Defending Homeopathy (Or Not)

Neal’s Yard Remedies are purveyors of the finest magic water. Water that remembers magic ingredients that have been dissolved into it and diluted until no memory of the ingredients can possibly remain. Yes, they sell homeopathic treatments.

Someone in their PR department decided it was a good idea to get involved in the Guardian’s “You Ask, They Answer” feature. In this feature, readers post questions and the organisation under the spotlight posts the answers.

Except this week it didn’t quite work our that way.

The article was published on the Guardian web site at about noon yesterday. And the questions soon came flooding in. Questions like:

Do you see no problem with trying to be ‘ethical’ while at the same time selling snake oil for a living?


Please could you explain what level of evidence of efficacy you require before stocking any product?


Does your part in the MMR scare make you feel guilty?

You know, the obvious kinds of questions that reasonable people who like to ask woo-mongers. For almost twenty-four hours the questions kept coming in. Ben Goldacre would have been proud of the Guardian’s readership.

After a while people started wondering when the answers would be forthcoming and the web site editor popped up occasionally to assure them that they would be arriving very shortly.

Then about an hour ago, this comment was posted:

have just had a chat with NYR.

Unfortunately, despite previous assurances that they would be participating in this blog post, I’ve now been told they ‘will not be taking part in the debate’.

So yes, as several people have pointed out, this has become something of ‘You Ask’, rather than a ‘You Ask, They Answer’. I’m still hoping NYR will reconsider.

When faced with the opportunity to answer some of their sternest critics and to produce evidence of the efficacy of their products, Neal’s Yard Remedies bottled it. They decided that it was better to just run away and hide.

I hope that the Guardian will run with this story. I’d love it if as many people as possible knew that Neal’s Yard Remedies were unable to produce answers to the questions that any sane person would need answers to before buying stuff from them.

And yes, I know already the kind of comments I’ll get if the friends of homeopathy get wind of this article. “But it cured my mother’s cancer”, “science doesn’t know everything”, “you can’t be sure until you try it”. All nonsense of course. Homeopathy does not and cannot work.

The plural of anecdote is not data.

Update: A nice follow-up about why this is a PR disaster for the company.


  1. Right. I was unclear. Homeopathy works fine as a placebo. I should have been clearer. However, that’s some distance from the claims that homeopaths make. The placebo effect doesn’t cure cancer.

  2. Well according to the Cochrane review I referred to it (placebo) does SFA, let alone cure cancer, though there seems to be a presumption amongst much of ‘proper’, evidence-based science that it does have quite significant effects. More work needed, methinks.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.