Friday, 25 September 2009

Can I Get a Homeopathic Remedy Instead of a Malaria Inoculation?

I passed a nice little shop at lunch-time that just happened to sell homeopathic remedies, so I popped in for a nose around and a chat. I expect we’ve all heard stories of how some homeopaths may be willing to sell homeopathic remedies as a prevention or a cure for malaria as an alternative to conventional, proven and clinically tested anti malaria drugs.

I thought that Simon Singh’s recent book “Trick or Treatment” might have made alternative therapists a little wary and therefore unwilling to talk to random strangers in detail and certainly be on guard against making claims that homeopathy can be effective against malaria.

So the question I was wondering was, would a homeopathic retailer be prepared to write a prescription for a homeopathic anti malaria remedy to a random customer who came in off the street wanting to use the remedy in place of conventional science based medicine.

Well here’s a transcript of my conversion:


Crispian: Hiya

Homeopath: Can we help you with anything in particular?

Crispian: Um, I Don’t know. A friend of mine was on Safari last summer, well this summer, and he was talking about it and I looked it up on the web today as I quite fancied it. It was talking about the vaccinations I would need for malaria and stuff like that and I was reading the side effects and there seemed to be quite a long list of the side effects so I thought I’d just wonder around and see if there’s any alternatives basically.

Homeopath: Well we don’t sort of claim… you have to make your own decision um, but in terms of homeopathic remedies as vaccination I mean you have to read up on it, but you can get malaria in potency, you can get.. would you need yellow fever I imagine?

Crispian: I don’t know, it said malaria and there was a few other things on there, Tetanus

Homeopath: Yellow fever, Tetanus, Cholera, Typhoid, you’d need all of those probably

Crispian: So I’d need those from a conventional doctor?

Homeopath: Um. It’s up to you, I mean, you can ...there are homeo .. Um, do you know much about homeopathy? Basically, the homeopathic nosodes they’re called that are made from the actual vac… the germ, if you like. The understanding is that if you take them in potency they’re a very very high dilution it will create the necessary anti bodies in your blood

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: As opposed to taking the Jab. Some people say its good to do that preventatively before you go over, start a week before you go

Crispian: Yeah

Homeopath: Some people say there’s no point in doing it unless you get malaria and then you start taking it. um. My feeling is that you need to kinda educate yourself and take a look and see what you think you want to do. Um. Have you ever taken anti malaria drugs or anything like that?

Crispian: Well I’ve never had anything, it’s just that when I was reading all the side effects it sounded like ..

Homeopath: Where abouts would you be going?

Crispian: I wanted to do what my friend did, he started off in um Zambia and he went down through Tanzania and Botswana and down to South Africa.

Homeopath: Ok. Malaria. It’s a strong malaria zone I’d say

Crispian: Yeah, yeah

Homeopath: I don’t know about yellow fever, I don’t know if it’s a yellow fever zone, I don’t think so. Um, malaria, cholera and typhoid I would say

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: Um

Crispian: So if…

Homeopath: The other thing of course is I don’t think your… nowadays with the legislation in this country, you’re not able to purchase malaria and all these in potency without a prescription so I mean um, I could certainly write you a prescription. I’m quite happy to just write you a prescription if that’s what you need and then take it to a homeopathic pharmacy

Crispian: Oh OK, I couldn’t just pick one up here then

Homeopath: No

Crispian: Is it quite a common thing then or is it unusual?

Homeopath: There’s a huge, as you know, there’s a huge um backlash against homeopathy in this country so some people are… there are lots of sceptics in the pharmaceutical industry and general medicine who are trying to sort of root them out, root us out and um

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: The pharmacies have to have some statutory legislation that um, they’re not able to just sell it over the counter.

Crispian: OK, but I could get a prescription and then that would ..?

Homeopath: I could write you a prescription yeah

Crispian: So would you recommend that I would still need to visit my GP?

Homeopath: You’re GP’s not going to … Oh well, if you need to go for malarium or whatever quinine based drugs for the anti malaria you’ll have to educate yourself on that. I mean, um, it’s up to you. You’re not native to any of those countries so

Crispian: No. I’m from here

Homeopath: So I would suggest that you would be better off to do.. um, what’s your health like? General health?

Crispian: It’s good

Homeopath: It’s Good? Ok. I’d do some other things like um obviously take water sterilising tablets, maybe take some other remedies, take some B vitamins, that would be good. B1 and B12 are very good for malaria zones, its good to take those a couple of weeks before that, strengthen your immune system and um and increase your resistance to infection, things like that. Vitamin C is another thing that you should take. Um

Crispian: So …

Homeopath: I’d just take a good kit maybe and if you want to do homeopathy, then take a kit and learn about how to administer it, I mean I could do a 20 minute appointment with you and I could just take you through things that you need to do

Crispian: You said that it’s diluted, so what sort of level?

Homeopath: Homeopathy. Hundreds and thousands of dilutions. I mean I come from a malaria country and I, personally speaking I always just take the nosodes, and I don’t do inoculations and vaccinations anymore because I just don’t like what they put in them

Crispian: Yeah

Homeopath: And I’m not convinced that they work. That’s my own personal opinion, but you have to do what you feel is right. I’m not saying that vaccinations are bad, but some people, once they’ve taken the vaccination they get unwell for a few days

Crispian: Yeah, that’s what I heard

Homeopath: If you were to do the vaccinations, I’d go to the British Airways travel centre to get them done rather than with your GP because I don’t think GPs are well advised on things like that. I would go to the one on Regents Street, they have a travel centre there

Crispian: OK, but it sounds like I could avoid it altogether, I mean you mentioned the vitamins and the travel packs …

Homeopath: If you’re well educated and informed you could do, but its something you would need to make an informed decision on

Crispian: I’d have to look into it

Homeopath: Yeah I’d go to um, and how long would you be going for

Crispian: Well I fancied quite a while so probably 3 maybe 4 weeks

Homeopath: 3 or 4 weeks you’d be out there?

Crispian: Yeah

Homeopath: When would you be going?

Crispian: Well I’ve not booked it. I’ve only just started looking today because I just happened to see it but well, next summer, I guess next August

Homeopath: Yeah. Well that gives you, you know a good bit of time to you know get fit

Crispian: I just started looking when I was at work and I though that looked quite fun

Homeopath: I’d also possibly try and loose a bit of weight before you go, simply because if you get sick, and if your system is a little bit over, I mean you just need to be fitter and take things like liver cleansing remedies with you as well so if you get, um. Most people just get diagraph or dysentery those are the major fears in that part of the world, diarrhoea and dysentery, so things like tinctures of wormwood, things like that to keep your liver healthy because your liver is your best defence that you have if you get a blood born disease, you want your liver to be on your side. I would get the world traveller’s manual, Colin Lessell, I’ll write it down for you…. It’s called um The World Travellers Homeopathy manual or something, something like that

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: You’ll find it

Crispian: I’ll find it online will I?

Homeopath: Yeah. Its good, it tells you all about the various weird and wonderful ticks and antigens and bacteria that you can come into contact with

Crispian: OK, that’s very helpful, so it sounds like with a bit of research and if I’m comfortable then ..

Homeopath: Yeah, if you want to know more about it then I think we’re obliged to do a 20 to 30 minute consultation before we write the prescription or whatever so you know exactly how to take it and what to do

Crispian: What about the children because I’ve got the family as well so..

Homeopath: Oh, you’re going to take everyone?

Crispian: Yeah

Homeopath: Um, yeah, then I would say that if you want to put them through that as well then I think you need to be very very wised up on how to deal with an emergency if that happens

Crispian: Ok, so I could bring the family, the children in with me as well?

Homeopath: You can certainly book up, and I can take you through the remedies, um it might be worth … this is the travellers kit. Helios, they’re very good. I rate them as a good gift. This is a traveller’s kit of the basic remedies that you might need.

Crispian: OK, so these are 30 C

Homeopath: 30 C

Crispian: What’s that?

Homeopath: That’s 30 dilutions so basically … OK.. So lets see .. think of a herb that you know.. Arnica? Yeah?

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: It’s a flower, it’s a healing herb. What they’ve done is taken the herb, mashed it about put it in some alcohol for various number of days, shaken it and stirred it, taken one drop of that and then put a hundred drops of alcohol with it and then shaken it and that’s become a 1 X. They’ve done that up to one hundred.. up to ten times and then they’ve made it a 1 C and then each time they’ve taken a drop put a hundred drops of alcohol, shaken it and whatever and each time they’ve taken it up step by step by step. So by the time it’s got to 30 C …

Crispian: There’s not going to be a lot left is there?

Homeopath: Well, the original substance has gone, its passed Avogadro’s number but the imprint in the cell is arnica still. Um

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: I mean, if you’ve never taken homeopathy before

Crispian: I haven’t no

Homeopath: I think its worth experiencing it just to see, because there’s no point me telling you and you believing it. Yeah. They say its got the cellular imprint of it and the beauty of it is that it's vibrational, it won’t harm your lungs or your organs in anyway at all like conventional medicine

Crispian: OK

Homeopath: It’s just very very powerful. I’d say that you need to experience it

Crispian: OK. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful. I’ll look that up

Homeopath: OK, What’s your name?

Crispian: Its Crispian.

Homeopath: Crispian, I’m xxxxx

Crispian: Nice to meet you, Ill look that up. Cheers

Homeopath: Yeah, Bye


As you can hear the lady I spoke to was very pleasant and helpful and obviously a firm believer in homeopathy. She was keen to explain how it worked and promote other alternative therapies.

Notes:
She was careful to state that it would be my own decision and that I need to make an educated an informed choice, and she was careful to disassociate her views from the shop she worked for. She did however:
  1. Clearly offer to write me a prescription for a malaria remedy to be used in place of a conventional vaccination
  2. She advised me not to consult my GP as they are ill advised on such things
  3. She mentioned that she would not personally recommend vaccines as she does not like what they put in them

Surely that’s fairly dangerous advice.

35 comments:

JC said...

Dangerous indeed. Did she have a pointy hat and a warty nose?

I say you do society a favour and burn her shop to the ground.

Le Canard Noir said...

And she called you a fat bastard.

How low can you go?

Jo said...

Nice transcribing :)

Very strange advice indeed... I might have missed the bit where she suggested avoiding stagnant water and taking mozzie nets. I think that would be the minimum for someone determined to avoid anti-malarial drugs.

Crispian Jago said...

Calling me a Fat Bastard was by far her most acurate statement.

Frank the SciencePunk said...

So what happens now?

Joe said...

"She advised me not to consult my GP as they are ill advised on such things"

That is a little misleading. She said to go to the BA vaccination centre in Regent Street instead as they are much better informed than GPs and she is quite right. The BA centre is much more knowledgeable on current advice for different areas than a GP. Which areas have strains resistant to which drugs etc.

The vaccination clinic at the Ross Institute, off Tottenham Ct Road is also good and cheaper than BA, plus your money goes to fund research.

Crispian Jago said...

Joe,
I agree you may well get better advice from the BA travel centre or indeed the Ross Institute, if they specialise in travel vaccinations, then I guess they may will have the latest and best advice. However she clearly said: "I dont think GP's are well advised on things like that"when referring to convential vaccinations and she also just stopped herself from making another dissmissive comment when I asked if I should visit my GP as well and she started to say "You're GP's not going to ..." and then stopped herself. Her tone was certainly dissmisive of GP's and conventional medicine throughout. So I regard that as pretty controversial advice. The transcript is verbatim, ignore my summary if you think I'm adding any extra spin and read her words.

Frank the Science Punk,
No idea what happens now. It was really just my curiosity to hear things from a different viewpoint that made me go in. I don't know how representative this straw poll of 1 shop is. No plans to do any thing else other than share he transcript. What do you think?

Alice said...

Hahaha I love your nerve. If only I could do things like that but my face gives everything away. People read me like a book - with large print.

How did you get the transcript, from memory or a recording? I'm presuming a recording? I'm just curious because there's quite a few people I'd like to bug too, sometimes!

Crispian Jago said...

Alice,

My memory isn't that good, but I never leave home without my iPhone, and there's an app for most things :-)

Anonymous said...

Never mind the homeopathy issue for a moment, are you saying you recorded this conversation -- in which you misrepresented yourself -- without the other party's knowledge? And without their consent? And would I be correct in guessing that you didn't get their permission before you published this transcript either?

I appreciate that you preserved her anonymity -- although it might not be too hard to figure out the identity of the store and shop assistant if anyone could be bothered to do so -- but I have to wonder: is what you did legal? Is it moral? Is it wise?

When the Sunday redtops pull this kind of stunt, I always find it pretty disgusting. And I'm sorry, but I'm having pretty much the same reaction to this piece too.

Anonymous said...

The book she mentioned has three reviews on Amazon, all positive: http://www.amazon.com/World-Travellers-Manual-Homoeopathy/product-reviews/0852073305/

Anonymous said...

fuckgrapefruit

Legal? I have no idea.

Moral? Wise? Yes.

It's clearly "in the public interest" to expose quacks like her - those who give out dangerous health advice based on fairy tales, especially when they are ostensibly in a position of trust.

He preserved her anonymity as you say - so what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you ask 'what's the problem?'

Well, misrepresentation, dishonesty, loss of the moral high ground for starters; and arguably, this could be seen as a witch-hunt, an invasion of privacy, persecution for thought crime...

What I'm questioning here is the tactics. I know it's naive to think that these woo merchants will change their beliefs on the basis of evidence, but if you go after them like this there's a danger that it will backfire. When I read this piece, my sympathies were with the poor, hoodwinked old lady who was being unwittingly humiliated by the clever young man. That's not a good result. You risk turning these people into martyrs and engendering public sympathy for the wrong side. Regulation is fine, especially regulation of lies and false advertising in public, but regulation enforced by undercover sting operations is bad psychology and bad publicity.


I think it would be wiser to concentrate on educating the public. Admittedly, this is no easy task. People tend to be pretty stubborn about their irrational beliefs, so it would probably take a generation or two before you saw any improvement. But if you aim at reducing the number of gullible customers that these sincere con artists prey on, then perhaps this pernicious industry might finally start to wither away.

Neuroskeptic said...

"I appreciate that you preserved her anonymity -- although it might not be too hard to figure out the identity of the store and shop assistant if anyone could be bothered to do so"

How? We know it's in Britain, and I assume it's in London because she mentions Regent's Park without saying "Regent's Park in London".

So it's a female homoeopath somewhere in London. Oh dear.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and ridicule is a good tactic too. I mean, FFS these people think that you can cure malaria by drinking water -- oh, sorry, by drinking 'special' water. All you really have to do is remind people of that and then let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

Neuroskeptic: And that it's a nice little shop somewhere near where Crispian had lunch on Friday...

Neuroskeptic said...

Not necessarily, he said it was at lunch time but he could have gone into a shop just before catching the tube from halfway across London to where he ate.

Anyway, I have to say that the mystery homoeopath didn't come across as badly as she could have - she was clearly very mindful of the risk of being seen to promote homoeopathy over conventional medicine. I think we have to give her credit for that. She managed to avoid any "smoking gun" statements that are clearly dangerous.

Anonymous said...

"[T]he mystery homoeopath didn't come across as badly as she could have."

Yeah, that's the problem. If she'd been batshit crazy this would have played differently. But as it is, it's like you're kicking someone's slightly retarted granny while she's trying to offer you a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

Crispian Jago said...

Interesting debate between fuckgrapefruit and Neuroskeptic unfolding here.
It is an issue that I contemplated and considered before posting the transcript. My original intention was to make the recording available on my blog, but I felt uncomfortable with that on account of how the recording was obtained, and have no wish to expose any individual or company. As a skeptic my knowledge of alternative therapies comes from a skeptical viewpoint, and whilst I have read up on the subject and have visited alternative therapy websites, I don't know any homeopaths, I've never had any homeopathic treatment and until recently had never even been in an alternative medicine shop. I suspect that I'm not alone in the skeptical community with this limited experience of alternative medicines from a believers viewpoint.

Hence my curiosity, firstly to see if what I've read, would be the views expressed by a believer, and secondly to see if you really can get dangerous advice on homeopathic malaria remedies, was it just an urban myth, or something homeopaths are no longer happy to promote. I found the exercise enlightening and I'm sure many other skeptics would be interested in sharing that experience without us all having to spend our lunch time homeopath baiting.

She is clearly not "Bullshit Crazy", which is why I did not use my normal tactic of ridicule. Read some of my other posts to see how keen I am on ridicule, but I felt her advice was dubious enough to warrant sharing it.

Neuroskeptic said...

Well...she still didn't come out smelling of roses.

The only responsible response to someone who is considering going to the tropics without the proper vaccines / anti-malarials (and taking their kids!) is an unambiguous: "No, you fool, you could die. You have to get the appropriate treatments or you don't go."

She comes across as someone who clearly isn't willing to do that because she's a believer in homoeopathy over allopathy, but who knows that she can't say that openly and is careful about what she says.

Like I said, no 'smoking gun', but very troubling in its own right.

Seany said...

"But as it is, it's like you're kicking someone's slightly retarted granny while she's trying to offer you a nice cup of tea and a biscuit."

It's not like that in the slightest. Unless the retarded granny worked in a shop selling woo products and instead of tea and biscuits she was flogging an incredibly dilute solution of the mother tincture of 'tea and biscuits' as a prophylactic medicine.

Julius Beezer said...

Your title is somewhat misleading because there are no effective "inoculations" (=injectable vaccines?) against malaria in any case.

johnners said...

it's like you're kicking someone's slightly retarted granny while she's trying to offer you a nice cup of tea and a biscuit

I have to agree. Although wrong, she came across as earnest, friendly and helpful, and it seems to be somehow underhanded to publish her unwittingly recorded comments for the purpose of smart-arsed mockery on the net.

Find someone more weasely unsympathetic next time.

Alice said...

If your doctor gave you unwise advice, would you let people know, or would you cover up for him or her? If you went into a cake shop and they said they sell amazing cakes, would you keep that confidential because it's private information you could be sued for mentioning to other people?

If you worked for something medical, i.e. responsible, would you say something you wouldn't want the public to know about?

Is Crispian Jago the first person ever to be a "ghost shopper"? I've seen job adverts for them . . .

Are any readers particularly interested in this lady in particular? I don't think so. I don't think any of us will be looking for her shop, and like CJ says, it's an anectode and he doesn't know how representative it is, and would like to know. I've never gone to seek alternative treatments, and I'm interested in what its practitioners might say. I disagree with what this lady says and think people need the education to distinguish between this kind of thing and science. But I don't think anything personally of this lady, other than that she seemed very nice.

If anybody is maniac enough to go and look for this lady in particular, then they have a creepiness problem outside CJ's control. He's not exactly advocating it, animal rights activists style, is he?

Anonymous said...

Just found this post from badscience.net.

Homeopaths are deluded nitwits.

I found your blog almost impossible to read because of the dark patterned background. The text colour does not have nearly enough contrast with the background.

Please change your template and colours.

Nick

Anonymous said...

The "poor, hoodwinked old lady" could kill someone with this advice - certain types of malaria can kill within days.
I work in an place that tests for malaria - underprepration and misunderstanding of how to prevent malaria infestation is a good way to catch it.

Anonymous said...

You guys, I realize that the poor hoodwinked old lady could be killing people with her bullshit advice, and yes, that is a bad thing and it would be better if she didn't do it. What I'm saying is, try reading this blogpost from the point of view of a Daily Mail reader. It would probably appear under some bogus headline like 'Science vigilantes trampled on my human rights' sobs 72-year-old grandmother.

It's not just about who's right and who's wrong, it's about how it plays emotionally. The Daily Mail et al are completely unscrupulous. They don't give a monkey's about the merits of the case. All they care about is selling papers, and they know their readership would lap this shit up. And that kind of publicity isn't going to help your cause.

Crispian, I'm very glad you decided not to post the mp3. I appreciate what you're trying to do, and I know that you're aware of the sensitivities here. But -- fun though it would have been to hear it -- imo, yes, that would have been going much too far.

Anonymous said...

Oh bugger.

It was my Firefox security settings (RequestPolicy) that made the background visible under the content.

Nick

Chris Lawson said...

What would make this sleazy yellow journalism would be (i) the identification of the homeopath, (ii) misrepresentation / selective quoting, or (iii) entrapment. Since none of these apply, I don't have the slightest problem with posting a transcript of dangerous advice given by someone claiming expertise in the health industry.

And there's no point worrying about how some tabloids will spin the story. They'll spin it anyway. Science vigilantes trampled on my human rights could be written because the poor grandmother read Ezard Ernst's systematic review of homeopathy.

mc said...

'this could be seen as a witch-hunt'

Surely that's exactly what it is, and quite right too. Gone are the days when we could hunt 'em down and burn them, but there's no harm in using blogospheric ridicule.

Etienne said...

hello all,
malaria prophylaxis is based on drainking tablets. No injections whatsoever.
Everytime we criticise alternative practices, we must do it with solid arguments. If we don't we just fule tehir propaganda.

Etienne said...

and sorry for the typing mistakes.
I wasn't wearing my homeopathic glasses

Crispian Jago said...

Eitenne,

I never mentioned injections, the homeopath did

Neuroskeptic said...

Hang on, whoever said she was old? I pictured her as young. And quite attractive.

But only because I assumed that was what lured Crispian into the shop into the first place...

Anonymous said...

"[W]hoever said she was old?"

Oops, that would be me. That was the initial impression I somehow received -- on the basis of no evidence whatsoever -- and then it somehow morphed into an accepted fact.

I'd better change that Daily Mail headline -- Allopathic Thought Police Harass Innocent Working Mother.