Homeopathy in the British Dental Journal
A while ago, the British Dental Journal published a quite good opinion piece entitled Unethical Aspects of Homeopathic Dentistry. The following issue was full of angry homeopaths, livid that someone would have the temerity to point out that homeopathy is perhaps a little bit silly, of which the most irritating was a lengthy opinion piece entitled Homeopathy and its Ethical Use in Dentistry. I wrote a letter in reply to this, and apparently so did a couple of other readers, because the current issue is full of letters from actual scientists, laced with varying degrees of sarcasm. I think my favourite line is from R Levy’s letter:
On the positive side, however, I am always happy to be reminded of the tale of the homeopath who forgot to take his medicine and died of an overdose.
Here is the full text of my letter:
There is an interesting and ongoing debate about the ethics of using placebos in medicine, so I was disappointed that the response to Unethical aspects of homeopathic dentistry has focused instead on disputing the overwhelming scientific consensus that homeopathy is baseless and unproven. It is well known that people are prone to trust experiences and evidence that support their preconceptions. It is therefore inappropriate to challenge such an established consensus in the letters and opinion pages, particularly by citing personal experiences, individual studies and one's own website. To make a convincing case, a large, unbiased systematic review is needed. The Cochrane Collaboration has already done this for several conditions, but has yet to find compelling evidence of any benefit. Usually, few or no well-conducted trials exist. In the absence of evidence that homeopathy works, one is forced to estimate its priori plausibility as the homeopaths do – by comparing it to experience. The two founding principles of homeopathy are that a patient presenting with a given symptom is best cured by a substance known to cause that symptom, and that diluting medicine makes it stronger – including well beyond the point where no medicine remains. I wonder how your readers' clinical experiences compare to these principles.
References are included on the journal’s webpage, including links to all the silly pro-homeopathy letters and articles. Here are links to the other responses:
- Quackery Risk, R Levy (quoted above)
- Ethically Unacceptable, K G Icaacson ("Lest your readers begin to think that there may be possible benefits of homeopathy...")
- A Substantial Gap, G Chapman ("Any ethical practice involving homeopathy must necessarily begin by telling the patient that it is scientifically implausible...")
There was also one letter praising the silly pro-homeopathy article.
I like this kind of thing. You do see pseudoscience sneaking into places where it really shouldn’t be, but for all that nonsense does seem to be everywhere, people are actually pleasingly good at spotting and laughing at it.