4 minutes a day for the cure – no slicing, no poisoning, no burning will ever take place inside your body.
    The benefits of the cancer killer – at winter air temperature of -15C (5F), I walk around town just in my summer shorts and T-shirt for many hours without getting sick – I cannot catch cold, flu, HIV/AIDS, or cancer.
    The price of the Personal Cancer Killer for the whole world is 2,25 Trillion US Dollars, Euro, or BP, because it can erase any cancers and infectious diseases from the face of the Earth once and for all.
    I accept any checks of 50 or more Million US Dollars, Euro, or BP to describe the cancer killer and how one can feel like a God/Goddess – absolutely untouchable for any diseases – known or unknown on the planet – all the time, all our lives.
    Further details of the incredible Cancer Killer are available upon request.

  27. anonymous said,

    December 24, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    For all those who think homeopathy is quack.. please read
    Amy lansky’s “THE impossible cure” & Dr. Tinus Smits “CEASE therapy” and many other.
    It is energy medicine and it doesn’t need any particles to produce result.
    Also got thorough the innumerable works and case studies of present day homeopath George Vithoulkas to know even 1% about it
    before building any assumptions that it doesn’t work.
    It may one day come to your rescue as well to treat you or your loved ones.
    It has saved my life and changed lives of many of my closed ones from all kinds of so-called “incurable” diseases.
    But yeah.. homeopathy has a catch.. the finding of the similimum is very difficult sometimes and may take some patience from both the doctor and patient

  28. kim said,

    June 7, 2015 at 9:06 am

    in a nut shell… If it were YOU diagnosed with cancer, would nt you fucking try ANYTHING??? and hopefelly believe in each treatment as your survival instincts kicked in. What I don’t like about conventional medicing there is no heart in it. if people are dying as much ( and they are) from cancer than the government should invest ALL it has to at least try? as conventional mendicine IS NOT A CURE? bottom line? so branch out and try new things for god sake ? no wonder 2015 already we so god dammed backwards? wouldn’t YOU spend 4million on yourself/ son daughter just to see if it can help? Jesus Christ? what is four million compared to HUMAN LIFE?