Exactly four years ago, you published my article on homeopathy, provocatively titled “Homeopathy: the one NHS cut we should support”. In it, I examined the evidence provided by the Faculty of Homeopathy itself for the efficacy of homeopathic treatments and found it to be unconvincing and inconclusive.
The latest version of the FoH’s evidence, written by its then President, the late Dr Peter Fisher, cites the same reviews and claims these are conclusive evidence of benefit. However, “gold standard”systematic reviews of homeopathy can find almost no convincing evidence of benefit (the terms “uncertain”, “no firm conclusions can be drawn”, “not enough evidence”, “no evidence of efficacy”, “low quality of evidence”, or similar, are common).
Where positive effects were identified, these were generally small and, in any case, needed replication. Curiously, the studies cited by the FoH itself frequently include similar caveats.
We can agree that homeopathic treatments are generally harmless because they are indistinguishable from placebos.
Paradoxically, this is an argument against their having any effect since, if the water used to prepare dilutions retained a memory of a substance’s beneficial effects, it would also retain a memory of all its other effects, good or bad. The exception to their harmlessness is where the homeopathic treatment replaces an effective treatment for a serious condition.
Can homeopathic treatments ever be beneficial? When compared with placebo, the answer is almost definitely “No” but, when compared with a harmful treatment, the answer might well be “Yes”.
This explains why Hahnemann’s patients fared better than those subjected to the conventional blood-letting. Even today, there are conventional treatments for which there is little evidence of benefit and indeed some evidence of harm.
It seems that homeopathic treatments are “just” placebos, but this is to dismiss something of immense importance. All living beings can mount a response to disease but the size of that response depends on external factors affecting the amount of energy available to the organism. The body is said to have a “health governor” which decides how much energy is available for healing, a theory developed by psychologist Nick Humphrey.
And, for a deeply-social species like us, the health governor is affected by how much social support we feel we are getting and therefore how much energy we can devote to healing ourselves. This support is exemplified by the deeply personal attention given by a homeopath in a consultation (or a GP with sufficient time), another argument for a well-resourced NHS.
Les Hearn, London
My article about Labour councils in Solidarity 530 was given the title Make Labour Council Resist by the editors. However, I gave it the title “Make Labour Councils Centres of Resistance”.
This may sound like a subtle distinction, but my intention was to propose that we go beyond calling on Labour councils to do the resisting on our behalf — that we also call on them to become “hubs” around which the community can mobilise.
Janine Booth, Hackney
A federal Britain?
Keir Starmer has called for a new constitutional set-up “built on the principle of federalism”.
For a state like the UK, containing multiple nations, federalism makes sense, and indeed was advocated by Frederick Engels long ago. It’s not clear if Starmer advocates an English Parliament or, as Clive Lewis did in his campaign, separate assemblies for various regions.
Some questions are begged. Firstly, what is the place of Northern Ireland?
Secondly, what about the rebuilding and re-empowering (and re-funding) of local government, severely constrained from the 80s and gutted since 2010?
Thirdly, what about scrapping the House of Lords (raised by Rebecca Long-Bailey) and replacing it with a federal “second chamber”? And getting rid of the monarchy (not raised by any leadership candidate, except Clive Lewis, who then backed away from it.)
Fourthly, socialists need to link the fight for political democracy to the fight to re-empower workers by building a strong labour movement, with demands like repealing all the anti-union laws.