Prejudice (& Hostility)
“Good science comes first from observation” – Chris Day June 2006
|Added August 2009: It is a source of great disappointment to us at the AVMC, that a minority of professional veterinary colleagues acts in an unprofessional and discourteous way when clients try to discuss the possibility of referral for alternative medicine. Whatever their opinions of alternative medicine, usually formed without first-hand experience of the subject, vets are supposed to assist clients with referrals, not obstruct them or give a rude reaction. As most clients who request referrals have already come to the end of the conventional options, it is difficult to see what gives rise to the objection. Pride and financial considerations should not enter into the equation, so we assume these are not the reason. The fact that there may be a way of helping a distressed and chronically ill patient should be a source of pleasure and interest for the caring veterinary surgeon.|
“What we don’t talk to, we don’t understand. What we don’t understand, we fear. What we fear, we destroy.” (Aboriginal proverb)
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” (Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 -1860)
The practice of natural medicine, particularly homeopathy, is not a lucrative exercise. Manufacturing of the medicines is not highly profitable. There is also a great deal of hard work involved in specialised learning and the time-intensive nature of proper practice. For these reasons, there is poor availability of veterinary natural medicine but those who have taken it up enjoy the rewards, in job satisfaction (Why use Homeopathy?).
There is no doubt that taking up natural medicine massively reduces practice profitability, compared with conventional practice. The differential may change, if the monopoly of supply of conventional prescription medicines is removed from veterinary practices. This would remove lucrative profit margins and force them to charge more realistic professional fees for their work, rather than relying on sales.
Whether economics plays a part, whether it is the classic primitive behaviour pattern, in which a community harries those who do not conform precisely, whether it is insecurity when faced with the unfathomable vastness of the boundless vistas presented by holistic medicine or whether it is simply fear of the unknown and personal insecurity therefrom, there is a significant amount of prejudice and hostility against natural medicine and particularly against homeopathic vets within the veterinary profession and its hierarchy. In recent years, this has been actively fuelled by a vociferous minority, who wish to see homeopathy banned. There are even tales of prejudice against homeopathy and other natural medicines within the RSPCA Inspectorate and hierarchy. There was a clear-cut case in which the Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth strongly advised a client not to consult the AVMC, despite a chronic and distressing condition having shown no signs of improvement whatever on conventional treatment (happily, the owner took no notice and the donkey is now fine – case report). There is no moral or ethical place for such an attitude, when animal welfare should be the objective. There is so much to do for animals and their welfare that it beats me how or why these people have the time and energy for such negative activity.
(The AVMC is conducting objective analysis of clinical outcomes from cases seen. These results are being updated on an ongoing basis. To view them, click here.)
It is a matter of record that the AVMC has frequently offered free help to the relevant authorities, in cases of widespread animal suffering or disease (notable examples have been such recent epizootics as: Foot & Mouth Disease in 2001, Avian Influenza in 2006, Seal ‘phocine distemper’ PDV outbreak in 2002, Koala Chlamydia – ongoing). Sadly, in each case, these offers have either been ignored or refused. This would appear to be a result of institutional prejudice against homeopathy, often despite the abject failure of conventional methods. The seal disaster killed 17,000 animals in 1988 and 18,000 animals in 2002, yet no help was accepted. Survival of the Koala Bear is threatened by venereal spread of Chlamydia. Similar offers of help have been made for Squirrel Pox in Scotland and Cumbria, Bluetongue in Southern and Eastern England and Avian Influenza in the swans at Abbotsbury, in Dorset, in the West Country. Natural medicine may have a lot to offer, when conventional medicine is at a loss. However, to date, it has not been given a chance to prove its worth, despite the failure of the drug approach in such situations.
“Nature loves variety – Society hates it“ (so said Professor Milton Diamond). Those who would knock homeopathy bleat on about science. I say: if science knows all the answers, who needs scientists? They can surely go home, as there would be nothing left to discover! The nature of homeopathy can be an obstacle to belief, in that the medicines used are often diluted ‘beyond the molecule’. This is a cause of incredulity, in many but why not suspend disbelief, while examining the results? In fact, I have lectured to and enjoyed dialogue with a group of atomic scientists, who had no problem getting their minds around the sub-molecular issues. If that community was not worried, with their intimate and awe-inspiring knowledge and understanding of molecular and atomic physics, why should I be? The first rule of good science is observation and the results have to be observed, however inexplicable they may at first seem. I have frequently invited veterinary surgeons, including officers of the RCVS, to attend our clinic and observe. Why has this never happened? Let’s suspend disbelief, objectively examine the outcome of homeopathic intervention and worry about possible so-called ‘scientific’ explanations later. It is frankly unscientific to do otherwise.
Just because it took place in a laboratory does not make it science. – Chris Day
Forget the laboratory. Forget ingrained theory and beliefs. Forget entrenched loyalties. Get out in the field, roll up your sleeves and observe the results in practice. That is the start of real science. That is the only way to counter the entrenched belief system that prevents acceptance of homeopathy. ‘It doesn’t work because it can’t work’ is a fair summary of many of the arguments ranged against homeopathy and is symptomatic of belief not science.
Beware ‘The King’s New Clothes’.
The words ‘science’ and ‘scientific’ are used in such a way as to prevent the listener or reader questioning the material. Do you remember the boy who hadn’t been told about the King’s New Clothes? Whenever the words are used to support an assertion or a commercial interest, take a really objective look and you might see the real ‘King’ behind the illusion.
It is often said that if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth. [“A lie told often enough becomes truth” Vladimir Lenin. – William James (1842-1910) the father of modern Psychology “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.“]. However, call a thing red that is in fact blue will not make it red. No amount of ranting and clamouring will make it so.
There is a clamour for only ‘evidence-based medicine‘ to be acceptable. This same voice calls for homeopathy to be banned for lack of evidence. Sometimes this goes beyond the polemic into rabid rant. This seems very strange in the light of a recent BMJ report on evidence-based medicine (EBM), which states that, of 2,404 human treatments so far reviewed, only 15% were shown to be to be effective. 47% were of unknown effect. This report did not address harmful side-effects, nor did it draw attention to the fact that, in most cases, the evidence is only that a drug can suppress a symptom of the disease, rather than aid the patient to overcome a disease. One cannot expect modern conventional veterinary medicine to fare much better. If calls to ban medicine that is not evidence-based were to prevail, what would happen to 85% of conventional medicine? (See also Chris Day’s Blog)
The first step in good science is observation.
Experience (one of the best forms of evidence) shows that homeopathy is able to bring about a positive result in the large majority of cases seen, even after conventional methods have failed. In addition, a recent veterinary pilot clinical outcome survey, conducted by the British Homeopathic Association, yet to be published, showed very positive results. Published papers exist, to show that homeopathy is not without effect. These are conveniently ignored by the anti-homeopathy lobby.
Those who would ‘rubbish’ homeopathy will often claim that its so-called successes are only in self-limiting conditions. At the AVMC, we are scientific enough to know that some cases will resolve on their own, so making interpretation of any single result quite difficult. However, in referral practice, we know that the cases seen have defied many types of input before being presented for homeopathy, thus lessening the likelihood of them being self-limiting. Of course, the results of any veterinary intervention, conventional or otherwise, must be viewed to be possibly the result of self-limitation of the condition.
The six UK veterinary schools have reduced or totally removed student exposure to natural medicine, despite a unanimous motion by the AVS (Association of Veterinary Students), several years ago, for more ‘alternative’ content within the undergraduate curriculum. The reason for this reduction is not clear but, of course, academic posts are linked to research funding, in many cases, which comes from commerce. One veterinary school has recently re-opened the communication channel, which is very encouraging.
There are many signs of erosion of this prejudice, demonstrated by increased co-operation between vets on both ‘sides’. This is undoubtedly helped by proper ethical and professional conduct and openness, by veterinary homeopaths and by showing consideration and respect for mutual but healthy scepticism.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, until recently, separately listed the holders of the Faculty’s Membership qualification in its Register. This meant that, in homeopathy at least, there was recognition of the efforts that those vets who practice alternative medicine have put in, towards specialisation. Sadly, this listing has ceased, since 2006, for unclear reasons. The result is that it is more difficult for veterinary surgeons or for the animal-owning public to locate veterinary homeopathic referral services.
Some clients complain of resistance by veterinary surgeons to referral for homeopathy. If a veterinary practice refuses to supply a referral note or history, for homeopathic or other veterinary natural medicine, on request, then this should be a matter for discussion and diplomacy. We at the AVMC are happy to help in any way we can, on behalf of prospective clients and their animals. The RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct requires veterinary surgeons to co-operate with referrals and second opinions, when sought by clients.
If argument and professional rivalry pertain, in the management of a case, this can only be to the potential detriment of the patient. The AVMC always seeks a harmonious and co-operative route, in any dealings between veterinary surgeons. A sincere wish to help a sick animal, in any way possible, with frank and clear discussion should break down barriers. The animal patient is the priority in all our dealings and we try to ensure nothing can stand in the way of the best for the animal.
The public (i.e. the consumer) is ever more supportive of homeopathy. These days, despite residual professional prejudice, hardly a day goes by without some mention of natural medicine, in the national news or press. Twenty years ago, things were very different. In those days, an item on homeopathic medicine or organic farming, in the national press, was a very rare event.
Veterinary surgeons are not entitled to obstruct requests for referral or second opinion. On the contrary, the RCVS guidelines stipulate facilitation of such transactions. In today’s more ‘liberated’ and ‘enlightened’ environment, there should be no obstacle to obtaining the treatment you wish for your animal. We behave professionally and work for the benefit of the patient. This motivation should unite all vets.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course. On this issue, as in so many walks of life, there appears to be a wide spectrum of differing views and reactions. There are those who are scornful, there are those that would mock, there are those who are downright hostile, there are those with little or no opinion. There are also those who are open-minded, professional and ethical enough to observe results and want for their patients anything which might help, and these are the vets who continue to ask for homeopathic help or to assist their clients in seeking homeopathic help, when asked.
At the end of all this, care and concern for animal welfare has to be the bottom line. If a system of medicine, however incredible, may help just 1% of patients not helped by established methods, it is worth exploring! It would appear that a great deal more than 1% of such patients are helped by homeopathy (outcome analysis).
At a time when there is such a high incidence of adverse reactions to prescription medicines, worldwide, many resulting in death, surely it behoves us to show some humility and to search earnestly for another way? The true picture of the current toll of modern pharmaceutical drug medication is very obscure. According to the Center for Drug Safety (in the USA), reported Adverse Drug Events (ADEs) result in more than 2.1 million injuries each year and the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 100,000 Americans die annually of adverse reactions to prescription drugs. That organisation also states that the FDA’s Office of Drug Risk Assessment calculates only 1% of ADEs are reported. Coupling that with the very low efficacy claims (15%), made by the BMJ above, makes bleak reading. The above figures are therefore hopelessly underestimated. Figures from the veterinary world have not been found. Are we seriously being told that it is better to kill 100,000 American citizens (or many times that number) each year with drug medicine and who knows how many animals than to use homeopathy?
Perhaps one of the problems homeopathy has, on its path to mainstream acceptance, is the expert?
Science must look into the emerging field of bio-energetics, if it is to catch up and find some of the answers. Time should not be wasted on fruitless argument and ideological theorising.
For an introduction to the science of homeopathy:
Of course, not everyone is prejudiced. Some real scientists exist in the veterinary profession, as in others. Take the above excerpt from the National Geographic website (ignoring the U.S. spelling of ‘anesthetic’ and the misprint spelling of ‘complimentary’), for instance:
Our sentiments precisely! Animals first, prejudice not.
|Researchers there are exploring how acupuncture, in conjunction with anesthesia during and after surgery, can reduce the amount of anesthetic gas and post-operative pain medicine that a patient requires.
The reduction in medication can significantly lower the risk of adverse drug reactions in patients, according to Narda Robinson, a veterinarian and adjunct faculty member in the veterinary program at Colorado State University.
“I think the thrust of all this [research] is, how can we improve patient safety from medical procedures and [improve] their quality of life,” Robinson said.
“The more that veterinarians learn and accept acupuncture and some of the other complimentary [alternative] medical techniques, the safety of medical intervention for animals will be that much better.”
With regard to the recent rabid assaults on homeopathy within the NHS and on veterinary homeopathy, it is extremely boring and pointless for those who are more concerned with theory, dogma, reductionism and robotic and mechanistic medicine than with patient care and welfare to sound off on a subject of which they have neither experience nor understanding. Patients and patient care should be the central theme of medicine, not dogma and blinkered ideology. It’s a wonder they have the time in their lives to spend on such fruitless pursuits. In reading some of the of the arguments put forward, I can’t help wondering why I haven’t seen a single example cited of that fundamental requisite of real science – observation.
See also: Evidence-Based Medicine
See also: Chris Day’s Blog: http://chris-day.blogware.com
See also: Hacking Attack – July 2009 (Info)
Added 2009: In more sane moments, one is able to say let the non-scientists who attack homeopathy so volubly get on with their lives and let us get on with ours. In less tranquil moments, it is tempting to wonder why the ******* ******s don’t get off their backsides and witness the results of homeopathic treatment. Then they can start to form theories to explain them, based on true science (i.e. objective observation). Perhaps vested interest and the lucrative returns of ‘big pharma’ are too attractive and too comfortable to allow such objectivity.
Added July 2010: For how long can these -wits insult science by hiding behind that august word when they are patently being unscientific? How can they continue to be unprofessional in insulting homeopathy and their professional colleagues who have gone that step further than they have themselves and studied it and used it for the benefit of patients. For how long dare they go on insulting the intelligence of users of homeopathy (human patients and animal owners), who have been through the mill of conventional medicine without help, finally to find a solution in homeopathy? Are all these genuine folk really so deluded and so suggestible?
Those who would attack homeopathy state clearly that it has been proven not to work. However, all science and philosophy tells us that you cannot prove a negative. Furthermore, why ignore the scientific work that has been published, just because it doesn’t fit the paradigm? Plenty of work is published to show that homeopathy is different from placebo. If more scientific published work is required, those who clamour for the proof should abandon their total trust in and dependence on the sacred cow of randomised double-blind, cross-over trials, that currently hold pride of place. That form of trial is arguably a good tool to examine the efficacy of medicines that are designed simply to suppress symptoms (as long as you trust their veracity*); they are a hopeless tool for examining the capability of a medicine to heal a patient and which has no intention of suppressing symptoms.
If confronted with cases of healing against the odds, all they can say, with a dismissive gesture is “Things get better anyway“. Good science not!
Make no mistake, the recent ranting against homeopathy does not come from reasoned argument nor from a wish to promote science. How could it when all reasoned argument is rejected and cherished scientific principles are flouted in almost every sentence. There is clearly a more sinister objective.
What about all the animals that appear to improve or become well, coincidentally with the commencement of homeopathic medication (often after many years of other medication)? What is the most likely explanation? Why, with a casual wave, say ‘many diseases get better anyway‘ or why wheel out the old chestnut ‘placebo effect‘? Why did the animals choose to get better coincidentally with homeopathic treatment, in so many cases? Why didn’t ‘things get better’ while on other treatments? How do you convince a herd of cattle or pigs or a flock of sheep to take on and respond to the placebo effect, when they’re dosed via their drinking water? These mechanical responses to questions are distractions, smoke screens, and are there simply to prevent the need to think about the results.
The foregoing begs the question: “Is it ethical to ignore all the reports of recoveries against the odds?” Simple explanations of the mechanisms of homeopathy would be nice but, until such are available (and rest assured, the pharmaceutical industry’s billions will not be spent on such research), we have to rely on observations and, as medically-trained and vocational professionals, we have to leave no stone unturned in our mission to help patients, whether human or animal.
One of the proposed far-fetched and bizarre explanations for the success of homeopathic cases in veterinary practice is that homeopathic vets spend longer with their patients. If it’s that simple, why don’t other vets spend longer with their patients?
A little humility wouldn’t go amiss, from the conventional medical community, over the huge toll in misery, suffering, pain and even death, from drug-induced disease and iatrogenic disease. Just two web sites giving some information are offered as links here. There are probably more but these came up quickly on my search engine: http://www.pharmj.com/pdf/papers/pj_20030426_admissions.pdf and http://www.natural-law-party.org.uk/UKmanifesto/health11.htm They are offered here, not for party-political reasons or for any reason other than simply for the useful medical data contained therein. The financial burden of this phenomenon on the NHS is clearly massive and dwarfs any arguments over the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.
Dr James Le Fanu has written a challenging but very thought-provoking article in the Telegraph (5th July 2010) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthadvice/jameslefanu/7869006/Doctors-Diary-James-Le-Fanu.html . However, such is the nature of the rabid opposition to homeopathy that Dr Le Fanu has drawn a storm of articles against his arguments.
I would have more respect for the criticisms were they to be based on true science and logic, rather than on oft-repeated mantras that have not been thought through. The saga goes on. Meanwhile, patients continue to suffer and to need help. For goodness sake, let’s get on with the business of helping patients and healing sickness!