The end of homeopathy?

November 16th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 476 Comments »

Time after time, properly conducted scientific studies have proved that homeopathic remedies work no better than simple placebos. So why do so many sensible people swear by them? And why do homeopaths believe they are victims of a smear campaign? Ben Goldacre follows a trail of fudged statistics, bogus surveys and widespread self-deception.

Ben Goldacre
The Guardian
Friday November 16 2007

There are some aspects of quackery that are harmless – childish even – and there are some that are very serious indeed. On Tuesday, to my great delight, the author Jeanette Winterson launched a scientific defence of homeopathy in these pages. She used words such as “nano” meaninglessly, she suggested that there is a role for homeopathy in the treatment of HIV in Africa, and she said that an article in the Lancet today will call on doctors to tell their patients that homeopathic “medicines” offer no benefit.

The article does not say that, and I should know, because I wrote it. It is not an act of fusty authority, and I claim none: I look about 12, and I’m only a few years out of medical school. This is all good fun, but my adamant stance, that I absolutely lack any authority, is key: because this is not about one man’s opinion, and there is nothing even slightly technical or complicated about the evidence on homeopathy, or indeed anything, when it is clearly explained.

And there is the rub. Because Winterson tries to tell us – like every other homeopathy fan – that for some mystical reason, which is never made entirely clear, the healing powers of homeopathic pills are special, and so their benefits cannot be tested like every other pill. This has become so deeply embedded in our culture, by an industry eager to obscure our very understanding of evidence, that even some doctors now believe it.

Enough is enough. Evidence-based medicine is beautiful, elegant, clever and, most of all, important. It is how we know what will kill or cure you. These are biblical themes, and it is ridiculous that what I am going to explain to you now is not taught in schools.

So let’s imagine that we are talking to a fan of homeopathy, one who is both intelligent and reflective. “Look,” they begin, “all I know is that I feel better when I take a homeopathic pill.” OK, you reply. We absolutely accept that. Nobody can take that away from the homeopathy fan.

But perhaps it’s the placebo effect? You both think you know about the placebo effect already, but you are both wrong. The mysteries of the interaction between body and mind are far more complex than can ever be permitted in the crude, mechanistic and reductionist world of the alternative therapist, where pills do all the work.

The placebo response is about far more than the pills – it is about the cultural meaning of a treatment, our expectation, and more. So we know that four sugar pills a day will clear up ulcers quicker than two sugar pills, we know that a saltwater injection is a more effective treatment for pain than a sugar pill, we know that green sugar pills are more effective for anxiety than red, and we know that brand packaging on painkillers increases pain relief.

A baby will respond to its parents’ expectations and behaviour, and the placebo effect is still perfectly valid for children and pets. Placebo pills with no active ingredient can even elicit measurable biochemical responses in humans, and in animals (when they have come to associate the pill with an active ingredient). This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting areas of medical science ever.

“Well, it could be that,” says your honest, reflective homeopathy fan. “I have no way of being certain. But I just don’t think that’s it. All I know is, I get better with homeopathy.”

Ah, now, but could that be because of “regression to the mean“? This is an even more fascinating phenomenon: all things, as the new-agers like to say, have a natural cycle. Your back pain goes up and down over a week, or a month, or a year. Your mood rises and falls. That weird lump in your wrist comes and goes. You get a cold; it gets better.

If you take an ineffective sugar pill, at your sickest, it’s odds on you’re going to get better, in exactly the same way that if you sacrifice a goat, after rolling a double six, your next roll is likely to be lower. That is regression to the mean.

“Well, it could be that,” says the homeopathy fan. “But I just don’t think so. All I know is, I get better with homeopathy.”

How can you both exclude these explanations – since you both need to – and move on from this impasse? Luckily homeopaths have made a very simple, clear claim: they say that the pill they prescribe will make you get better.

You could do a randomised, controlled trial on almost any intervention you wanted to assess: comparing two teaching methods, or two forms of psychotherapy, or two plant-growth boosters – literally anything. The first trial was in the Bible (Daniel 1: 1-16, since you asked) and compared the effect of two different diets on soldiers’ vigour. Doing a trial is not a new or complicated idea, and a pill is the easiest thing to test of all.

Here is a model trial for homeopathy. You take, say, 200 people, and divide them at random into two groups of 100. All of the patients visit their homeopath, they all get a homeopathic prescription at the end (because homeopaths love to prescribe pills even more than doctors) for whatever it is that the homeopath wants to prescribe, and all the patients take their prescription to the homeopathic pharmacy. Every patient can be prescribed something completely different, an “individualised” prescription – it doesn’t matter.

Now here is the twist: one group gets the real homeopathy pills they were prescribed (whatever they were), and the patients in the other group are given fake sugar pills. Crucially, neither the patients, nor the people who meet them in the trial, know who is getting which treatment.

This trial has been done, time and time again, with homeopathy, and when you do a trial like this, you find, overall, that the people getting the placebo sugar pills do just as well as those getting the real, posh, expensive, technical, magical homeopathy pills.

So how come you keep hearing homeopaths saying that there are trials where homeopathy does do better than placebo? This is where it gets properly interesting. This is where we start to see homeopaths, and indeed all alternative therapists more than ever, playing the same sophisticated tricks that big pharma still sometimes uses to pull the wool over the eyes of doctors.

Yes, there are some individual trials where homeopathy does better, first because there are a lot of trials that are simply not “fair tests”. For example – and I’m giving you the most basic examples here – there are many trials in alternative therapy journals where the patients were not “blinded”: that is, the patients knew whether they were getting the real treatment or the placebo. These are much more likely to be positive in favour of your therapy, for obvious reasons. There is no point in doing a trial if it is not a fair test: it ceases to be a trial, and simply becomes a marketing ritual.

There are also trials where it seems patients were not randomly allocated to the “homeopathy” or “sugar pill” groups: these are even sneakier. You should randomise patients by sealed envelopes with random numbers in them, opened only after the patient is fully registered into the trial. Let’s say that you are “randomly allocating” patients by, um, well, the first patient gets homeopathy, then the next patient gets the sugar pills, and so on. If you do that, then you already know, as the person seeing the patient, which treatment they are going to get, before you decide whether or not they are suitable to be recruited into your trial. So a homeopath sitting in a clinic would be able – let’s say unconsciously – to put more sick patients into the sugar pill group, and healthier patients into the homeopathy group, thus massaging the results. This, again, is not a fair test.

Congratulations. You now understand evidence-based medicine to degree level.

So when doctors say that a trial is weak, and poor quality, it’s not because they want to maintain the hegemony, or because they work for “the man”: it’s because a poor trial is simply not a fair test of a treatment. And it’s not cheaper to do a trial badly, it’s just stupid, or, of course, conniving, since unfair tests will give false positives in favour of homeopathy.

Now there are bad trials in medicine, of course, but here’s the difference: in medicine there is a strong culture of critical self-appraisal. Doctors are taught to spot bad research (as I am teaching you now) and bad drugs. The British Medical Journal recently published a list of the top three most highly accessed and referenced studies from the past year, and they were on, in order: the dangers of the anti-inflammatory Vioxx; the problems with the antidepressant paroxetine; and the dangers of SSRI antidepressants in general. This is as it should be.

With alternative therapists, when you point out a problem with the evidence, people don’t engage with you about it, or read and reference your work. They get into a huff. They refuse to answer calls or email queries. They wave their hands and mutter sciencey words such as “quantum” and “nano”. They accuse you of being a paid plant from some big pharma conspiracy. They threaten to sue you. They shout, “What about thalidomide, science boy?”, they cry, they call you names, they hold lectures at their trade fairs about how you are a dangerous doctor, they contact and harass your employer, they try to dig up dirt from your personal life, or they actually threaten you with violence (this has all happened to me, and I’m compiling a great collection of stories for a nice documentary, so do keep it coming).

But back to the important stuff. Why else might there be plenty of positive trials around, spuriously? Because of something called “publication bias“. In all fields of science, positive results are more likely to get published, because they are more newsworthy, there’s more mileage in publishing them for your career, and they’re more fun to write up. This is a problem for all of science. Medicine has addressed this problem, making people register their trial before they start, on a “clinical trials database“, so that you cannot hide disappointing data and pretend it never happened.

How big is the problem of publication bias in alternative medicine? Well now, in 1995, only 1% of all articles published in alternative medicine journals gave a negative result. The most recent figure is 5% negative. This is very, very low.

There is only one conclusion you can draw from this observation. Essentially, when a trial gives a negative result, alternative therapists, homeopaths or the homeopathic companies simply do not publish it. There will be desk drawers, box files, computer folders, garages, and back offices filled with untouched paperwork on homeopathy trials that did not give the result the homeopaths wanted. At least one homeopath reading this piece will have a folder just like that, containing disappointing, unpublished data that they are keeping jolly quiet about. Hello there!

Now, you could just pick out the positive trials, as homeopaths do, and quote only those. This is called “cherry picking” the literature – it is not a new trick, and it is dishonest, because it misrepresents the totality of the literature. There is a special mathematical tool called a “metaanalysis“, where you take all the results from all the studies on one subject, and put the figures into one giant spreadsheet, to get the most representative overall answer. When you do this, time and time again, and you exclude the unfair tests, and you account for publication bias, you find, in all homeopathy trials overall, that homeopathy does no better than placebos.

The preceding paragraphs took only three sentences in my brief Lancet piece, although only because that readership didn’t need to be told what a meta-analysis is. Now, here is the meat. Should we even care, I asked, if homeopathy is no better than placebo? Because the strange answer is, maybe not.

Let me tell you about a genuine medical conspiracy to suppress alternative therapies. During the 19th-century cholera epidemic, death rates at the London Homeopathic Hospital were three times lower than at the Middlesex Hospital. Homeopathic sugar pills won’t do anything against cholera, of course, but the reason for homeopathy’s success in this epidemic is even more interesting than the placebo effect: at the time, nobody could treat cholera. So, while hideous medical treatments such as blood-letting were actively harmful, the homeopaths’ treatments at least did nothing either way.

Today, similarly, there are often situations where people want treatment, but where medicine has little to offer – lots of back pain, stress at work, medically unexplained fatigue, and most common colds, to give just a few examples. Going through a theatre of medical treatment, and trying every medication in the book, will give you only side-effects. A sugar pill in these circumstances seems a very sensible option.

But just as homeopathy has unexpected benefits, so it can have unexpected side-effects. Prescribing a pill carries its own risks: it medicalises problems, it can reinforce destructive beliefs about illness, and it can promote the idea that a pill is an appropriate response to a social problem, or a modest viral illness.

But there are also ethical problems. In the old days, just 50 years ago, “communication skills” at medical school consisted of how not to tell your patient they had terminal cancer. Now doctors are very open and honest with their patients. When a healthcare practitioner of any description prescribes a pill that they know full well is no more effective than a placebo – without disc losing that fact to their patient – then they trample all over some very important modern ideas, such as getting informed consent from your patient, and respecting their autonomy.

Sure, you could argue that it might be in a patient’s interest to lie to them, and I think there is an interesting discussion to be had here, but at least be aware that this is the worst kind of old-fashioned, Victorian doctor paternalism: and ultimately, when you get into the habit of misleading people, that undermines the relationship between all doctors and patients, which is built on trust, and ultimately honesty. If, on the other hand, you prescribe homeopathy pills, but you don’t know that they perform any better than placebo in trials, then you are not familiar with the trial literature, and you are therefore incompetent to prescribe them. These are fascinating ethical problems, and yet I have never once found a single homeopath discussing them.

There are also more concrete harms. It’s routine marketing practice for homeopaths to denigrate mainstream medicine. There’s a simple commercial reason for this: survey data show that a disappointing experience with mainstream medicine is almost the only factor that regularly correlates with choosing alternative therapies. That’s an explanation, but not an excuse. And this is not just talking medicine down. One study found that more than half of all the homeopaths approached advised patients against the MMR vaccine for their children, acting irresponsibly on what will quite probably come to be known as the media’s MMR hoax.

How did the alternative therapy world deal with this concerning finding, that so many among them were quietly undermining the vaccination schedule? Prince Charles’s office tried to have the lead researcher sacked.

A BBC Newsnight investigation found that almost all the homeopaths approached recommended ineffective homeopathic pills to protect against malaria, and advised against medical malaria prophylactics, while not even giving basic advice on bite prevention. Very holistic. Very “complementary”. Any action against the homeopaths concerned? None.

And in the extreme, when they’re not undermining public-health campaigns and leaving their patients exposed to fatal diseases, homeopaths who are not medically qualified can miss fatal diagnoses, or actively disregard them, telling their patients grandly to stop their inhalers, and throw away their heart pills. The Society of Homeopaths is holding a symposium on the treatment of Aids, featuring the work of Peter Chappell, a man who claims to have found a homeopathic solution to the epidemic. We reinforce all of this by collectively humouring homeopaths’ healer fantasies, and by allowing them to tell porkies about evidence.

And what porkies. Somehow, inexplicably, a customer satisfaction survey from a homeopathy clinic is promoted in the media as if it trumps a string of randomised trials. No wonder the public find it hard to understand medical research. Almost every time you read about a “trial” in the media, it is some bogus fish oil “trial” that isn’t really a “trial”, or a homeopath waving their hands about, because the media finds a colourful quack claim more interesting than genuine, cautious, bland, plodding medical research.

By pushing their product relentlessly with this scientific flim-flam, homeopaths undermine the public understanding of what it means to have an evidence base for a treatment. Worst of all, they do this at the very time when academics are working harder than ever to engage the public in a genuine collective ownership and understanding of clinical research, and when most good doctors are trying to educate and involve their patients in the selection of difficult treatment options. This is not a nerdy point. This is vital.

Here is the strangest thing. Every single criticism I have made could easily be managed with clear and open discussion of the problems. But homoeopaths have walled themselves off from the routine cut-and-thrust of academic medicine, and reasoned critique is all too often met with anger, shrieks of persecution and avoidance rather than argument. The Society of Homeopaths (the largest professional body in Europe, the ones running that frightening conference on HIV) have even threatened to sue bloggers who criticise them. The university courses on homeopathy that I and others have approached have flatly refused to provide basic information, such as what they teach and how. It’s honestly hard to think of anything more unhealthy in an academic setting.

This is exactly what I said, albeit in nerdier academic language, in today’s edition of the Lancet, Britain’s biggest medical journal. These views are what homeopaths are describing as an “attack”. But I am very clear. There is no single right way to package up all of this undeniable and true information into a “view” on homeopathy.

When I’m feeling generous, I think: homeopathy could have value as placebo, on the NHS even, although there are ethical considerations, and these serious cultural side-effects to be addressed.

But when they’re suing people instead of arguing with them, telling people not to take their medical treatments, killing patients, running conferences on HIV fantasies, undermining the public’s understanding of evidence and, crucially, showing absolutely no sign of ever being able to engage in a sensible conversation about the perfectly simple ethical and cultural problems that their practice faces, I think: these people are just morons. I can’t help that: I’m human. The facts are sacred, but my view on them changes from day to day.

And the only people who could fix me in one camp or the other, now, are the homeopaths themselves.

It doesn’t all add up …
The ‘science’ behind homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are made by taking an ingredient, such as arsenic, and diluting it down so far that there is not a single molecule left in the dose that you get. The ingredients are selected on the basis of like cures like, so that a substance that causes sweating at normal doses, for example, would be used to treat sweating.

Many people confuse homeopathy with herbalism and do not realise just how far homeopathic remedies are diluted. The typical dilution is called “30C”: this means that the original substance has been diluted by 1 drop in 100, 30 times. On the Society of Homeopaths site, in their “What is homeopathy?” section, they say that “30C contains less than 1 part per million of the original substance.”

This is an understatement: a 30C homeopathic preparation is a dilution of 1 in 100^30, or rather 1 in 10^60, which means a 1 followed by 60 zeroes, or – let’s be absolutely clear – a dilution of 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000.

To phrase that in the Society of Homeopaths’ terms, we should say: “30C contains less than one part per million million million million million million million million million million of the original substance.”

At a homeopathic dilution of 100C, which they sell routinely, and which homeopaths claim is even more powerful than 30C, the treating substance is diluted by more than the total number of atoms in the universe. Homeopathy was invented before we knew what atoms were, or how many there are, or how big they are. It has not changed its belief system in light of this information.

How can an almost infinitely dilute solution cure anything? Most homeopaths claim that water has “a memory”. They are unclear what this would look like, and homeopaths’ experiments claiming to demonstrate it are frequently bizarre. As a brief illustration, American magician and debunker James Randi has for many years had a $1m prize on offer for anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities. He has made it clear that this cheque would go to someone who can reliably distinguish a homeopathic dilution from water. His money remains unclaimed.

Many homeopaths also claim they can transmit homeopathic remedies over the internet, in CDs, down the telephone, through a computer, or in a piece of music. Peter Chappell, whose work will feature at a conference organised by the Society of Homeopaths next month, makes dramatic claims about his ability to solve the Aids epidemic using his own homeopathic pills called “PC Aids”, and his specially encoded music. “Right now,” he says, “Aids in Africa could be significantly ameliorated by a simple tune played on the radio.

· Ben Goldacre is a doctor and writes the Bad Science column in the Guardian. His book Bad Science will be published by 4th Estate in 2008. Full references for all the research described in this article, and the text of the Lancet article, can be found at


This all cuts so deeply to the heart of medicine and stats that it’s hard to know where to begin with references. A great deal is referenced in the text with weblinks. The Lancet piece is the best place to go if you want all the hardcore academic references, as it is extremely clear what refs what in there.

The classic beginners text on evidence based medicine is “How to read a paper” by Trisha Greenhalgh in BMA books. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Greenhalgh is not at all difficult to read, but an even more accessible (and gently political) book is the magnificent “Testing Treatments”, co-authored by the chap who founded the Cochrane Collaboration. In it you can read to your heart’s content about blinding, randomisation, and the scoundrels who abuse them, as well as the reasons why the public should be more engaged in research, the scandal of bad research, and more.

For a review of the placebo effect, you can’t beat the excellent “Meaning, Medicine, and the Placebo Effect” by Daniel Moerman.

For meta-analyses of homeopathy, I would quote the five below. There are even more, but I have specifically quoted these five as part of an in-joke with myself, which I will one day reveal.

1 Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homoeopathy. BMJ 1991;
302: 316–23.

2 Boissel JP, Cucherat M, Haugh M, Gauthier E. Critical literature review on the
effectiveness of homoeopathy: overview of data from homoeopathic
medicine trials. Brussels, Belgium: Homoeopathic Medicine Research Group.
Report to the European Commission. 1996: 195–210.

3 Linde K, Melchart D. Randomized controlled trials of individualized
homeopathy: a state-of-the-art review. J Alter Complement Med 1998;
4: 371–88.

4 Cucherat M, Haugh MC, Gooch M, Boissel JP. Evidence of clinical efficacy of
homeopathy: a meta-analysis of clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 2000;
56: 27–33.

5 Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of
homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled
trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 2005; 366: 726–32.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

476 Responses

  1. Jo said,

    March 21, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    The fabulously excellent RadioLab podcasts have one on Placebo with a brief interview with Daniel Moerman.

    I highly recommend their podcasts – they’re funny and beautifully edited with very good use of music and sound effects. There’s a lovely bit with Fabrizio Benedetti in this one.

    I’ve just received Moerman’s book as a birthday treat, and was surprised to see his name here as I’d previously heard of him only as the author of Native American Ethnobotany database:

  2. jonathanhearsey said,

    July 6, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Brilliant – just brilliant.

    Well done, Dr. Goldacre.

    After attending my final ever anti-vaccination seminar recently

    I’d love you to write a paper of similar magnitude on the subject of vaccinations.

    Keep up the good work,


  3. JQH said,

    November 1, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    The fact that medieval theologians (Note: theologians, not scientists) opposed Copernicus is hardly proof that 21st century doctors (a completely different group) are wrong about homeopathy (a completely different subject.

  4. sumalat said,

    January 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Was a sceptic as much as any of you till my son was born. He suffered from a very bad skin condition which our modern medicines and medicos failed to alleviate. In fact it was when he started worsening that I very reluctantly took him to a homeopath at the insistance of a relative. Placebo! yes, it does exist for us adults, but, how do you explain a baby of 10 months age respond favourably to treatment by “mind over matter” ( for that matter the placebo effect itself should prompt us to wonder that we do not understand a lot of what goes on in and around us. The mind can heal, you say, wow, please explain the same to me. I am all ears). My son is 12 years old now and has been a “homeo kid”. His skin condition is kept at bay even today by homeo. He is very radiant and healthy. To contrast my sisters colleague had a daughter with dermatitis which was treated by various allopathic drugs including UV radiation etc. The trauma the poor child went through before she died at age 9 I do not want to describe. It was the very treatment that she went through which was responsible for her misery and ultimately death.This is not to dilute any of your anti homeo comments but to just state what I did for this science which we cannot explain but to which I am very grateful.

  5. jim hicks said,

    February 24, 2009 at 3:25 am

    a fellow nearby has achieved an awareness that permits him to ‘see’ illness and ‘see’ cures. —
    he and his wife were offering hope to some whom the doctors could no longer help. —
    one wonders if he could ‘see’ cures in homeopathic items. —
    there is a ‘muscle test’ i have seen demonsrtated.

    Spirit and Engrams [Dianetics]
    play a monster role in human
    wellness. there may not be a large enough potential financial gain for anyone to
    quantify these influences.
    whatever works eh ?? love all – jimhicks36@junodotcalm 😉

  6. jim hicks said,

    February 24, 2009 at 3:26 am

    a fellow nearby has achieved an awareness that permits him to ‘see’ illness and ‘see’ cures. —
    he and his wife were offering hope to some whom the doctors could no longer help. —
    one wonders if he could ‘see’ cures in homeopathic items. —
    there is a ‘muscle test’ i have seen demonsrtated.

    Spirit and Engrams [Dianetics]
    play a monster role in human
    wellness. there may not be a large enough potential financial gain for anyone to
    quantify these influences.
    whatever works eh ?? love all – jimhicks36atjunodotcalm 😉

  7. zappa said,

    May 9, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Found this harrowing story which illustrates the dangers of bad science…

  8. JamieT said,

    August 1, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    A lot has been written but look at this
    Nothing will stop them being official, and all that to protect the public. Unless anything is done it seems all that you have said is hot air

  9. LeiLa said,

    August 25, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Ben Goldacre?

    If you could please pm me i would be very greatful i would like to ask a couple of questions regarding your article.


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    December 21, 2009 at 5:39 am

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  11. vvd said,

    December 24, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    I do not understand those who enjoy its natural-scientific illiteracy, and it seeks to demonstrate. So I do not understand the author of this article.
    Do you not think about this:
    1. If homeopathy takes a powerful placebo effect, why this effect does not show (or almost never shown) antibiotic to cure the disease, where the antibiotic is not effective, for example, herpes?
    2. Why homeopathy cures infants who were not able to cure allopathy? Their parents believed in allopathy less than in homeopathy? Why did they first tortured their children allopathy? Why “parental suggestion” effectively in homeopathic treatment, but not effective in allopathic?
    3. Why homeopathy cure alcoholics who do not even know that their food and drink, add the medicine?
    4. Why homeopathy heals animals, including, just picked up on the street?
    Did you know that any molecule faced each other remember the rest of your life, or at least, not yet undergo new collisions with comparable parameters, even if after they are on different galaxies? It is known to any physics. What prevents this universal effect manifest itself in homeopathy?
    You just embarrassed that the quantum teleportation has been proved in the early nineteenth century, and not at the end of the twentieth?

  12. vvd said,

    December 24, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    * the rest of their lives…

  13. Snuggie said,

    February 5, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Snuggie blanket Snuggie blanket
    blanket with sleeves blanket with sleeves

  14. ThatOneChick said,

    May 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Great evidence, and very well supported, but there’s one thing that you didn’t touch on. What about homeopathic veterinarians? How do you explain animals being cured by homeopathic remedies?

  15. BokChoy said,

    June 28, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Hi, for my school, I’m doing a project on Homeopathy.
    I loved your article and agree with you but a question, In the section where you said stuff about the dilutions you said (quote)”On the Society of Homeopaths site, in their “What is homeopathy?” section, they say that “30C contains less than 1 part per million of the original substance.””
    I agree with it but I tried looking for that on the Society of Homeopath’s website but I found nothing.
    Could you please help me? I would like to use this statement but I need the reference.

  16. ellieban said,

    July 16, 2010 at 9:11 am


    This post is two and a half years old, my guess is the SoH have changed their page by now. You could try the waybackmachine, otherwise you’re going to have to find your reference elsewhere, I’m sure there are plenty of places to chose from still :/

  17. ellieban said,

    July 16, 2010 at 9:13 am

    In fact, they haven’t. It’s here:

  18. Woo said,

    August 1, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I am seriously late to the party here.

    You’re a good writer Ben and I would not disagree with any scientific opinion of homeopathy from the point of view of science – it is perfectly logical.

    Personally though I found this article to be laced with prejudice and contempt – and not objectivity. I’m not a homeopath.

    I was sceptical about homeopathy before I actually tried it – that is, went to see a homeopath not just buy something from Boots.

    1. I took the remedy. The symptoms which I had had for a year cleared in 2 days. A “normal” doctor was not able to do anything for it.

    2. About 3 weeks later the symptoms returned. I took the same remedy (perhaps a different potency). I had to stop taking the remedy because my dreams had become psychedelically terrifying – and lucid. The dreams stopped when I stopped taking the remedy. The “side effects” that transpired were in fact consistent with that remedy. I did not know this beforehand. I had a similar change in the nature of my dreams in the first remedy also.

    Sure this is personal experience – hardly a double blind trial but for me at least defeats the placebo argument as a catch all explanation for any positive effects of homeopathy.

    Homeopathy treats the person – 2 people with the same symptoms may be prescribed different remedies. If this is the case how can homeopathy ever use the “drug trial” as an effective way of testing its efficacy.

  19. psydev said,

    September 15, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    A friend of mine started taking a homepathic form of “birth control” and stopped taking her regular birth control pills. Unsurprisingly, she became pregnant soon after and had a very traumatic abortion and experienced great stress with her family when she told them.

    We must understand there are real consequences to people, for letting this medical quackery go on unchecked.

  20. rosross said,

    February 16, 2012 at 5:24 am

    The biggest problem with this article is that it makes Ben Goldacre look bad – both as a doctor and a journalist.
    Your explanation of the placebo effect is facile and I am astonished you would resort to such manipulation to simply seek to make a point.
    You also have clearly no real idea of how homeopathy works. To suggest that homeopaths like prescribing pills more than doctors is simply laughable. Most visits to the doctor take less than 20 minutes and in most cases people walk away with a prescription which will have them taking pills for weeks or months and which in many cases are ultimately re-prescribed so they can be taking pills for years.
    An initial homeopathic appointment takes from 1.5 to 2 hours and subsequent appointments take from 1 to 1.5 hours. A pill is usually given but often one pill and that is the only one until the patient returns in one, two or three months.
    It is bad science and bad journalism and bad medicine to take the extremes of a healing methodology as you have done here and to seek to discredit the entire methodology – one older than modern medicine actually. If we were to take the medical quacks which allopathy has produced in its history and continues to produce and to take into account the hundreds of thousands who die around the world every year and the hundreds of thousands who are hospitalised through iatrogenic (doctor-induced) causes, often from the prescribed pharmaceuticals, then your medicine would look even worse than the healing methodologies you seek to discredit.
    You seem an intelligent young man Ben. Your obsessive fear and hatred of homeopathy is irrational. There must be a reason. I would only ask if you have ever actually studied it or taken the time to see a qualified homeopath and tried it for yourself. Homeopathy is actually very effective with obsessions and fears.
    In the meantime I am not sure how much time you have to work as a doctor given the effort and passion you put into attempting to discredit a healing methodology which is centuries old, which harms none and which is actually increasing in use around the world but clearly your demands as a doctor impact your ability to properly research and write as a journalist.
    The indications are that you are performing poorly on all fronts – perhaps you are spreading yourself too thin. Either commit to journalism and become a better researcher and writer or commit to medicine and take the time to explore traditional healing methodologies like homeopathy and acupuncture, as many qualified doctors do, and make a difference.
    Pouring out these diatribes only make you look foolish.

  21. liviahull said,

    June 17, 2012 at 10:41 am

    @rossros – of course, how predictable. Why not launch a personal attack on Ben Goldacre instead of keeping the discussion within the subject: evidence that homeopathy works better than a placebo.

  22. celtic_child said,

    September 19, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Just wanted to say “sorry for coming so late to the party”
    I have enjoyed all the info. both Intelligent and ignorant(I don’t intend that as an insult, it just means that someone does not know something.)
    I will formulate a proper submission in regard to my personal experience with homeopathy. All I can say at the moment is that I am absolutely on one side of the fence.

  23. Suresh said,

    April 14, 2015 at 5:44 am

    Homeopathy is definitely good where allopathy only has a surgical attempt (not even an answer)
    The statement about placebo effect is ridiculous. I had a small mishap on my motor bike leading to fluid collection in my knee area. I knew nothing about homeopathy. I went to a alopathy Doctor or clinic and a syringe was used to remove the liquid. Fresh liquid collected again.
    I by chance came accross a homeopath. He gave me a couple of small pills. Just once. The liquid just vanished. Let me tell you that was no placebo effect!
    I have since then met many other people who have used homeopathy to a good effect.
    In my opinion homeopathy definitely has its contribution for our good health and happy living.
    Every medical practice..Ayurveda, homeopathy, allopathy have a science and systamatic approach and is not to be ridiculed.

  24. Graham said,

    January 27, 2016 at 11:43 am

    For the defenders of homeopathy, a few questions:
    If increased dilution increases potency, what happens to all the left-overs of homeopathic remedies that are washed away down sinks and so through drains into the oceans, being increasingly diluted to a huge degree in the process? Would that not make the ocean the most potent of all homeopathic remedies for all homeopathically-treatable ills?
    Why then should patients not simply sip a drop or so of sea-water, and have all their complaints remedied (free of charge) at once?
    Why do illnesses ever afflict people who swim in the sea, who happen to swallow some water – or people who simply spend time by the sea, on a windy day, and so inhale some sea-spray?
    Why are sea-creatures ever ill, if they live their whole lives exposed to the perfect all-curative solution?
    Or… are homeopathic remedies somehow only able to work when administered deliberately, to human patients, by homeopaths? (Homeopaths who charge them for that privilege.)

  25. Igorle said,

    February 10, 2016 at 9:35 am

    Homeopathy holds every sign of a religious belief.
    Fortunately, we are free to believe in whatever we want.
    And sure, faith can move mountains. Faith is a main carrier of the placebo effect, so why not use it to make people feel and become better. That´s why homeopathic pills don´t need to hold any active substance to “work”.
    It´s still a belief and not a science.
    It´s not a science, even if homeopaths make you believe (!) so and themselves believe their system of self referential internal consensus has anything to do with science. Homeopathy is a religion.

  26. NKT said,

    March 3, 2016 at 11:09 am

    I wonder how many of the comments claiming miracle cures are from vested interests?

    That’s the beauty of the internet, isn’t it?

    And every time I see anything about homoeopathy, someone says “and, if it didn’t work, why would the use of homoeopathy be increasing?” True to form, this claim is never backed by evidence.