Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Homeopathy goes to Haiti

Well, in today's contribution from the I Despair For Humanity Department, we have a report in courtesy of Sharon Hill's wonderful site Doubtful News that a group called "Homeopaths Without Borders" is going to Haiti.

At first, I thought that (despite Hill's outstanding reputation for veracity) this couldn't possibly be real.  But no, sad to say, Homeopaths Without Borders does exist, and on their website (here) they describe their most recent project:
Homeopaths Without Borders (HWB) staff and volunteers are busy preparing for the organization’s final trip in 2012 to Haiti. Leaving on November 4, this team will fulfill two missions during a two-week stay. HWB Education Director, Karen Allen and Executive Director Holly Manoogian will be joined by Marina Braun, CCH and Mikael Manoogian.

First, the team will be in Port-au-Prince to complete the final session of the Fundamentals Program—a foundational curriculum in homeopathic therapeutics incorporating theoretical and clinical training. Fifteen students are preparing to complete their requirements for graduation at the end of the week.

The second part of the mission brings the team to Belle Anse for the first of four week-long trainings in the Fundamentals Program. In Belle Anse, they will join Bekert Descollines of Belle Anse Timoun Family School, who has convened the 30 students for the course.
Words cannot convey how outraged I am about this.

Homeopathy is, pure and simple, quackery.  When you take a homeopathic "remedy" you are consuming either a sugar pill or else pure water, depending on whether it's in solid or liquid form.  The process of serial dilution used in creating these "remedies" removes every last potentially bioactive molecule, and there is nothing left but the carrier -- generally either lactose or water.  (For a wonderful summary of the scientific impossibility of homeopathic claims, go here.)

Unconvinced?  Here's a list of people who have died while under the care of homeopaths, most from disorders that would have been treatable had they been given standard medical care.   Note that they include a number of children.  Pets aren't immune to this kind of neglect, either; just last week, a woman in Britain was fined £1000 and banned from keeping animals for three years after courts heard how she refused to give anything but homeopathic "remedies" to two dogs with advanced mange.  (One of the dogs was ill enough that it had to be euthanized.)  [Source]

And now, these people are going to spread their foolish, counterfactual nonsense to Haiti.  And train others in how to use their useless "remedies."  Bad enough that they push these "remedies" on people in places like the USA, the UK, and Australia; given our access to information, and good public education systems, there is an argument to be made that it's our fault if we fall prey to these snake oil salesmen.

But don't places like Haiti have enough problems, what with natural disasters, some of the highest poverty levels in the world, lack of access to clean food and water, and lack of access to standard medical care?  Now, what we have on top of that is people from "Homeopaths Without Borders" coming in, and convincing sick Haitians that all they need to do is to take "potentiated remedies imprinted with the vibrations of the biological molecules that were present" (if you don't believe that this is what they're claiming, check out this article from Natural News).  And talking Haitian doctors and nurses into doing the same thing for their patients.  If this doesn't constitute the encouragement of medical neglect, I don't know what does.

It may well be that the "Homeopaths Without Borders" sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing.  So did the parents of Gloria Thomas, age 9 months, whose father gave her homeopathic remedies instead of an antibiotic when she contracted a skin infection.  She died.  So did the homeopath who told 55-year-old Jacqueline Alderslade that her asthma medication was contributing to her asthma, to stop taking her medication and to take a "remedy" instead.  She died after an asthma attack that almost certainly would have responded to conventional treatment.  So did the homeopath who told 52-year-old diabetic Russell Jenkins to treat a cut on his foot with honey instead of an antibiotic salve.  The wound became gangrenous, his foot had to be amputated, and he died shortly thereafter of blood sepsis.

Getting the picture?

It doesn't matter whether they think they're doing the right thing.  It doesn't matter that they claim that science is blind, that we skeptics are ignoring all of the vibrations and potentiations and whatnot because we're closed-minded.  It doesn't matter if they claim that controlled studies show that homeopathy works.  The fact is, there has not been a single reputable controlled study that has shown homeopathic "remedies" to have any effect at all beyond one: the placebo effect.  And the people who are spreading this nonsense to Haiti should be turned away at the borders.


  1. To quote Tim Minchin, from the song "Storm" (which I highly recommend you watch on youtube):

    "You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proven to work?


    1. Minchin is one of my heroes... and "Storm" should win an award.