Thoughts on the validity of Boiron's threat

Pharmaceutical firm Boiron threatened an Italian blogger over posts in which he criticized "Oscillococcinum", a product which they very carefully and precisely market as treating flu-like symptoms. Naturally skeptics have been outraged, but I can't help feeling the story is a bit more complex than people are making out.

It took me some time to find reliable and complete translations of the offending posts and Boiron's threat (all of which were in Italian). Now, I'm not here to defend Boiron - they sell magic pills and spent 16 times more on marketing than research last time I checked (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/feb/04/homeopathic-association-evidence-commons-committee) - but looking more closely at the claim, I think the blogger involved may have made mistakes.

Boiron complain about two passages in their letter, one of which reads:

“the total nothing that according to Boiron is the cure for influenza… diluted 200C does not contain any molecule of active ingredient!"

I can't find (and I've asked on Twitter as well) any material in which Boiron specifically claim their remedy is a cure for influenza. All the current marketing material I've seen describes it pretty carefully as a 'treatment' for the symptoms of flu (or 'flu-like symptoms'), which I suspect is language they've chosen very careful.

Maybe I've missed something, and someone can point me to a place where they do claim to cure flu in the comments; but if not then it looks like the blogger was wrong to say that they claim this. Had I written this in the Guardian, and received the same complaint, then it's quite likely that in the absence of finding this 'smoking gun', we would have - rightly - had to make an apology.

To be clear, I don't like Boiron or their behaviour. I think this action is disproportionate and the proposed sanctions daft. I think their letter contains a load of bunkum regarding homeopathy and that the action is probably self-defeating for them - the last thing a homeopathy manufacturer needs is more public scrutiny. But it's important to be need to be very careful how they present the facts. It's easy - and I've done it myself many times - to fall into the trap of assuming dishonesty or reading between the lines, and starting writing arguments your evidence can't support.
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