Cure or Con? CBC Marketplace to Review Homeopathy

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Tonight at 8pm, CBC Marketplace will air a review of homeopathic medicine entitled “Cure or Con?”. This hotly anticipated episode is expected to critically examine the practice of homeopathic medicine, in the name of consumer protection.

As a skeptic, I know it can be dangerous to get my hopes up over stories of this nature presented by the “mainstream media”. The urge to create balance where none exists, or throw in a “what do we know?” at the end of the episode, has been the downfall of many other pieces of otherwise good scientific journalism. That being said, the episode’s description is encouraging.

Watch, as we witness a Vancouver group of skeptics taking part in a group overdose of homeopathic remedies. Perhaps most disturbing we learn that some homeopaths are treating cancer patients with homeopathic remedies — this despite a leading cancer specialist saying there is no role for homeopathy in the treatment of cancer, that it is a “scam that is not evidence-based”.

If the reaction of the homeopathic community is a reliable indicator, tonight’s episode of Marketplace is shaping up to be a really big win for the skeptical community and the practitioners of science-based medicine.

I, for one, look forward to seeing tonight’s episode of Marketplace. At the very least, it will be a good litmus test of the CBC’s willingness to tackle a serious issue using good science for the sake of consumer protection. And we may even get to see a well deserved thorough debunking of homeopathy. Maybe.

In the mean time, if you want to know how homeopathy works, you can follow this link: http://www.howdoeshomeopathywork.com/.

Banner photo by gumotorg, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

15 Responses to “Cure or Con? CBC Marketplace to Review Homeopathy”

  1. Mike says:

    Saw this piece last night on The National. I thought they did a great job: they had a succinct explanation of homeopathy, a summary of the main criticisms, and an independent lab test. Best of all, the story wasn’t overly aggressive.

  2. Eamon Knight says:

    FWIW, the preview piece on the morning radio news was very good — pulled no punches, and the only homeopath they quoted said some obviously stupid things. I have high hopes.

    • Jason says:

      Myths about homeopathy 2:

      “Homeopathy was better in the old days, because it did nothing while conventional treatments were harmful.”

      This myth is based on the idea that homeopathy was only successful in comparison with blood-letting and other violent treatments or because it provided a healthier environment for the sick. While these undoubtably made homeopathy a better alternative, they are unable to explain the success rates of homeopathic hospitals in epidemics throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

      In the case of cholera, for example, the death rate in 1831 in Austria was over 50% when citizens used conventional treatment, but fell to between 2.4% and 21.1% under homeopathic treatment (1), the death rate in 1849 in Cincinnati was between 48% and 60% in conventional hospitals and only 3% for those having homeopathic treatment (2), while the average death rate from cholera in 1991 in parts of South America was 70% (3). In other words, conventional treatment in the nineteenth century was better than nothing at all, but neither conventional treatment nor doing nothing were anything like as good as homeopathic treatment.

      (1) Dana Ullman, Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1991), pp. 39-40; (2) Dana Ullman, Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1991), pp. 42-43; (3) http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/pagerender.fcgi?artid=1336296&pageindex=2

  3. Epinephrine says:

    Wonderful news. I’ve actually filed complaints with the Competition Bureau for health fraud against certain homeopaths who make claims that homeopathic vaccination protects against disease, and with Health Canada’s Inspectorate where a company was making such claims.

    Hopefully this episode strikes a blow for science and rational thought.

  4. Art Tricque says:

    The programme giveth, and the programme taketh away. Their segment “Are cellphones really safe for your kids?” from January two years ago was atrocious. Marketplace has become slick and sensationalist at the expense of serious content; for better or worse, another Richard Stursberg effect.

  5. daijiyobu says:

    Well, the ND side of things (see http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Naturopathic-Medicine/73142583042 ) isn’t too happy.

    And they’re the ones who claim on their board exam that homeopathy is a “clinical science”.

    That’s good news.

    I have hopes.

    -r.c.

  6. Jason says:

    Myths about homeopathy 1:

    “It is all mumbo jumbo, and modern science has shown it to be nonsense”

    This myth is rarely stated as baldly as this, perhaps because it is so easy to disprove. Virtually every argument against homeopathy which is used today was used within the first 50 years of the discovery of its principles. For example, in a UK television programme on Channel 4 in 2007 Professor Dawkins compared the preparation of a remedy to adding a single drop to the ocean, an argument specifically countered by Hahnemann in 1827 (Samuel Hahnemann, ‘How can small doses of such very attenuated medicine as homoeopathy employs still possess great power?’ (Reine Arzeneimittellehre vi, 1827, reprinted in Lesser Writings (New Delhi: B. Jain Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2002) p.729).

    In fact, the only really new argument (that homeopathy is proved ineffective during scientific trials) is fundamentally flawed. In the 1950s the dramatic failure of the methods of testing drugs (such as Thalidomide) led to the proposal that double blind randomised control trials (DBRCTs) should be used. These trials were proposed because the large number of unknown factors affecting such tests made it impossible to assess accurately the effects of a new medicine. Since then these factors have remained unknown, and drugs have still been withdrawn after being adopted on the basis of DBRCT results (such as Vioxx). In other words, this approach has shown itself to be inadequate, but there has still been no significant development in medical science which could allow it to be replaced with a more accurate method of testing. This also means that there has been no significant development in medical science capable of disproving homeopathy, despite the claims of its opponents.

    In the field of biology the modern understanding of the body as a homeostatic system (a reworking of knowledge already in existence in Hahnemann’s day) leads necessarily to homeopathic treatment being the correct approach. In the field of physics there is increasing evidence pointing in the direction of an explanation for how homeopathy works

  7. Bogeymama says:

    Just went to the website, and they have links on the right hand side … looks like they got your e-mail! They’ve posted “online campaign”. The interview with Health Canada is completely mind-boggling.

  8. jacal says:

    I’ve never been so dissapionted in a CBC program as I have seeing Erica Johson tonight regarding homeopathy. I’m 60 years old and listen to CBC faithfully but tonight I was stunned at the unbelievable biased program with this woman. Our family has used homeopathics for many years and traditional immunization is out of the question. Healthy living is a free choice, but in this case CBC you really blew it, scientific studies are not God.

    • Scientific studies may not be God, but that doesn’t mean that their absence is better. Good for you that you managed to make it to 60. So does the vast majority of the population in countries with modern medicine. You might want to try out the benefits of homoeopathy in countries where they don’t have access to real medicine. It might not work so well. Look at India.

  9. I was quite afraid of the programme, since journalists tend to have a balanced-view approach where one side represents science and another often represents obvious con-artists, but this episode was really good. While obviously superficial, the makers managed to include quite a bit of information, taking into account they had only 20 minutes.

  10. Epinephrine says:

    @Bogeymama – are you referring to the Q&A?

    It’s a bit laughable, yeah. But thankfully, HC at least didn’t stand up for homeopathic “medicine”. It will be hard to get the homeopathic crap out of the regulatory system, but I think we’ll accomplish it, eventually. Shows like this will help.

  11. efz says:

    I built a few airplanes and am promoting my new airline: HomeoAir. First let me tell you that I am not an aeronautical engineer and I have no notion of how it flies, but the fact that it flies is truly an amazing mystery. Trust me, my family and friends flew in it and they vouch for it. The efficacy of the all natural construction techniques and power source has been proven in countless studies over 200 years! In fact at the time of its invention it was the most effective flying method available. Other methods, such as using wax and feathers to make wings killed people all the time! You cannot argue with this truth and wisdom. So good does it fly and is completely safe that you will find no passengers that speak negatively about it! Gone are all the bad side effects such as being tired or illnesses associated with traditional airplanes that kill thousands every year by crashing or with traveller’s thrombosis. (They even provide you with lifejackets because they know it is dangerous!) Its construction is based on manuscripts by the best thinkers of the 18th century before the true lost art of natural flight was squashed by the closed minded conspirators of the Wright Brothers, Langley and others. Even the great Leonardo DaVinci made similar designs! Do not trust the naysayers like the FAA, they are paid by big airline and airplane companies that want to hide the truth! My airplanes fly using the natural energy in the air as buoyancy and thrusts. Energies that the unbelieving scientists cannot measure!
    So join me in this truly wondrous inaugural flight! But please, do not discuss this with your neighbourhood pilot or engineer for they will try to convince you not to go! Don’t trust them! They are just saying these things because they are afraid to lose their jobs!

  12. efz says:

    BTW Radio Freethinker Episode 99 interviews Erica Johnson of CBC Marketplace. A very good listen. To bad some of the things she said where not part of the show.
    http://radiofreethinker.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/show-notes-for-episode-99/

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  • Mitchell Gerskup

    Mitchell Gerskup recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Economics and Philosophy. An avid atheist and skeptic, he has served as the President of the University of Toronto Secular Alliance, helping to promote science, reason and critical thinking around Toronto. He also volunteers with the Centre for Inquiry’s Ontario branch, and currently sits on the CFI’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. Mitchell is also an accomplished competitive debater, having debated all across Canada. In addition to issues of economics and philosophy, Mitchell is interested in the fields of science and technology.