Letter Rejects Criticism of Homeopathy

By Michael Edmonds 29/01/2012

Last week in the Sunday Star Times there was an article on belief of homeopathy in New Zealand. Part of this article included Dr Shaun Holt’s criticism of homeopathy. The article can be found here.

This week a letter rejecting criticism of homeopathy and other alternative medicines featured in the letters page. It is a good example of the misinformation that is circulated about alternative medicine, including homeopathy.


The letter begins by accusing Dr Holt of not understanding how it works. This is incorrect on several counts. First, there is no evidence that it does work (anecdotes don’t count), and second, every explanation on how it “works” that homeopaths have come up with, has been readily and easily dismissed as unscientific.

The letter then suggests that homeopathy must be okay because there is “a strong following.” However, given that only 18% of the NZ population are certain or fairly certain that it does work, I would hardly consider this a strong following. Furthermore, having a large number of people believe in a therapy doesn’t make it work. Through out history large numbers of people have believed that slavery is okay or that diseases were caused by witchcraft. Belief does not equal validity. This is why science uses evidence to decide whether a treatment works or not.

The letter then raises the spectre of “pharmaceutical drugs”, over hyping some of the issues that have occurred with a minority of drugs. Double blind experiments have proved effective in working out which drugs work and which drugs don’t. However, it is not surprising that a supporter of homeopathy disparages the double blind experiment given that it has proven time and again that homeopathic remedies have no significant effect beyond the placebo effect.

Furthermore, the fact that many drugs have side effects (and the majority are not worse than the original complaint) is proof that they actually work by having an effect on the body. The fact that homeopathic remedies have no side effects is an obvious indicator that this is because they have no effect on the body!

The author of the letter, Jann Mcpherson then points out that “many doctors use acupuncture which also relies on energy fields.” This is also incorrect on several counts. I would suggest that only a minority of doctors use acupuncture; that homeopathy does not rely on energy fields; and that their is no evidence that any alternative therapy can manipulate any energy field in the body.

The letter commends doctors who practice alternative medicine, saying they are “booked up for months.” I can’t help but wonder if this is because of all of the return visits it takes before the problem sorts itself out?

Ms Mcpherson does correctly point out that people do get tired of taking “chemical drugs”. Ignoring the redundancy of this term, I must agree that I, as a lifelong asthmatic, do get sick of taking medication every day, even if there are no noticeable side effects. However, there is no way I will risk my health by replacing these with bottles of magic water. Too many people have died by making a similar mistake.

0 Responses to “Letter Rejects Criticism of Homeopathy”

  • I’m sorry to disagree Michael, however in this case you are clearly – let me repeat – CLEARLY wrong.

    Never mind your 20 odd years in the scientific community, never mind a certain education that pre-suposses that career, never mind that there is a lack of “evidence” from within any sort of scientific model for homeopathy.

    Because, Jan is sure.

    Really sure! I mean, really, really sure that she knows. Cause she’s been told. Jan has seen and heard! And no fancy – pancy chemist with a classical education is going to get between her and The Truth! (when it’s in capital letter, you know it’s important).

    All you are doing Michael is giving Jan ammunition in an argument that she will surely win.

    Cause she said so.

  • Oh dear, XChequer perhaps you are right. Science is just soo hard to understand with all it’s rules, and need for evidence, and attempts to verify whether a treatment works.
    And all those nasty “chemical” drugs. Surely a bottle of magic water will work just as well to treat heart disease, asthma, HIV infection and cancer?

  • I suggest you skeptics read The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake which has just come out and sold out in 4 days! There is in fact two books with that name. The kind of science you espouse is becoming very out of date.

  • Louise,

    I’m well aware of Sheldrake’s work, including his “theory” of morphic resonance. However the proof of any approach to understanding the world around us is judged on the evidence that supports it.
    Thus far the evidence supports my “kind of science” in that not only does it explain the world around us, it also allows us to make predictions and also affect the world around us in positive ways.
    The moment Sheldrake or anyone else with a pet “theory” can show that the evidence better supports their “theory” than what we currenlty understand as science then all scientists will give it serious consideration. Until then it is just another of the many imaginative but unproven ideas about how the wold works.

  • Louise,

    If a manufacturer says that their car will do 200 km/hr, we can say “show us” and the manufacturer will use a test track to demonstrate that the car will, or won’t, do the claimed 200 km/hr.

    Homeopathic practitioners say that homeopathy will heal this and cure that. Science simply says “show us.”

    So far, homeopathists have had more than 200 years to show us that homeopathy works. They haven’t.

    I’m not going to hold my breath.

    I’m afraid XChequer is right.

  • Louise, just because a book sells out rapidly, doesn’t make the message it contains correct. (Various books by diet gurus are also very popular, but don’t seem to achieve much in the way of lasting success.) As Stuartg says, this is a science forum & we will always say “show us”.

  • What you also neglected to mention, Louise, is that Sheldrake’s book had an initial print run of thirteen……five of which went to dear Rupert’s family, one to an aggrieved Mexican with a penchant for knives in a mental asylum who believes that Rupert is using mind control on him, and one to the pet poodle next door who is, like you I hear, also in full agreement with his “theories”.

    Sheldrake may very well be right in some areas. For example, the idea of field effect on individual cells is intriguing to the point that biochemists even in little old New Zealand have postulated similar ideas. Also, the idea of quantum entanglement in biology, specifically photosynthesis, are entirely plausible and merit further investigation.

    The difference in the “science”, Louise comes when you need to quantify and disprove. That is, to put your money where your mouth is. And this, Rupert hasn’t done very well at all. His experiments are dodgy to say the least and the conclusions he reaches stretch the data (dodgy as it is) beyond any reasonable belief. The same with homeopathy.

    As much as people would like to believe something works, if there is no proof then belief alone doesn’t make it true.

  • “Anecdotes don’t count” you say, however, what are studies but recollection of anecdotes?

    • Most studies involve collections of data, which allow the researcher to see the overlying pattern. An anecdote is a single observation which provides no evidence of an overall pattern.
      For example if I have a headache and rub a cat on the side of the head and it goes away, does that prove that cat rubbing cures headaches?

  • Fernando,

    A key reasons why anecdotes are really limited to suggesting things to then go on to investigate are that they cannot distinguish between different possible reasons for the event, illnesses or whatever is being talked about.

    More formally, anecdotes lack controls – different groups of test subjects that allow the researcher to tease out what things are affecting the event (or not).

    It’s why controlled studies are used to determine if a treatment benefits patients. Typically one group of patients are given the treatment and the other not and the results compared. (There are a few variations on this general theme.)

  • What is it about Nelson?? (Apologies to science people based in Nelson, I know there are lots of you).
    There is a ghastly story in today’s DimPost about a Nelson woman who died of an advanced skin cancer on her head, under a ‘treatment’ regime from an unqualified iridologist who discouraged her from seeing a doctor until it was much too late and there was a gaping wound exposing her brain. Every alternative treatment person should read and reflect on this story.