Homeopathy is one of the most enduring forms of snake oil available to consumers; it has been duping people since 1814. But the United States government only recently decided to clamp down on these bogus treatments, with a new policy from the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC’s policy statement explains that the agency will now ask that the makers of homeopathic drugs present reliable scientific evidence for their health claims if they want to sell them to consumers on the US market.
Mustering that evidence is likely to be difficult given that homeopathy is a pseudoscience.
The main idea behind homeopathy is that an animal or plant extract that causes symptoms similar to the ones a person is suffering from can cure the symptoms. An example: Because onions make eyes tear and noses run, diluted onion extract is thought to cure cold and hay fever. So homeopathic remedies on the market are just extremely diluted versions of plant or animal extracts believed to bring relief to symptoms.
The trouble is that whenever researchers have looked at the homeopathic treatments, they find they do not actually contain traceable amounts of the original plant or animal material they were supposedly diluting.
Medical students and residents frustrated with bogus advice from doctors on TV have, for more than a year, been asking the American Medical Association to clamp down and “defend the integrity of the profession.”
Now the AMA is finally taking a stand on quack MDs who spread pseudoscience in the media.
“This is a turning point where the AMA is willing to go out in public and actively defend the profession,” Benjamin Mazer, a medical student at the University of Rochester who was involved in crafting the resolution, said. “This is one of the most proactive steps that the AMA has taken [on mass media issues].”
The AMA will look at creating ethical guidelines for physicians in the media, write a report on how doctors may be disciplined for violating medical ethics through their press involvement, and release a public statement denouncing the dissemination of dubious medical information through the radio, TV, newspapers, or websites.
The move came out of the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago this week, where representatives from across the country vote on policies brought forward by members of the medical community.
Mazer and fellow medical students and residents were prompted to push the AMA after noticing that the organization was mostly silent during the recent public debates about the ethics of Dr. Oz sharing unfounded medical advice on his exceptionally popular TV show.
“Dr. Oz has something like 4 million viewers a day,” Mazer previously told Vox in an interview. “The average physician doesn’t see a million patients in their lifetime. That’s why organized medicine should be taking action.”