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.
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.