What’s the deal with that Swiss government homeopathy report?

A letter in today’s Irish Times bemoans a recent column on homeopathy. The column had drawn attention to a report by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council that was dismissive of homeopathic treatments. But according to our letter-writer

The report of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) ignored any positive research on homeopathy, including the Swiss government report, a five-year study which found in favour of homeopathy and recommended its inclusion under its health insurance. This Swiss report concluded that, “There is sufficient evidence for the preclinical effectiveness and the clinical efficacy of homeopathy and for its safety and economy compared with conventional treatment.”

The Swiss government, eh? I keep hearing about it. So, what’s the deal with their homeopathy report?

Well, this is the deal with their homeopathy report:

swiss med wkly

From the introduction:

In 2011 the Swiss government published a report on homeopathy. The report was commissioned following a 2009 referendum in which the Swiss electorate decided that homeopathy and other alternative therapies should be covered by private medical insurance. Before implementing this decision, the government wished to establish whether homeopathy actually works. In February 2012 the report was published in English and was immediately proclaimed by proponents of homeopathy to offer conclusive proof that homeopathy is effective. This paper analyses the report and concludes that it is scientifically, logically and ethically flawed. Specifically, it contains no new evidence and misinterprets studies previously exposed as weak; creates a new standard of evidence designed to make homeopathy appear effective; and attempts to discredit randomised controlled trials as the gold standard of evidence. Most importantly, almost all the authors have conflicts of interest, despite their claim that none exist. If anything, the report proves that homeopaths are willing to distort evidence in order to support their beliefs, and its authors appear to have breached Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences principles governing scientific integrity.

So basically more of the same ol’ homeopathy mumbo-jumbo.

The full critique is worth a read. Check it out here.

But our letter writer goes on:

There was no representation for homeopaths and no expert on homeopathy on the NHMRC. Would this be acceptable, for example, in oncology or orthopaedics?

Well, would it be acceptable in oncology or orthopaedics? No, I dare say it wouldn’t. But this is because oncology and orthopaedics are pretty ordinary enterprises. They are not controversial. They are not famous for making claims that are described by scientists as laughably implausible. They are not known for their ridiculous assumptions about the way nature works, or for flying in the face of not only medical science, but that of physics and chemistry too. Homeopathy, by contrast, is controversial. And massively so.

(Also, a review of either oncology or orthopaedics would require expertise in medicine and, critically, in research methods relevant for medicine. Let’s just say homoepaths are not exactly famous for their expertise in methods.)

So, indeed, it would be quite unacceptable for a review of homeopathy to be conducted by a bunch of homeopaths. In fact, it would be quite scandalous. Like with that Swiss government report which, let’s face it, has been discredited for some time now. Not that that stops the homeopaths going on about it.

A bit like homeopathy itself, really.

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  1. one flew over the cuckoo clock?

  2. It’s amazing how homeopaths keep bringing the Swiss homeopathy report up – usually with a link to Dana Ullman’s hilariously wrong article in the Huff Po.

    However, Dr Shaw doesn’t quite get it right – although much, much more correct than Ullman, of course!

    The report that was published in English wasn’t the report submitted to the PEK (the Swiss Government Commission appointed to investigate homeopathy and other therapies), but a version that was amended and added to significantly. It was published several years later and, although it claims to be an HTA, was no such thing. As Dr Felix Gurtner of the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH, Health and Accident Insurance Directorate in Bern, Switzerland had to point out:

    “This review was declared to be an HTA by the authors (the final PEK [5] report does not classify the literature reviews as HTA reports) and published later as a book [7] under their responsibility without any consent of the Swiss government or administration.”

    As a direct result of the PEK’s conclusions (of which the homeopathy report and the famous Shang et al. analysis were both part), the Swiss Government ended the previous temporary reimbursement of homeopathy in their State health scheme. It was only after a public referendum that they re-introduced temporary reimbursement for homeopathy. This ends in 2017 unless homeopaths provide good evidence for homeopathy this year. Given the NHMRC report, that seems unlikely…

    Full details in the blog post written by Sven Rudloff and myself: That ‘neutral’ Swiss homeopathy report.

    Another point: one of the NHMRC Homeopathy Working Committee was at least knowledgeable about homeopathy:

    “Associate Professor Evelin Tiralongo is a foundation member of Griffith University’s Pharmacy School and is the schools’ discipline head for complementary medicine (CM) teaching and research. She is a German trained and registered pharmacist with an Honours degree in herbal medicine and a PhD in biochemistry. She gained extensive practical experience in integrative medicine as a registered pharmacist in German and has also completed her Australian registration as a pharmacist.”

    I have come across a statement saying she was taught homeopathy in Germany (I think it was compulsory), but can’t find it at the moment, but presumably that wouldn’t be enough indoctrination into homeopathy for the critics of the report. They don’t say how having a ‘proper’ homeopath on the working community would have changed the (lack of) evidence, of course.

  3. In a Guardian online article 13 years ago (24 September 2003) about a well known homeopathy skeptic Professor Edzard Ernst “The Alternative Professor” by the journalist Sarah Bosley, Ms. Bosley wrote “He treats his French wife with homeopathy, he says. ‘We were both brought up with it.’” As of 3/20/15, this article can still be read on the internet. When a homeopathic remedy is used, and is effective, even a skeptic uses it.

    • ROFL!

      1. What do you believe your tale tells us?

      2. Do you believe articles should be removed from the Internet when some part of it is no longer correct?

      • Why remove it? It’s a part of his history surrounding homeopathy. He was being honest when he stated that he treated his French wife with homeopathy at that time..He has since renounced homeopathy. Fine. Only Professor Ernst’s opinion about its use has changed. Homeopathy, on the other hand, has not.

        • Well, you’re the one who seemed to be complaining it had not been taken down – you seemed to be implying that it must, therefore, still be valid. That’s a stupid notion, mind you.

          But you never answered my first question, did you?

          But here’s a third for you:

          3. What was it he did that made Prof Ernst change his mind?

          As for homeopathy not changing, well, that’s half the point, isn’t it?

    • But perhaps you could give us your opinion on the Swiss homeoapthy report or the NHMRC report? This is, after all, what this article is about, not what Prof Ernst once believed.

      • This article is critical of homeopathy from a skeptic’s point of view. I was able to point out that one of the most notable critics of homeopathy, Professor Ernst, told a journalist in a published Guardian article that he used homeopathy to treat his French wife. The article was 13 years go and Ernst has published quite a few articles, and now a book, denouncing homeopathy. His past history and remarks about homeopathy is as germane today as it was then. Let the readers decide should always be the aim of any discussion, journalistic or otherwise, regarding homeopathy.

        “Nothing should be accepted blindly, neither nothing denied. This is a good principle.” ~ Panchi Belande

  4. Pingback: Homeopathic nonsense | Sunny Spells

  5. Eric Lehtonen

    Total madness. When I heard this news this morning I was certain it was an April Fools joke.

  6. Not sure why people care, worse case scenario is Homeopathy is a Medical Placebo, which is a positive phenomenon.

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