Inevitably if you argue with fans of homeopathy and alternative medicine in any public arena, they will come back with some tired old cliches. Here are the unambiguous answers.

  • “You are a shill / apologist / sycophant for Big Pharma.”  No I’m not. I am someone with an interest in evidence-based practice. My only relationship with the pharmaceutical industry is as a consumer. I did once work for a medical devices company, but they got bought by Tyco International and I left. I join Ben Goldacre in condemning absolutely the selective publication of positive trials, and was not at all surprised when clinical trials showed that the supposed protective effect against coronary heart disease from combined hormone replacement therapy turned out to be wrong in both magnitude and sign.
  • “You are closed-minded”. No I’m not, but neither is my mind so open that my brains fall out. For example, I used to believe, on the basis of the evidence as described, that cycle helmets were an unequivocal good. I was challenged on that, read extensively in the literature, and concluded that actually they are an irrelevance in cycle safety, hence my site http://www.nohelmetlaw.org.uk. I used to think electric cars were the future of private motoring, now I believe that hybrid fuelled internal combustion engines are the future, because the ICE is so efficient and there are several viable alternative high energy density fuel sources. I might be wrong, but it seems to me that batteries and fuel cells are a dead end. Which is a shame.
  • “You hate homeopathy”. No I don’t, homeopathy is an idea and not really amenable to hate, and in any case I do my level best not to allow hate to intrude in my life. I do, however, have a problem with people who make outrageous claims then challenge others to disprove them. It doesn’t work that way. As the ones making claims, homeopaths must prove their case, and this they have failed to do.
  • “You are ignoring all the evidence”. No I’m not, I’m looking at it. D not mistake rejection of the weak and generally anecdotal evidence in favour of homeopathy ,for ignoring it. That is simply not the case.
  • “You don’t understand homoeopathy, if you did you would not be knocking it”. The idea that only advocates of homeopathy truly understand it is a pervasive myth. I have seen rambling explanations from homeopaths, loaded with sciencey-sounding words and every bit as viable as Treknobabble, which show that many homeopaths do not understand the claimed basis of what they do either. I understand homeopathy well enough to identify significant flaws, but not enough to practice it. The same applies to conventional medicine. I understand conventional medicine well enough to make informed choices but there’s no way I could practice it.  I understand how an internal combustion engine works, but I could not make one from scratch.
  • “Homeopathy is safe, conventional medicine kills thousands every year”. Conventional medicine is prone to side-effects, yes, and homeopathy, having no active ingredient at all, is not. Consider this analogy: if you put petrol in your car, you might drive it and kill someone. It is safer to leave it empty. And so it is, but it also won’t get you where you want to go. Countries which use Western medicine, especially vaccinations, have average lifespans in some cases decades longer than those which do not. India, a developed and highly civilised country, has the largest proportion of homeopathy users of any comparable country. Average life expectancy in India is around 63, in the USA it’s over 76 and in the UK over 77. This is despite growing concerns about obesity and heart disease. Diseases such as cholera, typhus, diphtheria, measles and tuberculosis, which were prevalent and had a high death toll (diphtheria is responsible for one in seven deaths between the ages of 3 and 4 in affected regions) have been eliminated, virtually eliminated or at least massively controlled by vaccination. The benefit of “herd immunity” only continues as long as vaccination is widespread. Even if the claims of autism and MMR were true, which I don’t believe they are, more children have been severely damaged or killed due to not being vaccinated than due to being vaccinated since the controversy began. And while homeopathy is inherently non-toxic, it does not cure the disease, so the figures for damage caused by conventional medicine side-effects are doubly irrelevant as they assume the homeopathy patients would have the same health outcome as those treated with conventional medicine. The evidence suggests that this is very much not the case.

I am sure other such brickbats will be along in time, and I will add them as they arrive.

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