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.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This may sting a little...

At what point do homeopaths and other purveyors of woo non-medicine cross the line into committing a prosecutable act of medical fraud?

I ask the question because of a recent exposé by Marketplace, a production of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, called Vaccines: Shot of Confusion.  In this clever sting operation, mothers were fitted with videocameras on visits with their children to homeopaths.  The videocameras recorded, predictably, the moms being given lots of advice about the (mostly fabricated) dangers of vaccination, and how little pills with no active ingredients were a better choice.

One mother was even told that "measles is virtually harmless for children over the age of one."  This would have come as a shock to my grandfather's two sisters, Marie Emelie and Anne, who died of measles in 1902, five days apart, at the ages of 22 and 17, respectively.

Not to mention the one million children who die annually from the disease, and the 15,000 a year who are left permanently blind from its effects.

The homeopaths in the video call today's children "the sickly generation."  And admittedly, there are some medical conditions that have increased in incidence in modern times (asthma, allergies, and autism come to mind).  However, it has been thoroughly demonstrated that none of the diseases which have increased are caused by vaccines (nor, by the way, are they treatable using sugar pills).  Further, given that there used to be epidemics of diphtheria, typhoid, measles, mumps, and other infectious diseases that killed thousands of children, you can only claim that this generation is "sickly" if you ignore historical fact.

Know of anyone in the last fifty years who has died of diphtheria?  Nope, me neither.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

It seems to me that we have crossed some kind of threshold, here.  We're no longer talking about people trying to treat insomnia with caffeine that has been diluted a gazillion times (and yes, they do that; here's one source to prove it).  We're talking about combining anti-vaxx fear talk with pushing useless "remedies" on gullible individuals, and putting children's lives at risk as a result.

Look, I'm no legal expert.  But I do know science, and I know that (1) serious side effects from vaccines are extremely uncommon, (2) the risk of infectious disease if you're unvaccinated is very high, and (3) it is impossible that homeopathy works, as advertised.  If you doubt the last statement, consider an exhaustive study of homeopathic "remedies" by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council earlier this year, which found zero evidence that any of them worked.  "Homeopathic remedies contain nothing whatsoever," University College London pharmacologist David Colquhoun said about the study.  "The Americans have spent $2 billion investigating the things... they haven't found a single one that works."

How much evidence do you need?  Do you really believe that "Big Pharma" has co-opted every single study of homeopathy ever done by a reputable scientist?  The level of credulity you'd have to have to believe that is staggering.

Oh, wait.  These are the same people who believe that if you dilute a substance, it gets stronger.  Never mind.

I'm not in favor of rampant government interference, and I do think that people bear the responsibility of being well informed about their own bodies when they receive medical treatment.  But this is hitting people at their weakest point -- scaring them about the welfare of their children.  And ironic, isn't it, that the same people who criticize "Big Pharma" for profiting from medications are profiting themselves from the sale of pills that do nothing at all.  A 2009 report by the Center for Disease Control found that Americans were spending $2.9 billion annually on homeopathic "remedies."

Those are some expensive sugar pills.  Kind of makes you wonder who might be pulling the wool over your eyes for profit's sake, doesn't it?

And it demands that we ask the question of when enough is enough.  The time for controlled studies is over.  The results are in; homeopathy is quackery.  It is now the responsibility of medical oversight agencies to shut these people down, and take homeopathic "remedies" off the pharmacy shelves.

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