Skeptic successes in homeopathy

Homeopathy is nonsense and thanks to scientists, doctors and activists this fact is getting a wider hearing.

  1. This Storify originally published on 24 August 2015.
    Updated 4 November 2017
  2. There have been changes in both the 'meat' (specific successes, eg in getting homeopathy out of most university courses in the UK) as well as the 'marinade' (changes in the public perception of homeopathy - it was once viewed as a harmless folk medicine but it's now more widely considered as ineffectual and potentially dangerous).
  3. Here are some examples

    1. UK - general
    1a. Most UK university courses no longer include homeopathy
    2. The UK regulatory framework for homeopathy has become much stricter
    2a. Advertising Standards Authority - ASA
    2b. Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - MHRA
    3. Homeopathy spending on the NHS is in terminal decline
    4. Several governments acknowledge that there is no good evidence in favour of homeopathy
    5. International successes
    6. Smaller 'wins'
    7. Homeopaths' own goals
    8. Skeptic fails in homeopathy (including a note on causality)

  4. Correlation not causation

    When I initially posted this Storify my friend Jon Mendel rightly challenged me about causality versus correlation, which is a fair point. How can I demonstrate that skeptic activity caused any of the above versus merely standing next to it while it happened. For the ASA activity I think skeptical activist involvement is clear - we complained, the ASA created guidelines for how it handles complaints about homeopathy and got the homeopathy societies involved. There were direct challenges made to universities to ask them about the content of their courses and homeopathy is regularly asked about in Freedom of Information Act requests.

    Similarly the UK Government 'Evidence Check' report into homeopathy that came into being because enough people volunteered homeopathy as a topic to check. The people suggesting homeopathy might not have been 'skeptical activists and bloggers' though, I'm taking a wide view of 'skeptic' to include 'people skeptical of homeopathy'. This also includes the British Medical Association who have voted against homeopathy without their members necessarily being skeptical activist types.

    The weakest evidence of causation is probably for NHS spending which was already in decline before skeptical activist involvement. I don't know if we can take any credit for changing the perception of homeopathy during this time-frame though. What do you think?
  5. 1a. UK - general

    "Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles." - the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has finally published a statement that UK vets should not use homeopathy in treating animals. However they don't 'ban' it and leave some wiggle room for vets to use homeopathy 'complementarily' alongside real medicine.
    Veterinary regulator blackballs use of homeopathy in animals (3 Nov 2017)
  6. 1a. Most UK university courses no longer include homeopathy

    University calls halt to degree in homeopathy Evening Standard, May 2009
    The last BSc (Hons) Homeopathy closes! But look at what they still teach at Westminster University DC Science, March 2009
    - we've not had perfect success here. The Centre for Homeopathic Education (itself not a university) does still offer a BSc in Homeopathy which is "validated by Middlesex University" and accredited by the Society of Homeopaths. (The University of Barcelona in Spain has also ditched its homeopathy qualifications after acknowledging that homeopathy is evidence-free).
  7. 2. The regulatory framework for homeopathy has become much stricter

  8. 2a. Advertising Standards Authority - ASA
    In 2011 the ASA started to accept complaints about marketing material on websites. A number of people complained about a large number of homeopathy websites and the ASA developed new guidelines specifically to target misleading claims relating to homeopathy. The Society of Homeopaths specifically recommends that its members follow ASA guidelines (and as of September 2016 has updated these guidelines after working with the ASA).

    There have been 11 'upheld' and 2 'partially upheld' complaints against misleading claims on homeopathy websites since 2011. Three websites have also been listed on the ASA's list of non-compliant online advertisers: Islington Homeopathy: Jennifer Hautman, Steve Scrutton Homeopathy and Teddington Homeopathy: Melissa Wakeling. As of September 2016 only Teddington Homeopathy remains on this list.
    Health: Homeopathy
    Health: Homeopathic medicine
    - skeptics have not had perfect success here. There are still a significant number of homeopathy websites which list named conditions (which they're not meant to do) and there has been no action as yet by Trading Standards. The homeopathy societies seem pretty poor at regulating their own members too.

    These first, second and third letters sent by the ASA to homeopathy websites (in 2011, explaining the new process) may also be interesting - "You must remove any content from your website that claims directly or indirectly that homeopathy and homeopathic products can diagnose/treat/help health conditions." - seems pretty clear.

    On 28 September 2016 the UK's Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Compliance team wrote to homeopaths in the UK to "remind them of the rules that govern what they can and can’t say in their marketing materials." The letter highlights that "homeopaths may not currently make either direct or implied claims to treat medical conditions" and asks them to review their marketing communications "including websites and social media pages" to ensure compliance by 3 November 2016. The letter also includes information on sanctions in the event of non-compliance including, ultimately, "referral by the ASA to Trading Standards under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008."
  9. 2b. Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency - MHRA
    There are several possible licences from the MHRA for real or homeopathic medicines. The basic one is a 'Product License of Right' (PLR) which was automatically awarded to any medicine on sale in 1971 (after the Medicines Act 1968). Subsequent testing of evidence for effectiveness, safety etc winnowed real medicine (which, if successful was awarded a marketing authorisation (MA)) from homeopathic 'medicine' which remained under the PLR licensing scheme.

    Two other categories for homeopathy exist: the 'National Rules Scheme' authorises eight homeopathic preparations to indicate what they might be used for and the 'Homeopathic Rules Scheme' allows preparations to be sold but they cannot make any therapeutic claims. It's a bit confusing, more here in the Nightingale link below. The MHRA has also upheld complaints about three homeopathy marketers, see the archived (19 Nov 2013) MHRA link below.
  10. The above (archived) website lists the following homeopathy sellers who agreed to amend the information on their website following action against them by the MHRA:
    Apothecary Shop
    Buxton & Grant Pharmacy
    Chemist Direct
    Crossgates Farm
    Dr Reckeweg
    Elixir Health
    Garden Pharmacy
    Healthy Route
    Holland & Barrett
    HSC Online
    Jan de Vries Healthcare
    Little Birth Kit Company
    Natural Practices Clinic
    Organic Pharmacy
    Pure Health Clinic
    Traumeel Remedy
    Woodland Herbs
  11. The archived page above lists another three homeopathy sellers who were required to make changes to their pages. They were:
    World Wide Shopping Mall
    Stockwell Pharmacy
    Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy
  12. More recently the MHRA have published brief statements on their advertising investigations into two shops selling homeopathic medicines - Nelson's (action in July 2015, published in August 2015) and Ainsworth's (action in June 2015, published in October 2015).
  13. In October 2016 the MHRA advised parents not to use unlicensed homeopathic remedies for teething.
  14. 3. Homeopathy spending on the NHS is in terminal decline

    Homeopathy on the NHS: at death's door (2016) Nightingale Collaboration
    The (further) decline of homeopathy on the NHS (2015) Nightingale Collaboration
    The Good Thinking Society has also investigated the NHS spending on homeopathy as well as putting together a legal challenge to get Clinical Commissioning Groups to stop funding it.
  15. 4. Several governments acknowledge that there is no good evidence in favour of homeopathy

    UK - 2010

    MPs deliver their damning verdict: Homeopathy is useless and unethical (22 Feb 2010) The Guardian Stuff - this refers to 'Evidence Check 2' or Science and Technology Committee - Fourth ReportEvidence Check 2: Homeopathy (Feb 2010) House of Commons
Read next page