Anti-Science

Homeopathy Pushers Sink Their Case Before The Trial Begins

From the Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee on homeopathy . . . YouTube user hadr0n has uploaded an 11-part video series showing the entire thing but within the first three minutes Paul Bennett representing Boots (the large pharmacy chain that sells homeopathy) and Robert Wilson of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers freely admit that there’s no evidence for homeopathy and that they only sell it because people are throwing money at them. Good job, assholes! Partial transcript after the jump.

Read the entire transcript here. Yes, it’s “uncorrected” but Wilson definitely made up the word “efficaciousness,” (EDIT: okay, so it’s a rarely used real word but I submit it’s a shitty one when you have a perfectly good word in efficacy.) possibly because homeopathy completely lacks efficacy so they had to come up with something else to vainly search for. Bolding mine:

Q1 Chairman: I wonder if I could start with you, Paul, this morning. You actually manufacture and sell homeopathic remedies. Do they work beyond the placebo effect, very briefly?

Mr Bennett: First, I need to correct you actually, I am afraid. We do not manufacture products.

Q2 Chairman: You sell them though?

Mr Bennett: We do sell them.

Q3 Chairman: So you sell them?

Mr Bennett: We do indeed sell them and there is certainly a consumer demand for those products.

Q4 Chairman: I did not ask you that question. I said do they work beyond the placebo effect?

Mr Bennett: I have no evidence before me to suggest that they are efficacious, and we look very much for the evidence to support that, and so I am unable to give you a yes or no answer to that question.

Q5 Chairman: You sell them but you do not believe they are efficacious?

Mr Bennett: It is about consumer choice for us. A large number of our consumers actually do believe they are efficacious, but they are licensed medicinal products and, therefore, we believe it is right to make them available.

Q6 Chairman: But as a company you do not believe that they necessarily are?

Mr Bennett: We do not disbelieve either. It is an evidence issue.

Q7 Chairman: Robert, what is your position? You do manufacture.

Mr Wilson: We do manufacture, yes, and I represent 95 per cent of the manufacturers in the UK. Definitely we believe there is a strong case for the efficaciousness of homeopathic medicines. This is an industry that has been growing strongly. It has been around for 200 years and I think it is worth saying that in France it is a 400 million euro business and in Germany it is the same.

Q8 Chairman: So is prostitution. It does not mean to say it is right, does it? My question to you, Robert, is does it work outside the placebo effect?

Mr Wilson: It definitely does work outside the placebo effect.

Q9 Chairman: It definitely does. You have cast-iron evidence to support that?

Mr Wilson: We have many trials that show a strong efficaciousness for homeopathic medicines.

Q10 Chairman: Why do you not supply that to Boots then?

Mr Wilson: We do supply that to Boots.

Q11 Chairman: So why do they not believe you?

Mr Wilson: They do believe us.

Q12 Chairman: He has just said they do not.

Mr Wilson: No.

Q13 Chairman: He said he neither believes you or he does not believe you.

Mr Wilson: He has not asked us specifically about the efficaciousness of homeopathic medicines. Boots are a very important retailer; they sell a great deal of these products. You have also got to ask the question, if these products did not work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them? Leaving that aside, there is a trial out which was literally published in the last —

Q14 Chairman: That was not a serious point, was it? Was that a serious point you were making?

Mr Wilson: Yes, I believe, certainly, that people continue to buy products because they work for them.

Me: lol

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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23 Comments

  1. My newspaper recently had an article that said prescription medications had a harder time getting approved as efficacious. Apparently, beating the placebo effect is getting harder because the placebo effect is getting stronger. I would guess in that time homeopathic medicine has steadily worked better and better.

  2. That was a pretty appalling case put forward by the sugar pill hawkers.

    reminds me of that classic line from the chris morris brass eye episode

    ‘there’s no real evidence for it, but it’s scientific fact’

    as c.s. lewis would say – ‘dillholes’

  3. In part 11, the homeopathic practitioner said that he has prescribed homeopathic remedies to treat AIDS.

    Generally, we all know that once a CAM practitioner claims that they can “cure” a disease, then they can face criminal charges, but they get around this by saying they can “treat” a disease.

    Why are our standards so low? Using homeopathy to treat AIDS? Are you f-ing serious? We need to start going on the offensive when these frauds say horrible shit like that.

  4. Rebecca: you stated objection to ‘efficaciousness’ as not being a real word. Perhaps it isn’t, but ‘efficacious’ is a perfectly viable, cromulent word, and I don’t object to the added suffix. Efficacious is more prevalent in Britain, which you may not have been around long enough to pick up on yet :). It’s a less efficient word than our ‘efficacy’, but the British seem to never pass up a chance to add a syllable or two! For an easily accessible source of this word being used, I refer you to the line, “I find on occasion that a pinch of snuff can be most efficacious!” — The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

  5. @truthwalker: To be honest, I wish they would have been a little less respectful at times. It’s like debating creationists respectfully, it just gives them unwarranted credibility.

    I’m only at part 5 right now, but I wish they would explain exactly what homeopathy is and ask the pro-homeopaths if they believe in the theory. Expose them for the idiots they are.

    All the “should they be allowed to sell it” arguments are useful, but it seems like it would be much more effective to get to the point that they’re selling water and calling it medicine.

  6. I just read through the entire transcript – excellent stuff, if a little long. The key really seems to be evidence – the pro-homeopathic side says there’s good evidence, or at least indicative evidence, and the skeptical side disagrees but does seems to admit that a conclusive, end-all-argument study doesn’t exist.

    How much would such a study cost? I’d happily chip in, oh, $100 or so to such a study – would others? Could the skeptical movement come up with the funds for a study that the homeopaths would be happy with (and yet would pretty much certainly show it was bunk)?

    Basically our own version of the JREF challenge, except we foot the bill and the prize is that the homeopaths have to admit they’re wrong?

  7. So… this report on the Arnica trial (this is mentioned in the video #1 at 04:30) from Berlin that supposedly demonstrates that homeopathy works available somewhere?

    If this is his “best case”, somehow I’d like to look at it. Or has someone else looked at this before (SBM blog or something like it) ?

    Thanks in advance,
    any

  8. I love how (in Q14) the Chairman basically offers Wilson a chance to back down from the stupid thing he just said, and agree that he really wasn’t trying to make a serious point with that question. But no, he won’t take the escape route offered, he’s happy to stick by his dumbass point.

    When I blogged about this, my answer to the question “if these products did not work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?” was “they keep buying them because of the damn placebo effect“.

    Tracy, I’m not sure how large a chunk of the general public would think of it in quite those terms. I imagine many would be more inclined to ask the same question without the words “beyond the placebo effect”. If it works for them, then obviously it works.

  9. You run into the wall of negative proof pretty quickly. To prove something exists is easy, because it is specific. To prove something does not exist is very hard to do in scientific rather normal language, because you can only express a high level of improbability.

    I feel like woo pushers tend to really abuse language quirk that and say things like “Well, see they didn’t say it is poison so it must be good.”

  10. Does anyone know the arnica trial that Wilson mentions? I was just wondering if it was a trial of the homeopathic use of arnica, or just the use of arnica itself? Regardless, I hope at some point the commitee covers the fact that there is no known way that homeopathy could even work.

  11. @anybody: i think you mean the the so-called Witt Trial? Essentially it looks like 3709 patients of homeopaths were involved in an 8 year cohort study, most commonly their complaints were headaches and skin issues. They were asked at end of the 8 years to rate if they felt they had gotten better in those 8 years, lots said they had (8 years is a long time to have a headache or a skin issue) so therefore homeopathy works. Very dubious stuff.

    The other studies picked out as positive evidence of homeopathy are just as poor, there’s more details of them here (don’t want to post huge long comments on another blog, tres rude!).

  12. Yeah, I think the biggest problem is that it’s easy to come up with studies that claim homeopathy works, but it’s difficult to get people to understand why those studies are crap.

    In debating homeopaths you would eventually be served all the same damn meta-studies over and over again. Usually the ones that lumped together all those trials that didn’t outright show that homeopathy = placebo, then did some fiddling with the parameters until they got a result saying “overall, it looks like homeopathy might work, though we still need more trials to make a conclusive desicion”.

    You could discredit these meta analyses as not being evidence that homeopathy works 5 times, including why the study doesn’t conclude that (and even contradicts it), and eventually a 6th person would show up and use the exact same discredited study as evidence that homeopathy works.

    In fact, most decent studies concluded that the more rigourous the trials, the less likely they were to show positive results for homeopathy. A fact often pointed out. The conclusion the believers made: that must mean homeopathy cannot be tested scientifically.
    *sigh*

    So yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me if bad studies would show up as “evidence” in a hearing like this.

  13. @Marsh
    Thank you very much for this link. Reading the study was interesting indeed. I was really amazed that a study that he explicitly mentioned to show that “proving homeopathy works” doesn’t even use placebos!

    Also the study even admits “The aim […] was not to test the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment”! And he mentions THIS study as proof ! I’m flabbergasted. I would at least have expected the study HE mentioned as showing “strong benefit of homeopathic medicine” to be well… more than a joke.

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