Monthly Archives: May 2017

Magical Thinking and the ‘Tongue Worm’

Faustino-Rocha, A.I., Henriques, N. and Venâncio, C. (2017) ‘Lyssa lingualis: debunking the myth of the “tongue worm”‘, European Journal of Companion Animal
Practice, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 63-66. [Link]

There is a fascinating article in the latest edition of the European Journal of Companion Animal Practice concerning a phenomenon I hadn’t been previously aware of.

Apparently in the days of Ancient Greece it was believed that rabies was caused by a worm which lived in a dog’s tongue. This structure can be seen as a pale streak in the midline of the underside of many dogs’ tongues and is referred to as the Lyssa (Lyssa was the goddess of madness); it does indeed look a little like a worm. The ancient remedy to ‘cure’ rabies was to remove this supposed parasite after which the dog would allegedly recover and then the Lyssa itself (which would ‘wriggle’ convincingly after removal) could be used in remedies to ‘cure’ humans who had been bitten. This was performed on the dog using a blade and without any sort of sedation or anaesthetic. Who would be mad enough to perform this procedure in a rabid dog I have no idea, but it must have been agony for the dog.

So far this sounds like nothing more than a piece of interesting, if gruesome, historical information. That is until you realise that this appalling procedure is still carried out in parts of Europe today as a supposed cure for a variety of diseases including rabies, but now also distemper and parvo-virus, still with no anaesthetic.

It turns out the Lyssa is a perfectly normal anatomic structure, possessed by all dogs, it is composed of muscle and fat. Its precise function is unknown but it’s easy to imagine it might be part of the supporting structure of the tongue. What it most emphatically is NOT, is a worm, it is part of the dog and removing it serves no purpose whatsoever. The authors of the paper describe the procedure as ‘witchcraft’ and inform us it is a criminal offence.

Just another example of magical thinking in the world of veterinary medicine (although I would hope the procedure isn’t carried out by actual veterinary surgeons) and how suffering can be caused in the name of wishful thinking.

This paper is a brilliant and simple example of how science can help counter superstition and barbarity.

A Cure for Cancer?

The website of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) features a case report in its ‘successful cases’ section, concerning a dog named Bedford (BAHVS, 2012). Bedford was diagnosed with a particularly nasty manifestation of a type of cancer, the squamous cell carcinoma, which appeared as a sizeable mass on top of his head, causing considerable pain and facial deformity.

The story continues, explaining Bedford’s owner, feeling conventional medicine had gone far enough, went on to seek homeopathic help, which was duly given, and to which he reportedly responded, eventually returning to his old self and able to enjoy life again, with no more problems.

From the photographs, it is clear the mass was initially large and painful, yet, after treatment, although the second photograph provided is from a slightly different angle, Bedford appears almost back to normal – the distortion of his brow and eyes seems to have gone and there is a keen look in his eyes.

Taken at face value (although the word ‘cure’, while present in the web address, is conspicuously absent from the account) this ‘successful case’ appears to support the position homeopathy can have profound, positive effects on cancer.

And what could be simpler? Dog gets cancer, dog is given homeopathy, dog recovers. Surely this must be convincing proof of the power of homeopathy?

I was curious to say the least when I first read Bedford’s story. My first thought, given what is known about homeopathy, was this story, as it stood, was unlikely to be true. Cancer Research UK, for instance, reports ‘there is no scientific or medical evidence [homeopathy] can prevent cancer or work as a cancer treatment’ (Cancer Research UK, 2015). Rather than dismiss it out of hand however, I wrote to the BAHVS and they were kind enough to send me Bedford’s clinical history.

On reading the notes, I discovered there was a significant gap in the account. It transpires, at the same time Bedford was receiving homeopathic treatment he was also being treated with robenacoxib, a drug of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) group.

This class of drugs is well researched and is widely known to have anti-cancer properties, particularly in cases of squamous cell carcinoma (Hilovska et al, 2015). Yet, for whatever reason, the BAHVS had not seen fit to point out such a drug was being given. Other science-based medications – ‘strong opiates’ for instance – are referred to, yet the very one that might have had a real bearing on the case was not even mentioned (although I notice, on the current manifestation of the page, the acronym ‘NSAID’ has indeed appeared, albeit with no explanation as to its significance).

Assuming this might have been an inadvertent omission, I wrote back to BAHVS to explain the situation and suggest, in the interests of full disclosure, they might like to add a paragraph or two to the account describing the potential role of robenacoxib in this case. That way, readers would be able to make a properly balanced judgement about the case, since anyone reading it as it stood could be forgiven for incorrectly assuming the changes in Bedford’s cancer were solely the result of homeopathic treatment.

To my great disappointment, however, the BAHVS declined to make any change to the account, informing me in its reply ‘it is what it is’.

It is clear that ‘what it is’ is simply another example of the tendency of homeopaths to cherry-pick evidence to suit their preconceptions, even, as in this case, when it has been pointed out that by doing so they are misleading the public.

It has to be asked, if homeopathic practitioners are so confident about their chosen modality – despite the wealth of scientific literature which finds it is no more effective than placebo – what is it they have to fear about presenting a full and honest account of this case rather than the one that currently still stands?


British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) (2012) Resolved Cancer Case 2 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Cancer Research UK (2015) Homeopathy [Online]. Available at (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Hilovska, L., Jendzelovsky, R. and Fedorocko P. (2015) ‘Potency of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in chemotherapy’, Molecular and Clinical Oncology, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 3–12, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Bogus Homeopathic Arguments – No. 1

The establishment is conspiring to suppress the truth about homeopathy!!!

Just consider for a moment what the implications of this claim are. In order for this to be true there would have to be a world wide conspiracy involving researchers at every level in government, universities, charitable institutions and private industry, pharmaceutical companies, medical and veterinary practitioners, nurses, midwives, journalist, marketing organisations and authors would all have to be working together to suppress the supposed convincing evidence that homeopathy works. To keep the truth under wraps there would have to be a massive level of coercion – bribes, bullying, threats and blackmail, none of which has ever been reported by anyone at any time.

The alternative is that general opinion is correct while a minority of homeopathic researchers and practitoners – all of whom have a vested interest of one sort or another – continue to claim that it works and support that position by using questionable data, cherry picking evidence and quoting trials which have been refuted many times in the past.

Just because “The Establishment” is big and faceless doesn’t mean it’s automatically wrong. In fact “The Establishment” is just a collection of ordinary people like you and me who would object strongly on allsorts of grounds if they believed that the truth was being systematically hidden. According to homeopathic bodies there are literally thousands of research papers which ‘prove’ homeopathy works. Furthermore, this is a system of medicine whose practitioners claim is gentle, side-effect free, safe and consistently effective, even in the most serious of diseases – heart disease, cancer, Ebola, HIV/AIDs, malaria. If both these claims were true then everyone and their granny in health care would be using it almost exclusively, what possible reason would there be not to. Yet still homeopathy remains marginalised and discredited, the province of science denialists and new-age cranks. Why? Because it simply doesn’t work, it is no different from giving a blank sugar pill.

Consider the real conspiracies that we do know about – “big business” has tried in the past to suppress the truth about the harm from asbestos and from smoking, the car industry for years blocked seat-belt and other safety legislation with bogus claims they would do more harm than good, the pesticide industry tried to hide the truth about the harmful effects of DDT. But in all these cases, even with the political and financial clout that the companies involved had, the truth finally came out in its entirety and in a very short space of time, a few decades at the most from suspicion being voiced to having it confirmed scientifically. By comparison homeopathy has been in existence for well over 200 years and there is still no good quality evidence that is in the slightest effective.