Edit: Despite extensive research before publishing this letter the council has since informed us that a private company is responsible for banners erected across Wickham Street. We are continuing our research in order to discover which company is responsible for this in order to let them know our concerns. Due to the fact that these kinds of use of public space would still require council planning permission we are not retracting our original letter to the Brisbane City Council, it is our hope they will review their policy on the guidelines set out to contractors on what type of content is allowable in a public space.
April 10th to April 16th this year is Homeopathy Awareness Week. Unlike other awareness events, for instance breast cancer awareness this one is purely commercial in nature and is not recognised by the UN or any other government body. Homeopathy is an alleged system of medicine first devised in the pre-science medical era by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. The system is based on the principal that like cures like, for instance caffeine promotes alertness and thus should be used to treat sleeping disorders, that the more dilute the substance is the greater the medical effect, and that succussion, the process of vibrating the mixture between each dilution (traditionally on a bible), will also make the mixture more powerful.
A recent report by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) echoes similar reports from the UK and the Cochrane Review in finding that there is no scientific evidence that homeopathy is effective for any condition. This is not surprising when you consider the chemistry behind it. A typical concentration for a homeopathic preparation is 30C. This means that the initial substance is diluted 1 part in a 100, usually in water or alcohol 30 times in a row. To put this into perspective, at that dilution you would have to drink almost 4 times the amount of water that exists on the Earth just to guarantee that you consumed a single molecule of the active ingredient. By comparison a typical paracetamol tablet contains 1,300,000,000,000,000 molecules.
What is more troubling is that this year’s “awareness” week is themed around treating infectious diseases. Unlike conditions like colds or headaches that typically resolves themselves after a day or two, infectious diseases are immediate life threatening conditions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has specifically warned against the use of homeopathy to treat diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Infectious diseases aren’t the only conditions homeopaths claims to be able to treat.
In 2005 Penelope Dingle died after husband Peter Dingle treated her with homeopathy instead of conventional medicine. Gloria Thomas who was only 9 months old died in 2009 when her parents eschewed science based medicine for homeopathy to treat her severe eczema. This left her immune system vulnerable and unfortunately she succumbed to an eye infection.
It is extremely concerning then that the Brisbane City Council saw fit to allow display of a banner this week, and indeed in previous years, promoting Homeopathy Awareness Week on the busy Wickham Street in Fortitude Valley. Brisbane Skeptic Society is extremely disappointed that the council would not carefully vet the types of organisations that it would allow such prominent promotions to.
Only a quick perusal of the Homeopathy Queensland website results in several statements that are either not supported by scientific evidence or mischaracterisations. “It is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a valid form of healthcare” this statement is clearly contradicted by the WHO which specifically warns against homeopathy’s use. “It may be used in the treatment of chronic illness, acute conditions and minor accidents requiring first aid.” As stated above several scientific reviews have found no evidence for this statement.
While homeopathy by definition is inert in and of itself, many who choose to use homeopathy do so as an alternative to conventional science based medicine. This unfortunately has in the past, and will continue into the future to have potentially lethal outcomes. Brisbane Skeptic Society would ask that the Brisbane City Council think very carefully in the future about the types of messages that they allow to be displayed in public locations such as Wickham Street. Brisbane City Council first and foremost must have the good of the community at its heart. A function that is not served by allowing dangerous misinformation to be displayed in a public place.
Regards, Ross Balch, BAppSc (MedSc) BAppSc (Microbiol)
President: Brisbane Skeptic Society
If you want to get involved you can contact the Mayor’s office:
Office of the Lord Mayor
GPO Box 2287
Brisbane Qld 4001
Phone: 07 3403 4400