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Professor Joe Schwarcz is a scientific communicator at McGill University in Canada who has a habit of pointing out the absurdity of homeopathy. This has not gone down well with the Syndicat professionnel des homeopathes du Quebec (SPHQ) who recently sent him a letter pointing out what they perceive as errors in his writing, and asking him to retract these points. In what, in my opinion, reads as a very whiny letter, they also claimed to have notified his university and that they will be notifying international homeopathy organisations worldwide of his articles (Professor Schwarcz has given me access to these articles the first of which can be found here).

Throughout the letter they also refer to Professor Schwarcz, as Mr Schwarcz. This type of “PhD envy” is, in my experience, fairly common amongst promoters of pseudoscience.

Some of the “corrections” they make to Professor Schwarcz’s articles are the stock standard misinformation commonly used by homeopaths to justify their craft. These include:

1) Claiming that research by Nobel Laureate, Professor Luc Montagnier supports homeopathy. (This research has been widely criticized as lacking rigour and being far outside Montagnier’s area of expertise. Furthermore, it now appears that Professor Montagnier is wadding further into woo by getting involved with the “vaccines cause autism” and the “vitamins cure AIDS” brigades (see here)

2) Claiming that it does not matter that we do not “know” how homeopathy “works” because we do not completely understand how many allopathic (conventional drugs work). This common, erroneous, argument overlooks the fact that we do in fact understand in great detail how many drugs work, and have a general idea for how most other drugs work.

Compare this to homeopathic treatments, where not only is there no reasonable explanation as to how the might work, any explanation runs contrary to much of what we know about physics, chemistry and biology.

3) Claiming “Mr” Schwarcz cannot explain how homeopathy cures infants, young children and pets because this couldn’t possibly be due to the placebo effect. (Ignoring the fact that most of the “evidence” for such cures comes from poorly run and intrinsically biased studies.

4) Claiming that the Swiss government concluded in 2012 that homeopathy was cost effective. Alison has already commented on how misleading this argument is.

5) Claiming that historically homeopathy has been successful in treating epidemics of cholera, measles, typhoid fever, scarlet fever and influenza, while also mentioning that homeopaths are currently working intensely on a protocol for the treatment of AIDS. (If homeopathy was truly this effective, these diseases would have been eliminated years ago).

As well as these common, misleading, arguments the letter also includes some more surprising ones including the suggestion that Samuel Hahnemann did not invent homeopathy, instead pointing out that some of the underlying concepts can be traced back to ancient Greece. I think this does the founder of homeopathy a great injustice. While some of the underlying concepts were certainly mentioned in ancient times, it took Samuel Hahnemann to bring them all together into that particular combination of stupid that makes up homeopathy. Furthermore, just because something is ancient does not lend it validity. From the time of the ancient Greeks through to Hahnemann’s time, disease was generally considered to be an imbalance of the bodily humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile), a belief that has since been discarded as we have come to understand the microbial, environmental and genetic causes of disease.

Purveyors of pseudoscience may react badly to criticisms of their field by claiming the critics are wrong, prejudiced or just plain mean. This should not stop us from voicing such criticisms. Tactics, such as involving lawyers or contacting a critic’s employer, should be seen for what they are – a desperate attempt to shield their pseudoscientific beliefs from the harsh glare of reality.