Science and Religion — 28 September 2010
Why homeopathy is a lie

If you were buying vodka and the sales guy told you there is very little alcohol in the fluid, indeed so little that you can’t pick it up on a breathalyser or any sensitive scanner, but, this fluid would still get you drunk, would you believe it? Probably not right? Welcome to homeopathy.

Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine which hails from Germany. Samuel Hahnemann, its creator, came up with a theory called The Law of Similars. Homeowatch.org, which sounds like an anti-gay thing, is in fact the skeptics guide to homeopathy and I paraphrased from them here.

The Law of Similars or “like cures like”, states that substances that cause healthy people to get symptoms can cure diseases that have these symptoms. This idea is a form of “sympathetic magic” similar to the primitive idea that eating the heart of a lion will make a person brave. Drugs are therefore diluted. Heavily. Homeopaths call this process potentization. Dilution normally continues until none of the original substance remains.

homeopathy-chinese symbol

Just stick a Chinese symbol on there, they'll believe it!

Some homeopaths, like mine (I’ll explain later), tell you that it is this huge reduction or elimination of any true medicinal substance which makes the effect so much larger. In fact, the less of the substance you take, the more powerful its effects are. To me, that’s dangerous, because if you forget your meds you automatically have taken the highest dose possible, and you might die of an overdose.

So what they’re giving you is nothing. How do you heal? Well, enter Placebo. The Placebo effect is when a false medical treatment produces a healing, even though no actual medicine is given. It’s a great tool in drug approval tests and frequently scores high, sometimes better than the drug being tested itself, if you’re making a crap drug.

Placebo is also your brain revealing just how powerful it is. In Israel in 2004, 60% of physicians were found to be prescribing placebos, and this was seen as a way of “fending off requests for unnecessary medication” or to calm the patient. So it works, both in cases of traditional medicine, and in the case of homeopathy. However, medicine can explain and work with the placebo effect, whereas homeopathy just steals its thunder.

Speaking of thunder, all homeopaths are in the clouds

I say all this as someone who in the past did use a homeopathic practitioner. The treatment did feel like it was working, but after a bit of reading, I realised that my feeling better had nothing to do with the substances you don’t get, and everything to do with what the psychology world calls “therapist client relationship“. It’s a central tenet of Health Psychology and we know it works, in fact in the case of doctors we call it bedside manner. A gruff and bustled approach by your doctor is not going to make you feel better. On the other hand, a pleasant and low stress relationship with your therapist, be it a doctor, psychologist or homeopathic practitioner, will help you to feel better, but that little sugar granule isn’t going to cure your genital warts just yet.

Homeopathy-Shit and Sugar

Best anti-homeopathy poster ever? Probably.

Feel free to click and download the image in full size, especially if you want to ‘decorate’ some homeopath’s office with a few home truths.

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About Author

My name is Mark and I'm a hyperactive child of the internet, a professional copywriter based in Malta, a great fan of entropy and a Grammar Nazi. I'm online for far more hours than is healthy. This blog is about stuff that interests or irritates me. Contact me here

(11) Readers Comments

  1. it’s a lie? :( oh no! Now I have to throw away my new homeopathy kit

    • hi!
      posting this reply not because iam favor in homeopathy or against you it is just try to show you other side of coin which you dont want to see,please dont keep on behaving like this all areas of life it will create difficult situations through out life.
      Before accepting any new concept we judge how much that concept have scientific reason or evidences after effect of that concept. though you are true that scientifically concept of Homeopathy is difficult to accept but it has good results in many diseases,i experienced in urticaria. Allopathy was not able to cure me for 5yrs i was daily taking antihistamines tablet after homeopathy treatment of 6 month i am completely cured not taking any tablet or other medicine ,my lifestyle is also same as before 5 yrs.
      Thus utility and usefulness of new concept to human being is to be judged after using or experiencing this concept as it scientifically not excepted,it has no harm.if we are considering it Placebo.
      for this blogger
      we must flexible while giving judgement as this concept is usefull for humanity.excepting reply….

      • Homeopathy is not new, in fact, it’s a few hundred years old. Homeopathy does not use peer review, empirical evidence or any kind of scientific processes. Therefore, there is no evidence that homeopathy works as it says it does. Its supposed effectiveness is not proven, ergo, homeopathy is a lie.

  2. I fail to see the reason behind the crusade. You accept the placebo effect, but then again doctors don’t go about telling people that they’re prescribing placebos, because it would defeat its purpose.

    So even though the medical community declares the deception involved in general, the deception is still concealed in the particularistic context of doctor and patient.

    So, for me, same difference.

    If you’re accepting that the healing comes from the powers of belief, than why should it matter whether the distracting factor, comes dressed in a medical constume or a homoepathy one?

  3. The ‘deception’, as you called it Patrick, is central to Placebo. If you know you’re being given a sugar cube and not a drug, your brain will not work in the ways required to heal you. So of course doctors can’t “go about telling people that they’re prescribing placebos, because it would defeat its purpose.”

    However, we know the placebo effect is growing stronger by time, maybe due to our constant contact with the medical world in the past few decades. We know, for example, that certain colour pills seem to help us heal more, even if they’re placebos. So what we can do is lessen the dosage and increase the Placebo-friendly factors in a drug.

    Homeopathy does none of this. It insists that its processes and pseudo science is what heals, which is factually incorrect. It can not heal many diseases because Placebo is not powerful enough to do that. So while Placebo is indeed a strong tool, basing a medical practice entirely on Placebos instead of using it as a single weapon in an arsenal is erroneous and wrong, not to mention scientifically flawed.

  4. Yes, of course, I agree. But nobody is proposing homeopathy to take over the national health service.

    Besides, I find blind faith in “science” as disturbing as faith in homeopathy. Ok, maybe not equally disturbing, but still, the idea that science is right because its science caricatures the fact that science occurs in context and involves various interests (not least financial and political), which not always and necessarily correspond with those of scientific enquiry.

  5. @Patrick: Science may not be bang on the money every time, but there’s a big difference between “this may work” and “this will make your brain magically heal you”. It’s not blind faith, it’s just a best effort, or an educated guess.

  6. Have u been reading ‘Bad Science’?

  7. @Mona: Actually no, but I would like to, it seems right up my street.

  8. Here’s the obligatory link to Dara Ó Briain’s part of the show where he talks about Homeopathy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIaV8swc-fo

    …it’s just water!

  9. Lie and magic! What kind of science is this… potentization ?

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