Homeopathy Science Degrees In British Universities

March 22nd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy, very basic science | 41 Comments »

Just a brief note to say, if you want to read the original Nature news story and commentary that is driving today’s news story then Prof Colquhoun (the commentary author) is hosting a PDF copy of it here on his own entirely excellent blog:

www.ucl.ac.uk/Pharmacology/dc-bits/quack.html#nature1

He’s also got a cracking round up of the newspaper and radio stories, updated as they come out.


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41 Responses



  1. Neil Desperandum said,

    March 22, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    The Mail article by Fiona Macrae, has this gem

    “Despite homeopathy’s popularity, there is little evidence that it works, other than as a panacea, making people feel better simply because they are receiving care and attention.”

    Or perhaps placebo.

    It’s so confusing, both words begin with a p.

  2. Andy said,

    March 22, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Prof Colquhoun sure has a big page… Not as big as the ‘to scale’ hydrogen atom picture, www.phrenopolis.com/perspective/atom/ but close….

  3. Ken Zetie said,

    March 22, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    If you’re studying for a homeopathy degree do you get a better and better grade the less work you do?

    Ken

  4. DomShields said,

    March 22, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    I see your point, in an exam scatter a few well-judged letters on the first page of a stacked ream of A4 with a light pencil, throw that sheet away, find the 100th page and hand it in – First class honours awaits.

  5. Neil Desperandum said,

    March 22, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Nuts, the Mail article’s already been spotted on the BS forum.

  6. David Colquhoun said,

    March 22, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    Yes the page is growing rather now, but I haven’t bothered because it still loads quite fast with (my) broadband, and more or less instantly in the lab. Are there still people using dial-up? That would be a problem.

    Anyway if Paul Crowley, or anyone else would like to suggest some good software I’ll be happy to consider it. But it has to be cheap and quick to convert because I get no income from this, I do it just for fun. And I’m still trying to do a day job too. Funny thing is, the pages about single ion channels don’t get nearly as many hits as the quack stuff.

    Tomorrow morning, time permitting, I’m hoping to put up a clip from BBC London TV News in which Peter Fisher ends up almost agreeing with me that homeopathy is not (yet) in a state where it is appropriate for a BSc degree. Remarkable uh?

  7. Bob O'H said,

    March 23, 2007 at 6:43 am

    Wouldn’t the degrees be better with homeopathic numbers of students?

    Yay! How about this for a scheme: tell your head of department that you’re offering potentised courses. And then use the time to do something more useful (like, um, read the Bad Science pages).

    Bob

  8. BSM said,

    March 23, 2007 at 7:20 am

    DC’s story also made up the second half of this week’s Material World, where he managed to be quite entertainingly rude. Frankly, we are past the point where it is worth engaging these people in debate. There is no debate to be had- they have lost, so let’s move on. Since they refuse to go away quietly, the best response is derision in the face of their laughable assertions.

    www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/thematerialworld.shtml

    One of David Peters’ responses was that there was a body of evidence that homeopathy works in animals. Having looked at this in some detail, I can assure you that there is not. Unfortunately this is typical of the airily glib assertions that substitute for evidence and argument with the homs. Do these consistent misrepresentations of the evidence reflect merely an astonishing level of incompetence in the reading of scientific publications or a willing desire to bend the truth?

  9. BSM said,

    March 23, 2007 at 7:32 am

    At JREF, “Nucular” has an interesting perspective;

    forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=77550

  10. Suw said,

    March 23, 2007 at 10:38 am

    #7 David – WordPress is free, and very easy to use. I’d be happy to help you with your site if you’d like – email me on suw [dot] charman [at] gmail [dot] com.

  11. Wonko said,

    March 23, 2007 at 11:48 am

    I thought the Prince of Wales’ spokesperson has an interesting take on what constitutes evidence: “The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, said … where there was no proof it did not necessarily mean that there would never be.” (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6476289.stm)

    By this logic, shouldn’t the pharmaceutical industry be allowed to continue marketing thalidomide, Vioxx, etc on the grounds that just because they kill people now doesn’t mean that the won’t stop killing people in future? (PS, if anyone wants to pay me to channel Qi down the phone at £100 per pop, please get in touch – there’s no evidence that it’ll work, but who knows, one day…)

    Prince Charles has certainly managed to up-end Karl Popper!

  12. Mojo said,

    March 23, 2007 at 11:59 am

    I see Westminster are defending their course’s BSc status by saying that their homoeopathy students are taught some science. I suppose they need to know what to avoid. ;)

  13. bryanh said,

    March 23, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Bsc Complementary Medicine: Year 1 Module choices:

    The placebo effect and how to exploit it.
    The desperately ill and how to exploit them.
    Snake-oil extraction techniques.
    Channeling you inner elf.
    The scientific method and how to avoid it.
    Endangered species and powdering techniques.
    Dilute your way to wealth.
    The anatomy and physiology of midichlorians.

  14. MONK said,

    March 23, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    #10

    Nuclear’s comments are indeed interesting. I know plenty of intelligent and reasonable people who have an interest in homeopathy. I think when the failings of the system are explained to them they tend to take it as

    “you are saying its all in my head and i am stupid”

    rather than

    “the mind and body are closely entwined and the effects i am feeling may actually be down to that – isnt the placebo effect fascinating and shouldnt they be reasearching it more”

    I am on “happy pills” from my doc right now and i accept that even those have a placebo effect (quite a large one) in addition to the active drug. doesnt it make sense to maximise that mind/ body effect in addition to the drug rather than ignore it.

    Loved Dylan Evans’ “Placebo”. Really interesting take on the situation

  15. apothecary said,

    March 23, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    re 12: “The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, said … where there was no proof it did not necessarily mean that there would never be.”

    Well, it’s true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but that doesn’t apply to homoeopathy. Austin Bradford-Hill said – “All scientific work is likely to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or to postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time”

    The “knowledge we already have” WRT homoeopathy is that it doesn’t work – that seems to be the conclusion from the best quality trials that have been carried out. So does HRH have freedom to ignore that?

  16. j said,

    March 23, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Having had to put up with science students taking the piss out of my arts degrees, can I just say how pleased I am that a ‘science’ degree is now coming to mean ‘degree in homeopathic magic’ ;) I’m still waiting for the BSc in voodoo.

    Anyway, continuing to demonstrate a frankly uncanny ability to be associated with many, many bad science stories, Holford’s Institute for Optimum Nutrition is accredited by Bedfordshire to offer foundation science degrees – stopholfordtalkingrubbish.blogspot.com/2007/03/would-you-like-big-mac-with-your.html Some foundations :D

  17. Titologist said,

    March 23, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    What will all these “scientists” do when they finish their degrees?
    It is difficult to see any main stream research organisations employing them, so, as there is very little research in Homeopathy, the UK will be flooded with even more quacks. Congratulations to David on his response to this issue.
    I await a BSc in my very specialised area of Reflexology, as I sometimes feel a little uneasy demanding payment for my skills!

  18. Wonko said,

    March 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    # 17. Of course HRH will continue to ignore the fact that homeopathy has been shown not to work. When you have the letters HRH before your name you are allowed to believe and say anything you like and have journalists take you seriously.

    The problem is that the rest of us struggle to point to the science when powerful interests like the monarchy throw their weight (and considerable funding) behind such misrepresentation.

    And we don’t even get the opportunity to vote on whether Brian becomes King!

  19. SomeBeans said,

    March 25, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Respect to the rant, Dr Aust!

    This placebo stuff sounds like good medicine:
    1. Do doctors have a formal policy on the prescription of placebo, or is it a case of “don’t ask, won’t tell”?
    2. Has anyone done the experiment where patients are given identical advice / treatment but in the context of a 5, 15 or 30 minute consultation? Clearly it would be difficult to do this in a randomised double-blind stylee …

  20. Ken Zetie said,

    March 25, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    Re: #22 “I you want to get seriously annoyed – check out ‘Comment is Free’ in the Observer today:

    commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ann_robinson/2007/03/ann_robinson.html ”

    Well, if nothing else, I can use it in teaching “Perspectives on Science”* as a classic example of bad inductive reasoning by analogy…she compares BAs in media studies and English lit and implies a similar relation between a BSh (sic) in homeopathy and a BSc in a real science. As if simply stating an analogy makes it true…

    I’d also take task with her claim that even the most anti-woo people agree homeopathy is harmless – we are keenly aware it can be lethal if it replaces proper medicines.

    Ken

    *PoS is a new AS course from Edexcel in which students have to write a 6000 word research essay on any topic in science and address philosophical and ethical questions. The philosophy includes analysing types of argument and false arguments. I use this blog and the forums as a source of inspiration…

  21. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 27, 2007 at 1:58 am

    I propose – this sort of thing did get me into trouble on the blog already – that Prince Charles should be killed, butchered, salted and dried, and supplied to cancer patients in half inch cubes. There is no proof that eating a member of the royal family will cure cancer, but that doesn’t mean that there will never be and there are longstanding anecdotes about the healing effects of royalty – Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were employed in health delivery during the second world war, and Princess Diana used to hang around hospitals although it’s rumoured that she just fancied doctors. So let’s give it a try – not making passes at doctors, the other thing.

  22. alwaysquestion said,

    March 28, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    In case anyone is still reading this thread – here’s a bit ‘from the other side’ (I can hear you sharpening your knives!) The Ann Robinson article in the Guardian has been mentioned here a couple of times, but not the comments thread that followed it. It was so full of unqualified vitriol (as in hurling abuse instead of sound argumentation) that for the first time ever I felt coerced to put the case for the alternative view. As everyone here seems to cosily agree with each other (with a comparatively lower level of emotive, angry language than over at the Guardian, thankfully), I though I’d import, for your entertainment and to bring another point of view, some of the commentary by myself and others from that thread. I’ve left out the anti-homeopathy stuff because 90% of it is barely more than name-calling (and you can go read for yourselves). I’ll put just one in, who was refreshingly honest in his response: he calls himself ‘filthymacnasty’ – here goes:
    Comment No. 497514
    March 27 14:18
    @alwaysquestion: “I would appreciate it if you could offer something more by way of reasoned argument than terms of abuse [and] ridicule.”
    Sorry alwaysquestion old chap, I leave the scientific stuff to the many posters here who know what they’re talking about. I only do abuse.
    I’m not the sharpest knife in the block but is this how homeopathy works?

    Below you can read some people, convinced of homeopathy though they are, who’s argumentation is rather more measured:

    Comment No. 496365
    March 26 21:53
    Hands up who knows more about homeoapthy than what you have heard/read in the media. Hands up who has looked at some actual reasearch into homeopathy. Hands up who has actually read the full article by David Colquhoun. Anyone? ‘Gobbledegook’ is such a good soundbite. Solid argument is hard to make. What IS homeopathy? WHO says it’s a pseudo-science? Just in case some of those who broadly dismiss homeopathy would like some additional information, here are typical statements about it, with comments that highlight that dismissing it out of hand might be unjustified: 1) “homeopathic medicine contains nothing. You might as well drink water” – yes, the medicines are ultra-diluted, but the process used (incremental steps, interspersed with vigorous agitation of the substance, known as potentizing) is much more complex than just diluting a minute amount of something in a huge lake, as is often stated. Just HOW the medicinal properties of the original substance are kept in this form is UNKNOWN. But UNKNOWN does not mean IMPOSSIBLE – after all, until the 16th Century, (most of) the world believed the earth was flat, and people were burnt for saying otherwise: it took a) newly developed technology/refined observation instruments and b) a more modern outlook (the Renaissance) to make possible the realisation that actually, the earth is not flat and is not the centre of creation. This does not prove that homeopathic remedies work, but it demonstrates that dismissing their efficacy just because it cannot be shown how they work is at best narrow-minded. 2) “Homeoapthy does not work” – there are hundreds of medical trials that show otherwise – contact www.trusthomeopathy.org or www.homeopathy-soh.org for further info if you want to check some out. Homeopathy takes all of a patient’s health and disease as an individual into account: this is why it is difficult to run large-scale, double-blind placebo trials – the same medicine (potentized or not) for the same ailment given to hundreds of patients ISN’T homeopathic. Where such trials have been run, the predictable result was that no benefit could be shown – because the way such trials are run is unsuitable. ‘Homeoatphic’ means that a medicine is prescribed for a condition a) within the context of the rest of that person’s health b) specific to the way that condition expresses in that patient (few people share exactly identical symptoms in any given diesease) and c) the medicine would cause just the symptoms it’s treating in a healthy person. There ARE trials, including very recent ones (cf refs above) that show excellent benefits; they apply research parameters that satisfy stringent scientific demands even though of necessity not fully double-blind. Because there is very little funding for homeopathic research (ask the pharmaceuticals industry why…), such studies tend to be small. That does not invalidate them. There are even some studies done on in-vitro substances – no placebo effect on patients possible. What detractors should be asking is: why is so much high-quality research not publicised widely, and why are flawed or unsuitable studies paraded again and again? Why do people like David Colquhoun stoop to tendentious polemic (please read his article – a remarkable lack of evidence but a lot of emotive language – not exactly scientific) 3) “Treating a symptom with something that causes such symptoms is nonsense” – we are used to chemical treatments: take a pill, interrupt the pain transmission pathways – illness stays, pain not felt. Actually, aspirin is derived from willow bark, and the effects, if taken by a healthy person, are a.o. pain and stomach bleeding. Your GP can tell you that people who take too many analgesics without clinical need (there are people who want to numb the smallest pain, or take painkillers preventively etc) will end up with severe headaches… That is the principle which homeoapthy is based on: all medicinal substances cause and cure symptoms – does it not make sense? Try it out: what does a strong cup of coffee do to you? Rapid heart beat, somewhat excited, brain stimulated. Should you find yourself in a situation where you get anxious over something, with rapid heart beat and high excitement, try to have a coffee – you may find yourself ‘miraculously’ calmed. I’m running out of space, so just one more thing: it’s NOT homeopathy if you go into a chemist and buy an over-the-counter mix of various potentized substances, say ‘for hayfever’. If such products don’t work, don’t be surprised: they may call themselves homeopathic, but unless you have looked up the symptoms YOU have (or have consulted a homeopath) and those symptoms were matched to the medicine (the medicine would cause such symptoms in a healthy person), it just is not homeopathy and won’t work except by chance. That’s where justified ‘snake oil’ accusations come from. And that’s not fair on homeopathy or the people who could be helped by it but dismiss it out of hand.

    Comment No. 496481
    March 26 23:17
    Re DylanLl & friends: ‘horrible’ ‘fraudulent quacks’ ‘thieves’ – is this the way to lead a reasoned, objective debate? Re failing double-blind placebo trials = ‘it doesn’t work’, it might be of interest to note that a very large proportion of mainstream medicine as practiced today is NOT based on such trials. Should we scrap most of modern medicine? No, we shouldn’t. It might pay to have a look behind that assumed ‘gold standard’. There are many questions open about it, not just from ‘weirdos’ but from scientists. As an information baseline, I have copied below excerpts of what Wikipedia says on clinical trials – there you can see a range of other types of trial science accepts as valid to various degrees, plus what doubt scientists themselves have over the validity of some randomised double-blind placebo studies. I am not going to go into the various aspects of pharma involvement etc (worthwhile though that would be). I just would like to invite EVERYONE to really look at all the issues surrounding medicine – alternative and mainstream – be fully informed, and THEN make up their minds. Most media reporting on CAM is heavily biased & unscientific (someone, please tell me why?), most readers are under-informed on scientific methods, on the principles behind not only e.g. homeopathy, but also those underlying mainstream treatments. Be informed, then shout. Even better, don’t shout: try reasoned arguments instead. If someone could give me some (non-abusive) idea just why so many react with such extreme vehemence when their way of thinking is challenged (rather than, say, be open-minded and curious), I’d appreciate it.
    From Wikipedia on Clinical Trials � look up the article to see it whole:
    “[�]the Oxford CEBM gives:
    � Level A: consistent Randomised Controlled Clinical Trial, Cohort Study, All or None, Clinical Decision Rule validated in different populations.
    � Level B: consistent Retrospective Cohort, Exploratory Cohort, Ecological Study, Outcomes Research, Case-Control Study; or extrapolations from level A studies.
    � Level C: Case-series Study or extrapolations from level B studies
    � Level D: Expert opinion without explicit critical appraisal, or based on physiology, bench research or first principles
    [�] recommendation for a clinical service is classified by the balance of risk versus benefit of the service and the level of evidence on which this information is based.
    [�]
    Critics of EBM say lack of evidence and lack of benefit are not the same, and that the more data are pooled and aggregated, the more difficult it is to compare the patients in the studies with the patient in front of the doctor � that is, EBM applies to populations, not necessarily to individuals. [�]
    Although evidence-based medicine is quickly becoming the “gold standard” for clinical practice and treatment guidelines, there are a number of reasons why most current medical and surgical practices do not have a strong literature base supporting them.
    � [�]
    � The types of trials considered “gold standard” (i.e. randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials) may be expensive [�] funding sources play a role in what gets investigated. [�] pharmaceutical companies fund studies intended to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of particular drugs.
    � The studies that are published in medical journals may not be representative of all the studies that are completed on a given topic (published and unpublished) or may be misleading due to conflicts of interest [�] evidence available on particular therapies may not be well-represented in the literature. [�]
    The more complex the patient population (e.g. severity of condition, co-moribid conditions, etc) in the study, the more difficult it is to assess the treatment effect (i.e., treatment mean – control group mean), relative to the random variation (within group variation of both the treatment and control groups). Because of this, a number of studies obtain non-significant results, either because there is insufficient power to show a difference, or because the groups are not well-enough “controlled”. [�] questions always remain about how far, and to which populations, their results are “generalizable”. Furthermore, skepticism about results may always be extended to areas not explicitly covered [�]”

    Comment No. 496588
    March 27 0:55
    Gavin Bullock (msg 494794) says that homeopathy is not based on observation but one man�s ideas only, and compares it to the four-humours theory. Gavin, it might interest you to hear that the opposite is true � it was the mainstream medicine of the time that was still based on the humours theory. Cullen, a Scottish doctor, claimed quinine was effective in malaria because it tastes bitter � an element of the humours theory. Samuel Hahnemann, while translating a treatise by Cullen, questioned this reasoning. The humours theory works with concepts like �dry�/�wet�, �hot/cold�, �bitter/sweet� and �juices�: bile, blood, mucus and feces (yes, the latter relates to �melancholia� � literally, �full of �.�!), that were supposed to be evenly blended in the healthy person � if a person had too much of one quality, say wet and bitter, then something dry and sweet was given (yes, sugar was used as medicine then). Not because of objective observation, but because a Greek physician called Galen had laid these rules down in about 150 AD � a standard text until early modern times. Hahnemann was a doctor but had given up practice because he was appalled at the poisonous side effects of most available medicine. Cullen�s remarks prompted him to do something rather novel: he took some quinine, while perfectly healthy. He observed that the effect on him was identical to a malarial attack: alternating fever with heat and chills. This is where homeopathy started: a substance, given to a healthy individual, causes symptoms. If given to someone who suffers those symptoms, it will thus neutralise the sickness. Of course, Hahnemann had an antecedent, one even older than Galen and still well-known today because all doctors still swear an oath to him to promise best medical practice: Hippocrates. He formulated that sickness can be treated by opposites (cold against heat) or similars (heat against heat). In any case, after his observations on quinine, Hahnemann went on to test hundreds of substances on himself and willing, healthy volunteers, used the tested (�proved�) substances for matching symptoms in hispatients, and all the while kept accounts of detailed observations. Far from being ideas-based, far from the humours theory, this was completely evidence-based, empirical medicine � an almost unique concept at the time. After some years of practicing like this, Hahnemann was still not satisfied: the substances he was using, while more effective than normal medical practice, were still having side effects. Or, if he reduced dosage too far, there was no effect. This is when he developed the concept of potentisation � the serial dilution that so exercises opponents of homeopathy. But a medicine, potentised or not, is only �homeopathic� if used to treat symptoms in the way described. That is a concept many people have difficulty with: e.g. an over-the-counter �homeopathic� remedy usually isn�t (it�s a random shot whether that particular product might match YOUR cough, it�s not individualised). How Hahnemann developed the serial-dilution/potentisation method that finally opened the way to side-effect-free treatment with normally poisonous substances is not known � if he did record this, the documentation is lost. However, just because it cannot be shown how and why it works does not mean that it does not � to claim anything else is unscientific.
    I notice that many of the people who are critical of all things homeopathic � at least in this thread – seem to have great difficulty in coming up with sound arguments against. Why is it they feel forced to take recourse to words like �drivel�, �pseudo-science�, �superstition�, �gullibility�, �insane�, �nonsense on stilts�, �idiots�� that is not argument, it�s abuse � not backed up by evidence, scientific or otherwise. To reggiedixon, who felt compelled to draw a link between homeopaths and proponents of �Intelligent Design�: the latter are extremely conservative Christians � most of whom tend to think that homeopathy is witchcraft, anti-religion. Why, I do not know. I suspect they would feel very much at home among the homeopathy-bashers in this thread. When I listen to your tone and comments, reggie, I get the uncomfortable feeling that it would be more likely that you and others of your conviction might have burnt the homeopaths as witches � not the other way round. And filthymacnasty, I do like your name & the drunk joke, but I would appreciate it if you could offer something more by way of reasoned argument than terms of abuse, ridicule and that sometimes people use capital letters for EMPHASIS. I can see the science argument against homeopathy � from that paradigm, it makes sense to question this method. But scientific thinking approaches critique of any unknown factor rather differently. Stop shouting, start (re)searching.

    Comment No. 496603
    March 27 1:13
    Blackace,” Oh yeah, that’ll be Madeleine Ennis who was involved in the Horizon “The Test” programme that failed miserably to prove any efficacy or repeat any lab test.”
    If you had bothered to research your facts you would know that Prof. Ennis was not involved in the Horizon test. The test was carried out by Wayne Turnbull at Guys hospital. It has been conceded that the horizon test was not an exact replica of Ennis’ successful trials. Many of his protocols were different. You can read at this link where he added in an ammonium chloride lysis step which would have ended up killing the very basophils that were such an integral part of the test. www.homeopathic.com/articles/media/2020_ennis.php.
    Ennis’ original test was replicated in 4 different labs in 4 different countries. That fact will always remain even when sceptics take their hands off their ears. Any comments on the growing research (see original post) showing an effect of homeopathic preparations on live tissue or animals ? No, didn’t think so.
    The evidence for a measurable effect from homeopathic preparations does appear to be coming through, albeit slowly and in very small bite sized chunks. Scientists have postulated that it has more to do with electro-magnetic charges in the water and a lot less to do with molecules. Occasionally something like the “Shang et al” Lancet paper of last year comes along to cast some doubt on homeopathy. This paper was subsequently branded junk science, chock full of bias. No doubt even Ben Goldacre from this newspaper would concede that this study deserves a place in his “Bad Science” column. Anyone who wants to look a little deeper than the emotive rhetoric would do well to read “The Emerging Science of Homeopathy, (complexity, biodynamics and pharmacology)” by P. Bellavite MD and A. Signorini MD. Yet more trials involving living tissue and placebo resistant mice are contained in this book.

    Comment No. 496635
    March 27 2:48
    Too much faith is placed in the double-blind randomised controlled trial (DBRCT). A look at its implicit assumption might prove instructive – that by blinding, a therapy can be easily separated from the context in which that therapy is given. Who says? It is a convenient fiction that therapy and context can be so easily separated. For they are intimately correlated with each other in real-life practice, conventional medicine included. Some doctors are just better at healing than others and it is not just down to the drugs. The placebo effect is part of every doctor’s kit bag and enshrined in the Hippocratic oath.
    Blinding simply allows the gathering of statstics and imposes a ‘one-size-fits-all’ experimental straight-jacket that delivers up drugs which tend to perform worse in practice than in trials, for they give little warning of dangerous side-effects – or these are simply covered up. The roll-call of recent life-threatening pharmaceuticals is impressive: seroxat, vioxx, statins, the Northwick Park antibody trial, etc. The sceptics are loud and actually incredibly rude in their condemnation of homeopathy, but they seem strangely silent when it comes to interesting Government stats that for example, in 2006 alone, 2.68 MILLION people were harmed by conventional medicine in the NHS. That is a staggering 4.5% of the UK population.
    A&E aside, conventional medicine’s track record in the treatment of chronic illness is not brilliant. True, that of itself doesn’t make homeopathy scientific. But conventional medicine has some way to go before it too can lay claim to that title. There is, however, increasing evidence for The Memory of Water (see Prof Martin Chaplin’s website, www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/), a potential mechanism for how materials diluted beyond molecular existence could still exert effects. The literature from materials science is also worth investigating as it posits that it is the dynamic molecular structure of water (altered during violent agitation possibly leading to such recently discovered phenomena as nano-bubble formation and sono-luminescence) which is more important than its actual solute content. And we haven’t even scratched the surface yet of what happens between patient and practitioner in the therapeutic context. So the project is on-going, like any scientific discipline.
    Sceptics also need to understand (if for one moment they could take their hands away from their ears) that not all science is rooted in logical positivism (the philosophical basis of the DBRCT and evidence-based medicine: the latter persistently down-grades practitioner experience and intuition in favour of a narrow definition of what constitutes evidence, a move that has been branded by some in the nursing profession as ‘micro-fascist’). Perhaps they could take time to read some Kant, Hume, Husserl, Russell, Whitehead, and the Post-Modernists, etc, and the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning. Probably too rich a diet for the maintainance of ill-informed gossip and snide comments.

    Comment No. 497439
    March 27 13:56
    Gavin, re medical trials only coming in mid-20th Century: quite so – yet a campaign similar to this current ‘debate’ on homeopathy was run successfully in America about a hundred years ago: as a result, homeopathy all but died out over there, while it flourished here (still is illegal in some states there). Some detractors may applaud this – but please note that the American anti-homeopathy campaign did not have randomized double placebo trials to parade, or indeed very little else – they just had a very good, concerted, PR-driven publicity machinery going that worked on a similar basis to a lot of the commentary on this website: abuse, emotive language, unfounded accusations and so-called science that of course now you too would find completely risible but at the time was cutting edge…
    Whoever it was who referred people to the Lancet ‘end of homeopathy’ article from 2005: please read Peter Fisher’s exposition of the actual metastudy the Lancet article was based on: that study most definitely did not stand up to scientific scrutiny itself (used highly questionable methodology, inconsistent protocol, misleading graphics etc). And did you know that this was pointed out with detailed illustrations by the Swiss Medical Homeopaths Association in an open letter – but the Lancet refused to publish the letter? These are doctors, the Lancet is supposed to be an unbiased, scientific publication – what do you think might have been going on there?
    Re Benveniste: very few homeopaths claim that ‘the memory of water’ is proven. Personally speaking, I certainly don’t go along with this theory. However, the way Benveniste’s work was demolished – anyone see the TV programme with Meister Randi & friends in Benveniste’s lab at the time? – was absolutely nothing to do with science: they set the guy up in an underhand way that was purely aimed at ridicule. This was not scientific enquiry, not peer review – it was an ugly publicity stunt. People who fly the flag of science as the bastion of reason surely should not engage in such acts?
    As for the reasons why potentisation/ultra-dilution works, I’ll say again: no this is not known. Yet, as stated before: much of medicine today uses drugs, uses techniques that are not understood – they are tested, found to be working, and applied, even though the means by which they work are either poorly understood, not understood at all and accepted as such, or based on theories that have not yet been proven. Just like homeopathy then. So what are we arguing about? The more I read the abusive, angry comments against homeopathy (and other complementary therapies) in threads like these, the more I wonder whether people are scared of it. But why? E.g. I have recently heard of a hospital that has banned the use of homoepathic remedies after childbirth on their wards – hey, if ‘there’s nothing in it’, if ‘it doesn’t work’, why stop those who wish to use it from doing so? They wouldn’t ban Vitamin C, would they – and that is a contested therapy form too (and can have side effects if overdosed, unlike homeopathy).
    To the person who cited cases (how many?) of children needing A&E after homeopathic treatment: It is sad that there is little point in telling you just how many thousands of cases of asthma, croup, bronchiolitis etc have been prevented from needing emergency treatment thanks to the right homeopathic medicine at the right time – I doubt you would give it any credit. But I know that homeopathic intervention in such acute crises has saved the NHS large amounts of money because people can, with the right remedy, improve so fast that A&E is unnecessary.
    You do not know why your examples needed A&E (nor do I) but you IMPLY that the homeopathic treatment caused the reaction. It is more likely that the treatment simply was ineffective in those cases. Because homeopathy has no side-effects, it either works (patient gets better) or there is no effect at all (patient gets worse as they would have anyway, or recovers on their own). This depends on the skill of the homeopath, and just like doctors, homeopaths don’t get it right ever single time. Of course a responsible homeopath will ensure that a sick child is sent to A&E if the treatment doens’t work fast enough.
    Please, all you people who are convinced that homeopathy is ‘gobbledegook’ (thank you, David Colquhoun, for this very reasoned, well-founded statement in utterly neutral language…) if you pride yourselves in your enquiring, scientifically switched-on minds, then be open enough to have a proper look: question the basis of double-blind placebo (scientists are arguing about this all the time, e.g. so many apparently ‘blind’ studies are not!), look into medical statistics, look into homeopathy properly before dismissing it as ‘superstition’ etc – the net is your oyster, and it’s possible to find out so much. Do it without prejudice, and don’t attack what you don’t know.

    Comment No. 497620
    March 27 15:07
    @filthymacnasty – your honesty is so refreshing. Of all the anti-homeopathy posters on this site, only two or three had things to say showed that they have any clear idea about science – yes, that’s you Gavin, and a couple of others somewhere in there. The rest ‘only do abuse’ as you say, but claim scientific justification.
    What’s wrong with your – very funny – little scene? Nothing – only it’s nothing to do with homeopathy. You see, that’s the thing with a lot of anti-homeopathy: people just haven’t looked into how it works, hear bits and pieces here and there, and jump to conclusions that simply do not reflect the reality. Makes for great entertainment (perform it at a pub night with your mates maybe?) but that’s no justification for dissing a whole profession without well-founded argument. Someone earlier linked homeopathy to the flat-earth theory: wearily I point out again that until the Renaissance, people were attacked (some actually burnt at the stake) for daring to suggest the world was round, and moved. Although observationally it was possible to see (Ancient Greeks knew it) the thinking model of the middle ages absolutely would not allow such ‘heresy’ and only improved technology + new thinking about 400 years ago changed this. 200 years ago, the first homeopaths were viciously attacked over daring to question the medicine of the day, which was based on 1500-year old theories. The homepaths observed action & reaction in their patients & treated accordingly, the medics followed ancient rules (which made people very sick – like mercury and lead) ‘because they always had’. Now, 200 years later, homeopathy is still attacked for the challenge it poses to the existing thought paradigms. And although much of mainstream medicine today is much improved, the majority of drugs for chronic conditions still make people rather ill, only now it’s called ‘side effects’, as if it was a negligible little inconvenience (e.g. steroids, anti-histamines, analgesics… to name but a few). Maybe it’ll take another 200 years before someone can show clearly why homeopathy works? Then you could write a funny little sketch about the 21st-C doctor who thought he could make his patients better by injecting gold into their joints…

    Comment No. 497837
    March 27 16:34
    Medgirl: you ask for statistics: how I wish non-medic homeopaths could collate their cases in such a way that I could provide you with that. They do not � it�s not the NHS, most work in single-person practice, statistics are not gathered. If there were such data, it is doubtful they would be widely accepted: if I tell you that I treated someone for anaphylactic shock a few days ago (violent reaction to nuts), and they got better within such a short space that the anti-histamine I had also recommended they take could not have had time to act yet, will you accept that at face value, on my say-so? If I gathered information on any emergencies they had from all the homeopaths on the professional register and presented it to you � would you accept that? I suspect it would take having a doctor present at every such consultation, observing and recording the emergency state, the administration of the homeopathic remedy, and the swift dispersal of dangerous symptoms � even then, people who are convinced that �it can�t work� will assume that the patient got better for other reasons and that the observing doctor was biased � heard it all, many times.
    You may find data that will satisfy you at the RLHH � they would not often get emergency cases (they used to have an A&E but not for decades now � maybe they still have some data from that?), but they will have access to research data from the NHS clinics and pilot projects that employ homeopaths, where statistical evidence of successful treatment for acutes and chronics should be available.
    I am interested in what you say about homeopathy in India: you saw hundreds die because of homeopathy? Millions are treated homeopathically in India, and as you say this is partly due to cost – policy is now to make homeopathy and ayurveda more widely available in rural districts where access to all medical care has so far been scanty, because both are cheaper and easier to administer than mainstream medicine, while being recognised as highly effective by the Indian government. This saves rather than takes lives. To take that on board, however, you would first have to accept that homeopathy is an effective form of medicine. Can you blame homeopathy if some Indian doctors (and the homeopaths there, as far as I know, are medically trained) have cultural constraints on properly examining their patients? Can you blame homeopathy if someone goes to the doctor (homeopathic or otherwise) so late that they are beyond help?
    As for the quality of individual practitioners: when you go to a doctor who gives you the wrong drugs/wrong dosage/misdiagnoses your condition (as happens all too often) do you then declare that �medicine doesn�t work�? No, you don�t: you say the doctor was wrong, and you go to someone else you trust will be better. It�s the same with homeopaths: not all of them are good at their work, and if one homeopath does not help as many patients as they should, then that does not devalue the whole of homeopathy, just as the existence of some incompetent doctors and surgeons does not devalue mainstream medicine.
    So, medgirl, if you are interested in statistics, do contact the RLHH, do contact the Society of Homeopaths, do contact the British Homeopathic Association � there is plenty of evidence around, though it is not widely available. You may not find statistics of �A&E Admissions Prevented�, but plenty of other useful data that demonstrate the efficacy of homeopathy in a wide range of conditions. The press prefer soundbites like �gobbledegook� and �superstition� – explaining the various ins and outs of homeopathic methodology is too complex for a normal media outlet. Hence the wide range of mis-information about it (cf my new friend �filthymacnasty� and his comic but got-wrong-end-of-stick sketches on how he thinks homeopathy works). Good luck with your research � any more questions, just ask.
    Bostjan: if you go back through the thread, you will find a number of detailed comments – some by myself, some by others – that answer most of your questions about the principles of homeopathy, what observations it is based on, how it was developed and more. There is also a lot of information out on the web – if you don’t concentrate only on the anti-homoepathy camp, you may find a lot of stuff that will surprise and possibly convince you.
    Cynicalsteve: I guess Copernicus was lucky he didn’t have you around to be cynical at the time… And Pasteur, he didn’t make many friends at first either – especially with doctors, who suddenly found themselves having to swiftly re-think their whole outlook on health and disease. People were very resistant to accepting this newfangled thing ‘germ theory’. Nuff said?

    Comment No. 498065
    March 27 18:24
    The reason why homeopathy is so successful is exactly because it has had so many “eureka experiments”. 200+ years of great and positive clinical experience. Hundreds of proper, controlled studies. Oh, it is so utterly boring that one has to keep repeating all this. How is it possible that scientist who never have studied homeopathy, have no in-depth knowledge of it and have never tried homeopathic remedies personally nor professionally, can describe homeopathy as implausible? Those who deny that homeopathy works says so because they deny that highly diluted substances can have a physiological effect. They don’t bother to find out the easily available facts about this issue: in-vitro research, laboratory research showing without a shred of doubt that high dilutions are effective. You avoid to find out these facts because it is against your almost religious beliefs. The question is: what is your religion? Big Pharma? The totally drugs-led side of conventional medicine? 2.6 million people harmed by conventional medicine practised in the NHS in 2006 alone, according to government statistics? Doctors practising at primary care level are far more open and realistic about homeopathy and other complementary medicine than you pseudo-scientist.
    Most of you who are shouting against homeopathy are doing so without having the slightest idea about the subject. Bullies shout because they are frightened, because they are weak, because they are wrong.
    Go and spend your pent-up frustrations from working the the media or some highly competitive research institution elsewhere, maybe in your own backyard: For example, in 2003 the vice-president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline quoted figures showing that most drugs don’t work for most people; with drugs for cancer and Alzheimers, for example, useful only in 30% of cases. Not to mention side-effects. Or what about the fact that most drugs prescribed on the NHS have never had a proper, placebo-controlled trial at all for the symptoms they are prescribed for? Or what about medical research being mainly paid for and controlled by big pharma? Lots to research about. Go and do something useful at last!

    Comment No. 498155
    March 27 19:23
    GBR
    Dear Medgirl, I’m impressed that you did check out one of my suggestions. There is lots more out there, if you care to look. I stand corrected on some of my assumptions about homeopathy in India – I have never been there, and my info about it comes largely from google alerts with news reports over there.
    Yes, if a homeopath does not send a patient to the doc under pressing circumstances – life threatening conditions, need for ops, diagnostics etc – then they are acting irresponsibly. Here in Britain, registered homeopaths are bound by a code of ethics that ensures this does not happen.
    As for the nut allergy reaction: one of the many problems besetting homeopathy in terms of proof is that it’s not possible to demonstrate what would have happened if no treatment had been given. I believe this patient would have needed hospital treatment if not treated, from the symptoms she had at the time – but I cannot prove this, because she improved so quickly. Any homeopath looking at this case, the symptoms, the remedy given, the time frame involved, would know how/why this remedy prevented an aggravation of the condition. Anyone who does not accept or does not know about homeopathic treatment will assume that the patient’s condition was not as severe or dangerous as claimed/stopped for some other reason. Fair do’s – I cannot and will not make unsubstantiated claims. That’s what I mean about providing statistics: in the present climate, figures on emergency treatment put together by homeopaths without medical corroboration would not be acceptable as ‘proof’. I hasten to add that I was monitoring the progress of remedy reaction (every 10 minutes) and was ready to recommended transfer to hospital at the first sign of worsening condition.
    Along with many colleagues, I do not diss medical science per se: it’s a godsend, a lifesaver. Yet homeoapthy is an extremely efficient form of medicine that can be considerably more effective than mainstream treatment in many conditions if applied correctly. In an ideal world, medics and homeopaths would cooperate for the benefit of their patients. Bickering doesn’t improve anyone’s health.
    At present, homeoapthy can only be shown to work through medical trials. I disagree with those who say it is invalidated because the physical reasons why potentized medicines work cannot be demonstrated. As stated before: working homeopathically primarily means working with similars (what causes also cures) – you can (and certain schools of homeopaths do) treat with material doses. This is not as effective, but does work (see example Coffee earlier in thread). So the argument that the whole therapy is invalidated because potentisation is inexplicable makes no sense.
    Most of the studies that ‘showed no benefit compared with placebo’ were done without the similarity principle: e.g. giving one remedy only to a group of hayfever sufferers, and placebo to a control group. There are several dozen possible homeopathic medicines for hayfever, the basis of the treatment is individualisation – so naturally, such studies show no benefit. Individualised studies do exist, and they show very clear benefits – but they tend to be small (partly because of funding problems). Such work is also often ignored. A month or so after the big Lancet hoo-ha happened in 2005, the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital published a large study showing massive benefits in a range of conditions on thousands of patients. There was very little reporting on this, while the Lancet article was tramped all around the media (like the David Colquhoun piece that triggered this thread). And I’ll say it just once more because it’s so remarkable that a respected organ like the Lancet would act like this: the balanced, reasoned response by the Swiss Medical Homeopaths’ Association to the study and the article was refused publication in September 2005.
    It may interest you that Hahnemann himself postulated the likelihood that invisible infectious organisms were involved in disease processes. This was a fairly novel idea at the time, and predates Pasteur & Koch by a hundred years. Of course, at the time there were no means to prove that idea either.
    Meanwhile, what homeopathy needs is not vilification but funding for thorough research.

    Comment No. 498265
    March 27 20:43
    @cynicalsteve: yes, by the time Copernicus published, he had evidence � but he still prevaricated for years before daring to go public because he thought he�d be vilified, as had happened to some of his predecessors. Telescopes were cutting edge technology at the time, and �looking into the heavens� was considered a challenge to god himself by some. But the accepted model of the world was shifting at the time: one of the main problems with acceptance of a heliocentric model was that all through the middle ages the idea ruled that the (flat) earth was the centre of all things, with planets, stars, god and angels etc arranged in layered hemispheres above. This reflected hierarchical rule on earth and meant that everyone �knew their place�. Challenging this was dangerous, but by the 17th Century, big shifts were beginning to happen in societal certainties too (cf Cromwell etc � commoners beheading a king?). Now look again at the accepted physics of our times, and some of the cutting edge work that is being done at it�s farther reaches. You don�t hear too much about it, because it�s � dangerous, challenging, scary… we might just have to accept that the world is not what we always thought. Schroedinger�s Cat, be he alive or be he dead, is smirking in his little box.
    No, Steve, I am not claiming that the answer to the homeopathic question will be found any time soon somewhere in the quantum realm. It might � it might not. I have seen a variety of attempts to explain the information transfer from source substance to carrier material (lactose, water, alcohol). None of them have yet impressed me as plausible. However, I know for sure there is much active research by mainstream scientists which indicates that the universe (it�s physics and chemistry) as we know it may be quite a different place from the one we feel so certain about, and that the very floor under your feet may not be quite how you think it is. By the way, molecules were only demonstrated as �real� in the 1910s � and this discovery was also contested by many serious scientists for some years. Be uncertain. Be doubtful. Question everything � homeopathy too. I do. I do NOT dismiss anything out of hand simply because the physics I learnt at school makes it seem implausible.
    You may have noticed in all the arguments to and fro that neither the chat room angry-people like yourself nor eminent scientists have been able to provide proof positive that homeopathy does not work. If they ever do, then I will bow my head in shame and admit that I was completely wrong all along, and that I together with all my colleagues and our patients was sadly deluded. Until then, though, I will assume that what homeopathy presents is an as-yet-unexplained, efficacious treatment method for a wide variety of medical conditions that helps millions.

    Comment No. 498318
    March 27 21:26
    GBR
    God, you really are immature. Try to make some puns on Hahnemann’s writings. But be careful, don’t read them, because you might end up like Hering, who, as a brilliant young doctor, was asked by his mentor to investigate the ‘fraudulant claims’ Hahnemann made for homeopathy, and then ended up to become not only a friend of Hahnemann’s but also one of the most prominent homeopaths. Well, actually, read Hahnemann and report his faults. Please, read:
    ‘Examination of the sources of the common materia medica’, and tell us where it falls short of scientific rigour.
    What about his essay ‘On the value of speculative systems of medicine’. Before you jump to any premature conclusiosn, as you like to do, he is against ‘speculative systems’. He is against any metaphysical musings.
    Read ‘The Medical Observer’, and tell me whether you think modern medicine has caught up.
    Read ‘Aesculapius in the Balance’, and comment whether this fits in with modern medical thinking or not.
    Research some homeopathic history and see who really introduced phase 1 of medical trials.
    Do some research on epidemic diseases. How can you explain that hoemopathy was so successful?
    But I am sure, you have read all of these, because you pass judgment so confidently.
    Read Hahnemann on how to prevent infectious diseases diseases through hygienic measures.
    Read him on vaccination.
    Read him on microbes (and other, at the time, invisible things, which might cause infection. Yes, he was laughed at).
    But I am sure you know all that, because as scientists you do base your judgments not on prejudice, but on research and critical examination.
    And above all, never forget that as medical practitioners, you do serve your patients, not your beloved opinions.

    Comment No. 498450
    March 27 23:30
    @cynicalsteve: “er, we have” [provided proof positive that homeopathy does not work] – aq: oh no you haven’t – cs: oh yes we have – aq: oh no you haven’t…
    Do tell me then, precisely what/where that proof is? It CAN be demonstrated that proof through physics or chemistry of a medicinally effective change in a potentized medium is currently not measurable. It has NOT been demonstrated by anyone that providing such evidence would be impossible. There are only vehemently stated assumptions that this is so. That’s not science.
    As for the medical trials of remedies, I refer you to earlier sections of this thread, where aspects of this were discussed.
    Seriously, oh cynical one: won’t you have a look at the (ill)logic of the ‘it can’t work’ argument? I give up… but I won’t give in. Have a nice evening.

    Comment No. 498482
    March 28 0:20
    I will not try to convince those of you so vehemently against homeopathy that it works, as I know that would be a waste a time. Instead, I would like to point out some serious flaws in the arguments presented so far:
    Agog � On the one hand you say that homeopathy is no more than placebo, whilst on the other hand you mention a woman who was treated homeopathically and ended up in an ambulance: �Treatment for the perceived effects of dental amalgam with homeopathetic mercury has happened to one I know, with serious effect. Some things are just lethal in the smallest amounts and however many times shaken.� So which is it to be? Placebo or lethal? Good job you�re not a barrister or the jury would be really confused. Your argument may hold more water (yes we can make jokes too!!) if you actually knew what it was yourself.
    RogerINtheUSA � It is interesting that you compare homeopathy degrees to those in flat earth studies. The whole world did once �know� the Earth was flat until the likes of Pythagoras and others came along and eventually changed everyone�s previous �knowledge�.
    WoollyMindedLiberal � hotchilli said: �Wow! It never ceases to amaze me how people with such little knowledge or experience of homeopathy can have such strong and vitriolic opinions! Do they have shares in the pharmacuetical industry?� You responded: �Actually it probably because they have some basic understanding of science and reasoning. What amazes me is that people with so little knowledge or experience of science, medicine or even spelling imagine their uninformed and illiterate wittering is worth taking seriously!� Simply knowing about one thing does not mean you know about something else. I am sure you have extensive knowledge of allopathic medicine, but that does not make you an expert in homeopathy. From what I have read, I don�t believe that anyone presenting arguments in favour of homeopathy has claimed to be an allopathic expert.
    All of the above goes to show that there are many prejudices and petty arguments when it comes to the subject of homeopathy. Scientific and medical breakthroughs can only occur through keeping an open mind and having the courage to change the status quo. Surely everyone wants those breakthroughs, whatever they may prove to be, and more research into homeopathic medicine is an essential part of this.

    Comment No. 499511
    March 28 15:31
    @superburger: “Homeopaths’ telling people traveling to malarial regions of Africa to take only homeopathic ‘remedies'”
    You’re referring to the ‘sting’ (their own words) last year by an organisation called Sense About Science (SAS). Their mole went to 10 London Homeoapths and recorded them. As you can imagine, the outcome caused quite a stir among homeopaths. I have read the transcripts, and here are my comments:
    – some of the homeopaths did indeed ommit giving some essential information and made comments that sounded dangerously like suggesting that no other precaution would be necessary. I would agree that some acted irresponsibly.
    – a number of consultations were over-the-counter contacts at pharmacies, very brief and superficial – those were the examples where I agree that more responsible input from the adviser (homeopath? or just counter person?) could have been expected.
    – a number of contacts were phone enquiries, some even briefer than the counter-encounters. Several of the homeopaths in question made it clear that without a proper consultation they would not really be able to help. The ‘they gave wrong advice’ conclusions there were based around the mole fishing for specific responses & then using them in isolation. They were not given the opportunity to take medical history/give more advice in an appropriate consultation.
    – the mole worked with unfair methods: she was not making an open enquiry, she was seeking damning information. She kept pressing for confirmation with statement-questions like ‘so this will definitely stop me from getting malaria then? ‘, repeated several times. Where she could not get the sort of response she wanted, she nonetheless presented the outcome in the interview as negative (e.g. ‘not asked for medical history’ a.o.)
    – at least one of the ‘homeopaths’ worked with methods that don’t sound homeoapthic to me – one issue with programmes like this is that the investigator often does not know how to (or care how to) distinguish between categories of practitioner.
    – I could go on – but have a look at the transcripts for yourselves: www.badscience.net/?p=291
    and please note, who is the first sponsor listed on SAS’s website? Elsevier – publisher of the Lancet a.o. (see Peter Fisher’s comments on the Lancet 2005 article ‘the end of homeopathy, cited earlier in thread). Unbiased science? I don’t think so.
    – try applying standards of objective scientific enquiry to the SAS sting. Do the mole’s methods seem particularly scientific to you? Do her methods and outlook influence the outcome and presentation of the sting?
    – you might also just wonder, in passing, what sort of time and advice a normal GP would give to this sort of enquiry (given the max 10 minutes per patient they are allowed, including taking health history, giving advice and choosing the best medicine…). Consulting a specialised travel clinic is something quite different; using a number of average GPs as comparison group would have possibly given a fairer picture of standards of advice.

    Comment No. 499837
    March 28 17:34
    Emma100:
    “Also congrats on kicking your asthma, but have you thought about the fact that about 70% of adults grow out of it naturally? Could ithave been that, not the treatment?”
    Of course when anyone goes to see a healthcare practitioner (orthodox or alternative) with an illness and then recovers from that illness, there is always a possibility that they would have recovered anyway (albeit more likely in acute than chronic complaints). Strangely though, this question tends not to be asked when someone recovers after going to the doctor. Turning the question around for a minute, have you thought that it could have been the treatment, not that I grew out of it?
    To give a little more background to my particular case, I developed asthma in adulthood and was assured (??) by my GP that I had a lifetime of medication ahead of me. Not pleased with this situation, I eventually consulted a homeopath for several months without success, then switched to a different homeopath and the asthma was cleared in two months. I am by no means making any sweeping statements about homeopathy or homeopaths as a whole, just reporting my experience.
    Anecdotal I know, but there are thousands of similar cases, and we have a choice here – we can either hold our hands over our ears or be brave enough to explore any avenues that could lead to improved patient care.

  23. Dr Aust said,

    March 29, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    All of the above, although they are insisting it is evidence, is actually a further tribute to the power of belief.

    If you believe (pace Fox Mulder), you will find “evidence” to support your belief – you just cherry-pick the trials or studies that say homeopathy works better than a placebo, and ignore all the ones – and the meta-analyses – that say it doesn’t.

    To recap again:

    – trials conducted by homeopaths, and with no blinding, on people who want to believe in real effects of homeopathic remedies, do regularly claim to show benefits above placebo.

    – trials of homeopathy run by non-homeopaths (e.g. Edzard Ernst), with a design as close to randomized placebo-controlled as can be contrived, usually show no benefit beyond placebo.

    Since this latter is the result from the less human-biased assessments,, AND is the result which does NOT require one to throw the whole of physical chemistry out of the window, it works for me. Homeopathic potions are a placebo, and homeopathy is a kind of “stealth psychotherapy” built around a structured, though barking mad, belief system – thus akin to religion, as David Colquhoun says.

    But you’ll never get people who believe in mystic “beyond the laws of nature”-ism to accept this. The popularity of religion in the 21st century, let alone homeopathy, shows just how hard it is for people to really accept that “there’s nothing out there”.

  24. alwaysquestion said,

    March 29, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    “the simple questions that people really want to know the answers to (like what should I eat, or why can’t you cure my cold) are mostly very hard to answer, LARGELY BECAUSE OF THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF USING PROPER RANDOMSIATION. This is not helped by the tendency of scientists to exaggerate the importance of their results.”

    A quote from yet another mad peddler of miracle cures? No – this is your very own David Colqhoun, in an interiew. He said some other interesting things that rather undermine the argument that everything of value and with a basis in reality can and must be providing physically measurable data defined by by scientists before anyone can take it seriously – by putting in question scientific method and particularly the humans engaged therein. (www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/issues/employability/beagleinterviews5.htm)

    Another point: as far as I am aware, Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection is still accepted as such – a theory, with no definitive proof. No, I am not a creationist – I think Darwin makes an utterly convincing case, and along with most of the modern world I accept it as ‘fact’. But proof there is none, only good evidence. Now tell me why another theory that is not proven but where there is rather a lot of evidence that there is a sound basis for further investigation should be not just dismissed, but actively attacked and vilified.

    As you call yourself ‘Doctor Aust’, you presumably have the wherewithall to have a proper look at the 2005 metastudy (which presumably is the one you make reference to). Do analyse it with the critiques against it in mind, and then tell me again whether it demonstrates only placebo effect. You may also consider later studies (e.g ADD/ADHD in Switzerland 2005, and Bristol Homeopathic Hospital 2005 – various conditions, 3500 subjects).

  25. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 29, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    Or maybe “Why the hell did you rip off a huge amount of text from another web site and shove it into this one.”

  26. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 29, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    mm, i agree, it’s incredibly rude.

    anyway, “alwaysquestion”: please can you tell us why it is not possible to randomise in a trial of homeopathy?

  27. alwaysquestion said,

    March 30, 2007 at 12:03 am

    I appreciate you taking the time to ask, Ben. “It is not possible” is a big statement – please take another look at the evidence.

    First let me apologise for the fact that all the explain-homeopathy commentary is so wordcount-heavy: it is very difficult to explain something perceived as weird/iexplicable in terms that the perceiver will take on board sufficiently to look at the issue from within their own viewpoint yet understand (if not necessarily agree with) the paradigm presented, so that they have a chance to weigh up the information properly and make up their own mind. There is so much lack of and mis-information about what ‘homeopathy’ is and how it works that those gaps have to be filled in first. I promise it’s worth the time.

    In terms of questionability of double blind randomised placebo controlled trials from the mainstream perspective, can I refer you a) to DC’s comment (above) on randomised trials; b) the general debate within science on the difficulties in keeping such trials truly objective and thus valid – even when there is just one substance being tested, and without the need to individualise.

    The chain of responses above, imported from the Guardian thread for your entertainment and thought stimulation, contain numerous a)(attempts at) explaining the factors affecting individualisation, and the reasons why without such individualisation the mere use of potentized remedies is not homeoapthic as such, b) examples of attempts to overcome those complicating factors, some to my eyes successful & and showing definite above-placebo results (I do approach any trials like this with skepticism myself precisely because I understand the factors necessary to make such a trial properly homeopathic and how this can affect trial protocol). In addition, you will find research material that stands up to scientific scrutiny through the RLHH & the various homeoapthic organisations. I’d also be happy to get more details for you, if you prefer.

    I’ll ask you again, in the light of this and the info in the thread I’ve copied in: if scientists themselves question the value of this ‘gold standard’, if so many such trials in the mainstream fall short of required standards, if so much of mainstream medicine is actually not based on such trials – why is homeopathy singled out for attack in the current climate?

    I’ve looked at some of the material on DC’s site – it’s so full of emotive polemic, fact-twisting, distortion… I find it hard to believe that anyone who questions homeopathy but brings a clear eye to all things scientific rather than looking to confirm their pre-existing opinion would recommend or applaud such wholesale ‘whooped-them-again’ stuff. E.g. in no way can it be said that Peter Fisher, in the interview DC cites ‘agrees’ with him that ‘homeopathy doesn’t work’. He concedes that so far there is no proof most scientists would accept that the remedies are medicinally effective, and he is careful to make that distinction. He also refers to the need for more research.

    So here’s hoping that someone, somewhere realises that there is enough value to be found in properly investigating homeopathy, so that instead of campaiging against funding, research is encouraged and supported – without more research, nothing will change in this polarised opinion-batting, one way or another.

  28. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 30, 2007 at 12:13 am

    In terms of questionability of double blind randomised placebo controlled trials from the mainstream perspective, can I refer you a) to DC’s comment (above) on randomised trials; b) the general debate within science on the difficulties in keeping such trials truly objective and thus valid – even when there is just one substance being tested, and without the need to individualise.

    “alwaysquestion”

    you have asked us to look at the issue again, and we are very happy to do so.

    you have made a very clear claim, that is the core of your argument: that randomisation in trials of homeopathy is not appropriate. david colquhoun, i can guarantee you, regardless or your invocation of his name, would not endorse this claim of yours.

    it’s a claim that’s frequently made by homeopathy fans.

    please, tell us why randomisation is not appropriate in a homeopathy trial, without getting distracted.

  29. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 30, 2007 at 12:21 am

    its fine.

    i for one am not going to read 8,500 words of forum comments about homeopathy, but i am extremely familiar with the arguments on both sides.

    now: please can you tell us why it is not possible to randomise in a trial of homeopathy?

  30. alwaysquestion said,

    March 30, 2007 at 1:42 am

    “please, tell us why randomisation is not appropriate in a homeopathy trial, without getting distracted”

    Ok, I’ll try again. Although it’s been already covered in some detail above. I’ll try and be brief…

    It is not completely impossible to apply randomisation to homeopathy trials, just more difficult and complex than in standard medicine, and it is harder to show complete objectivity because of the necessary involvement of a human prescriber. By now, a number of studies are available that fulfil the double-blind requirement in terms of protocol yet treat each patient individually (examples above). That leaves the issue of the prescriber – to work homeopathically, someone has to make a judgment in the prescription process: giving only one homeoapthic medicine to a given number of people for the ailment being trialled is not homeopathic. To accept the value of a trial involving homeopathic treatment, even if double-blind etc, requires accepting that the homeopath(s) involved in the treatment of individual volunteers are working to an agreed standard of prescription. And where the homoepathic outlook might accept that this condition is fulfilled (not easy in the first place, for various reasons), the very fact that a human being has to make a decision about which patient gets which remedy leaves room for doubt: is the prescription really the exact simillimum? If one looks from a point of view of doubting the veracity of the simillimum principle in the first place, any trial protocol may be regarded as potentially flawed – and the outcome declared questionable.

    ‘Homeoapthy’ means ‘(a)like suffering’ – treatment is based on a series of principles which Hahnemann formulated from observation (please note that the examples given are much simplified):
    – a medicinally active substance will cause a symptom in a healthy person – e.g. I’m drinking coffee right now to keep alert.
    – it will neutralise such a symptom in an illness – e.g. someone sleepless will improve their sleep from coffee
    – pathology is complex: a patient presents with a range of symptoms, some of which are part of the disease, some of which are individual – characteristic to that person.
    – that is why for any given illness, different patients may require different substances – e.g. of two sleepless people, one may have attendant symptoms that correspond to effects of coffee (like rapid heart beat), the second may have quite different additional symptoms and thus need a different remedy. This relates to causation: the patient that responds to coffee will be sleepless because of anxiety or overexcitement, and a medicine that does not cover those symptoms would not help them.
    – if a remedy is prescribed (whether potentized or not) for a specific condition rather than the patient, ie ignoring attendant symptoms that are characteristic to the patient rather than the disease, that is not homeopathic. This is why trials using such methods (rhus toxicodendron in arthritis was one typical example) will not show results ‘better than placebo': for some of the patients involved, rhus-t would have been the right remedy, the others would have required one or another of the various arthritis remedies available.
    – individualisation according to symptoms is difficult when the symptoms the patient would normally present with have been altered by prior medical treatment. Organs removed, long-standing medication etc all alter what the patient presents with. As some of the symptoms that then present are not the patients own any more, the homeopath has to distinguish what is ‘original’ (characteristic to the disease process in that person) and what is a result of prior treatment – the homeopathic treatment becomes more complex. In such cases, it may take months or sometimes years before results are clearly seen. Seemingly negative results of trials are can be due to the trial being too short.
    – trials could be conducted that fulfil stringent criteria more fully, over longer timeframes etc – but the funding obstacle is major in homeopathy. Many trials are from the outset compromises on what should happen against what is possible within the financial restrictions. There are no homeopathic pharmaceutical companies that could fund large-scale research. Boiron and the very few similar companies, who are industrial-size producers though minute compared to the pharma giants produce homeopathic remedies, but they also produce all sorts of other products that are not homeopathic; research they fund tends to go to those more lucrative over-the-counter products. Hence funding for serious homeoathic research has to come from public money or from voluntary bodies – and even for mainstream medical research, such funds are barely adequate, as you know. So to find the money for a sufficient number of sufficiently high-quality studies is difficult – and getting ever harder in the current climate.

    I could say more, but really, I need some sleep (homeopathy can not be used to override the body’s natural rythms and needs – healthy physical reactions are not ‘symptoms’). I hope I have covered the salient points and answered your question to a degree that helps you to see the specific difficulties besetting the double-blind placebo model in this context. Maybe you now are encouraged to have a fresh look at those trials that have followed the double-blind protocol.

  31. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 30, 2007 at 2:38 am

    very long.

    i think you misunderstand what a trial involves and have become confused.

    here is how you do a randomised placebo controlled trial on homeopathy:

    1. patient-participants are recruited into the trial.

    2. they are randomly assigned to the treatment group or the placebo group.

    3. patient-participants don’t know what group they’re in, neither do the treating homeopaths.

    4. patient-participants are seen as usual, the homeopath assesses them, as usual, gives them their prescription, as usual, all as individualised as the homeopath wants it to be, there is no problem with that at all.

    5. patient-participants go with their prescription to the dispensary to collect their pills. if they are in the treatment group, they get their homeopathy sugar pills as usual. if they are in the placebo group, their individualised prescription is switched at the last minute, without their knowledge, for some indistinguishable pills that have not been homeopathically prepared, they are simply “blank sugar pills” (or “placebo” to be more accurate).

    6. then, however much later you want to do it, whatever outcome you are measuring (pain, resolution of cold symptoms, anything) is measured, and the groups are compared.

    this is a randomised placebo controlled trial of homeopathy

    now:

    what problem do you have with randomisation in this?

  32. alwaysquestion said,

    March 30, 2007 at 7:32 am

    I don’t have a problem with this. A number of high-quality trials conducted like this exist. I was trying to show how, even when conducted in the way described, such trials are criticised and dismissed, and on what grounds. This is what happened, for example, in the case of a high proportion of the studies assessed for and excluded from the 2005 metastudy – cf Dr Fisher’s exposition on this.

    (I won’t be able to look in here again for a couple of days now, but I’m very happy to continue discussing this later. Thank you for engaging with this topic)

  33. alwaysquestion said,

    March 30, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Ben & everyone – just one more question before I take a break from this: I’ve done my best to respond to your incisive & reasonable questioning, and I’d really appreciate it if you might be able to give some feedback on the points I made

    – re the fundamental issues on double-blind etc, inc DC’s quote (“the simple questions [...]are mostly very hard to answer, largely because of the impossibility of using proper randomisation” which I took to mean ‘proper randomisation [in a wide variety of relevant scenarios outside a limited range of relatively straightforward medical trials]‘ – for source see above)

    – re the fact that most medicine practiced in this country today is not based on ‘gold standard’ medical trials or even complete understanding of underlying physiology, and how you off-set that against the demand for proof demanded of homeopathy

    – re the impression one gets that homeopathy is being singled out as ‘implausible ergo impossible’, compared to other CAMs that seem to me to have no more and often less evidence going for them.

    – re the acceptance of some unproven theories by science in contrast to other unproven theories.

    – you say “i am extremely familiar with the arguments on both sides”: it might be worth your while to double-check whether your information on homeopathy might have gaps that could affect your interpretation of evidence – for example, the oft-cited metastudy gave most weight to a number of larger-scale trials that it included as ‘homeopathic’ but that were in fact isopathic – that is, using not previously tested (‘proved’) medicines prescribed on symptoms, but giving potentised disease product for the disease in question, without prior proving or individualisation in prescribing. And should you consider methods such as ‘vega-testing’ as part of homeopathy, that might also influence your views: these methods and others like them (whatever their possible therapeutic value – I am not expressing an opinion on this) are most emphatically not homeopathic in any way, even if some homeopathically-trained practitioners use them, and should not be included in any realistic assessment of efficacy in homepathic practice.

    Again, if you would like more information on any aspect of homeopathy, I’ll be glad to provide what I can (not before next week).

  34. Martin said,

    March 30, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    Alwaysquestion,

    I think that it is possible that you have misunderstood what a scientist means by “theory”. The definition in use in the general population is a speculative idea (as in, ‘a pet theory’). To a scientist, this is a hypothesis.

    To a scientist, the word theory means an idea or system of ideas supporting a hypothesis which has been tested and found not to fail. A scientist may claim that a theory has been ‘proven’, but he is probably talking to a layman who wouldn’t understand the semantics of the word. Data can be a fact, but theories are never treated as facts, simply because they are usually being updated, tweaked, etc.

    You mentioned Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection as an example and said that there was no proof. Well, there is certainly good evidence and no proof that disproves the theory. It could be taken to be a ‘proved’ theory, although the theory itself has evolved significantly since Darwin’s first publication.

    Homeopathy is a hypothesis which has been tested repeatedly. Some trials (mainly those conducted by believers) have found homeopathy to be a wonderful system which can cure everything. Other trials, conducted to evidence-based medicinal standards, have found that homeopathy is no more effective that a placebo.

    Homeopathy still continues to be believed in and practiced in Europe and India. Wikipedia states that nearly a third of French and Dutch use homeopathy, and a sixth of Britons. Oddly, though, only 6% of Belgians use it. It also appears not to have caught on in America (1.7%).

  35. tashtego said,

    March 30, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Hi, below please find a summary of a trial carried out in Switzerland by Dr Heiner Frei, combining individualised homeopathy with DBCRT.
    Best wishes
    Tashtego

    Summary of ADD/ADHD trial in Switzerland

    1. Trial design:
    In the first phase all children received individual homeopathic treatment (screening phase). Those who experienced a (pre-defined) amelioration of their symptoms could take part in the randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind cross-over study.
    There were two arms to the double-blind part of the study:
    a) Children received verum for 6 weeks, followed by placebo for 6 weeks
    b) Children received placebo for 6 weeks, then verum for 6 weeks.
    After that both groups received verum for another 6 weeks (not blind)
    a) VPV
    b) PVV

    2. Criteria for including participants:
    Children in the age range between 6 and 16, where ADD/ADHD was confirmed according to DSM-IV criteria and the necessity to treat.
    Absence of any other chronic physical, neurological or mental diseases.
    Children were examined in the Department of neurology and neuro-psychology at the university clinic Bern (Switzerland) in order to confirm diagnosis of ADD/ADHD.
    In order to take part in the double-blind trial the children had to achieve an improvement of the initial CGI (Connors Global Index) of at least 50% in the screening phase.

    3. Therapeutic intervention:
    Screening-phase: Each child received individual homeopathic treatment according to the guidelines of Hahnemann and Boenninghausen with daily Q-potencies. Once the right remedy was found the child was transferred to the university clinic for the cross-over phase of the trial.

    4. Results:
    Total amount of children: 140.
    Of those 83 entered the screening-phase.
    70 achieved the criteria for inclusion in the cross-over study. 62 took part in this.
    Children had an average CGI score of 19 (range 15-25), after screening phase the average score was 8 (range 4-15). The average time to reach this score was 5.1 months.
    The following remedies were used in potencies of Q3 to Q42 (the Q potencies were used in steps of thre, e.g. Q3, Q9, Q12, Q15, etc.), frequency is given in brackets.
    Calc Carb (15); Sulfur (8), Chamomilla (5); Lycopodium (5); Silica (5); Hepar Sulph. (4); Nux Vom (4); China (3); Ignatia (3); Merc Sol (3); Capsicum (1); Caust. (1); Hyos. (1); Phos (1); Phos.ac. (1); Sepia (1); Staph. (1).
    During screening phase highly significant improvements could be seen in the ability to recognise visual details; to divide attention and in impulsivity. At beginning of cross-over phase CGI score: 8
    Cross-over phase 1: After 6 weeks CGI score for arm a) 12 (verum), for arm b) 13 (placebo)
    End of cross-over phase 2: a) CGI 12 (placebo), b) CGI 9 (verum).
    After further 6 weeks of open treatment with verum, both CGI scores went down to the score before cross-over phase started: 8.
    After 14 weeks of treatment (verum) the Connors Parents’ Rating Scale (CPRS) still showed significant improvement: CGI 10 ( a little higher than after cross-over phase, possibly due to reduced compliance with the treatment).
    After 19 months of open treatment (verum): CGI score 7.

  36. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 30, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    engaging with this was clearly a complete waste of time. worth doing every now and then though, just in case.

  37. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 30, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    tashtego

    i’ve read the frei ADH study already.

    it gave a statistically significant result, but it was not clinically significant, it was a minuscule benefit.

    is that one trial supposed to overturn everything we know about homeopathy from meta-analyses?

    just because you can pull one mediocre marginally positiv trial out of the hundreds that have been done, that means nothing, nothing, and the fact that you clearly don’t understand this goes to show how poor homeopath education is.

  38. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 30, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    i do apologise, i just saw a copied and pasted abstract and my heart sank.

    nobody is doubting that individualised treatment can be tested in a trial and i’m glad you agree.

    are you our first sane homeopath visitor?

  39. Robert Carnegie said,

    March 30, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    A few of the comments could have been better made like this. “I did see an article online about the latest research in Czechoslovakia that makes a strong scientific case for homeopathy.
    Here – www.ilovewatertoomuch.com/news/theyllneverbelievethis.htm

  40. Dr Aust said,

    March 30, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    I’m with Ben here. The Swiss work is among the most sensible of the attempts by homeopaths to test homeopathy in a proper trial, but one mildly pro-homeopathy result hardly trumps all the negatives

    NB The same team have also published previous versions of similar studies, notably here:

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?itool=abstractplus&db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=abstractplus&list_uids=16047154

    One could point out that they are using a group of children who (by the time they switch their “individualised potentized etc homeo-remedy” for a placebo) are already well into “therapeutic process effect” territory (i.e. regular meetings with a concerned helpful therapist and lots of support and attention has already produced marked effects). And the symptoms are things that are notoriously hard to rate objectively… And the effects ascribed to the remedy are small compared to the large effect of all the therapeutic extra attention…

    And so on.

    Plus…one can find somewhat similiar studies in the literature reaching opposite conclusions: see e.g.

    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16296913

    Anyway, the apparent small but significant effect in the Frei study does not prove the many much worse “positive” trials conducted by homeopaths were right. And it does not prove the many negative trials done by mainstream people were wrong.

    Untangling what can be relied on, and to what extent, is of course what meta-analysis and systematic reviews are for. Which is why, as I’ve said before, the guys who write them are the real academic ninja types.

    (By the way, at the risk of embarrassing him terribly, it bears saying – because he would never say it himself – that David Colquhoun is the full scientific equlvalent of a sensei, well beyond a mere ninja. Think Yoda with a pipe. If DC chooses to use invective and sarcasm when dealing with the Alties I’m with him all the way. My understanding is that he does this because after a certain amount of years reasoning fruitlessly with deluded believers he has come to believe that debunking – and calling nonsense “nonsense” – is the only rational response.)

    Another thing – I don’t think it is “prejudicial” to point out that the authors of the Frei & coworkers study (studies) come from the “Swiss Association of Homeopathic Physicians” , so I take them to be, as it were, Swiss equivalents of Peter Fisher (columns passim, and see below).

    There is an obvious issue in this “provenance”, in the same way as we recognise that PUBLISHED drug company-funded trials of their own tablets rarely if ever report the tablets not to work (i.e. negative results are less likeiy to get published). This doesn’t invalidate the Frei et al studies, but the existence of these kind of biases is a statistical fact.

    In the same vein, several of the Frei studies are published in the journal Homeopathy, which is published by…. the Faculty of Homeopathy.

    www.trusthomeopathy.org/faculty/fac_over.html

    (The study I posted the link to at the top is notable for being published in a more mainstream journal, Eur J Paediatrics)

    Homeopathy’s editor-in chief is the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital’s own Peter Fisher (remember him) and the editorial board of three (or four including him) contains two other medical homeopaths:

    www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaleditorialboard.cws_home/623042/editorialboard

    ..although the advisory board also includes Edzard Ernst. It seems to be a journal for proper healthcare types who practise or investigate homeopathy.

    I would be interested to hear what the ratio is of positive to negative outcomes for homeopathy is in the papers the journal publishes, if anyone with access is really bored over Easter.

  41. Dr Aust said,

    April 1, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Michael Power wrote

    “…no-one seems to be interested in try to explain why so many people need antiscience. Practitioners of bad science such as homeopathy and the diploma mills have an obvious economic incentive. But, what are the incentives for the consumers?”

    Good question, Michael, but not one that really lends itself to a scientific answer…
    This is what I was trying to allude to when I wrote:

    “You’ll never get people who believe in mystic “beyond the laws of nature”-ism to accept [that things like homeopathy can't work]. The popularity of religion in the 21st century, let alone homeopathy, shows just how hard it is for people to really accept that “there’s nothing out there”.

    My personal view (supported by no science, I admit) is that the complex nature of humans, and our consciousness of self, makes it very very difficult for us to believe that “we” are just the products of innumerable microscopic reactions that can ultimately be described by science and equations . “There must be more to it “. So the sheer complexity of the human machine predisposes us to believe in things like a soul, consciousness beyond the physical, life beyond death etc etc. As with much else in Alt beliefery, INSTINCT tells us these things must have something to them.

    Rationalism, the Enlightenment, whatever, tells us that there isn’t.

    The mystic view of the world is a rather comforting one, of course. Any doctor will tell you that religious people often find it easier to accept dreadful events than the non-religious. In contrast, science is telling us that we are, at a physical level, explicable. And that that must ultimately explain all the rest. And therefore that when we are dead, that’s it.

    Some people, like Richard Dawkins, can find “wonder” and a sense of where they belong in this “only science” viewpoint. Many other find it rather hard, even when they accept it on an intellectual level.

    So I see the belief in mystic-ness – including alt therapy – as one syndrome of a general “instinct” to believe in things beyond the explicable. Historically this has often been shaped into religious belief. And even when religious belief has receded the vestigial leaning to believe in mystic things persists.

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