Staffs at Ainsworth Pharmacy make up homeopathic remedies (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
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It's unscientific for a medical regulatory body to give accreditation to homeopaths

Homeopaths can now get their "medicine" accredited by an official regulatory body, to the dismay of critics.

All homeopathic practitioners can now opt to be vetted by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), it was announced this week:

Practitioners on the Society of Homeopaths’ register will be able to display the Accredited Voluntary Register (AVR) quality mark, a sign that they belong to a register which meets the Professional Standards Authority’s robust standards.

The PSA is a governmental body with two main duties. The first is to oversee the nine regulators of legally-defined medical practitioners, meaning organisations like the General Dental Coucil, the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Its second duty, though, is to assess the bodies which oversee those professions which aren't considered "real" medicine - like the British Acupuncture Council, or the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy - and to make sure that they're meeting their own standards, in areas such as education, training, management and handling complaints. These are "voluntary registers", and are essentially a form of industry self-regulation.

This dual role on the part of the PSA is (unsurprisingly) controversial, as its stated goal is to “promote the health, safety and well being of users of health and social care services and the public” – but critics point out that this seems to be contradicted by endorsing medical treatments which have never been proven to be more effective than the placebo effect in a clinical trial.

Homeopaths who are registered with the Society of Homeopaths, and who meet its qualifications, are now allowed to use the Accredited Voluntary Register (AVR) quality mark signifying that they meet the PSA’s "robust standards". This could mean using the symbol in an advert, or it could mean sticking it on homeopathic producuts. As Stephen Pollard pointed out in the Times this week, this now means the public could be buying something they think is medicine, but which is actually just an expensive bottle of ordinary water with an AVR mark on it.

Evidence shows that homeopathy is an ineffective treatment for all health conditions and is no better than a placebo, and is a pseudoscience. It is classified as a complementary or alternative medicine, which, unlike conventional evidence-based medicine, relies on the premises that "like cures like" - that is, that a substance that causes a specific symptom is also meant to alleviate that symptom - and that “ultra-dilution” of something in water increases its potency. Both of these claims contradict fundamental aspects of modern medical science.

Homeopathic remedies are used as “cures” for wide range of conditions - such as mental health problems, asthma, diabetes and hay fever - but, while many patients reporting that they work, there is no evidence to show that these treatments are effective in any way beyond the established effectiveness of the placebo effect. The Faculty of Homeopathy website shows that up until the end of 2013, out of 188 research studies in homeopathy, nearly 60 per cent were either found to be inconclusive or presented a negative result. The PSA’s decision to give homeopathic practitioners a stamp of approval is, therefore, potentially conveying a dangerous or misleading message.

The PSA's own stance on the issue is that it doesn't exist to pass judgement on the effectiveness of any kind of medical treatment, be it dentistry or Freudian psychoanalysis - it's just there to make sure that, if someone's practicing in one of these fields, they're meeting the standards that the body representing that field demands. Its own standards for accreditation states:

The PSA recognises that not all disciplines are underpinned by evidence of proven therapeutic value. Some disciplines are subject to controlled randomised trials, others are based on qualitative evidence. Some rely on anecdotes. Nevertheless, these disciplines are legal and the public choose to use them. The Authority requires organisations to make this clear to the public so that they may make informed decisions."

This is the problem. The PSA's job is to make sure that people are making "informed decisions" about what they're choosing when it comes to medical treatment, but with many of the voluntary register organisations - like the Society of Homeopaths - the thing that gives their work the most legitimacy is the ARV quality mark. Something's wrong with the system if a medical regulatory body is holding neurosurgeons and homeopaths to the same standard of proof, and telling the public that they're equally trustworthy.

Photo: Getty/New Statesman
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The mother lode: how mums became the ultimate viral fodder

The internet’s favourite joke used to be "your mum". Now it's "my mum".

“I was like: oh my.”

Terri Squires is describing her reaction to the news that she had gone viral. Last month, more than 213,000 people shared a tweet about Terri – but it wasn’t sent from her account. The 50-year-old Ohioan was propelled to internet stardom by her son, Jeff, who had tweeted about his mother.

“I didn’t really realise what it meant at first until he was like: ‘Mum, you do realise that millions of people have looked at this?’ … When I started seeing those numbers I was like: ‘Oh boy’.”

It’s a funny story – and Terri laughs heartily all she tells it. After coming out of a meeting, she checked her phone and noticed a picture of a missing – white – dog on Facebook. She quickly texted 17-year-old Jeff to check that the family dog, Duey, was safe. “That’s not Duey… Duey’s face is brown,” replied her son. “OK – just checking,” replied Terri.

More than 600,000 people “liked” Terri’s mistake after Jeff shared screenshots of the text message exchange on Twitter. But Terri is just one of hundreds of mums who have gone viral via their sons and daughters. Texts mums send, mistakes they make, things they fail to notice – these have all become the ultimate viral fodder.

In the last three months alone, Gerald’s mum went viral for a microphone mishap, Adam’s mum shot to Twitter fame for failing to understand WhatsApp, Lois’ mum got tricked by her daughter, Harry’s mum was hit in the head with a football, Hanna’s mum misunderstood a hairstyle, and Jake’s mum failed to notice her son had swapped a photo in her home for a portrait of Kim Jong-un.

But how do the mothers behind these viral tweets feel?

“I'm pretty much a mum that everybody wants to talk to these days,” says Terri, with another warm laugh. The mum of three says going viral “is not that big of a deal” to her, but she is happy that her son can enjoy being a “local superstar”. But is she embarrassed at being the punchline of Jeff’s joke?

“Believe me, I have thick skin,” she says. “I kinda look at what it is, and it’s actually him and his fame. I’m just the mum behind it, the butt of the joke, but I don't mind.”

Not all mums feel the same. A handful of similar viral tweets have since been deleted, indicating the mothers featured in them weren’t best pleased. A few people I reach out to haven’t actually told their mums that they’re the subject of viral tweets, and other mums simply don’t want any more attention.

“I think I’ve put my mum through enough with that tweet already,” says Jacko, when I ask if his mum would be willing to be interviewed. In 2014, Jacko tweeted out a picture of his family writing the word “cock” in the air with sparklers. “This is still my favourite ever family photo,” he captioned the tweet, “My mum did the ‘O’. We told her we were going to write ‘Love’.”

“No one ever expects to call home and say ‘Mum, have you heard of something called LADbible? No, you shouldn’t have, it’s just that a quarter of a million of its fans have just liked a photo of you writing the word ‘cock’ with a sparkler’,” Jacko explains.

Although Jacko feels his mum’s been through enough with the tweet, he does say she was “ace” about her new found fame. “She’s probably cooler about it all than I am”. Apart from the odd deletion, then, it seems most mums are happy to become viral Twitter stars.

Yet why are mums so mocked and maligned in this way? Although dads are often the subject of viral tweets, this is usually because of jokes the dads themselves make (here’s the most notable example from this week). Mums, on the other hand, tend to be mocked for doing something “wrong” (though there are obviously a few examples of them going viral for their clever and cunning). On the whole: dads make jokes, mums are the butt of them.

“We all think our mums are so clueless, you know. They don’t know what’s going on. And the fun thing is, one day we come to realise that they knew way more of what was going on than we thought,” says Patricia Wood, a 56-year-old mum from Texas. “People always kind of make fun of their mums, but love them.”

Last year, Patricia went viral when her daughter Christina tweeted out screenshots of her mum’s Facebook posts. In them, Patricia had forgotten the names of Christina’s friends and had candidly written Facebook captions like: “My gorgeous daughter and her date for formal, sorry I forgot his name”. Christina captioned her tweet “I really can't with my mom” and went on to get more than 1,000 likes.

“I felt, like, wow, it was like we’re famous, you know. I thought it was really cool,” says Patricia, of going viral. Her experiences have been largely positive, and as a part-time Uber driver she enjoys telling her customers about the tweet. “But I did have one bad experience,” she explains. A drunken passenger in her car saw the tweet and called Patricia an “asshole”.

Another aspect of viral fame also worried Patricia. She and her daughter were invited on a reality show, TD Jakes, with the production company offering to pay for flights and hotels for the pair. “I have too many skeletons in my closet and I didn't want them to come dancing out,” says Patricia, of her decision not to go. “By the time I got off it, it would be the Jerry Springer show, you know. I’m kind of a strange bird.”

On the whole, then, mothers are often amused by going viral via their offspring – and perhaps this is the real beauty of tweeting about our mums. Since the moment they earn the title, mums can’t afford to be fragile. There is a joy and relatability in “my mum” tweets – because really, the mum in question could be anyone’s. Still, from now on, mums might be more careful about what they tell their sons and daughters.

“When I send Jeff a text now I make sure I’m like: ‘Is my spelling correct? Is what I’m saying grammatically correct?’,” says Terri, “Because who knows where the words are gonna end up?”

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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