Glasgow · Science

Glasgow Skeptics Talk: Homeopathy in the UK

Remember how a couple of weeks ago I went to a science-themed pub quiz and my team won? Yeah, well I remember. I remember knowing the origin of the equals sign, for example. I remember being pretty smug about it all, which is easy to remember because I’m still feeling smug. Can you tell?

Ok, I’ll try to tone it down a bit. Anyway, we got a bunch of science goodies and a £25 bar tab for The Admiral. The Admiral is a great wee pub and is also the main haunt for the Glasgow Skeptics group. Our team Captain, M, suggested we meet up again to use our bar tab and listen to Micheal Marshall give a talk to the Glasgow Skeptics, titled Homeopathy in the UK. The plan was that we’d each get a pint of Joker and a portion of chips and that we’d learn something. How could I refuse?

Glasgow Skeptics Talk Homeopathy in the UK
As billed by the Glasgow Skeptics Group on Facebook. Image credit: Glasgow Skeptics

I wasn’t particularly familiar with Michael Marshall but here’s what you need to know: He’s a great science communicator. He writes articles in newspapers like the Guardian and The New Statesman, he’s a podcaster, public speaker and an activist. If you want to listen to his stuff you should look up the Skeptics with a K podcast.

He’s also a project director at the Good Thinking Society (GTS), which was established by Simon Singh in 2012. It’s through the GTS that he does his campaigning against homoeopathy, mostly aiming to prevent it being funded by the NHS, on account of the fact that it doesn’t do anything.

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Homoeopathy is a genuine problem. Partly because taxpayer’s money goes on nonsense, and partly because it’s occasionally used in place of real medicine and that leads to people getting ill.

He spoke about his work doing this, how he worked to find out how much money was spent yearly through the NHS homoeopathic treatments, for example. It turns out this can be a difficult thing to estimate because detailed records of patient referrals aren’t always kept, but where they are kept it can be quite a lot. Glasgow is particularly guilty of this thanks to the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. In fact, these days, if there’s an area in the UK where the NHS is spending money on homeopathy, it’s probably because there’s a homeopathic hospital in the area.

The good news is that they’re winning, if slowly. Sometimes they’re winning simply because they can send someone to town council meetings to say that they aren’t ok with public funds being spent on nonsense. Sometimes they’re winning because of Marshall’s higher-profile events, like the National overdose on homeopathic sleeping pills which everyone somehow managed to fail to die of… because there’s nothing in the pills.

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After the talk we were ready for a homeopathy demonstration. Lots of pints of water there for diluting something into nonsense. Sadly, I had to go catch my train before the demonstration got started.

Or, because of the one homeopathic chain which sold him owl pills. Yes, homepathic owl. Designed for people with difficulty sleeping, or, as that particular chain put it, those who are taking on the characteristics of an owl. Seriously. I mean, first off, owls sleep, but that isn’t even the biggest problem with this nonsense. As Marshall mentioned during his talk, people who can’t sleep are suffering from insomnia, not from “becoming owl-like.”

Anyway, it was a fun and informative talk. As the Skeptics talks so often are. I strongly recommend looking up Skeptics groups in your area (if you’re lucky enough to be in or near Glasgow the Skeptics group there is particularly strong) and going along to a talk or two. I also recommend taking real medicine if you’re unwell. Sugar pills won’t help you. Even if you’re turning into an owl.

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6 thoughts on “Glasgow Skeptics Talk: Homeopathy in the UK

  1. I used to be a big fan of Glasgow Skeptics (and downstairs at the Admiral may have sticky floors, but it’s a nice pub), but alas they now hold their meetings on a Monday and I’m almost always busy on a Monday, so I haven’t been along in years now, which is a shame.

    I’m glad to see they’re keeping up the good work though. I sometimes walk past the homeopathic hospital on the way home from work and always feel a bit embarrassed by it.

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    1. Well, if you like that kind of thing, Pint of Science is on next month and runs for three consecutive days, so at worst only one of those days could possibly be a Monday. I strongly recommend the Pint of Science events (although, sadly, on this occasion, I won’t be in Glasgow to enjoy them).

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