Appendix: Andy’s incredibly polite email to the Society of Homeopaths

October 21st, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in homeopathy, stifling criticism | 58 Comments »

To my mind this is one of the most important parts of the story about the Society of Homeopaths bullying its critics: it’s the incredibly polite and courteous email that Dr Andy Lewis sent to the SoH after his hosting company received the first threatening letter from their solicitors.

How did the SoH respond to this incredibly human and constructive email? Did they engage with it in any way at all? No. Dr Lewis and his hosting company simply received a second letter from the SoH solicitors, telling Dr Lewis off for daring to contact them.

What I love about pseudoscience is that once you peel away the nonsense there’s always an interesting cultural issue nestling beneath. As I have said on many occasions, there is nothing wrong with using a placebo in many situations.

It’s perfectly possible to imagine a safe way of giving out sugar pills, whilst being cautious about serious conditions like malaria and Aids, missed diagnoses, not undermining vaccination campaigns, not denigrating evidence based medical treatments as part of your sales patter, not undermining the public understanding of science, and so on.

In fact, as I have argued time and again, to gales of laughter from my friends: it is perfectly possible to imagine a form of “ethical bullshit”.

It’s not the sugar pill that’s dangerous about homeopathy, it’s the people. Perhaps having grand fantasies about your amazing healing powers humoured and reinforced can go to your head.

The real dangers of homeopathy are very well exemplified here, by the approach of the Society of Homeopaths, and the cruising contempt with which they treated this very human, courteous, and constructive email.


For the attention of Paula Ross, Chief Executive of the Society of Homeopaths

Dear Ms Ross,

I have just received the email below from my web site hosting company. I believe they originally forwarded the email to an incorrect address and so today is the first day I have been able to respond to it.

My name is Andy Lewis and I am the owner of the domain and I write the blog that can be found on that site. As such, I would very much like to make sure that I fully understand your concerns expressed in the fax to netcetera and I am keen to see that we can resolve any concerns and reach an amicable understanding for all.

I understand you are unhappy about this post, ml

This post was written to highlight my concerns and opinions that the Society of Homeopaths is not taking a firm enough stand, and taking enough action, to ensure its members do not use homeopathy where it is totally inappropriate. Furthermore, the widespread denigration of evidence-based medicine amongst homeopaths is something that the Society should be seeking to reduce should it truly wish to be complementary. It is my opinion that the Society should have done a lot more after the BBC Newsnight sting on homeopaths and malaria. As Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital said, “people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice”. Hence, the title of my post. I have similar concerns about the role of homeopathy in managing AIDS and the advocacy for such treatment that so many homeopaths appear to make. The stark difference of opinion between medical homeopaths, such as Fisher, and your lay membership is concerning.

I hope you understand that my concerns are genuinely held and my motive is the wider highlighting of a problem that may well end in harm or even death to people unless action is taken.

I am sorry you have felt it necessary to ask my web hosting provider to take down the page in question. If you could tell me urgently what the wording is that you feel is incorrect, defamatory or not fair comment I will examine it immediately and will ensure a friendly and swift resolution of this matter. In addition, if you wish to respond to my concerns on the site, I will be more than happy to prominently publish your thoughts in full on my web site.

 I am sure we can come to a quick and happy conclusion here, but should you feel it necessary to follow a legal route directed at me rather than my hosting company, then please can I suggest you initiate the appropriate pre-action protocols to help ensure we all have the right information and communications. m

I am sure you are aware that, being scientifically trained, I am sceptical of homeopathic claims. However, as you might see from my site, I believe that homeopaths could play an important role in healthcare in the UK, but that a good, healthy debate amongst all opinions would be required to get there. I would be humbled to think that I could play a small part in that.

I look forward to your response,


Andy Lewis The Quackometer

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

58 Responses

  1. Pete Mella said,

    October 25, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Off topic a tad… I saw a repeat of HIGNFY on the ridiculously-titled digital channel “Dave” last night, and was depressed to see Dr Richard Hammond on it standing up for homeopathy and getting a vigourous round of applause. Maybe he was right when he said if it means less patients on Prozac it was a good thing, but it was sad to hear quite how keen people were to applaud it, as if here at last was one of those doctors, making a stand for common sense of giving people tiny drops of pure water as a cure!

  2. Pete Mella said,

    October 25, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Oops, I meant Dr Phil Hammond, of course, Richard Hammond’s the bloke in the jet car.

  3. pv said,

    October 25, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Homeopathy as a substitute for education? I can see the attraction but it’s still morally indefensible.

  4. quietstorm said,

    October 26, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    I agree with pv – it’s attractive, the ethical bullshit line, since we know that the “placebo effect” does make people feel better. But then we risk splitting society into two – those who know that it’s rubbish, and those who are being “duped”. There is no way to keep those two sections of society apart, and eventually, once the “duped” are aware of the situation, there will just be huge mistrust of any medicine (well, more widespread than it is now). That has to be counterproductive.

    But it strikes me that the “placebo effect” perhaps alleviates symptoms, but doesn’t “cure” anything. I’m thinking that a cure specifically gets rid of a disease from the body (i.e. attacks cancerous cells to remove them, or gets rid of an infection) whereas other medicines simply alleviate the symptoms whilst the body tries to fix the underlying problem. Is this true, or am I being too simplistic?

  5. pv said,

    October 27, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    quietstorm said,

    October 26, 2007 at 9:53 pm
    “But it strikes me that the “placebo effect” perhaps alleviates symptoms, but doesn’t “cure” anything. I’m thinking that a cure specifically gets rid of a disease from the body (i.e. attacks cancerous cells to remove them, or gets rid of an infection) whereas other medicines simply alleviate the symptoms whilst the body tries to fix the underlying problem. Is this true, or am I being too simplistic?”

    I posted the following link in the forum. I think it might have some bearing on the placebo effect.

  6. pv said,

    October 27, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Also, quietstorm, remember that a placebo contains no medically active ingredient. Therefore, when studies say that homeopathic remedies fare no better than a placebo, as all the well conducted ones do, what they are saying is that homeopathic remedies fare no better than taking no medicine at all (ie. nothing). Whatever effect homeopaths like to claim for their pretend medicine they are undoubtedly psychosomatic (symptoms relieved by diversion) or merely coincidental with the condition’s natural self-limiting “expiry date”.
    Ben doesn’t like us to use the “L” word so let’s just say that any claims for homeopathy being able to effect a cure for malaria, HIV,or any other non-self-limiting ailment isn’t consistent with the evidence. These claims are as grounded in reality as the claim that the Earth is flat and orbited by the sun.

  7. le canard noir said,

    October 30, 2007 at 1:14 am

    I have now posted a few thoughts on the letter that the Society wrote to the Guardian about Ben’s article.

    My solicitor advices me to stick to calling their letter ‘misleading’.

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