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Obama wins! Bush and Blair have gone. Could this mark the beginning of the end of the fashion for believing things that aren’t true?

Trinity College Dublin: the Phil. “Creationism is a valid world view”

This is the 324th year of the Trinity College Philosophical Society (known locally as the ‘Phil’).  Its former members include Bishop Berkeley,  Dean Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, and E.T.S. Walton .  It was founded for “discourse of philosophy, mathematics, and other polite literature ”, and is now a debating society.

Click to enlarge

The motion was Creationism is a Valid World view.  At the dinner before the debate, the students all dutifully stood as one of them recited long graces in Latin both before and after eating.  All very Oxbridge.  So I wasn’t optimistic.  However I hadn’t taken into account the conformist tendencies of undergraduates.   Notwithstanding the Latin graces, the result of the debate was very clear indeed.

Result. The Creationists were totally wiped out. Almost the only vote for the motion was a young born-again student, who made a desperately sincere speech.

I don’t need to give the details of what happened, because the opposer of the motion, Bob Bloomfield (of the Natural History Museum) has given an excellent account (The Discovery Institute send big guns to Ireland but only manage to fire blanks) on the Beagle project blog.  Two of the proposers were Americans, from the Discovery Institute, and they said what you’d expect: nothing that would impress anyone with any education.    I’ll settle for Bloomfield’s description of me as “charmingly irascible”. Irascible, moi? Well it would make anyone mildly irritated to have to spend time arguing about creationism in 2008.

Religion, all religion, seems to me to be boring and not a thing worth wasting good time on thinking about, but the rise of barmy fundamentalism has made it essential, if only so that genetics can be taught without  accusations of racism,   I’m entirely with Dawkins,  I can’t prove that there is no god, and I can’t guarantee
that the bottom of my garden is free of fairies.  Both questions merit about the same amount of time, though if pressed, I’d go for the fairies. They are, allegedly, rather better behaved than gods.

The 24th president of the USA said, when asked for his thoughts on evolution, said

“of course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised”.

Woodrow Wilson, 1922

That, of course, was from a president who has been described as ” leading intellectual of the Progressive Era”.

How things have changed in the time of Tony Blair, George Bush and Sarah Palin. Very few people had such barmy beliefs in 1960, never mind 1922. My thesis is much the same as that of Francis Wheen in “How mumbo-jumbo conquered the world” Sometime around 1980, with the conjunction of Thatcher, Reagan and Khomeini it came into fashion to believe things that aren’t true, just because you wished they were (actually I’d put it a bit earlier than Wheen: arguably it started when the Beatles went to that guru), It was after that when suddenly people started to believe in magic medicine, religious fundamentalism. weapons of mass destruction, and, ahem,  that the market would make us rich if only we would remove all the regulations.

Tony Blair defended in parliament the Emmanuel School which is run by a young earth creationist and used car dealer, Peter Vardy.  The head of the school, Nigel McQuoid, features strongly on the web site of the Christian Institute, This curious organisation seems to be devoted largely to creationism, homophobia and the virtue of beating children (a search of the site for “corporal punishment” gives 43 hits).  An essay by Burns & McQuoid says

“There are those who argue that Science and Christianity can be harmoniously reconciled .  ; ;. We cannot subscribe to this view”

The former head of science (yes, of science) at McQuoid’s school, Steven Layfield, had an article on the Christian Institute web site. It vanished as soon as it got some publicity but you can read it at http://www.darwinwars.com/lunatic/liars/layfield.html.
Try this quotation.

“Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement. Wherever possible, we must give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data.”

These guys are really at the fruit-cake end of the religious spectrum.  In contrast, the young anglican chaplain of Trinity, Darren McCallig, spoke against creationism, eloquently and sensibly.  His religiousness did seem at times to be diluted almost to homeopathic extremes, but all the better for that. He seems to have a sense of humour too, judging by the poster for his services.
click to enlarge

There is, of course, a very healthy opposition to creationists in the USA too,  I like particularly Gerald Weissman’s article “The facts of evolution: fighting the Endarkenment” (it may have been the first time that I saw the wonderful word endarkenment, which describes so well the last 30 years). It starts thus.

“Those of us who practice experimental science are living in the best of times and the worst of times, and I’m not talking about A Tale of Two Cities, but a tale of two cultures. “

Here are a couple of pictures of the meeting.

Chris Stillman (geologist)

Berlinski (left) Luke Ryder (speaking), Bloomfield, DC, Stillman (right)

And some pictures of Dublin here

James Joyce, TCD quadrangle and Molly Malone. Click to view

UCL homeopathy debate

This was organised by the UCL students’ debating society.  The Darwin Lecture theatre was surprisingly full for this debate, but they weren’t all students. As usual on these occasions, the homeopaths tried to pack the audience, but this time they failed.  That tactic is fair enough I suppose, but it means that the vote failed to tell us anything much about the opinion of students, beyond the fact that not many of them opposed the motion.

There are a few though. To the horror of some of our pharmacology and neuroscience undergraduates, a student society devoted to medicines that don’t work has been started at UCL, for the first time ever.  Luckily, it seems to be a rather small society.  I was fascinated to see that they are going to hear about the evidence base for complementary therapies, from George Lewith. I had occasion a while ago to look at Dr Lewith’s attitude to evidence: see Lewith’s private clinic has curious standards.

The proposers were Simon Singh and me. Simon is author of, among other things, Fermat’s Last Theorem and Trick or Treatment.  I thought he did an excellent job.

Singh pointed out that, contrary to the view propagated by quacks, science likes wacky ideas, as long as you can produce the evidence for them  He cited dark matter as an example.

The main opposer was my old friend Peter Fisher, homeopathic physician to the Queen.  It was a pleasure to show the video of Fisher agreeing with me that there is not enough science in homeopathy to justify a BSc degree in it.  Fisher, in his papers, strikes me as one of the most honest of homeopaths.  He was “very angry” when homeopaths were caught out recommending their sugar pills to prevent malaria.  But is his speech, he struck me as less than honest. He cherry-picked the evidence quite shamelessly as usual.  And his suggestion that there was an analogy between the ‘memory of water’ and a DVD was disposed of ably by a physics student who spoke from the floor.

The results were too close for comfort, 65 for, 53 against and an amazing 37 abstentions,

Sadly we’ll never know how the students voted, because of the imported homeopaths.

Dr Brian Kaplan was there.  He had given the meeting some advance publicity, in a web posting that also kindly gave publicity to our 2006 letter to the Times. He didn’t like the letter, which is unsurprising given that it turned out to be more effective than we could ever have hoped (see also here).

On the second row, getting very excited, was homeopath Grace Da Silva-Hill and her husband,  She runs the ‘Healing with Grace’ business.  On her web site she makes the ludicrous claim that

“Homeopathy will treat the cause of your health problem, not just alleviate your symptom”

She also says, inter alia, that

“Homeopathy is effective in treating a wide range of conditions such as: asthma, . . . “

In contrast, the Cochrane review says

“There is not enough evidence to reliably assess the possible role of homeopathy in asthma. “

I have been sent her account of the debate (a reply to a query from the ubiquitous Dana Ullman).

“Hello Dana, The debate, on monday 20th Oct., organised by UCL debating society, was poorly managed, and biased, attended mostly by students, who appear to have gone there to practice their debating skills. The motion was lost by 12 (65 for and 53 against), with 37 abstentions. Peter Fisher put on a good show, and so did his second, in comparison with the rather stale and poor presentation of Simon and Qulquoun (sorry, can never spell this). My husband Ken did a rather
good caricature of him, unfortunately can’t share it here. Pity there were not more  homeopaths/supporters there. Kind regards,”

Uhuh. Well, I guess she would say that.

You can judge the critical faculties of Mrs Da Silva-Hill from a comment she left on a piece in the Daily Telegraph, ‘Homeopathy putting lives at risk with claims’. I quote from it verbatim.

“The public does not care about the research available, the public care about having their health problem sorted, where conv. medicine has failed,”

(I apologise for attributing to Mrs Da Silva in the original post a quotation from the Telegraph that appeared above her name but was actually written by somebody else. I apologise also for using a picture of her without permission.)

On the way out of the debate, I walked back to Euston Road with another homeopath, William Alderson, who had come all the way from Kings Lynn to cast his vote.  He was earnest and sincere, the conversation was amicable but his idea of evidence was so different from mine that no progress was made. You can read more about Alderson on Dr Aust’s blog.

It’s fascinating stuff.


Dr Brian Kaplan has posted some splenetic comments on this post. I suppose the paranoid tone is an indication that we are winning, but I do wish he’d be a bit more careful about the facts. Let me correct some of them.

(1)Neither the letter of May 2006, nor its follow up in May 2007, was written under the NHS letterhead. The follow-up letter of May 2007 contained the words

“If you have not already reviewed your own trust’s provision, you might find it useful to consider, in conjunction with your Director of Public Health, the paper that we have enclosed which, while not a full review of the scientific position, has been used by other trusts to promote evidence based commissioning.”

The enclosed form was a sample commissioning letter which reproduced the NHS logo with a notice saying “insert your NHS logo here”. The accompanying letter made it perfectly clear that the enclosed form was simply an example to help those who wanted to save money and not an official NHS communication.

(2) Kaplan says I accuse him of lying to his patients, but his reference is to (an old version of) my Dilemmas at the heart of alternative medicine. It says nothing of the sort. I have said many times that I believe homeopaths are perfectly sincere, but they are just deluded. The reference to lying in the ‘dilemmas’ concerns how to get the maximum placebo effect when you know it is a placebo. Homeopaths have not reached that stage yet.

All this information has been available since May 2007.  He should have checked.

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157 Responses to Two debates and two wins: creationism and homeopathy

  • […] Vote Two debates and two wins: creationism and homeopathy […]

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear John ( and others)

    As usual, you are all so eloquent with your arguments, and I agree with all of them, if I may say so.

    You must all know that I struggle every day with the treatment of human beings. They are not particularly easy to treat. In fact it is quite difficult. Ask any GP or surgeon or nurse. I know because I worked in the NHS. I’m not asking you to dismiss the faults with homeopathy, which I despise, frankly. Or to dismiss the absolutely huge amounts of disinformation that are poured onto the public by magazines, shops, and tabloids about diet, supplementation, and all the complete rubbish I object to with my whole heart.

    Having said that, I will venture that I am the only person in this discussion that has worked for a prolonged period in a very busy surgical ward in a very busy hospital. I will also venture that you don’t understand what it is I do, much like most of the population of the UK.

    Dr. Colquhoun makes a very salient point about blood-letting. But he refuses to admit that modern doctors and surgeons do the equivalent, non-specific, prescription of very powerful pharmaceuticals every day in hospitals all over the UK. They no longer bleed people, but they do guess at what pharmaceuticals should be used, and then the correct the pharmaceuticals and the dosages according to how the patient reacts. I have seen it again and again.

    My point remains that DC’s Improbable Science is about areas of medicine that lack a data base. I agree that ALL CAMs lack a data base. I feel that mine is probably the only legitimate one, and that I would love to have the funding to pursue proper research into what I do (:-)). Having said that, I have learned so much talking to all of you, and it has given me such insight into the shortcomings of medicine, that I must thank you all. I have been reading a simple (!) book on particle physics recently, and I have come to realise how much the theoretical part of science helps to develop theories and found new processes that change the way we see the world.

    I agree with you John Hooper. And crap products, no quality control, totally hit-and-miss dosages all worry me every single day.

    I was amused that a fiction book I have been reading has at it’s core a magical combination of homeopathic carbo-veg (charcoal) and holy water. Splendid. Charcoal and water hold the secrets to the fictional universe! (*still laughing*)

    All the best to all of you.

  • It isn’t at all fair to say that I don’t criticise regular medicine, Try, for example, http://dcscience.net/?p=192
    Or http://dcscience.net/?p=193
    Or many items on my miniblog, such as comment on the recent JUPITER trial.

    Good clinicians do care about evidence but not many alternative practitioners do, Needless to say, not all clinicians are good, and some are corrupted by drug company money. But no part of medicine that I know about has sunk quite as far as the British Association of Nutritional Therapists which considers it quite proper for its members to take commission on supplements that they recommend. That actively encourages corruption,

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Oh Dear, do people actually take commission on supplements???? That’s so scary!!!

    You are absolutely right Dr Colquhoun to challenge this. And I am aware that both you and your colleague (who I also admire greatly, Mr. Bad Science himself, Dr. Goldacre), often challenge the nonsense in pharma trials and medicine. You are also correct that the main body of silly nonsense peddled to the people comes from Naturopaths. Now, what exactly is a naturopath? God only knows (that’s a joke, of course).

    My local ‘alternative health fair’ recently offered ‘aura photography’ and even more terrifying ‘DNA Re-Alignment’. Needless to say I was not very interested in participating.

    If I want my DNA Re-Aligned I’ll visit Chernobyl.

    No wonder you are all so skeptical about CAMs. They scare me too.


  • LeeT says:

    “Now, what exactly is a naturopath?”

    My Oxford English Dictionary describes naturopathy as, “a system of alternative medicine based on the theory that diseases can be successfully treated or prevented without the use of drugs, by techniques such as control of diet, exercise and massage.” There is a page on it at the back of Ernst and Singh’s “Trick or Treatment”.

    So far so good, though I am not sure why I would pay some one £60 or so to be told things I learnt in GCSE biology. The most dangerous thing about such people seems to be their negative attitute towards antibiotics and vaccination.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Although LeeT,

    People pay me some £60 or so for me to tell them they should get their kids vaccinated (they seem to trust me more than their GPs) and I recommend they never seek antibiotics unless they are absolutely neccessary.

    What’s your point?

  • Blue Bubble says:

    I’ve never paid anyone £60 (or even 2s 6d) for them to tell me to get my kids vaccinated or to recommend that I never seek antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary.

    £60 sounds awfully expensive …

  • John Hooper says:


    You said in Post 86 that “””You have obviously not had patients in your care”””.

    It would appear that neither have you – you have had clients. Rather like Mary’s.

  • John Hooper says:

    One can but try . . . . . . .

    Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 2:10 PM
    Subject: RE: Potential Safety, Occupational Health and Environmental Risk

    Dear Mr Hooper,

    Your email (below) addressed to HSE’s Nuclear Directorate has been passed to me for consideration, as the concerns you have do not relate to matters pertaining to sites licensed under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965.

    Your five principal concerns cover a wide range of matters, some of which are outside HSE’s remit. However, I will touch on all these.

    I have spoken with a pharmacist at Ainsworths. Without passing any judgement on the efficacy or validity of the practice of homoeopathy, the way I understand the underpinning principle is that a set of acute symptoms is treated by administering a dilution of a material that produces a similar set of symptoms.

    The key here is that the “remedy” that is administered is so dilute that there are virually no molecules of the original material left in the “remedy”.

    As the homoeopathic pharmacist at Ainsworths put it to me, “what remains is the energy imprint in the alcohol and water”.

    As I understand it, the strongest concentration would be 1 part per million which is known as 3C. Ainsworths, as a supplier of homoeopathic “remedies”, offers a wide range of materials at dilutions that increase from this 1ppm concentration.

    Ainsworths told me that they do not make up these remedies from raw materials, but purchase them already diluted. This implies that even if radioactive materials were used in the source material, the activity in any aliquot delivered to a member of the public or even a bulk sample being handled by a dispensing practitioner would be negligible (ie probably less that natural background levels).

    It is highly unlikely that the activities being undertaken by Ainsworths will bring the company within the scope of the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999, as the definition of a radioactive substance in regulation 2 is “any substance which contains one or more radionuclides whose activity cannot be disregarded for the purposes of radiation protection”.

    If you still have concerns, I suggest that you contact the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, as the relevant governing body. Ainsworths Homoeopathic Pharmacy and Anthony Pinkus (the owner) both hold registrations granted by it.

    The regulator will be the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) (Homoeopathics Unit, 11-1, MHRA, Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane, London SW8 5NQ, telephone 020 7084 3528, fax 020 7084 2323 or e-mail info@mhra.gsi.gov.uk). Details of the regulatory framework for homoeopathic medicines are provided on the MHRA webpages at http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Howweregulate/Medicines/Herbalandhomoeopathicmedicines/Homoeopathicmedicines/index.htm.

    Yours sincerely

  • Good work John

    “Ainsworths told me that they do not make up these remedies from raw materials, but purchase them already diluted.”

    So now we need to know where they buy their diluted polonium and antimatter.

  • LeeT says:

    With regard to Naturopathic doctors, the point I was trying to make was that they are best avoided. Of course, in most jurisdictions the title is unprotected so we can all call ourselves naturopathic doctors if we want to!

    I was surprised to discover – though perhaps I should not have been – that there is a UK General Council and Register of Naturopaths. See here for more information: http://www.naturopathy.org.uk/require.asp

    Regarding fees charged I would need to do more research though £60 or so does seem to be the going rate for a natural [fill in the gap] practitioner.

    Not sure who out there prescribes unnecessary antibiotics!

    @ Blue bubble – I think most so-called naturopathic doctors would tell you NOT to vaccinate your children.

  • John Hooper says:

    Are HY sellers supposed to list what the sugar pills are for ?

    I saw a Weleda display of OTC HY pills in the health nutter shop attached to my local Tesco.

    The pills had no real information on the boxes but there was an A4 sheet with a list of pills and what they were supposed to cure.

    Ruta apparently cures fractures. Eat your hearts out medicos with your splints and plaster.

    Apis allegedly cures (among other things) hives. What do the bees think about this. Do you imagine the “provers” got confused somewhere and thought “bees/hives – they must be related”.

    Their web site is fun. 6C will do for most ailments but for very “acute” illness you need 30. I quote:

    “””””””What Potency?

    In most self-help cases the 6c potency should be selected. It is useful when problems are mainly physical, such as coughs and colds, or when the condition is slow (chronic).

    The 30c potency is selected when the problem is very active (acute). Also useful when there is an emotional element to the condition, such as occasional sleeplessness, or where 6c brought only short-term improvement. 30c remedies should be taken as a short course unless prescribed by a practitioner.

    If a condition is persistent or potentially serious, please consult your doctor or a qualified homeopath.”””””

    So assuming you take this rubbish to cure (say) your fractured arm and it doesn’t mend what do you do then. Go to your qualified Homeomerchant – for what exactly ? All he can do is dish out more sugar pills.

    I love the whole notion of the woo being more potent the more dilute it is. If a really dilute pill doesn’t work then get a ludicrously diluted version. Best not to take this for too long though ! (unless of course your “practitioner” advises it). You have been warned.

    Maybe I need some 30C of something as there is definitely an “emotional element to . . . my condition” – caused by my utter bewilderment at this nonsense.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Frankly, John Hooper,

    How dare you compare me to Scary Mary? I’m not even the same animal, much less the same herbalist. And since you aren’t a pharmacologist, I’ll forgive your ignorance on the subject of plant medicines. You have NO idea what you are talking about. Whatsoever. And if you dare compare what I do with the VooDoo of homeopathy, then you are even more mistaken and silly than I thought you could be when I spoke to you in the first instance. Where do you think modern pharmaceuticals come from??? Hmmm.

    And, by the by, did you know that I am legally allowed to diagnose? Hold up! Wow! I can diagnose people! Legally! Wow!

    Did you also know that I am legally allowed to prescribe a patient a sick-break? Yes, legally. I am entitled to give a sick note to someone. Whoo there! You didn’t know that, I bet! I have the note-pad in my office! Whoa, I’m an official health-care practitioner! Crazy! Bet that drives you around the bend.

    You have no idea what I do, and until you understand that I am trained to treat ill people in the fashion of an orthodox healthcare practioner, I have no need to discuss any of this with you. When you want to talk things over reasonably, let me know. In the mean time, next time you are in hospital, take notes and let me know what you don’t like about the NHS.

    I’ll call my patients, ‘patients’. Because that’s what they are. They are my patients.

    Clients are what you have when you work in IT for a big company.

    Of course.

  • John Hooper says:

    Good grief. Have you been at the nettle wine.

    I guess comparing you to VSM was a bit harsh. However, I meant it only in the sense of having clients rather than patients. If you charge them £60 to inform them to get vaccinated then I think they are clients. My doctor would do it free.

    You are absolutely correct to state that I am not a herbalist or pharmacologist. I did not realise that such qualifications were necessary to contribute to this site. Maybe I should just stick to the creationist websites where I can spout my geological and geophysical bile on the children of dog.

    I think most modern (effective) pharmaceuticals tend to come from the likes of Pfizer, GSK, Roche, Wyeth blah blah blah. And they are not all made out of stewed weeds and pot pourri.

    I had absolutely no idea that you were legally allowed to diagnose. I have to admit that the thought frightens me.

    Not sure how to deal with the rambling bit about sick notes. As for being driven around the bend, well I think not. Be very difficult to find a more equable person than me. I do admit that the amount of mumbo-jumbo in the world does occasionally strain my equanimity. Jabbophobes perhaps the most.

    I don’t know what you do – any more than I know what most other contributors to this site do (apart from a few obvious exceptions). You are absolutely correct in that you do not need to discuss any “of this with me”. I do believe you entered into this conversation.

    You spelled “practitioner” wrong by the way.

    Of course what ?

  • John Hooper says:


    Fantastic that the Quackometer is back. I can now write off yet another afternoon assessing the quack content of my best worst charlatans website.

    Obviously I just had to start with VSM and her main site (there was this voice telling me that it had to be done and I just couldn’t resist the force).


    “””””Examining Site: http://www.maryenglish.co.uk/

    Web site titled ‘Homeopathy to help you Heal with Mary L English’

    The black duck says…

    This web site has more quackery than my village pond. It is full of scientific jargon that is out of place and probably doesn’t know the meaning of any of the terms. It shows no sceptical awareness and so should be treated with a suspicious mind. It also looks like this site is trying to sell stuff. Buyer Beware!

    This site has a has a currently measurable quackery content of 10 Canards

    (The Canard is the internationally recognised SI unit for Quackery.)”””””

    One minor quibble. Shouldn’t this drivel be measured using a QQ index. I suppose it would be acceptable to measure a Quack Quotient in Canards though.

    Ainsworths, Helios, Weleda, tachyon water, EM emitting crystals here I come.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear John Hooper,

    Why do you think your doctor treats you for ‘free’? They make a helluva lot more than I do, for less work. I just expect people to pay me by cheque rather than the NHS paying for their visit. GPs make a sickening amount of money for what they do. I give my patients an hour and a half. Your GP gives you 7 minutes. They make more money than me in that 7 minutes. Think about what you are saying before you say it.

    I never drink nettle wine. It makes you pee too much. Urtica dioica is a diuretic. Interestingly, in vivo studies have shown that the root preserves K+ unlike other loop diuretics. I’d love to see proper clinical studies done on it.

    Why should the thought that I am a primary health-care practitioner frighten you? I have many many more scary stories from my time working in an NHS hospital. Foundation doctors are particularly frightening because they can prescribe lethal medicines to patients after having been awake for 48 hours on a shift. Terrifying. Most of them don’t even understand pharmacology. It’s beyond belief!

    Here’s my point: I studied clinical medicine, clinical diagnosis, pharmacology and toxicology, molecular genetics, molecular pathology, plant pharmacology, and I worked in my clinic for 4 years before I graduated with a first class degree in a bio-medical science. The medical department at Edinburgh Uni was quite interested in letting me join their 3rd or 4th year and become a doctor.

    To have you insult me, when I have worked so hard to become a good health-care practitioner annoys me. You still have no idea what I do in my clinic.

    Most of the people who come and see me have already been diagnosed, and turned away by their GPs with a paltry handful of analgesics, or a pot of steroid cream. But I have also treated people who were not properly diagnosed by their GPs. Their GPs could not be bothered to palpate, or listen, or use their physician’s skills to treat the ill people that came to them in the first place. In fact, I have treated more than one GP who was tired of the failures of pharmaceutics in their own cases. Did you know that?

    For every person I send back to their GP with a serious and life-threatening affliction, there are hundreds more getting lost in the system. No one is taking care of these people. I feel it is my duty to help them, care for them, and send them back into the NHS if they need it. I consider what I do a very important adjunct to modern medicine. These people would disappear into the system, otherwise.

    Sorry, but I trust ME more than I trust my own GP. I only go to her if I need an ultrasound, or an exam. Other than that she can only offer me analgesics and medicines whose side effects make me sick but that don’t heal the source of the problem.

    How’s that ‘modern’?

    All the best,


  • John Hooper says:

    Back to the drawing board on the stewed weeds.



    “”””””Gingko biloba is widely used as a supplement (even though it is really an herbal drug) to improve memory to help treat or prevent dementia. However, there are no quality trials showing that it is effective. This month in JAMA is published the results of a study that has been going on for the past 8 years looking at ginkgo in elderly patients. I have actually been waiting for these results for a while – a large and fairly definitive trial to end the debates about the significance of the preliminary data we have had so far.

    The results did not surprise me – after following 3069 subjects for an average of 6.1 years, the study concluded:

    In this study, G biloba at 120 mg twice a day was not effective in reducing either the overall incidence rate of dementia or AD incidence in elderly individuals with normal cognition or those with MCI. (MCI = minimal cognitive impairment)

    Therefore the best data we have to date – the results of a very large, well controlled, and highly anticipated trial – gingko does not work””””””

    So you get your big study, properly conducted over a long time period and STILL the emperor has no clothes.

  • notawitchdoctor says:


    Funnily enough,

    I never use this plant medicine.


  • notawitchdoctor says:

    John Hooper,

    Incidently, I would never ‘treat’ dementia in the way you are speaking about. I have worked with dementia patients in hospital and in home care, and there is not likely to be a pharmaceutical ‘cure’ for this huge category of ailments. Was that study focused on vascular dementia, ‘senile’ dementia, or Alzheimer’s???? What was the pathology they were trying to treat?? Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are completely different animals. So how was the trial constructed to differentiate between all of the different kinds of dementia present in a cohort??? How did the controls work? Did they assess lifestyle? Diet? Education? Upbringing? Genetics?

    Why do you feel the need to buy into studies so readily without looking into the flaws of the research design?

    If you understand molecular patholology and the difficulty with using drugs that cross the blood-brain barrier but damage the excretory organs, then you might understand the mountain we have yet to climb to treat dementia.

    You seem to misunderstand me, at every step. I am not a physician, nurse, or surgeon. I am a trained primary health-care practitioner who is interested in the development of plant-based medicines to help ill people. I was at a conference today on just that subject. We discussed the issues of funding, education, and what the expectations of medical care should be. It was very interesting.

    I think that the naked emperor has announced himself quite spectacularly. Happily, it’s not me. 😉

    All the best,

  • NAWD says she is
    “interested in the development of plant-based medicines to help ill people”

    I’m interested in the development of medicines to help ill people.

    What puzzles me is, why restrict yourself to chemicals that happen to occur in plants?

  • John Hooper says:


    I tend not to “buy into studies” unless they come from what I regard as a fairly impeccable source and I can have a reasonable degree of confidence that they have been peer reviewed (or even better – pulled to shreds in public discussions).

    The weed study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association and I was referred to it from the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (I normally just read the AAAS stuff on rocks and fossils and but do look at other stuff where there is even the slightest chance I might understand it).

    I suppose it is possible that I have fallen victim to a conspiracy of techno-Nazi-scientism by using sites like this. Maybe they are pushing this peer reviewed science stuff where you write something and people who know even more than you do either fall about laughing or agree that you might have a point.

    I don’t know really. Maybe they are quacks as well. I know a lot of them get paid by universities, private companies and governments so maybe they are all part of the conspiracy to keep weedism in the dark ages – more or less where it came from.

    I bow to your experience on this one as you have four “ologys”, one “ics”, and an “is” whereas I only have one “ology” and one “ics”.

    As far as I can see, the weed study was conducted by a large number of (apparently) eminently qualified people with a large sample over a long period and was peer reviewed and published in a journal of impeccable credentials.

    So why not read the study and tell me exactly what is wrong with it.

    It is here:


  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear Dr. Colquhoun and John Hooper,

    I certainly don’t believe in the development of plant-based medicines as a be-all-and-end-all. I celebrate all aspects of pharmacology because I love it. I am absolutely fascinated by the molecular mechanisms of disease and how chemicals, both natural and synthesised, can interrupt and change these pathways. Botanicals are my particular point of interest and my area of expertise. I love plants, and because my first two degrees are in anthropology, I have an interest in how humans work with illness and medicine via plant-based medicines. I guess ethnopharmacology was my first love.

    As I have said before, I think that vaccines are amongst the greatest triumphs of modern medicine. Likewise anti-biotics, when they are not mis-used. Statins, the most popularly prescribed pharmaceuticals in the world, help millions of people, but have the tendency to be over-used when simple lifestyle advice would suffice. If the pharmaceutical industry was nationalised it would mean that they a) had less money to do research, but b) were actually patenting drugs for the purpose of helping ill people rather than satisyfing shareholders at an AGM that they were making profitable medicines. I’m not a person who believes business is evil, but I see the weakness inherent in the issue of publicly trading shares to raise capital for research. As John Hooper points out, this creates a number of gremlins. Some of these give impetus to the ‘naturopathic’ set, amongst other things. Common people are fed up with the way the system works; with not getting any time with their primary-care practitioner, with being fobbed off with painkillers, benzodiazepines, steroids, and other drugs that only make-do, but don’t help them solve their healthcare problems. Most people are not upset with pharmaceuticals, as such. They don’t understand how their bodies work, much less what pharmaceuticals do.

    John Hooper, I will take the time after I have eaten my dinner to study the JAMA paper you presented here. But in reading the abstract, I have already found a problem. An earlier (2003) metareview of 50 clinical studies on Gingko biloba in the treatment of dementia found an overall 3% significant difference, favouring Gingko for patients with Alzheimer’s.

    A systematic review of nine placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomly- controlled trials also concluded that Gingko is more effective than placebo for dementia. These studies used 240 mg twice-a-day, rather than the 120mg twice-a-day in the study you cite. Maybe the people in the study you posted hadn’t looked at the previous research? I don’t know.

    My last point before dinner….

    pharmaceuticals are tested all the time for potential applications. In many cases, results from the trials don’t show statistical significance in the experimental model. Yet, they may show an effect with statistical significance for another application. Why can’t botanicals work the same way? If Ginkgo truly doesn’t work for a certain form of dementia, fair enough. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t work full stop.

    As I said, I have never, ever used ginkgo. It wasn’t even in the apothecary when I studied in university. There are about 360 herbs in the Western materia medica. Ginkgo biloba is Chinese. I have a lot of research to do before I get to botanicals from other continents.

    Looking forward to reading the JAMA article….


    I wonder if there is room for both botanicals and pharmaceuticals in the world of medicine. As I have repreatedly said, the prescription of pharmaceuticals is only a small part of the process of medical treatment, and since statistics say that only 25% or 30% of people treated medically get better from taking pharmaceuticals (the other 75% get better without explanation, die, or stay ill) I think we should consider all of the options for treatment.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Apologies for the un-edited bit at the end of my post. They are thoughts that were not fully formed and are full of typos!

    I only get one full evening to myself per week, so most of the time I’m scribbling notes everywhere with wanton abandon, in the hope I can edit them properly before posting them. Obviously in this case, it didn’t work…. (*sheepishly grins*)

  • Lindy says:

    John H, in relation to your response 112

    ‘Are HY sellers supposed to list what the sugar pills are for ? etc….

    The MHRA registration for HY products says :

    36. Labelling of registered products
    The labeling of all containers and packages, and all leaflets enclosed or supplied with the product, must include clear mention of the words “homoeopathic medicinal product”. In addition, specific information is required on the labelling and leaflets, as set out in Article 7.2 of 92/73/EEC.
    The labelling and leaflets of registered homoeopathic products must include no other information.

    The supply of a leaflet with the product is optional. However, if a leaflet is supplied, it must contain all the particulars required for the labelling, and no other information’.

    They are forbidden to make any claims for what their nullified products can do!


    You keep banging on most defensively about how we can’t possibly know anything about what you do and what your qualifications are. Maybe you have mentioned them earlier, but perhaps you could be completely open and specific and tell us. It does seem a bit pointless to keep accusing people of this and that seemingly regardless of what they have said. And please don’t patronise people who do not work directly with patients. It is inconsistent with what you imply about patients being very important. few people have zero experience of healthcare. Furthermore, do you not favour universal health care, free at the point of use? Can you not see that such a system is more likely to be egalitarian than if people have to shell out either through hefty insurance premiums or direct payment? Of course there are shortcomings, but don’t assume that ‘common people’ – whatever you mean by that description – are all fed up with the care they receive in the NHS, unless of course you have hard evidence. GPs may earn more than you do, but they work extremely hard (and don’t tell me that they don’t unless you have proper evidence for that too), and have been under sustained attacks from a government who seem hell-bent on throwiing us into a US style system with all its privatised misery.

  • stephensenn says:

    I hate homeopathy as much as the next (see http://www.senns.demon.co.uk/wprose.html#Alternative) but as David Wooton showed in his excellent Bad Medicine, the problem is much deeper than that. It is, according to some estimates, just under a century since conventional medicine was of net benefit to mankind and in this respect the fact that there was a genuine (and much older) scientific element to medical diagnosis did not translate into a benefit in therapy. Au contraire. You were thus better off encountering a homeopath because the net result of all the nonsense was nothing whereas with a conventional doctor the net result of the science was something but unfortunately that something was on average harmful. Part of the problem in drawing a line between medicine and quackery is that medicine has not truly owned up to its shameful past.

  • Stephen
    I agree entirely. In fact I’d go a bit further. Medicine now is not always as good as it should be at saying “I don’t know”.

    The audit culture imposed by the government, and eagerly embraced by your friendly HR department, encourages this sort of behaviour which is one reason why it harms research and scholarship.

    But of course alternative medicine people never say they don’t know. They seem to feel quite free to make it up as they go along.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear Lindy,

    I have laid bare my qualifications on this thread and on this site about three times now. I will repeat this for you, because you seem to not want to read back over the thread.

    I have a BSc (Hons) (First Class) in Herbal Medicine from Napier University. I studied clinical medicine, clinical diagnosis, pharmacology and toxicology, molecular genetics, molecular pathology, plant chemistry, biochemistry, and I did 500 hours in my clinic, in addition to working for 3 years in the busiest surgical ward in my area as an auxiliary nurse. When I enquired about joining the medical programme at Edinburgh University, I was told I would be accepted into the third year. I think with my experience, the fourth year would be more appropriate, but that’s my opinion. Why some of you seem to think I’m some quack practitioner from the ‘Weekend Qualification in ‘Reiki’ school’, I’m not sure. I know more about medicine and pathology than most of you. Not to mention my experience in pharmacology.

    I also favour universal healthcare being free at the point-of-service. As an American ex-pat (and dual citizen), I have specific knowledge of the issues involved with healthcare relying on a credit-card payment. I have horror stories about health care in a non-nationalised system that you cannot even dream about. That is one of the reasons that I hope for an integrated system of medicine in this country in the future. As I have said, again and again on this thread…. I know more about the practice of medicine and the faults of the medical system than many people here.

    My GP may ‘work hard’, but I still only go to see her if I need pain relief that I cannot get legally from herbal medicine, or steroids, or an exam I cannot perform on myself.

    Recently, one of my patients was able to go off her hypertension medicine because the herbal treatment we are working with has lowered her blood pressure to a level that her GP was happy with (it’s been 6 months now, and she’s remained at a ‘normal’ level). Her GP was amazed but has been completely cooperative with my treatment of this patient. We are all very pleased with the outcome of this treatment. This is what it should be about. Cooperation and integration.

    I’m not a quack. That’s the bottom line.

    I never make it up as I go along. The results my patients (including the GPs I treat) experience are the proof that botanicals work. If we ever get enough money to run the clinical trials we would like to run, I’m sure my work will be vindicated. You’re willing to throw in the odd £1,000,000 for a trial, eh, Lindy? C’mon, just think, if I’m wrong, you can gloat and dance around for ages.

    All the best to all of you.


  • NAWD

    “Recently, one of my patients was able to go off her hypertension medicine because the herbal treatment we are working with has lowered her blood pressure”

    The whole point of this discussion is that anecdotes of this sort don’t constitute evidence. Can you tell us what the treatment was? It would be interesting to see if there is any real evidence of its effectiveness.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear Dr. Colquhoun,

    Interesting to see that you tidy up your blog regularly. Hmmm.

    My patient was taking Benecar (olmesartan) for mild hypertension (regular BP 150/100) when they came to see me. Benecar is an angiotensin II receptor agonist, just in case you aren’t familiar with it…

    I started this patient on a combined tincture of Leonurus cardiaca, Tilia europaea, Astragalus membranaceous, Withania somnifera, Scutellaria lateriflora, and Crataegus monogyna flos (not fructus). After 2 weeks, the patient’s BP had come down to 120/80 and has stayed there despite extreme stress from work for a year. The patient ran out of herbal tincture for 3 weeks, and the blood pressure went back up to 150/100 during that period. The GP is satisfied that the patient can continue on the herbal medicine until such time as the BP increases. Patient has familial hypertension.

    As usual, Leonurus cardiaca, Crataegus spp, and Tilia spp all have in vivo and in vitro studies that support their therapeutic activity. Whether clinical studies have been done…. I would need to research this.

    Why don’t anecdotes constitute evidence? It’s an interesting question considering all of the things I saw whilst working in hospital. Anecdotes may not constitute evidence, but they certainly explain medicine better than scholarly papers. As I have said, pharmaceuticals are only a small part of medicine. And people are a completely different story……

    All the best,

  • Oh dear, I simply can’t understand why it is that someone who is so obviously serious about their work as you does not seem to be able to understand why anecdotes are an unreliable source of evidence. I has all been explained beautifully in at least hald a dozen books this year, and it really isn’t difficult.

    If you want to get slightly (not very) more technical, I’d suggest RA Fisher’s, the Design of Experiments (1935). Fisher was perhaps the first person to appreciate that randomisation was essential for any inference about the natural world. The mathematics is fascinating (but isn’t in that book).

    Neither do I understand why you seem to want to distinguish between an angiotensin II agonist that comes from a plant and any other sort of angiotensin II agonist. It simply makes no sense to me.

  • LeeT says:

    I have been reading “One Man’s Medicine”, the autobiography of Archie Cochrane. He describes an incident where he is taken aside by the chairman of a conference at which he had spoken: “Dr Cochrane, you don’t seem to understand. Controlled trials are done by the pharmaceutical industry. Gentlemen don’t do them.” It seems that alt-med practitioners are behaving like the consultants of the 1950s – ladies and gentlemen who know what is good for the rest of us.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dr. Colquehoun,

    You are absolutely right. I shouldn’t even try to distinguish between botanicals and pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are obviously far superior to botanicals. You wouldn’t be so interested in pharmaceuticals, otherwise.

    If I had a conscience, I would give up this idea that I could help people with botanical medicine. I’m really just a throw-back to the 19th century. How humiliating. I thought that what I did helped people.

    My apologies for troubling all of you pharmacologists and doctors these last few weeks. You obviously know so much more than I do about medicine.

    I kneel down and humble myself to your knowledge.

    Sorry to have troubled you.

    Many good wishes for your future treatment of the ill,


  • “I shouldn’t even try to distinguish between botanicals and pharmaceuticals.”

    Quite right.

    “Pharmaceuticals are obviously far superior to botanicals. “

    That is not what I said, and it is not what you said in the preceding sentence either. My question and my puzzlement were quite genuine.

  • jscholes says:

    @dc on religion

    “I’m entirely with Dawkins, I can’t prove that there is no god, and I can’t guarantee
    that the bottom of my garden is free of fairies.”

    Well, that is not Dawkins’ view, or rather it is only part of his view. He also claims that religion is positively evil, in that it is directly responsible for much of the suffering in the world.

    But you do seem to share with Dawkins a view that science and religion are somehow incompatible. No sensible scientist could possibly believe that mumbo-jumbo.

    Obviously, creationism is daft. So are many other things preached by various evangelical sects (and by some non-Christian religions).

    I do not see, however, any contradiction between the Catholic Church and science. Despite much misrepresentation of the Catholic Church’s attitude by protestants, the Catholic Church is not in any way hostile to science.

    Moreover, much of the discussion on the relationship between science and religion by folk like Dawkins is bizarrely amateurish. I did better in my teens. He seems to have done almost no homework on what has been written already.

    Indeed his main book on this topic, the God Delusion, is notable for the almost complete absence of to-the-point arguments. All he does on the Catholic Church is to complain about its attitude to paedophile priests. He is totally correct to complain, but I cannot see that has anything to do with the truth or otherwise of its doctrine.

    Kind regards


  • I think a good case can be made for religion doing harm too. At least much harm is done in the name of religion. My main point, though, is that religion simply bores me. There just seem to be a lot better ways to spend ones time than making idle speculations about fairies, or the number of angels on the head of a pin.

    Catholicism has some personal interest to me (this is anecdote, not argument). As a teenager I had a brief religious phase. Then I met an Irish nurse (all the nurses in Merseyside seemed to be Irish), She insisted that I should go to mass with her. It was Easter and they were doing the Twelve Stations of the Cross. The priests seemed to me to be enjoying it far too much. I came away with the impression that it was not much different from a sado-masochistic orgy. Much later, I was reminded of that when an ex-aide of Tony Blair said that the problem with Blair was that he was enjoying the Iraq war too much.

    That experience put me off religion for life. It is really just rather distasteful.

  • Lindy says:

    NAWD, I think you will find it unlikely that an angiotensin II receptor AGONIST would be prescribed for hypertension. Benicar (olmesartan) is of course an angiotensin II receptor ANTagonist.

    I will add that, whilst I find your constant referral to anecdote overconfident, I have no reason to doubt all the things you say about your experience. It is your approach that disturbs me. I hope I misunderstand the tone of your writing, but you give me the impression that you see yourself as in many ways superior to conventional doctors, and also, in all your assertions, that you know far more about all aspects of medicine and health care than anyone else writing on this site. Perhaps you know a lot about all the people, but that would be unusual on a blog site.
    Sometimes you seem very reasonable and imply that you want to engage in dialogue and the next minute your writing has a hostile tone. This is a pity as I think dialogue and disagreement is very healthy.

    I often write things and then realise I’ve probably given a wrong impression, or rethink my approach to something in the light of what someone else has said. I learned many many years ago to say I’ve been wrong if I am surprised by new information.

    I know your timetable is full, but you might feel good if you reflected a little on the impression you give.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    I often reflect on the impression I give. I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter what I say. I will always be, to you, a practitioner of Woo. Ironically, I will always be a ‘reductionist’ and a ‘traitor’ to other herbalists.

    I am in a lose/lose situation.

    It’s okay. I’m sure I’ll rally.

    Thanks for all of your input. Sorry to have bothered you all.

    All the best,


  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Thanks, Lindy

    for pointing out my mistake. I would say that I knew what I meant (evem if that’s not what I said) but that would just be silly. Obviously someone like yourself, who knows the difference between an Angiotensin II agonist and an Angiotensin II antagonist must be horrified at my mistake.

    Glad that you know that Angiotensin II receptors even exist.

    Obviously my pharmacological stupidity vexes you.

    Many apologies.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear All,

    I have been recently having a conversation with a respected professor emeritus of philosophy about thought and natural philosophy and our conversation has led me to reconsider much of what I was expecting when I came into this forum. The discussion has also led me to re-think how I conceptualise medicine, and how we view it in general in the west. This led on to me doing some research and coming across two papers from the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics: Kjetil Rommetveit’s ‘Towards a Hermaneutic of Technological Objects’ and David Baronov’s ‘Biomedicine: An Ontological Dissection’ both published this year. On reading these, I realised that in this forum I have really been talking with many of you at cross-purposes.

    I came here because I have had some deeply troubling discussions with some herbalists, and I often struggle with how many of them see medicine and healthcare. I thought that here I would, at the very least, encounter people who have a healthy respect for the positive contributions of modern bio-medicine, but who also understood that botanicals are chemically active and have been used to good effect for millennia for any number of disorders. I spent many a long and happy hour in the RGBE library reading 18th and 19th century pharmacopoeias and I trust that the physicians of the past were conscientious and attentive to the shortcomings of their practice, but also knew which of their treatments were effective. But I digress. So I came here, naively thinking that there might be some interesting discussion on medicine and many of the issues surrounding CAMs and developing research that might show or disprove their benefit. Instead, I find myself constantly having to defend my excellent degree, defend my work, my motivations, my ethics, whilst some who have never worked in healthcare (apologies to those who do) reduce the practice of medicine to the prescription of chemicals that may keep people alive slightly longer than they might be otherwise (this is a point for discussion), but ignores the other 99% of what medical care is, and should be about. Modern orthodox medicine, as a discipline that allies itself with science, is subject to the practice of ‘bad’ science (or improbable science), like any other scientific field of study. Moreover, medicine is not just about medical research. It’s ultimately about people. So, removing medicine from its anthropological, historical, and sociological contexts reduces it to the molecular pathways pharmaceuticals traverse. Interesting, but hardly a reflection of the totality of the discipline. I would also suggest that the unwillingness to be reflective about the shortcomings of modern biomedicine, and the unwillingness to reflect on how much your (plural) view of ‘science’ is a contributing factor to what ‘science’ actually is, shows a fundamental flaw in your thinking. I am more than happy to criticise the shortcomings of my own field of study, that’s why I cam here, but I also expected some reflection on the shortcomings of medicine, which has definitely not been in evidence.

    At any rate, all of this has led back to me reconsidering what I do and what my hopes for the future of research in my field are. I am happy to say that this discussion has happily removed some of my doubts about herbal medicine, and raised very interesting questions about its future. Thank you all for that.

    Lindy, if you mistook my tone or the subject matter of one of my posts, I leave that at your doorstep. I am a fairly forthright person, and I think beating about the bush when you are trying to have a serious discussion just wastes time. I’m certain that I have not taken as much delight in mentioning your typos or mistakes, as you have in pointing out mine. If you patronise people, you should expect them to defend themselves in return. I am also not of the opinion that I am superior to any other healthcare practitioner. If someone needs surgery, they certainly shouldn’t come to my clinic. I have also time and time again referred patients back to GPs, nurses, physios, etc. I do however have strong opinions about the failures of the modern system. I can recommend the book Limits To Medicine. Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health by Ivan Illich to you. It’s slightly dated, but makes some very salient points about how much medicine actually ‘works’ as opposed to how many people it actually makes ill. It provides very good food for thought.

    My thanks again for the conversation, it’s been interesting.

  • Pinky says:

    For those of you not at the debate on homeopathy being available on the NHS; I was there. Albeit I was there with some trepidation as I had never been to a debate before and didn’t know what to expect. After all future MPs and barristers are supposed to cut their teeth in places like this. I had heard about the debate via my physicist friend and he thought I would be interested. Afterwards he said it was the most heated debate he had seen so far. Interestingly he was not aware of just how implausible homeopathy sounded and had previously assumed it was some sort of benign variation of herbalism.
    One criticism of the proceeding that my friend and I both had was that both sides eventually retreated into their respective comfort zones. Those against homeopathy use stuck mainly to the lack of effect or plausibility whereas those for its use stuck to the idea of choice, even if the choice they advocate is presumably an uninformed one.
    The two highlights for me were the bits that got the biggest laughs. From the side that wouldn’t have homeopathy on the NHS the biggest laugh was the very awake Simon Singh’s revelation that he had been munching away on homeopathic sleeping pills for the duration of the debate. From the side that would have homeopathy on the NHS the biggest laugh was Peter Fisher’s second describing the cost of homeopathy to the NHS by the poorly chosen phrase “a drop in the ocean”.
    Not so funny were the barely restrained homeopathy supporters dominating the middle of the lecture theatre that spent most the night moments away from launching into a rant about the harmful effects of modern medicine. Presumably if they had their chance they would have elaborated on why flaws or perceived flaws in modern medicine would lead to the conclusion of replacing it with homeopathy or how much better modern medicine would need to become before they accepted it, considering that immortality is some way off yet.
    Also requiring further elaboration would have been Peter Fisher’s explaining the efficacy of homeopathy in terms of the various celebrities that use it. Or his example that as German insurers know what they are doing and because German insurers give lower premiums to users of homeopathy he concluded homeopathy works as opposed as a being a convenient marker for belonging to the worried well.

  • Thanks Pinky -very fair account.

    The bit I liked best from the floor was the young physicist explaining to Peter Fisher that there really was no analogy at all between a DVD and the alleged memory of water.

  • John Hooper says:

    Dr Aust pointed to FACT in another post so I had a quick scan around and looked at a few articles.

    I noticed that a lot of the references to HY trials were from India and were effectively self-reported in HY journals (where one assumes the degree of criticism and review is less than exacting).

    Also many of them are not available anywhere online. One has to ask why.

    I noticed one person cropped up a lot. A chap by the name of Dr Vishpala Parthasarathy. So I looked him up to see what he had to say for himself.

    The first thing I looked at was:

    “””””””If one of the two had known Homoeopathy, the story of Jack and Jill may have been happily different!

    Kind nature has ordained that wherever falls are common, there should be available a remedy to heal. Arnica-montana is one such – a perennial plant that grows on mountainous slopes and in peaty meadows. Known as “Fall-Herb”, peasants dry and store it to use in emergencies. To avail of its medicinal virtues, Homoeopathy turned it into an invaluable “first-aid’ remedy.

    For every mechanical injury – concussions and contusions, injuries with blunt instruments, blue – black spots, bruised soreness of strained muscles Arnica has no peer.

    Roly-poly Ricky started jogging to reduce his bulk. That first night, every muscle was sore and aching. Few pills of Arnica 30 put him to sleep. The next day found him fit as a fiddle for another round of jogging.

    My little daughter went down to play; she came up crying with a bump on the forehead, already as big as a lemon. Arnica brought down the swelling by next morning!

    As Diwali comes nearer, you mothers will get busy cleaning the house. You would do well to remember Arnica to remove the fatigue and relieve your aching limbs. After a restless night, the remedy can refresh your frayed nerves.

    Who isn’t a fan of “Dhishum-Dhishum” films? When your favourite hero gets hit and falls down unconscious, rush quickly with Arnica if you do not wish to make him a martyr.

    Does your child have an appointment with the dentist? Please do give Arnica pills before and after the extraction of the tooth. Really Arnica is an infallible ally to the dentist.

    Beginning of the new school year? Buying books and new school shoes? Again suffer from shoe bites? See that you also stock Arnica that knows well how the shoe pinches.

    Mothers please note: Childbirth is a process of agony and ecstasy. Arnica can take away the former, leaving the latter intact, by rendering every uterine contraction easy and productive. A dose for the mother, and a dose for the new-born child – that is the formula for the shock and bruises of this struggle for survival. It can extend its services for sore nipples after nursing the child. In retrospect, a threat of abortion after trauma in a pregnant woman will disappear if Arnica is employed judiciously.

    A remedy for the mother and child, stuntman and sportsman, tramp and tourist, each one of us who needs to survive under the stress and strain of life and living, every household and work – place must have Arnica- montana in its First – aid box.

    An excellent remedy for bruised humanity indeed!””””””

    It is difficult not to look at rubbish like this with total derision.

    Only a complete idiot would be unable to identify the causal factor in a combination of sugar pills and 8 hours sleep as a cure for tiredness.

    It would appear that western obstetrics has lost the plot with its epidurals and TENS.

    Of course I may be doing an injustice here and the first Dr Vishpala Parthasarathy is not the same as the second Dr Vishpala Parthasarathy – although I doubt it.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    I would just remind you lot that I am licensed to prescribe Arnica montana tincture (topically, not internally) to all of my patients, and that it has been shown to reduce swelling and heal wounds faster than placebo. Not in its homeopathic form, of course. It makes a splendid poultice and really does help remove bruising and pain for superficial injuries.

    Mr Hooper, might I ask what you have against epidurals (as a woman who gave birth recently). They work splendidly if given in the right situation…..

  • Dr Aust says:

    Er… have yet to see any very convincing trial evidence for the Arnica tinctures on wound healing and swelling, NAWD. Though I would be happy to agree that a tincture would be more likely to do something than the idiotic “homeopathic Arnica 30C” so beloved of many Alt.Reality noodles.

    I’m 100% with you on epidurals, though. Mrs Dr Aust had one for the birth of out first, Jr Aust, and said that otherwise there would have been no way she could have managed the 15 hrs in labour…

  • John Hooper says:

    Oh for heavens sake NAWD.

    Are you being deliberately obtuse or are you demonstrating your national failure to get irony.

    I was being derisory about the homeobunkum crap – not western medicine. For the avoidance of doubt I was trying to compare western medicine (the proper stuff) with the drivel that quack was spouting.

    I might even be persuaded that weedism could have some benefits but certainly a HY version of any weed cannot possibly work (unless you make a poultice out of the pills and the box they came in).

    Of course I have nothing againt epidurals and have in fact just suggested that both my sisters-in-law should insist on them. I can guarantee that an epidural beats gas and air any time (although that is only anecdotal !).

    And Dr Aust – once again your psychic capability raises it woo-ish head. You got there just before me. Luckily your other psychic ability seems to have deserted you as my life has become hassle free recently.

  • Mojo says:

    Pinky wrote: “Also requiring further elaboration would have been Peter Fisher’s explaining the efficacy of homeopathy in terms of the various celebrities that use it.”

    Fisher wrote the foreword to Dana Ullman’s The Homeopathic Revolution, a book about “Famous People and Cultural Heroes Who Chose Homeopathy”, and is quoted in the review I’ve linked to.

  • John Hooper says:

    One of the problems I have with quackery is that every form of hokum appears to cure every ailment known to man.

    A quick scan of quack websites clearly shows their apparent ability to cure CANCER, AIDS, and many other capitalised illnesses.

    Now it seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw in this line of reasoning (well, apart from the fact that it is drivel in the first place).

    As far as I can tell the human body is beset with all sorts of illnesses (viral, bacterial, parasitical, cellular, radiation, poisoning, physical damage, age related damage, random syndromes, genetic problems, burns, organ failure, psychological/psychiatric illness, lifestyle effects like smoking and drinking, bits giving up the ghost etc. I am sure a medico could add a thousand other causes).

    But it is probably safe to say that there is a multiplicity of totally different mechanisms which impact on the human body. Bearing this diversity in mind how likely is it that something like homeopathy (or indeed any other quackery) would be able to “cure” this huge range of illnesses generated by this equally huge range of causal factors.

    Conceptually it would appear to be a non-starter.

    And to try to link the twin themes of this thread.

    Bearing in mind this huge range of internal and external causal mechanisms (and adding in a few others like tooth decay, vestigial organs, junk DNA etc) what part of this collection positions the human body as the pinnacle of some creators design. To paraphrase what someone said of Thatcher, if Intelligent Design/Creation is the answer then it must have been an effing stupid question.

  • Or, as UCL’s genetics guru Steve Jones said on Radio 4, if there is a designer someone should sue him.

  • John Hooper says:

    As ever jesusandmo more than adequately spear both sets of nonsense:

    HY: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2007/11/06/toxic/

    ID: http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/09/26/blue/

    Says it all really.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear John Hooper,

    All I have ever wanted is for you to not lump me in with the ‘weedenproletariat’.

    I will ask you this: why do you think I am a quack?

    My final molecular pathology project involved creating an experiment that would show how the interruption of the cascades that lead to COX-2 production might help slow certain pathologies. I made my highest mark in that course. I combined two previous experiments on anthocyanidins with an experiment on Wistar rats with bowel cancer. It was ever so interesting. As far as I understand it, I’m a scientist. Not a quack.

    Also, I’m not sure how I could possibly exhibit a ‘national failure to get irony’. I’ll leave that one with you. It’s like a donkey with three legs.

    All the best,


  • John Hooper says:


    A long time ago in a galaxy far away (well, post 76 above to be precise) we talked about HY curing death (no mean feat by and large). I suggested that the dead could probably be resurrected or jump started using a 2M dilution of “Lead Acid Accumulator”. It works for cars so should be considered effectively “proved” in HY quackery terms.

    I should have realised that you cannot really parody this specious drivel.

    It would appear that all I got wrong was the specific remedy.

    I found this nonsense on the Randi site (and believe me the person writing it genuinely believes this nonsense – although he does not have a similar belief in the concept of paragraphs):

    “””””“””I told her the story about how Dr. Stuart Close had once treated a 45-year-old woman who had already been pronounced dead, on site, by her family physicians. Close arrived at the residence as the relatives were standing around the parlor, drying tears, etc.; he quickly examined the patient. No radial pulse, limbs cold and rigid, face with an expression of death, both feet and legs were gangrenous up to the knees -the living manifestation of death. He tapped a few pellets of Arsenicum 45M (Fincke) under her lip and rubbed it against her gum. “Presently she opened her eyes and looked at me as I bent over her, and whispered to me ‘I’m coming back.’ In ten minutes more she was talking to me in an audible voice, asking questions about herself and what had happened. I had difficulty keeping my patient quiet and had to prevent her from talking. Reaction had come on with a vengeance. She went on to make an uneventful recovery and has led a healthy life for these 20 years past””””

    You doctors, pharmacologists, assorted medicos and weedists must be squirming with envy at these abilities.

  • John Hooper says:

    There is no concept of embarrassment or sense of shame in the world of quackery is there.

    There is an appalling old quack singlehandedly trying to save Africa from AIDS with magic pixy dust pills . . . .


    . . . . . from which I quote:

    “””””””In many ways homoeopathy is the perfect medicine for persons suffering from AIDS, and particularly in Africa. AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Homoeopathy works by stimulating and enhancing the immune system and therefore it is precisely in this disease that homoeopathy can be most effective.

    Homoeopathy is a system of medicine with an outstanding record of cures, both in individual and epidemic diseases.

    Homoeopathy was extremely effective in the great flu pandemic of 1918, and the cholera epidemics of the 19th century. Homeopathy has proved effective in yellow fever, whooping cough, polio, typhus, and malaria.

    Today, homoeopaths all over the world are having very promising results with AIDS patients, substantially improving their well being and restoring health.

    While conventional medicine aims to fight the virus, and is able to buy time for the patient, there is no radical change in the underlying health. In effect, conventional medicine only supplies a temporary relief, often at a great cost financially, and with many severe side effects””””””

    It is difficult to know where to start in dismantling this obnoxious rubbish so I won’t.

    Do they issue them with brass necks in woo college ?

    My partner whinges that I get too incensed and irate about his crap and should just ignore it. She actually used the phrase “whats the problem”, which is almost the name of a website which explicitly details the problem:


    And specifically for NAWD:


    There are a lot of dead people listed there. I guess that roll call of the dead is probably a quantitative measure of the problem (to which can probably now be added the 330K dead South Africans who died from AIDS whilst undergoing quack regimes).

    (I would have to say, that having looked at a lot of the entries on that site, I think the human gene pool has probably benefitted greatly from some of this mass shuffling off this mortal coil).

  • Dr Aust says:


    Gimpy has had a good look at the “Dynamis School” and its deluded guru, Jeremy Sherr. See here.

    ..watch your blood pressure, though.

  • notawitchdoctor says:

    Dear John,

    Why do you associate me with a website linked to people treating themselves (often badly) with plant pharmaceuticals? If they had come to me, there might have been a different outcome!

    What a load of nonsense. That website has nothing to do with the efficacy of plant pharma, and shows how people treating themselves medically is both dangerous and sad.

    As I pointed out to you before, I am highly trained, and more than willing to return any patient that comes to me to their general practitioner, if necessary. I did have a patient today with a badly cut finger, whose GP declined to stitch. When he went back to his GP 8 hours later with a badly bleeding finger, the GP admitted my dressing was superior to hers and that the finger should be stitched ‘a few times’. She was quite humble and said I should ‘maybe study medicine’.

    That website you posted was horrifying and has nothing to do with what I do for a living.
    Sorry to dissappoint, but you missed the mark, again. By the way, I don’t treat infectious diseases that can be treated via vaccination. I think vaccination is the better choice, as are anti-biotics and anti-fungals for African patients under current circumstances. I’m not a homeopath.

    One of my areas of expertise is molecular genetics. Anything you want to know about this subject??


  • John Hooper says:

    I knew that there was omething missing from my life. Like a dead parrot pining for the feeeords there was a gaping chasm in my life just waiting to be filled. Then I remembered my dear friend NAWD.

    I didn’t specifically associate you with idiots killing themselves with weedism. It is refreshing to note that you would have done a better job than your compatriots.

    You are of course absolutely correct that people “treating themselves medically is both dangerous and sad”. However, I imagine they get an awful lot of encouragement to do so by weedists and general woosters, along the lines of “You don’t need BIG PHARMA to cure your illness. Try the gentle, natural, quantum bio-energetic flavour du jour of woo”.

    The diversity, depth and breadth of your skills apparently knows no bounds. Nice to know your dressing was far superior to the GPs botched up field dressing. Obviously her problem was that she was unable to prescribe expensive drugs for a cut finger. At least she was humble and did not display the usual arrogance these medics demonstrate – especially when faced with a life threatening cut finger.

    I recognise you are highly trained as you repeatedly tell us so. Unfortunately I am unable to tease out exactly what you are trained in. One minute you are inordinately proud of being able to dish out sick notes and the next you have added molecular genetics to your long list of -ists, -isms and –ologys.

    That website is indeed horrifying, not least because the authors cannot keep up with the amount of stupidity in the world (so for example they have not got around to adding Maggiore to the list yet in the HIV denier section. They should have done as she had already murdered her child and ought therefore to have qualified.)

    I recognise that your are desperate to be a proper doctor and that cheap shots are really beneath me but are infectious diseases cured by vaccination. I understood that most of them were prevented by vaccination. Of course I may have got this wrong but it certainly applies to smallpox, flu, measles etc.

    To atone for the cheap shot I will point you in the direction of the Canard’s Quackometer site where he posts a rather good article about how weedism can produce proper medical cures (once a few thousand chemists have marched all over it, isolated the active ingredient, codified dosages and combined it with non-weed based pharmaceuticals to produce a WHO recognised solution to malaria. Oh, and done the many RCT trials to prove its efficaciousness).

    Go ahead, fill me in on molecular genetics. I am all ears although I feel what I will get back will be an anagram thereof.

  • Lindy says:

    I have an extraordinary feeling of relief that Bush is gone. Part of his legacy is of course that belief in creationism is rife in the U.S.. However there is hope, not just because Obama is there and is highly intelligent, but in his speech he said,

    ‘….We will restore science to its rightful place…..’ Let’s hope he can.

  • […] is an indication that they (presumably those whom I’ve dubbed The Disciples of Scientism) are ‘winning’. Reading this I realised that ‘losing’ is far less of a problem for me than forgetting to […]

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