If woowoos ran the emergency room

"Homeopathic A&E," a sketch from the British comedy show That Mitchell and Webb Look invites us to imagine an emergency room (A&E is British for Accidents and Emergencies, the UK equivalent of ER), as run by newage woo woos.

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Homeopathic A&E (via White Coat Underground)


  1. Brilliant. I’ve never seen homeopathy not only accurately described but effectively satirized on TV. (For most Americans “homeopathic” is synonymous with “old fashioned natural cure.”)

    Of course, now you’re going to be on the shit list of every true believer.

  2. LMAO! Very, very witty. The homeopathy product companies will probably sue – there’s billions of $$ in that market (people are just too gullible).

  3. Mitchell & Webb are the BEST – I’ve been on a Peep Show/Mitchell & Webb Look bender the last few weeks. This sketch is a prime example why.

  4. Awesome *L*

    That video is just great, nice compliment to the critical thinking links from a little while back.

  5. The awful thing is that my local library has a book entitled “Homeopathic First Aid”. I do my bit for society and keep it borrowed out as much as possible. I don’t dare read it. It sits on my shelf like a dark grimoire of corrupting energies.

  6. Hmmmm.
    Sketch really ought to be titled ‘Holistic A&E’.

    Call me a – what is it? “woo woo”? – but I don’t quite understand the ‘burn the witches’ response so many of you have to alternative therapies.
    It is my experience that some homepathic remedies do work for some people: Arnica reduces bruising and speeds healing; Belladona is great for curing dental abcesses and homeopathic mixed pollen has cured several people I know of life-long hayfever.
    If it works it works. I really don’t care why. I just know that if ingesting a little ‘diluted water’ can help me avoid days of post-operative stitches; agonising root canal or months of itchy, runny eyes then I’m happy.

  7. This third series has been excellent, before its always been a little hit and mis but its been hit aftr hit this series. I also loved the Pompeii/Global warming sketch from that same episode – Where in order to appease the gods to prevent the volcano exploding the inhabitants of Pompeii instigate a new futile and pointless ritual to distract themselves from the exploding mountain – Separating their waste. Ah, the lulz.

  8. Great post and the comments ensuing, like the one great on at #7 should prove equally entertaining.

  9. Enormo, could the laugh track perhaps have been about the signs on the wall? “Magnetic therapy unit and Scream therapy ward”

    Do pay attention old chap.

  10. Funny BUT for those of us who know something about the homeopathic world, totally inaccurate. Homeopathic remedies are prescribe for minor acute symptons (colds, headaches, etc.) or, over a long period of time for chronic symptoms. No homeopath would dream of treating an emergency room patient.

    Homeopathy seems contradictory to the laws of chemistry and has been quicky dismissed by many, yet is growing in popularity, even with those of us who have enough scientific background to know it doesn’t work.

    Boing Boing likes to cover the anomalies of this world, those things the make us pause to think about the nature of the universe. I hope next time they mention homeopathy, they do so in a way that is critical but also acurate and open minded to the science that has not yet made it into our text books.

  11. *wonders how many homeopath practitioners go running for the hospital when they get hurt real bad* I’d assume it’s ALL of them.

  12. Most of the posters on this topic show a real lack of nuance when it comes to understanding how these practices fit into the medical spectrum. #16 is correct that any true practitioner of these modalities would never be involved in any way with an ER situation. I think the problem here is twofold. One: there are people who lump anything outside of their particular bubble into very broad, amorphous categories that become very easy straw man targets. Two: there are also people who will co-opt and degrade almost anything for personal gain such as mentioned by #7 (Homeopathy for First Aid). This video, although funny, is also an example of those that degrade, co-opt and ultimate obfuscate any real discussion on the topic.
    Homeopathy and energy healing, regardless of how you feel about them, are just as likely to be seen in an ER as is a dentist. They are tools for treatment of chronic conditions.

  13. @ 10 “This third series has been excellent, before its always been a little hit and miss”

    They have in-between-sketch micro-sketches, where the actors sit around the studio between takes discussing meta-topics such as their own action dolls.

    In one of these, one of them (Mitchell, I think) reads from a list: “Hit, hit, miss, hit, miss, miss, hit…” and the other one (Webb) asks what he’s doing. Mitchell explains that they’ve always been known as a bit hit-and-miss, so he’s just working out the running order for the current show.

  14. Yes, we wish we could run an emergency centre using homoeopathic medicines. At last we could prove how amazingly homeopathy works! Unless of course we get a magician coming in to try and put a spanner in the works!

    Oh and by the way it IS called Medicine – Homoeopathic Medicine!

  15. @18 XAXA: You’re exactly right. If something has an active ingredient, then by definition it is medicinal and not homeopathic.

    For those reading this that are still among the deluded, please be assured that homeopathic dilutions themselves produce no actual effects on the human body. Any benefits witnessed from taking such dilutions are purely psychological (i.e. placebo effect).

    For more info on why homeopathy is not only useless, but harmful, please visit NeuroLogica Blog.

    Another nifty site is What’s The Harm?, but I will admit that a small minority of the listed cases have a tenuous connection between homeopathy and the resulting deaths.

  16. #16
    Homeopathic remedies are prescribe for minor acute symptons (colds, headaches, etc.) or, over a long period of time for chronic symptoms. No homeopath would dream of treating an emergency room patient.

    Sorry, but you are Wrong.

    I hope next time they mention homeopathy, they do so in a way that is critical but also acurate and open minded to the science that has not yet made it into our text books.

    You must have a strange definition of open-mindedness.

  17. homeopathy might earn respect if it were agreed that all patients would be paid by practitioners for say, the next decade? To show results and good faith. Well? Shall we set a reverse – fee schedule?
    After all, what is money next to healing?

  18. “Alternative Medicine” actually means Alternative to Medicine.
    Dream anything up, call it “Alternative”, put it on a nice package, and sell it to the gullible.

  19. #26 Skeptical poetry rules.

    #24 Receiving money to be hydrated? I’m in!
    Homeopathy: the must expensive placebo I’ve heard.

    Homeopathy should be prescribed to cure hangovers. In great quantities. Because we now that all you need is to restore water.

  20. eduardo @ 27 “Homeopathy should be prescribed to cure hangovers. In great quantities. Because we now that all you need is to restore water.” – it is – they call it ‘a hair of the dog (that bit you)’

  21. Yes, homeopathy is a bogus theory mostly practiced by quacks who have as little understanding of their field as many of the anti-homeopathy ranters here do. But it also two hundred years of not-very-scientific trial and error experience, and the field *has* learned some useful things from all that work, and can even use them effectively if they ignore the more bogus core theories.

    Homeopathy didn’t pick up the Germ Theory of Disease when it came along, so it’s not something you’d use to treat actual causes of disease, and I wouldn’t recommend reading anything homeopaths actually write “explaining” why their stuff works. However, it’s occasionally pretty good at treating _symptoms_; if the stuff makes you feel better, and Western Allopathic Medicine (aka “real medicine”) doesn’t have anything better to offer, fine. Allergies, for instance – the cause is all that pollen your body doesn’t like, and you can ger either homeopathics or antihistamines that will reduce the symptoms at the cost of some annoying side effects (typically drowsiness with the antihistamines, nausea with homeopathics), so pick whichever side effects bother you least.

    There’s homeopathic flu medicine that will pretty consistently take me from feeling really really awful to merely not very good, and it’s a big win. Until Tamiflu, real medicine could offer vaccines to prevent flu but couldn’t do much for you if you got sick anyway, and the flu’s starting to become resistent to Tamiflu. If all your doctor can recommend is “treat this the way your mother would”, might as well see if homeopathic stuff helps – as well as staying in bed, drinking soup and/or hot buttered rum, and telecommuting so you don’t infect your coworkers.


    That’s the Placebo Effect. Self delusion is not a good habit, even if it has some positive physical benefits.

    Remember that if something contains an active ingredient in non-negligible quantities, it is not homeopathic by definition. At the very least, only try non-homeopathic alternative medicines if you’re feeling sick and adventuresome.

  23. To follow up on CANTFIGHTTHEDITE’s thought:

    Can anyone here point to a double blind study that demonstrates that a serially-diluted homeopathic remedy is more efficacious than a placebo?

  24. Hooray Mitchell and Webb!

    I’ve been a fan ever since I learned about them a couple of years ago (I’m in the US).

    Funny how BBC comedy duos seem to have a certain “type”. Compare Mitchell and Webb to the Mighty Boosh guys, or to Fry and Laurie–they are all pairings of the same 2 types of people: The more energetic, skinny, shallow, light haired one with the darker (and “darker”) counterweight. The Little Britain guys don’t really fall into this mold though, do they?

    I’m not complaining–the formula seems to work. I’m just noticing.

  25. non-brit mitchell and webb fans might possibly have missed robert webb’s MASTERFUL comic relief interpretation of flashdance skip ahead to 2.26 or watch this if you have no patience…

  26. Watching that sketch wouldn’t be completely satisfying without reading the predictable Homeopathy defender comments here (all Anonymous so far, for some reason). Now I’m waiting for the invitations to read lengthy articles on Homeopathy websites which ‘prove’ its efficacy, and sobs of ‘hurtful comments’ towards people who’ve wasted years and spent thousands of dollars studying bottles of water with funny names.

  27. Not sure if this qualifies as homeopathy, but astragulus is in a number of herbal remedies. It’s an effective decongestant as it contains pseudoephedrine. I’m sure other people can come up with other herbals that really do have medicinal effects. Diluting them though is not going to help at all with efficacy.

  28. That can’t possibly qualify as homeopathy, it has an active ingredient. The marketing, however, is beginning to blur. Zicam called itself homeopathic, but it had Zinc in it.

    Plenty of herbals have medicinal effects, sure. That’s the basis of modern medicine. Aspirin, after all, came from willow tree bark. Taxol came from a yew tree. The NIH, I believe, runs the Natural Products Repository, with samples from plants and animals all over the world. I think rapamycin, which came from a fungus on Easter Island, is an example of something from the repository (although I could be wrong)

    As someone explained above, the notion that modern medicine precludes natural products is a silly myth generally promoted by people with unregulated herbal supplements to sell

  29. Only 40 comments and somebody already complained of “witch burning”. My, poor witches were laughed to death while making obscene amounts of money, right?

  30. Har, I loved the “Crystal Room” sign that was briefly shown in the hospital, crystal ‘healing’ has always struck me as strange: it gives bizarre qualities to fairly simple, ordered substances we know a lot about. Surely, very complex substances would be more likely to have unknown healing powers, e.g. clays, proteins etc.

  31. For anyone interested in reading a well-formed (and funny, and shocking) critique of homeopathic methods, I’d recommend getting a copy of Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. He has an excellent weekly column in the Guardian, too. (RSS)

    One of his arguments (if I paraphrase correctly) is that there’s thinking that an ‘intervention’ (i.e. someone going to see a practicioner and getting a ‘prescription’) can have a positive effect, even if the pills he is taking have no effect whatsoever – the placebo effect.

    The mere act of going to see someone and talking over your problem with them, outside of the often time-pressured and seemingly ‘uncaring’ national health service, can have a positive effect on your illness – mind over matter kind of thing that is simultaneously amazing, and impossible to understand. But the remedies themselves are a load of bunkum.

    And that, along with other contributory factors (such as ‘regression to the mean’ – when you’re feeling bad enough to go to the doc’s, it’s likely that you’re going to get better soon anyway), is why people report positive results from this kind of therapy. Nothing to do with the actual remedy.

    I’ve been recommending Goldacre’s book to everyone I encounter recently. It really is an exceptionally interesting read.

  32. Gratulationz, comedians – you won the internet!

    The theory behind homeopathy is bunk, but they may have come to a few therapies in spite of that. Not all homeopathic meds are so diluted that they contain zero ingredient… taking a diluted, denatured allergen (pollen, cat dander) to treat an allergy actually makes sense, and is what immunologists do. Google “peanut allergy cure” for the desensitization procedure mainstream medicine is using to induce tolerance to peanuts … they start with a very low dose, and build up to a higher dose, and eventually kids can eat PBJ!

    This phenomenon is largely consistent with the basic tennets of homepathy (but not every wackadoodle homeopathic theory) – e.g.: “like cures like” as peanuts are used to treat peanut allery, “less is more powerful” as initially, a very small dose is needed to trigger desensitization without anaphylaxis, but over time, a patient can ‘drop down’ to ‘less powerful’ preparations that contain more peanuts. Of course, concepts like ‘desensitization’ may be better for explaining this, but the immune system is behaving in a paradoxical way that homeopathy does largely predict. Which could be valuable for many chronic conditions, but certainly not acute trauma.

    Likewise, the idea of hormesis is generally ignored in mainstream medicine, even though the concept itself is clearly supported by research – “generally-favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors.” Want to protect mice from a lethal dose of radiation? Give them a small dose of radiation the day before the big dose – it turns on their DNA repair and antioxidant systems. Sometimes like does cure like.

  33. Previous post from one of the ANONYMOUS … “Not all homeopathic meds are so diluted that they contain zero ingredient”.

    I’m afraid I will have to pick you up on that … *by definition* homoeopathic medicines are *so* dilute that, statistically, there are no molecules of active ingredient present in virtually all samples. (Picture this for an idea … imagine a world where the oceans are made of pure water and imagine I take one drop of active ingredient and drop it into the ocean in America, then travel to Europe and fill a little bottle from the same ocean …)

    If you want to talk about stuff with a measureable active ingredient – don’t call it homoeopathy. Call it “low-dose” medicine.

  34. Homoeopathy (Micro Doses Mega Results) cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails

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