1023 what on earth was that about?

1023 came and went on a cold Saturday morning at the end of January. Skeptics, denialists and their friends and siblings turned out to take part in a ‘mass overdose’ of homeopathic medicines.

It was a publicity stunt that only served yet again to show how ill-informed this group is about homeopathy, and how it works.  (Yes it works no matter how many bloggers are out there denying it.)

The videos posted online showed small groups around the country doing their ‘bit for science’.  Some were self-consciously earnest, some pathetic, and still others plain embarrassing.  As a mancunian myself I found the effort by the Manchester Skeptics in the Pub particularly cringe making.

But the bigger issue raised is – where do these people get their information?  Who up the chain of command feeds them their lines: “When they make a remedy they dilute it and dilute it until there is nothing left except water and then they put a drop of water on each sugar pill and that’s the remedy”.

What?????  Call yourselves scientists?  Never mind the fundamental confusion about the dilution issue – just think of the manufacturing nightmare of putting a drop of water on each sugar pill –not to mention that sugar dissolves in water….

But they wore the T-Shirts, helped bolster Boot’s sales by buying their medicine of choice.  Arsenicum was the favourite, but local Boots had sold out in Manchester so they had to make do with Sulphur.  And then gathered earnestly outside Boots to make their point.  There was some last minute panic when they realised that the Click bottles only dispensed one pill at a time – so  improvisations included a lot of advance clicking ready for the big moment.  Amazingly they chewed the pills down and lived to tell the tale.  Thereby proving yet again that they don’t understand the first thing about homeopathy.  Sigh.

Here’s a kicker though – 1023 wasn’t even original – the Belgian skeptics already did it years ago urged on by Dr Betz !!

That’s Dr Betz of The Lancet’s infamous  “End of homeopathy edition”.
He criticized the WHO pro-homeopathy report of 2005 and in an expression of outrage he declared that “WHO has been infiltrated by missionaries for alternative medicine”.  He, along with Renckens, (Chair of Dutch Union Against Quackery), and Edzard Ernst, now one of homeopathy’s most vocal critics, forced withdrawal of the report.  Despite having been rewritten the WHO report of 2005 has STILL not been published.
Michael McCarthy.  Critics slam draft WHO report on homoeopathy.
The Lancet 2005;366:705–706
Boyce C  Magnus Pharma and the Golden Goose  Similia June 2007 posted on the Articles Page.

Watching the video of the London event it was interesting to see that Simon Singh and Dave Gorman – main spokespeople for the London event – didn’t seem to actually take more than a small capful of pills.  Dave Gorman definitely took the first capful, but did not dispense anymore for the following media retakes. Likewise Simon Singh took the first handful he clicked out into his glove but after that he was faking it.  What’s up with that guys?  If you are going to ‘overdose’ then let’s see you actually do it.

Reviewing the Evidence Check tapes, a few things struck me.  The Chair Phil Willis was at pains to explain that the Evidence Check was NOT about whether homeopathy works or not: “….there seems to be a little confusion about the nature of the work that we are doing, this is not an inquiry into whether homeopathy works or not. This is an inquiry which follows a series of evidence checks across a number of government departments to see whether in fact there was any evidence to support the Government’s policy towards homeopathy. I want to make that absolutely clear.”

And then Mr Willis proceeded to ask the Minister for Health: “I wonder if we can therefore start with you, Minister. Does the Government have any credible evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect?”

Well as long as that’s clear then……

Given Mr Willis’s definition of the Evidence Check’s remit, the evidence that should inform government policy about the effectiveness of homeopathy are the reports on patient satisfaction and cost effectiveness submitted by the UK’s four remaining homeopathic hospitals, and the 2008 the Northern Ireland CAM project.

Inexplicably Mike O’Brien, the Minister for Health, did not mention the reports, and said that the Northern Ireland project didn’t include homeopathy!  Of course it did Mike!  And very effective and cost effective it was found to be.  That’s homeopathy in the real world with real patients getting satisfaction often when conventional medicine has failed to help them.  WHAT MORE EVIDENCE DOES THE GOVERNMENT NEED TO INFORM POLICY?

You can watch the BBC programme of the Get Well UK project here.

Once again – RCTs cannot adequately test homeopathy – it’s not a get out it’s just a fact – denialists are bright enough, why can’t they get that?   Rhetorical question – they don’t want to get it.

So where does all this leave us – bloggers everywhere making a meal out of 1023 – in the Guardian, in New Scientist, in The Independent, without exception full of mis-information. Gimpy and others doing their best to drive a wedge between medical homeopaths and professional homeopaths.  Media calls for withdrawal of funding for NHS homeopathy, calls for the manufacturing regulatory body to clean up its act, calls for Boots the high street chemist to stop selling homeopathic medicines……
Meanwhile homeopaths report new patients, sales of homeopathic medicines increase, Boots reserve the right to give consumers what they want, and homeopathy remains the fastest growing therapeutic system on planet earth.

Someone, somewhere, knows something the denialists refuse to believe.  Homeopathy works!  People know it, animals know it, cells lines in petri dishes know it.  Whatever happens in the UK at the hands of this motley crew of the ill-informed, the malicious, the vested interest groups, the career denialists, homeopathy is not going away.

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