Respectful Insolence

One of the biggest complaints from alternative medicine practitioners is that some vast cabal, presumably made up big pharma, the CDC, the NIH, the AMA, and “conventional” doctors, is “suppressing” alternative medicine. Yes, true believers like, say, Mike Adams will claim that big pharma is going to suppress their free speech about “alternatives” and thus deny you your “heath freedom,” which is in reality the freedom of quacks to push quackery without being hassled by pesky things like government agencies requiring that practitioners practice evidence-based medicine.

So what happens when alternative medical practitioners are in a position either to tolerate criticism or attempt to stifle criticism? Unfortunately, by way of David Colquhoun, I’ve discovered that the host of the next Skeptics’ Circle, Le Canard Noir, found out when he published a scathing discussion of how homeopaths falsely claim that they can use homeopathy to prevent and cure malaria. Le Canard Noir‘s article on the topic, The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing, which showed that such claims actually violate homeopaths’ own code of ethics, resulted in a legal threat from the Society of Homeopaths. Unfortunately, his ISP caved and demanded that he take down the offending post. He had little choice but to comply, given how plaintiff-friendly British libel law is.

Gee, aren’t legal threats the way that the evil big pharma and conventional medicine “suppress” the “truth” of alternative medicine and homeopathy? Why is it that the Society of Homeopaths is behaving like a thug and taking advantage of vagaries of British libel law, which is notoriously weighted towards the plaintiffs, just as David Irving did to Holocaust Historian Deborah Lipstadt and Saudis are doing to authors who accuse them of funding terrorism, all in order to try to suppress evidence-based articles that are not flattering to homeopathy? Notice that, instead of debating, instead of presenting arguments and evidence for why they thought Le Canard Noir was incorrect, the Society of Homeopaths tried to suppress his right to free speech by making legal threats to his ISP, which caved. Let’s see, first it was nutritionists trying to get David Colquhoun kicked off his university’s servers, and now it’s homeopaths issuing legal threats to try to silence Le Canard Noir. I guess we know who are the cowardly thugs out to suppress dissenting opinions here. The irony would be delicious if the homeopaths’ actions weren’t so despicable.

Fortunately, the Internet does not allow articles to disappear so easily, and I suspect that the Society of Homeopaths will come to rue the day that it decided to descend into bullying, as the article it tried to suppress spreads far and wide, even as the Society tries to dodge taking a position on the use of homeopathy against malaria. Even now, The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing can still be found in Google Cache–at least for now. Meanwhile, Other bloggers have also reposted the article, and it’s shown up in Usenet as well.

Good.

In order to add to the blog storm, below the fold, I have reproduced Le Canard Noir‘s article, as well as a list of links discussing this story thus far (and while you’re at it, read Le Canard Noir‘s post Homeopathic Thought in the 21st Century):

The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing
by Le Canard Noir

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48:
• Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
• No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72: To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ‘she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

Blogs commenting on this issue thus far:

If you’re a blogger and have posted about the Society of Homeopath’s contempt for free speech, leave a link in the comments. (You can try leaving a TrackBack, but for reasons that aren’t clear to me TrackBacks have been hit-or-miss on this site for several months now.)

Comments

  1. #1 Chemgeek
    October 12, 2007

    Idiots! After selling impotent cures to people dying of malaria (or anything) doesn’t at least a bit of guilt set in? Seriously, this isn’t a joke anymore (never was, actually). People DIE because homeopaths feel the need to survive and thrive. What a bunch of morally and ethically corrupt people.

  2. #2 Shaddax
    October 12, 2007

    Even when you take a step back from the actual ideas under debate, one thing shines through: when was the last time anyone seriously interested in scientific or medical accuracy or truth filed a libel suit? The whole notion is antithetical to scientific practice.

    Cheers for reposting this, I’m glad I had a chance to read it.

  3. #3 DuWayne
    October 12, 2007

    Posted it myself. Not really my forte, but as I have a rights blog (and it pisses me off), I thought I should. The article itself really pissed me off too. Stupidest thing they could have done, threatening to sue.

  4. #4 blf
    October 12, 2007

    Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science site in the UK also has a number of articles on the homomurderous attitude to malaria, including:

    Newsnight/Sense About Science Malaria & Homeopathy Sting – The Transcripts

    Homeopathy Spokesperson Has Eccentric Views On Malaria Shocker

    Goldacre also writes a column in The Guardian, and has written on this nonsense there as well:

    Stick to sugar pills and avoid the hard stuff

  5. #5 Andrew Dodds
    October 12, 2007

    First, I apologise for the laws of my country.. problem being that no one in a position of power is going to be keen on changing them..

    The problem the Society of homeopaths faces is one of precedent; if they allow evidence-based approaches a ‘foot in the door’, then they come under pressure to disallow all treatments where there is no evidence of effectiveness. This would present problems, given that the result would be that no licensed homeopath would be allowed to practice homeopathy.

    Oh, and for your trian-wreck amusement, try looking at the ‘childhood vaccinations’ section of their advice on Babies and Children:

    http://www.homeopathy-soh.org/about-homeopathy/what-is-homeopathy/babies.aspx

  6. #6 sailor
    October 12, 2007

    “Oh, and for your trian-wreck amusement, try looking at the ‘childhood vaccinations’ section of their advice on Babies and Children”

    Yes that is pretty outrageous. Even if one grants that they can do good at administering placebos, this would have to be offset against the damage they do getting people to avoid proper immunizations and medicines.

  7. #7 coracle
    October 12, 2007

    f you’re a blogger and have posted about the Society of Homeopath’s contempt for free speech, leave a link in the comments.
    Here, more to come at the weekend.

  8. #8 TheProbe
    October 12, 2007

    This is wonderful. An attempt to silence resulting in more speech. Holmes would be so proud.

    Anyone got an emal addy for the SoH? I would like to send them some links.

  9. #9 lambic
    October 12, 2007

    I’ve reposted the article here.

  10. #10 PalMD
    October 12, 2007

    And another blog has reposted it in its entirety! Thanks, Orac, for the link to google’s cache.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    October 12, 2007

    I’ve reposted the work of Le Canard Noir, here.

  12. #12 gimpy
    October 12, 2007

    Me too, here

  13. #13 Marcus Ranum
    October 12, 2007

    I just don’t get it. “Big Pharma” has to test all its products and, if they’re found to be selling something harmful or ineffective, they can expect to be sued for millions and millions of $$. Homeopathy doesn’t test its products at all and takes absolutely no responsibility in the event that they turn out to be ineffective. How on earth can anyone fail to see the obvious imbalance of power in the situation? Given that homeopathy says “heads: I win, tails: you lose” to its customers it’s just completely insane that they distrust “pharma”

    If I were a nutter I’d be taking new drugs like they were candy, hoping I could cash in and retire off the odd ruined heart valve or mercury-induced autism. Not drinking expensive bottled water. What’s so amazing is that the woo woos manage to be paranoid about the people who’ve put them in a position where they at least have recourse, and they trust the people who keep them helpless. What kind of proper paranoid would do that?

  14. #14 coracle
    October 12, 2007
  15. #15 Danny
    October 12, 2007
  16. #16 LilTigre
    October 12, 2007

    Linked this article from my LJ- this is so disheartening to see, and so outrageous. Do they not care how many lives they’re endangering with their magic water bullcrap? And the way they abuse the law to keep hurting others… I suppose the Hippocratic Oath means nothing to these practitioners.

  17. #17 Bronze Dog
    October 12, 2007

    I posted my copy. Be prepared for a later rant when I have more time to type.

    Sometime I should make an animated .gif of my avatar worrying some woo rag doll.

  18. #18 anangbhai
    October 12, 2007

    I didn’t even read the article beyond the world malaria. Fucking malaria? I lay in my bed for a week because of malaria when I was 7 and sugar pills didn’t do shit for me. I still felt like I was dying.
    I wish I could go back to India and taint punch that quackhole who gave me sugar pills for years.
    As for the big pharma argument, evil big pharma would be on it in a second if they thought your quack claims had any truth to them. Then they would patent the hell out of it and you idiots would be out of business and big pharma would be making more money than they do now by supposedly “sitting on the cure.”

  19. #19 factician
    October 12, 2007

    I’ve reposted it here.

  20. #20 Infophile
    October 12, 2007

    My post is now up: The Streisand Effect.

  21. #21 Blake Stacey
    October 12, 2007

    One more repost which I noticed via trackbacks.

  22. #22 Marcus Ranum
    October 12, 2007

    liltigre writes:
    I suppose the Hippocratic Oath means nothing to these practitioners.

    Do these boneheads actually swear the Hippocratic Oath? They aren’t really doctors, are they?

  23. #23 PalMD
    October 12, 2007

    C’mon folks, lighten up! Dont you know that:
    “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”?

  24. #24 wfjag
    October 12, 2007

    While it’s perhaps great fun to beard the alties here, there should be more concern for what happened to Le Canard Noir. “Unfortunately, his ISP caved and demanded that he take down the offending post. He had little choice but to comply, given how plaintiff-friendly British libel law is.” That’s a bit of an understatement. While US law may be somewhat more favorable, it doesn’t offer the protections you probably assume it does.

    Judith Miller in “A SLAPP Against Freedom”, http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_4_sndgs01.html, reviews SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuits in the context of libel suits by certain Islamist groups. You might note that the Anti-SLAPP laws she discusses don’t apply to most of you.

    “So what?” you say. Just consider the following — In the US, most courts follow the “American Rule” on awards of attorneys’ fees — that is each party has to pay his/her own attorneys’ fees and most litigation costs. If you look at your liability insurance policies, you’ll probably find that defamation, slander, libel, product disparagement, and similar actions aren’t covered. One of the most important reasons for liability insurance is that your insurer pays your lawyer and litigation costs. No coverage and you pay.

    These costs mount quickly. In a small town, a decent defense lawyer will charge $125 to $150 per hour plus costs. In a large city like Chicago, the charges will be $400+ per hour plus costs. The lawyer will require an up front retainer, and $10,000+ would probably be on the low side. You’d have to retain qualified experts to testify on why what you said was true. Any decent expert will require a non-refundable retainer of at least $5,000 up front, and then charge hourly for his/her work, plus costs. And, there are additional costs, like court costs for document filings, court reporter costs for depositions, and a host of other costs. Rather quickly you’re looking at $50,000 to $100,000 in out of pocket expenses just through trial — and the expenses continue to mount if there is an appeal. Further, there are other consequences. You have to put your life on hold during the suit, since you’ll have to take time away from your profession to answer questions and prepare for depositions and trial — and maybe sit through a week or longer trial. Plus, just try to get a loan during that time — disclosing a multi-million dollar contingent liability hardly helps on a loan application, even if you know it is a completely meritless suit. Meanwhile, the kids’ college funds and your retirement investments disappear.

    The point of a SLAPP suit isn’t to win at trial. It’s to silence critics by bankrupting them. They are quite effective.

    Le Canard Noir has my sympathy. I hope he has yours. And, I hope I don’t have to express such sympathy for any of the rest of you.

  25. #25 DuWayne
    October 12, 2007

    wfjag -

    They can bring it on. I have nothing for them to attempt to take and a lawyer friend who would love to deal with this. Besides which, I am in a different country and among a large group that has chosen to post it along with me, if they want to sue all of us, they will be spending a lot of money on attorney’s fees themselves, as it is unlikely they could win in the U.S. and their attorney’s won’t work for free. I feel for Canard, but he is not actually being sued, as the offending post was removed.

    I was also good enough to email the SoH about this. Making it clear that this article will get a hell of a lot more coverage, because of their thuggery. So if they want to come at me, let them. I don’t have anything for to take and an activist lawyer (read, he’s used to working for very little to nothing), who’s daughter is my godchild, to defend me, if they are actually that dumb. Honestly, though I seriously doubt they’re that stupid, I wish they would try, Chris is very good about creating media circuses. I would love to see this get into the mainstream media. Even if it’s only the local, Portland media, it would be worthwhile, as Portland is host to several altie med schools.

    So what?” you say. Just consider the following — In the US, most courts follow the “American Rule” on awards of attorneys’ fees — that is each party has to pay his/her own attorneys’ fees and most litigation costs. If you look at your liability insurance policies, you’ll probably find that defamation, slander, libel, product disparagement, and similar actions aren’t covered. One of the most important reasons for liability insurance is that your insurer pays your lawyer and litigation costs. No coverage and you pay.

    Not actually true. Especially if the suit is as frivolous as this one would be in the U.S. Indeed, this one would be unlikely to make it past a summary judgment, if it went that far. Judges award apposing counsel fees, on a regular basis. Kitzmiller is a good example of this (though the fee award was certainly for considerably less than the ACLU had into it). My buddy Chris often gets paid that way, probably half his income or more, comes from such judgments.

  26. #26 TheProbe
    October 12, 2007

    For those who have re-published…

    You are protected by Rosenthal vs. Barrett!

    Even Orac.

    Chuckle.

  27. #27 HCN
    October 13, 2007

    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?p=3051309#post3051309

    James Randi said “If they’re so litigious, let them sue the JREF. We can handle it.”

  28. #28 Phil
    October 13, 2007

    email sent to ABHA. God knows if it’ll do any good, but…
    Dear death-mongers,
    I’m sure the reasonable people of the world are usually too polite to call you on this, but you really deserve hate mail. British law states clearly that it is illegal for you to advertise homeopathic “cures” for real diseases, so instead you are peddling your murderous drugs in countries where the regulation is not as strict.
    You are killers. You are profiting from the sale of useless drugs to desperate people who need effective protection from malaria. By now, the blood of thousands of Kenyans is on your hands. I hope you feel guilty. Better still, if you should be unlucky enough to contract malaria, I wish you all the luck in the world with your sugar pills, you scum.
    Yours in anger and disgust,
    Phil Hand

  29. #29 Orac
    October 13, 2007

    For those who have re-published…

    You are protected by Rosenthal vs. Barrett!

    Even Orac.

    I hadn’t considered that, but now that you mention it the irony almost exploded my head…

  30. #30 DuWayne
    October 13, 2007

    TheProbe -

    Interesting, very interesting. In any case nice, because a suit would be a pain in the arse, especially as I have shoved my repost in the SoH face and encouraged my (dozen or so) readers to do the same with another post about this.

    Orac -

    My son and I have spent the week reading about plate tectonics. Just like the ground swells and bulges, when the gases build up preceding a volcanic explosion, I wonder if your head bulged, fighting off the irony blowout.

  31. #31 Mithandir
    October 13, 2007

    Uhm … isn’t Barret Vs Rosenthal a Californian supreme court ruling that would not be counted as precedent anywhere else?

  32. #32 Skeptico
    October 13, 2007

    I just posted it too: Homeopaths Censor Blogger

  33. #33 TheProbe
    October 13, 2007

    Yes, Barrett vs Rosenthal is a California case, but, who knows, some other courts might accept it. It is sure worth an argument.

    I posted it as I know Orac’s history with one of the parties..I even thanked her….

  34. #34 Alun
    October 14, 2007

    I re-ran the experiment to see if LCN was unlucky enough to find the one bad apple in the SoH.

    I found a cure for cancer and MS. Coracle has found homeopathic cures for gene diseases.

  35. #36 sceptiphreniac
    October 14, 2007

    Here’s the full-text reproduction on my blog, http://www.sceptiphrenia.blogspot.com

  36. #37 Kulvinder Matharu
    October 14, 2007

    Reproduced the original article here:

    http://www.metalvortex.com/blog/2007/10/14/15.html

  37. #38 Walter Olson
    October 15, 2007

    I posted a brief item at Overlawyered:

    http://www.overlawyered.com/2007/10/october_15_roundup.html

    which drew this observation from commenter “rosebud”: “It’s ironic that the Society of Homeopaths doesn’t realize that by attempt to dilute criticism, the criticism gets stronger.”

  38. #39 pv
    October 15, 2007

    Article reproduced here:
    http://pvandck.wordpress.com/

  39. #40 Matthew
    October 16, 2007

    I’ve had a go as well. I love The Quackometer as well as Improbable Science. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science is another excellent one, so all we can do to support these guys is brilliant.

    My post here:
    http://songbytoad.com/2007/10/16/the-gentle-art-of-homeopathic-killing-fuck-you-society-of-homeopaths/

  40. #41 Tristan
    October 16, 2007

    I AM SPARTACUS…

    … blogged

    http://homeopathiccomplaints.wordpress.com

    I even used this as my very first post!

  41. #42 dikkii
    October 17, 2007
  42. #43 Cabalamat
    October 21, 2007

    I have also posted the article

  43. #44 Savage44
    October 26, 2007

    Another repost can be added to the list:

    The not-so-gentle art of homeopathic threatening

  44. #45 Rebecca
    February 7, 2008

    Lot of good links here.
    I’ll try to visit all of them.

    Thanks guys.

  45. #46 Earthceuticals
    April 15, 2008

    I am sympathetic to this, really I am, On the other hand, I don’t understand why scientific persons feel the need to argue science with the pseudoscience folks. It brings to mind for me the old adage from Benjamin Franklin, who was a fairly wise fellow and who has been passed a long time… yet the common logic is still as good today as ever. He said something to this effect pardon the paraphrasing of it: “Never wrestle with a pig… you get dirty and the pig likes it”.

  46. #47 Dr. Nancy Malik
    June 1, 2008

    Homeopathy cures where Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails

  47. #48 Orac
    June 1, 2008

    Dr. Malik doesn’t know me very well, does she?

    What do you think, everyone? Should Dr. Malik receive a dose of Respectful Insolence™?

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.