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My good deed for the day was to complain to Trading Standards about the biggest pharmacy chain in the country selling quack unmedicine.

Simon Perry is spearheading a campaign to target some of the crap Boots is selling with misleading implications about its proven effectiveness as a useful medical cure. He’s laid out each step of the process nice and simply, and is hoping that a group effort to produce a continuous flow of objections will make someone at some regulatory body somewhere sit up and take notice.

We’re focusing on one product at a time, again with the hope of maintaining the effect and having a greater eventual impact.

The following is the text of what I sent today through Consumer Direct:

I’m writing because Boots are currently selling a product called the “Ladycare menopause relief magnet”: http://www.boots.com/en/Ladycare-menopause-relief-magnet_122270/ . It is offered as a treatment for menopause symptoms, and the accompanying description claims that it “has shown to be helpful”. However, I do not think that the evidence supports this claim, and in fact the scientific trials that have been done strongly suggest that magnetic therapies offer no effects beyond those of a placebo in treating these symptoms. (See http://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/pdf/10.2217/whe.09.31 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14716179 for examples.)

Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the seller is required to provide evidence for claims such as this, and I believe that the Trading Standards body should take a role in preventing misleading claims to medical efficacy being made on such products. Without some sort of regulations being enforced, it can be all to easy for the public to be misled by increasingly dubious and unsubstantiated medical “treatments”, pointlessly costing them money and diverting them from medical interventions that might actually be effective.

Feel free to join in.

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So, the 10:23 campaign to inform the public about homeopathy rumbles on.

There were three points of action in this week’s update email (which you can subscribe to here if you’re not already getting it).

1. They’ve got a flyer (PDF link) which you can print off and distribute, containing all the fundamental information about what homeopathy actually is. I may try leaving the occasional copy in the printer at work and see if it gets noticed.

2. They recommend writing an email to the pharmacist Boots (if you’re in the UK), and provide a suggested form letter, asking for details about how much active ingredient exists in a given homeopathic remedy sold there. I’m planning to stop by my local branch sometime this week and see if they have anything on their shelves that I can question them about specifically. From the responses other people seem to be getting to this kind of question, it’s clear that some people selling these remedies don’t understand how homeopathy works (and are under the impression that there’s something other than water in a 30C solution), and some neither know nor care as long as there’s money in it.

3. There’s also a petition to the UK PM, which you can sign if you’re a British citizen or resident, asking that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) be tasked with evaluating whether the NHS should fund homeopathic treatments, or whether there might be some other, better use for several million pounds somewhere in the field of medicine. Sign here. Boom. Done. Mine is signature number 324. As I type this, there’s still time for you to be number 325.

On a partially related note, what’s the deal with George Vithoulkas? The grubbier parts of the internets are abuzz with gossip about Randi unfairly backing out of testing this guy’s mad homeopathic skillz for the $1 million challenge, but I haven’t really heard anything about this from the skeptics’ side, and couldn’t find much except this brief commentary from Randi in October 2008. Is it old news being stirred up for no good reason? His name is nowhere to be found in the log of applicants for the challenge, that I can see. What’s going on here? I feel on fairly safe ground deciding that this guy’s a kook, but I don’t want to rush to judgment on the propriety of his or Randi’s behaviour when I can’t figure out who did what.

The big facilitated communication post I’ve been promised for ages is coming soon, hopefully tomorrow. Honest.

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That’s the slogan of the 10:23 campaign, which aims to “raise awareness about the reality of homeopathy”, and now has an ominous-looking clock on its front page, counting down to some looming deadline.

I’m still in partial agreement with Le Canard Noir and his suggestion for an alternative tag-line, but I suppose somebody at campaign HQ must have decided that “It’s just water for fuck’s sake” might not have sent the kind of accessible, educational vibe they were looking for.

Anyway, they’re currently asking people to sign their open letter to Alliance Boots, the leading pharmacy chain in the UK, expressing the Merseyside Skeptics Society’s displeasure at seeing unproven and unscientific homeopathic remedies promoted on the shelves alongside actual medicines. So, go do that.

I’ve already written a Skeptictionary post summing up homeopathy itself, so I’ll direct you there rather than revisiting it all here if you want an explanation as to why this campaign is a good thing, and broadening people’s understanding of what homeopathy actually is is valuable and important.

They seem to have big plans for the next few weeks, and although I’ve no idea what they are yet I’ll be watching with interest. The Twitter hashtag #ten23 is worth following for more of this.

So, yeah. I should have something of more substance to say for myself soon, but I’m remembering my resolution and not pushing it.

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– In this video, an Episcopal bishop describes religion as being “in the guilt-producing, control business”, and says that Hell is not real. I guess Jesus was pretty inconsistent on that point. I love the look on the interviewer’s face the first couple of times the camera cuts to him. (via Derren Brown)

A great interview about scientific skepticism with Steve Novella.

– Some new celebrities have been bringing the crazy lately, which is always fun. Adam Baldwin isn’t as wacked-out as all that, but there’s been some fun right-wing nuttiness on his feed lately, and some good links about how global warming’s a total crock. Nothing spectacularly Jayne-worthy, though. (Edit 27/11/09: There’s hints of anti-evolutionism cropping up. It’s minor so far, but could get very funny.)

But Jim Corr is really something else. I’ve owned a couple of this guy’s albums for years. Well, a couple of albums by a band his young hot sisters were in and where he was occasionally seen hanging around hoping to be noticed as well. And he’s got all the conspiracy crazy you could hope for. The New World Order, 9/11, more global warming denial, swine flu vaccines, chemtrails… Oh, and he also has a link to another site called “What Really Happened”. Given my blog’s usual hit rate, I can statistically expect about 0.03 of the people who read this to react in the same way as me: by hearing Richard Herring‘s voice in their head saying “What reeeaaaaaalllly happened” and being greatly amused.

– And now the meaty part. The New Humanist provide a round-up of a recent parliamentary investigation into the evidence behind homeopathy, which heard evidence from people like Ben Goldacre and Edzard Ernst. Attention has been drawn lately to UK pharmacy chain Boots, with regard to their cavalier approach to marketing homeopathic remedies. And by “cavalier” I mean they admit to caring more about whether they can make money off something than whether it actually works as medicine.

There is certainly a consumer demand for these products… I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious.

That’ll be Paul Bennett, their professional standards director. This all kinda sucks. Their defence seems to be that all they’re doing is selling customers the things they want to buy. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard drug dealers on street corners defending what they do in much the same way. It’s not really a comparable situation, of course – it’s much, much harder to overdose on a homeopathic solution than, say, heroin – but it may help highlight why this doesn’t really work as a defence.

Boots are the major pharmacy chain in this country. They sell a lot of medicines and similar products. Whenever I’m running low on toothpaste or painkillers, they’re generally where I go. I’m sure most of the stuff on their shelves is perfectly legit, but this means that there’s an implicit endorsement when they start flogging homeopathic crap as well. It gives these remedies and the claims they make significant credibility, to a degree really not merited by the scientific evidence of their efficacy.

The New Humanist article closes with a quote from the chairman of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, who asks:

If these products don’t work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?

They don’t give an answer, but I assume this was because it’s too stupid a question to be worth bothering with. Here’s my answer anyway:

If these products don’t work beyond the placebo effect, then people keep buying them because of the damn placebo effect.

People aren’t doing clinical trials on this stuff in their own homes, they’re just drinking the water and noticing that they sometimes get better.

I have a follow-up question too: If these products do work beyond the placebo effect, why do large, well controlled clinical trials keep failing to detect any such effect?

For more detailed information on homeopathy being shite, click here.

That’ll do, except to wish a very happy contrived and regimented gratitude day, to all my trans-Atlantic turkey-munching friends.

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