UCL cancels homeopathy event by Indian docs

Although homeopathy has been widely drubbed as possessing zero curative potential, it continues to have an existence ranging from undemonstrative to unrestrained in many countries.

An India-based homeopathic organisation caused ripples in academic circles in the UK over the last few days after announcing it would conduct a conference on treating cancer at the University College London (UCL) premises – an appointment that has since been cancelled by UCL.

Although homeopathy has been widely drubbed as possessing zero curative potential, it continues to have an existence ranging from undemonstrative to unrestrained in many countries. In the UK, its practice is restricted by law; further compounding the issue is that the scheduled conference plans to discuss ways to manage cancer with homeopathy, the kind of advertising that’s barely legal in the country (see: Section 4, Cancer Act, 1939).

The website built for the event says that the Dr. Prasanta Banerji Homeopathic Research Foundation, based in Kolkata, will conduct the conference at the UCL Institute of Neurology, with an entry fee of £180. The two-day event will discuss the so-called Banerji Protocols, a set of methods developed by doctors Prasanta and Pratip Banerji to manage various ailments using only homeopathy and arrive at diagnoses quickly. However, their claims appear insufficiently backed up – a list of publications on the foundation’s page doesn’t contain any peer-reviewed studies or reports from randomised clinical trials.

Once the event’s details were publicised, the furore was centred on the Banerjis’ using UCL premises to promote their methods. As Andy Lewis wrote in The Quackometer, “[UCL’s] premises are being used to bring respectability to a thoroughly disturbing business.” However, after complaints lodged by multiple activists, researchers and others, UCL cancelled the event on February 1 and said, according to blogger David Colquhoun, that the booking was made by a “junior [secretary] unaware of issues”, that it had learnt its lesson, and that a process had been set up to prevent similar issues from recurring in the future.

The UCL clarification came close on the heels of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority approving five homeopathic combinations to make therapeutic claims. All combinations are made by a company named Helios and assure palliative and curative effects, including for hay fever. Edzard Ernst, noted for his vehement opposition to homeopathy, wrote in response on his blog, “If you look critically at the evidence, you are inevitably going to arrive at entirely different verdicts about the effectiveness of these remedies: they actually do nothing!”

It’s notable that the marketing practices that the Banerjis are following closely mimic those generally adopted by people selling dubitable products, services or ideas:

  • Advertising methods through case studies instead of scientific details – Three items on the conference agenda read: “Evidence based management of cancer, renal failure and other serious illnesses with case presentations including radiology and histopathology images” and “Live case studies to demonstrate case taking for difficult conditions”
  • Conflating invitation from institutes with invitation from governments (the latter hardly ever happens) – From banerjiprotocols.in: “Under invitation from Spain, Portugal, Royal Academy of Japan, USA, Roswell park cancer centre at Buffalo, New York, Italy, Netherlands, Germany we have done workshops and teaching seminars and we received standing ovations in all the places.”
  • Citing alleged accreditation by prestigious institutions but of which no official record exists – Also from banerjiprotocols.in: “Our protocol for Brain cancer & Breast Cancer has been experimented by the scientist of the MD Anderson Cancer Centre, Houston, USA and found in vitro experiment that these medicines selectively kills cancer cells but not the normal cells. Joint paper by us and scientist, professor of cell biology and genetics has been published in International Journal of Oncology. Our work with National Cancer Institute, USA has been published in journal of Oncology Reports.” – The papers are not to be found.

Others include referring to essays and books of their own authorship; presenting their publication as validation of their methods; not participating in any collaborative work, especially with accredited research institutions; and often labouring unto not insubstantial commercial gains.

Despite a World Health Organisation directive in 2009 cautioning against the use of homeopathy to cure serious illnesses like malaria, it is officially counted among India’s national systems of medicine. Its research and practice receives support from the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. From 1980 to 2010, the number of homeopathic doctors in the country doubled while the number of dispensaries increased four-fold.

The Wire
February 2, 2016

An upvote for Ayurveda from the Swiss government – alongside homeopathy

The Wire
May 15, 2015

Despite the unsubstantiated science behind it, the Ayurveda medicine system was granted a vote of confidence by the Swiss government, swissinfo.ch reported on May 12. According to updates made to the Swiss Regulation of Complementary Medicine, Ayurveda practitioners will now be able to obtain a national diploma after passing a state-administered exam.

The updates followed intense lobbying after Ayurveda wasn’t included in a list of alternative therapies that could be covered by Swiss health insurance providers in 2005. They were anthroposophic medicine, phylotherapy, neural therapies, traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy. Until 2017, they will be included under basic health insurance packages on a trial basis.

Among others, anthroposophic medicine involves using mistletoe to cure cancer while neural therapies are based on injecting anaesthetics near nerve-centres. Phylotherapy is herbal medicine.

Ayurveda proponents had been asked to wait until 2017 before being considered again, according to the Swiss Professional Association for Ayurveda Practitioners and Therapists. Instead, the Ayurveda lobby had worked to induct it under the national diploma program.

Now, practitioners without a medical degree can obtain a professional qualification through the exam and gain legitimacy in the eyes of the health insurance sector. More, practitioners of three other systems of alternative medicine are now eligible for the exam: Chinese and European traditional medicine, and homeopathy.

Although seekers of alternative therapies can now pay a visit to someone who has passed a national exam instead of some other arbitrary test, it is Ayurveda’s dubious company that belies the credibility of the Swiss government’s decision. Homeopathy amongst them has been widely discredited for being pseudoscience and international government support has been largely withheld.

Without focusing on a single system, scientists believe the biggest effect of the Swiss government’s decision to recognise and fund alternative medicine – as opposed to evidence-based medicine – will be the credibility it will accrue without having presented objective proofs of effectiveness. Even if the Swiss government has said it will conduct independent investigations into whether the claims of alternative systems are dependable, many feel political pressure might lead to evaluators registering false-positives.

The situation parallels one in India, where Ayurveda has a market worth Rs.8,000 crore (2013) but is backed by research or data that is neither coherent nor of quality at par with that behind allopathic medicine, attributes that do nothing to allay the deep-seated and prevalent prejudice against non-Western medicine. Further, the Central Council for Research into Ayurvedic Sciences – which coordinates pharmacological research into alternative medicine systems in the country –does not conduct placebo-controlled clinical trials, the touchstone of medical research.

Simultaneously, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research continues to support research into areas like ayurgenomics – the use of ayurvedic principles to determine genetic predispositions to some diseases. Ayurgenomics in particular featured prominently in the manifesto that the BJP put out ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and which the party has continued to unabashedly support since it came to power. The result is the risk of legitimate practitioners of Ayurveda eschewing rigour in favour of political timing. The effect of political pressure is often to make the two indistinguishable.

In fact, the 2005 decision in Switzerland followed by a referendum in 2009, when not any scientific committee but 67 per cent of the Swiss electorate voted to include the five alternative systems under the basic health insurance package. In response to the verdict, Ignazio Cassis, then vice-chair of the Swiss Medical Association, had told New Scientist in 2011, “This isn’t science, it’s Swiss politics.”

As of 2011, Switzerland had 17,200 registered practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine, the most per capita in the world.

Curious Bends – homeopathy's Nazi connections, painful science, the HepC bombshell and more

1. Standing up for the truth about homeopathy and Nazi medicine

“Few people would doubt the Nazi atrocities constituted the worst violations of ethics in the history of medicine. They were possible because doctors had disregarded the most elementary rules of medical ethics. Using unproven, disproven or unsafe treatments on misinformed patients, as in alternative medicine, is also hardly an ethical approach to healthcare. In fact, it violates Hippocrates’ essential principle of “first do no harm” in a most obvious way. These were some of the ideas I cover in my memoir, A Scientist in Wonderland. Just when the book had been written – and seemingly to prove my point – an extraordinary turn of events linked all these themes together in a most dramatic fashion.” (4 min read, irishtimes.com)

2. How does the emerging world use technology?

“Very few people in India and Bangladesh use the internet – only 20% and 11% respectively. But among those who do, job searching is a popular activity. Majorities of internet users in Bangladesh (62%) and India (55%) say they have looked for a job online in the past year, the highest rates among the 31 countries surveyed that have enough internet users to analyze.” (4 min read, pewresearch.org)

3. For a renaissance in Indian science and technology

“In addition, several premier research and development laboratories function without a regular director, examples being the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi. There is more. The last Union Budget speech had virtually no reference to science. Personally, I am aware of the erosion of excellence built painstakingly over the years in laboratories such as the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology in Hyderabad. Its library can no longer subscribe to even Current Contents leave alone other scientific journals as there is no money. I know that the ICMR cannot even pay appropriate travel allowance to those attending its meetings. I have not seen such situations arise in my scientific career spanning over six decades. The resource crunch that S&T labs face today is something unknown and is painful.” (7 min read, thehindu.com)

+ The author of this piece, Pushpa M. Bhargava, is the Chairman of the Council for Social Development (southern regional centre).

4. An Indian won the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize for revitalising an ancient innovation

“It look him a few months before finding his life’s mission—and it took an ancient innovation, a fast disappearing traditional technology, to help him transform the lives of thousands of villagers in one of India’s most arid regions. On March 20, Singh was awarded the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, sometimes described as the Nobel prize for water. “Rajendra Singh did not insist with the clinics,” the Stockholm International Water Institute, which awards the prize, said in a statement. “Instead, and with the help of the villagers, he set out to build johads, or traditional earthen dams.”” (4 min read, qz.com)

5. Now, silence is offered as a luxury good

“Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted. Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it.” (7 min read, nytimes.com)

Chart of the Week

“As the patent case winds its way through the legal labyrinth, there is both hope and disappointment. The hope springs from the belief that patent challenge to sofosbuvir is strong. The pre-grant opposition filed by I-MAK says the drug is not new and that the patent is based on old science that was disclosed in a 2005 application made by Gilead to India’s patent office. The disappointment stems from the fact that India’s top generic companies have caved in and opted for the safer option of VL agreements.” (10 min read, scroll.in)

c8a5e989-36a6-48fb-80c9-f01dbb419a75

Curious Bends – homeopathy’s Nazi connections, painful science, the HepC bombshell and more

1. Standing up for the truth about homeopathy and Nazi medicine

“Few people would doubt the Nazi atrocities constituted the worst violations of ethics in the history of medicine. They were possible because doctors had disregarded the most elementary rules of medical ethics. Using unproven, disproven or unsafe treatments on misinformed patients, as in alternative medicine, is also hardly an ethical approach to healthcare. In fact, it violates Hippocrates’ essential principle of “first do no harm” in a most obvious way. These were some of the ideas I cover in my memoir, A Scientist in Wonderland. Just when the book had been written – and seemingly to prove my point – an extraordinary turn of events linked all these themes together in a most dramatic fashion.” (4 min read, irishtimes.com)

2. How does the emerging world use technology?

“Very few people in India and Bangladesh use the internet – only 20% and 11% respectively. But among those who do, job searching is a popular activity. Majorities of internet users in Bangladesh (62%) and India (55%) say they have looked for a job online in the past year, the highest rates among the 31 countries surveyed that have enough internet users to analyze.” (4 min read, pewresearch.org)

3. For a renaissance in Indian science and technology

“In addition, several premier research and development laboratories function without a regular director, examples being the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi. There is more. The last Union Budget speech had virtually no reference to science. Personally, I am aware of the erosion of excellence built painstakingly over the years in laboratories such as the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology in Hyderabad. Its library can no longer subscribe to even Current Contents leave alone other scientific journals as there is no money. I know that the ICMR cannot even pay appropriate travel allowance to those attending its meetings. I have not seen such situations arise in my scientific career spanning over six decades. The resource crunch that S&T labs face today is something unknown and is painful.” (7 min read, thehindu.com)

+ The author of this piece, Pushpa M. Bhargava, is the Chairman of the Council for Social Development (southern regional centre).

4. An Indian won the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize for revitalising an ancient innovation

“It look him a few months before finding his life’s mission—and it took an ancient innovation, a fast disappearing traditional technology, to help him transform the lives of thousands of villagers in one of India’s most arid regions. On March 20, Singh was awarded the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, sometimes described as the Nobel prize for water. “Rajendra Singh did not insist with the clinics,” the Stockholm International Water Institute, which awards the prize, said in a statement. “Instead, and with the help of the villagers, he set out to build johads, or traditional earthen dams.”” (4 min read, qz.com)

5. Now, silence is offered as a luxury good

“Silence is now offered as a luxury good. In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I heard only the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. I saw no advertisements on the walls. This silence, more than any other feature, is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows, your neck muscles relax; after 20 minutes you no longer feel exhausted. Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it.” (7 min read, nytimes.com)

Chart of the Week

“As the patent case winds its way through the legal labyrinth, there is both hope and disappointment. The hope springs from the belief that patent challenge to sofosbuvir is strong. The pre-grant opposition filed by I-MAK says the drug is not new and that the patent is based on old science that was disclosed in a 2005 application made by Gilead to India’s patent office. The disappointment stems from the fact that India’s top generic companies have caved in and opted for the safer option of VL agreements.” (10 min read, scroll.in)

c8a5e989-36a6-48fb-80c9-f01dbb419a75

Curious Bends – killer palm oil, bunking homeopathy, India's sex ed. and more

1. How Indonesia’s palm oil industry is killing people in China and India

“In both China and India, air pollution is one consequence of a massive exodus from farm to city that has occurred in recent decades. The change has contributed to rising emissions from both vehicles and factories, especially coal-fired power plants, and an emerging middle class that increasingly desires a range of consumer goods that are common in Europe and the United States. South-east Asia has encountered similar problems in recent decades as its economies and populations have boomed. In fact, according to the WHO, nearly one million of the 3.7 million people who died from ambient air pollution in 2012 lived in South-east Asia. But on top of smokestacks and tailpipes, the region faces an added burden: smoke haze produced in Indonesia that is a by-product of the world’s US$50 billion palm-oil industry.” (19 min read)

2. Casual paternity testing is a way of encouraging people to be suspicious all the time

“Easy DNA, a laboratory based in the town of Nagarcoil in Tamil Nadu, deals with 30 cases of paternity tests a month, said Rama Anandi, who works in its marketing division. Most requests for paternity tests at Easy DNA are spurred by “husbands having doubts on wives”. The DNA samples and results are generally sent across via mail and the payments made online. All a client has to do is buy a home test kit, take a saliva swab of the child’s mouth, and mail the samples to the nearest collection centre. The results are sent back in no more than two weeks. The lab also gets requests from hospitals for ‘maternity tests’ to resolve the tricky cases of infants mixed up by hospital staff or caught up in a suspected ‘child swap’.” (13 min read)

3. Homeopathy is pure bunkum (even if Indian PM Narendra Modi says it isn’t)

“On top of this, those who report apparent improvements are not unbiased observers, but presumably believers in homeopathy who want their loved ones to get better. Homeopaths will often state that some conventional doctors prescribe homeopathy. Some do, but many do not. In fact, the overwhelming majority of real doctors think homeopathy is pseudoscience. After all, homeopaths typically dilute their remedies until they contain no actual ingredients. Even though zero was invented in India, I suspect that most Indians would spurn the ridiculous notion of pills containing zero.” (4 min read)

4. The silence around sex in India has prompted new ways to educate kids

“Sex education is being outsourced to non-profit or private organizations because the Indian government is “abdicating its responsibility,” said Ketaki Chowkhani, who is working on a doctorate in women’s studies about sex education in urban India at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “It should be the responsibility of the school, and consequently the state, to provide comprehensive sexuality education,” said Ms. Chowkhani in an email. Private schools that have sex education as part of the curriculum tend to call in someone else rather than leaving it to their teachers.” (5 min read)

5. There’s a little selfishness in the US wanting India to go big on solar

“It is clear that sustainable and renewable energy resources have a strong role to play in India, and the source of choice is the sun. India hopes to become into a solar-power-equipment-manufacturing hub and a global solar power. The US hopes its manufacturers will benefit from India’s ambitions and simultaneously encourage India to reduce carbon emissions. Solar power generation in the country increased 14.2% during 2012-13 to 2013-14. It costs Rs 6.91 crore per MW of grid-connected solar PV power, according to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. In comparison, nuclear power costs Rs 17.27 crore per MW and electricity from coal Rs 5.75 crore per MW, according to our calculations.” (5 min read)

Chart of the week

“Every now and then, though, you stumble across a map that enlightens. That’s how we felt when we saw the awesome map made by Reddit user TeaDranks. The map resizes countries based on their population. It’s simple: Each square represents 500,000 people. TeaDranks posted the graphic on Reddit’s “map porn” discussion on Jan. 16. He calls it his “magnum opus”.” NPR’s goats and soda has more.

HhqlkMK

Curious Bends – killer palm oil, bunking homeopathy, India’s sex ed. and more

1. How Indonesia’s palm oil industry is killing people in China and India

“In both China and India, air pollution is one consequence of a massive exodus from farm to city that has occurred in recent decades. The change has contributed to rising emissions from both vehicles and factories, especially coal-fired power plants, and an emerging middle class that increasingly desires a range of consumer goods that are common in Europe and the United States. South-east Asia has encountered similar problems in recent decades as its economies and populations have boomed. In fact, according to the WHO, nearly one million of the 3.7 million people who died from ambient air pollution in 2012 lived in South-east Asia. But on top of smokestacks and tailpipes, the region faces an added burden: smoke haze produced in Indonesia that is a by-product of the world’s US$50 billion palm-oil industry.” (19 min read)

2. Casual paternity testing is a way of encouraging people to be suspicious all the time

“Easy DNA, a laboratory based in the town of Nagarcoil in Tamil Nadu, deals with 30 cases of paternity tests a month, said Rama Anandi, who works in its marketing division. Most requests for paternity tests at Easy DNA are spurred by “husbands having doubts on wives”. The DNA samples and results are generally sent across via mail and the payments made online. All a client has to do is buy a home test kit, take a saliva swab of the child’s mouth, and mail the samples to the nearest collection centre. The results are sent back in no more than two weeks. The lab also gets requests from hospitals for ‘maternity tests’ to resolve the tricky cases of infants mixed up by hospital staff or caught up in a suspected ‘child swap’.” (13 min read)

3. Homeopathy is pure bunkum (even if Indian PM Narendra Modi says it isn’t)

“On top of this, those who report apparent improvements are not unbiased observers, but presumably believers in homeopathy who want their loved ones to get better. Homeopaths will often state that some conventional doctors prescribe homeopathy. Some do, but many do not. In fact, the overwhelming majority of real doctors think homeopathy is pseudoscience. After all, homeopaths typically dilute their remedies until they contain no actual ingredients. Even though zero was invented in India, I suspect that most Indians would spurn the ridiculous notion of pills containing zero.” (4 min read)

4. The silence around sex in India has prompted new ways to educate kids

“Sex education is being outsourced to non-profit or private organizations because the Indian government is “abdicating its responsibility,” said Ketaki Chowkhani, who is working on a doctorate in women’s studies about sex education in urban India at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “It should be the responsibility of the school, and consequently the state, to provide comprehensive sexuality education,” said Ms. Chowkhani in an email. Private schools that have sex education as part of the curriculum tend to call in someone else rather than leaving it to their teachers.” (5 min read)

5. There’s a little selfishness in the US wanting India to go big on solar

“It is clear that sustainable and renewable energy resources have a strong role to play in India, and the source of choice is the sun. India hopes to become into a solar-power-equipment-manufacturing hub and a global solar power. The US hopes its manufacturers will benefit from India’s ambitions and simultaneously encourage India to reduce carbon emissions. Solar power generation in the country increased 14.2% during 2012-13 to 2013-14. It costs Rs 6.91 crore per MW of grid-connected solar PV power, according to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. In comparison, nuclear power costs Rs 17.27 crore per MW and electricity from coal Rs 5.75 crore per MW, according to our calculations.” (5 min read)

Chart of the week

“Every now and then, though, you stumble across a map that enlightens. That’s how we felt when we saw the awesome map made by Reddit user TeaDranks. The map resizes countries based on their population. It’s simple: Each square represents 500,000 people. TeaDranks posted the graphic on Reddit’s “map porn” discussion on Jan. 16. He calls it his “magnum opus”.” NPR’s goats and soda has more.

HhqlkMK