Like it? Share it!

Sign up for news and updates!






Enter word seen below
Visually impaired? Click here to have an audio challenge played.  You will then need to enter the code that is spelled out.
Change image

CAPTCHA image
Please leave this field empty

Login Form



Keeping Up the Pressure PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Dr. Steven Novella   

Homeopathy is the second most used medical system in the world, after real medicine. It is legal, and in fact enjoys privileged status in the US and many other industrialized nations. Most people, however, do not really understand what it is, or the fact that years of research and hundreds of studies show conclusively that it does not work – for anything.

Homeopathy is an example of 100% pure unadulterated pseudoscience. Its underlying principles are not only unscientific, they are as close to impossible as you can get in science, meaning that vast amounts of physics, chemistry, and biology would have to be rewritten if homeopathy were true.

Proponents abuse the scientific evidence, and propose one absurd pseudoexplanation after another to desperately justify their magic potions.

This is all likely very familiar to most skeptics, prompting some to criticize the apparent obsession of some segments of the skeptical community with homeopathy. This misses a very important point, however. The purpose of the skeptical literature is not just to educate and entertain the already skeptical, but to influence the broader culture.

For this purpose we need to keep up the pressure, we need to keep countering homeopaths whenever they emerge to offer a new distortion of science and evidence. This is part of what we do as activists – it is only scientific skeptics who are pushing back against this dangerous nonsense.

I can tell you from personal experience that mainstream physicians and scientists largely do not know and do not care about homeopathy. At best they are “shruggies” who think it is harmless, and at worst they are confused enough to actually support it (Dr. Oz comes to mind, but perhaps he is not the best example).

Science journalists are mixed, some get it, and some don’t. I was recently involved with a documentary on homeopathy by an honest documentarian who was just trying to understand homeopathy (in other words, not a propaganda piece by proponents). Unfortunately she simply came to the exact wrong conclusion about homoepathy, convinced by anecdotal evidence. She was not prepared to understand how so many people could be wrong, how easy it is for people to be fooled, and how difficult it is to get reliable and unbiased results from scientific study. In other words – she was not a skeptic (not sufficiently skilled in critical thinking and understanding the difference between science and pseudoscience). The film is not out yet, so I have yet to see the final result, but I know it’s not going to be good.

There is a bright side, however – skeptics constantly pushing back against the nonsense, and we are making some headway. The more the public understands about homeopathy, the more it is marginalized.

It is partly through the efforts of skeptics that knowledge of the true nature of homeopathy is starting to penetrate into the political arena. The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, after a thorough investigation, concluded that homeopathy is “witchcraft” and the NHS should remove all support from its research and practice. The UK government did not act on those recommendations, so we have more work to do.

Here is one skeptical effort that needs our support now: Deepak Gupta (not Chopra) is the founder of SavvySkeptic.com. He is producing a documentary film on homeopathy that will actually reflect reality. An indiegogo campaign is underway to provide some funding for distribution and marketing – please visit his page and take a look, and consider becoming a supporter, and also help spread the word.

Fellow skeptics often ask me how they can support skeptical activism even if they don’t have the time or experience to run a blog or podcast – this is how. As a community we need to get behind those who are producing this kind of content.

I don’t know what we can realistically accomplish with respect to homeopathy, and the many other battles that we face. I do not see the utility in limiting our goals, however. In a perfect world homeopathy would be widely recognized as pseudoscience and relegated to a footnote in the history books of quackery. We should shoot for nothing less, while accepting what victories we can along the way.

This effort will require constant pressure from the skeptical community, which means that we may have to tolerate yet another article explaining exactly why homeopathy is dangerous pseudoscience.

 

Steven Novella, M.D. is the JREF's Senior Fellow and Director of the JREF’s Science-Based Medicine project.

Trackback(0)
Comments (14)Add Comment
Reference to witch craft?
written by CLamb, February 23, 2013
Could someone please point out where the linked document states that homeopathy is witchcraft? A search of the document only found the word on PDF page 24 which doesn't support the claim. I suspect the search facility isn't working properly because the PDF isn't formatted quite right.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Correction
written by CLamb, February 23, 2013
That should be PDF page 124--not 24.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
Not sufficiently skilled.....
written by feldesq, February 23, 2013
In other words – she was not a skeptic (not sufficiently skilled in critical thinking and understanding the difference between science and pseudoscience).


Here Steve is the fundamental raison d'être of the JREF and our small host of skeptical organizations. A skill can be learned. The public can be educated to such skills. Most of us have come upon or come to develop our critical thinking skills by virtue of fortuitous happenstance (good genes). I would suggest that there are "receptors" in the thinking ability of most skeptics that prompt us toward skepticism or at least allow us to be educated to the fundamentals of skepticism. As to these "receptors" (call them if you will psychological tendencies to accept alternative means of thinking), I would argue for example, that certain ethnic and religious groups (e.g., Jews) have an abundance of such "receptors" and therefore count among their ranks a far greater percentage of skeptics than many other (probably all other) ethnic or religious groups. But that argument is for another discussion. What remains among the general population may be a vast number of persons who have varying degrees of "receptors," ranging from a modest amount to perhaps a scintilla. In terms of gradation it matters only that that are sufficient such "receptors" to be influenced by the right educational means (i.e., parental and other forms of nurturing -- even the JREF!)

It then is our expanded mission statement to increase the critical thinking skill levels of receptive persons at all stages of their development (of course early formative years are best) and of all walks of life. Surely I and those of us who rejoice in our participation in the skeptical community do and must support the direct attacks being made against pseudoscience (as Steve so magnificently does here) but, to the extent that quantum leaps can be achieved, such success may best be realized through efforts at every level (grass roots on up) to get critical thinking skills into the curriculum of our educational systems. This comment is but a brief effort to strike at the root!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
Witchcraft
written by skepticnj, February 23, 2013
CLamb
I believe Dr. Novella was speaking metaphorically. When you read the conclusions you can certainly come away with that impression.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
...
written by rasmur, February 24, 2013
I understand that homeopathy is a serious problem. My concern is that it not be over-emphasized in isolation by the skeptic movement. It must be seen as part of a much bigger problem of medical nonsense that pervades our society, so-called CAM/IM.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Lots of reading!
written by stag, February 24, 2013
I didn't find the word "witchcraft", but I DID find the phrase..."misuse of quantum physics" over there on page 122. But then, I did find myself sort of skimming it. Lots of interesting articles there. I found the article by Dr. Lionel Milgrom on page 94 to 100 to particularly interesting...in that it really plays fast and loose with physics. "Dynamic attractors!" That's a new one! A quote would be appropriate here..."Materials science shows us that it is the structure of water instead of its composition that fundamentally affect its properties. (pg 96 article 5.13)" I have never seen homeopathy's dirty underwear showing more clearly than in this article. They physics and graphs involving resonance of water are just sad...but they SOUND so plausible. One feels that the writer actually believes this stuff!
If they do, then I don't see how to change their minds...its like holding up an orange and the kid says...thats black. You say, no, its orange. The kid says, no its black. Its so clearly "ain't so" that you would suspect malice or a communications failure.
I think I liked Dr. Milgrom's fight back against evidence best of all. I recommend his diatribe against double blind studies in 2:11 on page 95. A fine fight. This is not a stupid man! He seems very articulate. He doesn't seem particularly malicious...in fact, he seems very caring. So if its not communication, and not malice, then what?
Did you find the word witchcraft? I don't know if I can scan the whole thing again, it took me, like two hours! Dr. Novella, my hat is off to researches such as yourself who go to the trouble to read these abstracts on a regular basis!
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
what's the harm of little idi*ts?
written by opsarchangel99, February 24, 2013
great theatre of ruin

what's the harm of little idi*ts?

monstrous.com/forum/index.php?topic=13908.0
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: -8
...
written by Zep, February 24, 2013
Oh look, it's Makuze again!

Hello there, Dennis! Good to see you are consistently abusing your bail conditions. Why don't you just turn yourself in and get some decent treatment?
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
...
written by daveg703, February 24, 2013
Homeopathy is an example of 100% pure unadulterated pseudoscience.

Well, finally- someone on this site has the courage to say something good about it! smilies/grin.gif
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
...
written by DaveHunt, February 26, 2013
The observation about witchcraft came up during the questionning of the Government Scientific adviser by an MP.The advisor was talking about patient choice and that if patients choose homeopathy then their wish should be considered. He was then asked if that also applied if a patient chose witchcraft. After a little bluster he said no. It was quite a funny moment.I don't remember homeopathy being called witchcraft though.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +1
...
written by aschaeffer, February 26, 2013
It is very easy to make fun of homeopathy, Dr. Werner's video pretty much sums it up perfectly. However, it seems that homepaths are not just an affront to medicine, but also to science as a whole. I am particularly disturbed by the 2007 paper by Rao, Roy, Bell ans Hoover (all of the many iterations of this work and the works that cite it) in which they claim to have evidence of a structural change in water. Admittedly, the only data which I can really judge is the Raman spetroscopy, which appears to show only a higher background and so shift in the peaks. Generally when using raman to find a solid to liquid transition, one does see a broadening of peaks, and signals can be very low and analysis difficult. It is an enfuriatingly bold claim. I think the biggest threat from these types of papers is that even if the general public does not entirely buy the results, it seems like it could cause some to lose faith in ALL scientific results (and if any of this has ever appeared in more reputable journals than "Homeopathy", then maybe scientists should get a little more serious about debunking this nonsense).
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
Homeopathy Update
written by csopko, February 26, 2013
I just reviewed one of the webpages on the Dr. Oz website about homeopathy. There were 25 comments posted and 15 were basically calling out homeopathy for what it is...quak medicine.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +2
but then you have people like my 68-year-old mother...
written by devo-T, February 27, 2013
...who specifically called me about a recent Dr. Oz show concerning a homeopathic medicine (incredibly, "20 pills" at a time!) that would give you "the best sleep of your life". He's got some gall. I spent a good 20 minutes vehemently debunking it from every angle I could think of -- absurd dilution factors, "like cures like", succussion -- but came away with the feeling that, while she believed me, she wasn't 100% convinced (she's not even remotely science literate, so I'm at a loss). I did get through, a little, by telling her that the one time a product actually had an active ingredient, it caused people anosmia (the Zicam nasal Q-tips, spray or whatever). I also stated unequivocally that Dr. Oz is a kook, one who promotes all manner of CAM half the time, and shows cutesy orgasm cannons and toy rectums/fecal matter the other half. Oy vey.

On a related note, I am disturbed beyond measure at how much of this utter crap
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0
PS (and while on the subject of medical quackery):
written by devo-T, February 27, 2013
My mother also asked me, "if it doesn't do anything, how can they sell it?" It was another complicated answer, being that "nutraceuticals" they aren't regulated by the same laws that govern actual drugs. I used RationalWiki's term "quack miranda" to further educate her of the fine print saying, "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA". Speaking of which, I wish I'd seen that new "Light Relief" flashing LED nonsense, so I could've included that as an example (yet, google "buy light relief" for fun results). But now there's "homeopathic" Tag Away/ElimiTag -- with "thuja occidentalis" (ironically, an active ingredient used for centuries, it seems) -- to muddy the waters as well. I fear this is an endless struggle. If we can ban Kevin Trudeau from selling Coral Calcium in the US, we should be able to end the profit margin orgy that is homeopathy.
report abuse
vote down
vote up
Votes: +0

Write comment
This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comment.
You must be logged in to post a comment. Please register if you do not have an account yet.

busy