The problem with this is that homeopathy is deeply unscientific. This isn't just some ivory tower, philosophical position but it is fundamental to what belief in medicine, science and the real world is about. Homeopathy cannot be proved objectively to work, the very best evidence that homeopaths is flawed and weak. This means, for a start, there can be no way of doing quality control; how can it be properly determined for example that the remedy in the bottle is the same as what the label says when even homeopaths themselves can't tell the difference. Drug companies get this wrong from time to time, why not homeopathic pharmacies? Here’s an interesting anecdote: some time ago I spoke to a representative from a company who sold herbal and homeopathic remedies in the veterinary market. I was told that on one occasion, when an owner wanted a remedy to dry up her bitch’s milk after weaning, the company had accidentally sent her a remedy which was designed to increase milk production instead. When the company realised their mistake after a week or so they phoned the owner to apologise only to be told, before they could get a word out, that the remedy had been highly effective and the bitch had stopped lactating! Such is the power of the human mind to convince itself of what it wants to believe.
A more important point though is that if the use of one modality which cannot be confirmed to work is accepted, where does that take us? There are some aspects of homeopathy which are so far fetched that even other homeopaths have their doubts -
Not every far fetched “cure” is as harmless as homeopathy is either -
This isn’t sarcasm or ridicule, it is a serious point. These other things are genuinely no less unlikely to the disinterested observer than homeopathy itself. If something can’t be proved (or disproved) objectively then all that remains is taking someone at their word.
That is an argument that is particularly unreasonable because it reduces a sceptic’s genuinely held and carefully considered position on the subject to one purely of a miserly vested interest in the status quo. But why on Earth would anyone be afraid of something that was as effective as homeopathy is claimed to be? It would be a wonderful new weapon in the armoury if it did even half of what was claimed -
Well, deluded is not the opposite of ‘sane’ and no one is insane just by virtue of believing in homeopathy, but many people are mistaken -
Many would say this is the absolute nub of the fundamental difference in views on this subject. To the homeopathic believer the unlikely nature of the improvement means it must be caused by the remedy but to the critical thinker the massively greater unlikleyhood of the remedy being effective means that almost any coincidence, spontaneous resolution or whatever is more likely than the possibility that the remedy could have been effective. The scientific way requires belief only in an extremely unlikely coincidence, and we know they happen, people win the lottery afterall. The way of the homeopathic believer, on the other hand, requires that most of what the whole of science knows about the nature of disease and the workings of the body as well as the chemistry and physics of water, sugar and alcohol molecules, quantum particles and energy is totally wrong. This is the “brute mystery” that Sehon et al (2006) refer to in their paper concerning the Simplicity Principle. The most economical explanation is that something other than homeopathy has produced the change as we don't have to re-
All too often this criticism is code for “Only someone who agrees from the outset that homeopathy is effective is qualified to judge the discipline”.
This argument is often heard when discussing theology as a means of countering arguments put forward by non-
Anyone who uses homeopathy, particularly on animals, who have no say in the matter, or who has gone further and spent time and money learning about the discipline, its history, internal rules, the minutae of dilutions, potencies, sucussions and provings; how classical Hannemanian homeopathy relates to modern day practice, the teachings of Kent and Hering and so forth will have very good reason to not only believe in homoeopathy but to argue its case most firmly. Such investment represents a heavy commitment, both materially and in terms of self interest and ‘face’, or self belief. Additionally, during the process an initiate will have made the acquaintance of like minded tutors and colleagues who will have an expectation that they will remain loyal to the peer group. Consequently a volte-
Homeopathic believers, when employing this objection to criticism forget that homeopathy can be investigated in more than just one way. There is an assumption by believers that anyone who studies the subject must be doing so in order to gain a sort of “personal fulfillment” by learning how to apply homeopathy, having already made the decision that to do so is worthwhile. In many cases students may have had a negative experience of conventional medicine and its practitioners, or some positive experience of homeopathy at a crucial point in their life which has nudged them on to a certain path but for whatever reason they are already inclined to be positive and accepting rather than neutral or independent. They are learning, not so much about the validity of homeopathy, which point has for them already been passed, but about its internal details and workings.
Homeopathy can also be studied, however not from the point of view of an initiate seeking enlightenment but with a desire to learn more about the evidence behind it. Why, for instance are homeopathic journals full of positive reports but mainstream publictions are not? Why are most conventional scientists unconvinced about its merits -
While looking into the merits or otherwise of homeopathy it is important to assume from the outset that practitioners on both sides of the debate, conventional and homeopathic, do what they do for genuine reasons and believe they are acting in the best interests of their patients. It is obvious then that practitioners who have studied homeopathy as critical outsiders and found it lacking would be most unlikely to use it. Particularly in groups incapable of giving informed consent such use would be highly unethical in their eyes. Hence the argument that only insiders can judge is further invalidated as not only are homeopathic practitioners the least likely to be critical of their discipline but anyone who has found it lacking is most unlikely to be a practitioner.
When all is said and done, if you want to know the relative merits of Quebracho over Argentum or what psora, sycosis and syphillus are and how they relate to tuberculinism then you need to speak to a homeopath. If, on the other hand you want to take a step back and look at the wider picture -
This is simply not true. While individual scientists might have differing views on the subject science as a whole has carried out a great deal of objective research on homeopathy and the consensus is that it doesn't work. The acclaim that would go with discovering homeopathy was effective and the resulting implications in every other branch of science would see the scientist who finally proved it given so many Nobel prizes he or she wouldn't know what to do with them, not to mention the financial rewards that would follow. There is a massive incentive for scientists to try to prove the effectiveness of homeopathy, the fact that no one has yet done so suggests strongly that homeopathy is unlikely ever to be so proven.
This is simply a ‘tu quoque’ argument and basically boils down to “well your medicine is bad too so that means we’re equal”. Such an argument is patently false. Conventional medicines have real, often very powerful effects, in some cases those effects are beneficial, in others less so but they are employed according to an informed risk-
Another point to consider is that conventional medications have a formal, well regulated system for reporting problems which highlights problems with drugs allowing corrective action to be undertaken. To use the Thalidomide example that system is how the problems with Thalidomide were discovered in the 1960's -
Regardles however of the incidence of morbidity and mortality in people under treatment with real drugs, even if conventional medicine was as bad and dangerous as some homeopaths would have us believe (it isn’t) this still in no way justifies the treatment of any medical disorder by means of inert sugar tablets.
OK, so such a paper doesn’t actually exist, even homeopathic trials with claimed confidence intervals of 95% or stronger have always got some major flaw or another. The question is though would such a paper, if it existed, conclisively prove homeopathy? The answer is unfortunately no, it wouldn’t!
To properly assess a novel treatment like homeopathy the entire body of evidence must be considered, not just one or two isolated papers. In fact, although a confidence interval of 95% sounds impressive what it means is there is a 1 in 20 chance of the results being purely due to chance. So if you’ve got hundreds of papers which suggest that homeopathy is ineffective and only one or two ‘outliers’ which suggest that it is, those outlier results would rightly be treated with considerable scepticism.
Many of conventional medicine's most effective therapies have never needed to go anywhere near a DBRPCT to prove their efficacy of course. Insulin treatment for diabetes mellitus, defibrillation in the case of cardiac arrest and fluid therapy in the case of shock to name but a few all have effects so powerful that to test them against an inert dummy treatment would be so downright murderous as to be beyond consideration. It is a constant source of puzzlement to those sceptical of homeopathy that the supposedly miraculous effects seen by individual practitioners in the privacy of the consulting room completely vanish when put to the test.
Indeed, farmers are business-
After that I’m afraid that farmers are just as likely to fall prey to all the cognitive errors that you, I and everyone else is prone to -
Furthermore, in the past some extremely knowledgeable people have been convinced that treatments which are now discredited have worked -
This particular argument runs along the lines that since, allegedly, we don’t know how many conventional drugs work we should basically cut homeopathy some slack and give it the benefit of the doubt. A favourite example is anaesthetics with claims that we have no idea how they work and no information as to their safety or cost-
This is another tu quoque argument – flawed and designed to mislead. There are several problems with it, not least of which is that even if we really did have no idea how pharmaceutical drugs worked it still wouldn't mean it was ok to go on using homeopathy. We don't have to worry about that though because not only is this argument illogical, it is based on a falsehood, presumably put about in the hope that lay readers won’t bother to check the far-
In fact we have a very good idea of how pharmaceuticals work, including anaesthetics. Take Alfaxan (alfaxalone) for example, a popular veterinary anaesthetic agent. Alfaxalone binds to specific binding sites on the gamma animo butyric acid (GABA) sub-
Even if we didn’t know exactly how anaesthetics and other pharmaceuticals worked we do know they have recognised, analysable, physical content. We know exactly what they are. Their mode of action, even where not known precisely, will involve a number of pre-
The rational basis of real drugs means if someone makes the claim that a particular pharmaceutical doesn’t work, or has unacceptible consequences that claim can be investigate using proven scientific principles and, depending on the results, the drug will either be withdrawn from use or have its safety profile enhanced. To take extreme examples of both – thalidomide was withdrawn from use in the middle of the 20th century after investigation showed it was causing an unacceptible level of deformities in new-
Homeopathy on the other hand has no rational basis and no content other than sugar or water, its ‘mode of action’ is a pure fiction. Infact several pure fictions, depending on what you believe – quantum, nano-
Finally, with homeopathy if you dilute it, it supposedly gets stronger, not weaker. And no theory of homeopathy’s ‘mode of action’ has ever managed to explain that one. Why homeopathy should get more quantum activity, nano-
This ‘everything is subjective’ line is a well worn trope heard from many practitioners of CAVM – how can science ‘prove itself’, much less disprove anything which operates oustide its purview? Such commentators though want it both ways as we will see.
The point hinges on the very philosophy of science itself and disingenuous homeopaths as well as well-
To be clear, the core philosophy of science has little to do with the way medical trials are conducted or the usefulness evidence-
One of the best illustrations of scientific principles is simply if something is going to claim scientific credentials then those credentials must be able to be tested by science. That’s it really, nothing more – 'Put up or shut up' in other words. Science isn't even about finding answers, being far more concerned with asking questions.
Philosophers of a post-
Critics are regularly castigated by its adherents for describing homeopathy as unscientific. Quite the opposite we are told, loudly and with vigour, homeopathy does indeed work by scientific principles (inevitably quantum physics as a rule), non-
Homeopathy craves all the kudos and credibility science brings but will not accept the scientific process and the discipline that comes with it – mainly the discipline of discarding cherished beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. It is homeopaths who are attempting to prove homeopathy by science, not scientists. If they were content to present themselves as practitioners of a mystic, unexplainable and untestable philosophy this whole debate would have a very different tone.
What follows is a selection of plausible sounding arguments often put forward in favour of homeopathy. Many of them have a convincing ring and are to be found in a variety of homeopathic web sites and books, many of the questions below are direct quotes from such material.
They are sometimes put forward by people who should know better and who rightly wouldn’t accept such arguments if used to try to convince them that a conventional drug was safe or effective.
When looked at in a little detail however they are found to be inadequate. All they do is confuse the issues and cloud the real argument, generating a lot of heat, and diverting any discussion away from the key question of reliable evidence.
Nevertheless they still continue to be put forward, despite their highly questionable logic, often in the belief that they offer decisive reasons for the continued use of homeopathy.