Friday, April 02, 2010

Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy

I am not the first person to state this, but I think that it's important that we all keep up saying this: Testing of homeopathic medicine should end.

Why do I say this? Well, for a very simple reason: There is no evidence that homeopathy works. And what's more, the whole concept of homeopathy flies against everything we know about chemistry, physics, and physiology.

This blog post is triggered by a truly abysmal study where homeopathic medicine was compared to proper medicine used for treating moderate to severe depressions - there were numerous flaws in the study (which I plan to address in a later post), but the fundamental problem was that it was comparing medicine with remedies based on nonsense.

There is a famous essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky called "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", which goes on to explain how our knowledge of biology wouldn't make sense except if evolution is true. One could write a similar essay, called say "Nothing in Medicine Makes Sense in the Light of Homeopathy", in which one explains how all our knowledge of medicine and physiology doesn't make sense if homeopathy is true.

I don't think this can be stressed enough.

It's not just a matter of science not understanding homeopathy. If homeopathy was true, it would mean that the basic building blocks upon which our knowledge is built would be wrong.

Given we know that this is not the case, homeopathy must be wrong. No, that's too mild; homeopathy must be absolute nonsense.

The basic concepts of homeopathy are things like "like cures like", miasms, and and the concept of "memory" in water, all of which is nonsense.

"Like cures like" (or law of similars) is the idea that medicine should be based upon things which gives the same symptoms as the original disease. This was perhaps plausible back when Hahnemann first proposed it two hundred years ago, but we now know that there is no truth to this idea. Sometimes the medicine will be based upon substances which gives similar symptoms, but mostly it won't.

Miasms are an old concept, in which diseases are caused by pollution or bad air. This idea was replaced by the germ theory of diseases, and is not taken serious by anyone except for certain branches of alternative "medicine" such as homeopathy, where they have added their own twists to the concept, but still stay largely true to the old Medieval concept.

The "memory" of water (or sugar for that matter) is the explanation used to explain how homeopathic medicine can have any effect. Homeopathic remedies are based upon the concept of diluting, in which the remedies are diluted to a degree where none of the original molecules are left (see this rather poor Wikipedia article for the numbers).

Oh, and the homeopaths also claim that the more diluted a remedy is, the more potent it is. Yes, this is really what they claim. No, it doesn't make any sense.

So, all in all, we know that homeopathy doesn't work. So, why the hell are we continuing to test it against proper medicine?

There are a lot of alternative "medicines" which might work, even if the concepts they are based upon are nonsense (e.g. acupuncture), and it makes sense to test these (so far, the effect of acupuncture seems to be placebo), but this is most certainly not the case with homeopathy. There is no way in which that can work.

Homeopaths might claim otherwise, but then it's up to them to explain how our basic understanding of chemistry, physics, physiology, and medicine is wrong in this matter, and yet works in every other case. In other words, it's up to the homeopaths to propose new theories in which homeopathy works, and which still supports our current state of knowledge, and until then, they should be ignored.

Not shunned, but ignored. Like we ignore perpetual motion machine builders, flat-earthers, and other weirdos.

Conventional medicine is not perfect, and our knowledge is expanding all the time, but theories like the germ theory of diseases are well established through science. We understand the mechanisms at play, and this knowledge enables us to fight diseases more efficiently. Much like our understanding of vira has helped us fighting other diseases more efficiently.

Why does claims of memory in water and strength through dilution bring to the table? In what ways are they expanding our knowledge? What diseases are we able to cure because of them? Nothing, none, and none are the answers. So stop bringing them to the table. Instead focus on the many valid ideas, which don't fly in the face of all the collective knowledge of the sciences.

Woos like to bring up Nobel Laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, and their discovery that ulcers were caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori as an example of how outsiders can turn conventional knowledge on its head.

This is of course pure wishful thinking from their side. Marshall and Warren were very much part of the established scientific community, and while their proposal was received skeptically at first, it was not dismissed out of hand for some very simple reasons:

  • It was built upon evidence.

  • The mechanisms etc. all worked within conventional science and the mechanisms known at the time.

  • There seemed to be some problems with the prevalent hypothesis at the time.

In other words, not only did they work within the established science, they actually addressed some known issues and presented evidence for their claims.

Yes, it took some time (and a very drastic demonstration) to convince people, but the scientific and medical community was very willing to be convinced, and as soon as there were sufficient evidence, the new explanation was universally accepted in quite a short time.

This is how it is done.

So, in what way has proponents of homeopathy done any of this?

The truth is that most people with a basic understanding of science understands that homeopathy is nonsense of the worst order, yet money is still spent on testing this nonsense, demonstrating again and again that it doesn't work. Why? We know that it doesn't work, since we understand the fundamental flaws in the premises behind homeopathy, and we know that homeopathic remedies are nothing but water, alcohol, or sugar (depending on whether they are liquid or in pill form), so they cannot work any better than placebo - they ARE placebo.

Let's put an end to this.

All it does is to lend credibility to homeopathy in the eyes of observers who don't know any better. They think that since homeopathic remedies are continuously being tested, there must be something to them. Why do we let this misconception continue? Science wins nothing from these sham studies, and it only lends cranks an aura of respectability. Stop it.

Yes, I am very passionate about this - we are allowing a lie to continue perpetually. That's wrong. Homeopathy has been around for 200 years, providing no value to society as a whole, and generally decreasing the general level of health, and it's time to stand up and say so.

It goes without saying that I have only contempt for hospitals and doctors who provide homeopathic remedies to their patients. Homeopathic practitioners are usually acting in good faith, believing in their nonsense, but doctors and nurses should know better - they have an education behind them, which provides them with the knowledge necessary to understand what nonsense homeopathy is.

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Anonymous Dr. Nancy Malik said...

Real is Homeopathy. Homeopathy for everyone

April 02, 2010 11:37 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

If homeopathy is real, then I am sure you won't have any problems explaining how it works? I mean, in a way which is not scientific nonsense.

April 02, 2010 12:18 PM  
Blogger styl said...

Great post. They might as well just put "This is MAGIC!" on bottles of homeopathic "medicine".
It's hard to believe that there are medical practitioners that may actually believe it works, due to a lack of understanding of physics and chemistry.
If a doctor lacks the critical thinking skills necessary to break away from 'magical thinking', that is a doctor I would run from at full speed.

April 02, 2010 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

It boggles my mind that homeopathic "remedies" are sold in all major supermarket and pharmacy chains across the U.S. Costco, Walmart . . . everywhere.
If not "this is magic" on the packaging, I suggest one of these two:
1. "A Premium Placebo Product."
2. "Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that purchasing and using this product is a sign of intellectual impotence. Seek remedial education immediately."

April 02, 2010 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Nescio said...

FYI, there is more on the non-effectiveness here:

April 02, 2010 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Lizzie said...

From personal experience, I know that homeopathy heals. It did take me many years to understand how to use classical homeopathic drugs (not the combination remedies that are sold in most stores), after studying at the New York School of Homeopathy and then seeking treatment from a homeopath. I have since realized that much of what conventional medicine believes about disease and treating disease is utter nonsense and actually exacerbates conditions of ill health.

April 02, 2010 9:47 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Lizzie, let me state this bluntly: homeopathy doesn't heal. All it does is act as a placebo.

Your claims that what conventional medicine (aka medicine) believes about disease and treating of same are not only misinformed, but dangerous to not only your health, but the health of other people which you either transmit diseases to, or which you convince of your delusions.

People like you are a menace.

April 03, 2010 9:10 AM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Oh, and it should go without saying, that personal anecdotes about the usefulness of a given treatment are worthless, especially when the treatment flies in the face of everything we know about science and medicine.

April 03, 2010 9:15 AM  
Blogger styl said...

Would you be willing to take part in an experiment? You and I will exposed to rabies. I will be administered the rabies vaccine, and you will receive a homeopathic dilution of virus infected cells.

Then all we need do is wait and see which one of us dies.

Still confident?

April 03, 2010 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The trouble with the testing of homeopathic therapies is that the world of western medicine doesn't WANT homeopathy to work. As you can twist and turn numbers to give you the results you are looking for, it's easy for researchers to see what they want to see, namely that nothing in homeopathy works.

There is, however, some support for homeopathy, namely that many western medications come from the same source as the homeopathic ones. For example, Valium is made from Valerian root, which lends credence to the claim of efficacy of the root.

You will NEVER see a study coming from western medicine that will support the claims of homeopathy. The west is ruled by the pharmaceutical industry, and it does NOT want anyone competing with it. Homeopathy would take money away from big pharm, which must not be allowed under any circumstance!

Now I'm not saying that homeopathy is the only way to go, because it certainly would not replace many of the beneficial drugs we have developed. However, the more a substance is processed, the more problematic it can become. Does anyone doubt that an ear of corn is better for you than high fructose corn syrup?

April 03, 2010 4:32 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

No, the problem with testing homeopathic therapies is that they are based on pure nonsense.

As I wrote in my post, for homeopathy to be true, then everything else we know about science is wrong.

"There is, however, some support for homeopathy, namely that many western medications come from the same source as the homeopathic ones. For example, Valium is made from Valerian root, which lends credence to the claim of efficacy of the root."

What does natural remedies have to do with homeopathy? Yes, we know that cures can be found out in nature - there is nothing new in that, and what scientists do, is to try to find out what exact ingredient is the active one, and make medicine with proper dosage.

This doesn't in any way or shape validate homeopathy, which doesn't have any remedies in them, other than the stuff used for dilution.

"The west is ruled by the pharmaceutical industry, and it does NOT want anyone competing with it. Homeopathy would take money away from big pharm, which must not be allowed under any circumstance!"

It's estimated that the worldwide sales of homeopathic remedies are in the order of $50 billion. Not a trivial amount. Given that there are no cost to R&D, and very little to ingredients, then it's mostly pure profit.

Pharmaceutical companies would love to sell homeopathic remedies, and indeed many do. Using the "big pharma" gambit is bullshit.

"However, the more a substance is processed, the more problematic it can become."

This is just empty words. Yes, it can become more problematic, but it can also not become more problematic. So, what?

April 04, 2010 12:22 AM  
Blogger styl said...

You have made a significant error in comparing homeopathic valeran to valium.

See, Valium actually has the molecules of the drug in it.

Homeopathy, by it's own admission (and claims of dilution like 30C), does not.

April 04, 2010 12:33 AM  
Anonymous Dan Buzzard said...

@Anonymous (Coward)

The reason there is zero evidence to support Homeopathy is because it simply does not work. Homeopaths don't need "Western Medicine" to conduct any sort of tests for Homeopathy they could conduct clinical trials themselves, but they wont because they know it does not work.

All Homeopaths are Cheats, Frauds, Liars, Criminals every single one of them. To defraud sick people takes a special form of lowlife.

Skeptics would be happy to retract their criticisms if Homeopaths could only support their own claims.

April 04, 2010 6:15 AM  
Anonymous skepticat said...

Why do people say we don't want homeopathy to work? It would be wonderful if it worked. It would revolutionise health care systems and make medicine affordable to everyone. And those of us who don't have the brains or time to train to become real doctors - but do have a conscience - could train as homeopaths and make a living from it.

Unfortunately, as homeopathy is a total crock, the promotion of it is irresponsible and unethical and those who do so have blood on their hands.

That means you Lizzie and you "Dr" Malik. Homeopathy is a cult. Stop pretending it is anything more.

April 06, 2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger marty said...

The evidence for homeopathy also follows homeopathic philosophy: it's so inconceivably tiny that it must therefore be overwhelmingly true!!!

She is having extensive education, specialized degree and training. She is Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) (a regular full-time 5.5 years of medical degree course) from prestigious ‘Homoeopathic Medical College and Hospital’, Chandigarh in Jan 2003. She has a rich clinical experience as a House Physician under Dr. Castro (an internationally renowned homoeopath from Chandigarh).
(from "Dr." Malik's profile)
Homeopathic.. Surgery... what on earth does that mean? You make really really really tiny incisions?

April 09, 2010 8:41 AM  
Anonymous Ender said...

Great post and totally true.
Rofl @ styl and marty, well said.

However "All Homeopaths are Cheats, Frauds, Liars, Criminals every single one of them. To defraud sick people takes a special form of lowlife."

That's simply not true. Plenty of them are deluded, or uneducated, some of them are mentally ill (see that guy ranting about slave-breaking etc recently linked on RI)

It's clear you're very angry about homeopathy, and there's a lot to be angry about but it's not correct to say that they are all evil and lying, and it benefits no-one except homeopaths themselves* to spread falsehoods about them.**

*They can then claim that scientists 'lie' or 'conspire to defame us' etc

**Also it's wrong, and it's best not to be wrong.

April 09, 2010 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Nancy Malik said...

Real is scientific homeopathy. It cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails. Nano doses of evidence-based modern homeopathy medicine brings big results for everyone

August 17, 2010 5:45 AM  
Blogger Michael in India said...

"For homeopathy to be true, then everything else we know about science is wrong." This is a logic error.
Discounting personal experience because it doesn't fit science is bad science. And to slap the label "placebo effect" on homeopathy is a strange argument. One unexplainable explained away with another unexplainable. The problem with aimless conversations like this is that they're aimless. Your complaint is that there's no scientific evidence to support it. But all that means is nobody has really looked. Or maybe you're right and it is 'placebo effect'. But maybe placebo effect is a more complex mechanism than thought. Point is...someone has to do the work.

February 12, 2011 4:23 AM  
Anonymous Dr. Nancy Malik said...

Evidence of homeopathy is undeniably positive and consistent. It's a human evidence of experience, gathered from a real-world observation in a real-world setting (not in an ideal artificial laboratory) giving real-world solutions.

May 21, 2011 8:28 AM  
Blogger Dr. Ravindra S. Mann said...

All these words against homeopathy are used from very begining. All these claims of eficacy of homeopathy are also stated thousands of times by homeopaths. Fact is, Homeopathy is increasing day by day.

Homeopathic medicines are diluted beyond laws of chemistry, that's why they are claimed plain water or alcohol in this post, and can not possess any medicinal quality in them.

I propose a simple thing. Purchase a Sulphur 1 M dilution, take it twice a day for 2 months continually. Then write here again, your placebo experience, honestly.

January 10, 2016 7:58 PM  

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