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)