Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Homeopathy; what’s the harm?

In 10:23, Homepathy, Modern Day Witchcraft, Responses to the media on December 22, 2010 at 3:19 PM

By Simon Singh
(Adapted from “Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial” by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst)

When critics point out to politicians or regulators that homeopathy is not backed by any good evidence and is just a placebo, one response is “What’s the harm?”. In other words, if the placebo effect is positive and the side effects are zero, then what’s wrong if people want to waste a bit of money on sugar pills? But is homeopathy really safe?

Unfortunately, homeopathy can have surprising and dangerous side-effects. These have nothing to do directly with any particular homeopathic remedy, but rather they are an indirect result of what happens when homeopaths replace doctors as sources of medical advice.

For example, many homeopaths have a negative attitude towards immunization, so parents who are in regular contact with a homeopath may be less likely to immunize their child. To evaluate the extent of this problem, Edzard Ernst and Katja Schmidt at Exeter University conducted a revealing survey among UK homeopaths. Having obtained e-mail addresses from online directories, they sent an e-mail to 168 homeopaths in which they effectively pretended to be a mother asking for advice about whether or not to vaccinate her one-year-old child against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). This was in 2002 when the controversy over MMR was subsiding and the scientific evidence was clearly in favour of vaccination. Of the 77 respondents, only two advised the mother to immunize, so it is clear that the overwhelming majority of homeopaths will not encourage immunization.

Perhaps the greatest danger occurs when homeopathy replaces a conventional treatment. I first encountered this problem in 2006 when I tried to find out what homeopaths would offer to a young traveller seeking protection against malaria. Working with Alice Tuff and the charity Sense About Science, we developed a storyline in which Tuff would be making a ten week overland trip through West Africa, where there is a high prevalence of the most dangerous strain of malaria, which can result in death within three days. Tuff, a young graduate, would explain to homeopaths that she had previously suffered side-effects from conventional malaria tablets and wondered if there was a homeopathic alternative.

Before approaching homeopaths, however, Tuff visited a conventional travel clinic with exactly the same storyline, which resulted in a lengthy consultation. The health expert explained that side-effects were not unusual for malaria tablets, but that there was a range of options, so a different type of tablet might be advisable. At the same time, the health expert asked detailed questions about Tuff’s medical history and offered extensive advice, such as how to prevent insect bites.

Next Tuff found a variety of homeopaths by searching on the internet, just as any young student might do. She then visited or phoned ten of them, mainly based in and around London. In each case, Tuff secretly recorded the conversations in order to document the consultation. The results were shocking. Seven out of the ten homeopaths failed to ask about the patient’s medical background and also failed to offer any general advice about bite prevention. Worse still, ten out of ten homeopaths were willing to advise homeopathic protection against malaria instead of conventional treatment, which would have put our pretend traveller’s life at risk.

The homeopaths offered anecdotes to show that homeopathy is effective. According to one practitioner, ‘Once somebody told me she went to Africa to work and she said the people who took malaria tablets got malaria, although it was probably a different subversive type not the full blown, but the people who took homeopathics didn’t. They didn’t get ill at all.’ She also advised that homeopathy could protect against yellow fever, dysentery and typhoid. Another homeopath tried to explain the mechanism behind the remedies: ‘The remedies should lower your susceptibility; because what they do is they make it so your energy – your living energy – doesn’t have a kind of malaria-shaped hole in it. The malarial mosquitoes won’t come along and fill that in. The remedies sort it out.’

The investigation took place in the run-up to the summer holiday season, so this became part of a campaign to warn travellers against the very real dangers of relying on homeopathy to protect against tropical diseases. One case reported in the British Medical Journal described how a woman had relied on homeopathy during a trip to Togo in West Africa, which resulted in a serious bout of malaria. This meant she had to endure two months of intensive care for multiple organ system failure. In this case, the placebo effect offered no protection. That’s the harm.

Simon Singh is a supporter of the 10:23 campaign. He is the author of books such as ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ and was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association until the BCA backed down. He is also backing the campaign for libel reform (

Copyright © the 10:23 campaign 2009-2010.


Homeopathic ‘Overdosers’ Announce Global Challenge

In 10:23, Homepathy on December 15, 2010 at 10:24 PM

Consumer rights activists worldwide are being challenged to participate in a global ‘overdose’ on homeopathic pills, in order to raise public awareness that the remedies are in fact worthless.

The ’10:23 Challenge’, scheduled to culminate worldwide in February 2011, is a follow-up to the protest staged by the 10:23 Campaign in the UK, which saw almost 400 demonstrators take to the streets across UK to voice their concern at the sales of the pills in leading pharmacy ‘Boots’, and the support for such ‘remedies’ on the NHS.

Michael Marshall of the 10:23 Campaign explained the plans for 2011:

“This year has been a great year in the UK for raising awareness of homeopathy – with doctors, pharmacists, politicians and – above all – members of the public speaking out against this discredit ‘treatment’.

“However, the case against homeopathy extends far beyond the UK – all around the world, people are being told that homeopathy is a valid form of treatment, and often with tragic consequences. It’s a global problem, and it requires global action.

“This is why we’re announcing the 10:23 Challenge for 2011 – we want to show global unity by gathering protesters from more than 10 countries, and more than 23 cities. Our aim is to have more than 1023 activists publicly gathering over the weekend of 5th-6th February, to make a statement: Homeopathy – There’s Nothing In It.

“Of course, safety is our number one concern – not all homeopathy is prepared as honestly and cleanly as the manufacturers state, and can include real ingredients which could be potentially dangerous. With this in mind we urge anyone wishing to get involved to prepare their own homeopathic remedies, or contact the 10:23 Campaign for more information (”.

While International participation is yet to be announced, the challenge will culminate in a demonstration in Manchester on February 6th, at the ‘QED: Question. Explore. Discover.’event, with over 300 protesters participating the largest ever single demonstration against homeopathy.

The 10:23 Campaign is an international movement headed by the Merseyside Skeptics Society, which aims to raise awareness of homeopathy, a multi-million pound industry based on a long-discredited 18th century ritual, selling remedies to the public which have no scientific basis and no credible evidence for their efficacy beyond the placebo effect.

While dispensing sugar pills may seem harmless, in reality the endorsement of homeopathic potions by leading health providers can have grave consequences. In September 2010, a BBC investigation discovered registered homeopaths administering ineffective ‘alternatives’ to the MMR vaccine, and in 2002 9-month old infant Gloria Sam died from serious infections after her eczema – a condition commonly treated by homeopaths – was treated with homeopathic remedies.

Mr Marshall concluded:

“Homeopathy has had more than two centuries to prove itself a useful remedy, but the results consistently come back negative. In the meantime, people are being fooled into believing these pills work, often causing genuine harm. This is unacceptable, and on February 5th, we’re going to demonstrate how strongly people feel about this issue.”

For more information about the 10:23 Challenge, visit or contact

Previous related post:
How will Gloria Thomas celebrate World Homeopathy Awareness Week?

What you can do to inform Gold Coast parents, & protect children from ‘Body Brilliant Chiropractic’?

In GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science, Uncategorized on December 5, 2010 at 1:33 PM

At the end of my last post I asked what else we can do about the proliferation of dangerous, erroneous, and pseudoscientific claims that Body Brilliant Chiropractic are successfully pushing in Childcare Centre’s and media aimed directly at Gold Coast parents.

We’ve managed to come up with some suggestions that are not at all time consuming and require no specific expertise! I encourage anyone who finds anything on the Body Brilliant Chiropractic website, that contradicts properly controlled studies and research from medical science (some of which is linked to in my post, but also check out which links to the terrific
Cochrane Collaboration, and PubMed.) to lodge a complaint with the following bodies:

Also please contact the ‘media’, for instance,

Today Tonight:
Prime Gold Coast News:
The Gold Coast Bulletin:
The Tweed Daily News:

And contact your local Member of Parliament!

This list is far from exhaustive and I’d be very happy to add to it!

It shouldn’t be up to us to do this, but it is so we may as well try to be as effective as possible in raising awareness amongst both the general public & those with the power to regulate.

Jayson D Cooke

Body Brilliant Chiropractic: #1 at Manipulation?

In Helping our community., Human Rights, Modern Day Witchcraft, Science on December 4, 2010 at 1:02 AM

In April 2008 best selling UK author Dr Simon Singh wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper regarding chiropractic treatments that contained the following paragraph:

“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”

The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) promptly threatened to sue Dr Singh personally, claiming he had defamed their reputation. Despite the Guardian Newspaper offering an opportunity for the BCA to author a 500 word response to be published in The Guardian, allowing the BCA to present its evidence in conjunction with a clarification in the “Corrections and Clarifications” column, these offers were rejected by the BCA and legal action commenced. The resulting 2 year ordeal ended abruptly when the BCA served a Notice of Discontinuance on April 15, 2010 bringing an end to any claim of libel.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than coincidence that the very next month the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), a UK-wide statutory body with regulatory powers, published a position statement related to subluxation (the ironic backbone of many contentious chiropractic claims) which read:

“The chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex is an historical concept but it remains a theoretical model. It is not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease or health concerns.”

In October this year New Zealand medical researchers Professor Shaun Holt and Andrew Gilbey issued a strong warning against taking children to chiropractors for any reason.

In regards to spinal manipulation in infants and children, for conditions ranging from ear infections, colic and asthma to ADHD and even cancer, Professor Holt was quoted as saying

“There is no plausible explanation why high-velocity manipulation of the spine can help children with these medical conditions, it is an extraordinary claim”

“Given that this is a multibillion dollar industry, the lack of good research that has been undertaken is staggering. There is also evidence that many chiropractors advise against routine childhood immunizations, which is irresponsible.”

Andrew Gilbey also relayed concerns that

“there are some serious safety concerns related to the unnecessary use of x-rays and the manipulation of childrens’ spines and so we advise parents to instead consult their family doctor who has been trained to recognize and treat a wide range of medical problems. In Canada, an undercover researcher reported that 4 out of 5 chiropractors found serious problems with the spine of a child and said that these required urgent chiropractic treatment, whereas an experienced pediatric orthopedic surgeon who also examined the girl found her to be perfectly healthy.”

Most likely my awareness of these and many other causes for concern regarding Chiropractic had kept me from any contact with it.

Until yesterday afternoon that is.

Picking my daughter up from childcare I couldn’t help but notice glossy leaflets in each family pigeon hole. Usually this is where receipts of payment, birthday invitations and Centre announcements are left for parents. What caught my eye this time however was a beautifully prepared 4 page newsletter style pamphlet entitled




produced by Body Brilliant Chiropractic. I then read:

“Ear Infections, Colic, Reflux, ADHD, Postural Imbalances and so much more can be caused from Subluxations.”

The manager of the Centre happened to be nearby. She explained the unprecedented appearance of such material resulted from a favor to a former child fitness program employee who had just started at Body Brilliant Chiropractic. The staff had allowed this person to promote her new employers claims based on trust alone and had yet to look over the claims made in the document, a surprisingly easy mistake to make and one I don’t in any way begrudge them for (particularly as I’ve been assured it won’t happen again).

As soon as I voiced my concerns regarding the claims made, staff were instructed to remove the leaflets pending investigation.

We then went through the document together and noted that claims were also made that “Vertebral Subluxations” are at minimum correlated with Asthma, Wheezing and a host of other illnesses not related to the back, let alone spine.None of the numerous facts and figures put forward were referenced in any way, and there appeared to both of us to be a general tone of mistrust aimed at the medical establishment. I said I’d follow up the claims with a little research and bring in what I found the next day and thanked the management team for acting so promptly to remove the offending material.

I’ve since provided to the management and staff a fairly comprehensive summary of articles and peer-reviewed studies outlining controversy within the chiropractic community over the reality of “Subluxations” (described in the leaflet as the source of a range of illnesses at least 5 times) the ineffectiveness of pediatric chiropractic “treatments”, and the potential risks involved in undertaking such treatments. I have also filed a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission(ACCC) via their tremendously useful SCAMWatch site, The Queensland Office of Fair Trading as well as the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA). The Management of the Childcare Centre have assured me they will be much more vigilant in future and also advised me that they contacted the woman who had delivered the leaflets and that she was not aware of any concerns but would look into it further.

I can’t help but dwell on the fact that if those leaflets had been delivered any day of the week apart from Thursday and Friday they would have escaped my notice, and that is more than enough to compel me to act. It’s also possible that the other parents at the Centre would not have the background knowledge on the topic to be concerned about the claims made, or to have been concerned enough to alert staff to the potential for harm to our children. I was considering this and wondering how many other Child Care Centres in our region also were either purposefully or unwittingly promoting such treatments when my partner passed me the Dec/Jan issue of ‘Kids on the Coast’ magazine, a free bi-monthly publication that circulates in many if not all childcare facilities across the Gold Coast.

The inside front cover features a full page advertisement for Body Brilliant Chiropractic.
Read the rest of this entry »

Qskeptics: The Queensland Skeptics Association Inc

In Embiggen Books, GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science on December 1, 2010 at 5:17 AM

Some of you may not know already that as well as running the Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers, I’ve also been working more closely with the Queensland branch of the Australian Skeptics, Qskeptics.

As such I’ve proposed some new projects that once approved, should be unique and exciting, bringing lots of exposure as well as real world impact statewide and beyond. I can’t say much more on these as yet, but you’ll all be the first to know when we get the go ahead.

In the meantime our Qskeptics website is now being regularly updated with news and events, as well as a huge array of search-able resources. I’m planning on adding every event in Queensland that we’re hosting, investigating, or feel our members and friends may be interested in.

Speaking of investigating, we hope to take a more active role in investigating apparent anomalous phenomena, paranormal and/or psuedoscientific claims from a responsible science based point of view.

I’m also in the early stages of getting an official Podcast of the Queensland Skeptics Association Inc and the
Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers organised but I’m taking my time to make sure we get it right.

You can also find us on Facebook and we have a Twitter account so follow us for further updates and please remember your input is greatly appreciated and we all want this to be as successful on as many fronts as possible!

Jayson D Cooke