Stuck in a tedious debate with a homeopath? Here’s how to settle it

Oct 3, 2016

By Professor Edzard Ernst

As soon as I write something critical about homeopathy, some people start claiming that I am biased. And as soon as even the most respected institution publishes a report on the subject, homeopaths insist that it is fatally flawed. On such occasions, an almost stereotypical debate tends to ensue which could be stylised by the following dialogue:

Homeopath: the medical establishment is biased against homeopathy.

Sceptic: that’s because the assumptions of homeopathy are not just implausible but fly in the face of science.

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12 comments on “Stuck in a tedious debate with a homeopath? Here’s how to settle it

  • @ OP – Stuck in a tedious debate with a homeopath? Here’s how to settle it

    I see one of the last 3 UK NHS groups has “settled the debate about homeopathy” in its treatments – after this was inflicted upon them by nutty politicians – such as Tredinnick MP!

    Health bosses at an NHS trust thought to be one of only three still providing homeopathy in England are to stop funding the treatment.

    Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said 95% of people it consulted wanted to end the £16,500 it spent a year on homeopathy.

    However, a homeopathic doctor said it was “a sustainable ongoing” treatment.

    Homeopathy uses highly diluted substances that practitioners say can cause the body to heal itself.

    ‘Waste of money’

    Dr Sue Wells, Wirral CCG’s medical director, said the decision “wasn’t about finance”.

    She said: “We nevertheless need to make sure the considerable money spent is used in the right way and gives the most benefit to Wirral residents.”

    The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence advises the NHS on the use of treatments and does not recommend homeopathy to treat any health conditions.

    Bristol and London are believed to be the only areas left paying for homeopathy, according to the Good Thinking Society, which is campaigning to have it blacklisted on the NHS.

    Michael Marshall from the charity said it was “a waste of money” and it was better to allocate resources to treatments with “tangible and clear, proven benefits”.

    About 8,894 homeopathic items were prescribed across England in 2015, NHS Digital data shows.

    But Dr Adrian Finter, a GP and homeopathic doctor, said he was disappointed.

    If patients are getting themselves better they will be less dependent on the doctor, on the system and the NHS.”

    I’m not sure what “Patients are getting themselves better”, has to do with suggesting prescribing homeopathy rather than effective medicine has some benefit!
    Patients who can “get themselves better”, can do so without anyone funding homeopathy!

    One more down! Two more UK centres of NHS funded quackery to go!

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  • 2
    Pinball1970 says:

    So being nice for an hour, to someone who has an illness, tends to makes them feel better?

    Treating people that have diseases such as asthma, cancer and dementia with water, has no beneficial effect?


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  • This will be very handy for me.
    I’m currently engaged, single-handedly, against a handful of homeopathy supporters at New Matilda. This will be beneficial.

    The article itself is interesting. We’ve just had a census in Oz and some have complained that a Spiritual but not Religious category was needed.

    The author included homeopathy among the “Woo” and that incensed some fans, including a homeopathic doctor from the US. If anyone is interested –

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  • Len Walsh #3
    Oct 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I’m currently engaged, single-handedly, against a handful of homeopathy supporters at New Matilda.

    Yep! The closed minds of the uneducated woomeisters may know no scientific answers and no scientific methodology, but they can trot out answers copied from fellow science illiterates about “materialism”, and cherry-picked definitions of the self contradictory “scientism”, – thrown at definitive science by science duffers who are sitting in denial of evidence!

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  • We really need to get a grip, and stop wasting public money on quackery!

    The NHS says there’s “no good-quality evidence” that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition, yet it funds it. Why and to what extent?

    Homeopathy is an extremely controversial issue – so it’s no surprise it came top of our poll of readers when we asked what they would like us to investigate.

    The Department of Health doesn’t hold any figures for England – nor do the other devolved nations – so instead I’ve had to go to a variety of different sources to get a picture of what is happening.

    There are now only two NHS centres offering homeopathic treatments – in London and Glasgow. Another two former ones – in Bristol and Liverpool – have moved into the private sector, but still see NHS patients (although it was announced this week the last health body funding the Liverpool one was going to stop sending patients).

    However, the way money flows around the health service makes it hard to work out exactly how much is spent across these sites.

    For example, patients receiving fertility treatment or being given support for pain or anxiety may get referred to these centres, but are not necessarily recorded as receiving homeopathic care.

    Nonetheless, the Good Thinking Society, which has been campaigning for the NHS to stop funding homeopathy, estimates spending is in the region of £5m a year.


    Now that sounds a lot of money, but to put it into context the total amount spent on the health service across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is more than £130bn. It means less than 0.004% of the budget goes on homeopathy.

    It is a tiny fraction – a “drop in the ocean” says the association – albeit enough to pay for an extra 200 nurses or 50 consultants.

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  • Meanwhile, the damage from pseudo-science- quackery continues!

    The plight of a four-year-old boy who nearly died after his parents gave him 12 alternative medicines has prompted doctors to warn against the treatments.

    Doctors at Newham Hospital in east London said the parents were “devastated” that their good intentions had made him so unwell.

    The boy took a dozen supplements supposedly to help treat his autism.

    The National Autistic Society said it was crucial for doctors to talk through the risks of alternative therapies.

    The boy developed a potentially fatal condition after taking supplements from a naturopath (natural health practitioner) for a number of months, which included vitamin D, camel’s milk, silver and Epsom bath salts.

    He was admitted to A&E after losing 6.5lbs (3kg) over three weeks, suffering from symptoms including vomiting and extreme thirst.

    Dr Catriona Boyd and Dr Abdul Moodambail, writing in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, said it was not until the boy had been at Newham Hospital, which is part of St Bart’s Health Trust, for several days that his mother told them about the holistic supplements.

    Dr Moodambail told the BBC: “This happens on many occasions with other patients as well.

    “Often the parents think that these supplements are natural, safe and do not cause any side effects or adverse effects, but this is not true in many cases like this.”

    He added: “The situation was stark because the child developed vitamin D toxicity leading to very high calcium levels, making the child quite unwell and this can even be fatal as well.”

    The boy made a full recovery in two weeks after being treated with hyperhydration and medications to reduce his calcium level.

    Dr Boyd and Dr Moodambail’s report said they often saw parents turning to alternative remedies to treat children with long-term conditions.

    Dr Moodambail said: “This is a common situation because there is no definite curative treatment in some of these long-term conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    When some complementary and alternative therapies are suggesting they can cure these situations, these parents get a hope – which is probably a false hope.

    The report’s authors are recommending that it becomes routine practice to gather information about any complementary treatments being used as part of the history-taking process for all patients.

    Lack of regulation

    They said although “families may report benefits with these treatments” there was a problem with the lack of regulation of their use.

    In 2010 an Australian report warned alternative remedies can be dangerous for children and even prove fatal if taken instead of conventional drugs.

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  • Show them James Randi taking what should be a lethal dose of “calms forte” on stage before he begins a lengthy talk. It is a homeopathic sleep remedy and the dude takes like 32 of them. Now, if they are medicinal, he surely should get sleepy, NO? Plus in the video he’s appears to be an octogenarian and at no point gets remotely sleepy. Not as much as a single yawn!
    Go here for a transcript of his damn awesome TED talk and a link to the vid:

    In his 17 minutes, he hammers away at cold readers-talk to the dead charlatans and the hoeopaths…. the hits never end!!!

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  • It was a nice idea at the time.

    These days, to get government funding, the burden of proof would have to be on those promoting this – shall we say (nicely) – unproven treatment. No bias here. If Homoeoeooepathy was as good as its promoters claim, they should have no bother doing some proper studies. After all, the stuff has to be cheap to manufacture, doesn’t it?

    But then there’s the placebo effect. It does offer a wide variety of placebos for those who respond well to them. After all, some patients don’t actually need medicine to get better, so it’s arguably better to prescribe something evidently harmless instead of anything active.

    On thing that irritates me about the usual anti-woo stance (often presented here) is that it’s based on “this can’t possibly work”, instead of on “if this worked we’d have experimental data that clearly shows it works, and we don’t”. (Don’t lots of potential new treatments fail at the clinical trial stage, costing pharma quite a lot, but isn’t that the correct way to find out what works and what doesn’t?)

    Saying it “can’t possibly work” is of course a sign of prejudice, and opens the door to the opposing view that conventional medicine/science is biased against this wonderful treatment.

    When it was first introduced, the treatment appears to have been essentially a placebo at the core of a regime of changes to lifestyle and diet, which were justified on the basis that the medicine is very fragile. So the patient took up the lifestyle/dietary changes and got better, without having to be told that was all they needed. An unfortunate side-effect is that this “fragile” medicine doesn’t play well in clinical trials.

    What I’m trying to get across is, it’s not necessary to antagonise or denounce the pro-homoeopathy stance, just send them away (politely) to get the necessary clinical data before applying for public funding. And don’t go into oxygen starvation waiting for them to come back with any.

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  • O’Hool

    What I’m trying to get across is, it’s not necessary to antagonise or denounce the pro-homoeopathy stance, just send them away (politely) to get the necessary clinical data before applying for public funding.

    Their repeated failure to produce the data despite repeated requests for it, rather demands a much more vocal shaming to stop their parasitising.

    Placebos are real with real outcomes. Its time for rip off artists to make way for professional psychologist-trained NHS GPs and nurses. Immune systems turn up to eleven from their normal seven when pampered and led to believe that its associate body is in safe hands.

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