The Response from Whole Foods

by Gary Niederhoff on March 1, 2011

In the episode Skeptic Check: Diluted Thinking, Molly attends a demonstration outside a Whole Foods store, where homeopathic remedies are sold. We asked for an interview with a representative of Whole Foods, and while they declined, they did send this response, of which we read an excerpt in the show:

“We offer homeopathic remedies at Whole Foods Market as a resource to customers who wish to use them. Homeopathic remedies are safe and not harmful, and we only sell homeopathic remedies manufactured and labeled according to the standards for strength, purity and quality set by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, as recognized by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic act and regulated by the FDA. We acknowledge that there is disagreement in the scientific community about the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies. A growing body of research supports the efficacy of these remedies, and recent meta-analyses of earlier research suggest that homeopathy can be significantly more effective than placebo. Other studies have cast doubt on the efficacy of these remedies. There is a clear need for further research in this area. We are unaware of any studies which have suggested that homeopathic remedies are harmful or dangerous. Homeopathy is a system of healing which has attracted many avowed followers in its 200+ year history. Because homeopathic remedies are safe and believed by many to be effective, we will continue to carry them in our stores.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Cory Albrecht March 1, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I was a little disappointed with this episode – mostly I think it suffers from the false balance problem one sees in traditional journalism. It wasn’t really “skeptic check” at all, unless this time it refers to checking your skepticism at the door. :-(

Dr. Shostak was his usual nice guy when interviewing Dr. Bell, but he didn’t challenge any of her assertions and it mostly seemed like a propaganda piece for homeopathy. I’d love to see the peer-reviewed journal studies which Dr. Bell thinks support homeopathy because she used the vague “studies show” assertion more than once. I wonder if her favorites include the Cuban Homeopathatic Leptospirosis paper, a well-know example of a badly flawed study often brought forth by homeopath supporters.

avatar KathyO March 2, 2011 at 3:06 pm

I agree completely with Cory. This episode was terrible! If I were talking to friends about homeopathy, I’d tell them, whatever you do, don’t listen to the Are We Alone podcast.

The last skeptic check (about cell phones) was pretty dubious as well. Please eliminate this segment rather than continue in this vein.

avatar Molly Bentley March 4, 2011 at 8:37 am

Hi Cory,
I appreciate your comment about false balance. It’s an important point. We had a difficult time getting someone from the homeopathy community to come on the show at all, and were perhaps less challenging as a result. However, we have since heard from the National Center for Homeopathy that the show belittled homeopathy and was a series of skeptics stacked against Dr. Bell. The opposite of what you and some others have claimed! Finding a way to present, challenge – and respect – the minority belief is tricky.
Thanks for writing,
Molly

avatar Molly Bentley March 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

Hi Kathy,

Thank you for writing. I’m sorry you felt the show was terrible – does that apply to the entire show (all six interviews/segments)? We’ve been taking on more thorny (and challenging) subjects on Skeptic Check and it would be helpful to hear specifics of why the latest have been a disappointment.

It’s interesting that your impulse is to have us abandon Skeptic Check altogether, rather than try to improve them, given the dearth of such programs on radio. More specific feedback would be helpful!

Cheers,
Molly

avatar KathyO March 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm

It’s fine that Seth allowed the homeopath to speak uninterrupted. The problem, as Cory stated, is that none of her specific points were refuted. Does succussion affect water in some detectable way, or doesn’t it? Is there a demonstrable difference between a homepathic elixir and distilled water or isn’t there? Are there peer reviewed studies showing efficacy or aren’t there? It doesn’t matter what people say about it, where’s the data? By not addressing these issues, the whole show sounded like a lot of he said/she said.

Usually, ‘Are We Alone’ is one of my favorite podcasts. It just doesn’t seem like you guys did your homework for the homeopathy segments.

Still a big fan,
Kathy

avatar Molly Bentley March 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Hi Kathy,
Thanks again. Your comments are helpful. Actually, we did do our homework, but were less challening than we might have been because the conditions around securing that particular interview were contentious and we wanted to err on the side of being “fair.” But, Cory, above, rightly points out the problem of false balance.
Thanks for listening to the program!

Best,
Molly

avatar Zac Bond March 5, 2011 at 9:53 am

Hi Molly,

I enjoy your show quite a bit, but like the other commenters I was a bit frustrated by this episode. I applaud interviewing the purveyors of pseudoscience because I think they frequently shoot themselves in the foot, as I believe this homeopath did (“nanoparticles” of the original substance still there at extreme dilutions? What?).

Perhaps a way to avoid false balance might have been for Seth to ask where he can read some of those studies, especially the basic science ones, and then have a physicist or doctor review one of them on the show and see if it means what the homeopath thinks it means. I wouldn’t frame it as an attack on that specific homeopath, but just looking at some of the research cited to see if it stacks up. That way you get a non-aggressive interview and help avoid some of the false-balance issues.

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