Monday, 31 May 2010


There's been a lot of talk in the media this year about homeopathy; most of it negative, despite the BBC's efforts to spin it back the other way in the interests of their holy grail/poison chalice of "balance". This year we've had the 1023 homeopathic "overdose" events (a public demonstration to wake the general population up to the fact that homeopathy is not like herbal medicine, but in fact has nothing in it); the publication of the Parliamentary Select Committee's Evidence Check on Homeopathy (There is no credible evidence for its efficacy or effectiveness, and the NHS should cease funding it), and a parliamentary Early Day Motion in response to it (by a crackpot MP who claimed £500 in expenses for astrology software, and thinks the government should fund research into "Medical Astrology" among other bullshit); a statement by the members of the British Medical Association that "Homeopathy is witchcraft"; the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland stating that "there is no scientific or clinical evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathic products, beyond a placebo effect", among other reports.

When Dr Simon Singh came to speak on alternative medicines at Skeptics in the Pub Brighton (blatant plug) recently, a few of the same old invalid and disproven arguments1 for homeopathy came up during Q&A: "How come it works on animals?", "Even if it is only placebo, where's the harm?" etc. These issues, and others, come up again and again, so I thought I'd try to definitively answer all of them in a series of blog posts2. These posts are intended to be a useful resource for directing people to when they speak in defence of homeopathy so I'm going to try to keep the scorn to a minimum to avoid alienating people. We'll see how I get on :-/

These posts will address many of the claims commonly made by homeopathic practitioners and supporters, including:
  • It's an ancient tradition (and therefore must work)
  • It's natural (and therefore is better for you)
  • It's holistic (and therefore fuck knows what?)
  • It treats the person and not the disease.
  • It worked for me!
  • Like cures like.
  • Dilution (and succussion) increase the potency of a medicine
  • Not all homeopathic remedies are in such high dilutions
  • It works a bit like a vaccine (but without the potential for side-effects)
  • It encourages the body to cure itself.
  • Sometimes it makes you get a bit worse before you get better (the "Healing Crisis")
  • Illnesses are caused by "Miasms" (disturbances in one's "vital force")
  • Water has memory (and that memory is effective at treating disease)
  • There are clinical trials demonstrating its efficacy
  • Clinical trials are an inappropriate mechanism for testing the efficacy of these "remedies" 
  • It works on babies and animals.
  • Lots of other countries use it.  
  • It doesn't do any harm.
  • It's cost effective (even if it is just a placebo)
  • It's offering patients a "choice" (even if it is just a placebo)
  • Critics of Homeopathy are in the pay of Big Pharma.
  • Conventional medicine is evil.
...and many more. Also on the way we'll talk about why clinical trials are set up the way they are and the nature of the placebo effect etc.

By way of an intro, the next post will be a primer in the history and practice of homeopathy, with as little criticism as I can manage of homeopathy itself, although I may take some swipes at some of the idiocy that attends it. We'll see if I've ground my teeth away to nothing by the end of it, thereby possibly making them more effective ;-). In subsequent posts I'll pull apart the fallacious reasoning and dodgy thinking that went into its invention, and continue to perpetuate this massive embarrassment to the medical profession.

1 Ben Goldacre calls these "Zombie Arguments" because they "survive, immortal and resistant to all refutation, because they do not live or die by the normal standards of mortal arguments." or in other words no matter how many times you kill them, they just will not fucking die.

2 Actually, originally it was going to be one post, but it quickly became clear that a single post with all the detail I want to put in would be somewhat unwieldy.

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