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. Kess said,

    October 21, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    What a polite, well-worded, thoughtful letter. A shame Ms Ross didn’t have the courtesy to respond (although perhaps as “Chief Executive” she feels above taking the time to think and correspond with mere mortals – it’s easier to just knee-jerk and press the big red button to launch the lawyers).

  2. Gimpy said,

    October 21, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    It seems the various factions of homeopaths are at war with each other
    The above press release contains the cutting put-down:
    “Paula Ross, the non-homeopath Chief Executive of SoH”

    There you have it, the chief executive of the SoH is not bound by their code of conduct.

  3. Gimpy said,

    October 21, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Of the senior management mentioned in this document
    only two are RHom. The Chief Executive, Paula Ross, Membership & Publications Manager, M. Gurney, Communications and Marketing Manager M. Oxley, Resources Manager, S. Waller, Finance Manager, P. Johns and Professional Conduct Officer O. Moroney are not registered homeopaths and so not bound by the code of conduct. Only Senior Education Advisor, L. Wicks and Registrar G. Baran are on the register.

  4. pv said,

    October 21, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Is anyone else coming to the conclusion that the SoH is nothing more than a marketing and promotion organisation for homeopathists, only masquerading as a professional body? So complaining to them about anything at all would be as effective as spitting into the wind.
    I’m sure they could be prosecuted if anyone had a mind to do so. I’m not so sure that their legal threats against quackometer or the host were themselves legal, in the same way that impersonating an officer of the law is illegal.

  5. Ambrielle said,

    October 21, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Presumably their lawyers wouldn’t actually do something illegal.

  6. Mojo said,

    October 21, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Gimpy said, “It seems the various factions of homeopaths are at war with each other

    I wonder if they’ve had a letter from the SoH’s solicitors.

  7. Mojo said,

    October 21, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    pv said, “I’m not so sure that their legal threats against quackometer or the host were themselves legal, in the same way that impersonating an officer of the law is illegal.”

    Threats to sue are not actionable, apart from in relation to claims of infringement of intellectual property rights where there can be a tort of making an unjustified threat of legal action.

    See, for example, paragraph 2.4 of this document:

    Now if only this idea could be extended to defamation.

  8. shpalman said,

    October 21, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Gimpy said, “It seems the various factions of homeopaths are at war with each other…”

    What about the People’s Homeopaths of Judea? Splitters!

  9. le canard noir said,

    October 21, 2007 at 6:23 pm

    We are the People’s Homeopaths of Judea. You mean the Judean Peoples’ Homeopaths.

    Anyway, before someone brings dead parrots into this. I loved that link to the ARH minutes.

    A number of quotes stood out:

    SoH has sent out inaccurate and defamatory information to ARH members to coincide with ARH membership renewals. … This at the very least, constitutes unethical behaviour.


    SoH appear to be deliberately attempting to discredit and defame its principal rival organisation ARH

    and best of all,

    However, the SoH’s recent actions suggest that they are more concerned about preserving their own position of power within the profession, than representing the actual needs of practising homeopaths.

  10. ian said,

    October 21, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    I love the accounting in ARH’s minutes. They keep referring to sums of money such as £44,000K – I read that as £44,000,000 (or maybe £44M). Maybe homepathic money is different from our money? I have a Northern Rock account that has a memory of money – will they accept it as payment for homeopathic treatment?

  11. Gimpy said,

    October 21, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    Haha if you liked the ARH stuff here is the SoH side of the argument

  12. Mojo said,

    October 21, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    ian said, “I love the accounting in ARH’s minutes. They keep referring to sums of money such as £44,000K”

    In homeopathy the letter K usually refers to a remedy prepared by the Korsakov method. Applied to financial systems, it might mean that the account has been repeatedly emptied.

  13. j said,

    October 22, 2007 at 2:07 am

    Another nice quote from the above link to the SoH site:

    “The Society considers that this gives the homeopathy profession the opportunity to demonstrate it is a mature and responsible profession by achieving a robust system of voluntary self-regulation via a single register and regulatory body.”


    Clearly, using legal muscle to censor blogs is a key function of any credible would-be regulator.

  14. Ambrielle said,

    October 22, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Also from the link above:

    “The Society remains committed to an independent register and regulatory body for homeopathy in the UK, with standards commensurate with our own. This will not now be formed by CORH. However, The Society will continue to work towards its establishment,

    Lastly, The Society wishes to thank all of its members for their support during this process and in particular, their ongoing commitment to The Society – the only register that currently operates as a register and full regulatory body in the UK.

    Standards, huh? Full regulatory body? Am I missing something here?

  15. manigen said,

    October 22, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    You cynic Ambrielle; obviously the SoH are dedicated to the very real and absolute standards of their highly-diluted iron fist. Silence by law and sugar pills for all!

  16. Lave said,

    October 22, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Thats a brilliant letter. Thats exactly the right attitude to take in this dispute.

    Andy Lewis is serving as quite a role model (at least for me) on how to blog about badscience and the like.

  17. BarryNL said,

    October 22, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I couldn’t resist – I had to post a copy and then send this e-mail to the Society of Homeopaths:

    Dear Ms Ross,

    I understand you succeeded in coercing Andy Lewis to remove an article critical of your society from his blog. For your information I have put a copy of the original article on my website at

    If your lawyers wish to contact my ISP about this article they can be reached via

    Then again, my ISP has faced down and beaten the Scientologists before so you may wish to save yourself some legal fees by finding the nearest brick wall and banging your head against it; I think this will prove equally effective and far cheaper for you.

    Barry Smith.

  18. pv said,

    October 22, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Ambrielle, given that the SoH and homeopaths as an entire group don’t give a stuff about evidence, and since evidence unequivocally shows that the Soh care just as little for regulation, then you quote from their web site is perfectly logical and consistent in their parallel universe. As they used to say in the military – SNAFU.
    Situation normal – all f..ked up!

  19. DaveF said,

    October 22, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    Barry Smith: well done. Do let us all know if you get a response from Ms Ross. If so, she could be invited to consider what further calls there may be on her legal budget in pursuit of her censorship efforts by googling “(SoH) are a shambles” from the first sentence of the quackometer article as I have just done – got 130 results.

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 22, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    i know it’s old fashioned of me, and maybe a bit young fogey, but i honestly don’t see the value in sending rude emails to formal bodies like that.

    just in terms of sheer comedy, it’s much funnier if you treat people like adults and then they act like children. if everybody’s spraying poo around then it’s harder to see what’s going on. just a personal view.

  21. quietstorm said,

    October 22, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    It’s a shame that in libel cases the burden of proof is on the defendant – it would have been good to see this in court, with the SoH forced to provide evidence that Dr Lewis has said something untrue. But I can see why Netcetera backed down, makes good business sense…

    Could the GMC or someone not legitimately sue individual Homeopaths for making defamatory statements regarding modern medical practices? If (as copied from Wikipedia, as I am no legal expert) “defamation is the communication of a statement that makes a false claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may harm the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government or nation” – then surely the GMC have a very strong case!

  22. Gimpy said,

    October 22, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    Have to agree with ben, there is no point in giving the SoH legitimate grounds to ignore a complaint. You don’t need malicious intenet to criticise their hypocrisy and willingness to endorse by inaction dangerous advice. Any regulatory body worth its salt has to abide by its own rules and regulations to be taken seriously. I know we all dislike homeopathy anyway but one small step at a time, eh? If the SoH were preapred to criticise and punish dangerous behaviour then they might find that we would be less mean to them.
    Criticism should always be constructive.

  23. Lave said,

    October 22, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Aye, I’m with Ben, Gimpy et al. on this. Even though I’m often filled with rage and despair on my blog – but only for (poor) comic effect on ridiculous things.

    Being the polite and nice in the face of such behaviour, must shake their nerve, and make them realise how unfair their being right now. Where a pissy email, no matter how just, will only give them a sense of righteous indignation.

    Just my 2p, but then it’s probably only worth 2p…

  24. NickConnolly said,

    October 22, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Either way that Duck deserves a medal.

    Perhaps the way to go is not write to the SoH but to homeopaths who advertise that they are members of the SoH. Appeal to their better nature and ask *them* to raise the issue with the SoH.

  25. shpalman said,

    October 23, 2007 at 8:15 am

    I would love to see just one homeopath, even better if she’s an SoH member, say “I don’t necessarily agree with Andy but I don’t think legal threats are the right way to engage with criticism” and then repost the article.

  26. CaptainKirkham said,

    October 23, 2007 at 11:31 am

    There are a serious of blog posts done by a certain blogger by the name of Unity starting here:

    on the subject of the current law relating to libel on blogs. The analysis is long but educative, and may be of interest to some of the commenters here. It arose in the context of a political blog, but the issues are very similar: blogger posts something, subject of post complains to ISP, ISP takes down blog. Upshot generally – the current libel law in the UK is not fit for purpose when it comes to the internet and blogs.

  27. Ambrielle said,

    October 23, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Re the link above: I beg pardon, but supplying evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy is NOT the same as telling the Science & Technology’s Inquiry on CAM that homeopathy should be given money for healthcare, nor is being a member of other self-deluding organisations.

    Also: a ‘model of best practice in voluntary self-regulation’ my arse.

  28. Gimpy said,

    October 23, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    That press release is a piece of crap. Note how they imply that because the gave evidence to the Lords that somehow gives them credibility. Go read my blog post comparing the SoH’s view of the Lords report with what it actually says.

  29. manigen said,

    October 23, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    From the SoH’s letter to the Guardian:

    “The Society of Homeopaths took the content of the 2006 BBC Newsnight programme on malaria very seriously and responded via press statements and media interviews promising action if it were required.”

    Notice that no action was taken, only promised, but it’s alright because they took it very seriously. Moreover, they are apparently refusing to respond to rude missives, but that doesn’t explain why they didn’t talk to Dr Lewis/Le Carnard Noir’s letter, which was politeness itself.

    It looks distressingly like the SoH is sulking.

  30. JQH said,

    October 23, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    A further point re the Nesnight/Sense About Science sting. Simon Singh stated on the programme that one of the people caught out giving lethally dangerous advice was a Fellow of the Society of Homeopaths.

    If that individual is a member, why have they not taken action against him. If he is not a member, let alone a Fellow, why have they not taken action against him for falsely claiming membership/Fellowship? Surely this person’s actions would be bringing the Society into disrepute, in effect defaming them?

    Whe hasn’t he heard from the Society’s lawyers?

  31. BarryNL said,

    October 23, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Ben and some others clearly have more faith in human nature than I do 🙂

    I don’t really see any point in trying to engage in polite debate with the SoH or similar organisations. That’s what Dr. Lewis tried and look what happened.

    This is hardly surprising as they don’t have a rational case to make and are most likely aware of this. Instead, they simply take the approach that they will do whatever seems to them most effective to protect their business interests.

    With this in mind, the most effective response to my mind in the face of legal threats to bloggers is to disseminate the information as widely as possible and make clear, in no uncertain terms, to the SoH that it’s being done and there is nothing they can do about it.

    My e-mail was not an attempt to engage anyone in rational debate. It was sent purely in the hope that next time they feel like reaching for the lawyer they will realise how futile it is and think again.

  32. le canard noir said,

    October 23, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Watch this space…

  33. Ambrielle said,

    October 23, 2007 at 2:24 pm


  34. Gimpy said,

    October 23, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    It’s interesting that they say they will no longer respond to bloggers. If I recall from their Code of Ethics they are obliged to investigate any complaint. The origin of the complain is irrelevant. Surely they wouldn’t breach their Code of Ethics (again)?

  35. superburger said,

    October 23, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Point is, all of this is on record now, in the press, online etc and people who stumble across it will make up their own mind.

    badscience was almost a whole page in Saturday’s guardian too, which was good.

  36. RichH said,

    October 23, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    “The Society’s professional conduct procedures cannot be invoked without a specific complaint, an alleged offender or any evidence.”

    There is a very interesting “or” in that sentence – it suggests to me that they don’t really require “a specific complaint” merely an “alleged offender” and some “evidence”. Now is it just me but didn’t that Quackometer page which the SoH object to so much include “an alleged offender” and didn’t it point at websites on which there was clear “evidence” that said person was breaching the SoH guidelines. So what has SoH done about the “alleged offender”? Well 2 minutes ago the “offending” website with the guideline-breaching material seems to be still up so I guess we can infer that SoH has done zip – very professional NOT.

  37. Mojo said,

    October 23, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    In their letters to Dr. Lewis and his ISP, did they manage to specify which comments they considered to be defamatory?

  38. le canard noir said,

    October 23, 2007 at 7:42 pm


  39. mikestanton said,

    October 23, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Here is another gang of homeopaths. This letter is doing the rounds on YaWoo groups so I thought I would share.

    “Homeopathy worked for Me – Petition

    Please Cross Post……………….

    As many of you know, there is a very evident effort to destroy
    Homeopathy in the UK (and beyond!). Misinformed statements by Professor
    Ernst and others, bad press and “quackbusters” abound.

    A new campaign has been set up by a group of homeopaths who would like
    to present a petition of at least 250,000 signatures (hopefully
    more!!) to Downing Street next March, saying that “Homeopathy worked for

    If you would like to sign this petition or look at the website for more
    details, please go to: . Once you
    have signed, please forward this email to as many interested parties as

    Thanks very much.”

    If anyone has the werewithal to host a petition saying “Placebo worked for me” do you think we could beat their target and deliver it to Downing Street on the same day?

  40. superburger said,

    October 23, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    nhs not without its faults. Not sure anyone is been called a cheat or a liar.

    But it is true to say there is a lack of evidence that homeopathy is effective over and above placebo.

    There seems to be a specific problem with the SoH – their members subscribe to a code of conduct. A blogger points out a breach of that code – and the response isn’t an engagement with them or a rebuttal – it’s a lawyers letter to their ISP.

    compare and contrast that with the complaints procedure at your local NHS trust.

  41. apricot said,

    October 23, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    My last post has been deleted. Thanks for reply anyway superburger.

    Can you prove there are no cheats or liars in the NHS?

    I’m not sure all the points in your post actually are true, are you? There are other regulatory bodies for homeopathy other than the SOH: ARH, MRHA for example, where is the evidence that the homeopaths in question came from the SOH?

  42. apricot said,

    October 23, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    C’mon guys, the NHS is pimped by the pharmaceutical industry whose sole purpose for existing is to promote the interests of those who fund it.

  43. Robert Carnegie said,

    October 23, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    I don’t think that “Placebo worked for me” could honestly be signed by a large number of people. May I propose something like “I didn’t take anything for it and I got better.” For instance, I had a slight cold (I think I’m getting another), didn’t take anything for it…

    Or perhaps “I scoff at homeopathy, I got better taking nothing.”

    On the other hand, I also think we should wait until they get, oh, 100,000 satisfied customer signatures before starting any counter-effort whatsoever.

  44. le canard noir said,

    October 24, 2007 at 12:01 am

    My bet is they will not make 10,000.

  45. mikestanton said,

    October 24, 2007 at 12:50 am

    “On the other hand, I also think we should wait until they get, oh, 100,000 satisfied customer signatures before starting any counter-effort whatsoever.”

    Good idea. Give ’em a sporting chance. And don’t give them too much credibility by taking them too seriously too early,

  46. BarryNL said,

    October 24, 2007 at 8:13 am

    apricot: “NHS is pimped by the pharmaceutical industry whose sole purpose for existing is to promote the interests of those who fund it”

    Of course that’s also true – all industry funded bodies exist to promote the interests of those who pay the bills. Follow the money, as they say.

    Fortunately the pharmaceutical industry is not self-regulated but has to adhere to government regulations. A self-regulated pharmaceutical industry would certainly be a scary thing. Indeed, we can get a taster by looking at how they behave in the US where they can directly advertise to the patient.

    So, can we agree that the situation with homeopathy would be improved by bringing homeopathic suppliers under the same regulations as the pharmaceutical industry? In fact, can we agree that self-regulation is a disaster in any industry?

  47. Ben Goldacre said,

    October 24, 2007 at 9:10 am

    hi, sorry, apricot/kerry/svetlana/whatever is the very unpleasant stalker of someone who comes to this board a lot, as you know i have absolutely no interest whatsoever in wasting my time moderating discussions here but they have agreed not to post, after a lot of dreary timewasting emails, and i dont know why they continue to post intermittently, but i will delete them all. it’s a contemptible waste of my time but there it is.

  48. manigen said,

    October 24, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Ah, this is one of those situations where most of us will never find out the whole story, isn’t it? Never mind.

    Anyway, back to the SoH. Later in their letter to the Guardian they say:

    “The Society has been working to create a robust system of voluntary self-regulation for homeopathy…and a culture of research and critical reflection on practice.”

    Three words: No…They…Haven’t.

  49. cantabrigian said,

    October 24, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Surely the fewer signatures they have on the petition the more effectoive it will be..

  50. spk76 said,

    October 25, 2007 at 8:46 am

    Off topic but here’s some breaking news from the Observer…