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.

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128 Responses

  1. kristinc said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    “but for the sake of balance, we must now turn to Barry, who believes the sky is a carpet painted by god.”

  2. TheBoff said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    I think calling this bottom of the barrel is a bit unfair: the news reader, although polite, clearly thought the woman was mistaken (“There is a lot of evidence for homepathy” “Don’t you think the 4 million would be better spent on medicine there is actually evidence for”), and I don’t think this woman was a particularly good representative for homeopathy: despite her urgings she could come it with no evidence more than “Lots of people use it”: not enough to convince any logical viewer, I would have thought.

  3. blueporcupine said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    “I had a really bad reaction”. What to chemotherapy? Never! Who could possibly have predicted that?

  4. aiusepsi said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    I think this shows one of the real failings in science education: we teach kids lots of facts and bits of information, most of which they quickly forget, but we don’t spend anywhere near enough time teaching them how to think.

    It shouldn’t take long to drum the notion into kids’ heads that anecdote isn’t data, and about statistical significance.

    Of course, this would mean that takings on the lottery would probably go down; it’s just a tax on people who don’t understand probability.

  5. Rhodri said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Incoherent. 2,000 years of evidence that homeopathy works? Despite the fact that it was dreamt up by some twat in 1796?

  6. Marsh said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Amazing, she was actually the one I spoke to on FiveLive on Sunday night, and she was useless then. I can’t believe she made it onto the full news, truly shocking.

    Our chat:
    From 1hr52mins.

    Listen to the complete awkward silence when she realises that she can’t depend homeopathic sleeping pills by her own logic of individualisation and dosage build-up.

    These people really are unsinkable rubber duckies.

  7. TerenceEden said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Her website is at
    She charges up to £40 per hour for advice. Nice little advert the BBC have given her.

  8. crudcrud said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    “2000 years worth of evidence for homeopathy” She obviously slept through the the lecture on the history of the movement, when she was ‘qualifying’ to be a homeopath.

  9. blueporcupine said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    And the NHS has a budget of £8bn, apparently. I thought it was £110bn. Gosh, efficiency savings are marvellous, aren’t they.

    Rhodri, I have a feeling she meant to say 200. Must have got confused with Christianity.

  10. Andy Bellenie said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    I know they’re determined to be impartial but this goes a bit far even for them. If it was a politician being interviewed they would have torn them up, but this clearly misguided young woman gets off far too lightly – even gets in a quick plug for her website.

  11. alanf said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    After chemotherapy, radiotherapy and homeopathy she appears to have a cure. It must have been the homeopathy that did it because that was last.

    Anybody see the as trailed 8:30 ‘debate’ 2 on each ‘side’? BBC ‘balance’, don’t you love it?

  12. cjwaine said,

    February 23, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Did she really claim homeopathy cured her cancer in the same interview where she a) said that homeopathy isn’t about the diagnosis and b) suggested that it works well on pets?!?

    She was right about one thing though… the NHS budget would decrease dramatically if everyone was treated with sugar and water. With the double benefit that the population would shrink dramatically as well.

  13. jaffathecake said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    @kristinc exactly what I was reminded of

    Here’s how the same homeopath copes with some proper questioning 1m57s in

  14. theonlyrick said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Letter to the Vetinerary Times against homeopathy:

  15. blueporcupine said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Actually, look at this woman’s website ( That is not the web presence of a credible professional in any line of work. The homeopathy community must have better spokespeople than that. Did the BBC rather go out of their way to find the feeble ones, perhaps?

  16. Caledonian1976 said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    She is an absolute cretin. If I didn’t know better, I might think she is almost a Trojan Horse, set up by Ben…

  17. Julian Yon said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Would anyone like to join me in making a complaint?

  18. jaffathecake said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm 1h57m in, posted the wrong time before, sorry.

  19. Rhodri said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    From her website, littered with spelling errors and general confusion:

    “Before getting well it is necessary to understand how the human body gets ill. Through my years of study and practice in complementary therapies, I have come to a fairly simplistic view of health and disease.”


  20. Antony Eagle said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    What is kind of amazing is that at 1:23, after reporting all the horrible side effects she suffered from chemotherapy, she says that she had been working with the homeopath *already* to help her with those side effects!

    Maybe this is homeopathically correct—just as dosage decreases so the effect of the sugar pills increases, so too perhaps the milder the condition, the less effective the homeopathic remedy. What can’t help you with weight gain and hair loss can help you with cancer!

    Of course presumably it’s really just another example of the availability heuristic in action—absences much less salient than occurrences. This is exactly why we need statistical inference rather than intuitive judgements.

  21. pberry said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc – is that the motto of the BHJ?

  22. blueporcupine said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    Aiusepsi @4, couldn’t agree more. If nothing else because then maybe I wouldn’t have dropped sciences at 16. I’d be interested to know what others’ experience is on this. Certainly so far as I could tell as a fairly intelligent child, all the critical thinking action at school was in the humanities. Science was largely rote-learning of, as I saw it, unconnected facts. I vividly remember being very excited on going in to my first ever biology lesson. We dissolved some sugar in a beaker (to prove, of course, that sugar dissolved). There was no wider context. Why is that?

  23. Julian Yon said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    @blueporcupine: Traditionally the study of philosophy would bridge the gap. I’m not sure how many people are lucky enough to get that these days.

  24. confuseddave said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Aiusepsi@4 – I saw a TED talk once where the speaker was advocating shifting the structure of secondary school education in Maths. His argument was that the current structure is essentially a long road towards calculus, which while pretty nifty is actually pretty esoteric, useless to the vast majority of students and could simply be retaught in the first semester at university for those who might need it. His idea was to retool the pathway so that it lead to statistics, since understanding things like risk and interpreting the spew of statistics we get from all over the place was likely to be of more practical use.

    I was reading the comments on a Guardian article where some guy tried to claim that because one guy who survived Hiroshima lived a healthy life for almost sixty years afterwards, the risks of ionising radiation are overstated. At this point I despaired.

  25. davegould said,

    February 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Where is the evidence that chemo & other traditional cancer therapies work better than a placebo?

    Where are the double blind studies showing the blind was verified?

    Are there even any non-blind tests of homeopathy vs traditional cancer therapies?

    Because without these, traditional therapies are just as quack as homeopathy.

  26. pv said,

    February 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Wouldn’t it be unethical to test homeopathy against chemo, radiation, surgery etc.?
    Anyway, I thought new treatments were tested against whatever is currently the best treatment. Homeopathy, which is basically water or sugar, is tantamount to doing nothing and would have been discarded in the process long ago.

    As far as the “homeopathy cured my cancer” woman is concerned, she is plainly deluded and confused. How would she have any idea what cured her cancer other than what her homeopath chose to tell her or what she chooses to imagine?

  27. MataHari said,

    February 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    If the BBC were doing their job properly they would have asked Gemma’s permission to contact her specialist to confirm her diagnosis, treatment and prognosis and – if her story was confirmed – would have told the viewers that her doctors confirmed it with her permission. And if her doctors didn’t confirm it, they would have pulled the story.

  28. johnnye87 said,

    February 23, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Sorry, “Registered homeopath claims homeopathy worked for her” is a story? I can’t even imagine *believers* considering this to be valid testimony. It’s such an old and transparent marketing tactic, conmen moved on to hiring shills centuries ago.

  29. GrannyWeatherwax said,

    February 23, 2010 at 7:16 pm


  30. T said,

    February 23, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Your a King Canute against cancer cures.

  31. jwm said,

    February 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm


    “Where is the evidence that chemo & other traditional cancer therapies work better than a placebo?”

    A quick Pubmed search is all that is required. Although I will admit that you have to go slightly further back in time than for most drugs. This is because cancer is one of the few areas where theyve gone beyond placebo trials and now compare the new intervention with the current gold standard in an effort to not only prove that something merely works, but works better than anything else we have at our disposal.

    As for cancer drugs vs homeopathy, your right, they dont exist, mostly because all research has to be vetted by an ethics board before being carried out. Comparing known effective medicines with pills that have so far been proven to be little more than placebo in the treatment of every other condition tested so far, in a cancer trial would be tantamount to murder. However, if the homeopathists want to start a trial it should be in the nature of the other cancer trials, eg, best available treatment without homeopathic remedies, and best available treatment with homeopathic remedies. Good luck.

  32. w_jelly said,

    February 23, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    The fact that worried me most in the various segments last night was, not belief in this system or that system, but that the NHS / doctors wrongly diagnosis terminal cancer patients. Or people just get better, there’s a difference between been ‘sick’ and having terminal cancer then maybe been told we didn’t mean terminal.

  33. mrtonkin said,

    February 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm


    Woman happy to let people die from cancer and other diseases through use of sugar pills and bottles of evian. Also claims that the low life expectancy before western scientific medicine is ‘proof’ that homoeopathy works well.

  34. badste said,

    February 23, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Almost everything about that interview was infuriating. It’s about time Paxman was released on to these idiots.

    The worst bit was her “The NHS costs £8bn [massively wrong figure anyway, perhaps she needs to shake it a bit], but it could be so much cheaper if we used homeopathy.”

    I, for one, would love to see 2 seperate health services – the normal, science and medicine-based NHS; and the cheaper, homeopathy-based NHS.

    I would have one caveat – that once you’d signed up for one, you couldn’t switch.

    If anything was going to kill this kind of quackery, that would.

  35. sophiedb said,

    February 23, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Like cures like, eh? So what should we be given to cure cancer???? (in ultra-dilute form, of course)

  36. Filias Cupio said,

    February 24, 2010 at 3:12 am

    2000 years of evidence:
    Homeopathy may only have been around since 1796, but it is really just a branch of sympathetic magic, which has been around since prehistory. Maybe she has some Classical era controlled experiment in sympathetic magic in mind?

  37. lobster daddy said,

    February 24, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Hah, just tried to lodge a complaint with the BBC through the form linked below, and it crashed due to a maintaince issue. Hmmm. I urge others to lodge their discontent to, pressure the BBC to issue a statement that homeopathy cannot treat cancer.

  38. mein crustacean said,

    February 24, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Don’t just do the online complaint. Phone them, demand that they get someone from the production team to call you back. I am shaking with rage.

    Phone: 03700 100 222*
    Textphone: 03700 100 212*
    Email: Send your complaint
    Cymru: Cwyno
    Write: BBC Complaints,
    PO Box 1922
    G2 3WT

    *UK-wide rate charged at no more than 01/02 geographic numbers; calls may be recorded for training.

  39. mein crustacean said,

    February 24, 2010 at 9:56 am

    The BBC also recommends homeopathy for treating colic here:

    I’ve written to ask them to change this. Would probably help if anyone has the time to do similar. The appropriate complaint section is here:

  40. Twm Sion Catti said,

    February 24, 2010 at 11:37 am

    The real worry about this sort of thing is that people with life threatening diseases will take notice and give up conventional treatments. For the rest, it is just a waste of money. (And of course for tax payers who support such treatments through the NHS).

  41. longdehua said,

    February 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Yikes, she pulled out exactly the same nonsequitur about hay fever in both interviews.

    Get Paxman on her:

    – Did homeopathy cure your cancer?
    – If I had three hay fever patients I wouldn’t necessarily …
    – Sorry, but, did homeopathy cure your cancer?
    – You have to look at the patient as a person. Take hay fever for instance …
    – I’m going to have to be a little rude here …

  42. ALondoner said,

    February 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Her website is worth a read:

    now, correct me if I am wrong, but this looks like a clear statement that her (£50) consultations can treat almost anything (from acne to food poisoning). Is this false advertising? (given the absence of evidence). If so, does it fall under the remit of trading standards?

  43. Rob C said,

    February 24, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    You’ll like this

  44. skyesteve said,

    February 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    As one of my colleagues said – presumably if homoeopaths protest less and less there prostestations will become more and more effective until we get to the stage that no homoeopath is protesting at all and we’ve all been converted to their cause.
    Just a thought as me thinks they doth protest too much…

  45. skyesteve said,

    February 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Gosh – my typing crap today – bad night – for “there” please read “their”!!

  46. AlexG said,

    February 24, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Isn’t it generally illegal for an advert to claim a particular product or service can cure cancer? Given that she’s a homeopath claiming homeopathy cured cancer (for her), isn’t she sailing a bit close to the wind there? Sure, it’s not a conventional advert but it’s still a claim about a product made by someone with a vested interest in selling that product.


  47. Trez75 said,

    February 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Would be interesting to see what happens if the cancer makes a recurrence.

    I suspect somehow that she’ll be straight down her GP’s to arrange more surgery / chemo.

    If she genuinely beliived in her words then she’d give all that a miss and just reach straight for the sugar pills.

  48. jgrellier said,

    February 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Good to see the MPs can produce such a sensible account of the evidence. But the reporting – dreadful. This issue of “journalistic balance” is covered very well in Nick Davies’ book “Flat Earth News”, which I’d recommend. Essentially, the idea of neutrality has been grossly transformed by mainstream media into one of “balance”. According to that book, the BBC editorial guidelines state that the BBC’s responsibility is to “remain objective and report in ways that enable our audience to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.” By providing allegedly “balanced” reporting – that is, reporting that pitches evidence against anecdote – they simultaneously avoid any serious debate and keep themselves out of trouble with anyone who might happen to get upset (and sue them).

  49. iamjohn said,

    February 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I think this is the follow up ‘debate’ mentioned in the clip above:
    The lady seems to employ the cunning psychological tactic of repetition

  50. blah said,

    February 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    wow. I cannot believe she got away with saying that randomised double-blind trials show that homeopathy works right at the end there. unbelievable.

  51. Sun Shine said,

    February 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Hi everyone,
    Does the answer actually lie at the bottom of the barrel?

    “Cancer cells killed by ultra dilute homeopathic medicines”
    Check this out,english/

    Is a new dawn of scientific discovery upon us after all?

  52. davegould said,

    February 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    @pv, jwm

    How exactly do you provide a placebo that mimics chemotherapy and radiotherapy?

    It’s easy for homeopathy – that’s why it’s easy to prove that it’s a placebo (although a cheap & harmless one).

    I said “double blind studies showing the blind was verified” because any double blind study which doesn’t verify the blind is not excluding the placebo effect and hence scientifically invalid.

    Until we start taking into account the degree to which the blind is broken, we cannot compare homeopathy & traditional medicine.

  53. davegould said,

    February 24, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    The double-blind methodology “appears to be penetrated over 80% of the time. As many as 75% or more of patients are typically able to guess their treatment condition accurately.” Fisher & Greenberg, 1993

  54. Cameron Black said,

    February 24, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    “There’s LOTS of scient… um… LOTS of evidence I said”.


  55. SubtletyBypass said,

    February 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    The NHS would save a fortune if they used the healing powers of homeopathy in place of traditional medicines (not many repeat customers).

  56. davegould said,

    February 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    When infrequently subject to stricter experimental conditions, traditional medicine often proves no better than placebo eg:

    My guess is that cheap alternative treatments which both provoke the placebo effect and don’t cause expensive side effects would save the NHS many £billions.
    When the myth of modern medicine is exposed, perhaps people will start to look after their health better too.

  57. Bloodvassal said,

    February 25, 2010 at 1:06 am

    @Sun Shine

    Appears to be a trend in miracles. Similar results for exerting qi or chi, or however you want to spell it (mystical body energies), were presented last month in the Cellular physiology and biochemistry journal. I look forward to reading the precise methodology used in the homeopathy paper, the one for the qi paper was.. interesting.

  58. Exdoc said,

    February 25, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Quote from the welcome page of her website:

    “However, in an acute situation you can find a range of homoeopathic remedies in Boots and good health food stores. This can be very useful for first aid situations.

    For example –
    Arnica may be excellent for bruising.
    Belladonna can be good for a sudden raging fever and where the sick person has dilated pupils with a sensitivity to light and possible hallucinations
    Aconite is known to help when in a state of shock.”

    Is she really advising the treatment of possible meningitis with belladonna and that aconite is good for shock … septic? hypovolaemic? circulatory? anaphylactic? … or is it a treatment for all types of shock? Certainly very cost saving for the NHS.

  59. bluecat said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Her website claims that homeopathy cures food poisoning, fibroids and “all common childhod diseases”. Oh, and cancer, obviously. This is dangerous stuff.

  60. Lemonade Lily said,

    February 25, 2010 at 7:21 am

    I feel this lady was out of her depth in this interview but I think the interviewer handled it very well. I do not believe the NHS should fund homeopathy as all the evidence I have read has not convinced me it is anything more than elaborate placebo. However, I do not wish to tell this lady to NOT believe in homeopathy, as I feel that what she chooses to spend her time and money on, is her choice. She believes she was cured of her cancer/side effects conventional treatment. And she wants to tell people about that and share that personal experience, which was clearly powerful for her. Can we legislate against that? I think putting forward the rational argument over and over again is the only way to tackle this type of personal belief. But I do worry when these types of beliefs are paid for by the NHS which lends them legitimacy as effective ‘medical interventions’ (i.e. over and above placebo). I think time with a homeopath is akin to a space for people to explore their understanding of their illness, etc. I am sure it must be comforting. But I think there is a risk that people may choose this instead of conventional treatment (as this lady said in India) because we lend it legitimacy in the UK via state funding.

  61. oldmansteptoe said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:17 am

    I love this line from her website:

    “It is for every-one of all ages and can treat people on a physical and emotional level -in fact any disease or ailment you would go to a doctor for. Any thing, from first aid situations, such as cuts and bruising”

    Cuts? “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?”

  62. jro said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:59 am


    “The double-blind methodology “appears to be penetrated over 80% of the time. As many as 75% or more of patients are typically able to guess their treatment condition accurately.” Fisher & Greenberg, 1993”

    Interesting. Haven’t read the paper, but I’m guessing that perhaps the reason that patients can guess whether they are taking the placebo or not is because the real medicine actually works?

    Just a thought.

  63. Sun Shine said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:33 am


    Thanks for your reply it would certainly be interesting to check the methodology. I was fascinated to hear that the research was carried out due to the success a group of Indian doctors were getting using these remedies with multiple cancers. They had treated over 21,000 patients in clinic in India, and the patients had not used conventional medicines I believe and had 19% total regression and 21% slight regression or stablisation over a prolonged period between 2-10 years. These are not insignificant numbers?

    Do you think it is unethical not to do further research with such results?

    What happens if it’s reproducible – this would be quite something?

  64. Sun Shine said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:40 am


    Thanks for your reply it would certainly be interesting to check the methodology. I was fascinated to hear that the research was carried out due to the success a group of Indian doctors were getting using these remedies with multiple types of cancers. They had treated over 21,000 patients in clinic in India, and the patients had not used conventional medicines I believe and had 19% total regression and 21% slight regression or stablisation over a prolonged period between 2-10 years. These are not insignificant numbers?

    Do you think it is ethical or unethical to do further research with such results?

    What happens if it’s reproducible – this would be quite something?

    If it is reproducible, my concern is that UK would fall behind the rest of the world as they may be more willing to embrace exciting research developments like this. Which firstly and most importantly could help patients and secondly save the NHS a shed load of cash……which is one of it’s main aims I believe.

  65. Sun Shine said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Sorry for double take – new to this blogging thing and trigger happy with the submit button it seems!

  66. pv said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I think I can safely assert that “guessing correctly” isn’t the same as “knowing”.

  67. doughboy said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:48 am

    @49 iamjohn
    if you check link to ‘dailymash’ then scroll down to the bottom of the page there are no less than 3 adverts for natural healing courses!!


  68. cheezburger said,

    February 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I often wonder if Homeopaths drink alcohol. I can picture one arguing at a bar. I ordered vodka but this is just water! Ah you see that’s homeopathic vodka, been diluted see sir?

  69. Sun Shine said,

    February 25, 2010 at 2:06 pm


    Thanks for your reply it would certainly be interesting to check the methodology. I was fascinated to hear that the research was carried out due to the success a group of Indian doctors were getting using these remedies with multiple types of cancers. They had treated over 21,000 patients in clinic in India, and the patients had not used conventional medicines I believe and had 19% total regression and 21% slight regression or stablisation over a prolonged period between 2-10 years. These are not insignificant numbers?

    Do you think it is ethical or unethical to do further research with such results?

    What happens if it’s reproducible – this would be quite something?

    If it is reproducible, my concern is that UK would fall behind the rest of the world as they may be more willing to embrace exciting research developments like this. Which firstly and most importantly could help patients and secondly save the NHS a shed load of cash……which is one of it’s main aims I believe.

  70. MedsVsTherapy said,

    February 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    It would be helpful to ask this woman what else she did following conventional treatment: what vintner and vintage of chardonnay did she drink?

  71. DyingFlingbat said,

    February 25, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve just tried the link you supplied but it appears to be broken – its linking to “Arthroscopic Knee Surgery No Better Than Placebo Surgery” from NEJM 2002 – interesting in its own way, but in supporting your statement that “traditional medicine often proves no better than placebo”, I’d expect something a bit more wide ranging like a review of methodology in research generally, rather than research looking at just one treatment for one medical condition. Maybe you put the wrong url down?

  72. DyingFlingbat said,

    February 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Besides, aren’t we missing a trick here – Homeopathy is (allegedly) just a complex placebo involving lots of ‘consultation’ & personalising the ‘treatment’ to the patient – then prescribing some shaken water (not stirred).
    If that saves the NHS money as Homeopaths state, then something that does the same job, but is even cheaper, should save even more money. Given that the talky bit is an important part of the treatment, we’ll keep that, but instead of expensive shaken water, how about a rock dug up from the ground outside? Polish it up a bit & it could do the job fine – don’t have to worry about interactions or any of that other stuff that makes medicine complicated – just pop it in your pocket & it’ll do fine. Maybe call it something sciencey-sounding like *** “Paleopathy” *** get some books written about it, a couple of websites, and we can sell it to the media as a serious contributor to healthcare, and cheaper than homeopathy too!

  73. steve_s said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    There’s a lot of vicious ad hominem remarks here, and that’s not a sign of kindness or intelligence.

    No, she’s not the sharpest knife in the block. No, she shouldn’t be treating anyone.


    until we know which of the following is true, you’re all just flapping your jaws, poking at your keyboards, and generally getting into a froth:

    a) she’s lying (easy to prove – get the notes. C’mon BBC!)
    b) she was misdiagnosed (ditto)
    c) she had a spontaneous remission (tricky)
    d) she had a *remarkable* placebo response (made more likely by her apparent general gullibility?)
    e) homeopathy cured her (highly unlikely)

    But I would rather read about real evidence (see above) that listen to 72 catty sniping remarks.

    I’m GLAD she’s better. I didn’t read that in any of the comments.

  74. steve_s said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    And you, Ben, should know better than to say “scraping the bottom of the barrel”. That’s a judgement that you have the right to make of the journalism (which was kind, but sloppy) but not of the individual concerned.

    I love you to bits, Ben, I even bought your book.

    But you could be a bit kinder to people without your incisive intelligence. It sets the tone for the comments that follow.

  75. doughboy said,

    February 25, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    steve s
    i didn’t think i was being catty or sniping
    just found it a little ironic that there were adverts for healing courses after the dailymash satirical rant so if you could change it to ’71’ that would be great thanks
    pedantry aside, i hope (and think) ben was using the term ‘scraping the barrel’ to refer to the intellectual poverty displayed by media/BBC in their coverage of this story rather than
    the good lady.
    i too am glad that she is better. i don’t think i would be so glad if she then became culpable in killing other cancer patients by peddling this nonsense.
    all a bit sad really

    ps; i am reminded of a quote from edith sitwell
    “i am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it”

  76. davegould said,

    February 25, 2010 at 7:26 pm


    The most obvious problem with so-called placebo studies is that the placebo is usually a sugar pill. Most drugs have side effects hence it’s very easy to distinguish the two.

    There are a myriad of other ways the blind gets broken including overexcited medical staff, similarity to previous treatments the patient has been given etc. Double blind is not enough – look at the infamous examination of homeopathy by Randi on the BBC’s Horizon programme (still available as a torrent I believe).

    It should be pointed out that there is a HUGE profit motive for drug companies to allow the blind to be broken.

    The greater effectiveness of the intervention over the sugar pill is often around 5%.

    Let’s imagine we’re testing something like the effectiveness a common antibiotic on a sleep disorder and assume that no-one knows antibiotics would have no effect beyond placebo.

    50% are given the antibiotic (good placebo), 50% the sugar pill (bad placebo).

    If 70+% are able to correctly guess they’re in the sugar pill group, those 70% probably report no improvement. Add in the ones who think they’re on the antibiotic and you’ve probably 20% reporting improvement.

    If 70% are able to correctly guess they’re in the antibiotic group, let’s conservatively say those 50% of those will show an improvement.

    The good placebo outperforms the bad placebo by 30% and we have a new miracle drug.

  77. davegould said,

    February 25, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    *conservatively say 50% of those will show an improvement.

    Such studies are rarely done and I don’t have access to research databases.

    It should be obvious that surgical treatments have almost never been subject to double blind conditions.

    Has homeopathy shown the same success rate as some operations in non-blind conditions? You bet it has.

    Verifying the blind is as simple as asking the patients which treatment they think they received. It should be a minimum requirement of any study reporting to test under blind conditions.

    It is almost never done – one has to wonder why?

  78. fontwell said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I actually feel a bit of sympathy for her. If I had that experience without the benefit of being a bit sciencey and already knowing homoeopathy is just a placebo, I would be pretty impressed. Goodness knows why her cancer did clear up but that must have been a very powerful personal experience. Talking to her about double blind randomised trials is never going to be quite so impressive.

  79. Karl said,

    February 25, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Dear Karl
    I sent Gemma a well thought out email saying that I was very happy that her cancer was cured but felt that the exposure she’d had in the media this week could prevent others from getting proper, tested, treatment. I asked her to please consider a new career that would be less harmful to others. As expected, I hit a wall.

    The reply I received today:

    Thank you for your email.
    I will not be considering another career.
    There is plenty of evidence regarding evidence and homoeopathy – Please see on my website and go to WHY Homoeopathy Works and listen to Dana Ullmam also and www.otherhea hy-list-discussi on/11080- answers-question s-radio-announce r-here-oz. html

  80. DrJG said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    @Lemonade Lily:

    “She believes she was cured of her cancer/side effects conventional treatment. And she wants to tell people about that and share that personal experience, which was clearly powerful for her. Can we legislate against that?”

    OK, so she is happy and believes it was the homeopathy wot dun it.

    But (and, @steve-s, while I Am glad she is better, this is why that emotion is heavily tempered): What about the patient I recently referred with testicular cancer, who is about to start his chemoradiotherapy, and, quite understandably, pretty frightened by it. Suppose he watches that grossly irresponsible interview, and decides to go for homeopathy instead? Maybe he eventually returns to the fold, but in that time his cancer has progressed from the stage where radical treatment has a very high cure-rate (which is why I chose that particular cancer for my hypothetical patient), to the stage where a cure is unlikely.
    Worse, what if a parent watches it who has just watched their child go through their first cycle of chemo for Leukaemia (Also with a good chance of a cure) and their first episode of neutropenic sepsis, and is suffering the understandable guilt of putting their child through it (hell, I felt guilty enough administering the foul stuff when I was a junior of paeds oncology, the thought of ever having to make my own kids go through it is horrible). What if that parent watches the interview and gives in to the guilt, and takes the child to this homeopath’s clinic instead? Similar things have happened before, and I am furious that the BBC has broadcast something which increases the risk of something similar happening again.

    Yes, I will complain – particularly as I see they have finally accepted that a Panorama I complained about Was unreliable:

  81. theonlyrick said,

    February 25, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    @Doughboy – I love that quote from Edith Sitwell. That was something I knew I felt!

    Although I am pleased she’s aive, but it does slightly worry me that she contributes to the quiet chorus of “Modern chemicals and stuff are bad.”

    Medical science doesn’t guarantee utopia, but it has a much higher success rate than water that has been blessed by some self-appointed high wizard… (sorry: “than water has been “‘_____insert crap here______'”

  82. DrJG said,

    February 26, 2010 at 12:26 am


    It is perfectly possible for placebos to “cause” side effects. Indeed, psychologists have shown how easy it is to generate side effects (sorry, can’t give references, because it is years since I read this stuff) for example, give test subjects a sugar pill when they believe it is a drug, ask them to report any side effects but prime them with lists of “known” potential side effects, and sure enough they will be reported. Or, give two groups a sugar pill, tell one it is a drug and the other group that it is a herbal remedy, and the “drug” group will report about twice as many side effects for the same sugar pill. And anecdotally I have had one or two patients on RCTs adamant they were on the active arm when, at the end, it transpired that they had not been, so it really is not always obvious who has the placebo. Having said that, I have idly speculated in the past about whether it would be helpful to develop a “placebo” with some minor pharmacological actions, but it would of course confound the analyses and would probably put the ethics committees in a tizzy.

    “as many as 75% or more of patients” guessing their treatment is a bit vague as it stands – especially as by chance 2/3 of those (50%) would guess right anyway. I have learnt to be very suspicious of any “up to” figure, as it may well disguise an alternative “as few as”. I would also strongly suggest that the figure depends heavily on the treatment – I’m pretty sure I could tell the difference between being injected with doxorubicin and with pink water, but apart from puking with erythromycin, antibiotics have never caused me the slightest problem, and I’ve had various other things with no ill-effects at all – but several of ’em with no benefit either – and would strongly doubt my own ability to tell real from placebo unless, as jro suggests, it was through efficacy.

    I remember the Randi documentary and being rather disaapointed by it – I had been a big fan since his “Psychic Investigator” series. But what he did was to debunk a theory about how homeopathy might work – IIRC it was a claim that the research team had found a scientific measure of a water memory. Yet at the end he pretty clearly implied that this debunking had debunked the whole effectiveness of homeopathy, which it patently had not. After an excellent repudiation of the dodgy research, I can still remember the sudden disappointment that he then made such an unsustainable – and arrogant – claim, but I am afraid that it is something that scientists are not uncommonly guilty of. Some draw conclusions well beyond the (often impeccable) evidence they have presented, and in so doing, they often expose their own preconceptions.

    Ignorance of how something works is not proof that it does not. The benefits of digitalis, for example, were known long before physiology had reached the stage of understanding possible mechanisms of action – which, in that particular case, were still being argued about last time I did any serious study in that area. Equally, I personally do not need the faintest idea of how propofol works to have an effective general anaesthetic. It is the opposite of how some diseases have in the past been dismissed as psychosomatic because they were beyond the then-current understanding of pathophysiology – MS being a prime example.

  83. DrJG said,

    February 26, 2010 at 12:52 am


    I would think it highly likely that her cancer cleared up because of the chemo and radiotherpy she had – even if her take that she had been told there was nothing more they could do for her is accurate. As others have suggested, an independent report from her conventional medical records would be fascinating. Certainly she makes it clear that she had had enough therapy to make her feel ill enough to consult the homeopath. Treatment is often given in cycles to maximise success rates across all patients, but many who do not complete the full course due to side effects have still had enough to be cured.

    I have noted from the fans a great tendency to report statements from doctors that, shall we say, I find difficult to believe. On another forum there was a comment from a parent about how homeopathy had cured their child’s glue ear. The consultant, apparently, was amazed at how much the child’s hearing had improved. If that really was the case, then the consultant was ignorant of the very variable course typical of glue ear – which of course is why grommets are now recommended only for persistent cases. What I suspect is more likely is, to be charitable, the parents “mistook” happiness at the improved results (and consequent lack of need for grommets) for surprise. Or, put another way, some do not appreciate the difference between “there is nothing more we Can do for you” and “there is nothing more we Need to do for you”, which is another possible scenario for the lady in the interview. Of course, some of this may arise through communication failures – despite improvements, doctors are not always perfect at this, but busy NHS clinics and 10-minute GP appointments do not facilitate the highest standards of communication. As I have said elsewhere, give us the workload of an alternative therapist and watch these factors improve – but don’t hold out for the resources to make that available.

  84. DrJG said,

    February 26, 2010 at 1:23 am


    the article Dave Gould linked to is an interesting one, and, though I am a GP not an orthopaedic surgeon, I think it is one that did lead to a noticeable change in practice. It was not about surgery to remove significantly damaged cartilages (menisci), but about simpler procedures, lavage and debridement (washout or simple trimming of any bits of tissue that looked a bit ragged. 180 patients were randomly assigned to washout, debridement or sham surgery – an anaesthetic – which made it quite a brave study – plus a simple cut and couple of sutures, so patient did not know what they had had done. Over the next two years, all 3 groups improved to about the same degree on average. It was something of a surprise, and I think very few washouts are done nowadays.

    But – and it is a fair But – the study was published in 2002, so was being done a decade ago. In that time, practice has changed a fair bit now. An arthroscopy used to be both a diagnostic and hopefully a therapeutic procedure – you looked to see if there was a torn meniscus and if so you removed it or removed the torn section. If there was no tear, you did a washout in the hope that it might at least achieve something. OK, so the study showed that it didn’t achieve much. But few people now have a diagnostic arthroscopy – that is done by an MRI scan now, and if there is no meniscal tear, there is usually no arthroscopy. Would things be different were it not for the study? Who knows, but I think there was always a feeling that the washouts did not achieve a huge amount but might give some temporary ease for a worn knee.
    It was a good study, but hardly damning of surgical practice in general – at least not of UK practice, the view to me from this side of the pond tends to be that US medicine is more interventionist, perhaps more washouts were being done there as a specific rather than fallback procedure, I don’t know.

    It is quite true that it is very difficult, practically and ethically, to do controlled trials of surgical procedures, but this doesn’t stop many surgeons doing their best to get the most reliable evidence. Unlike the woo merchants who spend far more time trying to argue why their pet treatment is above the mucky business of evidence, or misrepresenting what evidence there is.

  85. davegould said,

    February 26, 2010 at 2:09 am

    What I’m trying to say here is that scientific validity of modern medicine is somewhat mythical and, in the case of the pharmaceutical side, actively deceptive.

    To me, there is no difference between the alternative therapist who uses pseudoscience to pretend their therapy is scientific, and the pharmaceutical field who refuse to use active placebos or verify the blind.

    Both are wrong but the latter is costing us a fortune in both health and resources.

    Different treatments inherently have a differing ability to prove their validity (the same is true of the climate change debate).

    Surgeons cannot be blamed for the difficulty in proving the worth of their surgery and indeed have responded well to the feedback. The same cannot be said of the pharmaceutical field and the meta-studies repeatedly showing their drugs to be no more effective than placebo.

    One of the reasons I take an interest in homeopathy is because it’s almost unique in how easy it is to create a perfect blind.

    I’m surprised that nobody pointed out that there is a difference in the scientific validity of most modern medicine and homeopathy. Whilst nearly all modern medicine has not been proven better than placebo, homeopathy has been proven that it _isn’t_ better than placebo.

    Yet it may have a place – the placebo effect is very powerful and not fully understood.

  86. roblowe said,

    February 26, 2010 at 5:28 am


    You are talking a good talk, but there seems to be no references. Do you any sources to back your claims? Some of them far reaching I might add.

  87. Ain said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:42 am


  88. Guy said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Dave, that really is a ridiculous statement!
    “Whilst nearly all modern medicine has not been proven better than placebo, homeopathy has been proven that it _isn’t_ better than placebo.”

    yes there are problems sometimes with modern medicine. Active placebos are sometimes used (not often enough). Blinding is sometimes verified, and should be more often. I spend a lot of time reviewing the use of new drugs in the local health community and your statement doesn’t fit in with what I find. There are sometimes big problems with big pharma but most drugs have either acceptable or good evidence base.

  89. Hitchhiker said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:40 am

    2000 years of evidence…yes all those double-blind controlled experiments done 2000 years ago.

    I did like when the BBC person asked about scientific evidence and the woman said, “There is a lot of scient…there is a lot of evidence.” Realising there is no scientific evidence whatsoever.

    And yes there are numerous problems with modern medicine but if we abandon the scientific criteria to judge medicine then things will get a lot worse. To me it is very similar to intelligent design, where the only thing for it is that lots of people believe in it.

  90. muscleman said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

    The woo supporters who go down the ‘my woo cured my lurgy that the doctor said was terminal’ make the same error religious people arguing for medical miracles do which is to elevate the opinions of doctors to holy writ. The possibility of misdiagnosis is ignored completely. In woomeisters this is doubly ironic since they go out of their way to denigrate modern medicine and malign it as ‘allopathy’.

    They need to be called on this phenomenon much more often.

  91. heathwel said,

    February 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm


    Your call for a new ‘paleotherapy’ is mirrored in, I think, the popular ‘crystal therapy’, an explanation of which is outlined here:

    This account tells us that the practitioner decides which configuration to place the crystals in by dowsing.

    Apparently water can retain these beneficial effects: “drinking water which has had a non-poisonous gem in water put in it overnight can have beneficial effects.”

    Good to see health and safety have not been ignored: ” Take the gem out before drinking it.”


  92. skyesteve said,

    February 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    @davegould – I hear what you are trying to say but, as ever, things are a bit more complicated. Most modern drugs are replacements for older ones such that when they are being developed it is reasonable to compare them with the older therapy rather than with placebo. Indeed, if I undertand the current “gold standards” for assessing new therpaies that is what they actually say should be done.
    So, for example, ACE inhibitors are developed to help blood pressure control. It makes sense to compare them with the older established therapy like beta blockers rather than with a placebo.
    I think where your case does hold true is with the older therapies many of which, if you trace their history back to the 1940s, 50s or 60s may not have been tested against a placebo.
    I know, for example, when I was a medical student in the mid 1980s I tried to find evidence that dihydrocodeine (then known as DF118) had been subjected to a placebo-controlled RDBCT and I couldn’t find any (but then that was well before the internet, medline, etc.).

  93. Quick2kill said,

    February 26, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    @DrJG. Ive been enjoying reading ur comments on here and ben’s previous entry. You gave an interesting defense of homeopathy in the nhs as palliative care, which made me think a little, though the question on ethics, diversion from real cures etc still worry me.

    I do want to comment on this though: ‘But what he did was to debunk a theory about how homeopathy might work – IIRC it was a claim that the research team had found a scientific measure of a water memory. Yet at the end he pretty clearly implied that this debunking had debunked the whole effectiveness of homeopathy, which it patently had not. After an excellent repudiation of the dodgy research, I can still remember the sudden disappointment that he then made such an unsustainable – and arrogant – claim, but I am afraid that it is something that scientists are not uncommonly guilty of.’

    I haven’t seen the documentary so i can’t defend that, but I want to comment on ur argument here.

    First while ultimately you are correct that not understanding a mechanism for something is not a demonstration of falsity (I argued against Dawkins claims on god with exactly that point) providing a mechanism is an important ingredient in persuading us that something is worthwhile investigating.

    Secondly I think you need to be careful about how ur defining homeopathy. It is always possible to redefine what you mean by it and evade experimental tests. Thats what happens when we perform proper tests of quackery,they retreat into untestable hypotheses of “it only works when not being tested.” I completely agree that we cannot rule out such hypotheses, merely point out we have no reason to believe in them, and therefore should not use them. Homeopathy is a procedure which leads to one advertised claim, the supposed treatment, but if that procedure is correct it should also lead to other effects and they can be tested too. Falsifying one of those in this sense is just as good as falsifying the medical outcomes. It may have less relevance to you as a medical doctor but from my perspective as a (non-medical) research scientist they are equivalent.

    Of course a homeopaths can redefine what it means to remove the second prediction of water memory, making it an even more vague and unreasonable a hypothesis but this is a similar game as removing the medical outcomes from testability. I guess ur only interested in the medical outcomes so all that matters to you is the empirical data on whether or not something works as a treatment. that is fine and the correct approach for judging if something is an effective medical treatment, but if you are merely interested in the truth of falsity of a theory for more abstract reasons then all predictions are equivalent in testing the theory.

    I am concerned that your blanket criticism of scientists comes from misunderstanding this point. You may complain they have not ruled out some particular outcome you care about, but the scientists might correctly be stating they have ruled out a particular theory which makes several predictions. Ruling out any of those prediction does falsify the theory, though it does not rule out the possibility of one of the predictions remaining true.

  94. JoanCrawford said,

    February 26, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    @heathwel – the proprietor of your crystal shop is apparently the only person to score a perfect 10 on the Quackometer.

  95. Guy said,

    February 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Skysteve, you give a perfect example of the superiority of modern medicine over garbage. You mention DF118. After 30 secs on medline, I find the Cochrane review of the three randomised double blind placebo controlled trials that have been done using DF118.

    Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing….

    No actually isn’t EBM wonderful. Because it changes and improves what we do. Homeopathy doesn’t change because it’s neither rational nor interested.

  96. skyesteve said,

    February 26, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks Guy! And, as you will know from my previous posts, I couldn’t agree more.
    EBM works because by definition it’s based on evidence and as the evidence changes so does the practice. For example, the most recent evidence suggested aspirin was no use for primary prevention and almost overnight our practice changed.
    Homoeopathy has no evidence base beyond a lot of glorified anecdote. It’s really sad to see otherwise good doctors trotting out the same old rubbish like “homoeopathy isn’t like conventional medicine so how can you test it the same way” or “we know it works because we see it working every day so why do we need to test it?” or “just because there’s no evidence that it works better than placebo doesn’t mean it doesn’t”.
    I think that last argument annoys me the most. They claim it’s different to “conventional” medicine (i.e. real, proven EBM) yet they expect a system based on EBM to accept homoeopathy with blind faith and fork out millions to subsidise it.
    That for me was the whole point of the Parliamentary report – the NHS should not fund something which cannot prove it works any better than a sugar pill and a bit of TLC.
    The only logical argument if you are a homoeopath is that if the NHS pays for it then it should also pay for every other form of quackery that makes people “feel” better.
    But as things stand there’s nothing p’s me off more than knowing my patients are suffering because beds are being closed, out-patient clinics cut back and effective (but expensive) treatments denied whilst the NHS is quite happy to spend millions of sugar pills for the needy and the gullible

  97. elvisionary said,

    February 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    @cheezburger, I take it you haven’t had the pleasure of Mitchell and Webb’s Homeopathic A&E sketch. No doubt most posters have seen it – you can find it on youtube.

    After our homeopathic hero Simon has failed to save a road traffic accident victim with heavily diluted arnica and horoscopes, he retreats to the pub. His consultant tries to reassure him: “That’s crazy talk Simon. Okay, so you kill the odd patient with cancer or heart disease. Or bronchitis, flu, chicken pox or measles. But, when someone comes in with a vague sense of unease, or a touch of the nerves, or even just more money than sense, you’ll be there for them. Bottle of basically just water in one hand, and a huge invoice in the other.”

    They then order a couple of pints of homeopathic lager – a pint of water with one drop of lager. “Strong stuff”.

  98. DrJG said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    @Quick2kill Oh dear, I wasn’t trying to defend homeopathy, just to express the uneasy feeling that, if I were limited purely to therapies with a strong evidence base, I would have less to offer quite a few patients. Also, I don’t like debunking woo with dubious reasoning, gives the target too much opportunity to cry foul on All the criticism. Overall, I think we are pretty much in agreement.

    Could you give any practical examples of falsifying one claim by falsifying a related one? As far as I can see, you can only falsify statement A by the method of falsifying statement B if you can also demonstrate that statement B is an inevitable consequence of statement A being true. In the Randi Horizon example ( -it was 8 busy years ago, I really cannot remember all the details!) this would mean that, for homeopathy to have real biological effects would have to inevitably mean that those effects were mediated through water having a “memory” which could be demonstrated in the particular scientific process covered. I find it hard to see how that could be demonstrated, hence my frustration at the exaggerated implications I felt were made. Like I say, a practical example would be helpful.

    Oh, and you are braver than me for openly naming the Blessed St Dick of Perpetual Scepticism in such a way in present company – but you obviously recognised one of my targets! I wasn’t trying any blanket condemnation of scientists (though re-reading my it my wording wasn’t great there) just pointing out that a few can be prone to overstating the conclusions which can be reliably drawn from their work. Well, probably more than a few, but a few who get in the media spotlight, anyway.

  99. sair-fecht said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    re: #39

    Result! (but I don’t take the credit, I am sure others complained)

    Subject: RE: [Feedback] Advice on colic
    Date: Fri, 26 Feb 2010 10:42:42 +0000
    To: [sair-fecht]

    Thank you for your email. The page has been reviewed and updated by our resident parenting expert, and is now live at:

    Thank you for contacting us.

    Kind regards

    —–Original Message—–
    From: [sair-fecht]
    Sent: 25 February 2010 23:01
    To: Health-Education
    Subject: [Feedback] Advice on colic

    I noted on your webpage:

    that you indicate a possible treatment is homeopathic drops.

    In the light of the recent Science and Technology Committee on the subject of homeopathy (not to mention many other medical studies and meta-analyses) should you not revise your advice?

    If not, can you also state that giving drops of water might relieve colic (and will be cheaper than the homeopathic “remedy”)?

    Please be balanced – with no evidence to support this alternative therapry, no space should be given to it.


  100. wikiffiliate said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Fight the good fight! Join the guerrilla campaign to stop Boots selling homeopathic quack nonsense.

  101. skyesteve said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:14 pm

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

  102. 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.

  103. 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.

  104. 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!

  105. 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 …”?

  106. 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.

  107. 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!

  108. 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!

  109. 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…!

  110. 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.

  111. 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…

  112. 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.

  113. 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.

  114. 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)…

  115. 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.

  116. 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.

  117. 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.

  118. 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.

  119. mein crustacean said,

    March 2, 2010 at 7:57 pm


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

  120. 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?

  121. 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!

  122. 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.

  123. 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.

  124. 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.


  125. 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.

  126. Cancerkiller said,

    September 30, 2013 at 10:54 pm

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    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.

  127. 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

  128. 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?