Skepticat_UK is

Maria MacLachlan

Accolades & Quackolades

"There are ~20 published reviews of my book, but this one must be THE BEST! THANK YOU."
Edzard Ernst

"Best blog of the day IMHO."
Simon Singh

"This blogpost is simply brilliant."
Mark Burnley

"You are a rude argumentative bully. You are a typical "skeptic" - not sceptical at all."
Andrew, anti-vaxer

"Your piece about House of Commons Science and Technology sub-Committee’s ‘evidence check’ on homeopathy was one of the best I’ve seen. Strength to your elbow."

" individual calling themselves ‘scepticat’ or ‘sceptikat’- a highly volatile dictatorial site run by a wannabe megalomaniac. A truly disturbed person with a anger management issue venting via their little site to their own personal herd of sycophants."
Centella, one of Dr Andrew Jones personal herd of sycophants.

"Excellent report, which I can vouch for completely."
Jack of Kent

"The ludicrous nature of the complaint, and some of the responses by Dr Ranj and the BBC, has already been expertly documented on the Skepticat UK blog".
Dean Burnett

"Choke on your own vomit and die in agony..."
r wesley edwards, aka @CommonCormorant, author

"A very good rebuttal…"
Anna Watson, anti-vaxer Arnica UK

"A staggering amount of pathological disbelief allied with a staggering amount of arrogance."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"I just love this blog, and this post is a fine example of it’s content – ‘Inside the spine wizard’s den’ – Skepticat. Why do some of us feel that we are above challenging argument and peer review? I just wish that I could write as well as some of these bloggers!"
Jonathan Hearsey, osteopath

"Skepticat is a particularly venomousness (sic) skeptic, a humanist who lives by the "golden rule", she refused to let me follow her on twitter because I am "bonkers" which may endear her to many in the chiropractic profession..."
Richard Lanigan, chiropractor

Facebook image helpfully captioned by Sandra A Hermann-Courtney (@brownbagpantry)

"Die Die die die!"
r wesley edwards, aka @CommonCormorant, author

"Loved that article. It really shows what chiropractors are really all about. What I call the "chiro show" Exposing people to totally unnecessary X-rays should be criminal. Thank you!"

"I think skepticat is plain mad at not having children of her own. Hatred projected out to the world. It's sad to see someone with so much self hatred, destroying themself internally without even realising it."
Bebo, chiropractor (Note: In fact I'm the proud mother of two brilliant children, whom I mention frequently. Glad of the excuse to do so again.)

"Hooray for Reason! Just want to thank you for writing this. Even though the arguments presented are tired, and played out, they still must be refuted."

"I understand that you have been traumatised by your experience and that this is your way of coming to terms with the emotional scars."
Stefaan Vossen, chiropractor

"All you really seem interested in is banging your repetitive drum and preaching to the converted."
Rick, osteopath

"All the entries I’ve read are excellent. I’ll be coming back to read more. Love the cat logo as well."

"Research in Homeopathy Conference - Skepticat's hilarious account. She went to it."
David Colquhoun

"Her site is Skepticat UK... she wouldn’t know a punchline if it raped her. Or maybe she’d thank it."
Scott Cappurro, comedian

"I rather love the lunacy of the anti-Homeopathists, such as yourself."
James Pannozzi, acupuncturist & would-be homeopath

"Good blog from a skeptic which examines the "science" of Homeopathy in a very detailed way. Skeptics will love this. Proponents of homeopathy? Not so much."

"I really shouldn’t waste my valuable time with someone who obviously has at the very least a borderline personality disorder."
Erika Alisuag, homeopathist

"I’m finding it difficult to come up with some suitable words to say how good and interesting your stuff is. So, in the absence of suitable hyperbole can I say what a very well written and presented blog you have here. Really well thought out and researched. And passionate about it too! Complimenti!"

"You’re whole life is worthless because you lack reason."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"Great stuff Skepticat."

"When you have learnt some big words and also studied your history books you’ll find that the world was once thought to be flat…by people just like you."
Sarah Hamilton, homeopath

"Thanks for keeping the banner of reason flying high."
John Willis Lloyd

"This is just a general comment. I love this well-written an unfussy little blog (I don’t mean little in a derogatory way, but in the sense it’s not bombastic, self-important and posturing). Excellent material and a worthwhile focus, keep up the good work."

"Her website is a temple to diatribe – I have no sympathy for the homeopaths, etc, with whom she battles, but she clearly gets off on confrontation."
JF Derry

"Skepticat is strictly logical and attacks in unparliamentary words what she deems to be “quackery” – or suggestions that she sounds a little strident."
Andy Reporter

"LOVE the badass attitude! Seriously...KEEP IT UP!"

"You were a playful little diversion for a. moment, but I do have better things to do with my time than waste more than half an hour of it stooping down to play your ego supporting self delusional mind games……"
Susan Elizabeth, homeopathist

"An excellent read, thanks for taking thr time to compose it."
Alan C

"You need to do a course in anger management."
katenut, nutritionist

"FWIW I think you manage your anger rather well...mostly by focusing it into a thin, narrow beam of incisive rage which you then use to inscribe words on screen. ;)"

"Excellent description of the events."
Simon Perry

"You seem to be of probably well-meaning, but bigoted and fundamentalist disposition, just parroting slogans from others without any really knowledge or insight yourself."
Neil Menzies

"Superb, as usual"

"You seem only interested in ranting against an enemy which you are apparently still struggling to come to terms with “fifteen years” later."
Rick, osteopah

"Bravo, great post!"

"One day if you are not very careful you will be left behind in the dark ages. I’m sure this will not be printed..but hope it is read by you poor little scaredy cats."
Sarah Hamilton, homeopath

"Brilliant piece!"

"While you babble on like a total airhead about Myhill, you ignore the real doctors who are a danger in the UK".
struck-off doctor, Rita Pal, 'NHS whistle-blower'

"I sincerely hope I never get to your stage of wilful ignorance. You know absolutely diddly squat about the subject but you think your opinion is the only opinion."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"Keep up the spin, you manky old chicken's foot."
JB, chiropractor

"I am forced to conclude you are blogging on behalf of a specific entity that does wish to remain anonymous."
Antony J Palmer, homeopath

"The person writing all this negative press on homeopathy must be getting a big fat check from one of the pharmaceutical companies who would dearly love to push homeopathy off the map."
Erika Alisuag

"Such reporting lands you clearly in the realm of fundamentalist extremism–much noise, no substance, and money from those who have something to sell. It is so unfortunate that your listening skills are in need of repair."
Tanya Marquette, homeopath

"She seems to revel in presenting the many insults that she has attracted as a column of “Quackolades” on her site, as if war wounds on display,"
JF Derry, self-publicist

"Oh shut up SK. You write hot air and spew rubbish as usual."
Rita Pal again.

Homeopathy, hissy-fits and how to catch malaria

Ever open-minded and keen to learn about the complexities of one of the most popular alternative therapies and unwilling to rely on the biased news media and sneering science blogs, I tried to find a trustworthy source of information about the homeopathic product, Malaria Officinalis 30c, which has been in the news a bit lately.

Naturally, I didn’t find one though this case report from PubMed, whose headline tentatively suggests homoeopathy may not be effective in preventing malaria, makes for interesting reading. I did, however, find a site called Homeopathy for Health featuring something called simply Malaria 30c. The site is a mine of information about homeopathy and, surprisingly, it doubles up as a site where one can order homeopathic products to try for oneself. For Malaria 30c, you only need provide $22.99 (currently £14.41)  in exchange for ‘a family economy size of 1 oz bottle of 800 pellets with 265 doses, sucrose base’. Sounds like a bargain!

It might seem alarming to see a wee bottle with just Malaria 30c on the label. The PubMed article tell us that such a remedy would be made from African swamp water containing impurities, algae and plants as well as mosquito slough, larvae and eggs. Thankfully, the homeopathy site reassures us that

Nosodes are safe homeopathic vibrational preparations of viral or bacterial substances. There are no whole molecules of the actual substance in 30C potency.

No, indeed. Diluting something at 1 part substance to 1,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts dilutant isn’t likely to leave a whole molecule of the substance, so one has to wonder if it can work at all but, apparently, if they shake it up a set number of times in a special way this “makes the difference between an inert solution and an active homeopathic remedy,” (according to a representative of the Society of Homeopaths, see my earlier post here).

Unfortunately, the next sentence says:

Nosodes are therefore so much safer than vaccines and injection of foreign material into the blood stream.

Oh dear. The problem here is that malaria is an extremely serious infectious disease. According to Wiki, the disease kills between one and three million people annually, the majority of whom are young children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Unless one has hard evidence that taking a “nosode” that has been diluted out of existence actually does stop one getting malaria, it’s a wee bit irresponsible to be promoting the remedy as “safe”. Certainly it’s safe in the sense that it’s not likely to poison you but if you’re intending to rely on it as protection when visiting, say, sub-Saharan Africa, that would seem to make it sort of, well, unsafe, n’est-ce pas?

This was what poor Janeza Podgoršek did while on a trip to Africa in 1996. In spite of the prophylactic drops he’d taken on the advice of a homeopath, when he returned to his native Slovenia he was diagnosed with malaria. He asked the same homeopath to treat him, which she was evidently happy to do. He died.

Or there was the woman in the PubMed article linked to above, who did the same and whose infection with malaria wasn’t detected by conventional medicine in time to prevent major organ failure necessitating a two month stay in intensive care.

Presumably it was concern over the irresponsible promotion of an unproven remedy for such a serious disease that prompted a member of the public to raise the alarm over the selling of Malaria Officinalis 30c at Neal’s Yard Remedies, which is not just a den of New Age self-indulgence in Convent Garden for vaguely hippie types from Islington, as I’d previously thought, but a chain of stores and an online vendor.

Like any responsible retailer, NYR withdrew the product, which it has stocked for twenty years, as soon as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency ordered it to do so, declaring its sale to be potentially dangerous and misleading. There’s a full account over at the Quackometer site  but, be warned, it is very biased in favour of reason and — worse — cunningly omits to say anything about the failures of science and conventional medicine that would prove that homeopathy isn’t the batshit it appears to be on careful examination.

The bit of this story I’m most interested in is what it might teach us about taking positive action and actually speaking up about things like this. This product shouldn’t have been on the shelves of any retailer for twenty years before somebody actually tried to get something done about it but, having done so, they may have prevented future tragedies like the ones I mention above.

The bit I like best is when the Guardian newspaper arranged for NYR to participate in the regular ‘You Ask, They Answer‘ series carried on their Ethical Living blog, telling readers that “for the next four days, ethical skin and body care products firm Neal’s Yard Remedies will be doing its best to answer your questions”.

As it turned out, the feature ended up being ‘We ask, they throw a hissy fit and bottle out’. The questions started at lunchtime on Tuesday. After twelve hours and dozens of unanswered questions, this comment appears from Ethical Living blogger, Adam Vaughan:

Unfortunately, despite previous assurances that they would be participating in this blog post, I’ve now been told they ‘will not be taking part in the debate’.

And twelve hours later:

I am the Guardian’s environment website editor. We have tried again to convince NYR to respond to your comments but they have reiterated their position that they do not wish to enter the debate.

We will keep trying to change their mind, but if they stick to that we will be closing this thread in a hour…

And so it closed. Looking at what was asked I can’t imagine why NYR would shy away from such questions as:

How do you validate the medical efficacy of your ‘remedies’?

Have you ever been offered a natural remedy that was so obviously without any merit that you refused to bottle it and sell it to your gullible customers, or does pretty much anything go? Do you see no problem with trying to be ‘ethical’ while at the same time selling snake oil for a living?

If I have discovered a new homeopathic remedy how do I go about getting it on the shelves of your shops? Will it hinder my pitch that I have no evidence for my new remedy?

Presumably they imagined Guardian readers were going to ask for recommendations about face packs and bath oil. That’ll teach ’em.

According to a follow up piece published today, an NYR representative had assured Adam Vaughan that the reason they hadn’t answered anything by Tuesday evening was because they were busy formulating “a catch-all response to the homeopathy questions,” but then they changed their mind and just pulled out. PR guru Max Clifford is quoted as saying that not responding to criticism is almost never the right strategy.

You should always stand up, otherwise, all anyone gets is the other side of the argument, and people then assume — rightly or wrongly — that you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Well, they don’t, do they?

To round off, here’s a video of how BBC Inside Out covered the story when it broke last year. It includes an interview in which the firm’s Director of Medicine (who, as is pretty obvious, isn’t medically qualified) disgraces herself.

Related post by Skepticat

One Response to Homeopathy, hissy-fits and how to catch malaria

  • I’m baffled at how people will spend $23 on sugar in an attempt to cure a disease like malaria. Or any condition for that matter. It’s criminal to sell it, and it’s absolutely ludicrous to buy it. It’s pitiful how science-dumb some people can be.

    (Don’t know how you found my blog yesterday, but thanks for the comment. I think I’ll be adding your blog to my Google Reader feed. Good work, and keep up the good fight!)

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