Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Views & Reviews Personal View

Homeopaths Without Borders practice exploitation not humanitarianism

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f5448 (Published 17 September 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5448

Rapid Response:

Re: Homeopaths Without Borders practice exploitation not humanitarianism

Shyan Goh has dealt with two of Elisabeth von Wedel's research citations (her references 6 and 7) in support of homeopathy. I would like to deal with a third.

Von Wedel cites the 'Swiss HTA', as it is commonly - and erroneously [1] - referred to (her reference 8), as evidence that 'clearly demonstrate[s] the effectiveness of [homeopathy]'.

Indeed, the Swiss homeopathy report is glowing in its praise for homeopathy. Unfortunately, written mainly by homeopaths, it has been severely criticised [2] and even referred to as 'a case study of research misconduct'. [3]

A full analysis of the history and context of this report and criticism by the Swiss Programm Evaluation Komplementärmedizin (PEK) set up to examine the evidence for homeopathy can be read in the blog post written by myself and Sven Rudloff [4]. Suffice to say, the report should be regarded as neither independent nor authoritative.

The PEK concluded: [5]

"...it is very obvious that all or some of the authors have a positive attitude towards the treatments in question or are convinced about their efficacy. Unquestionably, strict proponents of the usual hierarchy of evidence will regard the presented evaluations as scientifically untenable and unreasonably positive... Even less skeptical academic doctors will regard many interpretations as very optimistic and not scientifically convincing."

And:

"The positive interpretation of the current evidence seems understandable, as long as one does not require especially high evidence standards, given the low plausibility of homeopathy in the light of established scientific knowledge. Very skeptical people will regard the reviewed evidence as not very convincing."

Additionally, the original report only looked at the evidence for homeopathy for upper respiratory tract infections and allergic reactions, so even if its conclusions were significant, they could not be extrapolated to the homeopathic treatment of any other condition.

A far higher standard of evidence for homeopathy would be required to convince even a slightly sceptical person.

1. Gurtner, F. 2012. “The Report ‘Homeopathy in Healthcare: Effectiveness, Appropriateness, Safety, Costs’ Is Not a ‘Swiss Report’.” Swiss Medical Weekly (December 17). doi:10.4414/smw.2012.13723. http://www.smw.ch/content/smw-2012-13723/.

2. Edzard Ernst. 2012. “A Critique of the Swiss Report Homeopathy in Healthcare - Ernst - 2012 - Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies - Wiley Online Library.” Accessed June 2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2042-7166.2012.01160.x/full.

3. “SMW - Swiss Medical Weekly - The Swiss Report on Homeopathy - a Case Study of Research Misconduct.” 2012. Accessed June 2. http://www.smw.ch/content/smw-2012-13594/.

4. Henness, Alan, and Rudloff, Sven. 2013. “That ‘neutral’ Swiss Homeopathy Report | Zeno’s Blog.” Accessed January 29. http://www.zenosblog.com/2012/05/that-neutral-swiss-homeopathy-report/.

5. “Bundesamt Für Gesundheit - Programm Evaluation Komplementärmedizin (PEK).” 2013. Accessed October 12. http://www.bag.admin.ch/themen/krankenversicherung/00263/00264/04102/ind.... (Quoted translations by Sven Rudloff)

Competing interests: Director of the Nightingale Collaboration, which challenges misleading healthcare claims.

12 October 2013
Alan Henness
Director
The Nightingale Collaboration
BM The Nightingale Collaboration, London WC1N 3XX