a free business school lesson for homeopaths
Despite representing a multi-billion dollar industry, alt med practitioners don’t seem to understand the basic principles of business and management as they defend their remedies from skeptics asking them to provide clinical evidence for their claims. According to them, Big Pharma is unable to buy up patents to homeopathy or treatments made by other alt med disciplines and could never make a profit by reducing their R&D costs and yet, be able to buy rights to promising conventional treatments and aim to make their drug pipelines cheaper to maintain. It’s as if the principles of finance and strategic management cease to apply when pharmaceutical companies are even mentioned in the same sentence as homeopathic potions and alternative regimens.
The argument that Big Pharma is on the warpath against alternative medicine is trotted out on a regular basis by the faithful defenders of naturists, homeopaths and biomedical quacks who feel free to administer all sorts of highly speculative treatments without going through the proper clinical trials and approvals by the FDA. For the latest example, let’s consider an article by homeopath Amy Lansky, who tries to defend her craft against a pharmaceutical conspiracy by terrified corporations which want to suppress her mystical cures…
What if an expensive drug could be potentized to create billions of effective doses at essentially no cost? It would destroy big pharma entirely. Medicines that cost essentially nothing? Nontoxic ultra- diluted medicines that cause fewer side effects? How could [big pharma’s coffers] be sustained? Forget about the Law of Similars. It’s potentization — the process of creating effective ultradilutions — that big pharma is scared of! No wonder Baum and Ernst got the word “potentization” wrong. This one word is the small stone that could take Goliath down.
Really? Medicines that cost essentially nothing would cripple the pharmaceutical industry? Big Pharma can’t buy the rights to mass produce homeopathic cures, then close down plants it would no longer need, saving a few billion dollars worth of expenses on an annual basis? If making products cheaper was the death knell for companues, big box retailers and electronics companies would’ve been dead in the water long ago. So what Lansky is basically telling us, is that cost cutting is the first step towards bankruptcy. If there was clinical proof that homeopathy works, Big Pharma would be buying their cures and saving countless billions in getting them to market. Far from being the stone that could take down a goliath, legitimate, empirically proven potentization would be a cash cow of epic proportions, eagerly embraced by CEOs and investors.
There’s also a question as to why medicine that costs essentially nothing to make retails at such a high price that over the counter cold medicine is a bargain compared to oscillococcinum. At my local pharmacy, a packet of cold pills sells for $4.99 while a package of oscillococcinum comes with a $10.99 price tag. If it’s so easy to produce a potent remedy with a virtually non-existent overhead, why do its makers charge over 120% more? Why not sell it for $2.99 and undercut the competition while still enjoying the kind of profit margins even Merck and GSK would envy? You might remember the recipe for oscillococcinum featured in the last edition of the Skeptics’ Circle and recall that’s basically water sprinkled on sugar pills. Why would you possibly charge so much for it? Even the duck hearts and livers, from which the hundreds of dilutions begin, aren’t all that hard to come by. And doesn’t the fact that it’s so much more expensive than your run of the mill cold meds run counter to Lansky’s claim that homeopathy could bring Big Pharma to its knees by undercutting it?
Finally, let’s go back to the last sentence of the quote. Lansky is talking about Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst, a duo of UK doctors who published a rebuke to alt med practitioners trying to hijack medicine by appeals to open-mindedness. In the article they misspelled potentization, promoting homeopaths to unleash the old and tired internet taunt of focusing on a typo and declaring that by failing to properly spell one term the authors are woefully ignorant about the topic, as they flood their replies with meaningless technobabble in the traditions of Charlene Werner and John Benneth. Now, to most of us, a typo is a typo. But for her conspiracy-mongering, Lansky is turning a simple typo in a general article into the word that Big Pharma dare not speak, kind of like a demonic invocation which summons a hellish creature made of fangs and claws. It it just me, or is that a little outlandish to put it mildly? Through to be fair, her entire argument hinges on apologetics which not only fail to take the basics of the pharmaceutical business into account, but also provide zero evidence that homeopathy actually works in any way, shape or form.