The ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield is back in Britain. Why do I call him an ‘ex-doctor’? As was widely reported at the time, Wakefield was struck off the medical register for his fraudulent and now retracted research paper in the Lancet, along with multiple other charges of misconduct in support of the now discredited claim that there was a link between the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and autism or bowel disease. In January 2010 a tribunal of the GMC found Wakefield guilty of three dozen charges, including four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of children.
Since then, he has been living in the US and seems to have been earning his living by lecturing chiropractors and homeopaths about his misguided views on childhood immunisations. There is never a shortage of quacks who are only too keen to believe the fantasies of a charlatan, I fear.
But now the disgraced ex-doctor is back to promote and show his anti-vaccination film Vaxxed. Most fittingly, the first viewing of this film took place last week at the Centre for Homeopathic Education (CHE) in London. Not many people have heard of this institution, so let’s have a quick look at this unusual outfit.
On the website of the CHE, an organisation which operates ‘in partnership with’ Middlesex University London, we find more than one surprise. Under the title of ‘Ten Top Homeopathic Remedies For Your First Aid Kit’, for instance, it is stated: ‘We wanted to give you some top tips to put together your own remedy kit to use in first-aid situations for yourself, friends and family.’
The recommended remedies are in the 30c potency. Let me explain: a C30 potency equals a dilution of 1: 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000. This means that a pill would need to have a diameter roughly as large as the distance between the sun and the earth to have a reasonable chance of containing one single molecule of the substance on the label.
Here are a few of these surprising remedies, together with their ‘indications’ as promoted on the CHE’s website:
ACONITE… This remedy is great for shock…
ARNICA… This is the classic remedy for trauma… The typical arnica patient will tell you that they’re fine and avoid attention, but may well still be in shock…
ARSENICUM… This is your go-to remedy for food poisoning…
BELLADONNA …This is a great remedy for fever, sunstroke, and for a skin condition such as boils.
HEPAR SULPH… Very painful and infected wounds and abscesses respond well to this remedy.
RHUS TOX …used to treat skin rashes like chicken pox and shingles.
There are many more remedies to choose from, but hopefully this will give you a good little starter kit. Also it is possible to buy a comprehensive homeopathic first aid kit from any of the reputable homeopathic suppliers. These kits will come with instructions on how to use the remedies too.
The CHE also runs various courses. In fact, it prides itself on being the only British institution that offers a bachelor of science in homeopathy. One recent lecture, for instance, covered subjects like these:
The Cancer Diseases — the cancer disease is an umbrella term for a range of conditions which primarily affects the cells and immune system first. There are many causes of this condition such as emotional shocks, toxins, drugs, trauma, radiation and severe stress, etc. In some cases, the cause is genetic or not known. Ageing is another factor in the development and treatment of the cancer diseases.
Homeopathic remedies: cancer remedies, cancer pains, chemotherapy and radiation side effects, shocks, trauma, sleep, surgery, remedies for prevention and recovery.
Detox therapy: detox principles and methods, heavy metals, chemo drugs, radiation, chemicals, etc. Detox diet, superfoods, herbal tonics and natural remedies.
Do I see this right? The CHE seems to claim that cancer can be caused by emotional shock and that homeopathic cancer remedies are worth trying. In Britain the Cancer Act actually prohibits the advertisement of such claims.
It would be easy to make fun of this, but these statements are not funny at all. It is obvious that some of this advice could potentially kill quite a few emergency patients if the instructions of the homeopathic first aid kit were followed. Moreover, one would most likely hasten the death of many cancer patients.
Why does the Middlesex University agree to be a ‘partner’ in such monstrosities? Presumably it gets some money from the hefty fees the CHE charges. University officials would probably claim that their ‘partnership’ does not amount to an endorsement of such dangerous quackery. It is easy to hide behind weasel words such as patient choice or an open mind. Yet they must also be aware that they are lending credibility to indefensible charlatanry and thereby risking their own reputation as well as public health.
After the viewing of Vaxxed last week, it has been reported that the host university has severed its contract with the CHE. Had they listened to me, officials at the Middlesex University might have saved themselves the embarrassment of being associated with charlatans. Last year, in a blog post about the CHE, I concluded: if I were the vice chancellor of Middlesex, I would quickly sever all links to the Centre for Homeopathic Education and publish an apology for having been involved in such mind-boggling quackery.
We are now only waiting for the apology.
Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, is the author of Homeopathy: The Undiluted Facts and the awardee of the John Maddox Prize 2015 for standing up for science. He blogs at edzardernst.com.