Lady Margaret Hall under fire for hosting homeopathy conference

Plan for college to host conference accused of lending credibility to "potentially dangerous quackery"

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Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) will host this year’s annual general meeting of the Society of Homeopaths on 18 March, in the face of criticism from scientists and sceptics.

Though the Society of Homeopaths is accredited by the UK Professional Standards Authority, homeopathy has been widely questioned by the wider scientific community. In a 2010 report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, the practice was described as “scientifically implausible”.

The National Health Service website states: “There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.”

Project Director of the Good Thinking Society, Michael Marshall, told Cherwell: “Given that homeopathy has been comprehensively demonstrated to have no beneficial effect for any health condition, it is the very antithesis of the kind of intellectually-rigorous ideas one would expect to see promoted within a university as prestigious as the University of Oxford.”

The Good Thinking Society is a non-profit organisation aiming “to promote science and challenge pseudoscience.” It ran a successful campaign to stop NHS funding of homeopathy by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Liverpool. In September, the organisation criticised the Charity Commission for refusing to deregister homeopathy groups.

In regards to Lady Margaret Hall’s hosting of the annual general meeting, Mr Marshall commented: “Nobody is calling for Lady Margaret Hall to stop accepting bookings for external events altogether, or even to accept only the events which explicitly align with their ethos; they should, however, enforce a policy that ensures they are not inadvertently lending their name to disproven and potentially dangerous quackery.

“Such a policy would not be incompatible with free speech. The Society of Homeopaths’ event is hardly an open public forum of debate or exchange of ideas, it is a £60-per-head AGM of an industry body which promotes pseudoscientific ideas on health, where contrary evidence simply won’t be heard.”

A spokesperson for Lady Margaret Hall told Cherwell: “Lady Margaret Hall, in common with many universities and colleges, occasionally rents space for other organisations to meet and for private conferences. This is a purely commercial arrangement. The act of renting space and providing food or accommodation to a group – whether it is a business or charity – obviously does not imply that LMH in any way endorses the organisation. We do not lend it ‘credibility.’ The income from this hospitality business is important to the College to sustain its academic activities.

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“It is impractical to cancel the booking for the Society of Homeopaths. The Principal of LMH, Alan Rusbridger, is happy for our governing body to re-examine our approach concerning the hospitality wing of the College and see whether it needs revising in the light of concerns, but also taking into account the erosion of free speech on university campuses.”

The Conservative MP David Tredinnick, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare, told Cherwell that homeopathy “is a well-established health system whose doctor’s are regulated by the Faculty of Homeopathy Act 1950 and the General Medical Council, and the Society of Homeopaths accredited by the Professional Standards Authority since 2015”.

He said: “I understand that Principal Alan Rusbridger describes Lady Margaret Hall as ‘warm, friendly, inquiring and open’. In that spirit I feel it entirely appropriate for any organisation, including the Society of Homeopaths which is a not-for-profit organisation, to be able to hold an event there.”

Homeopathy was devised by the German scientist Samuel Hahnemann in the late eighteenth century, based on the idea that like could cure like. Homeopaths dilute substances that cause symptoms in alcohol or water, and apply the solution in the hope that it will reverse those same symptoms.

First year medical student Gabriella Maria Kelly commented: “I think we’ve reached a point where there are so many reports by independent institutions around the world that all come to the same conclusion, homeopathy is not effective, or even a ‘dangerous pseudoscience’.

“As much as people may enjoy undergoing homeopathic remedies, I think they should never be used as a substitution for proven, effective medicines.”

The Society of Homeopaths declined to comment.