Podcast on government response to SciTech NHS homeopathy report

July 28th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy, podcast, regulating nonsense | 23 Comments »

I zipped off this quick podcast from my phone on Monday and put it on my secondary blog, which I run for scrappy stuff. People seemed to like it a bit so I’m reposting here. There’s more audio stuff coming, a bit of video too, and I’ll work out good feeds and iTunes stuff over the next couple of weeks. Cheery pip.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


just blatting from one place to another, and without much sleep: the government response to the Parliamentary Sci Tech Committee homeopathy report is out. I thought I’d shout some thoughts into my phone and upload it here, as an experiment really into whether this is an effective way of communicating about stuff. so, no guarantees on quality, intellectually or audio-wise, it feels a bit exposing tbh, i might have misspoken / misexpressed myself in places, not sure if i’ll do it again, your mileage may vary etc, but anyway, here is the file, assuming my phone successfully manages to email it as an attachment. It’s 30 mins.


government report


scitech committee report


me on homeopathy

The end of homeopathy?



ps: I used Monle to record on iPhone4, follow my advice and don’t bother with this software. The file was 150mb 30mins and Monle crashed when it tried to put it on an edit window, big hassle. Maybe other phone audio editors / recorders work better, I don’t know, in the end I didn’t edit anyway.

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23 Responses

  1. Guy said,

    July 28, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Top link not working Ben.

  2. Ken Rennoldson said,

    July 28, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Haven’t listened to the podcast yet but looked at the report and paragraph 37 stands out, saying that homoeopathic medicine needed to be regulated so “that standards of quality and safety are maintained”.
    By the same logic all food would need the same regulation!
    Alternatively homoeopathic stuff could have the same regulatory regime as say Smarties.

  3. Jbags said,

    July 29, 2010 at 7:19 am

    I found the podcast interesting and informative, and yes I did make it to the end.

    I’m disappointed with the government’s response to the select committee report, which was such a fine day for science based medicine.

    I also worry that if the government does give a pass to this flavour of magic beans, then it opens the door for a smorgasbord of other remedies. Its an alarming precedent for healthcare in the UK.

    I foresee GPs who stock up on all manner of magic beans, and instead of offering “genuine scienced based medicine or homeopathy” it’ll be “genuine science based medicine, homeopathy, a programme of ritual dancing, crystal therapy or trial by fire”. Once you overwhelm a patient with options, and fail to utterly stress that all but one are different flavours of magic beans, the health of the nation will really suffer.

  4. thepoisongarden said,

    July 29, 2010 at 8:53 am

    I’m one of the five people who got right to the end.

    The key point, for me, which is right at the end, is the one about selling homeopathy in pharmacies. Regardless of the regulatory regime or lack on one, the status imparted to a product because it’s on the chemist’s shelf seems to me to be a big plus for the WILB makers (water in little bottles).

    Just before listening I’d been reading about how the Touch of Kings was a well-established cure for scrofula from the 13th century for about 500 years.

    The condition was self-limiting so, of course, people recovered anyway but monarchs touching sufferers turned out to have enormous political benefits for the monarchs in terms of establishing their special nature.

    So the ‘remedy’ had no real effect on the patient but was very good for the provider.

    We’ve come such a long way since then.

  5. Martin said,

    July 29, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Also made it to the end, but you were right Ben, it was hard work. Stream-of-consciousness blogs need a structure, even if it isn’t readily apparent. Having two people helps as if one starts wandering off down a side-alley, the other can pull the blog back on track.

    Also, having two people in a blog lets one talk while the other makes a coffee!

  6. Trez75 said,

    July 29, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    I’ll be interested to see whether Boots decide to pull their Homeopathic section now.

    If the NHS states its a waste of time, and the “remedies” are required by law to show on the side that they have no active ingredients and are just a placebo, perhaps their endorsement of it will change

  7. RogerMexico said,

    July 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Well it was lovely to hear your voice for thirty minutes, even if you only produced about seven minutes of content. (Never mind some don’t manage that with a script).

    However I don’t think you really addressed the situation that NHS Homeopathy, like it or not, is a rather good way to harness the placebo effect And it also gives those, who want to take part in magical mystery tours, a safer way of doing that than wandering off to the wilder shores of woo.

    There is after all a difference between “not working” and “not working better than placebo” – you’ve told us often enough yourself. Many doctors may dislike the idea of prescribing something they think doesn’t work [btp]; in that case send them to an NHS woo-specialist whose genuine belief in sugar and water should be even more efficacious. Mercifully the obligation to inform the patient doesn’t include making them believe you – who would ever be finished with the first one.

    Somehow I doubt the official opinion of the NHS or its bigwigs will influence many patients either way. And the only thing that will stop Boots (or anyone else) selling the stuff is if the customers stop buying. You can’t ban it without making Tate and Lyle the biggest drug dealer in the country and they’ll just change the wording to “traditionally used to treat ..” or some such.

    I do worry a bit if the attack on homeopathy is becoming a bit of a distraction. It’s not just the butterflies-on-wheels aspect; dealing with Big Pharma with all its power and slipperiness requires endless energy, patience, courage, research, incredulity etc. For some, exempting your good and tireless self of course, it may be easier just to burn down the ramshackle summerhouse in the grounds, rather than scale the castle walls.

  8. bobdobbs said,

    July 30, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Perhaps, but in this case, the guys in the ramshackle summerhouse are digging a tunnel into the castle courtyard. It may make sense to chase them down.

  9. carpet10x said,

    July 30, 2010 at 8:39 am

    The full link to the “Government Response to the Science and Technology Committee report ‘Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy” document is

    Or just go to Department of Health site and search for Homeopathy.

  10. Guy said,

    July 30, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Isn’t that government response pathetic.
    I loved the bit
    “Conversely, if regulation was applied to homeopathic medicines as understood in the context of conventional pharmaceutical medicines, these products would have to be withdrawn from the market as medicines. This would constrain consumer choice and, more importantly, risk the introduction of unregulated, poor quality and potentially unsafe products on the market to satisfy consumer demand.”
    You wonder what they might have in them. Perhaps an active ingredient!!

    The real test will come in 18 months time when PCT’s are no more and all commissioning is done by consortia of GP’s. I can’t see any cash strapped consortia buying expensive sugar pills for their patients. Special commissioning arrangements will be in place for superspecialties, but that is where there will be a real outcry if government top slices money for special cancer drugs and homeopathy. I woulnd’t wish to be working in a homeopathic hospital in 2 years time.

  11. SimonW said,

    July 31, 2010 at 12:57 am

    “Alternatively homoeopathic stuff could have the same regulatory regime as say Smarties.”

    This would be inappropriate. Smarties contain several biologically active ingredients, including various Xanthines on top of the sugar. I think it inappropriate to compare Smarties and homeopathic remedies, since Smarties have significant above placebo effects on alertness, and blood lipid levels. However used in moderation Smarties are widely considered safe, although potential exists for psychological dependency.

    Smarties are also much cheaper. Perhaps NHS Purchasing should look at sourcing homeopathic “generic equivalents” from Nestle, whilst we can probably source some staff for the NHS homeopathic hospitals from Disney corporation.

  12. anon3455 said,

    August 1, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Flash or javascript not needed.
    It’s MP3.
    Just copy-paste the link to the media player of your choice (Foobar2000, Media Player Classic, …).

  13. Kylie said,

    August 2, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Just made it to the end of the podcast. I was interested in the suggestion to write to PCTs (while they still exist) about their relationships to the funding of alternative therapies.
    However, how should one respond when one is referred to a ‘real’ medical doctor who is also an alternative therapy practitioner or who advocates such therapies as homeopathy?
    I’m a mental health service user and as an in-patient I and many of my contemporaries have had various alternative therapies (e.g. aromatherapy and reflexology)inflicted upon us.

  14. BikerMondo said,

    August 3, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Just though you good people would appreciate the photo attached to Steve Connor’s online piece in todays Indy titled as showing Homeopthic treatments in a pharmacy. Including one drawer labelled ‘Malaria’.

  15. BikerMondo said,

    August 3, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Link: www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/government-ignored-our-advice-on-homeopathic-remedies-say-experts-2041678.html

  16. starbuck said,

    August 6, 2010 at 6:58 am

    I too made it all the way to the end. Rambling and unstructured, yes. Informative, interesting and useful, yes.

  17. Some Dude said,

    August 10, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Why would ben think less than 5 people would reach the end of his fascinating podcast?

  18. gavinyeulet said,

    September 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Sorry I’m a bit late on this, but I just watched the rerun of Richard Dawkins’ “Enemies of Reason” last week in which he has a segment on Homeopathy. He talked to Prof. Nick Humphrey from LSE about the psych of the placebo effect and there really is a conundrum here (as RogerMexico says above) – placebo in the hands of a decent Homeopath can work well, sometimes better than conventional.

    So what to do? Do we continue to invest in alternative therapies for those who believe in it, or redirect that cash in to training GPs to become human beings? (I mean “spend longer with patients” of course….) which I suspect might be more costly than keeping the Magic Bean wards open?

    Having read the Govt response, it seems they might end up doing the right thing with this, even though they don’t really know why.

    Finally, Ben: now you’ve mastered technology, done a podcast and uploaded it sort-of-successfully AND done it without a script, I would like to see another level of complexity introduced – maybe recording while crossing the A4 at Chiswisk (not at the Pelican), or at the same time as using some form of power tool? I don’t want you to get hurt of course; it would just add that extra element of danger I felt the initial offering lacked (unless you see missing your train as “danger” of course….)

  19. driharper said,

    September 14, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I don’t know if anyone caught this on BBC Scotland 13th Sept:


    but it’s certainly worth a look.

  20. andy h said,

    September 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I feel very sorry for any of you who are closed to homoeopathy. I have been using homoeopathic remedies for a long time through various disease processes in my life to great effect thanks. However many people i know have suffered greatly from “accepted” medical treatment with often long painful side effects. I am fit, healthy and happy and above all do not need to spend my time trying to disprove anyone else’s method of healing. I have found several GPs have used a few different remedies alongside their own prescriptions to great effect. There is also always a financial side to all this, big pharmaceutical companies spending lots of money to discredit anyone in the way of huge profits. a great shame science is so blinkered. they say they prove something through testing on a small rodent then realise 10 years later the folly of it all when more harm has been done than good. A question to ponder for you doctors. Do you actually really understand the makeup and effects of the drugs you are prescribing and the cross toxicology when prescribed alongside sometimes several drugs in one patient. No? What you do is then give another drug for what ever side effect presents itself thus compounding longer term problems and feel your methods are working. good luck to you if that’s how superficial you think true healing is but it’s not for me and many more

  21. Andrea_Cro said,

    October 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Greetings from Croatia, Bought your book, red it, loved it. I’m hearing it’s getting translated in Croatian. Thats great.

    Anyway. A friend of a friend is about to spend money on homeopathy in hoping that homeopaty is gonna cure his (tumpets: Trataaaaaatatataaaaa) Kidney stones.
    Fantastic!!! 😀

  22. joey89924 said,

    November 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Nick Humphrey from LSE about the psych of the placebo effect and there really is a conundrum here (as RogerMexico says above) – placebo in the hands of a decent Homeopath can work well, sometimes better than conventional.

  23. jacy said,

    July 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Any true scientist and believer in science would love homeopathy as it really works, see the truth at adidarwinian.com/father-of-human-pharmacology/ to know why it works and is not placebo.