The scandal of the unpublished Australian Report which showed homeopathy IS effective
CAM4animals congratulates the Homeopathy Research Institute (HRI) and welcomes Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) decision to publish their original report into the effectiveness of homeopathy. The first draft produced in 2012 was suppressed by the NHMRC in favour of one published in March 2015.
It is significant that the 2012 draft report, The Effectiveness of Homeopathy: an overview review of secondary evidence, concluded that there is “encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy” in five medical conditions.
Its existence was only established through freedom of information requests. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is currently considering charges of scientific misconduct, bias and conflict of interest against NHMRC. The Australian Senate concluded that “This is a serious research scandal of the highest degree, revealing the extent to which the review team secretly manipulated the methods well after the contractor had already collated and assessed the evidence, with none of the changes disclosed in the final report released to the public.”
Releasing the first report is a major step forward in the acceptance of homeopathic medicine and its role in integrative health care in both human and animal health.
It is of particular significance in the UK where the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has effectively banned the alternative use of homeopathy and other holistic treatments such as acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic care since they changed their position on the Veterinary Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) in 2017. These treatments can only be used alongside or after conventional treatment, NOT as stand alone, first line, alternative options.
CAM4animals undertook a detailed audit delivered to the RCVS in November 2018, which highlighted that the RCVS based its position on three fundamentally flawed and inaccurate reports, one of which was the 2015 (second) Australian Report. We consider the use of these reports to have been an inappropriate basis on which to change the RCVS position. Our analysis is now validated by the words of NHMRC CEO, Professor Anne Kelso, who clarified that NHMRC’s second Homeopathy Review published in 2015 “did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective”, despite claims to that effect in media reports and by anti-homeopathy campaigners.
In essence, the RCVS used the 2015 Australian Report to restrict certain veterinary treatments legally available in the UK and the practices of those vets who use them, unaware that the original report had found positive evidence for the use of homeopathy.
CAM4animals welcomes the honesty and transparency shown by the NHMRC and echoes Rachel Roberts, HRI Chief Executive, who said of the release:
“For over three years NHMRC have refused to release their 2012 draft report on homeopathy, despite Freedom of Information requests and even requests by members of the Australian Senate. To see this document finally seeing the light of day is a major win for transparency and public accountability in research.”
Given that the RCVS has always said it would consider evidence for the successful use of homeopathy, CAM4animals calls on it to reconsider and amend its position on homeopathy and other CAM in light of this significant development.
The following is HRI’s assessment of the Australian report and was used as a basis to fight for the release of the original report.
- NHMRC did the homeopathy review twice, producing two reports, one in July 2012 and the one released to the public in March 2015.
- The existence of the first report was not disclosed to the public – it was only discovered through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
- NHMRC say they rejected the first report because it was poor quality despite it being undertaken by a reputable scientist and author of NHMRC’s own guidelines on how to conduct evidence reviews.
- FOI requests revealed that a member of NHMRC’s expert committee overseeing the review process – Professor Fred Mendelsohn – confirmed the first review to be high quality saying – “I am impressed by the rigor, thoroughness and systematic approach given to this evaluation [….] Overall, a lot of excellent work has gone into this review and the results are presented in a systematic, unbiased and convincing manner.”
- NHMRC said the results of the second report published in 2015 were based on a “rigorous assessment of over 1800 studies”. In fact, results were based on only 176 studies. NHMRC used a method that has never been used in any other review, before or since. NHMRC decided that for trials to be ‘reliable’ they had to have at least 150 participants and reach an unusually high threshold for quality. This is despite the fact that NHMRC itself routinely conducts studies with less than 150 participants.
- These unprecedented and arbitrary rules meant the results of 171 of the trials were completely disregarded as being ‘unreliable’ leaving only 5 trials NHMRC considered to be ‘reliable’. As they assessed all 5 of these trials as negative, this explains how NHMRC could conclude that there was no ‘reliable’ evidence.
- Professor Peter Brooks, Chair of the NHMRC committee that conducted the 2015 review, signed a conflict of interest form declaring he was not “affiliated or associated with any organisation whose interests are either aligned with or opposed to homeopathy”, despite being a member of anti-homeopathy lobby group ‘Friends of Science in Medicine’
- NHMRC’s guidelines state that such committees must include experts on the topic being reviewed, yet there was not one homeopathy expert on this committee.