A Very Small Post about Homeopathy

I know I keep stressing the distinction between ethics and activist – and how it’s usually just before I witter on about something vaguely activistic.  However, I do think it’s worth popping over to look at the 10:23 Campaign, which takes a robust and sceptical attitude to homeopathy.

If you’re not sure about why it’s worth making a fuss, I’d recommend having a look at Martin Robbins’ account of the evidence about homeopathy presented to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee; having a look at xtaldave’s skewering of the “evidence” that homeopaths sometimes cite in their own favour; and having a look at what is probably the most remarkable of the lot: the details of UCLAN’s BSc in homeopathy as reviewed by UCL’s David Colquhoun, which is of particular interest from an ethicist’s point of view, referring as it does to to code of ethics of the Society of Homeopaths.

Have fun!  But don’t forget to dilute it…


UPDATE: Oh, all right.  Have some Tim Minchin, in what is probably the best jazz-poetry take-down of this nonsense you’re likely to see today.  Well worth ten minutes of your time.

  • Lots of other blogs which tackle homeopathy from a scientific and/or sceptical standpoint can be found at the “bad science” blog aggregator Badscienceblogs.net:


    – the blogs there range from scholarly point-by-point deconstructions of the claims made by homeopaths, to the mickey-taking which is almost irrestible when dealing with something as inherently ridiculous as homeopathy.

    A particular mention should go to two blogging physical scientists, Adrian Gaylard and Paul Wilson, who have minutely de-constructed the more “quasi scientific” claims of the homeopaths:


    I’m afraid I have personally been unable to keep a straight face when dealing with the Alternate Reality Community, so my own contributions to homeopathy blogging tend to be rather more facetious – for instance:


  • My forthcoming JME editorial ‘Homeopathy is where the harm is’ might also be of interest.

  • Dr Gubernaculum

    I’m puzzled or perhaps not. Do other countries have this debate? Do they pay out millions in State money to a sham ‘treatment’ method? I think we do because of the gloss of acceptability given to it by the Royal Family over the past century. Now I know with their long history of producing towering intellects, we should listen to them but I also worry about my fellow doctors who either were not taught properly or missed that bit about the scientific method. We even had a session on homeopathy in med school and I am glad to see that Tim has plagiarised me because I asked if the water remembered all the poo and wee in it. Do they still have naughty steps in medical school?

  • Real (Homeopathic) medicine cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails

  • @Nancy – Really? Then I have no doubt that you’ll be able to provide no end of peer-reviewed studies, case reports, and so on as evidence for your claim. You know: the motherlode that EVERYONE ELSE has missed…

  • Shelley Keneipp

    I guess the entire Board Of Plastic Surgeons in the U.S. must be out of their minds for endorsing Arnica as a protocol for pre and post surgery. They have endorsed using homeopathy after a double-blind study was done on the use of Arnica. You are telling people that this is an unscientific hoax? How about doing your research and letting people know the TRUTH. Yes, folks there is SCIENTIFIC DOUBLE BLIND STUDIES DONE IN MANY MANY countries, i.e. Germany, Brazil, U.S. India, France, just to name a few. Corporate drug companies and the AMA do not like homeopathy because it is cheap and accessible to all. So, therefore the lies abound.

  • Can you point us to (some of) these studies? I – and I guess many others – would appreciate being able to read them.

  • Dr Gubernaculum

    Let’s go OR SHOULD I SAY LET’S GO. (love debates in capital letters!).
    The Board of Plastic Surgeons, I guessing, is Shelley’s way of mentioning the American Board of Plastic Surgery.(The former is a row of Action Men in scrubs nailed to a piece of wood). Well, they govern cerification of plastic surgery and don’t give pronouncements on policies like which drug to use etc. That is not to stop Board cerified surgeons saying they believe in something but, hey, who said you had to have scientific training to be a doctor.
    The ‘scientific’ trials you mention are either sponsored by homeopathic ‘drug’ companies or else do not come anyway near the rigorous studies that have to be done for nasty, evil and effective drugs. The difference between coprorate drug companies and homeopathics ones is????? Oh NIL. (See I can do capitals too). Also I don’t see the former trying to discredit those cheap, accessible and highly effective drugs such as paracetamol and aspirin. But I guess that’s because they work and have been subjected to trials involving tens of thousands of patients. I am sure , sorry, SURE that Shelley is waiting to show us such studies…..cue tumbleweeds.

  • darajwee

    Homeopathy is a medical system that uses infinitesimal doses of natural substances–called remedies. Homeopathy is a definite system for curing ills, health disorders and chronic ailments.

  • No. Homeopathy is a crank system that rests on the belief that the more you dilute a substance, the more medically powerful it becomes – even when that substance is “diluted” to such a degree that it's probably not there any more.

    There is no evidence for it working, and no coherent suggested mechanism by which it could work. If it has any effect, it's by means of the placebo effect. Beyond that, it's bunk.

  • Don

    Why can’t you listen to good reason
    You are talking a load of rubbish like the skeptics website you recommend!.
    Homeopathy is used ALL OVER THE WORLD how can all these people be taking placebo- Homeopathy would not survive. It is stronger than ever and good job too. The select committee was a fraud. Sense about science; more like senseless about science or “listen to big Pharma” and the so called Professor of Alternative is an old fart who produces discredited and dubious material.
    The BMA are only a union and should be ashamed of themselves. The public yes the public know whats best for them (managing health not desease)and if they BMA vote against Homeopathy on June 30th they will be breaking the law as Homeopathy is an Act of Parliament. This is all a vicious and intellectual terror campaign by Selfish Doctors running scared, Journalists on the Big Pharma payroll .
    And of course the big daddys and the share price….

  • Well, that's me told.

    By the way, it's overdose day today as well. If I'm not around tomorrow…

  • Don

    I’ts ok to be a smart a.. but some patients are receiving C A M help with Cancer in some cases along with mainstream and there is nothing wrong with this. Supporters of Homeopathy and C A M are merely defending the case for Integrated Medicine, which must be the way to go. I believe that complimentary medicine has a vital role to play in our future; I see it as safe and subtle treatment.
    Suffering with Cancer is a very serious business and C A M has helped make a considerable difference.
    For anybody out there interested in this main subject here are a few facts;
    Fact 1 In case you are not aware the BMA embraced C A M in the early 90’s after earlier rejecting it. They have now apparently branded Homeopathy “witchcraft”. Tell that to the cancer suffers receiving Homeopathy.. There is also a BMA publication c 1997 Alternative therapies
    Fact 2 I believe that the GMC include Homeopathy and C A M as part of training for Doctors to gain an understanding should patients ask for it.
    I should say the training was very much the fag end in this case it appears. This is the training I would assume that the selection of anti Homeopathy BMA members want to stop.
    Fact 3 I understand the GMC paid a visit to Ten Countries to assess the medical systems and encountered Homeopathy and CAM in all I believe.
    Fact 4 In 1989 75% of the British public voted to receive C A M
    Fact 5 Switzerland has adopted C A M as part of mainstream as a majority of public voted for it. France and Germany embrace Homeopathy.
    Fact 6 USA have colleges dedicated to Homeopathy and is regulated by the USFDA if i have interpreted correctly
    Fact 7 The state of Ontario in Canada has recently embraced and regulated C A M (incl Homeopathy) and is available to all.
    Fact 8 In Brazil,Cuba, India,Egypt, etc Homeopathy is practiced widely.
    Fact 9 Look up this Dean ME (2003). The homeopathic mustard gas trials of 1941–42.
    There is plenty more!
    There are approximately 500 GP ‘s that are practicing Homeopathy or refer to Homeopaths in the UK- this I find encouraging and heart warming . To them I apologise if offended by my previous comment and also to the stressed, honest, and dedicated hardworking ones who (perhaps), would like to know more. After all I feel this is possibly a personality thing guiding doctors the public and patients to seek out this gentle medicine or not
    It seems apparent to me that In too many key areas, the two systems of Medicine find each other indigestible and in unresolvable conflict- but as I have mentioned other Countries seem to be resolving this issue to some extent.
    Here is a comment I have copied from another website ctrl click on the link will take you to some interesting reading- for gentle sceptics only mind. Hope the gentleman doesn’t mind me using the piece below if he does I apologise profusely- but it suits perfectly so thanks.
    1. homeopathy supporters, on January 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm said:
    My wife and I and four children have been treated with homeopathy for over 30 years now. We are both professionals and have been very pleased with the care and sensibleness of our homeopathic practitioner. Not only that, both of us started with severe health problems and we have been delighted that over that time our health and general well being improved immensely and continues to be maintained and even improved.
    We know from our experiences with homeopathic remedies selected that they are not placebo but much more. We’ve seen our children, ourselves not respond to a remedy but then another one works. As well, we’ve seen animals and babies respond to remedies- they are not prone to placebo effect.
    I applaud the Ontario government for regulating professional homeopaths and for doing something about the burgeoning tax burden that we are facing with conventional medicine and treatment.
    The issue now is a political one and I would like to have the freedom to choose what sort of health care I get. This freedom includes not having a bunch of fanatical internet skeptics tell me what is best for my health nor have pharmaceutical companies be in charge of my health care.
    Saner, more responsible individuals will see the benefits of homeopathic practitioners and their methods. We have.

    Take another overdose Iain. And if you need fixing about your prejudice against Homeopathy I can suggest you go and see a Homeopath (faculty B M A member of course) we don’t want you to keep overdosing- do we!!!
    Long live Homeopathy!!

  • In respect of receiving homeopathy along with conventional medicine for cancer, that's just it: it's the conventional medicine that does the work, along with (perhaps) a degree of placebo from the magic sugar pills. What you really need to make your case is evidence of homeopathy alone being effective. It isn't. There is no such evidence. There is no reason to think that it might be, because the mechanism by which homeopathy is supposed to work is patently silly. In a 30C dilution, you might, if you're very lucky, end up with one molecule of the active ingredient – but the statistics suggest that the chance of doing so is very close to zero. Homeopaths themselves disagree about how homeopathy is supposed to work… but that doesn't matter, because – placebo aside – it doesn't.

    You cite one study in your reply. One study. I'd recommend you have a look at Xtal Dave's blog (http://xtaldave.wordpress.com/ ): he's a real scientist, and he's scrupulous in his evaluation of homeopathic trials (and should probably get out a bit more, to be honest). They almost always are found wanting. Or have a look at David Calquhoun's blog, which is just as good. Both, I think, are willing to accept the evidence if and when it appears: it's just that it's never appeared.

    Right: now to your facts.
    Fact 1 So what? A professional body changed its mind. It's changed its mind about a lot of things. Woo hoo. I don't see how this bolsters your case. And tell what to the cancer sufferers receiving homeopathy? And the fact that there's a BMA publication called “Alternative Therapies” tells us nothing.

    Fact 2 I fully agree that doctors should be given an understanding of CAM in case patients ask for it. But CAM is not the same as homeopathy; there is a (small) evidential basis for (some) CAM treatments – acupuncture, I believe, has some limited therapeutic benefit. By equating CAM with homeopathy, you're muddying the water. You're also eliding “alternative” and “complementary” – two very different things. However, I think that GPs should be trained here as well – trained to explain why it's bunk and why the NHS shouldn't provide it. In the words of Tim Minchin: you know what they call alternative medicine that works? Medicine.

    Fact 3 OK – so they encountered homeopathy and CAM being used in ten countries. Did they work? Which ten?

    Fact 4 Voted? When? In what poll? I remember a lot about 1989; I think I'd remember a poll of the British public. But there was none. And, besides: in what world is a willingness to receive CAM evidence for it's working?

    Fact 5 See above.

    Fact 6 Irrelevant. The fact that something's regulated isn't evidence that it works.

    Fact 7 Irrelevant again. This isn't evidence of its effectiveness.
    Fact 8 As well as, or instead of conventional medicine? What're the alternatives available? CAM is probably no worse than nothing, provided that there's nothing else to have. And what're the outcomes?

    Fact 9 Not a fact, but: OK – I'll look it up, provided you give me a full reference and the library carries whatever journal it's in.

    Your testimony from users is hardly convincing, either. Anecdote is not evidence.

  • Don

    My previous response did not copy and paste to well .
    With reference relating to Cancer sufferers my comment relates to Homeopathic assistance for pain relief.
    With ref Fact 1- The intention was to portray a picture of distinct and what seems to me considerable foot shuffling, posturing and intransigence over many years. Homeopathy and CAM has always been in evidence and used widely and there appears to be a raft of written work on this subject. Again, here is a few relevant mature studies endorsing Homeopathy and CAM and I am afraid they do mean something to a lot of people the evidence is stacked against the protagonists in all areas even from the BMA and BMJ themselves; Clinical trials of Homeopathy. BMJ 302 316-23 J Klieinen 1991. Complimentary Therapies on the NHS-National assoc Health Authorities Birmingham 1993 Cameron- Blackie. Complimentary Medicine- new approaches to good practice BMA 1993 oxford uni press. The future of medicine BMJ 309, 1109-10 1994.
    The 1981 Threshold Survey found that 10% of patients were sent by GP to lay therapists despite discouragement from the BMA.
    With ref to Fact 2 – There is plenty of evidence to support the case in the published articles above quite frankly . CAM included Homepathy as it does in nearly all cases being the dominant usage. I say there are a very large number of NHS and Private GP who practice Homepathy successfully, are you saying some BMA members are cranks. Perhaps the private ones have gone out of business due to cranky consultations I don’t think so. Although the present scurrilous and irresponsible campaign has hit peoples lively hoods I am sure so good on yer.
    With ref to Fact 3 -Go to GMC website and see for yourself. Whilst you are there take some time to read Harriet Gunn’s excellent essay ` What will doctors be doing by 2050’ .
    With ref to Fact 4-This was in fact a Dutch survey were 75% people wanted Homeopathy. In the UK the 1992 survey by the FHSA and GP fundholding practices to examine their attitudes to complimentary medicine and their current usage of it. This found that 70% wanted C A M on the NHS mostly Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Osteopathy and Chiropractic. Further 83% of FHSA were funding CAM.
    In 1987 Which? Survey `Magic of Medicine’ 2000 members visited a complimentary practitioner ( one of which was myself), 82% said they were cured or improved and 74% would use the same method again 81 % said they were dissatisfied with their GP treatment for the same complaint and would not go again. I have no reason to believe this has changed one iota and There is something seriously wrong here that should clearly be addressed. See link below `getwell uk’
    Homeopathy works chum. The public can see that even if you cannot and vote with their feet- hang on, perhaps they are stupid! and cranky- is this what the Homeopathic protagonists in the health sector believe-if so shame on you.
    Looking at all the different surveys begs the question why is CAM and Homeopathy in particular not freely available on the NHS as clearly it should be and a very large section of the public seemed to agree.
    If you look at the facts world wide there is a very large percentage who receive Homeopathy in India and Cuba it is mainstream. How can you say this is placebo, it is ridiculous we are talking of millions of people here. The anti -lobby campaign is a vicious structured campaign.
    Fact 5, 6,7 and 8- The theme running across all these is that in these countries Homeopathy is widespread and the fact is Homeopathy is so popular that sensibly in some cases it is regulated, again cranky people voting with their feet, intuitively I would say. People generally are not interested in the science conundrum, they just now it works. Well done people of the world. Well done the withches…
    With ref to Fact 9-As you say evidence we must have evidence well here is some fair science http://www.jameslindlibrary.org/homeo... you can get your teeth into this- happy reading!
    The constructive criticism discussed in Daves Blog raises issues admittedly. I am sure there are plenty of analysis/studies that are open to critical scrutiny by what seems to be an army of science sleuths .We are talking of a system of medicine being torn apart by a very large gaggle of know it alls that have been unforgiving, merciless and cynical in their campaign against Homeopathy. They can say anything they feel but at the end of the day the system works I am afraid, as I have experienced myself.
    Here is a link you should look at a model pilot scheme you would do well to take note of http://www.getwelluk.com/ this was a successful CAM (incl Homeopathy) pilot run for two clinics in Northern Ireland. In my view this proved beyond doubt that partnering with GP is the way forward-
    There was another excellent partnering scheme run in a Liverpool Clinic as I understand it but this was closed as the indifference took hold.
    Homeopathy is not dying as you might hope, people show a need for it in and like to be able to choose. Whilst the sceptics claim there is no science yet attributable to Homeopathic remedies especially beyond Avagdro’s constant this does not mean to say there could be an absence of science .My limited understanding is that remedies transmit information and not chemicals. Patients across the globe are clearly asking for Homeopathy and CAM and this is undeniable and the tangible evidence is in patient numbers and written evidence.
    Not totally helping my case, but the BMJ, some years ago carried out a critical review where eighty one out of 105 clinical trials showed significant positive results compared with placebo. The BMJ stated: based on this evidence we would be ready to accept Homeopathy as being efficacious if only the mechanisms of action were more plausible
    What is plausible to me is that by sheer weight of numbers and satisfied patients and Practioners, NHS and private is that Homeopathy is so successful otherwise Homeopathy would not have survived for 200 years.
    I am no scientist butthere are several studies around ;- ` water structure and science’ Martin Chaplin on the internet.
    Then there is
    Thermo-chemistry and Electrochemistry .

    So come the day 10 23 train to Brighton and Tim Minchen on the I pod or whatever it is lately. Hailing the Fuhrer/witch slayer at the conflab. Nice one.

  • 190 studies in support of homeopathy medicine published in 82 peer-reviewed international medical journals out of which 96+ are FULL TEXT out of which 95 are PDF which can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/gFJIbg