A new review by Prof Edzard Ernst inclusive of studies by Homeopaths, fails to yield positive results.
Announcing a new review of Homeopathy to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the review is authored by Prof Edzard Ernst. A press release by the MJA follows this short introduction.
The introduction to Homeopathy is by Dr Ken Harvey who will be speaking to the Victorian Skeptics on the 21st of June, 2010. [Now a past event.]
Homeopathy has been in the news of late. Earlier this year, a homeopath and his wife were found guilty of manslaughter after their baby daughter died when they treated her severe eczema with homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medicines. In the United Kingdom, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that the UK health service should cease funding homeopathy because homeopathic products perform no better than placebos. More recently an Australian homeopath claimed that homeopathic immunisation was effective against polio, meningococcal, cholera, whooping cough and other serious diseases. The Complaint Resolution Panel agreed that these claims breached numerous section of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code, including promoting to the general public a treatment of serious diseases for which there was no evidence of efficacy. The homeopath concerned was requested to publish a retraction and withdraw misleading information; she refused arguing that she believed there was sufficient evidence to back up her claims.
What is the current regulatory situation of Homeopathy in Australia?
Because homeopathic medicines were regarded as low risk both the medicines and practitioners have been largely exempt from government regulation. However any claims made for homeopathic medicines are subject to the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code. The problem with the current system is that the Complaint Resolution Panel, which administers the Code, has no power to enforce its determinations. The end result is that around a third of those found to breach the rules fail to publish retractions or withdraw misleading material. Mark Butler, the current Parliamentary Secretary for Health, has stated that reforms to address these problems are currently being formulated.
Dr Ken Harvey, School of Public Health, La Trobe University
Below is the press release by the Medical Journal of Australia alerting to a new review they are about to publish by Prof Edzard Ernst on the subject of Homeopathy.
MJA Press Release
18th of April 2010
Current evidence showing that homeopathic medicines are ineffective treatments is not biased against homeopathy, as some homeopaths have argued, according to a review published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Prof Edzard Ernst, Director of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, UK, writes that about 150 controlled clinical trials have been published on homeopathy a therapeutic method that often uses highly diluted preparations of substances that, when administered to healthy people, create the same effects as the disorder in the unwell patient.
Prof Ernst said in situations where the results of these trials were neither all negative nor all positive, some commentators resorted to cherry picking those findings that fit their own preconceptions.
The problem of selective citation is most effectively overcome by evaluating all reliable evidence, an aim best met by systematic reviews,
Prof Ernst said.
He searched the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews generally considered to be the most reliable source of evidence in January this year for reviews that had the term homeopathy in their title, abstract or keywords. Of the six articles that met the inclusion criteria, none provided compelling evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies.
Homeopaths have argued that systematic reviews that fail to generate positive conclusions about homeopathy are biased,
Prof Ernst said.
However, as most of the reviews I appraised were authored by homeopaths, it seems unlikely that they were biased against homeopathy. In fact, one might argue that they were biased in favour of homeopathy.
For instance, one reviewer [not a Cochrane author] deliberately set out to select only the positive evidence and omit all negative evidence.
Prof Ernst said
some homeopaths argued that the controlled clinical trial was not suited for the study of homeopathy and that observational data, which appeared to suggest that homeopathy was effective, demonstrated the true value of the method.
A more rational explanation would be that the positive outcomes of observational studies are caused by the non-specific aspects of homeopathic treatments, while the controlled trials demonstrate that homeopathic remedies are placebos,
Prof Ernst said.
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.