Pseudoscience & Religion

A Physicist’s Personal View of Homeopathy

Editor’s Note: This article is available in Polish at the Racjonalista blog.

(First published in Sandhan (Journal of Centre for Studies in Civilizations), Vol. VIII, No. 1 , Jan.-June 2008, pp. 165-173 (New Delhi). )

Homeopathy is one of those things that arouse immediate reactions, indeed passions, in most Homeopathic Medicinepeople. A Google search for homoeopathy yields two million, six hundred and thirty thousand hits in fourteen-hundredths of a second. Modifying the keyword to homeopathy produces no less than twenty-three million, three hundred thousand ‘results’ in sixteen-hundredths of a second, showing that the American spelling of the word is by far the preferred version for aficionados. While this is understandably less stupendous than the Google results for sex (a staggering three billion five hundred thirty million in eighteen-hundredths of a second!), it is still quite impressive. There can be no doubt that homeopathy is quite a preoccupation of sizeable segments of the human race.

There are really two very different questions involved in any discussion of homeopathy: (i) Does it work? (ii) Is its formulation consonant with modern scientific methodology as we understand the latter phrase? These questions are only loosely related to each other. If we understand that clearly at the outset, almost all of the heat and noise that usually accompany  the debate can be avoided.

A basic problem is that homeopathy has been formulated like a dogma. It is not self-correcting or inclusive like normal science is. The latter keeps expanding its boundaries, and does not hesitate to back-track and correct its earlier stance when new evidence comes in. homeopathy, on the other hand, is largely based on Hahnemann’s ‘insight’ or ‘revelation’, as laid down by him—and as amended with equal arbitrariness by several subsequent followers, when they found that some of his ‘principles’ were too patently absurd for even the most credulous adherent to swallow. It is obvious that the dilutions (‘potencies’) involved in the medicinal prescriptions of homeopathy, like one part in ten raised to the power of two hundred, are not merely preposterous, but just plain silly. There are nowhere near ten raised to the power of two hundred elementary particles in the entire known universe. So—all right, perhaps he was mistaken about that, it’s just a small error (it is by no means small), and maybe it should be just one part in two hundred, or two thousand, or twenty thousand, or something? Does it matter? With this kind of shifting goalpost and convenient alteration of interpretation, what are we talking about?

A more candid précis of homeopathy could well be something like: “Here is a more-or-less random set of compounds that seem to work in the case of some ailments. The precise active ingredients are unknown, but they’re present—or probably present, or maybe present—who knows, what does it matter—in various strange places ranging from tree bark to dried buffalo tails. So we thought we’d process them into tiny little round white sugar-coated balls and label them with Latin names so you’ll think they’re exotic and therefore powerful, and sell them to you, after patiently listening to you describing your symptoms at length. You see, we know that the other kind of doctor doesn’t let you get in a word edgewise, but only goes on prescribing more expensive tests, so you already think we’re giving you a much better deal. Now do be sure take the little sugary balls every day before dawn and after sundown so that the sun’s rays don’t make them lose their ‘power’, and you’ll feel a lot better. If you don’t, come back and tell us and we’ll just change the ‘potency’. But if you do feel better, we know you’ll automatically have this irresistible urge to tell all your friends, and that kind of purely anecdotal recommendation is the staunchest advocate and strongest advertisement we could ever have asked for!”

More seriously: the obvious phenomenon that comes to mind as the one that could be involved in many ‘successful cures’ is catalysis. Maybe even extremely small doses of heavy metals and ions could have large effects on the incredibly complicated biochemistry that goes on inside ourselves? This is not only possible, but also a demonstrable fact. And maybe the homeopathic (‘homeopathetic’ would be a low blow!) principle of viewing the symptoms as the disease, and basing the ‘cure’ on the symptoms alone, is not an altogether outlandish one— because symptoms arise when the body makes an effort to protect itself from further damage, and the immune system starts taking steps to cure the body; therefore, inducing further production of antibodies or whatever by the catalytic action of something that imitates or even exacerbates the symptoms isn’t such a bad idea after all? Maybe. But it certainly can’t be the whole story. And it’s all done by most of its practitioners in such a scientifically sloppy manner, and in such a curtly dismissive ‘I’m a seasoned adept, and I have an intuition about these things that I can’t be bothered to formulate explicitly’ fashion, that it reduces to little more than a cult, and many serious would-be investigators get turned off.

What are we to make of a ‘system’ of medicine that, till fairly recently, didn’t think that anatomy had anything to do with medicine, but only symptoms did? The grudging nod given to subjects like anatomy (let alone more advanced ones like surgery) in more recent ‘schools of homeopathy’ have more to do with the desire for acceptability as a science (by a public that is nowadays more exposed to the technological tools developed by science, and hence imagines itself to be more scientific than its predecessors), than the actual development of the subject of homeopathy as a science, if that were at all possible.

The second problem is that, contrary to what one might guess offhand, it is remarkably hard to collect significant statistical data in a scientific manner on the efficacy of fringe medicine of various kinds. This is especially so for data on comparative studies of different systems of medicine, especially vis-á-vis conventional medicine. A precise description of the problem would involve going into the details of the protocols that are required to be set up for meaningful studies of this kind. For the purposes of illustration, however, let me describe in rather naive fashion the kind of study that would be entailed in comparing conventional medical treatment of some common ailment with, say, the treatment of the same ailment by homeopathy. We would need a sufficiently large number of patients in nearly the same physical condition, to be observed over a fairly protracted period while under different treatment regimens. For example, we might start with four hundred patients all suffering from essentially the same ailment, and separate them into four groups A, B, C and D of a hundred each. (Fifty each would be too small a number, and five hundred each might be much more difficult to line up.) Group A is then treated by conventional medicines, group B by placebos for such medicines, group C by medicines prescribed by homeopathy, and group D by placebos for these medicines. Additional safeguards such as double blinds must be incorporated. Careful monitoring of all the patients and recording of the data must followed by a rigorous statistical analysis of the results. You can readily imagine how difficult it will be to get everybody involved to agree upon the details, and to even set up such an elaborate study.

Unfortunately, the practitioners of conventional medicine also contribute in some measure to the difficulties just described. One cannot help getting the impression that a section of the medical fraternity itself operates in some respects like an exclusive guild, loath to expose too many of its ‘secrets’ to open and unbiased scrutiny. As a trite manifestation of this tendency, haven’t we all faced doctors who don’t really like to explain things in detail to lay persons, and who think that the rest of us are basically too dense to understand the deep mysteries of their subject? It is not unusual to get a patronising brush-off when one asks questions that are more penetrating than a meek and hoary: “Should I take this tablet before food or after food?” And the practitioners of fringe medicine are even more secretive, paranoid about being questioned, and aggressively defensive (and evasive) about their particular recipes and panaceas—perhaps with good reason! At any rate, getting together whole groups of people with such strongly divergent views, for an objective and impartial study by knowledgeable neutral observers, would probably be even more difficult than running  a peaceable interfaith meeting among a gaggle of monomaniacal religious leaders. Even within the framework of conventional medicine, given the vested interests of diverse players including rival pharmaceutical firms, distributors, financiers, advertising agencies, doctors, hospitals, research funding agencies, research laboratories, and other sectors of the medical world, arranging for reliable, unbiased clinical trials of an experimental drug is difficult enough, as a long-suffering public has learnt, to its cost.

The fact is that the empirical content of medicine as a discipline is still quite high. There’s actually nothing wrong with that, per se. Sound empirical knowledge is the starting point for a sturdy science. But, unfortunately, many medical specialists themselves seem to feel, rather needlessly, that this empirical component somehow diminishes the scientific credentials of their discipline, and makes it less high-brow than it deserves to be. Therefore, in order to keep up the notion that their particular form of medicine is completely scientific, these experts feel that they must constantly remind lay persons that all but the broadest details of their speciality are too complex to be explained easily to a non-specialist. Such evasions are made easier, and more persuasive, by the fact that most people visit doctors only when they are already in a rather helpless situation and a vulnerable state of mind, which makes them psychologically less discerning than usual. What is being missed here by both parties is that empirical knowledge does not make medicine unscientific, but merely less deterministic than a subject with a more developed analytical framework. But the very hallmark of a developing science is the gradual replacement of empirical content by a methodological structure that enables greater predictability and control. In this sense there need be no misgivings about the scientific nature of modern medicine.

If this is the state of affairs even with conventional modern medicine, it is no wonder that the ambivalence of identity is much more pronounced in the case of various fringe or ‘alternative’ systems of medicine—all too many of which are no more than purported systems of medicine. Nor is it hard to understand why such systems are even more reluctant to subject themselves to serious, objective, unbiased, third-party evaluations and tests under carefully-documented and controlled conditions. Most of the claims of these systems would not withstand rigorous scientific scrutiny at even a cursory level, let alone deep and sustained probing.

We now come to the argument in favour of homeopathy that is trotted out most frequently: “But it really worked in the case of my nephew’s jaundice, or my aunt’s asthma!” No doubt it did, as far as one can tell. Or maybe something else did (naturopathy, acupuncture, …. take your pick, for the litany of sad tales of human gullibility is as fascinatingly varied as it is long). Or maybe what did it was a combination of prayer, homeopathy, bland food, the sympathy of relatives, the pleasant company of friends, calming music, and a regular regimen and plenty of fresh air and sunshine and the stoppage of antibiotic overdose. And let’s not forget the most helpful de-stressing effect of sincere belief in the efficacy of those little sugary balls in contributing to the eventual cure! The truth is that we have no sure-fire, foolproof way of knowing, or finding out, precisely what did it, notwithstanding the most sincere protestations of the patient himself and the sworn testimony of those around the patient. The veracity of the patient is not under question here, nor is the probity of the witnesses. It is just that these qualities do not suffice to yield, and cannot replace, truly objective scientific experimentation and observation. Such is the level of rigour and control demanded by the uncompromising procedure of data acquisition in science.

It is obvious that we have barely scratched the surface of the mountain of knowledge of what our body and mind can do in tandem with each other. We simply don’t know enough about what the subtle mechanisms are, where they lie, and exactly what triggers them. We haven’t even figured out how the immune system itself, a sort of mobile in situ ‘brain’ located all over our bodies, really works. When we do discover all these things, and we’ll surely do so eventually (maybe in another hundred or two hundred years), matters will look a lot less mysterious than they do now. Meanwhile, what about homeopathy to cure this ailment or that? Should one take recourse to it? Well, if it works for you, or if you think it works for you, or if you think it will work for you because it worked for a friend whose word you trust, or if you think you have nothing to lose by trying it out, why shouldn’t you do so—provided you aren’t imprudent enough to neglect a truly serious and threatening health situation for which there does exist a scientific method of treatment? But there’s no need to swallow (along with those little sugary balls) the accompanying hype about its being a scientific mode of treatment, because it just isn’t so. Caveat emptor!

The dilemma that seems to arise (at least for the small segment of the population that prides itself on being rational in all matters) is whether one is then being unscientific in practice, while professing to adhere to scientific principles. This is a more difficult question, but the answer is simple and virtuous. It is quite evident that everything we do in daily life is not necessarily scientific—often because there are as yet no satisfactory scientific underpinnings or theories for those things! As obvious examples, we have the enjoyment of fiction, of literature that speaks of purple skies and fairies in the garden, of poetry that swears that girls’ eyes look like stars. Do we really want to point out to poets that girls’ eyes can’t possibly be related to enormous aggregations of hot gas undergoing nuclear fusion? On a more serious note, we have psychology and sociology and economics and finance, and the myriad other expressions of consciousness and free will for which we haven’t even begun to frame the questions in the proper scientific manner. Does this—should this—preclude us from acknowledging their existence, experiencing their functioning, and enjoying their fruits? I should think not. But all of us can contribute to the desideratum of an ethos enhanced by a scientific and rational temper:

  • We must refuse to encourage or accept ‘explanations’ that are mere mumbo-jumbo clothed in scientific jargon, as if this suffices to make them respectable, let alone correct.
  • We need to recognise that the world around is a hierarchically organised progression into increasing complexity: from quarks to atoms and molecules, through biomolecules, cells and organisms, to humans and society, to … who knows what?
  • We ought to allow for the fact that science as we understand it is less than four hundred years old, which is—incredibly enough—just about a dozen human generations or so, when you think about it. This is less than a blink of an eye on evolutionary time scales, let alone geological time scales, much less cosmological time scales. It is rather negligible even compared to recorded history. For all those who admonish: “Don’t think science knows everything or can answer all questions”, I say: science does not think it knows everything, and we do need to give it a little more time! We must be alive to the possibility that scientific explanations may exist (and emerge one day) for most things, perhaps even all things, rather than get into a mystic mode and declare dogmatically that ‘there are things beyond science’. They may indeed be beyond today’s science, but how can anyone be so presumptuous as to declare that something will be beyond the ken of rational enquiry forever? Science is nothing if not eclectic, in the best sense of the word.

That’s the whole point—what it doesn’t know right now, science will eventually find out, and incorporate into its accumulated body of knowledge. That’s equally true of medicine, naturally. One day we will surely find out exactly how asthama or eczema or other allergies can be controlled, and how and why little sugary balls containing a little arsenic, perhaps, and called surefirecura mysteriosa or something like that, may actually have helped trigger a cure in some cases. While not decrying the utility of this apparent magic in some instances for some individuals at some time, let’s not confuse it with science. There is no real need to do so! Likewise, there is no need to take seriously the purveyors of apparently scientific explanations of why homeopathy works—and such theories emerge out of the woodwork with tireless regularity. Recent ones include the attribution of long-lived ‘memory’ to water molecules, and the invoking of a quantum mechanical phenomenon called entanglement. (Quantum mechanics seems to hold as fatal an attraction for pseudoscientists as the proverbial flame does for moths.) Meanwhile, the most recent careful studies of the efficacy of homeopathy seem to indicate that it is essentially comparable to, and consistent with, that of placebos. The deep neurological and psychological reasons for placebo action are yet to be fully understood, but it is a real and well-documented phenomenon.

The probability of Materia Medica replacing molecular medicine texts in the year 2100 is near zero, if things go well. But should it happen, we can also be sure that our descendants of that day will be wearing rough animal hides and rubbing stone against stone to produce fire, while they discuss the relative merits of goat hair and bat droppings for relieving joint pain. In that case, none of this will matter. May that never come to pass!

(Prof.V.Balakrishnan is a theoretical physicist working in IIT, Madras. He is a popular teacher of Physics. His engaging lecture series on Classical Physics and Quantum Physics are available on youtube and are highly appreciated. )

About the author

V Balakrishnan

24 Comments

  • The article is very interesting. However, not much is said about homeopathic process, medicines, I mean who manufactures them, who approves them etc. and what kind of research is conducted and where. Many people believe that these formulations are made in Germany and that gives them a lot of credibility.
    I want to share two of my observations here: I went to a famous Homeopathic doctor/clinic at Gandhi Bazar in Bangalore for getting some medicine for my wife who was taking his medicines for a long time. The doctor wrote some “prescription” on a piece of paper and asked me to take a medicines from the “compounder” next room. The compounder on showing the slip, gave me a packet containing pills. At this point, I wondered that there is no way the doctor or the patient could verify if the compounder did dispense with the correct medicine with the said potency as every medicine looks same – white sugar pills. The doctor is in no position to be sure whether his “prescription” has indeed been given.
    My second observation was, again at the same place. Here, I noticed that the compounder took an empty plastic bottle filled it with sugar pills till the brim and then poured two spoons of some liquid i.e. supposed to be the active component and closed the lid. I wondered at that time, whether each of the pills inside the bottle get equal amount of this medicine that was poured. In fact, the bottle was jampacked that even vigourous shaking of the bottle will make no difference. The pills at the bottom may remain just sugar pills.

    • The observations you have made already speak for themselves. They speak
      volumes about the ‘science’ of homeopathy and its practice. I don’t think it
      is necessary to lend legitimacy to what is basically a delusion at best, and an
      exploitation, de facto, of the gullibility of people in a vulnerable condition,
      by further analysis of the ‘process, medicines, who manufactures them’, and
      so on. As to people believing that a foreign (especially western) origin enhances
      the credibility of homeopathic medicines, it is time we recognised that there are absolutely no geographical barriers to human gullibility and superstition, and that technological advancement does not necessarily provide immunity against these for the population at large.

  • How to convince our government to ban homeopathic practice?

    One claim homeopaths make is that there are no side effects of their tratment. Very true indeed! When there is no medicine in the pills, how can there be any side effects?!

    • I don’t think one can convince any government, even the most progressive ones, to ban homeopathy, since these very same governments allow sale of dangerous substances such as tobacco and alcohol, using the cover of individual rights.
      In the Indian context the situation beoomes even more hopeless, considering that private hospitals are beyond the reach of many, and the government ones providing shoddy treatment.And the situatoin is made worse with many indian physicians, especially the private ones, lacking in any kind of scientific temper and not keeping up with the latest trends in medical science. As an example pls. read the lament of a physician on the result of reckless and unwanted use of antibiotics:
      http://www.japi.org/march_2010/article_01.html

      • I agree that an official governmental ban is most improbable. Leave
        alone a ban, we should be more than happy if there is no official recognition, encouragement and support of this pseudoscientific,
        nonsensical form of ‘alternative medicine’. Even that would be a big
        step forward. But again that’s quite unlikely to happen anytime soon.
        In any case the loopholes are big enough for all sorts of charlatanry to
        flourish. (For instance, the way a well-known potato-chip maker and
        a well-known ‘namkeen’ manufacturer have managed to claim “zero
        trans-fat content” for their products by a simple and slick piece of
        legerdemain, as explained by the Centre for Science and Environment.)
        And the clouds of mysticism and superstition are made more dense by
        our own brand of chauvinism. Just today I got an announcement for a
        conference on ‘Veda Vigyan’ and related matters to be held at an
        established institution of higher learning. The accompanying blurb is
        breathtaking. I got a glimpse of something like ‘The Physics of Mantras’ at the top of the list of topics, before my finger automatically pressed
        down on the delete button. As Ghalib pointed out, “zab har shaakh
        par …”, the task facing rationalism is formidable indeed.

  • Professor,
    That was brilliant! And along with Prof Wadhwan and other editorial members of Nirmukta welcome you whole heartedly. Professor we request you to contribute more articles on reason, rationality, physics and philosophy to our website and enrich us. Welcoming you once again professor.

  • excellent article. but i would like to point some random loose wording.

    //because symptoms arise when the body makes an effort to protect itself from further damage//

    many times that is not the case.

  • Nice article. There is a video in youtube by name ‘Homeopathy – the test’ by BBC Horizon. They conduct experiments on homeopathy and conclude that its not a genuine medicine. Homeopathy curing illness is as good as ass-trology predicting future correctly. Both are twins who help many to earn easy money by fooling the gullible. 🙂

  • what about ayurveda medicines? they are also working on centuries old tradition tested empirical knowledge of the practitioners.

  • Could there be case where some homeopathic manufacturers might deliberately mix allopathic medicine in small quantities to make it more effective. I came across this findings in a website sometime ago. am not able to recall the link.

  • Sir,

    Recently came across that “Water has memory” & “Cellular memory”…what is your thought on those…As long as Science can’t prove or disprove the Homeopathy..The conflict will be there…..This all pseudo sciences are proof of incompleteness of Science of the day!!!!!.

    Thanks

  • Hi,
    Just a doubt. When tried googling how paracetamol works it says its in conclusive but there were some theories about it being workin on.a gland.
    Since its in conclusive shouldnt allopathy be banned?

    • Oh wow, what a clever question! This proves once and for all that Homeopathy works!

      But wait.

      Paracetamol was proven to work using evidence based medicine. So while people may not know how exactly it works, they know that it works. Homeopathy on the other hand does not work. It has no effect other than the placebo effect.

      This is what happens when half baked knowledge is used.

    • **Since its in conclusive shouldnt allopathy be banned?**

      Not sure how many times these quacks have to be reminded that there is no such thing as allopathy. There is medicine and then there is sugar water.

  • I am amazed at the number of comments defending homeopathy and attacking medicine. Is online obscurantism their only goal here? Or do they really not take real medicine?

  • I really hope the proponents of homeopathy are only allowed to take water as an aesthetic during surgeries and dental procedures.

  • @Moon Direct

    There is nothing in Homeopathy that invalidates double-blind tests. You can absolutely do double blinding even in “individualized systems”. You just switch the “drug” with a placebo while it is dispensed in half the cases.

    let us accept that based on what we know this thing called homeopathy ought not to work.

    The problem for Homeopathy is not that it “ought not to work”. We already know, VERY DEFINITIVELY, that it DOES NOT WORK.

    Logic always plays catch up with science and is mostly used to tie the loose ends rather than make a cognitive leap.

    Medical research is about plain evidence, not long arguments of logic.

    I am sure that some one is, or ought to, much like allopathic literature, I am sure there is homeopathic literature too

    Yes, Homeopaths do some research… some of the most idiotic kinds of “research” I have seen yet. They completely and utterly failed to produced a single verifiable fact so far about anything.

    This is what passes for homeopathy research.

    Dilute some HIV particles and call it AIDS vaccine
    Find out that they don’t even dilute according to their own rules, and then decide to label them nano-particles.
    Find some really sensitive physics equipment and try to find some metric that differentiates homeopathic water from water. Naturally these studies fail to replicate since they are just reporting false positives that occur in the normal course.

    The right thing would be to wait till the underlying science gets clearer

    There is no science behind Homeopathy. There is nothing to clear up. It was made up before medicine was a science. Nearly everything from that era in medicine was bunk, not just Homeopathy.

    For those reporting success it must be presumed that homeopathy or whatever system they have followed has worked, and not as placebo.

    By that silly logic, Astrology works, Vaastu works, animal sacrifices work. People think pseudo-science works because of the posthoc fallacy. Please read about it.

    Anecdotes are the bane of science. You need controlled examinations to verify. People, especially those poorly educated in science, will report just about anything as true. That is why we spend billions in research, because taking testimonies is completely useless in medicine.

    If it were placebo one wonders why it abandons allopathic doctors and only manifests when the patient tries alternative approaches.

    First, there are no such people as “allopathic doctors”. If you understood even an iota of scientific medicine, you would get that.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Allopathy
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allopathic_medicine

    Second, placebo effect of course happens in modern medicine as well. In fact, the entire research paradigm in medicine is designed to distinguish medicine from placebos. Doctors do intentionally use placebos in their practice, from time to time, when warranted.

    Perhaps allopathy doctors would do well to quiz their alternate medicine counterparts as to the secrets of the placebo.

    First, there is tons on literature on the Placebo Effect. Take some to understand what it is.

    Second, the only research on the placebo effect has been from modern medicine. Quackery systems like Homeopathy have not produced one useful paper on the placebo effect. Actually, Homeopathy has not produced one useful scientific fact in any matter, not just placebos.

    The patients need is to get cured, and whatever system offers him a cure, regardless of its underlying science, he will take it.

    Right. And that is all clinical trials do. They don’t care if they understand all the science behind why something works. The problem with homeopathy is that it does not work. You seem to think it is some mystery medicine that works and we just don’t know how it works. This is what Homeopaths want people to believe. But that is not the case at all.

    https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/cam02

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/12/no-scientific-case-homeopathy-remedies-pharmacists-placebos

    he has every right to ascribe miracle to whichever system solves his troubles.

    You have every right to sacrifice a goat to your chosen deity because science cannot solve your personal problems. You have a right to be irrational. Just don’t expect rational people to be as gullible as you and don’t challenge you when you make a public claim about the effectiveness of goat sacrifices.

    there is no reason why an alternate system should persist, unless it is true that the mainstream has lacunae or non optimal solutions

    There indeed are many places where modern medicine has lacunae. That does not mean this quackery markets that will often emerge in this vacuum actually offer something that works.

    Compared to the sophistication of some of the alternate systems, modern medicine is still a child, if but a precocious one.

    Sophistication? Of alternate systems? You are hilarious.

    All alternative systems are based on an EXTREMELY PRIMITIVE set of ideas, with no quantitative foundations and no validations.

    The entire concept base of Homeopathy can be described in a single page. It is just one man’s thoughts about how disease and cure worked before anything substantive was known about how the body worked or the mechanics of disease were known. Every idea put forth by Homeopathy was shown to be conclusively wrong.

    when he said imagination was more important than knowledge.

    Imagination is important. But after that it has to be empirically verified. That’s the difference between the imagination of Einstein and say, a comic book genius like Stan Lee.

    Fantasy imagination that cannot prove itself in the physical world is well… fiction, which is what Homeopathy is.

    a little madness is more productive than rational thought.

    Given the primitive days of Hahnemann, it was OK for him to be a little mad (mad is a wrong word here – it is being creative), and try some new ideas. After ideas get floated around, they get tested. Many fail. Homeopathy is one such ideas that was floated in the dark days of medicine and it failed along so many others. The entirety of Homeopathy’s success today is to make you pay medicine range prices for a few drops of distilled water; not as a medicine.

  • Hi Ravi,

    Thanks for taking the time…

    You have tried to be cogent and present a point of view, and rather than say that you are mistaken, I would say that you are (in some cases) misinformed. A minor rebut…

    Homeopathy has been using placebos long before the very word became popular, and many homeopaths still use it.
    Don’t need to tell you that many modern medicines (too big a list) derive from old day sources, the therapeutic activity of many plants, animals and minerals was recognized quite early on, and modern researchers are going back to folk lore to pinpoint plants and chemicals that work.

    Those old folks, in their ignorance and serious lack of tools were as anxious to avoid side effects as we are, and therefore there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo as to how the material was to be processed before use. They also did not have the knowledge or tools to understand the human body, at least not at the level of detail we are privileged to, and so they did build up a Ptolemaic kind of framework just to make sense of what they understood. This is true of all older medical systems and systems where we have limited tools and knowledge.

    Think modern psychiatry; all that talk about dreams and ego and id and psyche and schizo and all that are more mumbo jumbo than we give credit. It is just recently that we have the tools to access the brain, many of it is still primitive, and it is through them that we are beginning to understand its intricacies.

    Till it is completely understood there will be some lingering mumbo jumbo in all of psychiatry and brain related fields. It is quite understandable that such mumbo jumbo will turn a rational being off however it is not enough reason to jettison them until better alternatives or understanding are found.

    Evidence is fine but it remains just that without supporting logic. Modern medicine, because of the tools at its disposal has generated mountains of data, but understanding is generally slow, the idea that many diseases owe their origins to poor digestion is an old idea that was jettisoned to the dung heap until recently. What has the brain got to do with the stomach was a question much asked…and with much sarcasm until recent re understanding of the stomachs importance.
    Definition tearing w.r.t allopathy is old hat, let us give it a wide berth and use the term modern medicine, calling it symptom based medicine is a little too limiting and even belittling.
    No homeopath wants people to believe anything, they give medicines, people report results.

    Homeopaths are pretty logical people too, it is only that they try to find the logic within the symptomatic framework rather than without, most modern homeopaths understand that there is still something bizarre as to the science, it is just that they cannot disbelieve the amount of evidence collected in their favor, individual or collective.

    I think Galileo long destroyed the rationality argument, the very concept of inertia itself defies ordinary logic and plain human intuition. Logic has become hand maiden to the evidence, and none more so in the age of relativity and the quantum. Even Bacon got it, why not us?

    The evidence in some cases needs the right tools to become visible, snakes were considered pure blind until we knew some of them had IR vision, bats were understood only after ultra sound was understood, understanding why the sky was blue required its own framework, what I am saying is that we cannot be sure that the tools and framework required to understand older medical systems is still not upon us.

    Sophistication, I think you got it wrong, just because the tools or the ideas are primitive does not mean that its effectiveness is so too. The drug and symptom pictures of some of the medical systems are extremely detailed and in some cases surprising too. As I remarked about the professor, one should at least try to gain some knowledge about the systems one is discussing. Not by logic, but by the lens through which it views its world, until this is done, you are bound to argue rather than appreciate.
    I understand that you misunderstand Einstein, and I understand that Einstein understood his science, so there seems no point in taking this further.
    If you can go through the medical forums, there is a great deal of anxiety about modern medicine. It is not that people are not benefited, most are, visibly and data wise so, it is just that it seems to fall short in certain cases, and in many of these cases once the people revert back to traditional systems, however non scientific they are, they seem to report main and supplemental relief too. Terming it as placebo is mere escapism.

    In a nutshell what I was saying is that given the reported efficacy, this seems to be an area about which further information is to be gained before we throw it away. So let us give it some time, and let those who want to take it, or report benefit from it, be so.

    Don’t need to rehash the….Science always starts with saying I do not know, rather than by informed or uninformed opinion, this was the Platonic-Aristotelian error, (this does not mean they were lesser men) one has to wait and watch, and some things do demand careful watching.

    Homeopathy and other medical systems could be one of those, this is all that one tries to say. By booing it down we are doing quite some harm.

    Before we understood the value of human milk, we said that all milk is milk, before we understood ecology, a tree was a tree, and much of it was destroyed before we could sense its true worth. Today we see those oldies as stupid, and this could be the fate of many moderns too, to me many so called rationalists seem too anxious to claim the front seat.

    This may seem like asking for too wide a latitude, but then it is to be given if these things are to be understood. There is still a lot more of science to be done, and while we celebrate its successes, let us not denigrate what we do not or are yet to understand. The moment we kill of these things and celebrate them then humanity will be the poorer, there are many things we have lost in our arrogance, and let us not lose more.

    Final note, rather than having learned arguments, let us ask… little little sugar pill what can you do for me? Test it, on you, on others, on the lesser cases, on the critical cases, after all what is there to be afraid of? This is what is called as doing science, the other is mere opinion-ate-ing.

    Good luck, and thanks again for taking the time to respond…

  • It is because of your ignorance, you are giving wrong information , If homoeopathy does not work it is a natural that people will reject that , and more than 250 years it is flourishing and recently according to news paper Hindu that 59 % population of India has turn over to h’pathy from main stream , it is your deficiency that you can’t think beyond the materialistic point of view.You go to a good classical h’path, he will cure you. Everyday we have sufficient proof of that , It is some impotent scientist who everyday changes their theory and because of their deficiency do a skeptics behavior.It is true because of some Ignorant homoeopath who see this science in materialistic point of view only responsible to damage it’s fame. There for you can’t blame a system due to some quacks homoeopath.

  • @Moon Direct

    You have tried to be cogent and present a point of view

    I am not presenting “a” point of view. I informed you of THE scientific CONSENSUS on the matter, one that is backed by extensive scientific evidence. Please read the NHMRC report. It isn’t a mere opinion. It is an extensive indictment. It analyses nearly the entire body of evidence on the topic. You have a personal “point of view” that is contrary to the scientific consensus and robust evidence.

    and rather than say that you are mistaken, I would say that you are (in some cases) misinformed. A minor rebut…

    No, let’s set the record straight. I am not misinformed. I am quite well-informed on the topic. You don’t seem to be. I get my facts from proper, vetted sources and hard data, not testimonials from random people. I have science and evidence behind my arguments. You don’t. One cannot be labelled “mistaken” for merely stating the scientific position.

    By your own admission, you have not reviewed what research Homeopaths do. I have. From your post, it appears you have no research background in any science, much less medicine. I do. You are not equipped to make sweeping statements on science. Reading a few stories on the history of science does not give you an understanding of science.

    This is what it makes you sound like
    https://xkcd.com/675/

    Homeopathy has been using placebos long before the very word became popular, and many homeopaths still use it.

    No, Homeopaths do not believe they use placebos. They have gone out of their way to try to prove that the goods that they charge medicine prices for, aren’t placebos and have biological activity. Obviously, they completely failed to prove that.

    But Homeopathic remedies are indeed (unintentionally) placebos… just like most pseudoscience remedies that mankind has used since the dawn of civilization. But you are painting this as if Homeopaths are trailblazers in this regard. They are not. It is just another quackery system.

    Don’t need to tell you that many modern medicines (too big a list) derive from old day sources, the therapeutic activity of many plants, animals and minerals was recognized quite early on, and modern researchers are going back to folk lore to pinpoint plants and chemicals that work.

    This is a rather skewed view. Most folklore meds are nonsense. Very rarely, something works and it makes headlines… because that is how news works. You don’t hear about the gazillion that didn’t test out. So people naturally think that folk meds are some precious resource. They are not.

    In case of traditional medicine, we could say that there might potentially be useful herbs or such that can be further evaluated. Some herbs that were failures in their traditional form may nevertheless have biological activity and can perhaps be repurposed to something useful and perhaps for applications that the early users did not foresee. But homeopathy does not even merit this weak optimism. It is a joke. There is no medicine, just water and sugar. Traditional medicine has a small amount of promise. Homeopathy has none whatsoever… in the same way that sacrificing chickens has no further merit to be explored in medical applications.

    But go ahead, I want to see your list. Name a couple of dozen modern medicines that are recommended in proper medical guidelines today as drugs of choice (like Artemisinin) and were derived from old day sources (where the old-day drug indication matches modern day indication). Bonus points if you can cite the actual old texts.

    Go to your local pharmacy and tell me what percentage of modern medicines (those formally approved by a national drug authority of any major developed country, based on scientific evidence) on the shelf that have their main ingredient with roots in ancient medical texts, used for that specific purpose (i.e. not repurposed by modern medicine for something else). List the drugs.

    Those old folks, in their ignorance and serious lack of tools were as anxious to avoid side effects as we are

    There was no proper side effect research before modern medicine. No one wants side effects, if it can be helped. There needs to be a process to uncover side effects, which is only properly pursued in modern medicine. Homeopathy does not have medical side effects only in the sense that it is not even a medicine in the first place. Or rather, it has exactly the same side effects that a drop of water and a sugar pill would have.

    Think modern psychiatry; all that talk about dreams and ego and id and psyche and schizo and all that are more mumbo jumbo than we give credit.

    You are confusing psychology with psychiatry. Psychiatry does not have mumbo-jumbo. Even Psychology has largely stepped out of its mumbo-jumbo phase. Psychiatry is strongly rooted in actual biology of the brain. It deals in neurochemistry, not theoretical models of the mind. Psychology today is largely empirical, rather than theoretical.

    Till it is completely understood there will be some lingering mumbo jumbo in all of psychiatry and brain related fields. It is quite understandable that such mumbo jumbo will turn a rational being off however it is not enough reason to jettison them until better alternatives or understanding are found.

    There is no longer any need for mumbo jumbo. Science is far more mature than the primitive days of say, Freud or Hahnemann.

    If you think we should postulate say, God/religion mumbo-jumbo because not everything about the universe is known, you don’t understand what it means to be scientific or to be rational. There is no longer any excuse for the modern mind to be irrational.

    What exactly do you mean “until better alternatives or understanding are found”? Unless you chose to completely ignore the last century of monumental advancement in medicine, it is right in front of you. You can’t cite a single sentence from Homeopathy as better understanding from current medicine. You can’t name a single drug that tests out better than any modern drug. The tests that homeopathy failed were not against modern drugs… it is nowhere even close for that, it was against using no drugs at all. That is the lowest standard you can test against.

    Evidence is fine but it remains just that without supporting logic.

    In medicine, evidence trumps “logic”. Incidentally, that was what Hahnemann wanted as well. He thought that homoepathy was winning on evidence, and sometimes it was… 200 years ago, not because it actually did anything at all, but because pre-scientific medicine of that era (of which homeopathy was a part of, not independent) was doing more harm than good, that often it was just better to leave the patient with no treatment at all. Science cleaned out that cruft, but Homeopathy persisted from that sad era, as a do-nothing hold over.

    Modern medicine, because of the tools at its disposal has generated mountains of data, but understanding is generally slow

    What exactly are your credentials in understanding modern medicine? (after all you challenged the author on that) Define slow. Compared to what medicine exactly is modern medicine slow? Modern medicine has produced monumental leaps in an extremely short time frame. It did not even properly exist a little over a century ago. The last century was the most productive in medical history. People currently live 2-3 TIMES on average thanks to modern advances in life sciences.

    In what ways have homeopaths moved “understanding” in ANY way at all since it was cooked-up over two centuries ago? Do they have the guts to challenge any of Hahnemann’s ideas or do they simply follow him as if he is an infalliable religious leader, merely satisfying themselves with the testimonies of non-critical believers? Have they critically validated or invalidated any of his ideas quantitatively? Of course not. A cult is what it is.

    Definition tearing w.r.t allopathy is old hat, let us give it a wide berth and use the term modern medicine, calling it symptom based medicine is a little too limiting and even belittling.

    A little? Modern medicine is hardly “symptom based medicine”. That would be Homeopathy and other alternative systems. Homeopaths and alternative system quacks managed to hijack the language in low-education areas of the world and convinced the weakly literate in science that they don’t go by symptoms when symptoms (often, not even real symptoms) are all they go by.

    Modern medicine is biology-based medicine, it is reality-based medicine, it is science-based medicine and most importantly, it is evidence-based medicine.

    No homeopath wants people to believe anything, they give medicines, people report results.

    People go to a witch doctor. They perform rituals. Then they report results. See the problem here? This is how all quacks work, not just in homeopathy. Again, refer to the posthoc fallacy.

    This also shows you don’t understand about research issues. We have to do expensive (no one wants them to be expensive) studies because people are horrible at reporting. Patient reports are highly skewed by cognitive biases… to the point they are USELESS in most cases. That is why double blind trials are done. Millions may have claimed to have seen ghosts. That does not mean ghosts exist. Attestations don’t mean much if they can’t be critically verified.

    People pray, follow vaastu and astrology hoping for happier times. And when happier times return… as they usually do, they assume that the silly rituals they performed were the causal force. People think homeopathy worked in the same way. You don’t ask people to report results, you observe and measure… with control groups. That’s science 101. You should absorb that before trying to get all philosophical about it.

    Homeopaths are pretty logical people too, it is only that they try to find the logic within the symptomatic framework rather than without

    That’s like saying religious people are logical people because they try to find logic within their respective silly mystical frameworks.

    most modern homeopaths understand that there is still something bizarre as to the science, it is just that they cannot disbelieve the amount of evidence collected in their favor, individual or collective.

    Exactly like religious people who hear testimonies of divine miracles all around them and are utterly convinced by them. You need controlled conditions and critical evaluations to uncover Truth about reality. If you think testimonies are a valid method of uncovering truth, you really don’t understand what science is and you cannot distinguish it from something like religion. This is pre-scientific mode of thinking.

    I think Galileo long destroyed the rationality argument

    No, he did not. There are an endless number of interpretations on the Galileo Affair. Galileo did not consider himself irrational at all… or that he was destroying rationality.

    Stop citing historical scientists as arguments and spend more time understanding the scientific method and try to understand why it is structured the way it is.

    the very concept of inertia itself defies ordinary logic and plain human intuition.

    Human intuition (and whatever you mean by “ordinary” logic) is not a standard of physics… or any science for that matter. We care about data and its quantitative analyses, not whether it appeals to your sensibilities or beliefs.

    Logic has become hand maiden to the evidence, and none more so in the age of relativity and the quantum.

    Please refrain from talking about relativity and quantum mechanics in anti-science arguments unless you actually understand their math. The author of this article actually understands that math. I highly doubt you do. We have had nothing but nonsense come out of non-physicists trying to sound smart with quantum mechanics.

    Even Bacon got it, why not us?

    Did you actually read Novum Organum? Read it (again, if you have) and pay attention to the “Idols of the mind”. The modern understanding of these is considerably more advanced now. Bacon did get it. The scientific community today gets it even more. You did not.

    what I am saying is that we cannot be sure that the tools and framework required to understand older medical systems is still not upon us.

    That can be used to deflect criticism from just about every pseudoscience… which is… Science will grow more and make more tools… therefore let’s call science incomplete… therefore let’s not junk any pseudoscience EVER. Standard pseudoscience argument.

    That’s not how things are done by rational people. Pseudoscience should be thrown out and in the unlikely scenario that it tests better later, it can always be brought back. Homeopathy books belong in museum archives. Rational people act on best available evidence, not on potential and imaginary evidence they hope to see in the future by wishful thinking.

    We can be sure and we are sure about Homeopathy. We also already know that that most of older systems don’t work at all. For that, we don’t need any fancy tools – we are just checking if they work at all in the end, not the claimed fantasy mechanisms. Please read reputable (non-fringe), non-polemic books on the history of science. Older medical systems are mostly an embarassment.

    Sophistication, I think you got it wrong

    You think that because you have no awareness of where modern medicine stands today. Go to a modern medical university library, pick a topic and collect books on it and read them in full. Now go to a homeopath library and do the same. You should get good idea of the sophistication differences.

    just because the tools or the ideas are primitive does not mean that its effectiveness is so too.

    Exactly… it is all about effectiveness… and the EVIDENCE says that Homeopathy has no effectiveness in ANY disease. That’s the problem, not the tools or ideas (which also happen to be primitive and absurd). Did you understand my last post? You have not understood what EBM (Evidence Based Medicine) is. Effectiveness is the ONLY thing that EBM cares… effectiveness by objective, statistical evidence… not by what man-on-the-street deludes self with.

    The drug and symptom pictures of some of the medical systems are extremely detailed and in some cases surprising too.

    Mere subjective case reports, completely unbacked by any proper statistically rigorous data.

    As I remarked about the professor, one should at least try to gain some knowledge about the systems one is discussing. Not by logic, but by the lens through which it views its world, until this is done, you are bound to argue rather than appreciate.

    Exactly. But that is all YOU are doing. Are you completely blind to this? You seem to have no medical training and no research experience because you clearly do not understand the bare basics. All you seem to have done is read a little science history and all your arguments are simply sweeping analogies. You seem to have no grounding in modern science.

    I understand that you misunderstand Einstein,

    Don’t worry about Einstein or whether I understand him. You still have very basic scientific frameworks to understand.

    and I understand that Einstein understood his science, so there seems no point in taking this further.

    Yes, he understood his science, but you don’t. I highly doubt that you have any understanding of the particle physics material past the very high level summaries in popular literature. You don’t understand what Einstein means by the word – imagination, in that quote. Einstein was highly quantitative. For you, he is just some historical figure to deflect and hide behind.

    If you can go through the medical forums, there is a great deal of anxiety about modern medicine.

    Yes. But patient anxiety is not the standard here. Scientific medicine does not lie to people about its effectiveness. Alternative medicine does because it is unregulated. Scientific truth comes with uncertainty measurements… and therefore causes anxiety in the scientifically untrained. Soothing lies until the end are reassuring… like with religion, but ultimately are empty.

    and in many of these cases once the people revert back to traditional systems, however non scientific they are, they seem to report main and supplemental relief too.

    Lots of people revert back to irrationality under stress and this is where pseudoscience builds profitable markets to bilk the vulnerable. Yet, when an actual study is done, that “relief” never shows up. There are a number of cognitive biases at play here that feed into the illusion that things work. When actually examined, the whole facade falls apart like a castle of cards.

    Terming it as placebo is mere escapism.

    Again, read a few books on the placebo effect. It has been systematically studied. You think it is mere escapism, just because you don’t understand it. As I already noted, all modern meds are tested against the baseline of the placebo effect, not just homeopathy. Placebo effect is pervasive and forms the baseline in all human studies (you would not need placebo effect in a mouse because it has no concept of medicine and does not subjectively communicate its disease status to you, but since humans do these, we need to control for it).

    In a nutshell what I was saying is that given the reported efficacy, this seems to be an area about which further information is to be gained before we throw it away.

    And it was studied and studied, far more than this silly system warranted. After extensive examination, after finding out that the “reported efficacy” is nothing but a sham, now it is indeed time to throw it away. Your “reported efficacy” comes only from testimonies and small or objectively bad studies. That’s not worth much in medical research.

    Don’t need to rehash the….Science always starts with saying I do not know, rather than by informed or uninformed opinion, this was the Platonic-Aristotelian error, (this does not mean they were lesser men) one has to wait and watch, and some things do demand careful watching.

    Don’t get caught up in all this Philosophy of Science stuff. You can’t even understand it until you have a proper grounding in doing actual science. Modern medicine research is highly pragmatic. It does not have much to do with Plato or Aristotle. It produces plenty of research that involves “careful watching”. Pseudosciences barely produce any replicable research at all. Researchers are not required to reset their understanding to a complete “I don’t know”, even after thousands of studies. You just do because you can’t swallow the results since they conflict with your preconceptions.

    Homeopathy and other medical systems could be one of those, this is all that one tries to say. By booing it down we are doing quite some harm.

    It is not being booed by science. It was shown… by repeated experiments… a few thousand of them… in the last 200 years… that there exists no shred of evidence that it works… in even a single disease. That’s not booing. That’s doing science.

    But Homeopathy, at this point, is of course quite worthy of being booed and ridiculed.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

    Homeopaths should not be allowed to scam patients scott-free. They should be mandated to inform patients, just like cigarette manufacturers (albeit in reverse), that their drugs do not actually contain anything except sugar and water and that repeated experiments have shown that they do not work in ANY condition. They should be held liable in law suits when homeopathic claims have resulted in delays in treatment for conditions where delays result in harm. Patients should be able to sue back for their money when they feel that facts have been misrepresented to them.

    There is still a lot more of science to be done

    Yes, but not on homeopathy though. In the last extensive report, the researchers were recommending that at this point the evidence is stacked so heavily against it that it would be UNETHICAL to spend any more public funds on further testing Homeopathy. You are either unable or unwillling to grasp the sheer scale of evidence here. Feel free to create new study designs, fund them, replicate results and show otherwise. But don’t pretend that the world owes homeopathy any further investigations. We wasted enough time and resources on one man’s silly ideas already.

    let us not denigrate what we do not or are yet to understand.

    We already understand homeopathy very well… as bunk. You just have a seemingly religious commitment to Homeopathy. No scientific evidence will be good enough for you to accept the fact that it does not work.

    The moment we kill of these things and celebrate them then humanity will be the poorer

    Humanity was never poorer by getting rid of the darkness of pseudoscience. It was better for it. Read history about what used to pass for medicine and what the health outcomes were.

    there are many things we have lost in our arrogance, and let us not lose more.

    Lost what? What arrogance? Making decisions based on meticulous scientific evidence is arrogance for you? What imaginary golden past are you looking at? Which pre-scientific medical era would you rather live in? Taking out ego and bias ridden opinions and allowing data guide the decisions is the most humble way to make decisions.

    Final note, rather than having learned arguments, let us ask… little little sugar pill what can you do for me?

    Don’t wax poetic. This is science, not literary critique. Science runs on data, not rhetoric.

    Test it, on you, on others, on the lesser cases, on the critical cases, after all what is there to be afraid of?

    What exactly do you think all the scientific research on Homeopathy (as opposed to idiotic non-replicable research that Homeopaths produce) was? It is exactly that… testing. What you want is for people to use quackery even after the tests miserably failed. Homeopathy has health consequences. It delays actual treatment. Pseudoscience takes away the limited resources from actual medicine.

    This is what is called as doing science, the other is mere opinion-ate-ing.

    I am saying that for all the science history you are throwing around, you don’t understand science at all and are purely opinionating about things you do not understand. I am saying that you have fundamental misconceptions on matters of science. You cannot fix that until you actually train and practice it, rather than merely reading about it from a distance. I often see people who read Philosophy of Science material, over-rate their own science understanding. Deflecting with Galileo… and ignoring a mountain of hard data to defend a pseudoscience… is sophistry (colloquial sense, I happen to admire the original Sophists), at best.

    I suggest you apply your so-called “learned arguments” exactly to something else you hopefully understand clearly as pseudoscience… like Astrology (if you think that is ancient wisdom too, then there isn’t much hope for you on the science front). Perhaps then, you will be able to objectively see where your arguments stand.

    Astrology is exactly like Homeopathy. It has an absurd framework we know to be false. It is based on a grossly incorrect model of the cosmos and cause effect relationships, just as homeopathy is based on a gross misunderstanding of chemistry, physiology and pathology. Planets have no effect on the destinies of people just as a drop of plain water (regardless of whatever “dilution” rituals it was put through) on a few sugar pills have no effect on disease. We know by double blind trials that astrology is no better (usually worse) than say, flipping a coin (placebo like reference standard)… and gullible, scientifically illiterate believers (sometimes science illiterate people with science degrees) interpret those basic chance hits in health or fortunes to mean it actually works. We do science exactly for reasons of human follies such as this.

  • contd…

    I will revisit this. I was addressing something else earlier.

    As I remarked about the professor, one should at least try to gain some knowledge about the systems one is discussing. Not by logic, but by the lens through which it views its world, until this is done, you are bound to argue rather than appreciate.

    If homeopathic thought was a mystery, then non-homeopaths studying how homeopaths view the world should absolutely do that… i.e… set aside logic and wear their lenses to get a better perspective. This is the ethnnographic approach. That would be a legitimate attempt to understand a culture, not judge it.

    But we already know how homeopaths think now. Now, after 200 years, we are very much judging it… objectively… because health outcomes are objective metrics. That is done by statistics, not ethnography. Logic and hard facts come back to the picture.

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