Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Homeopathy and cargo cult campaigning

Fighting for homeopathy:

Campaign strategies
There's a new campaign/er working in support of homeopathy and their recommendation is, commendably, for people to get involved in the online discussion about homeopathy. What I'm less sure about is their recommendation to "go to the debate and paste a short personal story, or a few short sentences noting why you support homeopathy" as this will just result in an awful lot of anecdotes being posted.

One thing homeopathy fans have in their favour is anecdote, they are fully of stories about how homeopathy worked for them, and people generally warm to stories.

The information on 'how you can help' (at encourages supporters of homeopathy to get in, post their story and get out again without waiting to read the criticisms from homeopathy detractors.

One thing I think that the skeptics have done fairly well though is raising awareness of why anecdotes are not much use in determining how well a particular medicine works. 

The strategy to flood the debate with anecdotes would seem to be self-defeating given that the people that homeopaths want to persuade are already aware that anecdotes don't provide the required quality of evidence.

It briefly crossed my mind that the campaigner might be misleading homeopaths (eg see Poe's law) because if I wanted to waste the time of homeopathy fans it would be by getting them to post anecdotes all over the internet. It's doing something that keeps people busy but probably won't actually help much (see cargo cults).

Perhaps I'm wrong though and the power of stories will be the better strategy and maybe those skeptical of homeopathy will have to find some anecdotes where 'homeopathy didn't work for me'. The decision-makers and people with purse strings have always been interested in the cost-effectiveness of medicines although sometimes public support has derailed this somewhat, so maybe we skeptics need some stories too.

Misunderstanding copyright
I'm no expert in copyright matters but I think this paragraph, included as part of a comment published on many of the blog's posts is quite mistaken:

"I strictly abide by copyright laws when posting any information, images, links and or comments posted elsewhere. All of the comments by the opposition have been posted elsewhere and as such are a part of the public domain."

Things on the internet are NOT part of the public domain unless the author has put them in the public domain.

The blog's writer has been posting pictures and names of the 'enemies of homeopathy'

Posting photographs of people who own the copyright on that photograph (not because they're in it but because they took it) seems another strange approach. Skeptics are probably unlikely to report copyright violations (via the DMCA takedown notices) because it's a bit tedious and childish but also because this strategy has been misused by others in order to shut down debate. Even so it seems odd to post this stuff and announce it's perfectly OK because it's within copyright. I'm not sure that it is.

Personally though, I have very low tolerance both of photo posting and DMCA takedowns because of this person.

Recent news and context
See Guy Chapman's post for the significance of the recent Advertising Standards Authority adjudication on what homeopaths can say in their advertising.

Comments policy
I'm afraid I haven't accepted any pro-homeopathy comments on this blog for several months now, so my refusal to accept any at the bottom of this post isn't particularly to do with meanness, just consistency. It's clear that the homeopaths have their own pages on which they can post their disagreements with those who don't support homeopathy.


  1. I pointed out to Sandra that she obviously did not understand copyright law, but I don't suppose she took any notice...

    She accuses skeptics of being 'batty and arrogant', taken from the title of the hilariously wrong article by a 'leading health journalist', Jerome Burne, "Why hounding homeopaths is both batty and arrogant". The lack of self-awareness is truly remarkable.

  2. A lack of understanding about copyright law is remarkably common. I read a blog post this week (or possibly it was a comment) from someone bemoaning the fact that his students genuinely think that if they find something on the internet (eg Google images) then it's OK to use. I tend to err on the side of caution precisely because I don't really understand its complexities and would rather not have the hassle of having my blog shut down, even temporarily.

    Jerome cut the comment thread before I had a chance to comment, but I was planning on saying something pithy about PMCPA the pharmaceutical equivalent of the ASA. I forget exactly what though.

    I feel that homeopaths are being poorly advised by Sandra in this quest to quench the argument by anecdote-blanketing. It's a bit like showing all your cards when you have a poor hand to start with I suppose.


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).