What will it take? That is the lingering question, one that has significant implications for the legitimacy and effectiveness of our professional and regulatory institutions.
Homeopathy is 100% pure nonsense. It is one of the so-called “alternative” medical systems that has absolutely no basis in reality. It is magic-based medicine. It is based on two-centuries-old pre-scientific ideas, bad guesses that turned out to be wrong.
The notion behind homeopathy is that illness is caused by a problem with the essence or life energy. Based on the idea of “like cures like” the homeopath must find a substance that is the match for the totality of symptoms, including personality traits and superficial details like eye color, and then give a magic potion which is created by diluting the matched substance out of existence – but the essence remains.
Homeopathy has no basis in medicine, physiology, chemistry, or even physics. It is one of the few claims about which I am willing to say, it cannot possibly work.
Unsurprisingly, when homeopathic products are tested in rigorous clinical trials, they don’t work. A review of systematic reviews of homeopathy concluded:
The findings of currently available Cochrane reviews of studies of homeopathy do not show that homeopathic medicines have effects beyond placebo.
The simple fact is that even after two centuries, and a renewed interest in research in the last few decades, homeopathy has not been demonstrated to work for any indication.
The only possible rational response to this state of affairs is to conclude that homeopathy is worthless and should be completely abandoned, relegated to the history of pseudoscience. Culture, belief and institutions, however, have inertia, and much like Sauron, even after scientific defeat, homeopathy was allowed to endure.
The worthlessness of homeopathy is not just my opinion or that of SBM. There have been exhaustive reviews of homeopathy that came to the same or similar conclusion. The best was the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report: Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy. After an extensive investigation, and allowing homeopaths to make their best case, the committee concluded that homeopathy could not work, does not work, and should be completely abandoned.
There was also a later Swiss report that came to a different conclusion, that there is some evidence homeopathy works. The Swiss report, however, was a reaction to a previous Swiss decision against homeopathy. The committee was packed with homeopaths, and not surprisingly they put a positive spin on the review.
If you analyze the review you find that actually they came to the same conclusion about the data – that high quality studies show that homeopathy does not work. Then, however, they pulled a trick. As I previously reported:
The Swiss study looked at the same data, but apparently wanted to come to a favorable conclusion. So they argued for a change in the normal rules of evidence, a common strategy among CAM proponents. They decided to rely more on “real-world effectiveness,” which is just CAM newspeak for “poorly controlled studies.” In the real world we cannot control for variables and blind subjects – those are artificial conditions of rigorous trials.
The Swiss report was rigged and biased, and yet they still could not conclude that the data shows homeopathy works. They had to pull the “placebo medicine” gambit and claim that it sort of “works” even though there is no real effect from homeopathic products. Only homeopaths were apparently fooled by this ploy.
Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council
Now we have a new report, this one from Australia: Effectiveness of Homeopathy for Clinical Conditions: Evaluation of the Evidence. They concluded:
There is a paucity of good-quality studies of sufficient size that examine the effectiveness of homeopathy as a treatment for any clinical condition in humans. The available evidence is not compelling and fails to demonstrate that homeopathy is an effective treatment for any of the reported clinical conditions in humans.
In other words – homeopathy does not work. They also concluded that much of the homeopathy literature of very poor quality. The good quality studies, however, showed no effect. This is a 301-page exhaustive review, which came to the same conclusion as all other scientific reviews (adjusting for editorial spin).
They looked at 57 systematic reviews involving 68 conditions. For seven of those conditions there were simply no quality studies. For the other 61 there was evidence of lack of efficacy.
Homeopathy is based on magical thinking. It does not have even the barest toe-hold in science or reality. In spite of this it has been extensively researched for its clinical effects. While most of this research is of poor quality, there is some reasonably high-quality research, which consistently shows that homeopathy does not work.
The extremely low prior probability combined with the negative clinical evidence is devastating to homeopathy. There is simply no rational justification for further investment in this pre-scientific and disproved notion. We do not need further research. No government should fund homeopathy, pay for homeopathic treatments, fund research, or even approve homeopathy in any official capacity. This means that homeopaths should not be licensed, and homeopathic products should not be approved.
And yet homeopathy still enjoys the support of most governments. This is largely based on a misunderstanding among the general public as to what homeopathy is, combined with lobbying by homeopaths and supporters of unscientific medicine.
Science clearly needs a stronger lobby.