Diluting homeopathy

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2009 8:00 am

[Update: I received an email by Matt Thurling, the founder of Science.tv. I didn’t realize originally that he created the video, and poking around that site is something I highly recommend!]

If you’re a UK skeptic, you know Ben Goldacre: he writes for The Guardian and runs the Bad Science website where he debunks all kinds of quackery and nonsense. He spoke at TAM 6 last year, and will be one of our speakers at TAM London, too.

And now he’s a movie star! Well, a video star. Here he is, concentrating (haha! Get it? Man, I kill me) on homeopathy.

Comments (87)

  1. ND

    Nice summary.

    Regarding the ethics part at the very end, I remember a study for a drug was stopped before completion because the data up to that point showed that the drug was effective and that it was unethical to withhold the drug from the control group after the data showed the effectiveness. I forget the study. This was probably within the past 2-3 years. I thought that was interesting.

  2. Greg

    Great find Phil. A nice, simple demo.

  3. Bunny

    Homeopathetic!

  4. Darren Garrison

    Uh, there appears to be a deep and fundamental flaw in this video.

    He says that the dilution is “roughly the same as one molecule in a sphere the size of the distance from the Earth to the Sun.”

    But the dilution is a measurable quantity– if you measure the volume of the substance, and the volume of water it is diluted in, then you know how many molecules of X per molecule of water is present. And it will be a real figure, with a real amount of water used and X used.. To be “roughly the same” as one molecule per 93 million mile sphere of water would mean that the substance would have had to be diluted in as many 93 million mile spheres of water as there are molecules of the original substance X– those molecules don’t simply disappear. So a single mole of the substance X would require 6.02×10^23 93 million mile water spheres. And I think that we are somewhat short of that much water on Earth.

    So by “roughly the same”, what he means is “off by more than 2 dozen orders of magnitude.”

    (Edit– that is true only if the entire amount is diluted– if the homeopaths are using only one drop from each dilution for the next step, he could be correct. Do homeopaths really use just one drop each time? Is the rest thrown away?)

  5. Gary Ansorge

    Darren.

    30 C is diluting something 100^30th power times(100x100x100x100,,,30 times). Last time I looked, estimates of the total number of atoms in the observable universe was only 10^65. Figure it out,,,

    PS: I expect no one actually DOES this dilution 30 times. I expect they just take some distilled water, put it in a bottle and CALL it 30C. Hey, they’d be close,,,

    Gary 7

  6. zer0

    At such high dilutions, it would seem more likely that my prescribed homeopathic treatment contained trace compounds and elements. Wouldn’t this make it incredibly easy to sue a homeopath for malpractice? Everything they prescribe contains other toxins and medicines for ailments you don’t even have! Oh, if only it were possible to sue a homeopath for malpractice… I’d be a rich rich man.

  7. Greg in Austin

    @Darren Garrison,

    (Edit– that is true only if the entire amount is diluted– if the homeopaths are using only one drop from each dilution for the next step, he could be correct. Do homeopaths really use just one drop each time? Is the rest thrown away?)

    Yes, that is exactly what they mean. Take 1 part of the “medicine” and mix it with 100 parts of water. Shake well, then take one part of that mixture, and mix it with 100 parts water. Repeat that 20 or 30 times. How much of the original “medicine” will be left? By my calculations, that would be 1E-60, or 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 parts of the original medicine.

    Did that make any sense? Take 1, divide it by 100. Take that result, divide it by 100. Take that result, divide it by 100, until you have done that 30 times. That is how much “medicine” is left.

    Obviously, the rest isn’t thrown away, it is used to make more water… er “medicine” to sell.

    8)

  8. It’s unfortunate for the kids of Briton that they will have to go through, as Bunny said in the comment above, Homeopathetic experience.

  9. Wayne

    One interesting thing about homeopathy, it was originally quite safe and effective… at the time when their chief competition was bloodletting. Compared to things that make you worse, giving you water is a pretty good choice. Of course, mainstream medicine has advanced a bit since those times, such that homeopathy is now left with just the placebo effect. Still, if a doctor ever tries to bleed you to get your humours back in harmony, opt for homeopathy instead.

  10. Good freaking gravy, I knew homeopathy was dumb, but I didn’t realize it was THIS dumb. 1 x 10^(-60) grams, assuming we start with a gram of ‘medicine.’ An electron volt is on the scale of 10^(-33) grams in terms of its mass value. So we’ve still got 27 orders of magnitude to go – anybody know what’s down there?

  11. Hoonser

    “Oh, if only it were possible to sue a homeopath for malpractice… I’d be a rich rich man.”

    It’s quite easy to bring up a homeopath up on malpractice charges. They have a knack for telling patients not to seek proper medical attention when they’ve got a lump that’s clearly breast cancer.

  12. Lawrence

    Actually, given the trace amounts of drugs found in normal drinking water samples, you’re almost better off just taking a big glass of water from the tap.

  13. @Lawrence

    Actually, given the trace amounts of drugs found in normal drinking water samples, you’re almost better off just taking a big glass of water from the tap.

    Nah. It’s too concentrated, so it’s not as effective. Remember, the more dilute, the more potent!

  14. scepti

    The weird dilution process was at least partly to ensure that there was the right amount of active ingredient (pre-modern understanding of the limits of dilution) in the end product. Hahnemann knew that if you just poured you active ingredient into a sphere the size of the visible universe you’d be be waiting a long time for it to get evenly mixed.

  15. Jean-Denis Muys

    Actually bleeding *is* sometimes the best treatment. A friend of mine was sick for quite long before the doctors managed to discover he has too much iron in his body, a rare condition. This excess iron has a number of nasty side effects, such as irreversible damage to the liver.

    So how can you reduce iron level? Well, iron is especially present in blood cells. So by bleeding him, the doctors trigger his natural blood cell production mechanisms, which will use iron. By repeating this regularly, his iron level have dropped to normal and he is feeling a *lot* better.

    Of course, you must be careful not too overdo it… but this is all under serious medical supervision.

  16. The average homeopathic solution at “30C” dilution contains ZERO molecules of medicine. Why? One liter of pure liquid water contains ~3.35 × 10^25 molecules of H2O. After diluting something to “30C” (100^30) only 1 in 10^60 molecules in solution is medicine and NOT water.

    So that’s 10^25 vs. 10^60. An order of magnitude difference of 35! In other words that’s 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times BEYOND THE MOST REMOTE POSSIBILITY that a molecule picked randomly from homeopathic solution is medically active.

    Seriously, molecules are extremely tiny and extremely numerous, but they’re still finite. If you dilute a drug enough times, you’ll very literally be left with nothing but water.

    Here’s the math for finding the number of water molecules per liter:

    Density of water (around room temp.): 1000 g/L
    Molecular weight: 18.0 g/mol
    Avogadro’s Number: 6.022 × 10^23 molecules/mol

    (1000 g/L) divided by (18.0 g/mol) = 55.56 mol/L
    (55.56 mol/L) * (6.022 × 10^23 molecules/mol) = 3.35 × 10^25 molecules/L

    (feel free to copy this verbatim in other forums; just please link back here!)

  17. Wayne

    @ Jean-Denis Muys #16,

    Yes of course, my Grandfather had this as well, it’s called hemochromatosis, which is why I made reference to the “humours” in my post to distinguish from modern reasons to let blood. I’ve always had a pretty high iron count as well, which is just another (somewhat selfish) reason that I try to donate blood regularly.

  18. Could have added… repeating a 100-fold dilution 13 times is MORE than enough to eliminate every last trace of the drug molecules added in the first place. 30 such repetitions is total overkill and boring waste of time.

    100^13 = 10^26 (or a 1 in 10^26 chance of finding a drug molecule at “13C” dilution)
    Again, there’s “only” ~10^25 H2O molecules per liter in liquid water!

  19. rob

    even if a homeopath uses ultra pure water, the amount of contaminants in the water is many many many many orders of magnitude larger than the amount of “active” ingrediant. if they use ordinary tap water, how do they avoid activating the arsenic, lead, cadmium, fecal coliform, e. coli etc?

    homeopathy, like astrology, is bull. (dare i say “bogus”…bette not…)

  20. Sili

    I love Ben.

    He wrote a book, you know.

  21. DaveS

    Keep in mind, according to classical homeopathy, the dilution strengthens the effectiveness of the “opposite”. So if you have a liver problem, and a particular poison causes liver problems, they take the poison and dilute it to non-existence, and give it to you drink to cure your liver problems.

    So all those traces of poisons in tap water, well, they just help to protect you from arsenic, lead, cadmium, fecal coliform, e. coli, etc. According to classical homeopathy.

    One thing can be said for homeopathy–it doesn’t hurt you, physically. It’s just water. Of course, it hurts you if you turn away from actual medicine.

    Many of the over-the-counter homeopathic remedies have more than non-existent traces of active ingredients. Note that recently a homeopathic zinc-containing nose-spray was taken off the market because the zinc it contains was causing olfactory nerve damage. And you can *taste* the metallic zinc in Cold-eze tablets. That doesn’t sound like homeopathy to me, it sounds more like unproven remedies dodging FDA drug certification by calling themselves “homeopathic”.

  22. Ha! I hope this video spreads like wildfire!

    Nothing against docs who use placebos to “heal” hypochondric people – as long as it works (hopefully they clarify that with their patients – later). But homeopathy is still bull.

    Speaking about Hypochondriasis: I remember an article I read somewhere. A physician had a sign in his waiting room that said something like “We would like to ask you NOT to interchange any symptoms”. ;-)

  23. ND

    Hang on, so what’s in the homepath tablets? If dilution and the water memory magic is supposed to be what make this work, what’s up with the tablets?

  24. Chris

    ND, a drop of the homeopathic liquid is put on the lactose sugar pill. In some cases the pills are just placed next to the “remedy.”

    From the UK Skeptics:

    Once the remedy has been obtained in the required potency, sugar pills are dipped in the remedy and allowed to dry. The essence of the original mother tincture is now believed to have been transferred to the pill. If a pill with the essence of the remedy is allowed to come into contact with other sugar pills (such as placing them all together in a jar), it is believed that the other pills will also acquire the essence of the mother tincture. This process is known as ‘grafting’.

    I will post the link in the next message.

  25. Chris

    The UK Skeptics page on homeopathy with the information on the pills is here:
    http://www.ukskeptics.com/homeopathy.php

  26. @ND: True homeopathic tablets are either plain sugar pills, or likely made of some binding agent / thickener (pharmocologically inactive stuff — cornstarch, xanthan gum, that sort of edible gunk).
    As Chris says, they may put a drop of homeopathic liquid on the pill, but since that’s just plain water, it evaporates.

    Richard Dawkins has supposedly been known to pop homeopathic sleeping pills every few minutes during lectures :D The sugar content means it’s just flavorless candy.

    The exception to these harmless pills is the type of over-the-counter remedies DaveS mentions, which (despite labeling) aren’t homeopathic in the dilution sense. Those DO contain small or moderate amounts of metals, herbs, and/or other compounds that simply haven’t been proven effective by the FDA or other regulatory body. That doesn’t make the ingredients inactive! It just means they aren’t shown to help any disease or condition. Given the lack of testing though, such ingredients can HURT, as the ~130 people who lost their sense of smell from the zinc content of Zicam found out the hard way.

  27. Huron

    Some laughs at the expense of homeopathy and other pseudoscience humbuggery from the comedic duo Mitchell and Webb:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

    Very funny. Highly recommend checking it out.

  28. ND

    Are you bleeping kidding me? Grafting?! Wow! I’m speechless! That’s bulkaka ^2.

  29. ND

    Homeophathy, guaranteed to have no side-effects!

  30. ND

    Chris, Brock, thanks for the replies.

  31. sceptic

    Don’t forget the anti-asthma homeopathic remedy DumCap. It turned out to be adulterated with therapeutic levels of the antiasthma, steroidal drugs prednisolone and betamethasone. A bit naughty, no? Who know’s how common this kind of thing is….

  32. Chris

    Of course we know that homeopathy is BS and it is very easy to convince just about anyone that the process described here results in bogus medicines. The problem is that people refuse to admit that this lunacy is what homeopathy actually is. I’ve told logic-knows-how-many people about this but they still rave over homeopathic stuff because deep down they think “homeopathic” just means “herbal,” “natural,” or somehow “alternative” medicine.

    Similarly, I doubt very many peddlers of homeopathic remedies know what all this dilution hooey is about either, and they’re happy to slap “homeopathic goodness” on whatever they sell whether it’s diluted to oblivion or mixed with actual potent chemicals.

    At this point, “homeopathic” is just a brand and one that registers positive feelings in a lot of people.

    We had a homeopathic cat-calming agent that seemed to work. I noticed that the somewhat obfuscated ingredients list indicated that it contains highly dilute herbs and, oh, quite a lot of grain alcohol. My wife, who would never think of feeding her cats vodka, loved to give them Calmdown because it is nice and homeopathic.

  33. Simon Richard Clarkstone

    I had forgotten that there are still people (such as Billingham) who didn’t know that the original substance is completely diluted away by 30C homeopathy. I (and probably others here) am accustomed to taking knowledge like that for granted. I guess this points to a need for more message-spreading and assessment of what people know.

    OT: Ben Goldacre, with his hair and expressions, should audition for the next Doctor Who. ;-)

  34. rob

    imagine what an evil homeopath could do. they could take some substance, add a very small amount of it to some municipal water supply and poison an entire city!!! but wait, they could add it to a river, which would then flow into the ocean and poison the ENTIRE PLANET!!!! but wait!!!! some of this water could evaporate, leave the atmosphere, be pushed by the solar wind to other planetS!!!!! THEY COULD POISON THE ENTIRE SOLAR SYSTEM!!! THE WHOLE GALAXY!!!!! EVEN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE!!!!!

    clearly, we cannot ignore the risk of homeopaths poisoning the universe. we need to bury them all in Yucca Flats.

  35. Damon

    @rob

    Agreed. Overhyped.

  36. Killer Bee

    HOMEO-FUNKING-PATHETIC!

  37. Richard Dawkins has supposedly been known to pop homeopathic sleeping pills every few minutes during lectures

    I saw Simon Singh doing this at his recent lecture in Sydney. Randi has done it too I think.

  38. Brian

    @Chris #25:

    Holy smoke. That sounds so much like a joke, like a comedian’s suggestion for improving homeopathic techniques.

    It also reminds me very much of some of my college friends’s recipe for making screwdrivers — namely, to store your bottle of vodka on the kitchen counter next to an orange beforehand. (If this isn’t strong enough, then you can merely show the orange the bottle of vodka for a moment, just before serving.) Little did I suspect that they were making homeopathic screwdrivers!

  39. Chris

    Except it is not a joke. You can see that in the website I quoted (which is posted… oh, and on this blog links cause posts to go into automatic moderation).

    Here is another fun bit, Benveniste was thinking that homeopathic remedies could be transmitted over the phone line! If you think I am joking, do a google search on “Benveniste phone homeopathy”… and you’ll see the links, including the one that is not downloading for me now!

    I learned lots of this on the JREF forum (the organization that Phil Plait is the official Prez)… just sign up there and look for the posts on homeopathy.

  40. 4. Darren Garrison Says: ” that is true only if the entire amount is diluted– if the homeopaths are using only one drop from each dilution for the next step, he could be correct. Do homeopaths really use just one drop each time? Is the rest thrown away?”

    As others have mentioned, that’s exactly what it means. This is called a “serial dilution” and the technique is used quite a bit in chemistry and microbiology. For example, I recently did a job where we had to prove that a medical device was resistant to bacteria. In order to do that you have to be able to detect any bacteria that get in. The FDA required us to prove how sensitive our detection method was, all the way down to one bacterium.

    Well, you can’t just grab one of the little buggers with teeny-tiny tweezers, you have to do it statistically. We started with a concentration of 10^7 bacteria per mL (that’s 10 million bugs in a volume the size of the tip of your little finger). After only three two-log dilutions (i.e. 1:100) of the type shown in the video, we were down to only 10. One more 1:10 dilution and we were down to statistically one bacterium per mL. That’s what we used for our testing solution, injecting 1, 2 and 3 mL of it into our detection test bags.

    We went from ten million bacteria to one in only 3.1 of the dilutions they showed, and homeopaths do 26.9 more! Statistically, there’s not a single molecule of water from the original flask left after about 10 of these dilutions, and the homeopaths do 20 more than that.

    – Jack

  41. Jean-Denis

    Saying there is on average one molecule of active substance in a sphere the size the distance between earth and the sun doesn’t say much to the layman who doesn’t have the faintest idea how big that distance is. And even then, that kind of distance doesn’t mean much as we are not used to dealing with distances that big.

    How about another comparison?

    The odds of winning the lottery are about 10^7 to 1 against give or take (at least here in France).
    The odds of having 1 molecule of active remedy in a liter of homeopathic preparation are about 1 in 10^35.

    That means winning the lottery is 10^28 times more likely than having 1 molecule of active remedy in a liter of homeopathic preparation.

    How about winning the lottery every week for your whole life? Assuming you do that for 60 years, that’s ≈ 3000 weeks.

    The odds of winning every week for 60 years are less than 1 in 10^10.

    It still is 10^25 times more likely than having 1 molecule of active remedy in a liter of homeopathic preparation.

    How about having the whole earth population win the lottery every week for their whole life? There are about 6*10^9 people on earth.

    The odds of them all winning the lottery every week for their whole life is less than 1 in 10^19.

    It still is 10^16 times more likely than having 1 molecule of active remedy in a liter of homeopathic preparation.

    This was all computed quickly while typing, so I may be off by a few orders of magnitude. But the comparison speaks to me a lot more than the size of the solar system or so.

  42. Absentereo

    Ben Goldacre makes two points.

    First of all he claims there is no known mechanism… The man is correct. We do not know of any mechanism that could explain the causal workings of homeopathy. However, this does not mean there isn’t one, it only means we’re ignorant about this mechanism. Just like we are and have been ignorant of other mechanisms in nature until the point where we figured them out.

    He should know better than to draw any conclusions from this. His elaborate explorations of how diluted a solution gets are based on the false assumption that homeopathy has a chemical mechanism.. While in reality we don’t know the mechanism. Claiming there is no connection because it clearly cannot be chemical is therefore just a straw man. No homeopath that I know of ever claimed the mechanism to be chemical in nature.

    Secondly he claims there is no evidence while in reality there is evidence…
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17180695
    It’s unfortunate he doesn’t take the time to check his statements before making them.

    I suggest we apply proper scientific reasoning and not fall prey to this sort of pseudo skepticism… The case against homeopathy (If there is a case) is not helped by spreading misinformation and drawing fallacious conclusions. Or by accepting these statements on faith. Rather we should apply science and follow it where it leads us even if this is not where we were expecting to go.

    I’m not a fan of homeopathy myself I never used it. I am only a fan of the proper application of science. And it seems to me that the underlying science for Goldacre’s statements are not as solid as he and many of you believe.

  43. Christina Viering

    Sounds like homeopaths have a great profit margin.

  44. @Absentereo: The abstract you cited doesn’t anything about whether the “homeopathic remedy” used was diluted to 6C, 12C, 30C. It’s possible that it DID contain measurable quantities of a pharmocologically active substance. But they don’t even say what the substance was! That makes for a rather pathetic abstract.

    I call BUNK unless you can link the full paper. Just because it arrived in PubMed doesn’t mean it’s legit or that the abstract necessarily reflects the rest of the paper. Mistakes happen, and bad science/bad writing/bad translation can sometimes slip through the cracks.

    Also, I HIGHLY recommend this article: Diluting the scientific method: Ars reviews homeopathy. In it, scientists pick apart a special issue of Homeopathy magazine and the problems facing the most vocal and renown practitioners.

    Short version: Homeopathy is *loaded* with claims that are falsified by basic chemistry and physics. The problem isn’t that scientists are “ignorant of [the] mechanism”, but that basic science eliminates the possibility of all hypothetical mechanisms proposed by homeopaths so far.

    “Water memory” is a big one, and if you want me to explain why it’s chemically impossible, I don’t mind, but please read my linked article first.

  45. @Absentereo
    It is referred to as a “homeopathic combination remedy”. In combination with what? Some homeopathic preparations have been known to contain active ingredients that can and have caused harm. So not really classical homeopathy eh.

    And Ben is right there is no known mechanism because there isn’t anything that can be tested. And yes we did not know the mechanism for other things in the past but we had something that could be tested in the first place.

  46. @ND: What the hell? It sounds like that article is using quantum mechanics in a totally inappropriate manner. Roughly paraphrased, the Bohr Correspondence Principle says that the greater the number of particles, the less “quantum” (probabilistic) and the more “classical” (Newtonian) a system behaves.

    That means homeopathic pills and solutions, made up of a kazillion molecules each, WILL NOT exhibit entanglement. All those vibrating molecules bumping around in a pill will knock each other out of the very delicate entangled state. To my knowledge the only way scientists have even seen entanglement is between individual pairs of cesium atoms in a bizzare matter phase called Bose-Einstein condensate.

    Also, that was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, if that tells you anything. Absentereo’s linked abstract was at least published in a German otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) journal, so I’d expect more out of that.

  47. Dawn

    My SIL is into the homeopathy thing, unfortunately. At least she hasn’t stopped using normal medicine also. What she and her herbalist believe about ‘flower essences’ is that you float the flower in pure water and place it in the sun. Somehow its ‘energy’ is infused into the water in this way. But diluting it doesn’t hurt because the energy is still there. To figure out what one, or combination of essences, you should have they can place the sealed bottle in your hand or next to you because the energy can affect you. So I’m not sure why they think you even need to take drops of it. But then I suppose it would never run out and you wouldn’t need to buy more from them.
    Another problem I have with it is they take the name of the flower/plant literally. They think Bleeding Heart is good for the heart. But it doesn’t even look like real heart, it only looks like a cartoon heart. It is a good thing it is totally diluted because Bleeding Heart/Dicentra is toxic. Because plants & flowers are never named for someone’s wife, daughter, the place they found it, etc.
    I can believe that a plant extract could actually have effect, if there is some actual substance in it. But energy from a plant can be residual in water after it has been immensely diluted?

  48. I recently blogged about something appalling,

    pediatric “homeopathic immunization” by naturopaths:

    http://naturocrit.blogspot.com/2009/08/ardolf-kruzel-naturopaths-advocating.html

    -r.c.

  49. ND

    Ah, Milgrom’s homeopath ideas seem to have been covered by the Arstechnica article:

    arstechnica.com/science/news/2007/09/the-pseudoscience-behind-homeopathy.ars/3

  50. k

    Homeopathy = succussed poo (IIRC, from Science-Based Medicine).

  51. Absentereo

    @Brock, if a scientific article mentioned from a scientific journal is referred to this is not good enough for you… It is my responsibility to point you at the article, it is however not my responsibility to give you the whole article.

    References to scientific journals are absolutely acceptable in science.. Anyone who ever wrote a paper will laugh at you if you claim otherwise.

    Copying whole articles unto random websites however is not.. I will not break the law and possibly get the bad astronomer in trouble just to prove a point to you. If you wish to read the article, visit your local library or university, do not badger me about it. Seriously what kind of a scientist would I be if I did not treat scientists with the courtesy they deserve and just copy their articles for my private purposes?

    Do us both a favor, visit the library, get the article, find fault with it… THEN call bunk! Do not call bunk on assumptions you make about the content. If you give proper scientific reasons I’ll fold like a deck of cards. If not I will clarify why your argument is not good enough. But we do this by the book. Not by your rules ok?

    @ND, I do not know where you got your article from you say it is related to the article I posted, I don’t get how, can you clarify? Like I said before I don’t think they have the mechanism underlying homeopathy. That was the whole problem. And like you guys I very much doubt it’s a BE condensate. Its true that QM is not completely irrelevant in biology. But they need to come up with a great story to actually make this connection stick. I’m not buying it on the evidence supplied.

    However that’s a similar strawman to the original Goldacre strawman. Just because we can point out a random mechanism and claim it won’t work doesn’t mean there is no mechanism that we do not know about that is responsible. And since statistically speaking the results of this and a few other experiments are sound we must assume an unknown mechanism to be in place causing the effects. This reasoning is valid even if there is a Milgrom with an apparent bad understanding of physics claiming a BE condensate is responsible or some such situation.

    Now remember that this is what we consider evidence. It’s not a fully proven case. I’m not uneducated enough to say that homeopathy is truth on the basis of 2 or 3 scientific studies that seem to indicate that. I don’t really care about that. Goldacre said there was no evidence. I showed that there is statistical evidence. The experiment even took placebo effects into account.

    This video is posted here as obvious debunking of homeopathy. But in reality it is just a argument built from fallacies. (If it works, it works chemically, this cannot work chemically therefore it does not work/There is no experimental evidence that it works/The effects people experience are placebo effects) I clarified that the mechanism being unknown has little to do with efficacy, I also showed that there is evidence, and the evidence I supplied takes the placebo effect into account.

    Kick homeopathy’s butt.. I don’t care I love a good scientific debate.. But lets try to be unbiased and solid about it. If you guys want to explore the real reasons why it doesn’t work I would be very interested. Basically the fact that there is no mechanism bugs me too. That’s a bad sign, but it is just not conclusive evidence.

  52. ND

    Absentereo,

    The paper I posed was linked to from the homeopathy study page you provided, under the heading “Related articles” on the right side of the page. I guess the point is that there are not enough solid studies to support homeopathy. In fact the study I linked to was trying to account for the lack of a positive result in recent homeopathy studies! Here’s a quote from the introduction of that article:

    “In two recent studies of double-blind placebo-controlled homeopathic provings, entanglement was reported to have occurred between verum and placebo arms of the trials. This contrasts directly with the entanglement-disrupting effects of blinding, recently proposed as the reason for the failure of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to demonstrate unequivocally the efficacy of homeopathy.”

    Here’s another study linked from your post that found no difference between a homeopathic treatment, administered by an homeopath expert, and the placebo group:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12716269?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=2&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

    There appears to be contradictory study results with some of them appear to be poor. Also it would seem that a paper being listed on the PubMed site should not be taken as a sign that the study is credible.

    You’re right in that one can show a phenomenon to exist without having to explain the underlying mechanism. However there is no convincing evidence that homeopathy works.

    What is your scientific background?

    Absentereo: “And since statistically speaking the results of this and a few other experiments are sound we must assume an unknown mechanism to be in place causing the effects.”

    It does not appear that homeopathy has been soundly established scientifically. Going to any hypothesis such as water memory is premature.

  53. NH

    I attended a presentation by some people promoting homeopathy at some festival, and the explanation of how this was supposed to work was quite amusing. My primary memory from the talk was, that a certain herb in homeopathic solution was supposed to be good for bruising, because it grows on rocky slopes, and rocks cause bruises…presumably if you fall down a rocky slope.

    It’s just magickal thinking. By the method detailed in the video, the ultimate cure-all should be pure distilled water, as it has basically nil concentration of any homeopathic concoction ever conceived…it should be infinitely potent.

  54. Greg in Austin

    Absentereo said,

    I showed that there is statistical evidence. The experiment even took placebo effects into account.

    Indeed. And that study (your evidence) has been questioned. The abstract for the study that you linked to did not state what the “homeopathic combination remedy” contained. Until you can tell me what was used in combination with the homeopathic remedy, I would say that it is most likely another ingredient that relived the symptoms of the subjects, and not the homeopathic ingredients. I cannot say for sure without further information, but its not my responsibility to go digging into your evidence for facts.

    It’s unfortunate he doesn’t take the time to check his statements before making them.

    As a good scientist, you should point out the facts that support your claim. How do you know that Ben Goldacre hadn’t already looked at this article, and found it to be hogwash? I don’t see your evidence for that claim. At the very least, I would think you would want to read that paper further, in order to be certain that the rest of the information actually supports its title. Many times here we have seen someone point out a link to a journal article or paper, only to determine with further investigation that the paper does not say what they thought it does.

    Furthermore, the real question is: Where are the studies that show how homeopathy actually functions? If it cannot be shown to work chemically or physically, how do we know that it really works? We have to be able to measure it, right? Otherwise, we could say that the real reason Homeopathy works is because the invisible healing elves wave their little invisible wands to make it magically cure an illness. There’s just as much evidence to support that hypothesis as “water memory” or other such nonsense.

    8)

  55. Absentereo

    @NH,
    Please connect the article you posted to the article I posted apart from there being a link on the same page. I claimed there was evidence, then showed the evidence, you point at another article in the same database and claim that because it tries to use entanglement as an excuse for not finding enough evidence somehow this means that an article written a good year later isn’t evidence after all?

    Please explain because I cannot find the logic in it. Like I said before just because someone had the idea that QM effects might be part of the equation doesn’t mean they are. And if that model fails this doesn’t mean the effect isn’t real.

    Also you seem to think that if there is an experiment which shows an effect and another one which does not. Then there is no evidence for the effect. That’s not true. There is evidence supplied by one experiment and the other experiment found no evidence. Let me remind you I’m claiming that there is evidence not that homeopathy is truth. Evidence is no guarantee. So if that was your point, I agree, but it’s not relevant in my claim.

    Also your next assumption that articles on pubmed should not be taken as credible.. Are you even aware what pubmed is? It is a database maintained by the national library of medicine. The largest in the world run by the federal government of the USA. This doesn’t mean that every article in it is correct. But you cannot poison this well without poisoning almost all that modern western medicine is based on. So you have to come with a good refutation of the experiment I referred to and not with a vague dismissal of the national library of medicine as a whole because there is an article in it that seems wrong.

    You ask for my credentials, I am a health psychologist, I am trained to study the efficacy of interventions. The underlying statistics are exactly the same as the statistics underlying the study of medical interventions. You may assume that I know exactly how to judge these studies. Obviously me and my colleagues are aware of the placebo effect. It is our job to measure vague effects even when no clear mechanism is in sight. This is my cup of tea.. What is yours?

    @Greg
    You claim “And that study (your evidence) has been questioned” tell me… Where? I hope you’re not referring to the study by NH because it’d be a first for me that an article written in 2006 is actually a response to an article written in 2007 a year later. So where?

    If Goldacre had studied this article scientific fairness would force him to state that there IS evidence.. Even if this does not mean homeopathy is or is not real, the evidence without a doubt is. I have shown it to you. If you do not call double blind experiments taking placebo effects into account with significance p<0.0001 published in the national library… Then please tell me what you do consider evidence. What would it take to convince you?

    You finish your comment by referring back to our ignorance on mechanics. Again suggesting that this somehow proves something… I will tell you what it proves, it proves that we don't know the mechanism. It does not prove there is none.

    I summarize again.
    Homeopathic mechanism is unknown this is true. But this is not evidence in the least. It simply means we do not understand how it works. There is evidence for the Homeopathic effect. It is published in the pubmed database under the link I provided.

    This does not mean that homeopathy is real I would not claim this on the basis of a few articles. But it certainly means that the claim that there is no evidence is false.

    A significance of p<0.0001 means that there is a chance of one in one thousand that this result can be explained by random fluctuations. For reference, a few experiments of one in twenty are usually enough to convince scientific peers in less controversial areas.

    All I'm in it for really is the vague hope of inspiring critics to be a bit more critical even of their own. If this were presented to the world as the case against homeopathy then homeopaths with a similar education in methodology to mine will sweep the floor with it. I'd rather avoid that and I think we can all agree on this one.

  56. @Absentereo
    Just like we are and have been ignorant of other mechanisms in nature until the point where we figured them out.
    And in all of those cases we had a measurable effect before a mechanism was worked out. Homeopathy is where we have a mechanism in search of effect. I’m still trying to look at that one study you mentioned but to throw your P values back at you, even if this one study showed anything there are still a thousand others that show nothing. One study does not a paradigm shift make. The other pillar of the scientific method is repeatability. You really are drawing a long bow otherwise.

  57. ND

    Absentereo,

    I don’t have the background to critically understand the studies that have been thrown about in this discussion by you, others and myself. However, there is no *scientific* *consensus* that homeopathy is a real phenomenon. That’s critical to the rest of us! If a 30C dilution can have medical properties and affects then that will be quite a scientific discovery. But this has not been declared even in the face of the studies that are being done.

    A 30C homeopathic remedy flies in the face of insanely established medical reality. We’re not talking about some capsule containing dried plants affecting an ailment but a whole new physical phenomenon. This requires more than a few positive studies amongst some studies with negative results plus some nutty QM excuses. I’m sure we all understand this but I just wanted to re-emphasize it.

    Absentereo: “… that the claim that there is no evidence is false.”
    Ok, I see what you’re saying. However homeopathy has not been established as a real phenomenon.

    One of the things rings sceptical alarm bells is how homeopaths are promoting and hypothesizing about homeopathy. If there is something to homeopathy, some real phenomenon with as yet unknown mechanism, then I would say that those practising homeopathy do not fully understand it themselves and have some wierd ideas about it.

    Absentereo: “This doesn’t mean that every article in it is correct.”
    Actually that’s what I was saying. I was not attacking pubmed itself. The good reputation of pubmed should not infer credibility on a paper such as the entanglement one that is posted here. I don’t believe I have any disagreement here with you regarding pubmed.

    ps. I think you’re confusing NH with me, ND :)

  58. ND

    Absentereo,

    As for the questions regarding the study you linked to on pubmed, it had to do with Brock’s posting on August 7th, 2009 at 9:15 am. The summary wasn’t clear exactly what the homeopathic remedy was. I did a quick search teh other day and it appears the paper is in german and some site had only the first page to it. I think we’ll need DrFlimmer to translate :)

  59. @Absentereo
    I was wondering at your reluctance to post a link to the study or post relevant chunks of the study for us. You could do that under fair use you know. But I think I know why.
    Is this the entire paper?
    http://www.allergica.dk/files/Vidensarkiv/Bihulebetaendelse_2007.pdf
    Really? Is that it?

    If you will could I turn your attention to this passage from the study:
    Fifty-seven patients received Sinfrontal and 56 patients received placebo. Additionally, patients were allowed saline inhalations, paracetamol, and over-the-counter medications, but treatment with antibiotics or other treatment for sinusitis was not permitted. Emphasis mine.

    A little background on sinusitis may be necessary and can be found here:
    http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Sinusitis

    Here is something else about acute rhinosinusitus:
    Acute rhino-sinusitis is an inflammatory condition of one or more of the para-nasal cavities that usually lasts up to four weeks. Acute rhino-sinusitis can range from acute viral rhinitis (the common cold) to acute bacterial rhino-sinusitis.
    http://www.sinuswars.com/rhinosinusitis.asp

    So, sinusitis is a condition that can last up to 4 weeks. The clinical trial was
    conducted for a treatment period of 22 days
    and with examinations after 7, 14 and 21 days. They were testing a remedy for something that may last up to 4 weeks and in which the participants may get better anyway. Have you heard the adage treat a cold it may last a week, don’t treat a cold it may last 7 days.

    BTW, here are the “ingredients” of Sinfrontal:
    Chininum arsenicosum D6
    Ferrum phosphoricum D6
    Mercurius solubilis D6
    Mercurius sulphuratus ruber (Cinnabaris) D6
    They don’t mention the dilution factor unless the D6 means something. I’ll leave that to the better informed than me.

  60. Greg in Austin

    You claim “And that study (your evidence) has been questioned” tell me… Where?

    45. Brock questioned it.
    46. Shane questioned it.
    And I questioned it.

    Forgive me, but I remain skeptical. One ambiguous article (even if it is on PubMed) that suggests homeopathy works versus thousands that say it does not? I’d say that evidence is flimsy. I don’t really care to see a study that says a combination of homeopathy plus some other known medication cures an illness that the body would have cured itself over time.

    And you still didn’t answer my question. How do you know that Ben Goldacre hadn’t already looked at this article? You provide no evidence of this claim.

    Then please tell me what you do consider evidence. What would it take to convince you?

    A study (or better yet, several, independent, repeatable studies) that show(s) a mechanism for increasing dilutions of a homeopathic substance in water actually somehow increases the efficacy of that treatment.

    You finish your comment by referring back to our ignorance on mechanics. Again suggesting that this somehow proves something… I will tell you what it proves, it proves that we don’t know the mechanism. It does not prove there is none.

    Ah, actually, you’ve made a common mistake here. The reason we do not know the mechanism is because it has been tested by every known mechanism, and has failed every one of those tests. It is safe to say that Homeopathy is bunk because every claim that Homeopaths make to explain its mechanism has failed every test. Again, until you can show me a valid mechanism, I’d argue with anyone that the mechanism is Invisible Elves. Well, Invisible Elves plus plain water.

    8)

  61. Absentereo

    @ND & NH
    Sorry for confusing you guys with one another. I will pay extra attention to your respective nicks.

    @Shane
    You are correct in claiming that one study does not make a paradigm shift. Not even a thousand of these studies can do that. Statistics don’t do this. All they do is point out the existence of a mechanism. When we understand the mechanism only then the paradigm shift can take place.

    Let me remind you that for many psychoactive medicine and some none psychoactives we knew the effect long before we understood mechanism. A famous example is aspirine. So the suggestion that homeopathy is an effect looking for a mechanism is true but not as damning as you seem to think it is.

    Your objection that the participants in the experiment were allowed over the counter drugs doesn’t mean anything. They were randomly placed into different groups. They did not know which group they were in. All of them were allowed over the counter drugs. This does not disturb experimental design since there is no reason to assume over the counter drugs to be divided unevenly among the groups.

    This really isn’t an issue though. Arguably diet patterns or smoking/non smoking have an effect on the experiment too. But people were not selected for this either. The reason is that the experimental design accounts for this.

    @Nd
    Methodology is a biatch. There is a reason for the statement “Lies, bloody lies, and statistics” You have to be very strict on it. But let me summarize. If it’s real it’s real you cannot ignore it just because you don’t understand it.

    “One of the things rings sceptical alarm bells is how homeopaths are promoting and hypothesizing about homeopathy. If there is something to homeopathy, some real phenomenon with as yet unknown mechanism, then I would say that those practising homeopathy do not fully understand it themselves and have some wierd ideas about it.”

    I fully agree here. As far as I am concerned the lack of mechanism means that every homeopathic medicine invented needs to be completely tested from the ground up. If we do not know the mechanism how do we know that we’re not altering the medicine by altering some seemingly irrelevant factor in it’s production.

    You can already see this problem, the “magical” process that produces homeopathic medicine is a clear indication that they don’t understand mechanism. And I’m worried about that aswell.

    I’m no homeopath or even a fan of it. I’m just stating that there is evidence for effect, and that absence of a known mechanism is not proof of absence of that mechanism.

    @Greg
    Your response to my question “who refuted the experiment”. Where you kinda said “We disagreed” was cute. However, if I come up with such an argument in an academic setting. :)

    The one ambiguous article is not ambiguous.. However you are correct that one of them should not cause us to drastically re-evaluate our position.

    Your skepticism is quite allright. I think it’s a good quality and in no way do I want to suggest you’re wrong in being skeptical. However, lets be skeptical to our own aswell right?

    “I don’t really care to see a study that says a combination of homeopathy plus some other known medication cures an illness that the body would have cured itself over time.”

    Why not? If it does this in a significantly shorter time in the experimental group then there is a clear effect caused by homeopathy. This is valid statistical research Greg. It might seem a bit odd at first. But get a second opinion from any researcher in the field if you don’t trust mine. This is absolutely valid.

    “And you still didn’t answer my question. How do you know that Ben Goldacre hadn’t already looked at this article? You provide no evidence of this claim.”
    Let me ask you why this is relevant.. Since I kinda only stated that Goldacre was wrong in his claim that there was no evidence. If Goldacre has seen this article, he’s either lying or inept. Because this qualifies as evidence. I assumed that he did not see the article because he doesn’t strike me as a fool or a liar at all. He seems genuinely concerned about the potential problems homeopathy can cause.

    “A study (or better yet, several, independent, repeatable studies) that show(s) a mechanism for increasing dilutions of a homeopathic substance in water actually somehow increases the efficacy of that treatment.”
    I would be interested in this aswell.

    But basically you’re stating here that you don’t believe in statistics? Many who don’t understand it just dismiss it. You’re not the first one, but I can promise you that this is a mistake. It’s kind of a black art.

    “Ah, actually, you’ve made a common mistake here. The reason we do not know the mechanism is because it has been tested by every known mechanism, and has failed every one of those tests.”
    This is not a mistake. You’re stating the obvious. We don’t know mechanism because we don’t know mechanism. It does not mean there is no mechanism however.

    Statistics indicate efficacy at least in the few articles that we’ve seen here. Quite contradicting Goldacre’s statements that there is no evidence. This is basically the point I’m making.

    It might very well be elves with magic wands. Statistics claims there is something. That’s all that I am claiming. I can’t even claim that it’s NOT elves with magic wands from the available evidence. Though that idea of course is utterly ludicrous. However, my education forces me to look at these experiments, point and say… “Look… Evidence…” Even (and I repeat again) if evidence is not conclusive proof. Call it flimsy if you will, flimsy evidence is evidence as well. Though the experimental design presented is really pretty strong and not flimsy at all.

  62. Mario

    Yes, Ben’s great. You know, he was a TV star before this. In a way. He appeared in Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe and Newswipe, talking about science on TV.
    But I digress.

  63. Is homoeopathy really bad or is it just matched the magical all healing properties of sugar in pill form! :)

  64. ND

    Do we know who took the over the counter medication during the study? Did one group have more taking the over the counter than the other? What if the homeopath group ended up taking more over the counter than the placebo? Why were they even allowed to take over the counter (they were not allowed to take antibacterial). Are there any affective over the counter for sinusitis?

  65. @Absentereo

    That is why I gave the links to sinusitis information because the symptoms are cold like and over the counter medicines can reduce the symptoms of cold and sinus related illnesses. I thought that would be obvious and should be enough to give some concern as to the results of this study.

    Let me remind you that for many psychoactive medicine and some none psychoactives we knew the effect long before we understood mechanism.
    Well duh. What has that got to do with homeopathy which still has no evidence of effect? The mechanism is only important when we have a conclusive repeatable effect.

  66. papageno

    Aspirin is an over-the-counter medication which has anti-inflammatory effects. So it would be effective for rhino-sinusitis.

  67. Absentereo

    If you guys have any reason to assume why one of the groups in the experiment would use more over the counter medication than the other groups then you may have a point. However there is absolutely no reason to assume that one experimental group will use more over the counter medication than another. These are random assignments. Over the counter medication is therefore equally spread across the groups. Just like exposure to sunlight, just like smoking, just like people who drink scotch versus people who drink milk. All relevant factors that are carefully made irrelevant by a randomized design!

    This is why you use randomized double blind designs. The only difference noticeable for the organism involved is that the homeopathic treatment is either homeopathic or a true(er?) drop of water. All other differences are carefully made irrelevant.

    This is valid design. Please get a second opinion on this if you don’t trust my expertise. But be sure to give them the summary, do not verbally tell them your interpretation of the experiment. You might miss out on relevant details like this one.

    I know statistics is a bitch. It’s hard, sometimes it feels counter intuitive or just plain weird. I’ve cursed it more than once in my life. No one seems to like to study statistics until they figure out how essential it is later in their career. If it feels wrong, don’t go making assumptions, ask an expert. I very much understand if under the circumstances I’m not your expert of choice. But do get an expert don’t assume.

    Let me formulate it this way. If the only difference between the groups is whether or not they use homeopathic treatment. Then apparently homeopathic treatment is correlated with people using more over the counter medicine! This is what you’re saying. Even that is a powerful effect for a drop of distilled water isn’t it? ;)

    You can’t argue with the fact that this experiment is evidence. I repeat that it does not mean that homeopathy is a reality. I’m still hesitant on that step. It might still be elves with magic wands.. But there is no doubt in my mind as an expert that relevant and valid experimental results exist. Which was my original claim.

  68. Greg in Austin

    @Absentereo,

    For someone who claims to not support Homeopathy, you sure use a lot of words to support it.

    I’m no homeopath or even a fan of it. I’m just stating that there is evidence for effect, and that absence of a known mechanism is not proof of absence of that mechanism.

    And I’m saying that your evidence looks questionable, and the reason for the absence of a known mechanism is because there isn’t one.

    If it does this in a significantly shorter time in the experimental group then there is a clear effect caused by homeopathy

    I have not seen the details of the study, so I do not know if the subjects using the homeopathic treatment did not also use a known over-the-counter medication that actually cured their illness. The only way we would know for sure it was the homeopathic remedy is if all other possible cures were ruled out, and from what you have shown us, this is not the case.

    Let me ask you why this is relevant.. Since I kinda only stated that Goldacre was wrong in his claim that there was no evidence. If Goldacre has seen this article, he’s either lying or inept. Because this qualifies as evidence. I assumed that he did not see the article because he doesn’t strike me as a fool or a liar at all. He seems genuinely concerned about the potential problems homeopathy can cause.

    Forgive me if I do not readily accept your position here. Your very first post here accused Goldacre of misrepresenting the facts, remember?

    It’s unfortunate he doesn’t take the time to check his statements before making them.

    Yet you yourself have not provided evidence that he did not look for evidence on PubMed. Not to mention your false-dichotomy, “he’s either lying or inept.” How about a third option: He is aware of studies that try to prove the effects of homeopathic treatment, like the one you posted, but came to the same conclusion as others here have: That those studies are highly questionable, and that they still do not prove any effect.

    But basically you’re stating here that you don’t believe in statistics? Many who don’t understand it just dismiss it. You’re not the first one, but I can promise you that this is a mistake. It’s kind of a black art.

    Where did I say in any of my posts that I did not understand or believe in statistics? That is completely a projection on your part.

    You’re stating the obvious. We don’t know mechanism because we don’t know mechanism. It does not mean there is no mechanism however.

    Enlighten me: If every mechanism claimed to date by Homeopaths have been chemically, physically and mathematically proven to be utter bunk, what possible mechanism could it be?

    Statistics claims there is something. That’s all that I am claiming. I can’t even claim that it’s NOT elves with magic wands from the available evidence. Though that idea of course is utterly ludicrous.

    Again, the conclusion of that study is questionable. The statistical process itself is not in question, only the method and the results. And the magic elves hypothesis is no more ludicrous than an unknowable mysterious mechanism that somehow defies every known physical process.

    8)

  69. Greg in Austin

    Absentereo said,

    If you guys have any reason to assume why one of the groups in the experiment would use more over the counter medication than the other groups then you may have a point. However there is absolutely no reason to assume that one experimental group will use more over the counter medication than another.

    I will argue that until we have further information on the details of this study, there is no reason to assume that both groups or neither took over the counter medication. However, the fact that either group could take additional medication throws into question the effects of the homeopathic treatment. And let me restate what I said earlier: The Homeopathic Compound used could have included a known effective medication. Unless you have evidence that says otherwise…

    On the matter of the unknown mechanism, let’s take an example from history. Before electricity was discovered and researched, we could not explain how energy could be moved from one side of the room to the other using a piece of metal. The physics of electricity and magnetism were unknown, but the effects were readily apparent. Even today, most people have only a vague understanding of electrons and current flow.

    However, the difference between discovering electricity’s mechanism and homeopathy’s mechanism is the fact that anyone (you or I) can readily repeat simple experiments using electricity, and we will get the same results. So far, there are no homeopathic experiments that you and I can repeat that generate the same results. Unlike known medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen, which repeatedly do what they say, homeopathic treatments are not reliable, and the manufacturing methods of homeopathic treatments are flat out bogus.

    8)

  70. sceptic

    I might be muddling this with another study, but from memory the control group were sicker than the treatment group at the start of the rhinosinusitis. Please don’t take this as gospel as I don’t have access to the full text of the study.

  71. sceptic

    There really isn’t enough information to judge anything in the link posted by Shane, does anybody have access to the full text?

  72. Absentereo

    @Greg in Austin,
    you said “I have not seen the details of the study, so I do not know if the subjects using the homeopathic treatment did not also use a known over-the-counter medication that actually cured their illness. The only way we would know for sure it was the homeopathic remedy is if all other possible cures were ruled out, and from what you have shown us, this is not the case.”

    The homeopathic group DID use over the counter prescription drugs just like the other experimental groups. Yes you read that right. And in spite of the other groups getting the exact same treatment minus that drop of distilled water the homeopathic group still fared significantly better than the rest. How else could the experiment be considered double blind or even fair if not all groups are treated equal aside from the control variable? Do you see that if the over the counter medication is randomly distributed among all groups participating. Then all groups share similar benefits of this? Randomly putting people in groups guarantees this random distribution. You cannot sort an unknown variable. The chances that this does happen are what we call the significance value of this experiment. As you read in the article this experiment has a chance of one in ten thousand to randomly show an effect when it is not really there this includes but is not limited to the chance your suggestion could happen naturally, that being that somehow the homeopathic group used more over the counter drugs or responded to them better.

    It’s quite important to understand this. It is the basis of the bulk of this type of scientific experiment. It’s not esoteric hoo haa reserved for statisticians with pointy hats… I know you did not receive a full formal training in this type of methodology. You could not avoid knowing this even if you spent most of the time in the local pub. No offense intended.

    Goldacre stated clearly that experimental research failed to find evidence for the homeopathic effect. He was wrong. And this is factual. We can argue all night about whether or not the evidence presented by this and other experiments like this is strong enough to accept that homeopathy has a valid case. I would not say so on the basis of this experiment. I’m only claiming there is factual evidence out there.

    You cannot cherry pick experiments on the conclusions, only on the validity of the methodology. And I’m telling you that this experiment is about as good as we can get them. Certainly good enough for any area in regular science. I’m qualified to judge this. Yes there may ultimately be an explanation other than the homeopathic effect I’m not putting my faith in homeopathy, but based on this experiment we just cannot conclude this. My gut says there is probably another explanation. But my mind has to remain intellectually honest.

    You go back to the old strawman here: “Enlighten me: If every mechanism claimed to date by Homeopaths have been chemically, physically and mathematically proven to be utter bunk, what possible mechanism could it be?”
    Uhm, how about “a mechanism NOT claimed to date by Homeopaths”? It’s as obvious as it sounds. Scientists learn as they go along. You assume there are no unknown factors. I don’t think that’s prudent.

    “And the magic elves hypothesis is no more ludicrous than an unknowable mysterious mechanism that somehow defies every known physical process.”
    As statistics are concerned they could be magic elves for all I care. It really doesn’t matter, the math is math and the method is designed to make real predictions. Mechanism is of no consequence here. So why would magic elves concern me?

    Outside of statistiscs mechanism IS an issue I never stated otherwise. However it is not an excuse to resort to academic dishonesty. We’re always asking for reliable experiments double blind keeping track of the placebo effect and this is exactly that. Be courageous enough to accept it as evidence but be clear that this is not the same as proof or gives any certainty in individual cases. Regular medicine still fares far better in this area. And if we find out an actual mechanism then regular medicine can make use of it and the homeopaths can stop their hocus pocus, I doubt the whole potentiating process (which occasionally concerns a full moon?) is required if a real natural mechanism is involved here.

  73. sceptic

    I can’t find the full text of this study in English.

  74. @Absentereo

    The text we have says that participants were “allowed” other medications. It doesn’t say what the distribution was or any other detail. Do you know? Even so, by allowing other medications into a clinical trial for a condition that the other medications can effect makes any results suspect. It is a flawed methodology.

    Again, even if the meth0dology was okay I would not be breaking out the champagne until the other pillar of the scientific method is satisfied – repeatability. Until then we have as much substance as 30C dilution.

  75. Absentereo

    @Shane
    What do you think a randomized, double-blind study means? YES it was randomly distributed. You never studied experimental design have you? At least not this particular type.

    This is why they have courses on methodology. Because it’s really more complicated than it seems. The assumption that you can declare the methodology flawed without relevant training in the matter is over confident.

    Let me summarize my position once again. Goldacre said there was no evidence, however there clearly is, I showed one example among more. Ignorance of mechanism does not mean absence of mechanism. I am still in no way declaring homeopathy as a real phenomenon. We did however find some evidence for it.

  76. sceptic

    Absentereo,

    At the moment you have shown the abstract of a study, the full text of which appears unavailable in English. Surely there are better, more accessible studies that we could be talking about?

    There are a plethora of weak, non-replicated or refuted studies that show homeopathy works for given ailments. If Ben Goldacre is saying that there are no studies of any quality that report positive finding for homeopathy, he is wrong. If he has said this then I strongly suspect he is speaking rather loosely. We could ask him, if you like.

    “Ignorance of mechanism does not mean absence of mechanism.”
    This is not an argument that I am aware of Goldacre, or anyone else putting to any serious use. The main argument against homeopathy is that nobody has ever come up with a reliable, repeatable demonstration that there is anything going on beyond placebo and chance.

    “I am still in no way declaring homeopathy as a real phenomenon. We did however find some evidence for it.”
    Given the full text of the study, and the result being replicated, we have evidence for something. There are too many good studies that find nothing for homeopathy, as described by homeopaths to be true (in my view).

    One thing to remember in all of this is that there have been examples of adulteration, deliberate and otherwise in homeopathy. Probably not a factor in this case, but for those of us who think homeopathy is very very very very unlikely to work as high potency, it’s got to be considered. A related issue is that despite the ritual dilution, the actual contents of a homeopathic remedy are unregulated and may vary.

    Another thing to consider is that people have happily trumpeted successful results for homeopathy when the homeopathic product is at 2X/3X dilutions. In other cases the treatment was in an ointment, or mouth wash which could itself be expected to have an effect.

    An earlier post mentioned the treatment containing ingredients at 6D, I think. This is the same as 6X, or a ratio of 10^-6. This is 100 times stronger than the allowable concentration of arsenic in U.S. drinking water. Assuming that the stated levels of active ingredients are in the treatment (and this is by no means necessarily the case) it’s unlikely, but not impossible for this product to have a conventional effect.

    Let’s look at products that can’t have a conventional effect for evidence of homeopathy.

  77. sceptic

    To put it another way, the only strong results for homeopathy in the last Cochrane review I read was for homeopathic products that might well work by conventional means. Their success is not evidence for homeopathy. Homeopathy predicts that treatments for which there is no possibility of an effect by conventional means will produce an effect. The place to look for evidence for homeopathy is in these high potency treatments.

    Do you have any studies, for which the full text exists in English, that deal with the ‘impossible’ 60X/60D/30C/10^-60 potencies advocated by Hahnemann. I’m not saying such studies don’t exist, but those are the ones to look at for evidence.

  78. Absentereo

    @Skeptic
    “There are too many good studies that find nothing for homeopathy, as described by homeopaths to be true (in my view).”
    You hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned. Especially the “as described by homeopaths” addition. It sounds subtle but it’s the essence of my objections against Homeopathy. If research indicates effects there are effects. But this does not mean the homeopaths understand what they’re working with.

    Loosely speaking I doubt that if Homeopathy is a real effect all the hocus pocus involved would be required. I once read a homeopath claim a full moon was required for some tinctures. You just know that if we engage in hocus pocus before hitting the lightswitch we don’t really understand how the light switch works. The switch might still work but you just don’t need the “song and dance to please the gods”.

    You ask specifically about higher potencies. I will have to look into this. My math is good but I am not an expert in homeopathy itself, so I will have to do a little research. I’ll get back with an answer on this later. The suggestion that all the actual homeopathic effects could be limited to the least diluted variants is a good one. I had not taken that angle and that explanation (if research turns out to support it) would certainly satisfy me.

    Ask Goldacre what you feel is appropriate. My only argument is with the claims in the movie in this blog post. If he meant it another way than he stated it that is fine with me. But I’d still disagree with the apparent claims from the movie in this blog post. I try not to judge the man other than what I see in the movie. Because I don’t know him at all. He seems like a nice enough guy and I’m feeling bad enough as it is to have to disagree this strongly with him.

    Oh and thanks for the insightful questions.

  79. sceptic

    Absentereo, the potency issue is confusing. Sceptics talk as if all homeopathy was high potency, which it isn’t, because they’re interested in demonstrating that the theoretical basis for homeopathy is nonsense. Homeopaths don’t shout about the distinction either, perhaps because the effectiveness of a few low potency medicines can be used to imply that the high potency stuff works too. Personally I wonder whether sceptics shouldn’t be clearer on this sinse it opens up the question of whether homeopathy is by definition safe (DumCap and Zicam being two examples that come to mind).

    You may well find some studies claiming to show an effect at high potency. Jacques Benveniste would be one, Linde another who claimed to show water-memory at ultra high dilution (I don’t think they bothered with the actual methods and theory of homeopathy beyond that diluted to nothing stuff still had to have an effect). If they interest you I’m sure a quick Google will reveal the sceptical views of these claims.

  80. @Absentereo

    What do you think a randomized, double-blind study means? YES it was randomly distributed. You never studied experimental design have you? At least not this particular type.

    This is why they have courses on methodology. Because it’s really more complicated than it seems. The assumption that you can declare the methodology flawed without relevant training in the matter is over confident.

    1. The article says nothing about the randomization of the other medications. Only that they were “allowed”.
    2. Randomization in double blind trials usually refers to the random allocation of participants to either group – the control or the active. That is, participants are randomly allocated the test medication or the placebo.
    I hope you don’t think the researchers were blind folded too?

  81. Absentereo

    @Sceptic,

    Heh no worries mate, I won’t come up with Benveniste on a site run by a Randi admirer. I’d never hear the end of it. ;) Besides his stuff is old, I hope to find something more recent. Admittedly his experiment if it was not proven to be invalid is a good example of a good case. I like how he cut out the patient and just checked the biological response. This takes the homeopathy out of the so called spiritual domain which would be a plus for me.

    First I tried to figure out if the parameters you suggested are fair for homeopaths. Wikipedia was useful enough here. (Start at the bottom right?) Since Hahnemann suggested 30C for most purposes I think that’s a nice and fair number to check for. Especially since 12C is reasonably likely to contain one molecule of the original material. We can safely neglect chemical interaction in those cases. So I suggest any study will do if we can verify that the remedy involved is 12C or up, preferably 30C as this is supposedly ideal. Do you think we can agree that any 30C study or around that potency that shows a significant enough (p<0.01) effect counts as evidence? I'd also suggest any research demonstrating a water memory effect would answer the central objection to homeopathy even if it's not homeopathic itself. To me to object on that would be a technicality, would you agree? It won't prove homeopathy is valid as a medical practice which is still not my goal but goes a long way in suggesting there is a potential mechanism.

    A preliminary search showed some recent articles specifically concerning themselves with these high potency solutions. I have not been able to study them in detail yet. I'll look into it further tomorrow.

  82. sceptic

    Absentereo,

    It’s funny. So many studies of homeopathy start with the assumption that homeopathy itself is nonsense and instead test a sanitized version of it rather than the real thing. I’m fine with showing water memory in serial dilution.

    You ask about potency. I’m sure 12C would be fine, but the higher the better really. Some allergic type reactions can be ridiculously sensitive and who knows how well the dilution process has actually worked? What we want is something to work that is totally implausible.

    As for p value. It’s tricky. If Benveniste showed anything it’s that you have to replicate results in this area before they can be believed. A single experimenter could get a result with p<0.000001 and I would react by doubting that the experimenter had done their job properly. Give me a well replicated result and lets not get hung up on p-values.

    I suspect the replication requirement may make your search impossible. That being the case, can we stick to individual studies of p<=0.001 where no other studies actually contradict the finding. Of course now we're saying that the serial dilution/water memory thing only works for particular substances since, possibly in specific conditions, if it worked in general, attempts to replicate Benveniste wouldn't have failed.

  83. sceptic
  84. JK

    Check this Link , I dont beleive in those million water of dilution,however I do beleive that small quanity might work. well nothing wrong in analysis and trying , Checking both the sides before deciding is always a right choice and Homepathy is a choice, so no need to be pessimistic, Humans always have a choice.

    Darwin Proves Homeopathy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj82FReWmF0&feature=related

  85. Hj

    Ever had a child coughing terribly, given them some homeopathic pills, and had the coughing go instantly away? I have. Ever had a baby that didn’t sleep longer than 20 minutes and wake up screaming in pain (for 2 months) take homeopathic medicine, and then sleep for 6 hours straight? I have. Ever had a killer toothache that went away after taking homeopathic sulfur (and nothing else) I have. I could go on and on. Doesn’t matter if you can’t explain it. Why be limited by what you can explain?. You’ll miss out on a lot. I’ll keep using, and keep seeing wonderful things happen.

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