01 December, 2005


Most of this post was originally entered elsewhere pretty much word-for-word (there have been some minor edits and additions,) on November the 21st. Bad Science and Skeptico subsequently blogged about this very same BBC article, coincidentally. Their posts are meatier; more substance than spice. Go.

On that note, a certain Orac is a legitimate authority on the weight of testimonials, as he knows things. He speaks with far greater clarity and breadth about the phenomenon of the alternative medicine testimonial than I do.

Without further adieu, a post:

News articles in general are
pretty God damn awful at supplying us humble folks with good science. The BBC, bless her, is no exception.

This is an irresponsible article.

Homeopathy is the general principle that 'like heals like'. What this means is that essentially homeopaths believe that ingredients which cause the same symptoms as the disease they're trying to cure will work to heal a patient of the disease in question. This in of itself is generally pretty silly and not actually based on any empirical research, but on the metaphysical ramblings of a chap named Hahnemann, who was big into medicines which didn't refer in any way to science.

The law of infitessimals is another cornerstone of homeopathy, and the most hilarious. Essentially, homeopaths believe that diluting a curative substance (which wouldn't work) to as high a degree as possible, makes it more potent. This contradicts all known modern medicine and, again, is not supported by any clinical study. The most powerful concotions are supposed to be diluted to such a massive extent that they contain less than one molecule of the original substance - which would a.) be impossibly expensive to produce in mass quantities, suggesting they don't bother even doing this, and b.) mean they are essentially selling incredibly expensive water.

Homeopaths and their lay person supporters (who tend to genuinely not know how bizarre the metaphysical underpinnings of homeopathy are - for example I've known several people who use 'homeopathy' as a synonym for so-called folk remedies,)
tend to complain about being misrepresented, so you can find more information from the horses' mouths here, here and here. About the only claim made which is at all supported by science is that 'homeopathy is safe' or 'easy' - because homeopathic remedies don't actually do anything. If they are taken to the exclusion of conventional medicine, however, they will be a financial drain to little or no purpose.

The article mentions the Lancet clinical study - which is but one of the many clinical studies which powerfully suggest that homeopathy - surprise surprise - is bunk; homeopathy is not, contrary to their claims, supported by clinical study. The 'test' which 'gives [a] boost' to homeopathy is of a ridiculously weak testimonal form which doesn't contradict the placebo explanation anyway. It doesn't even rise to the level of the medical anecdote (which does have legitimate, though limited, uses.) Medical anecdotal reports include careful documentation of the testing in question (both precursory testing and the course of treatment,) symptoms, diagnoses and how they were determined,
and patient opinion. They are used primarily to suggest further areas for research, not as evidence that a treatment works. And bear in mind that not even this was done - patients were just asked if there was any improvement. One question.

If the BBC's editorial team has any medical advisors with any training whatsoever they should know full well that this story was an utter non issue. The homeopath is given equal time to Professor Egger, even though the Professor is speaking from the position of mainstream science and the vast majority of legitimate medical practitioners.

Homeopaths don't even know what science is. There is no theoretical framework for homeopathy, no evidence it is the least bit successful, it would clearly not pass any cost/benefit analysis. It is quackery.

-The Rev. Schmitt.


Anonymous said...

Actually, homeopathy is one of the primary modalities in many European countries, ie: doctors may only prescribe and to administer you must have prescriptive rights.

Try it yourself sometime. The rememdy that "changes people's minds" about whether or not homeopathy works is Arnica. Next time you have minor trauma (stubbed toe, bruise d muscles, etc.) take 4 pellets of 30 CH* arnica montana

*(CH = a homeopathic measure of potency)

Anonymous said...


Oops, here's the link!

The Reverend Schmitt., FCD. said...

Your definition of 'many' seems different than mine my friend.

Rather than Arnica I'm quite prone to taking the far more powerful homeopathic remedy of dihydrogen monoxide. Its CH is so high as to be completely off the scale. It helped me grow back an arm once.

Astrology is also popular.

Anonymous said...

If you claim homeopathy is within the range of the placebo effect, then what's stopping you from trying it out? Worst case scenario... you're still the same frightened skeptic

The Reverend Schmitt., FCD. said...

The cost and lack of ethics involved. I also don't pay palm readers for telling my future. Moreover, according to the way the world functions in homeopathy, I am trying it out every time I tap and shake a glass of water before drinking it. Shockingly it doesn't help with my pain, it just makes me look a bit silly.

Me trying it out won't evidence one way or another whether it works. If it could come close to passing a well controlled clinical trial and wasn't predicated on insanity to begin with, I may treat it with respect. But it can't, and won't. Because it's silly and doesn't work.