On Homeopathy

Today, I’d like to introduce my readers to the Skeptic’s Dictionary. I expect it to be a useful resource for all intelligent people who accept a basic evidence-based epistemology. This would include the scientific method, the acceptance of which is a mark of all rational, educated persons.

Specifically, I am pointing to the page on homeopathy, as this is just another form of woo that accepting things on faith opens people to accept. Here’s a few choice quotes:

If homeopathy works, then obviously the less you use it, the stronger it gets. So the best way to apply homeopathy is to not use it at all. –Phil Plait


Hahnemann may be praised for empirically testing his medicines, but his method of testing is obviously flawed. He wasn’t actually testing the medicines for effectiveness on sick people but for their effects on healthy people. In any case, he had to rely upon the subjective evaluations of his provers, all of whom were his disciples or family members and all of whom were interrogated by the master himself. (Later investigators would use more controlled methods of proving.) But even if his data weren’t tainted by the possibility of his suggesting symptoms to his provers or their reporting symptoms to impress or gain the approval of the master, it is a belief in magic that connects this list of symptoms with the cure of a disease with similar symptoms. In logic, this kind of leap of reasoning is called a non sequitur: It does not follow from the fact that drug A produces symptoms similar to disease B that taking A will relieve the symptoms of B. However, homeopaths take customer satisfaction with A as evidence that A works.


Furthermore, if a homeopathic remedy did cure me of my knee pain, I would want to investigate what was in the remedy. Even though most homeopathic remedies in the U.S. and the UK are little more than water or alcohol, there are a number of products on the market that are labeled homeopathic that have active ingredients in them (see complex homeopathy, isopathy, and nosodes). However, if I did find that my remedy was one of those that had been diluted so many times that there weren’t any molecules remaining of the original active substance, I would rather believe that my pain had suddenly gone away than that the homeopathic remedy had cured me of my pain. Why? Because the known laws of physics and chemistry would have to be completely revamped if a tonic from which nearly every molecule of the active ingredient were removed could be shown to be effective. But if I could yo-yo the pain by stopping and starting the homeopathic remedy under double-blind conditions, I would have to conclude that the potion was having the effect and would have to become an advocate of that homeopathic remedy. This is just to say that homeopathic remedies can be empirically tested. That no remedy has yet been shown to have the effect I have outlined is strong evidence against homeopathic remedies.


The main harm from classical homeopathy is not likely to come from its remedies, which are probably safe because they are inert, though this is changing as homeopathy becomes indiscernible from herbalism in some places. One potential danger is in the encouragement to self-diagnosis and treatment. Another danger lurks in not getting proper treatment by a science-trained medical doctor in those cases where the patient could be helped by such treatment, such as for a bladder or yeast infection, asthma, or cancer. Homeopathy might work in the sense of helping some people feel better some of the time. Homeopathy does not work, however, in the sense of explaining pathologies or their cures in a way which not only conforms with the data but which promises to lead us to a greater understanding of the nature of health and disease.


This hasn’t changed since yesterday (I had an unproductive day so far), but here goes. Current Christmas Craft Countdown: 20 projects made, 5 in progress, 7 on my list not yet started – all those not yet started are only to be done if time permits. I intend to post pictures after giving away the results.

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