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UK Government Ignores Evidence Against Homeopathy

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The UK Government has now responded to the report of its Science and Technology Committee, which investigated the evidence for homeopathy and presented recommendations in its report,  Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy.

Amongst its strong recommendations, it argued that the UK health service should not be promoting medical therapies for which there is no credible evidence, and that if the NHS were supplying such services, they would inevitably be receiving a form of endorsement.

There are very many medical practitioners in the UK who are outraged at the promotion of nonsensical water treatment which misleads patients into thinking they are receiving some benefit when there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claims.

The STC provided detailed and authoritative arguments, including a demolition of the suggested evidence offered by the homeopaths.  Anyone who wishes to read the excellent report can do so here.  Now the government has provided its response, and it is breath-taking in its absurdity; making a complete mockery of claims to have the public interest at heart.

In considering the Evidence Check 2 report, the government acknowledges all of the points made by the scientific and medical contributors, and agrees that there is inadequate evidence to support the claims of homeopathy. They argue that the people most able to decide on the effective treatment of patients are the medical practitioners themselves, and they understand clearly that if the NHS provides homeopathic treatment, then the public will think that it is endorsing it, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the government. As they put it in their response: “There naturally will be an assumption that if the NHS is offering homeopathic treatments then they will be efficacious, whereas the overriding reason for NHS provision is that homeopathy is available to provide patient choice.”

Presumabl,y that also means that if people demanded the choice of offering sacrifices to promote health, or a service to offer prayers on the NHS, they too would only be a matter of preserving patient choice and would therefore have a case for provision, regardless of any criteria of efficacy.  This clearly puts the government in an awkward position because they also say: “In order for the public to make informed choices, it is therefore vitally important that the scientific evidence base for homeopathy is clearly explained and available”.  The irony of this statement clearly escapes them because the Evidence Check 2 report demonstrated in considerable detail that there is no evidence base for homeopathy and that was precisely the significance of the report.

When it came to looking at the homeopathic claim of “like for like”, instead of recognising that there is no evidence whatsoever in support of this principle, the government failed to realise that there is a difference between opinion and evidence.  They commented that since some people dispute the scientific evidence, they therefore felt that “there may be limited evidence of efficacy in some circumstances”.  This of course, does not follow at all.  All it says is that some people don’t accept the evidence against homeopathy.

That such supporting evidence doesn’t exists seems not to trouble them in the slightest. Just the disagreement alone is assumed to have the same weight as scientific evidence: in order to provide a credible case against something, all you have to do it seems is to say you disagree.  The evidence of disagreement is not the same as evidence in favour of the efficacy of homeopathy any more than a believer in the moon being made of cheese provides “limited evidence” that it is true.

And since they see science as simply one opinion amngst many, they can produce the following comment:  “Given the depth of feeling on each side of the debate, it is unlikely that this controversy could be resolved by further analysis of the literature or research on the efficacy of homeopathy.”  This, of course, is factually untrue. Scientific studies can demonstrate perfectly well that the claims of homeopathy are untrue.  Such studies have been done and the evidence has been peer-reviewed and published and presented to the government.  They just ignored it.

On the question of regulation, they wanted to avoid interference in the market for these sugar pills but acknowledged: “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 medicine.”  In other words, if the marketers can’t demonstrate efficacy, the pills would have to be withdrawn. That’s precisely the point made by the Evidence Check 2 report. But of course, we apparently can’t do anything that might interfere with this very profitable business and that’s the clear message coming from the government reponse.

They know homeopathy doesn’t work. They know there’s no credible evidence for it. They know it can’t demonstrate efficacy. They know that the NHS promoting it gives it false credibility. They know that the whole show is bogus but very profitable and so they’ll leave it alone.  They’ve decided to encourage the corruption of the medical establishment by the state promotion of a bogus nonsensical therapy in the clear knowledge that it doesn’t work. And the reason for doing this? Because they insist that choice is more important than effective treatment.  Of course, the issue of choice is important. Patients should be able to choose what treatment they will accept. But there is no good reason why the state should fund irrational non-treatments.  That’s simply dishonest and unethical.

The UK economy is, from all accounts, desperately trying to make cuts in public spending, and yet the government is prepared to continue allowing irrational non-treatments to be subsidised by the NHS. How could they get into such a strange ethical position?  The clue is in their misunderstanding of how science works. Many of these decision-makers confuse arguments about the meaning of scientific results, with the results themselves. If a scientific conclusion is nothing more than an opinion, then scientific evidence counts for nothing. And that’s exactly how many of the government members think.  But scientific results stand regardless of the beliefs and opinions of scientists.  The evidence stands up for itself and does not rely on anyone’s opinions.  Differences of opinion do not change the evidence. Homeopathy does not work and there is no evidence to show that it does.  That, for scientists and all rational people, settles the question,  it cannot be settled by consensus.  Having no understanding of the objectivity of scientific methods, they see any sign of dispute as meaning the science itself cannot be trusted. This, of course, plays into the hands of those who, for strong commercal reasons, are opposed to the rational analysis of the claims being made in alternative medicine.

This government response demonstrates the paucity of scientific understanding amongst the members of the UK government, and their manifest inability to take scientific evidence into account. It shows too, that their belief in the market far outweighs any concern for the welfare of patients, as they are perfectly willing to hand them over to peddlers of fake medical treatments.

I think few realistic scientists expected anything better from this government, or from its predecessor, but it shows just how deeply the irrationalism and gullibility and sheer antiscientific attitudes have penetrated the minds of many MPs. For them, choice and the market is everything, science is nothing, and concern for medical ethics doesn’t even get a look-in.

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About Bob Lloyd

  • Hagebard

    Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Anyone with a grade school understanding of chemistry should immediately realize that homeopathy absolutedly cannot work.

  • James Pannozzi

    “The STC provided detailed and authoritative arguments, including a demolition of the suggested evidence offered by the homeopaths. Anyone who wishes to read the excellent report can do so here.”

    Just as perfectly well qualified MD’s prescribed aspirin for generations, without knowing the mechanism of its action, so Homeopaths have the right to prescribe medicine in their system even without understanding the mechanism of its action.
    Homeopaths, being practitioners just like MD’s are often not scientists or theorists.
    Their “quantum” explanations even I find rather curious, to say the least!

    I will not entertain your obvious response regarding your opinion on if Homeopathy “works”. That it does, and that there is overwhelming evidence that it does work well above placebo is right there sitting in scientific archives, on google search and for anyoone who wishes to review the literature or else consult a qualified Homeopathic physician, often they are also MD’s, Chiropractors, DO’s, Oriental Medicine physicians as well.

    I’m a little curious how a biochemistry well trained chap like yourself, can completely ignore the field of high dilution chemistry, emerging, in part, from Ennis’ experiments to disprove the “water memory” theory of Homeopathy. While I find the quantum mechanical explanations rather far fetched, the high dilution experiments, particularly high dilutions which cause biological effects as though the causative molecules which have been diluted away are still there. This phenomenon has been confirmed in numerous experiments in independent labs
    (Ennis, Inflammation Research, vol 53, p181). It is not at all a proof but offers the possibility of proof – a possibility which good sceptics should not deign to ignore.

    My own field is Oriental Medicine, in particular Chinese Herbology and Acupuncture and I am not a Homeopathist though perhaps will study it in the immediate future.

    In addition, if I may comment on your statement that:
    “Now the government has provided it’s response, and it is breath-taking in its absurdity; making a complete mockery of claims to have the public interest at heart.”

    I am compelled to disagree strongly with your characterization of the government as uninterested in having the public interest at heart – in fact, it is EXACTLY in PROTECTING the public interest which made the government hesitate to acquiesce to the outrageous mis-characterizations of Homeopathy and demands of a small number of anti-alternative medicine organizers, blog writers, quick buck book authors and newspaper columnists and “science” writers. It is they who do NOT have the public interest in mind. Let there be no mistaking that, your contravening protestations to the contrary notwithstanding!

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    James:
    [Just as perfectly well qualified MD’s prescribed aspirin for generations, without knowing the mechanism of its action, so Homeopaths have the right to prescribe medicine in their system even without understanding the mechanism of its action]

    I’ve heard that argument so many times… and you seem to be ignoring the same absolutely critical point. Aspirin has proven efficacy, in clinical trials. It is true that for a very long time no-one was sure how it worked, but it could easily, repeatably, and reliably be demonstrated that it WORKED. Homeopathy fails that very simple basic test however many times you test it.

    The question is not whether some explanation for the effiacy has been found and proved, but whether or not the efficacy has been established in the first place. For drugs to be prescribed, the efficacy and safety has to be established and that’s true whether or not any mechanism for action is identified and understood. Why can’t homeopaths understand this amazingly simple and direct point?

    When you say the evidence is sitting in the archives, that’s just nonsense. Even the leading homeopaths who gave evidence to Evidence Check 2 couldn’t find it. They had to have the best evidence available shown to them by Prof Edzard Ernst and as he pointed out to them, it demonstrated that homeopathy DIDN’T work. The evidence they themselves presented fell apart on the first inspection because of hopelessly poor experimental design and uncontrolled trials. They were even quoting papers they claimed supported homeopathy, which actually demonstrated it didn’t work. They basically didn’t have a clue about evidence and what it meant.

    The quantum argument is another fanciful notion because at the quantum level, the quantum events don’t have any demonstrable biological effect – those arguing this case haven’t studied the science. And there is absolutely no evidence of water retaining a memory. The trials of high dilutions have demonstrated absolutely no biological effects at all. The Cochrane Collaboration has done an exhaustive metastudy – check it out.

    Lastly, IF the government had public interest at heart, it would be committed to publicising the fact that there is absolutely no evidence at all of the efficacy of homeopathy. They would put that in large letters over the entrance to the London Homeopathic Hospital and display it in all doctors’ surgeries.

    How can it be ethical or honest to urge people with illnesses to undertake homeopathic treatment when there is absolutely no evidence of efficacy? That is unethical in the extreme. The fact is that simply claiming that homeopathy works is not enough and selling the treatment on the basis of personal belief is not enough either. If you are trying to persuade someone to pay for medical treatment, you are (or should be) ethically bound to produce convincing evidence of a high clinical science standard.

    There are not two different standards of proof here, one for science and one for believers: if it works, you should be able to demonstrate it convincingly. If you can’t, you should stop claiming it does work unless or until you have the evidence.

  • James Pannozzi

    Bob, we are in agreement on the various quantum explanations of Homeopathy and the serious shortcomings of those arguments.

    In addition, with the destruction of Homeopathy in the United States after a concerted political effort by the AMA over the course of several decades, including expelling MD’s who dared practice it, there has arisen an, in my opinion, serious deficiency in the training of Homeopaths with the result that some people of very questionable or patently insufficient background are running around calling themselves Homeopaths. I don’t know what the situation in the UK is but here in the states this is intolerable. There must be 6 or 7 different Homeopathic designations that I’ve seen and to add to the confusion, the standards and rules to get a license vary from state to state.

    Regarding your repeated attempts to demonstrate absolute lack of evidence for Homeopathic efficacy, I remain in total disagreement. The evidence is overwhelming that, for reasons unknown, for certain patients and for certain diseases, again, for reasons unknown, it appear to improve even to what might be called a complete cure. These instances are neither temporally nor geographically isolated and therefore, in the absence of definitive research, these clinical reports, case studies, and the like acquire evaluational significance, again, in my opinion. The repeated instances of similar cures and their endorsement and confirmation by medical experts of the first rank immediately eliminate any attempt at denouncement by “deceit” or mere “placebo” effect, not to mention the widespread utilization, with equal success in the animal kingdom.

    In addition, the attempt to denounce Homeopathy based on the research and testing methodology applied to pharmaceutical drugs is also specious. A false sense of evidence is maintained which evaporates upon widespread use when the real side effects, including fatal ones, force the hasty recall and quiet discard of the supposedly favorable prior research.

    Unintentional, but in my opinion, in some instances, deliberate mis-characterization of Homeopathic research and its results.
    In this regard, a constant shifting of focus, cleverly shifting double standards and a variety of other very UNSCIENTIFIC innuendo is used to give credence and subtly reinforce the misconceptions of those, like yourself, who are genuinely interested in a scientific analysis of this problem. Instead, it is my opinion that you have, with correct good intentions, fallen for the arguments of what chemist-Homeopath Lionel Milgrom calls “scientism”, a kind of pseudo scientific set of rationalizations which switches real science on and off as needed, and whose intellectual foundations are logical positivism rather than the expected empirical rationalism.
    I urge you to read his paper (and, once again I will reiterate my complete disagreement with his quantum explanations, even so) where he expresses these criticisms far better than I ever could and with which I am in complete accord. The paper in question is “Beware Scientism’s Onward March” and is easily found in google. In addition to explaining what he means by “scientism” and exactly who he considers the “New Fundamentalists”, there are considerations there that I believe are quite applicable to this discussion.

    A final word, pardon my long windedness, on your comments regarding the ethics of Homeopathy where efficacy is in question. My views regarding this being considerably more liberal in the allowance of speculative medicine, I still regard conventional medicine, its tests and diagnoses and prognoses as essential in our modern health systems and “Complementary and Alternative Medicine” proponents must NOT forget that word “complementary”. Utilizing a system of medicine for which no accepted theory is extant for major diseases is a fool’s errand and Homeopathy may be used in such cases only as a last resort, not the first, and then only with the understanding of the fully speculative nature. It often proves of use when for whatever reason, all other attempts in conventional medicine have failed but even so must be undertaken with great reservation until some sort of working theory as to its mechanism, and more formal confirmations of its efficacy can be seen.
    But that still does not mean we should disregard the enormous inductivism, the work documented by Homeopaths for nearly two centuries and its utilization even as we speak and even as tens of thousands of people derive genuine benefit from it.
    Thanks,
    JP

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Apologies for the length of the reply but the points you make are important and represent some very common confusions.

    [Regarding your repeated attempts to demonstrate absolute lack of evidence for Homeopathic efficacy, I remain in total disagreement. The evidence is overwhelming that, for reasons unknown, for certain patients and for certain diseases, again, for reasons unknown, it appear to improve even to what might be called a complete cure. These instances are neither temporally nor geographically isolated and therefore, in the absence of definitive research, these clinical reports, case studies, and the like acquire evaluational significance, again, in my opinion. The repeated instances of similar cures and their endorsement and confirmation by medical experts of the first rank immediately eliminate any attempt at denouncement by “deceit” or mere “placebo” effect, not to mention the widespread utilization, with equal success in the animal kingdom.]

    James, you are denying the exhaustive definitive research that has been documented and assessed by the Cochrane Collaboration. It is common amongst homeopaths to refuse to acknowledge the wealth of credible detailed scientific research on homeopathy on the grounds that it failed to detect what the homeopaths wanted to find.

    The instances of reports of miracle cures are not evidence – they are anecdotes which are unsupported by evidence. Just like someone saying they saw flying saucers. They are anecdotal claims that can not be taken as evidence, merely as an account of what someone believes. That is precisely why they DON’T take on additional significance in the absence of evidence. They are only seen to be important by those who believe homeopathy works but who can find no credible evidence.

    There is only one standard being applied not two here. The standard is that the evidence has to be provided which, independent of the beliefs of anyone involved in the experiment, demonstrates the efficacy of homeopathy. No-one has ever found any such evidence in controlled, double-blind, randomised trials. That’s the standard that all clinical science has to meet, and homeopathy too is expected to meet this standard. It’s the same standard for all, but homeopathy fails because there is no evidence.

    [In addition, the attempt to denounce Homeopathy based on the research and testing methodology applied to pharmaceutical drugs is also specious. A false sense of evidence is maintained which evaporates upon widespread use when the real side effects, including fatal ones, force the hasty recall and quiet discard of the supposedly favorable prior research.]

    This is a very popular confusion. The argument goes roughly as follows. Drugs are tested for efficacy and are proven to work. But because they also have identified side-effects, therefore the methodology that demonstrated efficacy was faulty.

    It’s a completely specious argument. The efficacy is demonstrated by sound clinical trial techniques. Those very same sound clinical trial techniques and recording of clinical signs also identify the side-effects. It is precisely because clinical science is so meticulous that the side-effects are identified.

    But the really silly part of the argument is claiming that the side-effects somehow negate the efficacy. Enough aspirin will make you sick but that in no way contradicts its efficacy as a mild analgesic. There is no false sense of evidence. But what is true is that the testing of pharmaceuticals can and should be improved, and it is being improved all the time.

    [a constant shifting of focus, cleverly shifting double standards and a variety of other very UNSCIENTIFIC innuendo is used to give credence and subtly reinforce the misconceptions of those, like yourself, who are genuinely interested in a scientific analysis of this problem]

    If you check this, you’ll see that there is only a single standard of evidence and the homeopaths insist that biased anecdotal accounts should be treated as evidence when there are very sound reasons why they should not. Homeopaths have only anecdotes because there is no evidence.

    [It often proves of use when for whatever reason, all other attempts in conventional medicine have failed but even so must be undertaken with great reservation until some sort of working theory as to its mechanism, and more formal confirmations of its efficacy can be seen.]

    This isn’t medicine, it’s trial and error without any basis for doing the trial. When cancer treatments have failed, some people will resort to anything on offer and in the few rare cases when cancers go into remission, they will claim the alternative treatment had some effect. What would be convincing is if, in a controlled clinical trial of patients with terminal cancer, the homeopaths could produce outcomes singificantly better than the normal incidence of remission. That too has been tested and was reported in clinical journals and once again the homeopaths failed to show any evidence at all of efficacy.

    Any which way you look, the homeopaths make claims of evidence then fail to produce it. All they have is belief, and that’s fine. But it’s not medical treatment and it has no efficacy.

  • kurtbrigliadora

    Both sides have valid concerns…But you cant paint this issue with such a broad bush, as to say; one or the other therapies does not work. My take is… you have to evaluate on a case by case basis and intergrate conventional protocols with “alternative” therapy. ala “Gary Null”

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Kurtbrigliadora:

    [you have to evaluate on a case by case basis and intergrate conventional protocols with “alternative” therapy.]

    But saying that is precisely ignoring one of the “sides”, namely the one that demonstrates that homeopathy doesn’t work. It’s a common myth that in any dispute, both sides have a case when in fact, it’s perfectly possible for one of them to have none.

    For example, if someone argues that water boils at 100 degrees and someone else says it boils at 80, we don’t say that we need to “integrate” the two sides and settle for a mixture, let’s say 90 degrees.

    What we actually do is to test it by experiment and determine which, if either of them, is correct. In the case of alternative medicine, those tests are controlled clinical trials whose protocols are accepted as valid by alternative medicine practitioners.

    They haven’t produced evidence of efficacy, and they have produced masses of evidence of failure. So there is nothing to integrate conventional medicine with.

    The call to use a mixture of approaches is raised by alternative medical practitioners because they have no evidence to justify their methods themselves and simply piggy-back on the dispute to propose a resolution that gets them a foot in the door.

    You can only integrate medical approaches with methods that have proven efficacy. Homeopathy has none so there is nothing to integrate with. Homeopathy is a sham.

  • NanMax

    Oh you physicians despise homeopathy because it works so well… tell the truth.

    Diseases the doctors have no cure for can be cured easily and simply with homeopathy and cut into your bottom line and you don’t like it… Quit lying about the fact that homeopathy is just water – if you did ten minutes research you would know better…. It is the vibration of the element in the water that cures…

    Niklo Tesla was told by one of the greatest scientists of his time that the secret to almost everything was in vibrations…. it apparently worked for Tesla and it certainly works in homeopathy…

    I never get the flu because when it starts I take homeo flu remedy… I’ve cured abscessed teeth with Pyrogennium… A friends kidney stone disappeared with the application of the proper homeopathic remedy…. my daughters chronic ear infections disappeared with the proper remedy…. I could write on for days here…

    I am sick of medical minions lobbing bombs at homeopathy with stupid comments like it is endangering people – oh really and your pathetic pharmaceuticals that are destroying peoples minds and giving far more symptoms that they cure…

    Stupidly my mother followed her doctors advice and now is on 10 different pharceuticals… she use to be a vibrant healthy woman until she was lured in by a doctor that she thought cared about her but instead seems to be operating as the Marketing Arm for Big Pharma… No thanks…

    I’ll stick with my homeopathics and will fight to the death to keep you vampires from destroying that freedom

  • Bob Lloyd

    NanMax:

    Diseases the doctors have no cure for can be cured easily and simply with homeopathy and cut into your bottom line and you don’t like it… Quit lying about the fact that homeopathy is just water – if you did ten minutes research you would know better…. It is the vibration of the element in the water that cures…

    This vibration theory has been quoted and requoted over and over but unfortunately there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Supporters of homeopathy can’t figure out how the shaking at the level of succussions is supposed to be replicated at the subatomic level which seems to be necessary for their theory of information retention. Where the detail matters, they waffle and pretend to have a theory. In the end they have to claim a kind of physics unknown to science and which contradicts all the known evidence of how the world works.

    Nor alas can they actually demonstrate any retention of any information at all – a necessary precursor for any meaningful theory. And it’s not through want of trying. They’ve failed for over a century with absolutely nothing to show for their attempts.

    But as is the case with most of the “alternative” medicine theorists, they start with widely publicised theories which they assume to be true, then go on a hunt to see if they can find anything to support it. When they don’t find the necessary evidence, they drop the quest or call foul because scientists expect them to work to clear objective standards. And in the meantime they just carry on with the highly profitable marketing exercise.

    What bugs those who are critical of homeopathy is not particularly that it attracts people away from conventional medicine – when they have something seriously wrong, people go to medically qualified practitioners (which is why you don’t see homeopathic A&E departments).

    What people find objectionable is the gross dishonesty, the palpably false claims, the lamentable lack of any evidence, the paucity of any properly documented treatments, the appalling lack of controlled trials, the sheer effrontery of quoting testimonials as if they had the status of objective data. It’s the blatant scam that offends.

    The challenge has been around for years for ANY homeopath to demonstrate curing under clinically controlled conditions and they can’t do it. There’s even a reward of over a million dollars which has remained unclaimed. Are they too self-effacing to claim the prize, or is it simply that they are selling water cures that don’t work?

    As any high school student knowns, anecdotes are worthless as evidence which is precisely why hearsay is not admissible in a court of law. The same holds for clinical science. Someone claiming something works isn’t enough. We need evidence. Clinical science can provide the evidence: homeopathy just has fanciful stories from people who wasted their money buying water.