So Ben Goldacre links to a homeopathist
gloating over the result of David Colquhoun’s legal set-to
with a couple of snake-oil peddlers. (Keep an eye on
Goldacre’s Delicious links at
There’s some good stuff there.)
The outcome was reasonably good for the forces of reason, but as I
mentioned on the Bad Science blog, there was still a lot of
wishy-washy speak from the official statement. So the woo peddlers
have been capitalising on that, and even casting it as some kind of
So, we now have agreement that abuse is not debate! What a victory!
Professor Colquhoun has taken legal advice to ensure that his blog
‘adopts the right tone’, because he made
‘defamatory’ remarks about herbalism.
The official statement from David Colquhoun and UCL said, amongst
“UCL will not allow staff to use its website for the making of personal attacks on individuals”.
His enemies have really run with this one.
Amongst other things, they make great play of the
downtrodden and underprivileged
snake oil salesmen, who obviously don’t have the money of the
I wonder how much that legal advice from Queens Counsel cost, and I
would make the point that he was lucky to have access to enough
funds to pay for it. I hope people remember that this is the
privilege of the 10% and not for the many?
No mention of the fact that legal advice was only necessary because
of the attempts to censor scientific criticism through legal means.
But that is by the by.
A lot of the rest of the article is full of silliness about mercury
fillings and fluoride in the water. (Gotta keep control of your
precious bodily fluids kids! The commie is sneaky that way! Deny
them your essence!) That is also not relevant here.
What I really wanted to highlight was the overtones of conspiracy.
There’s also a helluva lot of conspiracy. I mean, I’m
talking bagloads here. There are repeated and unexplained
references to an anonymous “they”, who are out to
damage children and extort your very last penny from you.
can‘t explain how paracetamol works so they manufacture vast amounts and sell it, why? Because they know it works and it will make then vast amounts of money (what price proof here?). They know mercury is a poison in large amounts so they fill our children’s teeth with it. They know fluoride is dangerous in large amounts, so they manufacture it and use trace amounts to ’benefit’
our health (isn’t that a homeopathic principle?) They have
known for years that salt is dangerous in large amounts, so they
add far too much to our food, such that we have to have a TV
campaign to get them to withdraw it. They also know that sugar is
dangerous in large amounts so they add far too much to our food
such that we have a massive obesity problem. They know that sugar
substitute is dangerous, so they sell it all around the world?
And when the author has finished on “them”, she brings
in the “orthodoxy” and a bit more of the worldwide
conspiracy is put in its place:
So why does orthodoxy apply ‘science’ to their chosen
phenomena and chosen substances and to pharmaceuticals and
vehemently exclude alternative medicine? Do you think it has
something to do with the means of production and the profits they
can potentially make? It is not possible for them to make huge
profits out of alternative medicine, so of course it must be
banned! Is this what they call ‘science’? Is this what
they call ‘Public Health’?
At least “the orthodoxy” is slightly more defined than
“they”, but not by much. Strange, though, this
“it is not possible for them to make huge profits out of alternative medicine”.
This is patently false: there are people out there making
fortunes out of sugar pills and plain water sold in
expensive vials—and you can buy them in every branch of Boots
in the country.
The vehemence of the abuse defaming alternative medicine far too
often takes on the hysterical screeching of the
‘I know I am right brigade’ who advocate a one size
fits all ideology, and such beliefs are fueled by
‘poor science’ that uses magicians to defame reputable
scientists who do try and investigate alternative medicine. The
message went out clear as a clarion call all around the World. Do
research into alternative medicine and we will hunt you down and
This is interesting stuff. “Abuse”,
“screeching”, claims that someone wants to
“hunt you down and destroy you”—these are
exactly the claims used to argue against Richard Dawkins,
Sam Harris et al, when talking about religion. This isn’t
argument, this is just stoking paranoia. It’s certainly not
in the best interests of anyone to suggest that the person holding
an opposing viewpoint is also rigging the system too.
When writers make the claim that the “arrogant” Richard
Dawkins wants to “round up all the believers” not only
are they grossly misrepresenting his wishes, but they’re
feeding a feeling in their audience that they are under attack for
who they are. That they, as people, are being subjected to abuse.
Those same emotive words are used here to distract from the fact
that it’s the
complete lack of tangible evidence that is the
point of contention.
… Is it any wonder that the research follows the money? Is
it any wonder that scientific research cannot conduct such studies
without attracting ignorant abuse? Personally, I do not call this
‘science’. I call it a witch hunt.
Next stop in the conspiracy theories—follow the money! In one
sense, the author is right. It would be foolish for us to ever
trust anything a pharmaceutical company says in promotion of its
own products. But that’s why we demand trails of evidence and
What the author implies, however, is that the alternative medicine
industry (or homeopathy in particular) is not big
business. She wants you to believe that it’s all garage
enthusiasts and community-driven amateurs. And maybe there is some
of that. But resting atop the cottage industry of crystal healers
and aura cleansers is a full-blown (and very lucrative) industry of
people making a lot of money from woo. Gillian McKeith (the Fraud
Previously Known as Doctor) gets paid for talking shite.
No-one is in love with the pharmaceutical industry. It needs to buy
its favours with lobbyists. The alternative medicine crowd have
already won the hearts of their followers and don’t need to
concentrate on argument at all. It is in their best interest to
obfuscate the facts at all costs. Each study which shows that
homeopathy is no better than placebo, or that real and sham
acupuncture are equivalent, has to be discredited in some way. If
all these woo therapies were shown to be nonsense to the general
public, poor Patrick Holford, GMTV’s darling nutritionist,
would be much less of a success. The author is right, follow the
money—but follow it in both directions.
More recently, the same Professor Colquhuon was involved in a
Channel 4 slot about
alternative medicines being dropped from the NHS to save money.
And yet again, the conspiracy theories were called upon to
cultivate that sense of attack from outside that helps bind
communities. The homeopaths suggested that:
- There was some cadre of “retired or senior” doctors
who were out to get the woo medicine people (for some unspecified
reason). So that would be a conspiracy, then?
- These same people were defenders of genetically modified foods.
This was (a) irrelevant, (b) not necessarily true and (c)
unsubstantiated anyway. But there’s no better way of making a
scientist look evil than to suggest they want to feed your children
- There were undisclosed conflicts of interest on the side of the
scientists. Which is to say, we’re to believe they were in
the pay of Big Pharma and were not to be trusted. These claims were
not substantiated either.
At no point in the proceedings did anyone on the homeopathy side
cite evidence that what they were promoting actually worked. But
they cast a lot of aspersions—which are like spells, only
harder to get rid of once you’ve been caught in one.