This is a slightly unusual format for a post on this blog, but I thought it was worth recording for posterity. It concerns the rather bizarre suggestion made yesterday by some UK-based homeopaths about a good way of defending homeopathy against formal complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. Rather than follow the traditional homeopathic route of accusing skeptics of ignorance (i.e., not understanding how homeopathy really ‘works’), arrogance (i.e., not believing the testimonials of homeopathy advocates), or scientism (i.e., not accepting that there are more ways to consider the world other than scientifically), instead the idea would be to accuse them of — drum roll please — racial discrimination!
Now, you hardly need me to point out that being a homeopath is not ordinarily viewed as a “racial” category. Generally speaking, belief in homeopathy — with its extravagant disregard for mainstream chemistry, its refusal to recognise the epistemological advantages of the conventional scientific method, and its frequent flirtations with destructive campaigns such as anti-vaccinationism — does not run in families in a way that suggests genetic heritability. And “homeopathy” is not currently mentioned in anti-discrimination legislation. So how would this work then?
Well, like this, according to the homeopath in question, writing on the website Homeopathy World Community:
Chatting with my husband last night about the complaints by the Advertising Standards Authority here in the UK agains homeopaths, we think we have come up with a plan to put an end to this nonsense. We can play the race discrimination card if we get this right. Please bear with me whilst I explain.
If we can find some British Indians/ Pakistanis or Bangladeshi’s they can complain to the ASA explaining that homeopathy is a prefered system of medicine in their countries of origin, used to treat a wide range of illnesses. The current wave of complaints against homeopaths would therefore seem to be an attack on their culture and beliefs and therefore discriminatory. (I know homeopathy is not a belief system but many think it is, so why not use that to our advantage). If we can get figures for the numbers of people using homeopathy as their primary healthcare in India and the rest of the sub-continent, even better!
They can also claim that it is akin to Christians claiming that Hindus and Muslims cannot call their beliefs a religion because it is not Christianity.
If they go on to suggest that the current wave of complaints may have been instigated by someone who has an agenda that is perhaps something other than scientific (just make a suggestion and leave it to them to work out what that agenda might be).
We would need to get a smart lawyer to draft the letter/s but if we could get the ASA to look at this as potential discrimination that may well decide to back off. If we can find someone on the ASA’s complaint list who’s family hail from the Indian sub-continent to complain they are being discrtiminated against, even better …. and if the ASA find in their favour but still go for those of us of European descent we can then go for a different race discrimination angle.
Got to be worth a try….. you know how twitchy we are here in the UK at the slightest sniff of racism or other discrimination!
I am not sure how to co-ordinate this so have forwarded to a couple of homeopath groups and see what people think.
Time for homeopathy to stand up for itself !
with love and peace
Or, if you like, have a look at this YouTube version:
The plan here relates specifically to the recent upsurge in complaints to the UK Advertising Standards Authority that has occurred following the establishment of movements like the Nightingale Collaboration and web-browser apps like FishBarrel, which I encourage readers to investigate for themselves. Such campaigns to limit the way unsubstantiated claims are made about the medicinal effects of unorthodox health therapies have caused quite a stir and no little inconvenience to a large number of renegade pseudotherapists operating in the UK. However, this particular “plan” to combat the sudden rise in unwelcome attention contains a number of very disturbing features indeed.
Firstly, the idea proposed is to fabricate a complaint to a statutory authority charged with applying standards in commercial domains in order to protect citizens. In other words, it is a conspiracy to pervert the law.
Secondly, it explicitly recommends that an effort be made to compound the false accusations by placing them in the context of race and racism. So the idea is not just to perpetrate a libel, but to perpetrate a libel of a kind that is calculated to exert significant reputational damage to the person defamed.
Thirdly, and related to this, the proposed plan is premised on an assumption that it is acceptable to contrive novel racial stereotypes for personal gain. Moreover, it is based on a further assumption that it is acceptable to recruit members of a racial minority into such a conspiracy. There is clearly no regard whatsoever here to the adverse impact this might have on public perceptions of racial discrimination issues, or on the potential impact that the discovery of false accusations might have on the respect the public gives to genuine discrimination cases.
Fourthly, just in case we are confused about the conspirators’ lax approach to diversity issues, they incorporate some trivialising argumentation about religion as well. Essentially, their aim is to liken complaints about homeopathy to the oppression of religious minorities (of a kind where adherents are informed that their beliefs do not even constitute a religion, which is pretty extreme!).
Finally, it is interesting (at least to me) that the narrative context of the plan betrays an in-group/out-group distinction that appears to disturbingly conflate status with race. What I mean by this — and this is just my overall impression — is that the poster seems to portray herself as part of the group in power (“we have come up with a plan”, “[we] have forwarded to a couple of homeopath groups”), while also speaking within a particular ethnic discourse community (“those of us of European descent”). Meanwhile, persons of non-European ethnic backgrounds are casually referred to merely as potential lackeys, whose main value will be to play some kind of secondary role (if they are up to it). But as I say, this is just my impression.
The poster was correct on one point however. Generally speaking, public audiences can become quite “twitchy” when presented with contexts of racism and discrimination. And that is no better demonstrated than by the response to the posting of this proposed “plan” to “play the race discrimination card”.
In short, the posting led to quite a twitterstorm, which ultimately produced two significant outcomes. Firstly, the post was hastily removed from the Homeopathy World Community website (although not before a number of bloggers had downloaded and posted mirror copies). And secondly, in an ironic turn, one blogger submitted a complaint about the homeopath in question to — you’ve guessed it — the Advertising Standards Authority. It turns out that the homeopath in question makes a series of contestable claims in the advertising material on her own personal website!
Partly as an exercise in self-entertainment, but also as a conscientious vocational contribution (of course), I pieced together representative snippets of yesterday’s online events on Storify. You can access it here.
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.