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Oxford University college accused of 'lending credibility to quackery' by hosting homeopathy conference

Good Thinking Society says that by hosting the AGM of the Society of Homeopaths, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, is ‘adding gloss to a pseudoscientific event’

Adam Lusher
Wednesday 01 March 2017 15:00 GMT
A spokeswoman for Lady Margaret Hall has said the venue is only being rented to the Society of Homeopaths and that the ‘commercial arrangement’ should not be mistaken for an endorsement
A spokeswoman for Lady Margaret Hall has said the venue is only being rented to the Society of Homeopaths and that the ‘commercial arrangement’ should not be mistaken for an endorsement (Rex)

An Oxford University college has been accused of inadvertently “lending credibility to quackery” by agreeing to host a conference on the “alternative therapy” of homeopathy.

The Good Thinking Society, a charity which claims to promote rational thinking and battle “pseudoscience”, has said Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, will be “adding gloss to a pseudoscientific event” by hosting the annual general meeting of the Society of Homeopaths on 18 March.

One of the star guests at the Oxford college will be a homeopath described as “well known for her thorough, in-depth anamnesis where the ‘resonance’ of patient and practitioner leads to finding the correct remedy for the disturbed vital force”.

Lady Margaret Hall, which lists the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger as its principal and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson as a visiting fellow, has stressed that it is merely renting out space in its grounds and none of its academics will be attending the society’s AGM.

But Michael Marshall, Project Director of the Good Thinking Society, told The Independent: “It’s pretty clear the Society of Homeopaths is seeking venues with a connection to science and learning, to academia and prestige. They are using them to add gloss to their pseudoscientific event.

“They are not going to the local Marriott hotel and hiring a conference room. They are going to Oxford University.

“Lady Margaret Hall should think twice before lending credibility to such groups.

“We urge them to filter out events that promote disproven and potentially dangerous quackery that run directly contrary to what their college is all about: learning and intellectual rigour.”

Mr Marshall insisted: “Homeopathy has no beneficial effects at all.

 Supporters say homeopathy can help with a wide range of ailments. Critics say it is no better than a placebo (Getty)
 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Supporters of the alternative therapy, however, have claimed it can help with everything from asthma and ear infections to depression and arthritis.

Originating from the ideas of the 18th century German doctor Samuel Hahnemann, homeopathy is based on a belief that “like cures like”, and that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help remove those symptoms.

It often involves diluting a substance in water so many times that there is hardly a single molecule of it left. Many homeopaths support a “memory theory” that water is capable of storing information relating to substances with which it has previously been in contact.

Homeopathy supporters include Prince Charles who last year revealed that he had been “successfully using homeopathic treatments for my cattle and sheep as part of a programme to reduce the use of antibiotics”.

The Society of Homeopaths has admitted that “the mechanism by which homeopathic remedies work are not yet fully understood,” while insisting: “There is plenty of evidence from randomised controlled trials demonstrating that individualised remedies show a difference from placebos.”

The official NHS Choices website, however, advises: “There has been extensive investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy. There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.”

The Society of Homeopaths – which is accredited by the Professional Standards Authority and describes itself as “the largest organisation registering homeopaths in the UK” – declined to comment to The Independent.

But in announcing the Oxford AGM on its website, it described the event as “a chance to get together with colleagues and share knowledge”.

One of the star guests will be Alize Timmerman of the Hahnemann Institute of the Netherlands, who, according to the institute’s website “is well known for her thorough, in-depth anamnesis where the ‘resonance’ of patient and practitioner leads to finding the correct remedy for the disturbed vital force”.

The institute also says it has developed “a number of new homeopathic remedies which are being used to achieve a high level of cure”.

The Good Thinking Society’s criticism of the AGM venue appears to be part of a long-running feud with homeopathy and the Society of Homeopaths.

In September the Good Thinking Society threatened the Charity Commission with judicial review over its refusal to remove charities which promote homeopathy from its register.

The society’s demand for action “to prevent charities from promoting misleading treatments, and to protect the public from these ineffective therapies,” provoked a furious response from Mark Taylor, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths.

He wrote to the chairman of the Charity Commission accusing the Good Thinking Society of making claims and demands that are “nonsensical, presumptuous and unenforceable”.

Mr Taylor added: “This publicity stunt by the Good Thinking Society contains the usual concoction of half-truths and innuendo. Homeopathy is effective, safe and valued by patients.”

The Good Thinking Society was then itself reported to the Charity Commission by the Conservative MP David Tredinnick, who in December accused it in Parliament of “the abuse of its charitable status through its use of legal threats to force the Department and health providers to change the law on healthcare”.

Mr Tredinnick’s intervention came days after he told MPs: “It is a great tragedy that a tiny number of people, whom I regard at best as foolish and at worst as wicked, are trying to erase the tiny sum of money – £500m – spent on homeopathy in the health service.”

In the same Parliamentary debate, the MP, a former member of both the Health and the Science and Technology Select Committees told the Commons: “There is a very long list of types of cancer that can be treated using traditional Chinese herbal medicine: cervical cancer, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, HIV, colon cancer, head and neck cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. The list goes on.”

In 2009, Mr Tredinnick also recalled that: “In 2001 I raised in the House the influence of the moon, on the basis of the evidence then that at certain phases of the moon … Surgeons will not operate because blood clotting is not effective.”

A spokeswoman for Lady Margaret Hall said: “Lady Margaret Hall, in common with many universities and colleges, occasionally rents space for other organisations for private conferences. This is a purely commercial arrangement.

“The act of renting space obviously does not imply that LMH in any way endorses the organisation. We do not lend it “credibility.”

“The income from this hospitality business is important to the College to sustain its academic activities.

“It is impractical to cancel the booking for the Society of Homeopaths. The Principal, Alan Rusbridger, is happy for our governing body to re-examine our approach concerning the hospitality wing of the College and see whether it needs revising in the light of concerns, but also taking into account the erosion of free speech on university campuses.”

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