Homeopathy; where reason is diluted until none is left

By Michael Edmonds 16/04/2013 24


Science is a process by which we attempt to explain the natural world around us. A good indication that we have a reasonable explanation for describing a particular phenomenon is that:

1) it is consistently supported by reliable experimental data and observations

2) it has a plausible mechanism

Homeopathy fails on both counts.

While supporters of homeopathy are often quick to point to a few studies where the data appear to show that homeopathy might have some small beneficial effects, they ignore the many studies which show that homeopathy has no benefits beyond that of the placebo effect. A good scientist examines all of the data available and makes his/her decision based on that. If 50 studies were carried out to see if homeopathy had any effect and 10 suggested an effect while 40 did not, there are two possible explanations:

a) Homeopathy does not work and the 10 studies were due to poor methodology or random statistical variation.** (see footnote)

b) Homeopathy does work and the 40 studies were due to poor methodology or (incredibly unlikely) random statistical variation.

If b) were the case then the expectation is that it should be possible to point out what in the methodology was causing the 40 experiments not to reveal it’s effect. This is something I have never seen any advocate of homeopathy attempt. Why do some many studies of homeopathy fail to show anything more than the placebo effect?

Proponents of homeopathy have also failed to propose a plausible mechanism for how it might “work”. Early claims that water (a simple molecule made up of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom) might somehow “remember” the active substance which has been diluted out of existence make no sense. More recently some homeopaths have bandied around terms such as “resonance” and “quantum entanglement”, without any real understanding of what they are really talking about (a common sign of pseudoscience).

Homeopaths claim that water can be embued with therapeutic properties by bringing it into contact with a substance then diluting this substance out of existence. This defies basic principles of chemistry and common sense. To justify such an extraordinary claim, homeopaths need to provide extraordinary evidence to support their claims. So far none has been forthcoming.

*random statistical variation refers to the probability that every now and then an apparently “unlikely” event will occur by chance. For example, if a large group of people were given a coin each and asked to toss it 5 times, the odds are that one or two might throw 5 tails in a row, even though instinctively this might seem “unlikely” or “non-random”. In the same way, it is possible that once in a while an experiment will give a positive result, when in fact it is just due to a chance variation in the data. This is why experiments tend to be repeated in science – to make sure the first results were “real” and not due to chance.

This article was prompted by a recent complaint against North & South magazine by a homeopath who took umbruge with a North & South article which criticised homeopathy (Siouxsie has written about this here)


24 Responses to “Homeopathy; where reason is diluted until none is left”

  • What? You dare cast aspersions on faith healing… er… homeopathy? Why I cast a plague of oozing pustules on thee, but in a very, very heavily diluted manner. Here’s hoping the “resonance” and “quantum entanglement” have at thee, sir!

  • Yes, we should stick with scientific medicine, such as the current drug paradigm, where drug companies do their own research, control which data is reported and then use ghost writers to publish positive articles about the new drug, in medical journals which are supported by their advertising dollars. Yes, that should lead to reliable, scientifically selected drugs which are curative and safe and don’t constantly need to be withdrawn after injuring or killing patients. Yes, that must be a better way.
    We should probably ignore all these studies on homeopathy showing it works for children, animals plants and even in test tubes. Even test tubes might learn to respond to placebos.

    http://hpathy.com/scientific-research/research-in-homoeopathy/

    • Do some drug companies engage in less than ethical behaviour? – yes, and this is being criticised more and more by scientists and doctors worldwide.
      This does not however negate the fact that many drugs are extremely effective and there is plenty of evidence to show this. Penicillin, antimalarial drugs, drugs for the treatment of asthma, HIV, arthritis etc.
      Compare this to homeopathic “remedies” which at best, show no more than the placebo effect, and which only may appear to work for self limiting conditions (those that will go away by themselves, or which can go into remission) and it is clear which works and which does not.
      If you can point to a hmeopathic remedy that has been demonstrated to be effective in treating any of the conditions I mentioned above, please feel free to share your evidence

  • hmmmmmn – scientifically developed drugs that have a licencing process (fallible though it may be), predominantly cure, are monitored globally for effectiveness, and have a withdrawal process should an issue arise; or water, shaken.

    You are however correct. We SHOULD probably ignore studies that conclude homeopathy works as a medicine with definable and effective curative properties.

  • Another point I’ve never seen explained: how o earth water knows wich substance remember. May be the distilling process “kills” memory. But what about the eventual molecules of the containter (flask and lid) diluted in the water. Will not they confound the poor water, already shaken by distillation and quantum entanglement?

  • If homeopathy worked, we could just take a drop of seawater (already exposed to every known substance over billions of years), dilute it some more, and cure all of eveyone’s illnesses in one go. How convenient! Wait a minute. My tap water has evaporated from those oceans on it’s way to becoming rain. So I should not ever get sick. And the same goes for anyone else that drinks water. According to homeopathy, increasing dilution makes the effect stronger. How does that work exactly? So the smaller my bank balance, the more I can afford, right? It does make sense. Really. I can’t prove it, but surely it’s true. Another of the fundamental (or just ‘mental’, i.e. loopy) principles of homeopathy is ‘like cures like’ (look it up on Wikipedia!). Using there own reasoning, I could cure your headache by hitting you on the head with a hammer, as long as I did it so gently that there was no measurable contact. But don’t tell anyone in case we upset the companies that make pain medication! For a laugh, watch James Randi’s youtube clips on homeopathy where he deliberately takes overdoses of homeopathic sleep product – live on a stage – and than falls soundly … awake!

  • Darcy … but surely all of that pounding wave action must count? All of that natural dilution and succession must make it so terribly potent that just a sniff of salt air or shower steam would be a miracle cure for everything? Wow, I feel healthier already! But can anyone tell me what homeopath(et)ic whale-poo cures? :)

  • How are those solid little homeopathic pillules made?

    Are the solids divided to reduce concentration & succussed? Or do they still do it in water & then have to extract massive volumes of water, which will then (apparently) be incredibly potent? And what do they do with it if so?

  • Andrea,

    We need to ask a homeopath, of course!

    My understanding is (simplistically put) that they are prepared as liquids and then a small amount of the liquid is added to the solid substance, e.g. sprayed on as a water+alcohol mix to solid sugar pills or mixed into what are to be the contents of tablets.

    (I’ve also seen some homeopaths say that the first few dilutions are done using solids by mixing with sugar, grinding with a mortar & pestle, then moving to liquid dilutions later. Although there’s a lot of talk about water, it seems in practice they’re often diluted in strong alcohol e.g. 90% alcohol.)

  • Homeopaths say the sugar is neutral. (Of course.)

    I once wrote something on my blog to the effect that a particular homeopathic remedy was basically the same as taking a tiny tot of strong alcohol so people might just as well get their favourite tipple and have a nip (or three) of that.

    (Some whisky drinks have a tiny amount of a herb mixture in them… must be good for me.)

  • Andrea! You don’t know how homeopathy works do you.

    You said: “How are those solid little homeopathic pillules made?….Or do they still do it in water & then have to extract massive volumes of water, which will then (apparently) be incredibly potent? ”

    Think about it. Taking the water out to make the pills makes them weaker! Surely!

    Throw the pillule, drink the water!

  • It is not wise to mark “Homeopathy” as unscientific because
    i) there is still a lot of contradiction within the “Science” itself.
    ii) homeopathy is such a natural phenomenon that it cannot be explained by the available parameters of science, i.e; parameters are to be modified.
    iii)we have restricted ourselves strictly to the laws of science without concentrating and searching way out to resolve such wonderful natural observation.
    This is our fault and discredit.

    • Biplab

      i) there is still a lot of contradiction within the “Science” itself.

      No there isn’t – the reliable science is pretty clear that homeopathy doesn’t work beyond the placebo effect

      homeopathy is such a natural phenomenon that it cannot be explained by the available parameters of science, i.e; parameters are to be modified.

      If it is a natural phenomenon it should be explainable within the parameters of science

      we have restricted ourselves strictly to the laws of science without concentrating and searching way out to resolve such wonderful natural observation.

      If we do not restrict ourselves to the “laws of science” then we enter the world of belief and fantasy – science helps us to distinguish between what exists in the natural world and what does not

      Lets think about this another way

      It is unwise to mark Santa Claus as unscientific because
      i) there is still a lot of contradiction within the “science” itself
      ii) Belief in Santa Claus is such a natural phenomenon
      iii) we have restricted ourselves strictly to the laws of science without concentrating and searching way out to resolve such wonderful natural observation.

  • Aaand the previous commenter takes the post title as a blueprint rather than a criticism.

    Science is the study of nature but homeopathy is so natural science can’t figure it out??

  • Respected Michael Edmonds
    Scientific parameters should not be taken as absolute. It should be modified to explain any outcome or result.I along with my friend Dr Ruhul Amin is working on homeopathic dilution for the last 12 years. We have got published more than a dozen of papers where we have presented outcomes of many experiments that cannot be explained by the existing theories of science. So either we have to mark our experiments to be incorrect or we have to explain the result ignoring the existing theories.
    Our papers can be had at http://www.hanp.net & http://www.hpathy.com
    Please also visit our blog aminchakraborty.blogspot.com

    • Biplab

      Perhaps you could provide specific references to your papers? I have read many papers claiming to “prove” homeopathy and have not yet found one with both substantive and reliable results. And certainly none with results that come even close to the many proven and effective treatments provided by “conventional” medicine.

  • So either we have to mark our experiments to be incorrect or we have to explain the result ignoring the existing theories
    Hmmm which one to choose…

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