Author Archives: Niall Taylor

The “Top Secret” 2012 draft

secret-3037639_640(Image courtesy of tayebMEZAHDIA, Pixabay)

Finally the homeopathic lobby has got what it has been asking for for some time, the publication of an unfinished, 2012 draft report on an overview of reviews of the effectiveness of homeopathy (a.k.a. the 2012 draft report [1]). This was originally commissioned by Australia’s principal funding body for medical research, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), as a part of its investigation into the usefulness of homeopathy which eventually led to the publication, in 2015, of its report and position statement largely condemning homeopathy [2]. The NHMRC chose not to include the 2012 draft in their final report.

For years homeopaths, unhappy with the conclusions of the 2015 report and determined to discredit it, have been making far-fetched claims about the so-called 2012 draft report, including accusations that the NHMRC actually produced two reports, one of which (the draft in question) was suppressed as it was favourable to homeopathy. As always with such people everything is a conspiracy, anything to compensate for a lack of evidence.

In truth the facts about the draft are much more straightforward, and not at all the story of cloak and dagger intrigue which homeopathic bodies would prefer us to believe. The NHMRC didn’t produce two reports – as Chief Executive Officer Professor Anne Kelso says in a statement accompanying the published draft [3], ‘It must be emphasised that [the 2012 draft report] is an incomplete piece of work that is not a NHMRC-endorsed report, therefore its content must be read in this context. NHMRC’s usual practices of quality assurance were not applied to this document. These practices (which include methodological review, expert review, public consultation and approval from the expert committee and NHMRC’s Council) can often result in significant changes to initial drafts.

In other words the 2012 draft was exactly what it says on the tin, a first draft report which hadn’t been subject to normal quality assurance by the commissioning body. It is simply part of the usual scientific process of investigation, not some anti-homeopathy cover-up. This is just another example of homeopaths cherry-picking the information they prefer to hear, regardless of quality, rather than the larger truth.

homeopathy-1604071_1280(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

This cherry picking is so blatant too, for instance a press release by the self appointed ‘Homeopathic Research Institute’ (HRI) about the 2012 draft reports [4] ‘We… welcome the valuable clarification provided by NHMRC CEO Prof Anne Kelso, that NHMRC’s second Homeopathy Review published in 2015 “did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective”’ yet completely omits the actual conclusion, mentioned in the same statement by Prof. Kelso only a couple of lines later, ‘there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective‘! It seems the HRI is more concerned with the semantics of the report than it’s actual findings.

The 2012 draft makes for interesting reading however. The published version contains annotations to the original text from the NHMRC expert homeopathy working committee which give an insight into the authors’ thought process. The annotations point out a number of serious flaws including that some of the conclusions within the draft were the opinions of the draft’s authors rather than a reflection of the evidence. There was also a failure to note that a majority of the homeopathic trials considered had a medium, high or undetermined risk of bias; subjective, undefined and subjective terms were used, such as evidence being described as ‘encouraging’ for the effectiveness of homeopathy and, at a later stage, trials described as ‘unfocussed’ rather than what they really were – poor quality. There was confusion about what different evidence grades mean (one Grade C trial is described as ‘encouraging’ while on the same page another Grade C trial is described as providing ‘no convincing evidence’).

The annotations cast light on growing disagreements between the expert committee and the authors of the draft. This eventually led to the contract between the NHMRC and the producers of the report being ‘… terminated in August 2012 with the mutual agreement of NHMRC and the contractor’. The inescapable conclusion is that, for reasons given in the annotations themselves, the 2012 draft was not fit for purpose and as a result was rejected by the committee.

So, no conspiracy, no ‘cover up’, just a poorly performed review which was properly rejected by the body that commissioned it. Homeopathy is still ineffective, nothing about the 2012 draft review changes that or anything else. Nor, unfortunately, should anyone expect it to change the tired old conspiracy rhetoric either, which will be rolled out yet again by Hahnemann’s ‘true believers’ – it takes more than good science and solid evidence to counter a faith-based system.

Links:

1] [Annotated draft 2012 report]

2] [NHMRC report and position statement]

3] [NHMRC CEO statement accompanying the 2012 draft]

4] [HRI press release]

Comments:

[Edzard Ernst blog] :: [Australian sceptics]

Frei 2005 – CAM Papers

Frei, H., Everts, R., von Ammon, K., et al. (2005) ‘Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial’, European Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 164, pp. 758–767.

Links: [abstract, pubmed]::[abstract, springerlink]::[fulltext, ResearchGate, OA]
Responses: [Adler, 2005]

Homeopathic papers – Adler 1999

Adler, M. (1999) ‘Efficacy and safety of a fixed-combination homeopathic therapy for sinusitis’, Advanced Therapeutics, vol. 16, no. 2, pp.103–111.

RVM says: An open label, practice based survey, no blinding, no placebo control, yet bizarrely referred to as “evidence” by homeopaths… Just another customer satisfaction survey masquerading as science.

Links: [abstract, pub med]

Homeopathy – very much to be sneezed at: Aabel 2000

Aabel, S,. Laerum, E., Dølvik, S. and Djupesland, P. (2000) ‘Is homeopathic ‘immunotherapy’ effective? A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with the isopathic remedy Betula 30c for patients with birch pollen allergy’, British Homeopathic Journal, vol. 89, pp. 161–168.

Birch trees Ontario Georgian Bay uid 1045989

RVM says: Apart from a couple of days there was no statistically significant difference between trial groups although for 10 days out of the 4 week test period the authors felt there was a “clinically interesting” (whatever that means) difference. No mention of randomisation in the abstract or of how blinding was achieved. The staggering conclusion: “treatment with Betula 30c during the pollen season deserves further attention“. Well, it might if you’re desperate to sell homeopathy to people who trust you and you’re happy to turn a blind eye to the fact it simply doesn’t work.

Links: [abstract, pub med]
Responses: [comment, apgaylard]

Give a dog a bone, and some germs and bugs too!

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van Bree, F.O.J, Bokken, G.C.A.M., Mineur, R., Franssen, F., Opsteegh, M., van der Giessen, J.W.B., Lipman, L.J.A. and Paul A M Overgaauw, P.A.M. (2017) ‘Zoonotic bacteria and parasites found in raw meat-based diets for cats and dogs’, Veterinary Record, vol. 182, p. 50, (DOI: 10.1136/vr.104535).
[full reference and links]

Yet another paper has just been published confirming the less than startling fact that raw diets for dogs contain what we professionals call ‘germs and bugs‘. A team of Dutch researchers looked at thirty five samples from eight commercially available brands of raw meat based diets (RMBD) and discovered bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, as well as parasites including Sarcocysts and Toxoplasma gondii in them. A staggering 80 per cent of the samples contained antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria. This seething collection of flora and fauna can cause illness in humans ranging from gastro-enteritis through haemorrhagic colitis and kidney-failure, to death in new-born babies and abortion in pregnant women. The organisms can transfer from dog to dog as well as to owners either directly from the raw-fed dog or indirectly by the contamination of the surfaces and utensils used to prepare the raw-food; they will multiply at room temperatures in food bowls. In many cases dogs can carry these micro-organisms, all the time shedding them into the environment, without showing any signs of ill health themselves. Furthermore such diets have been reported to cause problems in the dogs who eat them such as damaged teeth, perforated guts, hyperthyroidism and nutritional imbalance.

The study concludes, in that typically dispassionate way that published papers do, that owners should be made aware of the risks of feeding raw food to pets. RationalVetMed would venture a step further – just don’t! There is no good reason to feed raw food to your pets and there are serious risks to you, your family and your pets if you do. If, despite the risks, you insist on feeding raw then that is up to you but don’t kid yourself it has anything to do with supposed health benefits, because there are none, your decision is purely and simply a lifestyle choice.

See RationalVetMed.org for the full reference and links.