As 2014 reaches its end we can reflect on rather a bad year for homeopathy. Earlier in the year, Boiron lost a class action over its Oscillococcinum product (Gallucci v. Boiron, currently being appealed). In response to two other class actions, Heel closed its North American operations.
In the U.K., the NHS announced that it is to stop new referrals to the Glasgow homeopathic hospital due to lack of evidence of efficacy and the eminent British physician Lord Winston described one MP’s belief in homeopathy as “insane” in the press and on air.
However, the close of the year also brings a rare glimmer of light for believers in the rejection by a court of of a class action in California against Green Pharmaceuticals for deceptive labelling of its homeopathic product SnoreStop. Apparently, the plaintiff purchased two boxes of homeopathic SnoreStop for a total of $29.00 and - surprise! - they did not work. Since homeopathy is based on doctrines refuted over a century ago, there is no reason to suppose it should work, no way it can work, and no proof it does work, other than as a placebo.
So, Green Pharmaceuticals have essentially escaped on a legal technicality. They cannot, readily prove that their product works, because that proof would overturn most of what we know about the nature of matter and human physiology. But thanks to the grandfathering of homeopathy in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (and specifically the work of co-sponsor Senator Royal Copeland , a homeopath) they don’t have to: they can legally sell it based on nothing more than the appeal to tradition, and according to this judgment it is up to others to prove it does not work.
You might think that was that, but the judgment contains the following interesting and potentially significant comment:
Although the Court has serious reservations regarding the effectiveness of the product in question, there is insufficient evidence presented by the Plaintiff to meet her burden of proof to establish a viable claim under the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act because Plaintiff offered insufficient evidence to support its contention that Defendant engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices.
It’s clear that the defendants did not argue their point well, and the judgment tells us why, in terms that will gladden the hearts of any skeptic familiar with Huffington Post’s house homeopathy propagandist:
The Defendant presented the testimony of Gregory Dana Ullman who is a homeopathic practitioner. He outlined the theory of homeopathic treatment and presented his opinion as to the value and effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. The Court found Mr. Ullman's testimony to be not credible. Mr. Ullman's bias in favor of homeopathy and against conventional medicine was readily apparent from his testimony. He admitted that he was not an impartial expert but rather is a passionate advocate of homeopathy. He posted on Twitter that he views conventional medicine as witchcraft. He opined that conventional medical science cannot be trusted.
Mr. Ullman's credibility was undermined by his admission that he advocated the use of a radionics machine, whereby a physician puts a picture of his patient on one side, and a few medicines on the other side, and then sees which of the medicines the needle points toward. He relied on his personal experience with a radionics machine.
Mr. Ullman's testimony was unhelpful in understanding the purported efficacy of the ingredients of SnoreStop to reduce the symptoms of snoring. Although he is familiar with the theory of homeopathic treatment, his opinions regarding its effectiveness was unsupported and biased. The Court gave no weight to his testimony.
Having analysed some of Ullman’s claims in support of homeopathy and his approach to conflicting evidence in particular, I can’t say I am surprised. His analysis can most charitably be described as motivated reasoning, and rather transparently motivated at that.
And radionics? Wow. Really?
So, while this result may make life a little harder for skeptics trying to roll back the tide of nonsense that emanates from the homeopathy industry (homeopathy is endemic among naturopaths especially), it seriously undermines the credibility of both the product and one of its loudest proponents. My heart bleeds.