back to article Blog homeopathy horror hammers hippy herbalists

So there you are, harnessing the power of community and innovative new editorial formats, spreading enlightenment by putting the customers together with the vendors, and what happens? Lynchmob, vendor megasulk, blog meltdown 2.0. It all started on Tuesday when the Guardian's Ethical Living Blog unveiled Neal's Yard Remedies as …


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  1. thefutureboy


    ...did they have little pitchfork and burning torch smilies you could insert in the messages?

  2. Pete Silver badge

    The real benefit of "alternative" remedies

    is merely to have someone say "ahhh, poor dear".

    And it seems some people are prepared to pay a lot of money, many times over for a bit of faux sympathy from unqualified shop-assistants, who are only interested in getting their cash as quickly as they can.

    Now, I'm not against silly people being separated from their cash, just so long as it's done in an up-front and honest way (that would be the "ethical" part). Maybe it's time for a website that offers platitudes each time the user clicks the "pay now" button. (Hmmmm .... )

    The thing that hacks me off is the mystical mumbo-jumbo that all these alternatives to remedies use to mask the total ineffectiveness of their prettily wrapped placebos.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They dare not answer claiming the stuff works incase they get sued.

  4. Chris


    Well, they got what they deserved to be honest. I'm guessing, as has been suggested, that they expected a bunch of fluffy questions about whether seaweed or bark chipping moisturiser was better for oily skin, and got a lot of questions about why they sell sugar pills and bottles of water at a (presumably) massive markup and suggest they're good for potentially lethal diseases.

    Can't see what's "ethical" about that, personally.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Well done CiFers

    Putting the fear of FSM into those snakeoil salespeople*.


    (please feel free to moderate me away libel lawyers come a-calling)

  6. Ray
    Black Helicopters

    Excellent News

    I met someone recently that came back with powdered raven - as in the bird - from her homeopathist. I had a good laugh at that, particularly when she was asked what condition it was for. The answer? "Ummm, I'm not really sure".

    And yes, it really was powdered corvus corvax:

    I wasn't even sure that kind of thing was legal.

  7. Jon Thompson

    Extraordinary claims...

    ...demand extraordinary proof.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    homeopathy works,,,

    Years ago my wife having spent years seeing various GPs about problems decided to give a homoeopath a try. It worked for her. He spent an hour sympathetically listening to all her problems and at the end said.

    Well basically you need a series of Major Operations, my mum's a surgeon, I'll phone her and ask who are the best people in the field.

    Worked for her.

  9. spencer

    PR nightmare

    I wonder who at neals yard decided to go along with this... they must have known what was going to happen.

    Anyway, it was very funny watching it unfold.

  10. Will Payne
    Thumb Up


  11. Paul Murphy

    Be fair everyone ...

    After all it takes a long time to gather and organise all the scientifically-validated tests and trials that have been done around the world to show the effectiveness of homeopathy.

    oh wait....

    mines the one which appears to be a piece of thread, but is actually as effective as a real coat, cos I say so and you believe me.

  12. The BigYin

    Homeopathy works. 100% fact.

    It's always a good idea to be correctly hydrated....

  13. Dazed and Confused

    @PR Nightmare

    Why would they have seen it coming?

    When did you last find anyone involved in either PR or Homoeopathy that could see the obvious?

  14. GrahamT

    Left hand, please meet right hand.

    Ben Goldacre does a fantastic job of debunking snake oil salesmen, including the MMR debacle.

    Thousands of kids have died or become very ill because parents believed false accusations that MMR vaccine was dangerous. The herd immunity has now dropped to a level where we could have epidemics of Measles, Mumps or Rubella, each of which can be very serious (especially in adults) - Death, infertility, deformed foetuses, etc.

    Then we get the blogmeister giving a platform to these awful scaremongers. What sort of reaction did they expect from Grauniad readers?

    Yes, I am one, before anyone asks, and both my kids had MMR jabs. The view is great from up here on the moral high ground ;-)

  15. Dan

    @ Left hand, please meet right hand

    Just because parents chose not to immunise their offspring with the single MMR vaccine doesn't mean that they chose not to immunise at all ...

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Checked and balanced

    "So there you are, harnessing the power of community and innovative new editorial formats, spreading enlightenment by putting the customers together with the vendors, and what happens?"

    Well, the 2.0 aspects actually played out in favour of the honest people out there, didn't they? If this were traditional media, the fairy story would be sold, there'd be a coupon at the bottom of the page for a "reader offer", and a bunch of people would be suckered into parting with their cash.

    We need more of the same at every level. Many MPs seem to think that public money should be spent on vague "healing" techniques on a par with "crystals and shit" (see Commons 2.0 is on its way, and the sooner it's all there, the better.

  17. Neil Robertson

    @ Left Hand, please meet right hand, again

    I'm sure there are a minority of parents who have done their research and have sought out the individual vaccinations required to legitimately avoid the MMR jab. However the vast majority have avoided the MMR and its associated bad press and done nothing to avoid the consequent risks - hence the growing risk of epidemics in certain communities.

  18. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge


    Measles can be very nasty in adults. However, in this country AFAIK the MMR vaccine was introduced fairly recently - so that most people over the age of 30 or so won't have had it. However, many adults (myself included) gained immunity to these diseaes by actually having them in childhood, so it could be argued that the 'awful scaremongers' are those warning of an epidemic of measles. That said, it would be a Good Thing to eradicate such nasties, and the whole MMR = autism thing was so clearly nonsense that all it really acheived was to expose a lot of sloppy journalism.

  19. Naich

    @Dan re: Left hand...

    The recent rise of measles cases, following decades of decline, might suggest the latter.

  20. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Guardian Group and alternative health

    Don't forget this is the same organisation that ran 'The Barefoot Doctor' column in the Observer for years and years. That ended nastily too when he was foolish enough to go online and try to answer questions.

    BTW. his advice to coping with everything from male pattern baldness to dying horribly in a bus crash was massaging your kidneys and/or liberal applications of lavender oil.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king

    Either that, or the one-eyed man keeps his mouth shut so as not to be labelled a nutcase with all his 'unproven' claims. Not that I know much about homeopathy, but just try explaining your round-world theory to a horde of rabid flatworlders. Better not to enter the debate.

  22. GrahamT

    re: re: left hand etc.

    This is the first time a comment of mine has triggered so many responses, and I must say I am impressed by the intelligence and thought that has gone into them. Makes you proud to be a Reg (and Guardian) reader.

    @Mike Richards: I couldn't agree with you more; I hated that column, it made my blood boil. Not what you want over breakfast on a lazy Sunday. But what you said reinforces what AC at 11:59 said - these people can get away with it in traditional media if the correct editorial checks and balances aren't in place, but make them face their readers on-line and the weakness of their case(s) is soon exposed, and the Barefoot Doctor was dropped due to public demand - eventually.

    There is also a definite difference between Guardian and Observer editorial slant. You rarely hear "Observer reader" used in the same way as "Guardian reader" - positively or negatively.

    For me, Ben Goldacre's regular Guardian column more than makes up for past indiscretions in the Fashion supplement, I mean, Observer.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if it's worth calling NYR to ask the questions....

    Seeing as they seem to have lost their login to the Guardian site.

  24. Adam Foxton

    @one-eyed AC

    The only advantage the one-eyed man would have is the concept of colours. And his language would have no way of covering it (if everyone was blind, why would they have a name for "mauve"?). So how would the rest of the world know he was actually one-eyed rather than blind? He'd have to go about proving it methodically. Colission avoidance, determining the difference between whisky and vodka with absolutely no physical contact, all that sort of thing until he'd definately beaten random chance.

    And unproven accusations should be shouted down as hard as possible. Once the evidence becomes irrefutable it should be accepted as fact. Things like Gravity. Okay, so we're not there yet with exactly how or why it works. But we know there IS gravity and we can predict certain aspects of it

    Not shouting someone down because you might be proven wrong with his next sentence, in 20 years or never- but you might still be wrong- is the route to a ridiculous state of affairs.

    Finally, I'd like to reiterate what's been said above- extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. That's why normal patents seem to take the equivalent of a sketch on a hanky (yes, I know it's not really like this) where as perpetual motion machines (nowadays) have to be seen and checked before having the patent granted. They might work- but it's so mind-bogglingly improbable that you need irrefutable proof to have it accepted as fact.

  25. Christoph

    To Grauniad readers

    If anyone actually thinks the Grauniad was right to publish this sort of thing, may I suggest you give it even more influence over your life?

    You're obviously reading it too much. It will have much more effect if you take it in homeopathic doses, and read it as little as you possibly can.

  26. Chris

    @In the land AC

    Oh please. Are you seriously trying to suggest that homeopathy is a wonderful new theory people are just closed to because they don't know better?

    Homeopathy was first pulled out of a German physician's arse in 1796. It has been repeatedly demonstrated to not be any better than placebo when subjected to anything like a rigourous testing. The same kind of testing which _demonstrated_ round-world, the heliocentric solar system, the expanding universe etc.

    Homeopathy and the rest of the hippy bullshit proliferated by these quacks is a desperately sad movement which melts away to nothing when properly evaluated. They're the flat-earthers, the creationists, the "pyramids were built by aliens" loonies. Wishful thinking and nothing more. You've got your analogy absolutely 180% the wrong way round.

  27. Chris


    Joking aside, of course they were right to publish. Have you read the rest of the "You ask, they answer" series? There are some pretty snarky questions, which, for the most part, the companies involved take with good grace and answer to the best of their abilities. Neal's Yard appear to have misunderstood that some people feel claiming to be an "ethical" company and selling water as a cure for malaria/flu/whatever doesn't really match. They could have defended themselves, or at least tried to. Why wouldn't they if they believe in what they're selling?

    To my mind it's a Good Thing to have this exposed.

  28. Stevie Silver badge


    [4 Dan] Here in NYC we have Whooping Cough. Read that again. Whooping Cough for Azathoth's sake, a disease that was dangerous, recognized as so and roundly brought to bay during my childhood in the UK by people who understood the danger and worked hard to mitigate it.

    Why do we have the disease again? Because certain immigrant populations in the city believe that the drop in the numbers of a disease "prove" that we didn't need the vaccination, and Everyone Knows there's dangerous chemicals in the jabs.

    Azathoth help everyone if an epidemic starts in The Bronx, because I'm told by people who know more about such things than I do that once it gets a hold, a disease like Whooping Cough or Measles (another "exagerated" danger said population doesn't believe in) gets a good hold in the community, even the vaccinated are in danger.

    Of course, should a disease break out it will be because of a secret government plot targeted at the (insert your favourite ethnic group here), not because the dimwit parents chose to put their children and those of their neighbours at risk.


    Mine's the one with the handbell in the pocket and "unclean" written on the back.

  29. Norbury


    And in the kingdom of the bland it's 9 o'clock on ITV.

    I suspect you may have your round and flat-worlders mixed up, unless you think that both views are valid? There is as much evidence for homeopathy as there is for the world being flat.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    And you believe the pharmaceutical companies? Pharmaceuticals try to extract what they think is the active ingredient in many plants and herbs, which were used successfully to cure people until the herbalist were put out of action, thankfully we have a revival.

    So, big surprise it is all based on nature, but hard to get a patent on that, what a surprise.

    If you try and isolate the active ingredient, you tend to produce something that is not natural it is not combined correctly, of course that plays right into the hands of the doctors and the pharmaceuticals companies; you will end up on a string of drugs, your funeral.

    Homeopathy is quite interesting, there could be a placebo effect but then the mind is capable of cure. If you look into anything in depth, you will often see that just a slight change can create a massive difference in the total system, and that is the basis of homeopathy, and of course of nuclear fission.

    To be honest it depends how your mind is wired if you accept either approach or not, scientific proof yeah right, bunch of snake oil salesmen. It is funny you can apply the same process to the doctoring profession it is not science, some people will not respond to the drugs, and if that is the case then it means there is no proof that a drug does what it claims.

    What is amusing is how, some people get really violent when trying to attack homeopathy, but just blindly accept the drugs. Personally I don't care, use what works would be the best option, but don't remove other's options just because you drank the kool aid.

    And MMR jab, well you lot could have started a plague ever thought of that?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MMR? Well...

    The real "problem" with the MMR vaccine was not hysterical mothers, bad research, automatic rubbishing of non-mainstream thought or anything like that.

    The real problem was that the government forced people to use the single vaccine and refused to let them the single vaccines regardless of any real medical concerns. The move was almost purely economic, and enforced with the subtle government hand that we have come to know and love. If single vaccines had remained available if required there would have been no problem.

    We had to jump through hoops to get our daughter single vaccines, and that was with the doctor agreeing that using the MMR vaccine on her would be a significant risk.

  32. Mark

    I am infavour of healthy scepticism but...

    Have any of the posters above actually tried alternative medicine?

  33. Martin

    @Mark 15:14

    And have you ever jumped off a cliff? You can't knock it 'till you've tried it ....

  34. Richard
    Thumb Up

    El Reg are "public relations experts"

    It must be true - Wikipedia says so!

  35. Warhelmet

    Powdered Raven?

    Not as loony as Plutonium. Or Helium. Or shipwrecks. Or thunderstorms. Oh, and your magic water never has to go near the real substances because you can "program" the water with a Radionic Computer.

    A lot of what NYR do is anti-science. Some folks believe that anti-science is damaging to society.

  36. Mark
    Thumb Up



    My point is that, I wonder how many people dismiss alternative medicine such as homeopathy, without having tried it for themselves.

    If you put your faith in current scientific knowledge, without question, then there would be no reason to try something like homeopathy, because there has been no concrete proof that it works, so far as I'm aware.

    However, what about the millions of people who use homeopathy and other alternative therapies in the UK? Are they all deluded, naive, stupid or gullible? I would propose that is mostly not the case. I would say, rather, that they are flexible, open to change and willing to take a risk.

    Of course having blind faith in alternative medicine is potentially self-defeating, but I credit most people with enough self-possession to have a feel for whether something it working for them or not.

    It seems to me very limiting to dismiss something that Science had not provided evidence for. You can't really know alternative medicine/therapies don't work, until you've given them a go. Can you?

  37. WhatWasThat?

    Homeopathy & Science

    There is a difference between what is sometimes today termed "homeopathic medicine" ("Joe Crystal") and what your common apothocary ("Good Edward") did in the 1750's which is today termed "herbological medicine"...


    Edward knew that Black Walnut bark helped (natural analgesic that became Asprin); chew on that or make a strong tea out of it and relax for a few minutes.

    Joe believes that the problem is with your aura; take this crystal pyramid and place it over your forehead while sitting serenely on the floor so the sunlight shines into it.

    Nasty scrap on the rocks?

    Ol' Ed says some witchhazel (Hamamelis) leaves from the colonies rubbed on it after washing will keep it from getting infected; wrap with a clean cloth and you were on your way.

    Guru Crystal has consulting the universal consciousness and determined you need to wear a Hematite necklace (admittedly, after washing), to keep any infections from your blood.

    There is much from what was common knowlege from grandmothers and Edinburgh apothocaries that have been "lost", misplaced or downright lied about from our modern medical profession. The idea that it won't work unless it has had millions spent in processing it into a little gel cap or plastic packaged cream is sheer arrogance.

    But then again, I am one of those few that was allowed to get in the mud and guck and develop an immunity to things, instead of being a sterilized child that is allergic to everything and catches a cold at the faintest breeze...

    Mine's the one with the leach chest (not the little slimy buggers, tinctures, 'natch) in the pocket.

  38. Dave
    Paris Hilton

    If it looks like a duck

    And has a water-tight arse, what is the noise that it is most likely to make???

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You pointed out that chewing willow bark helped cure headaches. This illustrates what happened to "herbological medicine"-

    Those that worked (such as the acetylsalicylic acid in willow bark) we now called "medicine" and are available to us in pure, known concentrations.

    Those that didn't work were left on the shelf, along with bile chanting and sticking fingers up sheep's bottoms on religious holidays.

  40. Marvin the Martian

    @GrahamT: editorial checks at the grauniad?

    You joking, right? I've never seen any broadsheet less fact-based than that sorry heap. They do absolutely zero factchecking. If you know a topic or region, you see glaring misexplanation or self-serving reversals of facts or chronologies.

    Looked at it last saturday. It claimed Berlusconi gave 4 houses to the teenage girl all the hubbub is about. No other paper wrote this (a 4000quid necklace, yes), none in the UK, none in the US and none in Italy. So where did they come up with that? Why??

  41. Ian

    @Marvin the Martian

    re: 4 houses - if it's in the Grauniad it must have been on wikipedia somewhere - check their revision history.

  42. RW

    Three comments

    A. Medical students are taught that something like 90% or 95% of ailments will resolve without intervention. Hence, if you take a harmless pseudo-medication, for example a homeopathic remedy that is so highly dilute that it is unlikely to contain a single atom of the active principle, most of the time you will get better. Not because, but in spite of.

    B. There's a strange meme that's gotten loose. Ignorant people come to believe that they have special knowledge that is being suppressed by Big Pharma or some equivalent shadowy conspiracy. One variant of this meme is what I call "the silver bullet syndrome", wherein the victims are persuaded that if they just (do, take, consume, refrain from) some particular medicine or deed or food, all their troubles will be resolved. An example is someone persuaded that their sad life is due to a misshapen face, so they undergo plastic surgery and discover (alas!) that post-recovery they are no more successful in getting laid than before. In the most advanced cases, not only do they have the same old personality defects that repel others, but now they can't stop talking about their plastic surgery.

    And they still have to put out the garbage on collection day and clean the cat's litter box.

    C. As for herbal remedies, it appears that *some* herbal remedies help *some* disorders in *some* people, but the effects are so inconsistent and the failures so predominant that it's not possible to make a case for marketing the stuff as a safe and effective medication. Marijuana presents an interesting example in that the synthetic stuff, Marinol, just doesn't work as well as the real thing. Marijuana's efficacy in relieving many distressing symptoms (without touching their causes) seems to depend in a very delicate way on the exact combination of cannabinoids it contains. Hence the Compassion Club in Vancouver BC offers its clients a range of different strains of marijuana that have each been found reasonably effective for one or another of those symptoms: pain, nausea, muscle spasm, general malaise, etc.

  43. Palladius


    "You can't really know alternative medicine/therapies don't work, until you've given them a go. Can you?"

    Yes, you can. You do a double-blind, controlled study and you find out. Thankfully (if the anticapation is too great) some helpful souls have done just that.

    They don't.

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