This tweet from @EllenKramer, a homeopath, neatly demonstrates an ongoing problem:
Homeopathy & the Skeptics; a fight for our health freedom and the choice to choose our own healthcare ~> http://bit.ly/j9khvT
The article itself demonstrates a total misunderstanding of skeptical activism and our problem with homeopathy. Homeopaths are at crossed purposes*: they do not understand the objections skeptics have to homeopathy. Or maybe they are just in denial. It also repeats the canard of “health freedom”.
Let’s go through it.
I am deeply concerned by the current orchestrated campaign against homeopathy, which is led by a self-appointed pressure group, Sense about Science, and a number of bloggers.
It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a consensus. That’s how science works.
It’s not led by Sense About Science. It’s not led by anyone in particular. It’s spontaneous. Almost any skeptic with an interest in health will rapidly find homeopathy and realise the problems with it. It’s a teaching tool for critical thinking, because it is so trivially easy to demonstrate the flaws and because the inferential errors that cause people to falsely believe it works, are common to so many delusions.
Critical analysis of homeopathy is everywhere. It happens on blogs because blogs are where people talk about stuff, but it’s also in books (earliest of which was probably Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr in 1842, Homeopathy And Its Kindred Delusions), films, in classrooms, wherever minds meet and wherever the subject comes up.
These people are funded by the drug companies, so surely their PR science makes them unfit to comment objectively on homeopathy in the national press. With the strong PR campaign by BigPharma to discredit homeopathy, all homeopaths must now, more than ever, unite in their resolve to give patients a truly alternative choice in Medicine.
This is called the pharma shill gambit. It is fallacious for two reasons: first, it is untrue; second, it is not relevant to the objections to homeopathy. Even if I were paid by Big Pharma (which I am not), the criticisms of homeopathy – its lack of evidence, its lack of any mechanism for self-correction, its unethical practices – would remain entirely valid.
Adolf Hitler was a strong advocate of homeopathy and vegetarianism. The relevance of this to the validity of homeopathy and vegetariansim is precisely nil.
We are not a complementary medicine, which is trying to be tagged onto allopathy, we offer a genuine alternative to modern chemical therapy.
This is a non-sequitur. Nobody claimed homeopathy was trying to be an adjunct to medicine. The issue is that it’s wrong, not that it’s not the right kind of wrong.
As to being a genuine alternative, it would appear that it is a genuine alternative to medicine in the same way magic carpets are a genuine alternative to aeroplanes.
Most Sceptics do not understand how homeopathic remedies work, they exaggerate and misconstrue what homeopathic remedies are and ironically see themselves as the defenders of medical science, but in truth they have an embarrassingly poor scientific attitude when evaluating homeopathy and the remedies. Homeopathy – comes from the place that the power of healing lies within the patient & the remedies stimulate the body to do its own healing – they have no power beyond stimulating self healing and they must be individualised to suite the needs of the patient.
This is patently false. Most skeptics do understand how homeopathic remedies “work” – placebo effects, cognitive bias, natural course of disease and so on – and they make this very plain. In fact, it’s the homeopaths who don’t understand, as the rest of the paragraph makes clear. The remedies do not stimulate the body because there is no way they can. They contain no active ingredient. Individualisation is a fantasy since all the remedies in common use are identical and identically inert.
Let me make it clear: I will happily retract all my objections to homeopathy if any homeopath can show me an objectively provable difference between any two similarly prepared and presented remedies of 12C or greater. Show me a remedy that changes blood glucose levels in a diabetic, and another which does not, and I will be interested. Tat’s science. Claiming that homeopathy is “individualised” and thus can’t be objectively tested is not science, it’s religion.
This is what makes it difficult to do clinical trials using conventional scientific methods and why sometimes remedies work and sometimes they don’t – this is because the remedies have to be individualised to the patient. They will work if the prescriber understands why the symptoms are there – Cause → effects → and obstacles to cure.
It is perfectly possible. Many means of testing have been suggested, the most obvious being a simple double-blind randomisation between individualised homeopathy and placebo.
This is not a reason, it’s an excuse. An escape hatch. Scott Adams nailed this one: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1999-05-06/ ”This is our most reliable computer unless you try to use software. It’ll freeze several times a day but you can restart it by poking a spoon into a hole in the back” “Has that ever worked?” “We think people are doing it wrong”.
Something that works as powerfully as homeopaths suggest homeopathy works, will be objectively testable. hey never propose objective tests that they accept are valid (try it!), they only reject tests they know do not or will not deliver the result they want.
Without understanding the cause in the long run, you will not be able to remove the effects (symptoms) – the obstacles to self healing need to be addressed if the body is to self heal. So from this place, how can homeopaths discuss health with a lobby group whose main aim is to subvert any real discussion on health and take away people’s rights to health freedom choices?
Homeopaths have no clue about the cause of disease. Straight homeopaths are germ theory denialists. They claim that diseases are caused by miasms disturbing the body’s vital energy. This is pre-scientific claptrap which was refuted in the 19th Century. They have no idea what causes cancer (all the advances there are by doctors; for example, new genetic cures for specific cancers). They make vague references to things that sound like medicine, but there is no requirement for a homeopath to have any training at all, diagnostic or otherwise. How would they diagnose coeliac disease? That requires tTG and generally a duodenal biopsy. How would they diagnose osteoporosis? That requires a DEXA scan. How would they tell if a patient has an aneurysm? Venous insufficiency? Polycythaemia?
Ah, you say, but they are talking about the cause of disease. So they might, but that is what is known in the trade as bullshit. They have no idea what causes autoimmune disorders, they have neither the training nor the biological diagnostic tools to understand. Remember, most homeopaths have not even gone to a proper university, let alone studied a five-year accredited medical course.
They need to explain what they base their science on? Medicine or rather Scientism has no principals for healing, no observational tools, no understanding of the evolution from constitutional health to suppression and then pathology. They have done a fine job in mapping the human body, but remain ignorant about how to support self-healing. This is like having a leaking roof – a homeopath would get on the roof and find out where the leak originated and sort it out from there.
Whilst an allopath would simply keep painting over the water stains in the ceiling, as the hole on the roof grows bigger and bigger until the ceiling eventually falls down.
We base “our” science on the scientific method, often characterised as the crowning achievement of humanity. It is an amazing tool for separating truth from untruth, and anybody can use it. At its simplest, you take a premise, you devise a test which will tell you if the premise is wrong, and you run the test.
Scientism is a straw man. Religions have imutable truths: God exists or homeopathy works. These are not open to debate. Everything in science is up for debate, and few things are certain. The conservation of energy, entropy, that sort of thing. Most of the time science says that something is consistent with the observed facts, or the available evidence does or does not support a conclusion. That is not how religions talk.
Yes, science explains healing. Not everything about it, but enough to know how to suppress the immune system in transplant patients, how to guide new bone fibres using carbon fibre matrices, how to transplant tissues and organs, and resect damaged structures. The phrase “evolution from constitutional health to suppression and then pathology” is meaningless homeopathy jargon for their purported mechanism of disease. There are no objective diagnostic criteria by which any of these things can be tracked. Is it really likely that there is an entire course of disease that only one doctor – Samuel Hahnemann – has ever stumbled on? And that over 200 years ago when the optical microscope was about the most advanced piece of scientific apparatus available?
The claim that doctors “paint over the water stains” is pejorative nonsense. A doctor faced with a diabetic patient will prescribe a course of treatment that will enable that patient to live near-normal life. A homeopath faced with a diabetic patient will be lucky to work out the ailment before the patient dies. Insulin-dependent diabetes requires insulin. Show me a homeopath who can take a medically diagnosed type 1 diabetic and provably cure them without the use of insulin. I do not think this can happen. Prove me wrong, with solid evidence.
Science works. It has given us lasers, GPS, supercomputers, the internet. The technologies that do this depend on quantum physics. Quantum physics tells us that matter exists in irreducible quanta. It tells us how they interact. Homeopathic dilutions are predicated on matter being infinitely divisible, and on effects being conferred by low kinetic energy striking (ask a homeopath the force required i succussion, in Joules – trick question, there is no agreed figure).
Homeopathy focuses on the patient, because the answer for health lies there; allopaths focus on the symptoms, develop drugs for that symptom and forget that health is more than just symptoms.
Rubbish. A doctor who only looked at symptoms would be struck off rapidly. The top advice doctors hand out is around diet and lifestyle, preventive measures. Take more exercise; eat less and better; drink less alcohol; stop smoking; don’t use sunbeds. Doctors can also prescribe drugs, some of which are for symptomatic relief and some cure the actual underlying disease. Of course a germ theory denialist will not accept that vaccines prevent illness or that antibiotics cure bacterial infections. The technical term for this viewpoint is: wrong
Homeopathic remedies are gentle, non toxic and non addictive – if skeptics do not have the science to understand how remedies stimulate self healing, then surely it is up to allopaths to prove that the body cannot heal itself, and that only drugs can do that.
Allopathy - comes from the place that healing lies outside the patient and all you have to do is find a pill that fixes the symptoms.
No, homeopathic remedies are simply inert (at least at virtually all commonly used doses). We have the science to understand them: placebo effects, regression to the mean, cognitive errors. A collection of things lumped together under the heading “null hypothesis”.
Every doctor knows that some diseases heal themselves. These are known as self-limiting ailments, and include a huge range of things from the common cold to a broken rib. They don’t even bother to x-ray most broken ribs these days: they get better on their own. No doctor asserts that the body does not heal itself, therefore no doctor need prove it. Doctors do know that the body cannot heal some diseases, or not quickly enough to avoid the patient dying. Some of these have effective medication. Antivenins, antibiotics, insulin and so on.
More to the point, homeopaths have absolutely no science to show how these things supposedly work, because every time they start trying to talk science they immediately invoke empirically unverifiable concepts. The pseudoscience of homeopathy is self-referential, an endless circular series of arguments. Hahnemann said X; assuming X then Y; we say Y therefore Hahnemann is right. If at any stage you accept a scientific alternative explanation for any part of the chain, the entire chain falls apart. There is no consilience – no independent fields of study yield similar or even consistent conclusions.
If that doesn’t work, then they must cut, burn, or poison; to make the symptoms go away. They do so-called clinical trials, yet they ignore the feedback from the body and call it a side effect – when it is really a direct affect of the drug. Surely this is bad science, ignoring the evidence!!! .
If the disease is not self limiting then medical science may use surgery, drugs or (for cancer) radiotherapy. Robbed of the pejorative language, that sounds perfectly reasonable doesn’t it? So, how would a homeopath cure, say, a ruptured appendix? A ruptured spleen? A defective heart valve? We know whathappens to patients with these conditions without surgery, because we had over a hundred years or more of homeopathy before surgery got to the point of being anywhere close to reliable. We know what happens: people die.
So despite all the clinical trials to make chemical therapy safe up to 40,000 people a year die from adverse drug events in the UK alone – the BMJ Clinical evidence makes very interesting reading? In fact, there are many clinical trials done by homeopaths. The evidence can be found there, as to whether homeopathy works or not.
Treat this figure with caution. It includes people who would undoubtedly have died without the drug, and where the drug gives a good chance of success but a small chance of serious adverse events. Warfarin, for example.
Do remedies work like drugs – no they don’t? It would be like me asking a doctor to prove that drugs stimulate the body to heal itself? When we all know they are designed to override natural bodily processes and the side effects in the clinical trials tell you that, this is what they do.
Do remedies work, like drugs? – no they don’t! – that’s better. You can’t ask a doctor to prove that drugs do something they don’t claim to do. I can ask a homeopath to prove that his remedies do something they claim to do. No such proof exists. If it did, we would not even be having this conversation.
Homeopaths claim all sorts of things as proof; these are the same as the things religious believers claim as proof of miracles. That is, they work only as long as you reject all pragmatic explanations.
Hence, most patients end up on long term drugs, adding more and more new ones to cover up the side effects of the original drug, and unless you keep taking the drug, the symptoms keep coming back. In the meantime, all the feedback from the body (side effects) are ignored; so from this perspective, the only real science in modern medicine is the chemical cocktails they create and re-create in the laboratory.
Patients end up on long-term drugs because medical science has doubled the human lifespan in only a few generations, and many people have not amended their lifestyles accordingly, so we have epidemic levels of obesity and its sequelae for example.
Old people get sick as their bodies start to break down. It’s a fact of life. Show me a 150-year-old homeopath.
This is not health or healing from a homeopathic paradigm of health. Therefore any discussion about how homeopathic remedies work; their effectiveness; and how they should be labelled – means they need to be placed in the context to which they are used and prescribed.
Paradigm. That is a much abused word. What they mean is, they don’t believe in it. But the thing about science is it goes on being true whether you believe it or not. It doesn’t matter how fervently you believe that the universe is 6,000 years old, the global climate is not changing, that species were created individually by a supreme being, science finds that you are wrong. The difference with homeopathy is that the classical religious ideas talk about things in the long past, where we can only infer the truth. Homeopathy makes claims about the here and now, and those claims do not stand up.
The claims they make are not verifiable. It is that simple. Science says “prove it” and all they can do is argue that they should not have to prove it because they don’t believe in science.
As Alan Sokal memorably put it: “Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor)”.
The sceptics are looking at remedies as if they are drugs, which they are not and they seem to think that homeopathy is summed up by its remedies – when in fact the remedies are merely the tools homeopaths use to stimulate the body, to do what it does best – which is to heal itself. We need to be clear that the purpose and use of remedies comes from a very different health paradigm to allopathy and pharmaceutical drugs.
No we’re not, we’re looking at homeopathy holistically, to use one of your favourite phrases. we are looking at the claim that like cures like (it doesn’t); that dilution increases potency (it doesn’t); that disease is caused by miasms (it isn’t). It is you who say, in answer to the total lack of any credible evidence for any part of the theory of homeopathy that “it works”. To which we say: prove it. We can account for every observation using the null hypothesis, you have to prove your claims.
For many years, it was thought that ulcers were caused by stress. Then the scientific method proved they are caused by helicobacter pylori. A wrong idea was discarded.
I cannot trace a single example of homeopathy discarding a wrong idea, however trivial. I do’t see how it can, because no part of homeopathy is objectively verifiable. You can insist until yo are blue in the face that this is because of some mystical properties of matter and the human body which are not amenable to objective measurement, and that amounts to a claim hat yo have a unicorn in your garage.
In a democracy in which the West prides itself on it is a fundamental right of any citizen living in it, to have ready access to the healthcare options of their choice. It is up to us, as homeopaths, to campaign for the health freedom choices that many patients are seeking; especially when chemical therapy doesn’t work for them.
People find homeopathy in their own way, and we must make sure it is always available to them in the future. People must continue to have the right to the freedom and the availability of health choices; so that they can choose natural alternatives if they wish to – especially when it comes to taking care of their own health.
It’s not about democracy, it’s about consumer protection. You cannot prove your claims. At some point you either have to prove them, or stop making them. We do not allow people to advertise perpetual motion machines, engines powered by water, pyramid investments. we do not allow it because we know it to be false. For 200 years you have got away with claiming to have an understanding of human physiology and disease which is entirely at odds with anything any objective investigation has ever found. it is time for you to put up or shut up.
Its not about freedom to choose, it’s about your freedom to deceive. No such right exists. Penelope Dingle believed in homeopathy and died a horrible agonising death because of it, and because her homeopath poisoned her mind against the idea of life-saving surgery. It’s not a game. You are playing doctors, but the patients are real and may have real diseases.
Science has explanations for everything you show us. Everything. You have no credible explanation for most of it, and the incredible explanations you do offer are completely inconsistent with things we know and use every day. Why should we believe you? Honestly?
Science is genuinely open minded. Even Newton and Einstein have been challenged. If you can prove the doctrines of homeopathy – similars, infinitesimals and so on – then go right ahead. But until you do? We have a more parsimonious explanation. And ours is consistent with the physics that allows this post to reach you, wherever you are.
* Cross porpoises = angry dolphins. Bad pun. Bad.