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

Monday, 7 October 2013

WDDTY, homeopathy, cancer and vaccines - well it's an odd way of going about things

It's always a bit mean, in an argument, to bring up things like "well you said..." but in the case of What Doctors Don't Tell You I am going to do precisely that. I'm a bit miffed with them at the moment, partly because they have a poor selection process for the adverts in their magazine (many have been sanctioned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading), partly because some of their health advice is poor (not all of it I hasten to add) and partly because they persist in accusing anyone who disagrees with them of being in the pay of 'big pharma' and part of some cabal of people whose only joy in life is spoiling their fun.

Their recent difficulties arose when someone spotted that the teaser in the current issue (October) was going to be talking about cancer and homeopathy in the following November issue (out in a few weeks). Homeopathy is straight-up nonsense and no responsible health magazine should be talking about it, other than to recommend people avoid spending (wasting) money on it. The other problem is that the magazine is going to be talking about alternative (or complementary, if you prefer) treatments for cancer. Because of the Cancer Act of 1939 you have to be a bit careful what you imply in terms of treatments, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

If I could be convinced that the magazine's intention is to suggest things like homeopathy alongside conventional treatment I'd probably not bleat very much. Still a waste of money but as long as someone's getting real medicine then the extra chat they get with a homeopath or the placebo effect from the pills is OK with me.

Sadly WDDTY have a tendency to frame everything that comes from regular medicine as being a bit suspect, providing information about alternatives to real treatments. The magazine's name implies that doctors keep information from their patients, or don't have the latest information.

Even the Daily Mail, which can occasionally be fairly horrendous in its health information, doesn't treat doctors as self-interested employees of pharmaceutical companies so while I'd not lose sleep if they ran out of ink I can put up with their paper being sold everywhere.

A brief timeline
1. The Times recently ran a story (1 October) suggesting that WDDTY had implied that "homeopathy could treat cancer" and that "the cervical cancer vaccine has killed hundreds of girls". Here is the full quote taken from The Times' site (most of the article is behind a paywall):

"Experts are calling on high street shops to stop selling a magazine that claims that vitamin C cures HIV, suggests homeopathy could treat cancer and implies that the cervical cancer vaccine has killed hundreds of girls."

2. WDDTY was annoyed by this, feeling that The Times had wrongly attributed statements to the magazine which hadn't bee made and that, in addition, the author of the article (Tom Whipple) had failed to get in touch with magazine staff for their comment on the story (Tom Whipple makes it pretty clear that he did and eventually WDDTY conceded that he had tried).

It is now 7 October and I think WDDTY have published at least four separate press releases within three days complaining about The Times and the campaign to have the magazine removed from high street shops and supermarkets.
3. WDDTY also produced a video with Positive TV in which someone asks them if they said that homeopathy could treat cancer or that the HPV vaccine killed girls - to which they respond forcefully that they did not, and that they were merely reporting on others' research.

They also addressed the accusations on Facebook and threw a few insults towards Sense About Science, the Nightingale Collaboration and skeptic bloggers. 

They have been at great pains to state on Twitter, Facebook, on YouTube videos and in press releases / emails to their subscribers that they have never said that homeopathy might cure cancer or that the HPV vaccine might kill people who have it.

I disagree!! I think they've said precisely that.

Here they are saying, in the headline, that the HPV vaccine has killed hundreds of girls (to be fair the article is a bit vaguer but why go and say it in the headline?!).

‘Safe’ HPV vaccine kills up to 1,700 young girls

Here's a screenshot...

and here they are saying that homeopathy can be used to 'treat' or 'reverse' cancer - I concede that they have not used the word cure, but nor have they been sufficiently careful to ensure that anyone reading (particularly someone vulnerable) couldn't draw that conclusion. Harrumph!

the headline "Much more than placebo: Homeopathy reverses cancer" rather suggests that homeopathy is a solution for cancer and other text within the body of the article (published September 2013 October 2012) implies the same:

"Several homeopathic remedies are as effective as powerful chemotherapy, according to clinical trials, and thousands of cancer cases are being reversed by homeopathy alone." - this specifically implies that homeopathy is equally effective as chemotherapy, and that it might be used as a standalone treatment.

So this discussion on the use of homeopathy is not about its use as a complementary (and therefore harmless when running alongside real medicine) treatment, it is being suggested as an alternative.

I don't think anyone's died or been injured yet from reading or following the advice in this magazine but I hope you'd agree that it's not very good and the way they've framed it is a bit worrying. We know, from an amazing collection at What's the Harm?, that plenty of people do die or are injured from bad advice though -


  1. Prince Khanna, who tried to hide a link in his comment, said "So, this means that Homeopathic Cancer Vaccine can not cure Cancer and Homeopathic Cancer Treatment is not successful at all. But according to my experiences and research it has been proved that Homeopathy can cure Cancer in a successful manner."

    It doesn't really matter what he said to be honest as the sole purpose of leaving a comment was to try and get my blog to link to a particular website. But since he asks - yes, homeopathy cannot and will not treat cancer. It it illegal for anyone in the UK to claim to cure cancer (whether with homeopathy or anything else). Given that homeopathy contains no active ingredient and does not work any better than placebo the only cancer that homeopathy can treat is the cancer for which the correct treatment is "do absolutely nothing".

  2. Adrienne Washburn said "Interesting. I also think it's ridiculous to trust your health on a procedure that has many reported adverse effects. Although I support alternative cancer treatments, I don't agree that everything that's claimed to be "natural" is trust worthy. Before trying anything out it is important to research well on it and then choose. I would like to commend you for a very well written article, and this is another addition to the many reviews of how homeopathy lacks plausibility." - I've had to edit her comment to remove a link because it pointed to a centre offering unproven cancer treatments.

  3. Someone called Page Williams has left a comment stating that her name is Ann Bryan so I'm already confused ;)

    Unfortunately her comment is one of many similar spam comments I receive about this 'doctor' so I'm including it below but have redacted the healer's name and email address and information about the condition allegedly treated. I'm afraid this comment is utterly useless as evidence.

    "page williams has left a new comment on your post:

    Hello ,i am Ann Bryan from United state I live here in south California ,i am 46 years old,i saw a comment posted on health remedy by [REDACTED] , about a doctor she met on internet and how she was diagnosed of [REDACTED], and how she got cured from it by this herbal doctor called [REDACTED] , so i called her , then she gave me the doctor address, i traveled down to see the doctor myself, i explained to him about my illness, which is [REDACTED] ,which i have suffered from 3 years ,first he asked me if i believed in roots and herbs then i said yes, he provided me herbal medicine information's for my cure with [REDACTED] and , after i have used the medicine as recommended by him, then i went for check up in the hospital and my doctor told me that i am free from [REDACTED], even myself noticed the charges [REDACTED] , then [REDACTED] asked me to promise him that i we testify of his good herbal work to the world, so I we like you to contact him if you have any health issue as well maybe he can help [REDACTED] because he his the best herbal Doctor i have seen"

    Well the commenter did try and honour the arrangement with this "doctor", but sadly I've no truck with this kind of nonsense so tough luck.


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).