I recently discussed in detail the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy’s (AVH) annual conference, and it’s apparent focus on demonstrating the scientific legitimacy of homeopathy, and I discussed in detail why this attempt was a failure and homeopathy is not compatible with legitimate science by the standards either of science or those of the AVH. The unscientific attitude of homeopaths, including their self-righteous indignation at any criticism of their reasoning and methods, was subsequently emphasized by an attempt to suppress my criticism with the threat of litigation for copyright infringement. I didn’t realize at the time that this is part of a consistent strategy on the part of the AVH to achieve the appearance at least of scientific legitimacy by any means necessary when scientific arguments alone fail.
Due to a relatively recent shift in the membership and attitude of the Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE), the group that establishes standards for the continuing education courses veterinarians need to complete to maintain their licenses, RACE approval has been denied for a number of AVH continuing education courses in the last few years. This is perfectly appropriate as the purpose of continuing education requirements is to encourage that high-quality, scientific quality of veterinary medicine is available to clients and their animals.
However, rather than behaving like scientists and working harder to demonstrate the truth of their claims (which, admittedly, I would expect to be unsuccessful given the mountains of evidence already accumulated against these claims) veterinary homeopaths have chosen to pursue political means to get what they can’t get by making their case through the accepted methods of science. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) encourages members to skirt national accreditation standards for continuing education by forming state organizations that are affiliated with state veterinary medical associations, and thus automatically eligible for continuing education credit regardless of the nature of the content. This is a transparent “end run” around the national standards set by RACE.
And now the AVH has gone a step further, filing a lawsuit against the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), the parent organization of RACE. The only details I have been able to find concerning the lawsuit are from the AVH press release, which obviously is not an impartial source of information. But whatever the details of the suit, using the courts as a way to force a professional standards body to accept as legitimate a pseudoscience like homeopathy is clearly inconsistent with the very philosophy of real science. It is also, unfortunately, a savvy political move.
I have written extensively about the relationship of the courts to medical licensing and standards of practice. The hard reality is that the courts are not always as concerned about the scientific truth concerning a practice like homeopathy as they are about issues such as the prerogatives and limitations of government regulatory bodies, fairness of competition in the “marketplace” of medicine, and other non-scientific issues. While it would seem obvious that the RACE is under no obligation to certify as scientifically legitimate a clearly unscientific practice like homeopathy, in reality the issues of “breach of contract and fraud” cited in the press release may or may not be seen as legitimate, and more important, by the courts.
If this lawsuit succeeds, it will have potentially serious implications for the quality of veterinary medicine. The acceptance of homeopathic continuing education courses as valid for maintaining one’s veterinary license could have a direct impact simply by encouraging the practice of homeopathy, which has never been proven to be an effective therapy for any condition. But this is probably the least significant concern, given that most veterinarians recognize the lack of real evidence to justify using homeopathy, and therefore most don’t use it.
More concerning, however, is the intimidating effect a ruling in favor of the AVH would have on state boards and other organizations which set standards for veterinary medicine. The antitrust lawsuit by chiropractors against the AMA essentially deterred the AMA from officially challenging the legitimacy of any other alternative therapy. A ruling for the AVH could convince AASVB and other organizations that it is not worth it to try and maintain any scientific standards in the face of pressure from veterinarians or clients who believe in unscientific approaches. RACE accreditation for training in psychic animal communication, veterinary astrology, crystal therapy, and so on would be just as reasonable as accreditation for homeopathic education, and just as bad for the quality and reputation of veterinary medicine.
The RACE position against granting legitimacy to the pseudoscience of homeopathy is a refreshing exception to the general lack of rigorous, science-based standards applied to alternative veterinary medical approaches generally by professional and regulatory organizations. If it is undone by the use of litigation, it will be a sad comment on the ability of the veterinary profession to continue to honestly promote itself as a legitimate branch of scientific medicine. And, despite claims by homeopaths, it will be a sad day for our patients and our clients, who will be even more easily sold useless nonsense as if it were legitimate medicine.