Legal Case against Homeopathy Critic Natalie Grams—No Effect beyond the Placebo Effect

Annika Harrison

Cover Image: Dr. Norbert Aust, Susanne Aust, Udo Endruscheit, and Natalie Grams at SkepKon 2018. Photo by Hans-Ludwig Reischmann.


 

Annika Merkelbach: I heard that there is somebody pursuing legal action against Natalie Grams of Information Network Homeopathy (INH). Can you quickly introduce Natalie Grams and the network?

Udo Endruscheit: Natalie, a medical doctor, is a former homeopath who practiced for years successfully in her own homeopathic practice. As she began to research the evidence for homeopathy to defend it, she instead found a lack of evidence of its effectiveness. She gave up her practice because she couldn’t work in good conscience knowing homeopathy doesn’t work and treat her patients with sham therapy against her better judgment. Her book Homeopathy Reconsidered—What Really Helps Patients, which was published in English in January 2019, describes her thoughts and her journey. She is now working as a communication manager of the German Skeptics Society, GWUP, and as a freelance author. She is the cofounder of the Information Network Homeopathy and the head of the network. She is the most profiled and most prominent critic of homeopathy in German-speaking countries. Last but not least, her commitment and expertise brought the topic of homeopathy into the public consciousness and also into that of representatives of the health care system and politics.

AM: Who is also part of the network? Can you give me a few names or groups?

UE: Well, the network is a free gathering of people who won’t accept a sham therapy such as homeopathy in medicine, in public health service, in pharmacies, and in doctors’ practices and even in surgeries any longer. No legal structure or strict organization are behind it. Anyone contributes in the way that his or her personal capacities and expertise allow.

All members and supporters of the network are volunteers. It is supported organizationally and financially by GWUP (the German Sceptics’ Society; Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften) and by Deutscher Konsumentenbund (German Consumers’ Society), for example when information material or websites are needed. Nobody receives personal compensation for her or his work for the INH. The INH sees itself not only as a skeptic organization but also as a consumer protection group, because public enlightenment about the real background of homeopathy is an equivalent goal in addition to spreading information among decision-makers in organizations and politics.

We often hear that the network is not made up by competent people and that they can’t criticize homeopathy. Well, this is obviously wishful thinking and comes from people who never had a look at our members and supporters. Twenty-six medical professionals and professors, engineers, physicists, physicians, biologists, lawyers, experts in health science, journalists, authors and more can be found there. A prominent member is, of course, Prof. Edzard Ernst. All of them have expertise on homeopathy from several points of view—indeed also from the “inner view” of the homeopathic scene, from those such as Natalie Grams.

AM: So, who is taking Natalie to court? What do they claim?

UE: Recently Natalie received an email from a lawyer with a cease and desist letter. She should no longer publicly declare that “homeopathy does not work beyond the placebo effect” and undertake to pay a fine of 5,100 Euros for each repeating offence. The occasion of the letter was a statement by Natalie in an interview with a regional newspaper some time ago, but of course she has often said exactly that before—all of us of the network have done so.

The lawyer acted on behalf of Hevert Arzneimittel, a German manufacturer of natural healing products, vitamin preparations, and also homeopathy. Hevert specializes in homeopathic remedies of plant origin.

Hevert is a family-owned German medium-sized company that does not belong to one of the larger groups.

It is indeed a most remarkable event that in all seriousness the public expression of the scientific consensus is to be prevented and put under threat of punishment here. Of course, Natalie has made a counterstatement of the content that the required omission will not be declared. On the one hand, she had never said anything about Hevert and its products; on the other hand, she would not let herself be prevented from openly lecturing on the scientific state of homeopathy.

Hevert said a week ago on his company Facebook page that he wants to counter a big conspiracy against homeopathy, one that he is imagining. His opinion is that some people are trying to influence governments to harm homeopathy through “lobby groups orchestrated by the GWUP.” This had “already happened in England” and he wanted to “prevent the same thing from happening in Germany.”

Uh. Yes. What can we say about that? I really don’t know. There are obviously people who don’t realize that others are activists because of altruistic motives. This is apart from the fact that Hevert has forgotten France and Spain, where the work of the “sinister powers” is now on the verge of removing homeopathy from health systems altogether.

In any case, Hevert has only harvested massive opposition and clear criticism for wanting to muzzle the voice of science. Even a prominent German health politician, the long-time health policy spokesman of the Social Democratic Party, described Hevert’s approach on Twitter as “impertinence.”

Skeptic Natalie Grams. Photo by Dorothée Piroelle.

AM: Homeopathy doesn’t work—but why?

UE: That’s a very good question, really! It needs more than a few words as an answer. It is important to answer this seemingly simple question in the best possible way from several sides, because homeopaths also repeatedly come up with counterarguments from a variety of perspectives.

First of all, we note that it is up to the claimant to provide evidence for his claim. The doubter does not need to refute the claimant. And here it is to say that in 200 years since homeopathy was invented, homeopaths have not managed to prove that their method is more effective than any other sham therapy for any indication. This is precisely the final statement of the large meta-analysis of homeopathic studies by the Australian NHMRC, just to name an example.

That is the base of the argument. Now the homeopaths argue again and again against this statement by citing study after study in which homeopathy has had a “positive result.” Mr. Hevert also thinks that these are “suppressed” by his “sinister powers.” He therefore presents an argument that on first sight appears to be pure nonsense. Well, that’s not the point at all. Of course, there are single studies that postulate positive results, but individual studies are far, far away from evidence. They can at best give an indication that evidence might exist. For this reason, there are large reviews and meta-analyses, which evaluate the individual studies according to quality aspects before they flow into their results. Only these comprehensive and summarizing analyses present sound, reliable, scientific evidence.

Let’s just take the analyses of Robert Mathie, an employee of the British Homeopathic Research Institute (HRI) and therefore not thought to be against homeopathy. In the past few years, he has pursued the goal of reviewing the entire evidence base of homeopathy for the HRI in major reviews. The outstanding result of his work—a total of four in the meantime—is that the vast majority of studies on homeopathy could not be included in the overall evaluation of the reviews due to deficiencies in design, implementation, and evaluation. Conclusion: There is no evidence that homeopathy is effective! Even more because the summaries of the works are somewhat evasive and euphemistic. And Mathie doesn’t stand alone with this result.

This corresponds with the fact that the vast majority of individual studies are usually analyzed quite quickly after any publication and are regularly assessed as inconclusive. No, there is no evidence for homeopathy as a method or for individual indications. The false-positive results (so-called alpha errors) always to be expected in research are not even taken into account nor is the publication with bias, the non-publication of negative results.

Now the homoeopaths again appear with the objection that more research is needed. Research until desired results appear? Mr. Hevert also belongs to the choir of those who demand this. He goes even further and even demands support for it from public funds.

But that is also false, in essence for two reasons:

On the one hand, one can rightly ask oneself what sense a demand for more research makes in a 200-year-old method that has not been able to provide any proof of efficacy in all this time. Isn’t this demand actually an unintentional compromising of homeopathy? Can one take this seriously? Are we seriously expecting to use scarce public research funds to investigate a method that has never gone beyond anecdotal evidence and where today one can also provide conclusive explanations for this anecdotal evidence?  Actually, even Ockham’s razor has to make a cut here.

The second reason is that—despite all scientific modesty—we can confidently assume with the highest conceivable degree of probability that homeopathy will never be proven to work. Its basic assumptions are wrong. Above all, the principle of increasing (or reversing the curve of) the effect by potentiation and the application of such “potentiated” remedies to human beings contradicts daily proven basic principles that have the character of laws of nature. For this, I can name the laws of thermodynamics and the law of mass action.

Therefore, what the homeopaths call “homeopathic basic research” and to which they link the expectation that “one day” homeopathy will still be “scientifically proven” is a futile search for nothing and has so far inevitably failed (and has produced veritable scientific scandals).

All this is why homeopathy does not work. This is the consensus of the worldwide scientific community, which is spreading internationally and also more and more in the political sphere as well. And that’s a good thing. And it has to be spoken about by everyone without any risk of being sued because of it!

Homeopaths do not take note of all this. They stick to their method as a specific drug therapy. Without evidence. Without plausibility. Without making even the slightest contribution to the progress of medical knowledge. In contradiction to basic scientific principles, the refutation of which would require the definition of an almost completely new scientific view of the world.

AM: What are your goals for Information Network Homeopathy, not regarding the court actions?

UE: In Germany, homeopathy has enormous privileges by law. It stands legally as medicine without need to prove real evidence. This is because “evidence for homeopathy” needs only an “internal consensus” by a commission of homeopaths instead of reliable science-based proof—obviously only a fiction by law without any connection to today’s standards of scientific proof—and to reality. This is just what the INH wants to change: the false public reputation of homeopathy as a “proven” medicine, supported by laws of a time long gone. And that is a position of the pro-homeopathy people; they claim that a fiction by law negotiates reality. We don’t think so.

AM: How can skeptics from around the world support you? Will there be a fundraiser?

UE: When it becomes clear what the international skeptical community thinks of attempts to silence science and courageous public witnesses for doing their job, we can reach our goal. It can’t be that Natalie Grams receives threats of punishment, so if you share what happened in Germany then that is the greatest help. That’s why I’m speaking. It’s not even about “deterring” people such as Hevert. It’s why an open testimony from all of us for honesty and probity is needed, especially in the field of medicine, which more or less affects the lives of everyone. It must be seen as a scandal that attempts are made to put facts under curatorship. Especially if it is for motives that apparently go as far as dark conspiracy theories about the nature of the skeptical movement. My personal view: In famous philosopher Karl Popper’s sense, we are thus defending open society against its enemies. This concerns all of us.

Yes, maybe there will have to be a fundraising, but that depends on the progress of the matter. We from Information Network Homeopathy will report on this in good time. You can also support GWUP, who will then support Natalie Grams and Information Network Homeopathy.

Let us unreservedly support Natalie Grams publicly and show her our solidarity. Natalie has taken much upon herself to stand up for the facts, starting a few years ago with the abandonment of her life plan as a homeopath. As she writes herself, she received and still receives the worst accusations, threats, and insults since the first day of her commitment to rationality. She won’t let it bend her back. Not even now, when it’s about a possible legal dispute. Natalie, whom I know well, is a truly extraordinary person who is friendly and outgoing to everyone. A journalist once wrote that she was one of those people who glow from within. However, she must constantly put up with being demonized by the pro-homeopathy side. It’s often hard. What can we do for her? I guess, it’s time for a widely visible sign of appreciation by the skeptic community.

AM: Is there anything you would like to add?

UE: Can I put some “advertisement” in here to finish off? Just a few days ago the Information Network Homeopathy completely relaunched its website (www.network-homeopathy.info). There you will find important FAQs on homeopathy, short explanations of many objections and misunderstandings of homeopathy, points of view on important issues such as open letters to decision-makers and also reports on developments in homeopathy in other countries. But the most important thing at this point is the INH presents its new website in English as well. It’s not all completely translated yet, but a lot of it is already. We would be pleased with attention for our site very much.


 

Udo Endruscheit is a member of the INH and the GWUP. He is editor and author for the INH websites. He is also a creative writer and keeps several other skeptical blogs about homeopathy, other bogus medicine, health politics, theory of science, and more.

Annika Merkelbach would like to thank Udo Endruscheit and Natalie Grams for their time.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Annika Harrison

Annika Harrison is a member of Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) and of Gesellschaft für wissenschaftliche Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP; the German Skeptics organization). She enjoys interviewing European and other skeptics, but also writing and improving Wikipedia pages.


Annika Harrison ist ein Mitglied von Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) und der  Gesellschaft für wissenschaftliche Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP). Sie interviewt gerne europäische und andere Skeptiker, berichtet von Konferenzen und schreibt oder verbessert Wikipediaseiten.