The mythical Voodoo curse is based on the principle of sympathetic magic: the metaphysical belief that like affects like. It is sympathetic because if you stick a pin in the voodoo doll’s leg, the person you are cursing is supposed to feel a pain in their leg. It is magic because there is no known reason to suppose this would ever work.
It is the same with homeopathy: its proponents treat an illness with something that they say would give a healthy person the same symptoms as the illness they purport to treat. Again, there is no reason to suppose this is true; it was just made-up by homeopathy’s founder, Samuel Hahnemann. And homeopaths go on to dilute this “medicine” until there is not even one molecule left on the basis that this makes it stronger. (Seriously – I’m not making this up.)
Although homeopathy has been shown by all well designed studies to be nothing more than placebo, it continues to be popular for the same reasons that many altie remedies appear to work. But not only with people: there are homeopathic veterinarians too. The thing to remember is that unlike human medicine, the law states that only qualified vets are allowed to treat animals. This is because animals can't choose for themselves. Therefore while the law leaves people free to go to unqualified quacks if they like, they can't do that with their animals.
This creates a paradox. If vets were prohibited from offering SCAM treatments such as homeopathy, there would be no legal way for animal owners to access them. A responsible regulatory authority would simply say tough, we don't allow non-evidence-based treatments to be used, and that's that. However, the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) attitude is that it's better for owners to be able to take their animal to a vet who will provide Supplementary, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (SCAM) treatment, than risk them going (illegally) to a lay quack. Consequently, the RCVS sanctions homeopathy.
Many real (ie evidence-based) vets were angered by this invasion of quackery into their field. Some of them decided to strike back with humor. Enter the satirical British Veterinary Voodoo Society (BVVS) website:
In light of the gratifyingly supportive attitude of professional bodies (including the RCVS and a number of UK veterinary schools) towards systems of medicine based on magical thinking, the BVVS believes the time has come to extend our professional scope beyond the areas covered at present, and exploit the full potential of the discipline.
The principle of voodoo healing is simple. As 'like affects like', an appropriately manufactured and treated wax doll or cloth puppet may substitute for the patient, and manipulations performed on the doll substitute for those performed on the patient. Techniques of visualisation and channelling of healing are easy to learn, and it is possible to combine voodoo with 'conventional' or allopathic medicine simply by administering the medicine to the doll rather than to the patient.
Well, if homeopathic vets can treat sick animals with useless homeopathic remedies, why not try voodoo? It has about as much a chance of working as homeopathy. They go on to list many commendable aspects of voodoo veterinary practices, including my favorite:
Scientific credibility. Clinical trials are still in their early stages, however we are confident that by performing a sufficient number of small, poorly-controlled investigations we will easily generate enough p<0.05 outcomes to be able to claim with absolute assurance that the method is well proven by properly conducted double-blind research.
Anyone who has read any of the poor research performed by homeopaths will be familiar with this kind of verbiage. The BVVS site lists much of the failed research into homeopathy, along with the pseudo-scientific theory that supposedly underpins it.
Of course, the BVVS is a satirical site, founded by veterinarians who are angered that homeopathic vets get to treat sick animals with sugar pills while claiming it is real medicine. And they are justified in being angry. It’s one thing if humans want to take homeopathic remedies: first, they have a choice; second, they might just possibly benefit from the placebo effect. Animals on the other hand have no choice and zero chance of benefiting from placebo. Frankly, I think treating a sick animal with a homeopathic remedy, when there is real medicine available, is animal cruelty, but these quacks get away with it. The BVVS is a welcome dose of (undiluted) reality.
This is where things become almost surreal. In May 2005, a homoeopathic veterinary surgeon called John Hoare happened upon the BVVS web site, didn’t like it, and submitted a formal complaint to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons alleging unethical conduct and conduct disgraceful in a professional respect. He claimed the vets involved in the BVVS site made "derogatory remarks" about veterinary homoeopaths – something not allowed according to their professional code of conduct.
One of the BVVS founders has started a thread at JREF, describing what happened:
[John Hoare] then submitted a less-than-coherent complaints form, against "the Officers of the British Veterinary Voodoo Society", wittering on about "unethical conduct" and "conduct disgraceful in a professional respect", because the web site "writes disparagingly about other veterinary surgeons" (also about the RCVS itself - we do criticise the RCVS for sanctioning homoeopathy as part of veterinary medicine, in fact that is really what the site is about - and about homoeopathic pharmacies and pharmacists).
Supporting his complaint he submitted photocopies of four actual pages from the web site, but oddly enough not including the two pages containing the strongest criticisms of homoeopathic vets, even though one of these was the actual page his search linked to. (I wonder if there were other points made on those pages which he didn't want to put in front of the RCVS?) And also one page which isn't part of the Voodoo site at all, but is part of Peter Bowditch's Millenium Project.
This last was extremely dishonest, because he had cut off all the headers and footers from that page which identify it as part of the Millenium Project, and typed in instead "Page of BVVS website". This was obviously the source of the claims that we had been rude about homoeopathic pharmacies and pharmacists, and in fact this page contains the only really derogatory language included in his evidence. I don't know what he hoped to achieve, because it is the work of a moment to show that we didn't write that page, and frankly it makes him look a fool.
A homeopath being dishonest and looking like a fool. Fancy that. Look at what he was demanding:
The outcome he is seeking is "The officers of the BVVS should be instructed to unwind their organisation. The use of the pseudo-qualifications VetMFVoo and VetFFVoo should be stopped immediately." (Huh! We don't USE the damn "qualifications", unlike him and his mates, who plaster the equally pseudo-qualifications VetMFHom and VetFFHom all over their stationery.)
Get that? He is insisting that the BVVS stop using their satirical VetMFVoo etc titles (that they don’t use – they’re satirical), while at the same time he actually will continue to use his pseudo-professional VetMFHom title.
The real scandal is that the RCVS, instead of dismissing this case out of hand, has apparently decided there is a case to answer and that despite the many criticisms that have been made, still sanctions treatment of animals with sugar pills. Apparently it is illegal in Sweden for vets to practice homoeopathy (they can be struck off for it), and the Dutch are moving that way too, but in the UK and the US it is accepted