Natural Foods Merchandiser

Homeopathy ‘Stosseled’ on ABC’s 20/20

On Jan. 30, 2004, ABC News? 20/20 program aired a segment on homeopathic medicine narrated by John Stossel. Stossel has a history of extremely negative reporting on alternative medicine and the organics industry, and he once again proved his tendency toward using junk science to confirm his point of view.

When TV science creates science fiction

On Jan. 30, 2004, ABC News? 20/20 program aired a segment on homeopathic medicine narrated by John Stossel. Stossel has a history of extremely negative reporting on alternative medicine and the organics industry, and he once again proved his tendency toward using junk science to confirm his point of view.

The program began benevolently enough by listing numerous celebrities and British royalty who are advocates of homeopathy. It showed an advertisement for a homeopathic medicine for the flu, and then the camera showed me referring to three large clinical studies verifying its effectiveness.

Stossel then sought to test homeopathic medicine using a laboratory experiment conducted at a London hospital. This study was supposed to replicate earlier studies that have consistently shown statistically significant, positive results for homeopathy, that have been conducted at four different universities and laboratories, and that have been published in several peer-reviewed scientific journals. Using homeopathic doses of histamine, the study was supposed to observe its effects on basophils, a type of white blood cell that increases in numbers during allergy symptoms. However, the experiment that Stossel?s program created was significantly different. And it was seriously flawed. This new experiment used a chemical, ammonium chloride, that is known to destroy the basophils that the experiment was supposed to count. The inclusion of this chemical was but one of numerous serious problems with this ?made for TV? experiment. (For more detailed information about other flaws in this study, go to www.homeopathic.com.)

Stossel did not given any reason why the experimenter in the London hospital chose to change the experiment at all, let alone changing it so substantially. What is particularly surprising and disturbing is that this experimenter e-mailed me just days earlier, asserting ?consensus between all parties is essential when performing this experiment.? Yet, this experimenter was denied this consensus from me as well as from Professor M. Ennis—one of the scientists who had previously and successfully conducted this experiment and was the person that Stossel?s producer agreed would be a consultant to the TV study.

Stossel did acknowledge on camera that I sought to stop the study even before it began because I questioned its design. Though, rearing his biased head one more time, he rebutted this assertion by saying ?[our] scientists who reviewed the test protocols said they were ?technically sound? and ?meticulously conducted.?? (It should be noted here that the experimenter who developed and conducted this trial was a ?medical technician? who had little experience in working with basophils and no significant experience testing homeopathic medicines.)

It is not hard to see a serious problem when an experiment that was to be replicated has been changed, when approval for it was denied, and yet, the experiment was conducted as though it was a valid test. If this junk science experiment wasn?t problematic enough, Stossel has the audacity to assert that the 16th potency (16C) that was used in this experiment was akin to one drop of water in 50 million (!) earths. Considering the fact that the laboratory that performed this experiment used a total of 16 ounces of water, it can be said with certainty that Stossel was a tad off.

Because the summer rerun schedule will soon begin, I encourage you to write to ABC News to insist that Stossel retract his junk science report on homeopathy, that he apologize to the viewers (again), and that ABC News fire him for his repeated junk journalism and questionable ethics. Write to: Kerry Marash, V.P. Standards and Practices, ABC News, 47 West 66th St., New York, NY 10023.

Ironically, ABC?s 20/20 allowed John Stossel to air this segment on his ?Give Me a Break? series. Needless to say, we need to tell John Stossel to ?give me a break!?

Dana Ullman, M.P.H., has written eight books on homeopathy, including Essential Homeopathy (New World Library, 2002).

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 5/p. 14

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