How to be simultaneously right yet oh-so-wrong about homeopathy

I've often (perhaps too often) referred to homeopathy as The One Quackery To Rule Them All. If not homeopathy, what other quackery would rule? Homeopathy is, after all, the perfect quackery. Most of its most "potent" remedies are nothing more than water, because homeopaths believe that the more a solution is serially diluted (with succussion, or vigorous shaking, between each serial dilution), the more potent it becomes, and frequently dilute their solutions far beyond the point where it is likely that there is even one molecule of the original substance in the resulting homeopathic dilution. Indeed, with its other major dogma, the claim that "like cures like," as in compounds that cause a symptom are the cure for that symptom, combines prescientific vitalism with sympathetic magic. Somehow, because of a quirk of fate in which the existing medications of the time were sufficiently harmful compared to doing nothing that all too often doing nothing was better, managed to remain popular throughout the 19th century and even into the early 20th century. Of course, "conventional" science-based medicine (or, as homeopaths disparagingly called it, "allopathic medicine") quickly shed bloodletting, treatment with toxic metals such as mercury and cadmium, and other treatments that frequently did more harm than good, but for some reason the perfect quackery that is homeopathy persisted.

It persists still, more than 210 years after its "discovery" by Samuel Hahnemann. Part of the reason it still persists is because all too many scientists and doctors won't simply call it what it is: pseudoscientific nonsense. Worse, there are government organizations who lend support, tacit or direct, to homeopathy. In this case, get a load of this introduction to homeopathy by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). While striking some of the "right" notes (e.g., pointing out that not all homeopathic remedies are highly diluted) and being technically "right" in most respects, it still leaves the impression that there might be more to homeopathy than its being The One Quackery To Rule Them All. I'm not sure why this introduction popped up on my Google Alerts, given that it was last updated in May, but it did.

For instance, there is little to argue with here:

  • There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition.
  • Although people sometimes assume that all homeopathic remedies are highly diluted and therefore unlikely to cause harm, some products labeled as homeopathic can contain substantial amounts of active ingredients and therefore could cause side effects and drug interactions.
  • Homeopathic remedies are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, FDA does not evaluate the remedies for safety or effectiveness.

But then we see the most massive non sequitur I think I've ever seen:

  • Several key concepts of homeopathy are inconsistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics. There are significant challenges in carrying out rigorous clinical research on homeopathic remedies.

OK, maybe that's not a non sequitur. It does, after all, follow that there would indeed be significant challenges in carrying out rigorous clinical research on remedies whose claimed basis violate the laws of physics and chemistry, rather in the same way that there are "challenges" in carrying out "rigorous research" into Bigfoot, astrology, ghosts, but that doesn't stop NCCAM from opining:

Homeopathy is a controversial topic in complementary medicine research. A number of the key concepts of homeopathy are not consistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics. For example, it is not possible to explain in scientific terms how a remedy containing little or no active ingredient can have any effect. This, in turn, creates major challenges to rigorous clinical investigation of homeopathic remedies. For example, one cannot confirm that an extremely dilute remedy contains what is listed on the label, or develop objective measures that show effects of extremely dilute remedies in the human body.

So homeopathy is "controversial" within CAM research. That should tell you all you need to know about the quality of CAM research, because homeopathy is not the least bit controversial among scientists. Its tenets violate multiple laws of physics and chemistry, not to mention biology. Unless scientists are not just wrong, but massively wrong, in their understanding of how physics work, to the point that multiple fundamental laws of physics and chemistry need to be rewritten, homeopathy can't work. Of course, it is always possible that scientists might be that wrong about the universe, but it's highly unlikely. Moreover, it would take massive quantities of evidence of very high quality to bring such laws into question sufficiently that it might start to seem scientifically plausible that homeopathy works.

Upon reading that passage in the introduction above, I wanted to ask: Really? Homeopathy violates the laws of physics, and the best NCCAM can come up with is to say that "it is not possible to say in scientific terms how a remedy containing little or no active ingredient can have any effect"? I suppose that on a strictly literal level, that is true. It isn't scientifically possible, but then homeopathy is not science. On the other hand, yes it is scientifically possible to say how homeopathic remedies "have an effect": They don't. Such remedies have no effect. As the Dothraki say, it is known. The larger and more rigorous the clinical trial, the smaller the observed effect size, which in the very best and most rigorous clinical trials is no detectable effect at all above that of placebo.

But that's not all. The other "major challenge" that NCCAM points out is that "one cannot confirm that an extremely dilute remedy contains what is listed on the label, or develop objective measures that show effects of extremely dilute remedies in the human body." No kidding. And if you can't confirm that an "extremely dilute remedy" has what's listed on the label, in scientific terms it implies that there is nothing at all in that remedy, at least nothing chemical. If there were a chemical that could act as a drug in a homeopathic remedy at a significant concentration, medicinal chemists could certainly confirm what is in the remedy. Scientists and physicians could do dose-response analyses. Biochemical mechanisms could be identified and dissected step by step. If there were objective effects of such remedies in the body, scientists and physicians could measure them. If they can't be measured, then they either don't exist or are so minuscule as to be insignificant from a clinical perspective.

One thing NCCAM gets sort of right is to mention the regulation of homeopathic treatments. I say "sort of" right because, again, while the facts are right on a strictly literal leve, the implications of those facts are ignored:

FDA allows homeopathic remedies that meet certain conditions to be marketed without agency preapproval. For example, homeopathic remedies must contain active ingredients that are listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS). The HPUS lists active ingredients that may be legally included in homeopathic products and standards for strength, quality, and purity of that ingredient. In addition, the FDA requires that the label on the product, outer container, or accompanying leaflet include at least one major indication (i.e., medical problem to be treated), a list of ingredients, the number of times the active ingredient was diluted, and directions for use. If a homeopathic remedy claims to treat a serious disease such as cancer, it must be sold by prescription. Only products for minor health problems, like a cold or headache, which go away on their own, can be sold without a prescription.

All of this is true, but it's a problem baked right into the heart of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. Basically, the inclusion of homeopathic remedies as accepted drugs in this legislation was due to the efforts of a single Senator. This Senator, Royal Copeland, was one of the principal authors of the FDCA and was a physician trained in homeopathy. Basically, the FDCA identifies substances acceptable for sale as homeopathic medicines as those listed in the United States Pharmacopeia-National Formulary (USP-NF) and the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States (HPUS). The HPUS was first published by the American Institute of Homeopathy, a professional body for homeopaths, in 1897. It's now published and maintained by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia Convention of the United States (HPCUS), an independent organization of homeopathic “experts.”

As Jann Bellamy points out, the HPCUS has written detailed instructions for approving new homeopathic remedies. She quotes a review:

The clinical benefits of the new drug must be established in one of the following ways: through clinical verification acceptable to HPCUS, after which there is a period of clinical verification; through published documentation that the substance was in use prior to 1962; through use established by at least two adequately controlled double-blind clinical studies using the drug as the single intervention; or through use established by data gathered from clinical experience encompassing the symptom picture before and after treatment, including subjective and any available objective symptoms.[citation omitted]

The criterion of clinical use prior to 1962 was used to grandfather many drugs during the 1970s and 1980s into acceptance. This criterion is now rarely, if ever, used, and HPCUS is rereviewing [sic] many monographs accepted under this approach. HPCUS reports that the criterion of clinical experience has never been used. Consequently, only the criteria of homeopathic drug “proving” and establishment by two adequate clinical studies are currently in actual use [citation omitted].1

A more detailed description of the process can be found here. As Jann also points out, this sounds all scientific and official and rigorous, but it completely ignores the fact that the vast majority of homeopathic remedies are diluted to nonexistence and are, at their core, water soaked into sugar pills and allowed to evaporate.

I've mentioned before that NCCAM has deemphasized homeopathy in that it hasn't funded any significant trials of homeopathy in quite some time, at least a few years. This is good. The NIH shouldn't be spending its money studying fairy dust. Unfortunately, even though it's forced to acknowledge that there is "little" evidence to support homeopathy (it's actually no credible scientific evidence) and that the precepts of homeopathy violate the laws of physics, even now, under its director Josephine Briggs, still can't quite bring itself to come to the logical, scientific conclusion that flows from those admissions: That homeopathy doesn't work and can't work.


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I like to say that homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All (although of late I've debated whether homeopathy or reiki is the most properly referred to as that). It's a strange beast, homeopathy. Its two main "Laws" are so clearly pseudoscience that you'd think that no one could ever fall…
Once again, repeat after me: Homeopathy is quackery. In fact, it's what I like to refer to as The One Quackery To Rule Them All. You would think that, in a modern world and given the incredible advancements in our scientific understanding of biology, physiology, chemistry, and physics over the…

Several years ago a local hospital hosted a weeks-long (1 session per week) "health fair" that included lectures by area alternative healthcare deliverers. The homeopathic representative, an apostate M.D., stood in front of a roomful of gullible attendees and with a straight face claimed that dilutions of 200X - 300X were so powerful that they should only be delivered by professionals!

To paraphrase the ever-funny Stan Freberg (out of context): "Yes, Boys & Girls, science is always hard at work for you at our hospital..."

One of the things that has to be made completely clear is that the outcomes claimed by hoemopaths are entirely consistent witht he null hypothesis (which includes placebo effects, regression to the mean and natural course of disease.

Homeopathists are so fixated on the "it works!" gambit that explaining *how* it appears to work even though it does not can knock the wind fomr their sails.

By Guy Chapman (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

What's the point of asking how it works if it hasn't even deduced that it works? It's like asking how and elephant flies.

OT- but are Directors of Integrative Medicine visiting world-class woo-meisters ever TRULY OT @ RI?
I'd say, "No".

Yesterday's Gary Null Show ( Progressive Radio Network) featured acceptance of Classen's diabetes/ ASD/ vaccine study ( @ 19 minutes in) and the U of Arizona's ( read Andrew Weil's) Desert Sinkhole of Integrative Medical Studies' Director, Dr Victoria Maizes ( past the 30 minute mark) who discusses SBM's attack on integrative medicine by Dr Offit and the rise of quackademic medicine ( altho' she doesn't call it that)- she and the host seem to find much on which to wholeheartedly agree. "50% of medical schools" are now teach integrative, says she.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

are now TEACHING integrative MEDICINE...

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

@Denice - I thought that the nonsense had merely scrambled your brain!

@TGobbi- that declaration about homeopathy just made me inhale my breakfast Pepsi. It truly is incredible.

This Senator, Royal Copeland, was one of the principal authors of the FDCA and was a physician trained in homeopathy.

How convenient.

The homeopathic representative, an apostate M.D., stood in front of a roomful of gullible attendees and with a straight face claimed that dilutions of 200X – 300X were so powerful that they should only be delivered by professionals!

I know that most RI readers are aware of this, but in case anybody isn't: One atom out of the entire Universe is roughly the concentration you get at a dilution of 80X (or 40C, if you prefer). The only thing powerful about a 200-300X dilution would be whatever that speaker was smoking.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

Nice post. Couple of nitpicks: First, I would nominate naturopathy as the One Quackery to Rule Them All, since it subsumes other quackeries, including homeopathy, into itself. I knew one naturopath who, if she heard of treatment A from quack Foo for condition X, and later heard of treatment B from quack Bar for condition X, would happily "prescribe" treatment A + B for condition X, since it must be doubly potent, irrespective of which particular disciplines of quackery Foo and Bar taught: homeopathy, reiki, herbal cleanses and detox, candida treatments, it's all good.


And if you can’t confirm that an “extremely dilute remedy” has what’s listed on the label, in scientific terms it implies that there is nothing at all in that remedy, at least nothing chemical.

Well, water is a chemical. :)

By Jeff Read (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

Well, water is a chemical.

Behold the power of dihydrogen monoxide!

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

@ elburto:

Nothing scrambles my brains: I'm an android!

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

DW is yet another attempt by Google to co-opt the 'Net? What?? :-)

By Scottynuke (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

" the claim that “like cures like,” as in compounds that cause a symptom are the cure for that symptom,"

I know Orac is well aware of this, but I feel it's worth clarifying and explicitly saying: Homeopathy goes beyond this claim.

It claims that a substance that causes a symptom is a cure for a completely different (and unrelated) cause of that symptom.

For all the bogus claims that real medical doctors are only concerned with treating symptoms rather than diseases, homeopathy cares not one wit about the actual specific disease causing any symptoms except as a means of determining what symptoms that underlying disease causes in order to select the proper homeopathic remedy. The actual pathology of the disease and causes of any symptoms is irrelevant to homeopathy.

By Karl Withakay (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

“one cannot confirm that an extremely dilute remedy contains what is listed on the label, or develop objective measures that show effects of extremely dilute remedies in the human body.”

You know, for real drugs, if they could not confirm that what's listed on the label is actually in the product in the amounts listed, it would be considered adulterated. Luckily for homeopaths, regulations exempt homeopathic products from potency and purity testing. Of course, then they tend to get into trouble for, say, having measurable amounts of deadly nightshade in their infant teething tablets. But, y'know, it says "Homeopathic" on the label, so it must be safe.

The other thing that bugs me is that while they are required to list how much the ingredient is diluted, that is really a meaningless indication of how much of the substance is in the product. Is 2X of something 1 mg of it or .0001 mg? Of course, for something listed at 12C or higher, it really doesn't much matter, since it's unlikely for a single molecule to be present.

@Eric Lund

Behold the power of dihydrogen monoxide!

Pshaw...DHMO is nothing. Oxidane, on the other hand...

The infiltration of homeopathic remedies onto drugstore shelves is a real problem. I have a toddler and she has had a stuff nose this past winter and I was looking for a decongestant to help her sleep better -- couldn't find one approved for a child her age, hen I found one that was approved for all ages. SCORE! Except thank god I recognized the hallmarks of homeopathy codes on the label (latin-sounding names for ingredients, things like 200x, etc.). I bet a lot of other parents wouldn't know they were spending their hard-earned money on sugar pills.

Hey, I'm all about the placebo for my kid -- I give her magical mommy kisses every time she scrapes a knee or stubs a toe -- but mommy kisses are free and there's no chance of accidentally poisoning her with nightshade, as the homeopathic "teething drops" did a few years back.

You certainly can confirm whether a homeopathic remedy meets its label claim. Just use a Quantum XXroid instrument to evaluate the potency. If the plate squeaks when you rub it, it's good.

By Mark Thorson (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

Homeopathy will continue to survive unless those who oppose it can carry out book burnings, shut down the newspapers and magazines, fire all the judges, attorneys, stop social networking through the internet, and imprison people who spread the news of homeopathy through contact from friend to friend, family member to family member, co-worker to co-worker, club members to club members, church group members to other members. It's not going to happen.

By Sandra Courtney (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

Sandra, you are aware it's just water, right?

People have died thanks to this garbage.

Homeopathic malaria prevention (guess what they caught), homeopathic vaccines (ditto), pet dogs dying in agony while being fed sugar pills instead of a 100% effective treatment from the vet... the list is long.

I no longer buy organic anything, either. I'm all for reducing harmful chemicals, but not if it means treating sick cows with magic water and then selling unsafe milk to children.

And still not one homeopath will dare to take Andy Lewis' brilliantly simple $100 test that would PROVE they're not deluded frauds:…

Why is that, I wonder?

By Mark McAndrew (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

Sandra @17 -- No one here is suggesting that the books should be burned. I thing most of us here would settle for some reasonable standard of consumer protection, like a prominent label on any homeopathing remedy. I'd go for:

"CONSUMER NOTICE: The Surgeon General and the Food and Drug Administration warn that this homeopathic remedy has never been shown to be safe or effective as treatment for any condition. See for details. "

By palindrom (not verified) on 18 Jul 2013 #permalink

Something hilarious happened. I received a homeopathy kit as my graduation gift. I'm a midwife in Ontario with a delinquent (MD) background. I cried a little remembering how it was drilled into our heads during school that ontario midwifery is evidence based. What a big stinky doo doo.

Sandra - you sound a tad paranoid. I recommend a 200x preparation of Ozzius Osbornium 4x daily.

I'm amused. Thanks for the laughs everyone. No lack of creative imagination here. Keep up the good work.

By Sandra Courtney (not verified) on 19 Jul 2013 #permalink

"...homeopathic remedies must contain active ingredients..." Inasmuch as they contain NO active ingredients at all one would think that alone is a reason to prohibit their sale!

Homeopathy is instinctively nonsense - who hasn't added too much water to something and found it weaker than desired, not stronger

@ Gary:

You would THINK so!
However, a while back a commenter ( James Sweet, IIRC)had a hypothesis about why somewhat reality- based individuals might buy ( in both senses of the word) homeopathy:
they ( mistakenly) believe that formulae contain natural substances- like herbs- that work through feasible pharmacological mechanisms but are not overly powerful like pharmaceuticals.

In other words, they MISS the true state of affairs- that whatever substances are suppposed to be 'there' AREN'T really - they only exist in the mind's eye of their creators- due to extremely low concentrations in which it is unlikely that even a single molecule will remain.

Also they aren't aware of the "like cures like" idea.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jul 2013 #permalink

Oh great, a drive-by homeopath troll. Never seen one of those before. *roll eyes*

Ta ta, Sandra. Run along before you have to confront facts.

I would like to humbly submit that Homeopathy can be used to help save endangered species.


The folks who tend to believe in Homeopathy are also, apparently, the same folk who believe in various aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine - which in some cases includes the consumption of various body parts of one or more endangered species.

Homeopathy posits that the less of a given substance in the remedy, the more powerful it becomes. Therefore, it follows that a TCM "Animal parts" remedy would be most powerful in it's Homeopathic form, containing none of the body part in question.

Thus, the users of TCM can have incredibly potent Rhino Horn, Tiger Penis, Dolphin Fin, what have you, without requiring the sacrifice of any of the aforementioned endangered species.

People believe in these remedies whether or not there is any evidence they work. No amount of logic and education seems to change their minds. But if we combine the two forms of Woo into one, they get the most effective form of their chosen Woo, and the critters being poached for body parts to feed the industry don't have to die. It's a win:win. Except for the folk who don't actually get any better, because these remedies don't actually work.

Sandra, you say that 'homeopathy will survive' like that's a good thing. Why?

@Sandra Courtney - My hope is that if people are given accurate information - that homeopathy as a system has no valid foundation and that homeopathic remedies are no more effective than a placebo and are, indeed, indistinguishable from one by any known test - they won't use it. This also means countering the outrageous claims from those who promote homeopathy.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 19 Jul 2013 #permalink

@Sandra Courtney - there are all kinds of nonsense that continue to survive despite having no basis in reality. Homeopathy is just one form.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 19 Jul 2013 #permalink

Went to a vitamin shop a few days ago for some Cal-Mag liquid which was recommended for leg cramping. The clerk said "we also have these pills for leg cramps that people say works wonders". When I got them home I discovered that they were homeopathic pills, so I took them back and had a heated discussion with the obviously woo convinced clerk. I tried to tell her that there was nothing in those pills other than sugar; wherein she popped up with the pre-scientific vitality argument you mentioned by saying "Yes, but they contain the life force of the active ingredient". I almost dropped to the floor with that comment. I told her that she was a fraud and that I wanted my money back, which she gave me. I left, but I'm not so sure I am finished with this at all. Reallllllllly pissed me off big time.

By WetCoastAtheist (not verified) on 19 Jul 2013 #permalink
This Senator, Royal Copeland, was one of the principal authors of the FDCA and was a physician trained in homeopathy.

How convenient.

One might note that this was only a few decades after the construction of the Hahnemann monument in Washington, which TMR provided a brief yet laughable history of (which they failed to correct when presented with original documents from the principals).

Homeopathy will continue to survive unless those who oppose it can carry out book burnings

Wouldn't burning the Organon make it more potent and widely dispersed? We are instructed that fire is like ferromagnetism, on the basis of "friction," and that ferromagnetism is an example of the power of dynamization.

Wouldn’t burning the Organon make it more potent and widely dispersed? We are instructed that fire is like ferromagnetism, on the basis of “friction,” and that ferromagnetism is an example of the power of dynamization.

Oh stahp. Even in jest this just makes my head hurt.

One of my midwifery preceptors was a believer, she used elaborate protocols of pulsatilla and caulophyllum and some other unicorn droppings for anything from labour induction to perineal healing. Needless to say, our relationship just wasn't meant to be. Call me dense and limited by dogma and lack of imagination but I cannot twist my gyruses into so much magical thinking. I'm afraid, objective reality doesn't get one anywhere in this - regulated and hospital integrated - profession. It's scary.

Mark, #19 -- my equine list had a few scientists on it and created a test for "animal communicator." It was a double-blind arrangement, with members volunteering animals and the blind handling of results. Then we invited horse psychics to participate -- no money, but the publicity would have quickly earned them both notoriety and money, if the passed the test.
Guess how many took the test? Yup you guessed it: no "animal communicator" ever wanted to have their abilities proven.

I'm fully with you on the absurdity of homeopathy and see why you would say there is a chemistry problem, but which fundamental law of physics is being violated?

By Gat Huckle (not verified) on 20 Jul 2013 #permalink

Gat Huckle: look up Avogadro's number:

The idea is that most true homeopathic "remedies" dilute to the point where according to this constant, there are no molecules of the original "medicine" left. To counter this, homeopaths say that because they shake the water a special, magical way, it "remembers" the medicine. As a matter of fact, they claim the more you dilute, the more powerful the "remedy".

That violates physics in so many ways it is not even funny. So more recently, homeopaths have started inserting the word "quantum" wherever they can to be as vague as possible and to sound more sciency. In fact, all they've done is added yet another field of science they're completely wrong about.

(TL, DR): Water having "memory", more dilution makes something more powerful, and abuse of "quantum".

I feel sort of sorry for Prince Charles, he will turn 65 this year not yet having started his career. His mother is in excellent health at age 87 and his grandmother lived to 102. He is looking forward to assuming his real job probably at about 80 years of age. This may account for his being a bit flakey.

@TBruce -

I wonder if Queen Mum isn't holding on to the job like a Pope *because* he's such a flake. I dunno what her retirement plan is, but I'll bet she could live a nice life and never work another day in her life.

@Johnny -

I wonder about that, too. I keep seeing this stuff about the Crown possibly bypassing Charles and going to William and think how much of a loser Charles would feel if that happened.
Incidentally, if Prince Homeopathy becomes king, I might join the Canadian Republican movement (not to be mistaken for the US Republicans, dog forbid!)

Pharmacopoeia is officially published by authority i.e by the government in charge of medical and welfare department, any Medical or pharmaceutical Society, either constituted or authorised by the government.

Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of India (9 volumes) has documented 4400 drugs. India also recognises British Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia, Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of United States and German Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia. There is Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia Laboratory, Govt. of India

By Dr. Nancy Malik (not verified) on 20 Jul 2013 #permalink

@Dr. Malik: .....aaaaaaand?

Stu #40

Avogadro's number is a chemical measure, not a law of physics. Thinking that magically shaken water will cure diseases is plainly ludicrous, but I still don't see why it's necessary to say that it violates the laws of physics. Even when practitioners of homeopathy throw in the word quantum it is not a violation of anything. It just means they don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about. The actual physics of the universe have nothing to do with this argument in either direction.

By Gat Huckle (not verified) on 20 Jul 2013 #permalink

Nancy Malik,

Why present yourself as if you have a medical degree when, as best as I understand, your highest qualification is not be recognised as a medical degree in most parts of the world?

A BHMS (Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine and Surgery) may well be recognised in India, but it is not recognised in most countries — with good reason. If you must credential yourself (best not to really, but…), refer to yourself as 'Nancy Malik, BHMS'.

(I believe you should also correct your LinkedIn profile. I’d like to think that they take implication of credentials that person doesn't have seriously.)

Gat, would you be happier with "for homeopathy to work as advertised, most of what we know about physics would have to be wrong"?

Gat Huckle: "but I still don’t see why it’s necessary to say that it violates the laws of physics" — for one thing, it would have something be totally absent and yet be there. If you dilute the substance entirely out of the solution—as high dilutions used in homeopathy will do (if done as they claim)—then that substance is just not there.

It relates to physics in that atoms/substance are finite. Some time before Hahnemann’s time (he founded homeopathy) it was thought by many that substances got infinitely smaller, so you could in effect infinitely dilute a mixture, with the solute (the substance added to the solution) getting infinitely smaller. That’s long been known to be wrong. (I believe this was in fact established before Hahnemann’s time, but I'm happy to stand corrected.) It follows that the high dilutions used in homeopathy will dilute out the substance(s) entirely, so that there is no active ingredient at all in the final mixture.

Gat Huckle - I think you'll agree that homeopathy is ridiculous from a chemistry standpoint in any concentration around 12C or lower, Homeopaths recognize this; therefore they start making up explanations for how the remedy can cause a physical effect without the aid of actual chemistry. These explanations often involve storing information in quantum states, which is clearly the province of physics.

However, I contend you draw your distinctions too narrowly. Avogadro's number is certainly not a law; however, it is not merely in the province of chemistry. Avogadro's number is (in effect) the conversion factor between atomic mass units and grams. As such it is used by both chemistry and physics, and the measurement of the number is squarely in physics. From a physics basis, I know that a 1 molar solution of substance in water would have 6.022 x 10^23 molecules of solute in a liter of solvent. This is regardless of it's chemical properties. I also know from physics, not so much chemistry, that I the minimum amount of solute I can have and still have a solution would be 1 molecule. Thus - from physics - I know that if I had a molecule of solute in a liter of solvent, then divided that up into 100 10ml samples, 99 of those samples contain no solute (the 100th might not as well, depending on technique).

That is actually important. Assuming that a homeopathic remedy started out as a 1 molar solution (there's no reason to believe that this is true, but this makes a convenient number to work from and at worst is only off by a few orders of magnitude), then based on how homeopathic dilution is done at 11C you'd expect in the range of 60 molecules of solute per liter. At any 30C, the chances (by physics, not chemistry) that there would be even a single molecule in a dose is vanishingly small (it's possible, of course, but highly unlikely). And that is why there are laws of physics that contradict homeopathy. At least in my view.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Jul 2013 #permalink

@Grant - Homeopathic surgery? So, the smaller the incision or amount of tumour removed, the better the outcome?

Thanks phone!

Ugh, I'll try again:

@Grant - Homeopathic surgery? So, the smaller the incision or amount of tumour removed, the better the outcome?

Perhaps now you're prepared to answer the question you were asked back in March:

What in your opinion is the single most compelling piece of evidence demonstrating homeopathy is more effective at treating non-self-limiting illnesses than are placebo’s (i.e., that homeopathy actually works)?

Hopefully this evidence will take the form of a well designed and appropriately controlled, blinded, clinical study.


I don't what is meant by it. Some might, though, read it as surgery with instruments so small that they don't exist :-)

(JK, of course.)

From what I can gather, "homeopathic surgery" seems to be used mostly for inflammations - you inject an inflammed site with an inflammatory agent and lo, inflammation is cured. I read about it being used to treat glue ear.

I'll stick with cold packs and antibiotics, I think.

By Christine (the… (not verified) on 22 Jul 2013 #permalink

Pharmacopoeia is an official book published by the government containing list of medicines with information about sources, description, identification, preparation and standardisation.

The words ‘pharmacopoeia’, ‘pharmacology’, ‘pharmacy’ and ‘pharmaceutical’ and are all derived from ‘pharmakon’.
The word “pharmakon” meant both the disease and its cure to the ancient Greeks. The word is paradoxical, translated as ‘drug’ and meaning both ‘remedy’ and ‘poison’. This is still the same today – we refer to both effective medicines and to toxic substances as ‘drugs’

By Dr. Nancy Malik (not verified) on 23 Jul 2013 #permalink

@Nancy Malik

So, the government publishes a book of magic thanks to bad legislation from way back when drug regulation was first established. Your point?

Oh, and thanks for the lesson on the etymology of those words. But, once again, your point?

You see, neither of those provides evidence in support of homeopathy.

Here's a question, if I give you a bottle of regular ol' distilled water and a bottle of a homeopathic solution, what procedures could you use to determine which is the homeopathic solution and which is just water?

Alternatively, if I give you a lactose pill and a homeopathic pill, what procedures can you do to tell which is just lactose and which is the homeopathic pill?

@Grant @56 - interesting. Does a homeopathic hunger strike mean you gorge yourself 24/7?

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 23 Jul 2013 #permalink

@Dr. Nancy Malik - that's an interesting language lesson. However, I've been going to science fiction conventions for a long time and know lots of people who have written and published books. I'm not quite sure what the point of your message is.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 23 Jul 2013 #permalink

The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia's 9 volumes aren't relevant to this discussion, though, are they? What's needed aren't lists of sources, preparations, etc. What's needed is actual evidence homeopathy works (i.e., ismore effective at treating non-self limiting illness or injury than placebos).

Once it's been shown to work, then we can discuss standardizing preparations. Until then we're effectively discussing how best to launder the emperor's new clothes.

@Dr. Malik: .............AAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNND?

Dr. Malik - don't leave us hanging, I'm turning blue....

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 24 Jul 2013 #permalink