Home > Comments and Articles > Homeopathy - unbelievable nonsense - Part 1
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Ratbags Holistic Health Academy
Some may think that all you have to do to become a homeopath is get a copy of Materia Medica and practice diluting and succussing. There is in fact a comprehensive training program.
It should be noted that some less reputable training institutions have been offering accelerated courses which leave out the first 6 steps. To ensure that your homeopath has been properly trained, look for the horizontal scar running around the head just above the eyes, or ask to see the cork.
Some things are useless (4/12/2004)
Keen-eyed readers of James Randi's weekly commentary will have noticed the following picture last week. It shows two astronomers, a doctor, a professional skeptic, a film producer and me attempting to commit suicide by taking massive underdoses of homeopathic sleeping tablets at the recent Australian Skeptics convention. Despite swallowing many more tablets than the recommended dose on the packet, we were all able to stay awake for Phil Plait's excellent talk about mad and bad astronomy.
Homeopathy is bunk! So what's new? (27/8/2005)
A study published in The Lancet in August 2005 (The Lancet 2005; 366:726-732) looked at the results of 110 clinical trials of homeopathy and came to the following conclusion:
The evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies is weak, according to a study. The investigators conclude that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are compatible with placebo effects. Aijing Shang and colleagues compared randomised placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy with matched RCTs of allopathy. When the analysis was restricted to large trials of high quality there was no convincing evidence that homoeopathy was superior to placebo, whereas for conventional medicine an important effect remained.
You can only read the paper in The Lancet if you pay some money, but a fair representation of the findings can be found in this BBC news story. And what are the homeopaths and alternauts saying about this scientific research revealing the vacuity of this particular magical fraud? Well, not much at all as far as I can see. This is consistent with history, where the one or two unreplicated experiments which show some faint indication of statistical significance are shouted to the rooftops (ignoring all criticisms of the research methods and statistical analyses used) and anything approaching science and common sense is either ignored or rejected. As an example, the BBC article quotes some unnamed spokesperson for homeopathy who says:
It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy
In other words "This stuff is so useless that the standard tests for efficacy of pharmaceuticals can't show that it works, but that's OK because we are going to keep selling it anyway".
Every now and then I get some complaint from a homeopath about my article "Homeopathy - all the idiocy that fits". Here are a couple of recent examples. (The first was sent to the Australian Council Against Health Fraud.) I usually don't reply, as I have enough to do without wasting my time on people who believe in magic. I wonder if Mr Barr would allow me to watch him going through the 800 steps which a non-lying homeopath has to perform to make a 200C preparation, or would he just go out to the kitchen and fill the bottle with water and then let me watch him sticking the label on the bottle.
Date sent: Sat, 13 Aug 2005 05:30:08 -0700
From: Roger Barr
Your article "Homeopathy - all the idiocy that fits" is wonderful in its lack of scientific method.
When there is a reproducible natural phenomena that is not understood (like say ... gravity, or like cures like, or the power of homeopathic dilutions) you dont dismiss it, off hand, because some of the attempted explanations for the phenomena dont make sense or fit with your conception of the universe. Instead you investigate the phenomena _thoroughly_ and attempt to find a better theory that fits the facts.
Your grasp of scientific method is as good as the 14th century papacy.
Date: Sat, 20 Aug 2005 16:36:10 -0700
From: Roger Barr
Subject: come out of an anus and see the light
All you have to do is visit any homeopathic pharmacy to see the remedies made, exactly as claimed.
True homeopathy (3/9/2005)
I was contacted by a journalist on Friday, August 26, for comments about homeopathy. The journalist was writing a piece about the study published in The Lancet which demonstrated, yet again, the uselessness of magic water treatment. I pointed her towards things I had written about homeopathy, explained the scientific vacuity of it and the fraudulent nature of claims that 200C preparations are actually made in practice, and commented on the irony that in the centenary year of Einstein's publication of his paper on Brownian motion we should even be talking about anything based on the idea of infinite dilution.
The reporter took the time to ensure that she had my correct affiliations (with Australian Skeptics and the Australian Council Against Health Fraud) to go with any quotes of what I had said. You can see the final article here.
I assume that I was not the only person interviewed who expressed scepticism about this quackery, but the only person quoted at all in the article was the president of the Australian Homeopathic Association, who dismissed the idea that clinical trials could say anything about homeopathy. And he got the last word. Sigh!
As an aside, because Peter Torokfalvy from the AHA said that homeopathic preparations have to be individually prepared I sent the following email to him asking for his support in a campaign to remove homeopathic "medicines" from pharmacies. He has not yet replied.
Subject: True homeopathy
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005 00:00:29 +1000
Dear Mr Torokfalvy,
I see from an article about homeopathy in today's Australian that you say that homeopathy must be based on individual treatments.
I assume from that statement that you are just as opposed as I am to the sale of prepackaged "homeopathic" products in pharmacies. I look forward to working with you and the Australian Homoeopathic Association to rid pharmacies of these false "homeopathic" products, which by both your definition and mine can only be considered to be examples of quackery and medical fraud.
A complimentary email:
From: Brad Miller
Date: Tue, 09 May 2006 03:14:56 +1000
Ha! Can't you do better than that? I would have thought that someone of your undoubted intelligence would have at least tried homeopathy out to see if it had any effect!?
I have tried it. There is a picture at http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/history/2004/12december.htm showing me trying it.
Tell you what - I'll supply you with Belladonna Atropa 200c on pillules and you take 1 pillule every hour for 12 hours and we can see what happens.
PO Box 1166, Parramatta NSW 2124
Bet you don't take me up on this!
You lost the bet.
Bet your just a big flaccid windbag!
I will be watching the PO box. Put up or shut up.
Double dare you - come on put your money where your mouth is.
It's not my money, it's yours. The address is above. Get wrapping and posting.
Nah, I guess all skeptics are alike - big tough bullies with a pussy soft centre - full of fart but no follow through.
Will the pills make me fart?
Guess I won't be hearing from you
You guess wrong.
Ha! Homeopathy can't kill me! (17/6/2006)
Last month I was challenged by a homeopath to put my mouth where his money was and to take some 200C belladonna tablets. When I didn't immediately respond he sent me a couple of emails suggesting that I was too scared to take the pills, so I told him that I was going to take a massive overdose at a coming dinner meeting. He then told me that this just showed that I didn't know anything about homeopathy because he had told me that to get the effect (an effect which was not specified) I had to take one pill every hour for twelve hours. I have now done that as well, and the effect was surprising. Well, it would have been surprising if I had been expecting to suffer the effects of belladonna as set out in my excellent 1930 book on these matters, A Modern Herbal by Mrs Maud Grieve, where it says that I should have been experiencing "Strange indescribable feelings with giddiness, yawning, staggering or falling on attempting to walk; dryness of mouth and throat, sense as of suffocation, swallowing difficult, voice husky; face at first pale later suffused with a scarlatiniform rash which extends to the body; pupils widely dilated; pulse, at first bounding and rapid, later becomes irregular and faint". What I actually experienced was nothing at all.
The pills that were supplied to me were indistinguishable from those little sweets used on top of birthday cakes (called "hundreds & thousands" in some places and "nonpareils" elsewhere). While doing the grocery shopping yesterday I saw these things on sale for $1.16 for 180 grams, so there is a nice little mark up for any homeopath putting a few dozen of the sweets in a bottle and selling it for a few dollars. You can add financial fraud to medical fraud. The picture at the right shows about two days doses in the palm of my hand. (I apologise for the quality of the picture, but it had to be grabbed from a video as persons unnamed in my home have misplaced my digital camera.)
So, the situation at present is that when I take the pills as directed nothing happens, and when I take a week's worth at once nothing happens. But what else would you expect from something which, according to its label, contains nothing at all.
I am exposed to some real science (24/3/2007)
This shattering revelation of the plausibility of homeopathy fell into my inbox this week.
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 01:14:12 -0700
From: Malcolm Wright
I thought I would send you a link to an interesting article, relevant to the articles you have ranting against homeopathy on your site.
I don't use homeopathy, but I found that your derisive approach to the principles of it was pompous and motivated by an inflated ego rather than a desire to help people. As is often the case, diatribes concerned with beating one's chest rather than with the pursuit of truth expose one to ridicule: and I found this New Scientist article provides a satisfying dose of truly scientific behaviour in relation to homeopathy.
Although this does not rightfully consititute 'hate' mail, I do hope you include it on your site.
I decided to go beyond the New Scientist article, so I had a look at the paper itself. Elsevier wanted $30 for me to read the whole thing, so I only looked at the abstract:
Thermoluminescence of ultra-high dilutions of lithium chloride and sodium chloride
Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications
Volume 323 , 15 May 2003, Pages 67-74
Ultra-high dilutions of lithium chloride and sodium chloride (10−30 gcm−3) have been irradiated by X- and γ-rays at 77 K, then progressively rewarmed to room temperature. During that phase, their thermoluminescence has been studied and it was found that, despite their dilution beyond the Avogadro number, the emitted light was specific of the original salts dissolved initially.
Here are some observations:
I'm not going to suspend my disbelief in the violations of physics, chemistry and logic necessary for homeopathy to make sense (let alone actually work) until I see some real research. By real I mean replicated, double-blinded, and carried out by people who don't have a pre-existing belief in magic. N-rays, anyone?
Homeopathy redux (31/3/2007)
I would like to publicly thank all the readers who sent me copies of the paper I mentioned last week from Physica A which supposedly demonstrated that the theory behind homeopathy has some substance. The paper answered one of my questions - the water-only sample was diluted and succussed just like the active ingredient samples. The explanation for why heavy water was used instead of what homeopaths actually use was a little obscure, and seemed to be because D2O produces a larger effect in some circumstances. If this magnifies the effect to make differences easier to detect then it might have been a reasonable action, but I remain unconvinced. The experiment did not represent what is supposed to go on in a homeopathic factory. The paper was also ambiguous about who actually prepared the samples, and there is the real possibility that they were made by a manufacturer of homeopathic nostrums and the experimenters took the labels on trust. Regardless of who made the samples, the experimenters were not blinded and they knew what they were supposed to be testing at all times. René Blondlot would have felt quite at home in this laboratory.
WTF, OMFG, LOL, FFS, ... (24/10/2009)
I was really at a loss for acronyms when I discovered that the light from Saturn has homeopathic qualities. That's right - the reflected light from a planet can cure things. You might think I'm making this up or I read it at The Onion or some other satire site, but no, this comes from Interhomeopathy, "an international internet journal for the promotion of Homeopathy". It must therefore be true.
Before I start I should explain that a homeopathic "proving" is the testing of something to see what symptoms it produces. Once this has been established it can then be used in homeopathy to treat those symptoms. As examples, homeopathic house dust can be used to treat asthma and homeopathic ethanol can be used to treat hangovers and injuries from car accidents. I do not want to be part of the "proving" trial which "proves" that cyanide causes death and so is a useful homeopathic resurrection remedy.
Here is what this international homeopathic journal had to say about the proving:
The remedy was made by exposing powdered milk sugar to a powerful telescope in Boston, Massachusetts while it was focused on the planet Saturn during April 2009.
The remedy was triturated to a 3C on July 25, 2009 by a group of 7 people in Buffalo, New York.
Six of the 7 ground and scraped the milk sugar while one person took notes.
Two knew what the substance was; the rest did not.
The provers were:
four white females: ages 24, 38, 54, 54
three white males: ages 18, 19, 24
2. Saturn in astronomy, myth, and astrology
As a homeopath and astrologer, I have been fascinated by the homeopathic application of the planetary lights (Venus) and other celestial remedies such as Luna, Sol, and Polaris, as well as the astrological overlap with homeopathic Uranium, Neptunium, and Plutonium.
The first planet I could get my hands on, as it were, was Saturn – very visible this past spring in the night sky and one of my favorite astrological subjects. I was very interested to see if there were an overlap between the astrological meanings and the homeopathic ones, since that has been the case with the other celestial remedies.
To avoid the risk of brain damage, I will leave out the discussion of astrology, other esoteric matters and the results of the proving and cut directly to the conclusion:
It is interesting that the trituration proving reflected some themes of Saturn that appear in myth and astrology. (The spontaneous drawing of the Horned Pan figure is of course amazing!)
From a homeopathic point of view, both the physical symptoms that appeared and the content of the discussion during the proving suggest that this remedy might be effective for accident-related trauma, bone and nerve damage. The Titan-like quality of strength, survival and endurance seems connected; perhaps an ability to survive disasters is part of this remedy. This remedy may also be effective for allergies, in light of all the itching that occurred.
Emotionally, we see the ‘lighter’ side of Saturn less a sense of weightiness and more of an emphasis on eroticism and fun. (The trituration itself had some saturnalian elements!) This could be because it is a planetary light. Towards the end of the trituration, we saw some of the more serious aspects of Saturn emerging, although throughout the proving and underneath all the silly banter were some heavier themes – most notably the accounting and recounting of history and disasters.
If you are brave enough you can read the whole thing here. When you have done that, come back and tell me that homeopathy isn't the greatest load of idiocy that has ever pretended to be some form of medicine.
Quick, call Guinness! A new world record! (31/10/2009)
When I wrote last week about the homeopathic use of reflected planetary light I thought I had reached the limit of woowoo stupidity. Then I saw this. The stupidity here is so dense that it bends light. Sort of like if you condensed all the mass in the universe down to the size of a bowling ball, therefore making it irrelevant in equations about the universe.
I had to stop watching. I had the distinct feeling that Dr Werner had herself collapsed to the maximum density possible in the universe. No, not a neutron star but something even denser, a moron pulsar, spinning on her axis every 1.33 seconds and emitting blinding flashes of unimaginably hot stupid.
200C idiocy continues (7/11/2009)
The weather has been miserable this week, but I was cheered up by a legal threat related to last week's unhinged lunatic homeopath. Here is what the threat said:
Dr Charlene Werner
I thought I would let you know that you will be contacted by Dr Werner's Attorney shortly. I suggest you delete this video as it is in violation of copyright laws.
Weekly homeopathetic whackiness (14/11/2009)
It seems that each week brings a new example of the insanity of homeopathy. Here is the complete text of some instructions on how to use a homeopathic "remedy", written by someone who not only practises the fraud but teaches it as well. The writer is a native English speaker but appears here to be writing in a foreign language. Perhaps it makes sense to a homeopath.
Administering Homeopathic Remedies
put your dry pillule, tablet, in water to administer - see below
Best not to take them dry. The VF does better if you put them in water and then raise the potency a little each time. The VF doesn't do as well with the same potency over and over and that is the way you would do it if you used them dry
MAY NEED TO REPEAT MORE FREQUENTLY IN ACUTES IF USING 30c
MISC: Administering Remedies
PRINT this out and keep handy with your remedies.
Generally I suggest you use 30C if you have not completed the course with me
30c for minor acute and first aid - do NOT use for recurring things that seem acute but are part of a chronic state or for anything else chronic
Do not treat for chronic or recurring things on your own or with 30C.
DO NOT go by what is on the bottle (heaven only knows why fda or whatever makes them say that stuff)
A. You can give just a dry pillule, but it appears to work better to give in water (aqueous solution) and be able to succuss it between doses - but in a pinch, give as dry. (for an infant crush if possible or just put in a little water in a cup and let melt and then give.)
B. BEST to give as an aqueous solution - one pillule in water
I am tempted to suggest that all of the steps up to 6 could be discarded and Step 7 modified to read "Throw all away at the beginning", but that would be churlish of me so I will make some constructive comments. The first is that Step 6 reminds me of this for some reason:
See more cartoons by Prasad Golla at the North Texas Skeptics site.
The other point refers to "pillules". To non-homeopaths these appear identical to those tiny balls of sugar (called "hundreds and thousands" or "non-pareils", depending on where you live) that you find on the tops of cakes at children's parties. In fact, that is exactly what they are, and I know this because I was sent a bottle of them once by a homeopath so that I could demonstrate to myself the efficacy of the magic. (You can see the result here.)
People sometimes tell me that alternative medicine practitioners are well-intentioned folk who just want to help others. I found some of these pillules in a (sadly, real) pharmacy with suggestions that they could be used to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. They were selling for $12.95 for a bottle of 125 pillules, or just over 10 cents per sugar ball. About five minutes with Google gave me a catering wholesaler who will sell me 8 pounds of the pillules for $US20 (plus delivery). Now tell me that the people selling these things aren't aware of the fraud that they are committing.
Speaking of tortured statistics ... (21/11/2009)
A believer in homeopathy informed me that a scientific paper had conclusively proved that water has a memory and therefore homeopathy must work as claimed because skeptics can no longer deny scientific plausibility. Here are some graphs from the paper which apparently show very strong correlations between certain measurements.
I invite anyone who has ever taught or studied introductory statistics to explain to me how these scatter plots support the claims of strong correlation. (Just look at those p values!) Write on one side of the email only and pay particular attention to explaining the number of points lying outside the 95% confidence range. You can see the paper here.
This is science, folks.
A homeopath speaks, and drivel comes out (12/12/2009)
I make sacrifices for you. This week I sat though a web presentation about the use of homeopathy to treat autism. Sorry, it doesn't treat autism, it treats the autistic child. Except when it's treating autism. The presentation was a webinar organised by the Australian Vaccination Network and featured a homeopath named Fran Sheffield. All the usual buttons were pressed - homeopathy works (it really, really does!), anecdotes and testimonials are evidence, chelation can be used to get the heavy metals out so that the homeopathy can get in there and do its curing, autism is related to vaccination, ... I think that web sites promoting sessions like this should be required by law to display a sign like that at the right so that viewers can be warned that they might suffer damage from the intensely hot sparks of burning stupid.
The AVN has promised to make the entire webinar, with sound and all slides, available on their web site for free download, but I can't see if it is available yet. Some previous webinars are supposed to be available but they don't have links either. The AVN's web site is in a state of reconstruction at the moment and could politely be described as a dog's breakfast, with broken links, unreachable pages, conflicting styles and general messitude. As a professional websmith I could offer to help them to fix it up. Only joking, no I couldn't.
I will have the full awfulness of the webinar up here as soon as someone at the AVN gets around to providing a link. In the meantime, here is a sequence of screen shots of the slide show. Even without the sound the idiocy shines through. Don't forget your welding mask.