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.

Holland & Barrett’s Ask Our Owls: a PR Success?

Most readers will already know that Holland & Barrett are currently running a promotion called ‘Ask our owls’, inviting customers to ask their specially trained staff about any of their products. If the staff member can’t answer, the customer gets a 20% discount. The month-long promo was launched on 9 June complete with one of these Twitter things #askourowls, thus providing, as this blogger put it, an open goal.

It was a sweet opportunity for the well-organised and gobby skeptics, who are waging a war on homeopathy ‘just because they don’t understand how it works’, to launch a…ahem..’spontaneous’ attack. (I imagine all you conspiraloon quacks reading this nodding sagely at this point.) The @Holland_Barrett twitter account was inundated with tweets and retweets by those seriously questioning their ethics, by those taking the piss and by those just gloating at how the H&B twitter account had been inundated with skeptics questioning their ethics and taking the piss.

Of course, the wisdom of H&Bs invitation to customers to engage with them via social media is being challenged. A lot of people are calling it a ‘PR fail’, even a “monumental clusterf*** of a campaign which will surely be referred to in the future as a case study in how not to use social media”. Perhaps.

On the other hand, H&B may be getting pwned on Twitter but the promotion only applies to in-store purchases. H&B sells a load of overpriced crap to a lot of simple-minded and self-obsessed people aka ‘the worried well’. Why, I’m a customer myself and I like a good discount as much as the next ageing hippy. I don’t follow H&B and wouldn’t have known about the promo, had it not been for all those skeptics I follow tweeting about it.

What do I lose by taking up what sounds like an attractively easy challenge? All I have to do is go to my local H&B during this month which, I’m guessing, happens to be a quiet time for sales, ask them something within the rules of the promo and – best case scenario – I’ll get 20% off the price of what I might as well purchase anyway now that I’m there but which would have sat unsold for weeks if I hadn’t gone.

So H&B can’t answer questions about evidence and defend selling products on the grounds that customers want them. So what’s new? H&B don’t market themselves as anything more than a company trying to make a profit. I’m not sure this ‘PR fail’, if that’s what it is, will have done them any harm.

H&B tweet

Anyway, a few people have asked me what response I got to my tweeted question about how many molecules of active ingredient were in their 30c homeopathic products. The answer to my question should, of course, be ‘none’. This is what H&B said instead of ‘none’:

We provide 5,000+ lines in-store, including many traditional and alternative therapies and specialist products like homeopathy

(Gosh, yes! I’d almost forgotten that I’ve tried some of their herbal products and they didn’t work for me either.)

Our customers ask us to stock alternative products, because many find benefits in using them for a range of conditions. We know homeopathy has hundreds of years of traditional use behind it, and while we also know its effectiveness is much debated in scientific circules, there are also NHS homeopathic hospitals in the UK. Because Holland & Barrett doesn’t manufacture of produce these heomeopathic rememdies ourselves, we suggest you visit Nelsons or BHA (links to websites included).

Obviously this is a hastily written standard reply intended to address questions of the ‘how the hell do you justify peddling identical sugar pills under different labels as if they had any kind of effect on anything’ sort.  Slipp Digby, who asked a different question, got an identical response, as did Martin Cleaver and, no doubt, countless others. They probably got a kid on work experience to draft it, which is why it contains the fallacious appeal to tradition and the way-to-miss-the-point-spectacularly comment about NHS homeopathic hospitals.

But my main gripe is that I only asked them about the ingredients of a homeopathic product and I anticipated an evasive reply like their last sentence alone. I didn’t ask for – and don’t certainly don’t need – another moronic defence of homeopathy, so stuff your 20% discount, H&B, I’ll get my molasses somewhere else from now on.

7 Responses to Holland & Barrett’s Ask Our Owls: a PR Success?

  • For your more conspiracy-minded readers I heard about H&B’s campaign via a tweet from one skeptic I follow to another skeptic I follow with the hashtag, which I then clicked on and the whole misfortune unfurled itself in the search timeline. There were repeated opportunities for me to have learned of it later had I missed that particular tweet. No need to organise anything, other than be following a few likeminded folk 🙂

  • You’re right about the impact on the stores and their core market – probably virtually none! But hopefully the kicking H&B got on twitter will make them think very carefully about how they use social media or when trying to market beyond their established customer base in future. They can expect to get challenged.

    “H&B don’t market themselves as anything more than a company trying to make a profit”

    I respectfully disagree with you on this completely! I think the very reason so many people gleefully jumped onto the askourowls twitter hashtag was precisely because of the way Holland & Barrett do market themselves.

    As a reminder the aim of the campaign was

    “…to demonstrate Holland & Barrett’s USP of considerable staff expertise, endorsing the fact that every Holland & Barrett store within the UK has had an officially qualified associate to give advice on all own label supplements, vitamins, healthy foods and weight management products”

    which ties in with their core business values

    “Our commitment to training means our customers can confidently have access to clear concise information to help them make informed choices about the products they may want to include in their nutritional supplement regime.”

    To be clear I have no issue with H&B making money (I run an SME myself, profit is great!) but is there not a fundamental conflict in marketing yourself on trust, knowledge and the notion of ‘informed choice’ and offering products like Noctura while telling consumers essentially to do their own research?

    A minor point, rant over!

  • Your question as to ‘how many molecules of active ingredients’ are present in the 30c remedy, was, as we would say in my part of the world, ‘taking the piss.’ I am sure you knew, even as you asked, that they did not have that answer and cannot have that answer because that is not what Homeopathy is about.

    However, just because modern science at this point in time does not have the knowledge or expertise to understand how Homeopathy works and because the knowledge is limited by the materialistic and mechanist mindset of modern science, so they are not able to even approach it objectively, really has no impact on Homeopathy as a healing methodology.

    Homeopathy, much to the chagrin of the nay-sayers, is the fastest growing medical methodology in the world. And there is a very simple reason for that: apart from the scientific fundamentalists, most human beings actually don’t care about how something works – they only care that it does work. And Homeopathy demonstrably works.

    Combine that with it being vastly cheaper to produce and administer, it is little wonder that it has taken hold in a country like China and is growing even more quickly in the Third World than the First.

    The strident ‘chatter’ from those who seem to have a visceral response to a medical methodology which heals and does no harm, unlike Allopathy, or modern medicine,is really just background noise in a world where there is much suffering to be alleviated and ready acceptance of healing methodologies which work.

    In the best of worlds anyone who seeks to be treated for dis-ease, major or minor, should have access to any and every healing methodology and I have no doubt, given the growing area of Integrative Medicine, that they will. This is an area which is growing particularly strong in the US although the resistance to non-Allopathic medicine has been greater there in the past 100 years. Prior to that, all American Homeopaths were doctors, and Traditional Medicine was utilised just as easily as it still is in Europe.

    The Europeans have always been more open-minded to Traditional Medicine and have resorted just as easily to Homeopathy, Herbal, Nutritional and some, TCM, as they have to Allopathy. The British used to be but for some reason the fanatics have gained greater power in recent years and acceptance has diminished. However, it is easy enough for the British to travel to more enlightened cultures like Ireland, Scotland and Europe to get the treatments they desire.

    The Asians, Africans and Indians have always been more open to Traditional Medicine and remain so. And for what it is worth, many of the earliest missionaries working in Africa took and use Homeopathics – and still do. Australia and New Zealand have never been as controlled by corporate medicine as the US was and as the UK now appears to be and so Traditional Medicine, including Homeopathy, has been and remains popular. In Australia Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Naturopathy and other Traditional methodologies are covered by private health insurance.

    So it is all fine actually and no amount of words or ranting will change the growing strength of what is called CAM, but is really just other fields of Medicine – all of them older and actually in terms of how they see the human body and illness – wiser.

  • that should have been, ‘taken hold in a country like India’ but the message holds.

  • Thanks for your comment, SD. I was reminded of it when I read this interesting blog. which makes a similar point.

    I don’t see how claiming staff have the expertise to advise on the products they sell, undermines my point that they aren’t pretending to be anything more than a profit-making company.

  • Actually, you the “20% off your purchase if we can’t give you an answer” only applies to H&B branded products. Asking a question about Nelsons 30c homeopathic products wouldn’t qualify you to earn a 20% discount if the staff couldn’t answer you.
    Also staff are allowed to refer to in-store reference materials, or to contact other stores; e.g, their store may not stock the product in question, especially if it’s a smaller branch. If the information cannot be found in store, such as information about the source of ingredients or the manufacturing process, your question will be passed over to customer services who will ask for your contact details and will either get in touch at a later date with the answer, or will retro-fund the 20% discount for you to have taken off of a future purchase if they cannot provide one.

    Also Holland and Barrett staff have the right to refuse to give a 20% discount if they feel the offer is being abused, i.e, asking an awkward question when showing no actual interest in the product or coming in repeatedly asking questions etc.

    It is also worth pointing out the extensive training staff receive at H&Bs. Full time staff have to study for a year earning the equivalent of an A-level at the end of it. This involves three workbooks, three one-day courses at Holland and Barrett training academy’s and three online examinations fully accredited by EDI to OFQUAL standards (part time staff may only do two depending on the number of hours they work). Also staff have to fill out training updates every fortnight to revise a specific topic each time such as colds and flu, or weight-loss to keep their knowledge topped up.

    Of course, not everyone retains this knowledge and so the knowledge levels of staff vary greatly. However monthly performance reviews and mystery shopper visits weed out those that don’t perform as well.

  • Thank you for your information, Joe. I wonder why H&B didn’t point out to me that the offer applied to their branded products only. Since you know so much about them, have you any idea why stores persist in breaching MHRA regulations? This old NC newsletter reports on it but it’s still going on.

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