DC's Improbable Science

Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

DC's Improbable Science header image 2

What actually gets taught on a homeopathy course: part 1

January 6th, 2010 · 48 Comments

Jump to follow-up

The purpose of this post is to reveal a few samples of things that are taught on a homeopathy ‘degree’ course. The course in question was the "BSc Hons homeopathy course at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). Entry to this course was closed in 2008 and, after an internal review, UCLAN closed almost all of the rest of its courses in alternative medicine too. The university is to be commended for this .

The purpose of making public some of what used to be taught is not to embarrass UCLAN, which has already done the sensible thing, but to make it clear that the sort of thing taught on such courses is both absurd and dangerous, in the hope of discouraging other courses

.Three years after I first asked for teaching materials, the Information Commisioner ruled that all the reasons given for refusal were invalid, and they must be handed over. However UCLAN then appealed against the decision, so the appeal went to an Information Tribunal.  That appeal was lost decisively and UCLAN was.obliged to provide the whole of the course material.

On Christmas Eve I got five large box files, 13.7 kg of documents, or 30 pounds, in old money.

UCLAN parcels

Because these documents are copyright, I rely on the twin defences of fair quotation (only a tiny proportion is being quoted) and public interest. The Information Tribunal decided very firmly that it was in the public interest that it should be known what is taught on such courses, and that can be achieved if some of it is made public.   Here are a few extracts.

Code of ethics

The students are given a copy of the code of ethics of the Society of Homeopaths.   This is 25 pages long, but paragraph 48 is especially interesting.

48 Advertisements, stationery and name plates maintain a high standard of propriety and
integrity to enhance the reputation of homeopathy.

  • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority.
  • No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.
  • Advertising shall not be false, fraudulent, misleading, deceptive, extravagant or sensational.

No mention though, of the fact that this code of ethics has been repeatedly breached by the Society of Homeopaths itself, on its own website.  See, for example, here in 2007 and again in 2009. as well as Ernst’s article on this topic.

Anyone who has followed dialogues among homeopaths knows that "claims to cure named diseases" is the norm not the exception. The code of ethics is just a bad joke.  And the (late) course at UCLAN was no exception. Take, for example, course HP3002, Therapeutic Homeopathy, module leader Jean Duckworth.

Homeopathic treatment of cancer

There was a lecture on HP3002 called "A Homeopathic Approach to Cancer (Ramakrishnan methodology [sic])".. Here are 10 slides from that lecture.  It is illegal to claim to be able to cure cancer under the Cancer Act 1939.  If a homeopath were to make claims like these in public they’d be open to prosecution, not to mention in breach of the SoH’s code of ethics.  If cancer is not a "named disease", what is?

slide 3

slide 3

slide 5

Aha so it is better if the water is diluted in some more water.

slide 7

Specific treatments for a named disease are recommended.

slide 8

slide 9

What happened to treating the whole person?  Now specific organs are being treated.  The term "affinity", as used here, is of course sheer hocus pocus.

slide 10

slide 13

It is easy to forget when reading this that none of the “medicines” contain any medicine whatsoeever.

slide 14

 

Notice that the term "remedy" is used throughout.  Any reasonable person would interpret "remedy" to imply "cure", though no doubt a homeopath, if challenged, would claim that "remedy" carried no such implication. The last slide is typical of junk medicine: the personal testimonial, supplied with no detail whatsoever. Just an anecdote which is useless as evidence.

This lecture alone strikes me as a cruel (and possibly illegal) hoax perpetrated on desperate patients.  Of course a true believer might get some solace from taking the sugar pills, but that is not sufficient justification.

The same course dealt with quite a lot of other "named diseases", autism, ADHD and coping with a heart attack. And, you are asked, did you think arnica is just a first aid remedy?

arnica 1

arnica2

If that isn’t a list of "named diseases", what is?   The code of ethics appears to be a total sham.

And of course never forget that the “arnica” doesn’t contain any arnica anyway. And if you don’t believe that you can read the words of Kate Chatfield, module leader on thie very course, as recorded in the minutes of evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology .

Q538 Lord Broers: I have a simple, technical question about homeopathy and drugs. Is it possible to distinguish between homeopathic drugs after they have been diluted? Is there any means of distinguishing one from the other?

Ms Chatfield: Only by the label.

You can read a lovely analysis of the views of Kate Chatfield by physicist A.P. Gaylard here.

 

Follow-up

The Daily Telegraph. January 8th 2009 Ian Douglas reported on this post: The workings of a BSc in homeopathy

The Lancashire Evening Post carried a big spread on January 15th, Professor seeks out the truth about ‘quackery’.

River’s Edge. News and thoughts from Preston, Lancashire reviewed the Lancashire Evening Post article on Saturday January 16th: Homeopathy at UCLAN, a degree in quackery.

The cost of trying to stop this material being revealed. UCLAN told me on 5 February 2010 that the legal costs alone were £80,307.94 (inc. VAT). That doesn’t include staff time and photocopying.   I’m not convinced that this was a good way to spend taxpayers’ money.

Print Friendly

Tags: Academia · CAM · cancer · Cancer act · Central Lancashire · Freedom of Information Act · homeopathy · Malcolm McVicar · Quality assessment · Society of Homeopaths · Unfair Trading · Universities · University of Central Lancashire · vice-chancellors

48 responses so far ↓

  • 1 lecanardnoir // Jan 6, 2010 at 19:17

    It is shocking to see that a BSc course was being used to teach students that you could treat cancer with magic sugar pills. No wonder people put up such a fight not to reveal the content. Well done on keeping up the pressure. Let’s hope this puts off future Vice Chancellors from using pseudo-medical courses to grab student money.

    Of course, students of homeopathy must now go to a private college if they want to learn such things. There is good evidence that even worse things are taught there, e.g. http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2009/11/can-we-trust-homeopaths-to-accredit.html

    The problem is now that no amount of FoI requests will allow public scrutiny of this dangerous menace. We are supposed to trust organisations like the Society of Homeopaths to accredit these courses and there is no evidence to suggest that they are in the slightest bit interested in protecting the public from these dangerous claims. The reason is, I suspect, is that they believe that homeopathy really can cure all, but they are wise enough to be circumspect about saying this out loud.

  • 2 warhelmet // Jan 6, 2010 at 19:27

    I echo LCN’s sentiments. Normally, the private homeopathic “colleges” keep their content from the prying eyes of the public, but the Allen College of Homeopathy makes a surprising amount of content available (shameless blog pimp) – http://landtimforgot.blogspot.com/2009/11/dr-banerjea-wife-and-allen-college-of.html

    I find it amazing that homeopaths proudly boast about having qualifications handed down by A.U. Ramakrishnan in illegal activities. I wonder if I could get an NVQ in metamphetamine production?

  • 3 zeno // Jan 6, 2010 at 19:44

    I hope those in charge of the University of Central Lancashire are thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed by this dangerous nonsense.

    They should be making an apology to the students who were led to believe this was a proper academic course.

  • 4 twaza // Jan 6, 2010 at 20:08

    Great post. Thanks.

    How do homeopaths explain how hoemopathic arnica and arnica have the same “indications”? This seems to contradict their whole philosophy.

  • 5 Skepticat // Jan 6, 2010 at 21:25

    Absolutely horrific. Kudos to you for putting a stop to this crap.

  • 6 zamzara // Jan 6, 2010 at 21:47

    Well done for exposing this disgrace.

    To add insult the proposed cancer remedy is 200C. Not 1 in 200 as most people might assume: that’s 1 in 10^400.

  • 7 Dr Aust // Jan 6, 2010 at 22:36

    Hmmm. Following on from Zeno’s comment, is it too much to hope that the Vice-Chancellor and other senior staff who presided over this (and the embarrassing stonewalling of DC’s attempts to get them to tell us what was in the courses) might do the decent thing, take responsibility, and even resign?

    Thought not.

    Do we know who was the Dean of whatever Faculty at UCLan set up (incubated and nurse-maided) all this utter balderdash at the relevant time? Perhaps they should be named and shamed. I would lay odds it was/is a Faculty of Health, or Healthcare.

  • 8 Margaret // Jan 7, 2010 at 01:20

    A teaspoon being used as a tool to measure volume – cookery course rather than professional science. So Sad.

    I agree Dr Aust. Those responsible for this should resign in shame.

  • 9 daijiyobu // Jan 7, 2010 at 05:17

    Well, I can report that in the U.S., required courses in homeopathy that I’d taken before I stopped my North American ND pursuit are similar.

    In fact, Homeopathy 1 required verbatim reproduction on exams of Kent and Hahnemann.

    And this is labeled fully accredited doctoral “health science”.

    Just a reminder, North American naturopathy labels homeopathy on their NPLEX licensure exam “clinical science”.

    Plussing was taught as well, particularly by the ND running the dispensary at my time there.

    I remember a homeopathic remedy being made by her for the supposed negative health effects of “computer monitor”.

    Yes, for them “like cures like”, but what was plussed wasn’t a dilution of a scraping of the monitor. I think water or alcohol was left exposed to the evil monitor for a while then diluted.

    Diagnosis was also done with a pendulum there…

    [I think I've reached enough "real life lived absurdity" for one comment].

    -r.c.

  • 10 kerledan // Jan 7, 2010 at 06:30

    It would be as funny as this if it wasn’t so serious. Here are Mitchell and Webb in action:

  • 11 Lindy // Jan 7, 2010 at 10:38

    @Margaret – I think even a cookery course might have more science in it than this.

    Seriously it is all highly alarming. I think there may be some grounds for suing under trading standards (TS) legislation, although I have had no response at all from TS department when I reported the sale of some highly dubious (in that the original substance is probably handled illegally, if at all) homeopathic remedies. Am still trying………

  • 12 Mike Eslea // Jan 7, 2010 at 11:35

    Good work David. I’m looking forward to part 2.

    Are they really saying that “want to be left alone” and “say they are alright” are signs that the patient needs arnica? How does that square with patient consent? The more you say you don’t want the treatment, the more it proves you need it. The homeopath will be chasing you down the street…

    Sweet Jebus, they really do mean that. I thought I was joking, but no: Often in a head-knock scenario a person needing Arnica will have a fear of being touched because of the pain and will say they are alright when they are not.

  • 13 Lindy // Jan 7, 2010 at 15:01

    @ Mike – that prize cobblers link also includes,
    “Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, homeopathic remedies don’t just suppress symptoms but actually heal the damaged injury site”.

    I always thought hy treated the whole person. Perhaps by injury site they mean the rock you hit your head on or the banana skin you slipped on……..

  • 14 kerledan // Jan 7, 2010 at 23:50

    Just before the bit about a person needing Arnica but saying they are alright etc. (12 Mike Eslea’s) there’s a bit “Always have head injuries checked out by a medical doctor/outpatients department”.

    Crikey! That’s a relief! And actually sensible. Like a million monkeys typing for ever and producing the works of Shakespeare, or like a stopped clock being right twice a day, there are times when the real world impinges on this bizarre half-world in which they are locked (as Genesis might have put it) and something from the real world of medical treatment in this dimension pops up, willy-nilly.

    Then the article goes on to the potty bit which Mike quotes.

    But then they go on to bemuse us with this gem: “Old head injuries need to be treated professionally by a qualified Homeopath.” (love that initial capital).

    Totally pazzo, really.

    I was thrown further into a dream state of dazed confusion, (English is limited in the range needed to describe this stuff, sorry) by this surreal later snippet: “Rib Fractures, Broken Collar Bones and Contusions
    Bryonia is a great pain remedy for broken bones. Broken ribs and collar bones in particular are often painful due to necessary local movement generally, as well as that associated with breathing.” (K comment: Real world popping in there for a sec) “Worse for the slightest movement is a main keynote of Bryonia. The person will be also be worse for heat or touch and better for rest, pressure and cold. “

  • 15 Margaret // Jan 8, 2010 at 01:43

    @ Lindy,

    True – my head was spinning while I was thinking of the various teaspoons I have in the kitchen and ‘bucket shop chemistry’.
    Yes, it is alarming. I’m horrified and disgusted that people have the neck to make money from this, and even more so that British universities have spent more than five minutes considering offering these ‘courses’ let alone going ahead with them.

  • 16 toots // Jan 8, 2010 at 16:44

    Incredible. These revelations of the misuse and/or abuse of the educational system should be brought to the attention of those responsible for setting up regulation of other sCAMs. University degrees in bullshit must have no place in statutory regulation.

  • 17 professor yaffle // Jan 8, 2010 at 19:49

    My first reaction was to be disgusted with the nature of this course but on reflection its just a new path for evolution to weed out the unlucky/undeserving from the gene pool.

  • 18 DrRachie // Jan 9, 2010 at 11:51

    David, great job on exposing this dangerous nonsense. The same thing exists in Australia, where you are unable to find out what homeopathy schools teach. The want you to sign up, pay thousands, before anything is revealed.

    It disgusts me that alternative medicine practitioners continue to bleat that they want more regulations as a method of legitimizing their industry, but they cannot be trusted to follow their own codes of conduct. In Australia, the same thing exists. You cannot expect to be treated in the same manner as a medical practitioner if you blatantly flout your own rules.

    Absolutely disgusting. Thanks for the post.

  • 19 0bserver // Jan 10, 2010 at 03:28

    Clearly you have an advantage to me as you have the whole document but the bits you have published don’t really convince me it’s a bad course.

    1. You seem to criticise the code of ethics because it’s not followed, surely that’s not a reason not to teach it.

    2. No evidence that the course teaches students to break the code of ethics.

    3. (‘Plussing’ slide) a pellet is dissolved in 11 tsp water. Then a tenfold dilution each day for 7 days. I don’t see how this gets to close to an Avogadro dilution unless the molecular mass of the active ingredient is massive.

    4. Comment about treating the whole person. Saying which agents have an affinity with specific organs does nothing to say whether a treatment considers the whole person. I’m not a homeopathist, but I’d assume treating the whole person involves consideration of the whole person and the administration of zero, one or more treatments, serially or in combination. I’ve never assumed that all homeopathic treatments affect all organs equally, I don’t think I have ever heard a homeopathist make such a claim. Your comment sounds like wordplay, possibly the fallacy of equivocation.

    It’s a misrepresentation, I think, to say that all homeopathic medicines contain no medicine whatsoever. My understanding is that not all homeopathic treatments go beyond the Avogadro dilution, some contain dilute medicine.

    Other comments and challenges you made appear reasonable but I feel the overall strength of your case is weakened by the inclusion of the points I have criticised above.

    I am as concerned with bad bad science as I am with bad science. Slack representation and commenting adds nothing useful to arguments on either side.

  • 20 What actually gets taught on a homeopathy course « Derren Brown Blog // Jan 10, 2010 at 10:33

    [...] the full article with more slides over at DCScience Share and [...]

  • 21 Dangerous Conventional // Jan 10, 2010 at 12:27

    I’m no fan of homeopathy, but I’d be interested to know if your planning to publish any positive aspects of the course or are you on the lookout for “comedy gold”.Not everything in a pharmacology/pharmacy degree is entirely for the benefit of mankind.

  • 22 David Colquhoun // Jan 11, 2010 at 00:11

    @observer
    Thanks for your ccmments. May I suggest that you read an excellent recent post at http://xtaldave.posterous.com/the-molecular-mechanisms-of-homeopathy

  • 23 0bserver // Jan 11, 2010 at 23:30

    @David Colquhoun. I’ve skimmed http://xtaldave.posterous.com/the-molecular-mechanisms-of-homeopathy and I think I agree with everything it says. It sticks to the facts and the science is accurate (though I haven’t gone back and checked all the bond energies). It pretty well describes why I agree from the theoretic point of view that homeopathy very, very, VERY probably(as sure as I am that the chair I am sitting on will continue to support me) can’t work above a certain dilution (I THINK that that boundary is around something homeopathists call a 12C dilution (or potency)). The article has the nicest description of why the memory effect proposed for water can’t work (unless our models of molecular energetics are wrong … which I don’t think they are). I have good scientific qualifications and I have no issue with ‘debunking by fact’. I think the article you referred me to is pretty much exemplary as a piece of scientific rational argumentation.
    But.
    I don’t think anything in the post addresses my specific criticisms of the article on THIS site. My concern is that thought leaders in the areas of ‘bad science exposure’, ‘debunking’ etc are not always so careful. My working hypothesis is that that this feeds a community of partly informed critics who latch on to the ‘easy and fun bit’ of what they see published. This would be ‘kicking at an open goal’ (like the 30C dilution) and adding a little zest of a joke or ad hominem comment at the expense of the author being criticised. In more serious cases this leads to critics overreaching their evidence, abusive language and potentially libellous statements – NOT good science or good journalism. I am NOT laying these charges against your writing here. My concern is to try to point up where I think your conclusions and presentation are less than watertight. I know it’s easier to be a critic than an author, but I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that critics have a useful place too. I’m not trying to belittle or wound your overall argument, simply offer some genuine concerns about elements of what you have selected to publish here. For example, the notion that no homeopathic medicine contains its named ingredient is a commonly repeated oversimplification, apparently repeated again in your article. The simplification makes homeopathy an easier target but doesn’t reflect the whole truth of what is sold on the High Street as homeopathic treatments/remedies. The dilution (‘plussing’) regime published in this article does not seem to guarantee to get to a point where no ‘active ingredient’ is expected to be present depending on the concentration of active ingredient in the initial pellet (which is not given). I genuinely look forward to your publication of guns which are smoking more obviously. Best regards.

  • 24 David Colquhoun // Jan 12, 2010 at 00:46

    @observer

    I don’t know how carefully you have checked the writings of those you describe as “thought leaders in the areas of ‘bad science exposure”. My esperience is that they are, on the whole, very careful about what they write. Perhaps some examples of what you mean would help me to understand better what it is that upsets you.

    It is true that one can’t repeat the whole argument in everything one writes, so I suppose some things do assume a bit of background knowledge. You are right to say that the point at which there are no molecules left is around the 12C dilution, but don’t forget that homeopaths believe (without a shred of evidence) that the more you dilute it, the greater the effect. More importantly, there isn’t the slightest emprical reason to suppose that cancer can be cured in this way and it seems to be to be schocking and dangerous to teach students otherwisw,

    The unfortunate students at UCLAN were shown a normal dose response curve in a pharmacology lecture, in which response increases with dose. That contradicts directly what they are told in homeopathy lectures.

    You seem to think that debunkers sometimes speak a bit strongly. That’s true of course, and I suspect that the reason is that experience shows that it is the only thing that works. You can write any number of conventional scholarly papers about quackery and nobody takes much notice, perhaps because we are dealing with people who are outside the normal world of scholarship. In any case there is no need to persuade scientists that homeopathy is rubbish. It is politicians and otherswith little understanding of science who have to be persuaded, and they don’t read scholarly articles.

    If one is talking about echinacea curing a cold in 7 days when otherwise of taken a week, it really isn’t very important (though such claims may well be against the law). But when it comes to claims to cure cancer, malaria or cholera (claims that are made routinely by non-medical homeopaths) it seems to me to be natural and proper to get rather angry. That is no longer harmless delusion, but more like homicide. People who make claims like that may be quite genuine in their beliefs but that is not a sufficient reason for endangering people’s lives. Anyone who does not get a bit angry about that sort of thing must be missing something. That is why I chose cancer for this first post.

  • 25 BMJ Group blogs: Journal of Medical Ethics blog » Blog Archive » A Very Small Post about Homeopathy // Jan 12, 2010 at 15:12

    [...] is probably the most remarkable of the lot: the details of UCLAN’s BSc in homeopathy as reviewed by UCL’s David Colquhoun, which is of particular interest from an ethicist’s point of view, referring as it does to to [...]

  • 26 0bserver // Jan 14, 2010 at 03:38

    @David Colquhoun
    Thanks for engaging with my concern.
    If I can take your points out of order.
    Firstly, the ‘strength of speech’ paragraph.
    The article you referred me to was utterly clear in it’s position with regard to homeopathy and, as I said, exemplifies a (better than) ‘good’ argument in my view. I have heard the argument that to persuade non-scientists, scientists have to use non-scientific techniques before. I have also heard the argument that ‘scientists are human and get angry too’. If the science rhetoric was Churchillian or Obamic I might buy into the notion, but the add-ins are typically not rhetorical niceties, My concern, at the risk of repeating myself, is that there is an audience of people who think that the rhetoric and apparently careless comments are part of making a good scientific case. Dare I say it, that seems to be what you are implying when you say “It is politicians and otherswith little understanding of science who have to be persuaded, and they don’t read scholarly articles.” I think scientists are at their most persuasive and mindshare-capturing when they are illuminating new areas when the audience tends to go ‘wow’. The problem is what I think Ben Goldacre calls ‘zombie’ arguments or views which rise again and again even when the scientific community generally regards a question as a ‘done deal’ (like homeopathy). It’s a hard problem but one that I think is not served well by scientists becoming argumentative in the same way as politicians argue points. As we slip into that line of discussion we become viewed as just another opinion despite having the advantage of evidence.
    Your final paragraph underlines the risks of, for example, homeopaths claiming remedies for malaria etc. I agree that that is something that should be exposed and dealt with. But here is my concern in that arena. Science may be at the cusp of winning the argument about homeopathy, clearly it isn’t wholly won in the public mind yet. I think it follows that it’s not unreasonable that even if it ‘looked like homicide’ the defence of mistake of fact (holding a mistaken view) is still reasonable for some people. It is not going to change overnight, some people get their knowledge directly from evidence. Others (the majority) have to sift through the answers and opinions of others and attempt to detect where the truth resides. Personally, I’d like to see all homeopaths licensed with a requirement to stay up to date with medical bulletins. I’d expect to see a reduction in outlandish claims first of all and the threat of litigation or malpractice should sharpen the minds and restrict the risks to customers, in the same way that I have heard that chiropractors are much more reticent about claims made for their practice recently. To communicate with non-scientists I think we are better served with simplifying and exemplifying, not by adding our own emotional seasoning. The advantage of science as a way of knowing is the evidence, not the passion with which we justify our beliefs. Passion is easy to duplicate, evidence less so. We (scientists) should invest our time in making the evidence clear and criticising mistaken views of the world rather than criticising those who are mistaken. Criticising people is easy, criticising arguments and ideas is part of the stuff of science.
    At no point had I intended to suggest that your motives were unworthy. I think the arguments in this arena are important. But, I’d rather grow old in a world where scientists carried a reputation for finding new wonders and educated those around them, rather than being the people who got angry with people who didn’t agree with them. You may win over the homeopaths and lose a generation of young scientists who see science as another arena of argument rather than discovery.

    Now, back to the first paragraph.
    You suggest I give you some examples. Rather than increase the horizon of this thread further I’d simply suggest that you look at my original points from 10-Jan about original posting.
    I’ll focus on just one to try and maintain some control over the length of this post.
    If you’d put a slide up from the course showing clearly that they were diluting 12C then your comment ‘Aha …’ would be justified, I think. Coming after than slide about diluting a pellet appears partisan. Anyone reading it and trying to work through it ought not to be able to draw the conclusion you make from the preceding slide. Additional information is required to make the conclusion (e.g. the pellet was pure water ice or something like that).

    Do homeopaths believe that diluting 12C solutions make them more potent? I believe they do. Do I think this has to be nonsense? As sure as I am about anything, yes. Do I think any of the slides you have selected demonstrate either view? No. I want to see the ‘killer blow’ but I don’t see it here, sorry.
    I understand you can’t repeat the whole argument, but if this is a first posting then links to posts which act as foundations would help.
    Your recent comment mentions a normal dose response curve setting up a contradiction in the course, it would be great to see slides side by side which exemplified the contradiction. I’m not doubting your word, but the evidence would be very strong.
    Anyway if you want examples, my original comment lists a few.
    As I’ve been writing this I realise what I think I may arguing for is more peer review amongst serious bloggers in this area. Peer review asks us to sharpen our arguments and improve our justifications and is another keystone in the scientific process.
    One result of the current climate is that I do not feel comfortable blogging under my own name. As a well intentioned, well qualified scientist and teacher I am uncomfortable about what that says about me and tenor of scientific debate in this arena. I simply don’t have time to defend accusations of being a woo-head with the possibility that my career might be damaged in the process. Two decades ago, if it had been possible to blog, I would have been aghast to to feel animosity in this way during debate.
    I don’t want to drag this thread out longer than you want to. It feels in danger of running away from the topic of your original post. If you would like to debate the ‘how should science argue today’ topic further, I’m happy to do so here, in a new thread or via email if you prefer. If not, no worries. Thanks for listening.

  • 27 Skeptics Circle #128 // Jan 16, 2010 at 00:26

    [...] (who I just learned, courtesy of Wikipedia, is an FRS) with a fantastic post on what actually gets taught in a homeopathy course. Disturbing stuff, and admirable work by [...]

  • 28 Allo V Psycho // Jan 21, 2010 at 15:12

    @Observer
    Can I attempt to address three of the points you made in your OP?
    The first two were:
    “You seem to criticise the code of ethics because it’s not followed, surely that’s not a reason not to teach it” and “No evidence that the course teaches students to break the code of ethics”.
    There is considerable evidence that ‘role modelling’ is particularly important in health care education. See for instance: Elzubier MA et al (2001) Identifying characteristics that students, interns and residents look for in their role models. Medical Education 35: 272-277; as an example of the literature in this field. Health care students tend to follow the example of ‘real’ practitioners, rather than the guidance given by ‘teachers’. In extreme cases, students may carry out unethical, even illegal, actions when instructed to do so by practitioners, even where this runs directly contrary to their teaching. (Coldicott Y, Pope C, Roberts C. (2003) The ethics of intimate examinations – teaching tomorrow’s doctors BMJ 326:97-101).
    For the homoeopathic lecturer to breach the Code of Ethics in the course of his/her teaching validates breaches in the Code of Ethics – even if the Code of Ethics is also issued to the students. In some ways it makes it even worse, because ignorance cannot be pled as an excuse.
    You wrote: “ (‘Plussing’ slide) a pellet is dissolved in 11 tsp water. Then a tenfold dilution each day for 7 days. I don’t see how this gets to close to an Avogadro dilution unless the molecular mass of the active ingredient is massive”.
    Here (and subsequently) you seem to imply that this level of dilution will not approach Avogadro’s number, and that therefore there may be some active material left. But I read the instructions as applying to “a pellet”, which I take to be a prepared homoeopathic remedy (i.e. already massively diluted). I think this is how DC reads it too. If this is the correct reading, then your subsequent comments about how to criticise this aspect of the work don’t apply. Of course, I may be mistaken in my reading, or it may be ambiguous.

  • 29 0bserver // Jan 22, 2010 at 03:05

    @Allo V Psycho
    On the two points which you comment about.
    The focus of the article is about criticising ‘what is actually taught’ David does not make the claim that they are taught by role modelling and shows no concrete evidence for that. His criticism in the first section seems to be that there is no evidence that the course has a section which criticises past contraventions of the code of practice which is given to students on the course. The students are given a code, David does not criticise the code but does criticise the fact that some (maybe a lot – it;s not clear) homeopaths have broken the code. This is not really a criticism of either the code or the teaching but the regulation of the homeopaths, the policing of homeopaths living up to their code. So I maintain that david misses the real target on that issue. I agree that if homeopaths are seen to ‘get away with breaking the code without sanctions resulting’ then others are more likely to follow but this criticism should be laid at the door of the regulators, either the homeopaths themselves, if they are self regulating or government.
    I’m not clear whether you are saying that the evidence presented demonstrates that the teachers on the course modelled breaking the code. I don’t see it myself. The section of the code published refers to advertising and it’s not clear that any of the subsequent slides are advertisements or instructions or appeals to make claims to be used in adverts in contravention of the code. I admit that sections of the code not published in the article may have been contravened, I can’t tell. But David has selected what he presumably thinks are particularly telling extracts of the code and the course. My claim is that none of them singly or combined give a knockout blow to the course and that some of David’s own claims do not appear to be fully backed up by the evidence he has chosen to show in the article.

    On your second point, I think you make my case by saying that you ‘think’ this is how DC reads it. The point is that DC doesn’t make it clear. Frankly I expect much more clarity and tight argument from the rational side of the debate/discussion/argument than I see shown in the original argument. Its lack of clarity and lack of logical progression from evidence to claims weakens the case. Too often I hear the rational side shy away from this either saying that ‘Well it doesn’t really matter what I write because the homeopathists won’t buy into the claims made by scientists anyway’ or ‘It’s too hard’. Assembling strong, evidence-based justifications for claims is part of the role of scientist.
    David presents no evidence that the pellet contains no active ingredient to start with. If he did present such evidence then his comment and claim about diluting water with water would be reasonable, as I said in my previous post. My assumption is that if he had a slide which made that clear, he would have published it (or he should have done so). To claim it ‘may be ambiguous’ is over-generous, I think. The only substance that would truly allow David to make the claim would be if the pellet was made out of water ice. If an effect was seen after dissolving an ‘inert’ pellet I think it would be reasonable to demand that the ‘inertness’ be confirmed somehow, at least.
    David’s article shows boxes apparently full of hard-won documentation. If the pages he has selected are the most damning to the homeopathic training under fire here then, truly, the evidence is very weak.
    If we go down the track of imagining what other slides might say we can build many different contexts which show the selected slides in different lights. A facile example woul be to suggest that an (unselected) slide before the ‘Arnica’ slides might say “Experiences which may not be used in advertising due to claims made”, “Historical claims which no longer appear true”. The point here is that David has apparently put a lot of effort into obtaining these documents I would have hoped that he would have found some more clearly damning evidence if he was going to publish the claims he made in the blog. It may be, that in a longer piece or a piece published as book or article in a learned, peer-reviewed journal David will have had the time to find additional evidence from the 30lb of documentation.
    Again, I do not regard myself as an apologist for homeopaths. I also mae no aplogy for expecting to see that science claims are backed up by reason and evidence, not surmise and reading between the lines.

  • 30 Allo V Psycho // Jan 22, 2010 at 10:54

    .
    Dear Observer,
    1) I commented on three of your points.
    2) You say “The focus of the article is about criticising ‘what is actually taught’. David does not make the claim that they are taught by role modelling and shows no concrete evidence for that”.

    I have offered you an entry to the literature on role modelling in health care, which you may choose to explore or not. Role modelling is not the ‘formal curriculum”. It is what people actually do. Whether or not David makes the claim that they are taught by role modelling is irrelevant. He provides evidence that their role models explicitly claims that homoeopathy cures named diseases. The taught material also includes statements which would be possibly in contravention of the Cancer Act 1939 if circulated to the public (but I am not a lawyer). Students are not exempted persons under the meaning of the Act.

    3) You say “The section of the code published refers to advertising and it’s not clear that any of the subsequent slides are advertisements or instructions or appeals to make claims to be used in adverts in contravention of the code”.
    I think this is a bit nit picking, and to tell you the truth, makes me doubt your sincerity. I think the clear meaning of Code Para 48 is that homoeopaths should not make claims which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases. It sets this in the context of advertising. However, it also refers to other media. Are you proposing that students are taught to believe this, and then taught never to say it? Are you proposing that homoeopaths can teach that homoeopathy cures named diseases, and can say it to patients during consultations, but just can’t put it on their adverts?
    4) You say “On your second point, I think you make my case by saying that you ‘think’ this is how DC reads it. The point is that DC doesn’t make it clear”.

    I was being polite. Actually, the slide seems to me to be unequivocal. The homeopaths are proposing the further dilution of a “remedy (pellet)”. The clear meaning of ‘remedy’ in this context is a homoeopathic preparation, already diluted. Your repeated mention of ‘pellets of water ice’ seem to me to be bizarre. Not even a homoeopath would consider diluting water itself.

    5) You say “ If we go down the track of imagining what other slides might say we can build many different contexts which show the selected slides in different lights”.

    You are entirely correct to characterise your argument as facile here. Now you are inventing possible slides which make these look less bad – and then you accuse David of reading between the lines!

    To conclude: the slides presented are prima facie evidence of explicit claims that homoeopathy cures named diseases, which even the Society of Homoeopaths indicates cannot be said in public. The slides from HP3002 also seem to me to represent a possible breach of the Cancer Act 1939, if repeated in public. This represents strong evidence of potentially dangerous teaching on health care, with the possibility of future harms. And I THINK that was the point David was trying to make.

    David, another key driver for student learning is assessment. Did you ask for any assessment materials in your FOI request?

  • 31 Lindy // Jan 22, 2010 at 12:16

    @Allo V Psycho

    You say “Not even a homoeopath would consider diluting water itself.”

    Look at the Helios website which lists:

    Aqua Pura Bottled Water Potencies: 3X – 1M

    Aqua Sulis Potencies: 6C – 10M Alternative name(s): Water from Bath, Roman Spa

    Aqua Victoria Falls etc etc

    http://www.helios.co.uk/cgi-bin/store.cgi?action=list_remedies

    There must be a market for this nonsense or they would not ‘make’ the remedy.

  • 32 Lindy // Jan 22, 2010 at 16:41

    @Allo V Psycho

    You say “Not even a homoeopath would consider diluting water itself.”

    Look at the Helios website which lists:

    Aqua Pura Bottled Water Potencies: 3X – 1M
    Aqua Sulis Potencies: 6C – 10M Alternative name(s): Water from Bath, Roman Spa
    Aqua Victoria Falls etc etc

    http://www.helios.co.uk/cgi-bin/store.cgi?action=list_remedies

    There must be a market for this nonsense or they would not ‘make’ the ‘remedy’.

  • 33 Dr Aust // Jan 23, 2010 at 02:32

    Goodness. I though I’d heard it all with the homeopathologicals, but diluting water with water adds an extra layer of the surreal -assuming that’s possible.

    Nice find, Lindy.

    Remember, though “shaken, not stirred”, as Commander Bond would say.

  • 34 0bserver // Jan 23, 2010 at 02:46

    @Allo v Pallo

    1) No comment required from me.

    2) You are right. You have produced some additional evidence. But David has not. There’s a question about how this format should be treated, whether the blog discussion is best rippling out with additional evidence being brought in or whether it would be better if, as in the early stages of a peer review process, the comments are used by the author to improve and sharpen the original submission. I’m uncomfortable with a dynamic that leaves an article criticised with someone else picking up the baton without the original author saying ‘Yes’ that’s what I meant.’ Hence I was happy to readily embrace the article which David referred to in his response to my first posting here (the one which gave a great criticism of the ‘water memory’ mechanism) which I applauded in my second posting. My claim was that David’s original posting did not make well justified claims in a number of places. I did not say that the claims were unjustifiable. Your additional evidence might be all that is required but I think it would be helpful if David either embraced that evidence by referring to it or provided alternate additional evidence to strengthen the claims, or modified the claims or refute the validity of the challenges I have raised. To be honest, I haven’t investigated the refs you provided yet, but there seemed plenty to respond to in the meantime :)

    I still have the view that the thrust of the original article, with its references to the course documentation, was to use the course documentation to demonstrate bad things about the course.

    My response to the next point which gets raised by you in your point 2, is going to point us into a direction that I doubt I have the wherewithal to make any conclusive statement about but it’s a direction that I am concerned that an increasing number of this type of discussion could find itself travelling in the coming months.

    The way that science ‘knows the world’ is primarily via reason and sense perception with an occasional dash of intuition, later supported by further observations, The secondary way that science knows the world is via language/authority (articles and communications) but to the scientist these are always potentially resupported (or refuted) by experiment. The public, on the other hand, often does not have access to the either the skills or the facilities to rerun experiments and relies on the language and authority of trusted authors to communicate and explain the area of scientific knowledge.
    All that is to try to underline the criticality of care in use of words in science communication. It’s not easy.

    David’s article, itself, says
    “Notice that the term “remedy” is used throughout. Any reasonable person would interpret “remedy” to imply “cure”, though no doubt a homeopath, if challenged, would claim that “remedy” carried no such implication. The last slide is typical of junk medicine: the personal testimonial, supplied with no detail whatsoever. Just an anecdote which is useless as evidence.”

    I agree. In common parlance the words ‘remedy’ and ‘cure’ tend to be used interchangeably. But I imagine, I think in line with what David is implying in the paragraph I quoted above, that if a legal case was mounted we could be tied up for years until a judge or jury ruled on the meanings of the words. In the Simon Singh/BCA case we’re waiting for the meaning of the word ‘bogus’ to be ruled on. I’m personally interested in what the answer is for this problem of clarity of meaning. I wonder whether we will end up using an agreed new dictionary or lexicon in association with scientific communication which could then underpin legal documents. Such a dictionary might then say that either the word ‘remedy’ was not to be used or that it was synonymous with ‘cure’, or that it had a different meaning to ‘cure’. At the moment both words have a handful of meanings, some obviously overlapping, others not. While this is the case, I think it’s advisable to be careful (or bear in mind David’s warning about the possible homeopath position that cure is not the same as remedy) before using ‘remedy’ and ‘cure’ interchangably.

    None of the evidence in the slides from the course presented by David uses the word ‘cure’ directly (though the code extract does). From our position we cannot tell, for example, whether there is any slide on the course which makes a distinction between ‘remedy’ and ‘cure’. ‘Nosode’ is a word not commonly used, I’d be interested to see what definition the course gave to it prior to the slide about ‘Cancer Nosodes’. If the course defined ‘Nosode’ as ‘cure’ then the two slides together would show clearly that students were being taught things which they would then not be able to claim in advertising without breaching their code which would, indeed, be a bizarre state of affairs. Certainly, though ‘Treatment’ is not synonymous with ‘Cure’.

    3) Whether or not I am sincere or truthful I think my criticisms are valid. Questioning my motives when the the criticisms are valid sounds like ad hominem to me and there’s no set of evidence that I can provide to totally demonstrate my sincerity.

    I could imagine a community who believed that they had found a cure cancer (though I don’t believe homeopathy has it myself). I think it would be reasonable to allow them to discuss it amongst like minded people first and then with critics before making claims public either through advertising or through discussions with patients. In such circumstances I would think it reasonable that initiates to the community be instructed into the ‘state of the discussion’.

    Again, then, I don’t see the course slides presented so far as a smoking gun. The behaviours of some homeopathists, from the accounts here, do seem to be open to justified criticism. If homeopathists who had broken the code had been on the course or had run the course the there could be immediate criticism, at least, of the efficacy of the course in conveying the code.

    I have seen ‘alternative’ (not homeopathic) courses which have used historical documents as the basis for parts of the training but which also require all participants to sign up to something similar to what the homeopath code sounds like as parts of the historical ways of doing things is now regarded as unsafe. I’m personally quite comfortable with that and recognise that were a participant foolish enough to make claims which were made in the historical documents directly, they would bear the responsibility.

    4) A key weakness in many criticisms of homeopathy is that they assume that all homeopathic remedies contain ‘no molecules of the active ingredient’. I really don’t think this is the case. The Avogadro ‘threshold’ is around homeopathic dilution 12C but homeopathic ‘remedies’ of much higher concentration can be bought off the shelf. So ‘homeopathic remedy pellet’ does not of itself indicate that there is no active ingredient. Additional evidence is required.

    You say “Your repeated mention of ‘pellets of water ice’ seem to me to be bizarre. Not even a homoeopath would consider diluting water itself.” but in his original posting David appears to make exactly this claim

    “Aha so it is better if the water is diluted in some more water.”

    Indeed it was the nature of this comment from David which prompted my criticism of his treatment of this course slide.

    5) I apologise for my part in poor communication. Let me try and clarify. I was trying to illustrate in another way that further evidence was required to make David’s claims robust. Without the additional evidence we could imagine any number of contexts in which the few slides he has selected might sit. We do well to be vigilant against confirmation bias and I was simply seeking to prick that bubble.
    If David’s article only really works for people who are aware of well known problems in homeopathy the it runs the risk of merely preaching to the converted and I assumed that David was aiming to sway a wider audience.

    In the absence of evidence to fill the gaps or a refutation of the criticisms I’ve made, I think there are ‘gaps left between the lines’ of David’s post. We are forced to either ‘read between the lines’, conjecture about the missing evidence and what might fill its place (with the risk of confirmation bias), or go and research and jigsaw together information from different authors. For the layman this brings us back to the words/authority issue.

    The more I look at this the more I have a growing concern that we are running into some kind of epistemological breakdown, at least for the ‘man in the street’ as the voices (words/authority) tend to become balanced in the new media regardless of evidence.

    My current view is that the most obvious antidote is for the side of science and reason to work at communication excellence, providing clear, dispassionate arguments and justifications which can be clearly understood. They could then be built on into public policy and law to protect the public from quacks and charletans.

    It’s likely to be a long haul but the side benefit should be a better educated, more critically aware public. The alternative of trying to shortcut arguments seems likely to leave us in a place of much heat but little light.

    As an aside, Ithink the whole process is likely to be lubricated if we retain the notion that people who hold different views are ‘mistaken’ rather than ‘liars’, ‘fools’ or ‘deliberately self-deluding’.

    Anyway, thanks for your information about tutor modelling, let’s see if David picks it up to strengthen his case.

  • 35 David Colquhoun // Jan 23, 2010 at 11:59

    @observer
    You are right about one thing. I have assumed that most readers will be aware of the endless discussions that have surrounded homeopathy since its revival from near-extinction that took place from the 1970s onwards. It was not by purpose in this post to go through, yet again, all the arguments that show what nonsense the whole subject is. That has been done time and time again, ever since Oliver Wendell Holmes great essay on “Homeopathy and its kindred delusions“.

    My aim in this post was merely to show a small sample of the dreadful stuff that used to be taught on one particular course, and to draw attention, yet again, that the code of ethics of the Society of Homeopaths is flouted by its members, with no action ever being taken against those who flout it.

    I have always been careful not to refer to homeopaths as liars/ Those I have met seem to believe, quite genuinely, that their sugar pills can cure things. It would be lovely in life were as simple as that. But it isn’t.

  • 36 0bserver // Jan 24, 2010 at 15:06

    @David Colquhoun

    Sincere thanks for the clarification, I had definitely misjudged the intent and context of your article somewhat. To be clear, my comments about the charges of lying compared with error were not aimed at your article, more to the heat which too often gets generated at the periphery of this discussion.

    Nonetheless, even given the clarification I’m left wondering whether, for example, there was evidence that the pellet discussed in the ‘diluting water’ slide was at sufficient dilution to result in the subsequent dilutions described in the treatment would result in pure water.

    Will you be able to publish more pages from the course in future?

    Best regards
    0bserver

  • 37 Allo V Psycho // Jan 25, 2010 at 11:53

    @Lindy
    Thanks for the correction – plainly I was wrong in thinking that not even a homoeopath would dilute water. I guess the trouble was that I was thinking sensibly rather than homoeopathically!

  • 38 More infighting over regulation from the homeopaths « gimpy’s blog // Feb 8, 2010 at 15:07

    [...] colleges and course providers will not be happy with being instructed not to make claims, such as curing cancer – as on the UCLAN course, without justification and the practitioners will be furious, no longer will they be able to claim [...]

  • 39 More fails for the Freedom of Information, and a bit of history // Feb 12, 2010 at 20:38

    [...] (Hons) homeopathy”. This does not seem to me to be good use of taxpayers’ money. A small sample of what was taught has already been posted (more to come). It is very obvious why the university wanted to keep it [...]

  • 40 Homeopathy (sigh) again, in The Times // Feb 26, 2010 at 22:37

    [...] They believe they can prevent and treat treat malaria, AIDS, cholera, yellow fever, even cancer..  At this point homeopathy ceases to be a harmless joke but becomes more like culpable [...]

  • 41 Diluting the Truth. « Xtaldave's Blog O'science // Apr 6, 2010 at 11:59

    [...] The author of the 3rd paper, Petter Viksveen is a practising homeopath, working in Norway, and a graduate of the fine MSc Masters Degree in Homeopathy, which was until recently awarded from the University of Central Lancashire. Anyone interested in the course materials for that degree course can of course see them on David Colquhoun’s excellent blog. [...]

  • 42 The Molecular Mechanisms of Homeopathy. « Xtaldave's Blog O'science // Apr 6, 2010 at 12:02

    [...] With the launch of the 1023 campaign against homeopathy, it seems appropriate for me to write a bit on that very subject. But where to start – there are so many blogs that talk about the issues that people have with homeopathy.  The ethical reasons for campaigning against it and the slap in the face that homeopathic “medicine” is to scientific thinking have been subject to in-depth coverage. Recently Prof David Colqhoun has finally gained access to teaching materials for a now-defunct BSc in Homeopathy, via a freedom of information request. He is reviewing them systematically on his excellent DC’s improbable science blog. [...]

  • 43 Paranoia, conspiracies and leaks – are you now, or have you ever been a homeopath? « gimpy’s blog // May 28, 2010 at 12:45

    [...] Now I have no knowledge of this investigation, I cannot confirm the veracity of the claims, it may be a spoof for all I know but the response from the homeopaths is telling.  Remember this is a profession whose educational colleges and degree courses have been ruthlessly exposed as presenting a dangerously misinformed understanding of scientific and medical r…. [...]

  • 44 100 FACTS!!!11!! About Homeopathy « Anomalous Distraction // Apr 14, 2011 at 06:50

    [...] FACT 82:  Homeopathic Practitioners train for three to four years.  They study anatomy and physiology, as well as pathology and disease, Materia Medica, Homeopathic Philosophy and the Homeopathic Repertory. We know what gets taught on a homeopathy course. [...]

  • 45 #Pseudoscience homeopathy can get you a health sciences degree at Australian universities. The end of the world is nigh! « Sans Science // Nov 10, 2011 at 14:24

    [...] would be great to see some teaching materials from these university courses -  as they did in the UK, to publicly shame the universities into closing the courses down and to show how dangerous they [...]

  • 46 The demise of quackademia. Progress in the last 5 years leaves Michael Driscoll and Geoffrey Petts isolated. // Jan 1, 2012 at 18:30

    [...] for over two years. That is just as well, because it turned out that UCLAN’s students were being taught dangerous nonsense. No wonder they tried so hard to conceal [...]

  • 47 Homeopathic doctor - Baexpats - Community of Expatriates in Buenos Aires, Argentina // Jan 4, 2012 at 23:00

    [...] You do not have to be a doctor to make and sell homeopathic "medicine". 1 2 3 here is some of the hillarious shite that they used to "teach" homeopaths at university be… of course placebos can be powerful things and thats all homeopathy is. If you are ill. go see a [...]

  • 48 The importance of being Ernst // Jul 16, 2012 at 18:05

    [...] research into any CAM therapy…anyone who’s read any of David Colqhoun’s posts exposing the content of these courses, will find that suggestion screamingly [...]

You must log in to post a comment.