18 August 2011

Not just fraudsters, but bullies too

Let’s say that you’re a large corporation or institution that has staked its profits and prestige on nothing more than a confidence trick. What do you do when someone calls you out on your public deception? Well, since you can’t actually defend your claims with evidence (because you haven’t got any), you’ll just have to sue that pesky know-it-all critic. With the deep pockets you’ve got, you can easily afford a legal campaign to silence anyone who had the temerity to expose your lies.

The British Chiropractic Association did exactly that to the journalist Simon Singh when he wrote a Guardian article criticising chiropractic. And now Boiron, a French manufacturer of sugar pills homeopathic ‘remedies’, is using the same bully tactics against an Italian blogger, Samuele Riva, who pointed out in a post that Boiron’s flu ‘treatment’ product Oscillococcinum doesn’t actually do anything. Like all homeopathic medicine, the so-called active ingredient has been diluted so many times to the point where there isn’t any left in the final product. Homeopathy ideology posits that water has ‘memory’, so even though there aren’t any physical traces of the original active ingredient left after multiple dilutions, its remedial power is nonetheless ‘remembered’ by the water, and thus retained.

Over at Science-Based Medicine (where real medical professionals advocate for evidence-based treatments, not magic), Steven Novella has written a great post on the Boiron case. And here’s Darryl Cunningham’s educational comic strip on homeopathy.

Quacks and snake-oil salesmen like the BCA and Boiron should really familiarise themselves with the Streisand effect. It might give them pause before they call their lawyers.


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