This week the ‘homeopathic question’ was asked by a House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. A mixture of experts and alleged ‘experts’ were apparently ‘grilled’ in order to ascertain whether there is any evidence that homeopathy works. You can see a transcript of the proceedings here:
Dr Peter Fisher, unhealthy chief physician at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, salve made a critical point when he said that if he thought homeopathic remedies were inactive and only placebo, he would not use them. This is an important and vital riposte to those such as Ernst who imply or even say that CAM practitioners are lying to their patients. In over 25 years as a practising homeopathic doctor, I’ve yet to meet a homeopath who thinks his medicines are no better than placebo – yet continues to prescribe them.
The usual suspects in the ‘Case against Homeopathy’ were there including the Guardian journalist Ben Goldacre, Tracey Brown of Sense about Science (a virulently anti-homeopathic charity (sic), whose wikipedia entry had me gasping in amazement) and of course Edzard Ernst, in my opinion the world champion in using evidence based medicine as a club exclusively to bash homeopathy and CAM while ignoring the fact that most of orthodox medicine is not evidence based – as I will discuss.
Top comic moment of a rather humour-free day was the much publicised comment by Paul Bennet of Boots the Chemist (don’t you just love that ‘the’) who said something about Boots selling homeopathic remedies because they were popular even though he had no evidence that they worked. Actually it’s not even that funny because this comment obviously applies to huge swathes of their supposedly conventional products. It’s hardly even controversial that a chemist might say of the products he sells: “If it’s legal, doesn’t do harm, pile it high and sell it!” This also applies to many, many unproven orthodox medicines some of which may have nasty side effects – unlike homeopathic medicines (which have very, very few side effects) and some other medicines referred by Ernst as ‘quack remedies’. Business is business and Boots is a retail business after all!
Ernst and others have criticised Boots for selling homeopathic medicines before because they are apparently unproven. What utter hypocrisy! What about huge swathes of medicines sold by all chemists that are of unproven benefit such as cough mixtures and all sorts of ‘conventional patent medicines’ that have nothing even resembling ‘evidence’ behind them? Since when have chemists only sold medicines of scientifically proven benefits? Ernst may not like these unproven conventional medical products but how he can consistently leave them out of the vicious line of fire he reserves exclusively for homeopathy and CAM products, only he can explain. I personally am flabbergasted and almost impressed with how long he has got away with such shameless audacity.
Of course if Boots the Chemist (and all other chemists) did away with all products that were not evidence-based, it would make their shelves look very empty. The Pie Man has consistently emphasized that the vast majority of commonly used conventional medical treatments do not have solid evidence behind them! Here is the pie once more! I did not bake this pie. Nor did the homeopaths, psychopaths, CAM practitioners, provocative therapists, snake oil merchants, quacks, charlatans or the Association of Tree Hugging Phrenologists. No, it is the British Medical Journal’s manual of Clinical Evidence that publishes it and updates it regularly as the portions change. For example the proportion of common treatments that are solidly backed by evidence fell from 13% to 12% recently. But don’t expect Ernst, Goldacre, Singh or Tracey Brown to draw your attention to that! It doesn’t support what they say or imply so the pie can hardly be appetizing to them. Hence the job of the Pie Man is simply to put this pie in the face of those who either don’t know about it or for reasons known only to themselves, choose to ignore it.
Of course the Pie Man was not invited to testify to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. You wouldn’t want a joker like him in the House no matter how much he points at the truth, would you? As T.S. Eliott put it in Four Quartets:
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.