Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Pious Fraud – Homeopathy for Radiation Poisoning

Posted by Ethan Clow on March 17, 2011

Many people see the disaster in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami as an opportunity to give to charity and try to help the people on the ground in Japan who are struggling to rebuild their lives. Others, see this as an opportunity to use the state of heightened fear to make money and promote non-science based medicine.

Unfortunately this appears to be the case for a particular homeopathy store in Vancouver called Little Mountain Homeopathy, owned and operated by Sonya McLeod.

If the name Sonya McLeod rings a bell, it’s probably because she used to write “articles” for the Georgia Straight. I say “articles” because, in my opinion, they were more like really long advertisements for homeopathy and often featured a sales pitch to an extremely expensive product one could conveniently find at Little Mountain Homeopathy.

Does her name still ring a bell? Perhaps because she has had a number of semi-public disputes with some local skeptics on her blog and has been the subject of some concerned skeptical bloggers.

Why am I writing about her again? Turns out Little Mountain Homeopathy can also cross off “radiation poisoning” from their list of things they can “cure.”

A friend pointed this out to me. Yes, she is suggesting the use of Radiation Detox Baths, Potassium Iodide Tablets, Spirulina, Sea Vegetables and clay baths as potential treatments for radiation poisoning.

What can one say about this? It’s the act of capitalizing on fear to sell needless products for a problem that doesn’t exist. Of course it should be noted that Potassium Iodide tablets actually are supplied to people in danger of certain nuclear exposure as they do actually work. It’s a little odd to see her promoting something that isn’t homeopathic but as was pointed out on Radio Freethinker last week, with the news of the potential nuclear problems in Japan, the cost of potassium iodide tables has risen by huge leaps and bounds. A tidy profit could be made by unscrupulous sellers willing to promote nuclear hysteria. In reality, potassium iodide is only useful if the levels of radiation reach what’s called radiological I131 exposure. That simply will not happen in North America.

Perhaps you’ve heard the whispers of fear that should the worst case nuclear scenario come to be in Japan, a wave of radioactive fallout will drift across the Pacific Ocean and poision the west coast of North America.

NOT going to happen!

This is absolutely, completely, totally, false. Even if, – if – such a scenario happens, it would not pose a health risk to residents on the west coast of North America. Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy didn’t have kind words for the person who created that map.

“Far worse, in my opinion, is the person who created a map claiming to show the spread of a radiation cloud from fallout. This map is a fraud: totally fabricated and complete garbage.”

He also provides a link to Snopes.com debunking that map, here it is again.

So if you live on the west coast of North America, don’t worry, you won’t get a lethal dose of radiation, unless you stick your head in a microwave or something. But even if you did, homeopathy wouldn’t be an effective treatment!

Again via Phil Plait, I learned that other homeopaths are jumping on the cure-radiation bandwagon. A website called Homeopathy Plus is providing information on how to deal with the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The Merseyside Skeptics posted this in response:

“Following the link from that alert takes you to the Homeopathy Plus website, with their advice on how to deal with the side effects of Chemotherapy – advice they believe to be equally applicable to radiation poisoning. Just to make it absolutely clear, as if I even needed to, there is a HUGE difference between the side-effects experienced after having a well-controlled, targeted and managed dose of chemotherapy to fight cancer, and being randomly exposed to an uncontrolled amount radiation following a damaged nuclear power plant.”

For more information on the alert mentioned in the above quote, check out Ben Radford’s article in Discovery News, he provides a good summary of the situation and debunks some of the woo from the “treat radiation with water” lobby.

But back to Little Mountain Homeopathy, what can you do? The answer is to complain. Write letters and make it clear you’re upset about this sort of thing.

You can send letters to the Canadian Competition Bureau here. This is the organization that monitors Canadian businesses and makes sure they obey the laws when it comes to marketing and packaging and labels.

Fellow skeptic Steve Thoms sent in a complaint regarding Little Mountain Homeopathy to the Canadian Competition Bureau and received the following response:

“Dear Mr. Thoms:

Thank you for the information you provided regarding Little Mountain Homeopathy.

We have reviewed your information and determined that the matter you have raised requires further examination under the laws we enforce. We have not yet determined what action, if any, would be appropriate. A Bureau representative may contact you if further information is required.

Should we determine that action is warranted, we can use a wide range of educational, compliance and enforcement tools to deal with false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices. These include issuing public alerts to educate consumers or businesses about certain marketing practices; contacting parties directly to encourage voluntary compliance with the laws we enforce; and pursuing legal action.

The Bureau is required to conduct its investigations in private. As such, we cannot provide complaint status reports or comment further on this matter in order to protect the integrity of the investigative process. However, we invite you to visit our Web site, www.competitionbureau.gc.ca, to learn more about the work of the Competition Bureau and to access public information on case developments and general information about our programs and activities.

Thank you again for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention.”

I think this is a great sign. Steve showed great initiative sending in a complaint and I encourage all skeptics to do the same. Remember to check out Steve’s blog Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic and his posts at Skeptic North.

Remember how I said that McLeod has also written “articles” for the Georgia Straight? On March 16th this appeared in the Straight. It’s basically her blog post from her website only shortened to just a small blurb about taking Potassium iodide tablets. Of particular frustration to me is that it includes advice about dosage. McLeod is not a pharmacist! Why is health advice being offered by someone (in a newspaper no less) who does not have the medical background to understand what they’re saying?

Okay, so…what? She selling placebo’s to people. Big deal right? It’s not like she’s maliciously trying to stir up panic right? I would never suggest she’s doing anything out malice. I don’t know her. She could be the nicest person on the planet for all I know. But I remember something Steven Novella said when he was in Vancouver for a live show the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

“There comes a time when the lack of due diligence is morally indistinguishable from conscious fraud.” – Steven Novella

Basically we’re talking about the notion of pious fraud. Who cares if it doesn’t work, it makes people feel happy and safe. The problem is, McLeod is profiting on making people feel happy and safe and she profits because she misrepresents the danger of radiation exposure.

Horrendous

I have serious moral objections to stuff like that. As far as I understand it, blogs don’t operate under journalistic integrity. They aren’t newspapers and they have no obligation to be rational. However, once you start to sell things… the rules change. You are bound by Canadian law not to deceive you’re customers.  I really hope that the letter Steve Thoms sent (I will send my own, please send one of yours too, the more we send the better) will spur action from the regulatory bodies in this country to crack down on this. Not only is it  false advertising, but it’s also implication of danger where one doesn’t exist for the purpose of convince people to buy a product that wouldn’t have worked in the first place.

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