Bad Astronomy

Homeopathy slammed by Australian TV news show

Most of the time, so-called “alternative medicine” is treated very gently by television news. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t want to tick off their viewers, or the reporters don’t look into it properly, or if they believe in it themselves. But no matter the reason, it’s always refreshing to see a show really tear into something like homeopathy. That’s precisely what the Australian program “Today Tonight” did recently:

The report featured such noted skeptics as Simon Singh, Richard Saunders, and James Randi, and made it very clear that homeopathy is just very expensive nonsense. I’m glad they didn’t make the report “balanced” by giving a lot of time to promoters of homeopathy; that’s not balance any more than giving time to someone who believes in storks delivering babies in a segment about infant health care.


But they did give a homeopath a minute or so of time, and in that short period Australian Homeopathy Association’s President Michelle Hookham managed to say a lot of wrong stuff. At 4:10 into the video she invokes quantum physics – a well-known trump card by alt-medders, which is basically code for “magic” in their eyes – but it’s at the 5 minute mark when she really goes off the rails:

It’s very hard to measure homeopathy using the benchmark of the randomized clinical trial, and the reason for that is because of the individualized nature of the treatment.

That is utter baloney. First of all, homeopathy is not individualized; go to a pharmacy and you’ll see row after row of mass-produced sugar pills on the rack. And her point about clinical trials is as wrong as it can be: homeopaths are making claims that their product works, and if that’s true then it should be easy to show in these trials. It’s really as simple as a double-blinded study. She says in the interview that studies have shown homeopathy to be effective, but I’d add the adjective “flawed” (or perhaps “misinterpreted”) to the word “study”. When studies are done properly, they always show homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo.

And one other point that I think is important: Richard Saunders told me that the reason this story ran on the program was because he contacted a journalist and suggested it! It goes to show you that skeptics can actively take a role in promoting reason, and it can really pay off.

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- Homeopathy: there’s nothing to it
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