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The British Pharmaceutical Conference (2007) staged a debate on “Homeopathy or Allopathy. Which would you choose”. On one side was Felicity Lee (ex Chair of the Society of Homeopaths). I was on the other side. Ben Goldacre was there and he recorded the whole thing. You can listen to it here (if you have nothing better to do).

Thanks to the high-tech equipment at the conference, I was able to show in place of a slide, a section of an article written by Felicity Lee with the title “What health problems can it help with?“. These include, for example, migraine. But if you look at the National Electronic library of Complementary and Alternative medicine (which is compiled by CAM people) what you find is this.

“There is insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of homeopathy for managing tension type, cervicogenic, or migraine headache. The studies reviewed possessed several flaws in design.”

Goldacre also recorded, after the debate, an interview with Felicity Lee. It is rather more interesting than the debate itself. It’s fascinating because, as in the debate, she refuses again and again to be drawn into discussing the evidence and is quite unable to say why she thinks it is not possible to do proper trials.

She did mention that a suitable condition for a trial might be osteoarthritis, but seemed to be quite unaware that such a trial was done in 2001 by no less a person than Peter Fisher (clinical director of the Royal London homeopathic Hospital and the Queen’s homeopathic physician). The outcome of this paper (download it) was that homeopathy didn’t work any better than placebo.

The paper ended with this memorable statement.

“Over these years we have come to believe that conventional RCTs [randomised controlled trials] are unlikely to capture the possible benefits of homeopathy . . . . It seems more important to define if homeopathists can genuinely control patients’ symptoms and less relevant to have concerns about whether this is due to a ‘genuine’ effect or to influencing the placebo response.”

That is the nearest that Fisher has ever come in public to admitting it is all placebo effect, though at other times, of course, he has denied that strenuously.

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