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Why are so many clinical trials of homeopathy “positive”?

Homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All. Why, then, can homeopaths seemingly cite so many “positive” randomized clinical trials to support it?

I’m a bit tired of blogging about nothing but COVID-19; so I thought I’d take some time to “dunk on a 7′ hoop” and look at homeopathy. Obviously, I’m being sarcastic here, because, no matter how much the precepts of homeopathy violate multiple well-established laws of physics and chemistry, no matter how, for homeopathy to “work,” huge swaths of well-documented physics, chemistry, and biology would have to be not just wrong but spectacularly wrong, or how often clueless academics dismiss skepticism that debunks quackery as too easy and not worthy of their big brains, it’s often not at all easy to explain to the lay public why homeopathy is The One Quackery To Rule Them All, particularly when a homeopath starts touting what looks like a positive controlled randomized clinical trial of homeopathy for some ailment or other, saying something like, “If homeopathy is quackery, explain this, skeptic!”

Challenge accepted, although in a more general fashion, thanks to a paper published last week in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine entitled Assessing the magnitude of reporting bias in trials of homeopathy: a cross-sectional study and meta-analysis. What’s reporting bias? Hang on, and I’ll explain. Before I go on, I feel compelled to add something. When I make this reference to The One Quackery To Rule Them All echoing One Ring To Rule Them All, it occurs to me that I should add my apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien. At least in The Lord of the Rings, the One Ring had actual power, unlike, of course, homeopathy. Moving on to mix fantasy novels and movies, as I like to say when I compare quackery to magic at Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter universe magic actually works—and it even works in a fashion sufficiently predictable to be studied scientifically, which is rather what this paper tries to do, at least in terms of clinical trials.

Traditionally, whenever the topic of homeopathy comes up, even though I know that a lot of my readers are already very familiar with it, I feel an obligation to include a brief tutorial for the newbies rather than just linking to past discussions (of which there are many going back to 2005) and making them click through if they aren’t familiar with the topic. The first thing one has to understand is that homeopathy is privileged, particularly in European countries such as Germany and France (although also in the US, just somewhat less so) because of history. Basically, it was grandfathered in, such that it is accepted without being held to the same rigorous standards of evidence that pharmaceutical drugs are by the US FDA and its equivalent in other countries. Indeed, until recently in France, the government fully paid for homeopathic remedies. Even now, physicians who speak out against homeopathy can find themselves at the receiving end of lawsuits and government sanctions.

Back to the brief primer, though.

Homeopathy is, as I said above, what I like to refer to as “The One Quackery To Rule Them All,” although other equally magically ridiculous (or even arguably more magically ridiculous) alternative medicine treatments like reiki, distance healing, and the like do give homepathy a run for its money for the title. When I first learned what homeopathy really is, I was gobsmacked. Indeed, most people are blissfully unaware of the magical principles of homeopathy, such as the law of similars (i.e., “like cures like,” the principle that states that, in order to relieve a symptom, you should use an herb, medicine, or other compound that causes the symptom) and the law of infinitesimals (which claims that diluting a remedy makes it stronger). And don’t even get me started on homeopathic “provings,” in which healthy people take the substances used in homeopathic remedies and then report their findings. I’ve discovered that even most physicians are unaware of the true precepts of homeopathy, with most of them thinking it’s just herbal medicine.

Although the law of similars is without a basis in science, biology, or physiology, and homeopathic provings result in some truly hilariously ridiculous nonsense, it is the law of infinitesimals that best illustrates the utter absurdity of homeopathy. Here’s the idea. This law states that, to make a remedy stronger, you dilute the remedy. And, wow, do homeopaths ever do that! A typical homeopathic remedy is 30C, with “C” signifying a 100-fold dilution. So a 30 C homeopathic dilution is equal to thirty 100-fold dilutions or (10-2)30, or a 1060-fold dilution. Those of you with a chemistry background will notice right away that this is an incredibly large number compared to Avogadro’s number, which is 6.022 x 1023 and is the number of molecules in a mole of a chemical. So, even if one starts with a mole of a substance (whose weight equals its molecular weight in grams), the resulting 30C dilution will dilute it over 1036-fold beyond the number of starting molecules. In other words, it’s incredibly unlikely that there will be a single molecule of starting substance left, other than potentially any that might “carry over” between serial dilutions sticking to the glassware. How do homeopaths explain this? They claim that water has “memory” and that it “remembers” contact with the active ingredient.

As is usually the case whenever I write about homeopathy, I like to include this clip of Richard Dawkins from Enemies of Reason. Whatever other failings Dawkins has, in this case he explains the ridiculousness of The One Quackery To Rule Them All in two and a half minutes better than I can in two thousand words:

So, from a basic science standpoint, homeopathy can’t work. To repeat for emphasis what I said above, for homeopathy to work, huge swaths of physics, chemistry, and biology would have to be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. This brings us to clinical trials.

Noting, as I did above, that the perception still persists in a number of countries that homeopathy is a “safe, holistic and comparable alternative to modern medicine” and adding that “up to 9.2% of adults in mostly western countries have relied on homeopathic remedies during the past 12 months,” the authors then provide a bit of background:

For years, sceptics and homeopathic practitioners have engaged in a fierce debate on whether homeopathic treatments are more effective than placebo.5–11 Advocates of homeopathy often refer to two systematic reviews and meta-analyses by Mathie et al that reported statistically significant differences of homeopathic treatments compared with placebo.12 13 According to Google Scholar, these reviews have been cited up to 200 times in other research publications. Sceptics counter that homeopathy’s effectiveness is no different from a placebo’s effectiveness when effectiveness is based on methodologically sound studies.14 The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council concluded that according to an assessment of 57 systematic reviews on 68 conditions, ‘there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective’.15 Institutions in the European Union16 and the UK17 have issued similar statements that support this stance.

An important factor often missing from the debate, however, is that published RCTs of homeopathic treatments might not represent the totality of conducted scientific studies but rather only a selected proportion with positive results. This phenomenon, known as reporting bias, occurs when the publication or non-publication of studies or outcomes depend on the nature and direction of results, with statistically significant findings having a higher likelihood of publication than non-significant findings.18 Because statistical methods to detect or correct for reporting bias have limitations, meta-analyses of published studies like the ones from Mathie et al12 13 can lead to inflated and misleading results because positive trials are overrepresented.

The same sort of issue applies to acupuncture studies, by the way, but that’s a topic for another post.

Unfortunately, they also say what I said above in cringeworthy milquetoast way:

Homeopathy, developed by Samuel Hahnemann in Germany almost 200 years ago, is largely inconsistent with current scientific concepts.1 For example, the principle of similarity (like cures like) and the claim that an increasing dilution of a substance leads to a stronger treatment effect (potentiation) lack evidence and contradict medical and physical principles.2

“Largely inconsistent with current scientific concepts”? “Lack evidence and contradict medical and physical principles”? I guess you could say that. At least they cite David Grimes.

Another name for the phenomenon of publication bias is the “file drawer effect,” so named because negative studies can be more likely to get filed in a drawer somewhere rather than submitted for publication in the peer-reviewed literature. There are, of course, a number of techniques to assess for publication bias in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. One of the most commonly used is the funnel plot, the main assumption behind which is that studies with high precision will tend to end up plotted near the average, while studies with low precision (i.e., lower quality studies) will be distributed evenly on both sides of the average, creating a roughly funnel-shaped distribution. However, funnel plots are imperfect, as are many of the other methods of detecting publication bias just from the published literature, which brings us to this study.

One strategy that has been implemented, with varying degrees of rigor and success, is to require pre-registration of clinical trials, including the primary and secondary outcomes, before the trials are begun, which can allow the determination of whether a file drawer effect exists for a treatment and its clinical trials, and, if so, how large it might be. The authors note:

To reduce reporting bias, public trial registries such as ClinicalTrials.gov in the USA and ClinicalTrialsRegister.eu in the European Union have been founded to promote the prospective registration of all trials. Since an amendment of the Declaration of Helsinki in 2008, prospective trial registration and publication of results are regarded as an ethical obligation of investigators.19 In 2005, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) adopted a policy that the journals they oversee would only publish results of clinical trials which have been prospectively recorded in a public registry.20 These measures have led to an increase in the number of clinical trials that are prospectively registered21; however, researchers are not obligated to publish results of such trials22 and the proportion of non-publication remains high.

Because regulatory agencies do not require proof of effectiveness for homeopathic products, little attention has been paid to the non-publication of homeopathy trials and its consequences. An assessment by Thomas et al reported that up to the year 2013, only 46% of registered homeopathic trials (16/35) were published.23 When no information is publicly available about the majority of homeopathic trials, sound conclusions about the efficacy and the risks of using homeopathic medicinal products for treating health conditions are impossible.24 25

This is, of course, true for all clinical trials, regardless of whether the treatment being studied is from alternative medicine or science-based medicine, as the authors note later, in their conclusion:

The non-publication of trial results and selective outcome reporting, however, is not a phenomenon that is limited to homeopathy.60 Over the past years, numerous studies reported that, despite registration, large proportions of completed trials remained unpublished.22 61–65 For example, an assessment of 2132 registered clinical trials in Germany between 2009 and 2013 showed that 33% remained unpublished after 5 years.62 Likewise, of 4347 clinical trials conducted in academic centres in the USA, 34% remained unpublished.61

Let me intercept one criticism that I can foresee right here, namely the response that there are high numbers of unpublished clinical trials of pharmaceuticals too. This is nothing more than “whataboutism”—or “whataboutery”—a propaganda technique designed to distract from a legitimate criticism by deflecting that criticism back at the critic and insinuating hypocrisy. Let’s just say that proponents of science-based medicine apply the principle of insisting on preregistration and publication of clinical trials to all medicine, not just homeopathy and other alternative medicine. Let me also observe a general principle about clinical trials. Low prior plausibility (and homeopathy has, in essence, zero prior plausibility) plus equivocal clinical trial results equal, “the treatment doesn’t work or has effects too small to be clinically useful.” (I frequently say this about ivermectin for COVID-19 and here note that ivermectin, as poor as its prior plausibility is for COVID-19, is still way more plausible a treatment than homeopathy is for anything.) In contrast, pharmaceutical studies almost always have a much higher level of prior plausibility at their heart than any study of any homeopathic remedy.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on. The current study had four objectives:

  1. To determine the proportion of registered trials assessing homeopathy that remains unpublished.
  2. To examine whether registered primary outcomes are consistent with published primary outcomes.
  3. To assess the proportion of published randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on homeopathy that have been registered in a public clinical trial registry.
  4. To gauge the impact of reporting bias on evidence syntheses of homeopathy trials.

To accomplish this, the authors did this:

Two persons independently searched Clinicaltrials.gov, the EU Clinical Trials Register and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform up to April 2019 to identify registered homeopathy trials. To determine whether registered trials were published and to detect published but unregistered trials, two persons independently searched PubMed, Allied and Complementary Medicine Database, Embase and Google Scholar up to April 2021. For meta-analyses, we used random effects models to determine the impact of unregistered studies on meta-analytic results.

The primary outcomes and measures were the proportion of registered but unpublished trials and the proportion of published but unregistered trials. The authors also assessed “whether primary outcomes were consistent between registration and publication.” Why did they do that? Because changing the primary outcome of a clinical trial after the trial starts is a no-no, the reason being that such changes are not infrequently made because the results for the primary outcome were negative and the authors switch to a different outcome for which a “statistically significant” result can be reported.

Here’s the schema for the searches:

Homeopathy search strategy
Disposition of search results in clinical trial registries (created by authors). ICTRP, International Clinical Trials Registry Platform; RCT, randomised clinical trial.

So what were some key findings? First, the authors found that close to 38% of homeopathy trials registered since 2002 remain unpublished. The authors also found that over half (53%) of published randomized controlled trials of homeopathy since then were not registered and that, even for the trials that were registered, retrospective registration (registration after the trial was started—ore even after it was published) was more common than prospective registration (registration before the trial was started). It’s gotten somewhat better recently, but even over the last five years nearly 30% of homeopathy RCTs published had not been registered.

Here’s a graph of the results by year:

Homeopathy clinical trials by year
Proportions of published and unpublished registered trials with trend by registration year (created by authors).

More interestingly:

A meta-analysis of unregistered RCTs yielded a statistically significant treatment effect favouring homeopathy (SMD: −0.53, 95% CI −0.87 to −0.20). By contrast, a meta-analysis of registered RCTs did not show a statistically significant difference between homeopathy and placebo (SMD: −0.14, 95% CI −0.35 to 0.07). Meta-regression revealed that the difference in effect sizes between registered and unregistered studies did not reach statistical significance (difference in SMDs: 0.39, 95% CI −0.09 to 0.87). Figure 4 presents the meta-analyses of registered and unregistered RCTs.

I like to say that homeopathy is a perfect tool to probe the weaknesses of clinical trials in that any homeopathic remedy over around 12 C is indistinguishable from nothing and therefore most homeopathy trials compare placebo to placebo. Thus, even under perfect conditions, by random chance alone we would expect to see that roughly 5% of clinical trials of homeopathy would be positive, just because we arbitrarily choose as our cutoff for statistical significance p-values less than or equal to 0.05. Of course, far more than 5% of homeopathy clinical trials appear to be positive and that’s where the biases and shortcomings of randomized clinical trials come in. This study adds to the literature yet another observation that publication bias is a major problem in homeopathy and likely explains its higher than expected (based on random chance alone) number of positive clinical trials.

The bottom line, however, remains that homeopathy is based on prescientific concepts more akin to sympathetic magic than it does to any science. For all the reasons I included in my introduction, that means that, arguing from basic science alone, homeopathy can’t work. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop naturopaths and other quacks from believing that it does work or evidence-based medicine methodolatrists who worship the randomized controlled trial as the only valid form of medical investigation from ignoring how the precepts of homeopathy violate multiple laws of physics and chemistry and observe that more clinical trials need to be done.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

66 replies on “Why are so many clinical trials of homeopathy “positive”?”

Homeopathy certainly has quackery powers. It had enough power to gain substantial foothold among physicians in France and Germany and be prevalent among antivaccine activists and alternative practitioners.

It doesn’t need to actually work to have substantial quackery powers.

“It doesn’t need to actually work to have substantial quackery powers.”

We have two relatives, one in WI, the other in TN, who see homeopaths on a regular basis to get “medicines for what ails them”. When I’ve asked them why they bother going they say (after replying that the stuff works) that the “doctors” spend more time getting to know them than regular doctors, so they have more faith in what the homeopaths say and give them than they do in what they receive from their other (read) doctors.

Now that is nothing more than two anecdotes, I realize, but I wonder: if the perception of these alt med folks being easier to talk to widespread, how much does it play into the acceptance of their quackery by the public?

I think it has everything to do with people haivng so much faith in quacks. That and confirmation bias. There’s also the widespread perception that the whole medical/pharmaceutical “industry” is corrupt and mad with greed–and yet somehow the homeopath–who charges fees–is just a regular guy or gal who listens and treats your complaint with something “natural” and “gentle”. What I hate the most is that this useless crap sits right next to other OTC products and that so many people are none the wiser. I don’t know how the CEO’s of Walgreen’s, RiteAid, etal live with themselves. Talk about an idustry of greed.

No doubt someone like Dana Ullman will be right along to claim that you’ve misprepresented ” homeopathic methods” because you don’t understand them…Just like he did on a similar piece which Edzard Ernst posted recently.

Spoiler alert: Ullman didn’t actually explain what Edzard had got wrong…

No analysis of homeopathy can be considered rigorous unless it incorporates quantum physics.

I banned Dana Ullman years ago, but it’s always possible he could pop up with a new email address posting from a different IP block than he used to (or from a VPN), I suppose.

I like the warning on some homeopathic products to be careful not to overdose.

Homeopathy is the medical equivalent of pet rocks.

With some products this is a quite valid warning. Arsenicum album D6 exists and there are references to D4.

Do I understand this correctly: that your claim here is that a certain small number of RCTs of a placebo would be positive due simply to random variation in the research method or test subjects, and reporting bias amplifies this small number to appear statistically significant? This is interesting in that it does a lot to let the authors of the individual studies off the hook, finding the fault to be an unintended consequence of systemic bias in the institutions of medical-science publication. By which I mean the overall publication preference for positive results doesn’t have anything to do with a motivation to legitimize alt med.

But I still have some questions. How many, if any, of the positive results are just bad studies, with some sort of design flaw? Thinking about bad ‘acupuncture works’ studies that use subjective pain reports and lack proper controls, it strikes me that could parallel homeopathy studies, but only for certain conditions. So I wonder how the studies included in a meta-analysis line up, in terms of representing the range of things homeopathy claims to be able to treat. Also, how do studies of homeopathic remedies that actually have some of ingredients (e.g. zinc cold remedies like Zicam and Cold-Eeze) figure vs. those that are just 30C sugar pills (e.g. Oscillo) or mnemonic water. IOW, is there still some evidence of bias amidst the individual studies showing positive results?

I ask that in part is that I’m wondering why, given the scientific implausibility, any medical scientist and any research funder would be spending the time, energy and money to study homeopathic remedies. [Yes, I think these things matter.] WHO is putting this stuff out there?

Choosing a p-value of under 0.05 for statistical significance means that, basically by definition (and a bit simplistically but not entirely inaccurately), even perfectly designed and executed clinical trials that should be negative (all homeopathy trials) will have a 5% chance of being positive by random chance alone (i.e., the null hypothesis is rejected incorrectly). Of course, as you note, the rate is considerably higher than that, and that’s where the bias comes in.

Some of that bias is systematic or due to poor trial design and execution. Some of it can be due to shenanigans after the fact, like changing primary outcomes after the study has already started. Some of it can be outright fraud—cough, cough, ivermectin, cough, cough—or incompetence. Some of it could, as this study suggests, be publication bias. Of course, alternative medicine trials are rife with all of these problems, systematic bias, poor design, publication bias, and, of course, outright fraud.

For example, it’s well known that the systematic bias in acupuncture studies is so rife in China that it’s rare to find a negative acupuncture study published in China. The reason is that acupuncture is considered part of Chinese culture and basically assumed to work that researchers are loathe to publish negative studies.

As for who is putting this stuff out there, well…that’s a complicated question that I’ve written about before, as have others at Science-Based Medicine.

A handful of examples, mainly about homeopathy but also about “integrative medicine”:

https://www.respectfulinsolence.com/2017/09/19/quackademic-medicine-now-reigns-supreme-at-uc-irvine/
https://www.respectfulinsolence.com/2017/09/26/homeopathy-at-uc-irvine-it-can-run-but-it-cant-hide/
https://www.respectfulinsolence.com/2017/09/29/in-which-orac-is-accused-of-having-blood-on-his-hands-for-criticizing-the-samuelis-200-million-gift-to-uc-irvine/
https://www.respectfulinsolence.com/2020/02/28/uc-irvine-update/

The Samuelis described here used to run the Samueli Institute but apparently now just donates directly without that messy middle man:

https://www.respectfulinsolence.com/2017/06/12/is-the-infiltration-of-integrative-medicine-into-medicine-as-relentless-as-we-thought-maybe-not/

Then there was the Bravewell Collaborative, which declared victory and dissolved itself, as I discussed above. Still, there were lots of big money and billionaire donors promoting quackery even before the pandemic, and, the fall of Bravewell Collaborative and the Samueli Institute notwithstanding, there are lots of dark money faux “institutes” funding “integrative medicine” and quackademia. Surprise, surprise, because a lot of it was traditionally also linked to the “health freedom” movement like the Alliance for Natural Health (both the US and International branches) it’s going strong in the age of COVID-19, along with antivax groups. Of course, “natural medicine” was always tightly linked to antivax, and this now continues, along with COVID-19 minimization, denial, and antimask movements.

http://www.dcscience.net/2015/12/11/placebo-effects-are-weak-regression-to-the-mean-is-the-main-reason-ineffective-treatments-appear-to-work/
Hi sadmar, you may find this enlightening on the whole ‘but it worked for me’ and the appearance of effectiveness of some of these ‘cures’.
If your condition is self-limiting or fluctuates and you time your intervention to when your symptoms are at their worst, it’s the old post hoc fallacy getting credit for your regression to the mean.

Negative homeopathy studies can be washed in a 30C solution of science to increase the potency of their conclusions.

You’ll have heard the one about the homeopath who went into a pub and got legless by drinking the soapy water the beer glasses had been washed in.

What did the scientist say after discovering the medicinal content of homeopathic remedies ?

0mg !!!!

Homeopathy does not contradict known laws of physics. Science doesn’t know everything, and it does not know how homeopathy could work.

Orac thinks he has the perfect argument against any alternative medical concept he doesn’t like — if he doesn’t consider it plausible, then it doesn’t work, regardless of research or clinical experience. Prior probabilities can be added to the statistics, to make things come out the way you want.

Just because something is “magic” doesn’t mean it can’t be scientific.”Magic” just means something not yet understood by science.

Not just homeopathy, but all forms of energy medicine are supposedly thrown in the trash by Orac and his fellow atheists. Everyone who believes in them is delusional. Just like everyone who believes in any kind of gods or spirits is delusional.

In your little echo chamber, it all seems reasonable. But the great majority of people are not atheists. And everyone who actually understands science is aware that science does not know everything, not even close.

Orac takes his personal atheistic beliefs and constantly strives to make it seem as if reality fits his beliefs. And convinces some people, who are easily convinced. It is a losing battle, as people continue to experience energy healing. And they won’t stop, no matter how loud you yell that it can’t possibly work.

Homeopathy does not contradict known laws of physics.

It does.

What in the known laws of physics explains the homeopathic law of infinitesimals?

Very true…… IF homeopathy didn’t contradict known laws of science, we should be diluting acids to make them stronger. Pouring a cup of hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool would cause the pool water to become so strong that it would chemically burn every swimmer!

IR:

Homeopathy does not contradict known laws of physics. Science doesn’t know everything, and it does not know how homeopathy could work.

It doesn’t help your case when you contradict yourself in the first paragraph!

Atheism has nothing to do with homeopathy. Many religious people can see through that nonsense, and many atheists can’t.

Homeopathy does not contradict known laws of physics. Science doesn’t know everything, and it does not know how homeopathy could work.

This is an Interesting example of a self-contradictory statement: homeopathy absolutely contradicts KNOWN laws of physics and chemistry.
As for unknown laws of physics and chemistry: you can’t invoke those as an argument for the very reason that WE DON’T KNOW THEM.

Indeed we don’t know how homeopathy could work. But based on our current knowledge, we know LOTS of reasons why it can’t work.

<

blockquote>“Magic” just means something not yet understood by science.

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blockquote>
Completely wrong again. Magic by definition is a product of human imagination, an unexplained mechanism to make things happen in a way that we never see in our real world.

Not just homeopathy, but all forms of energy medicine are supposedly thrown in the trash by Orac and his fellow atheists.

You don’t have to be an atheist to see that ‘energy medicine’ is indeed quackery, or another type of magic if you will. There is no evidence that this ‘energy’ exists, and there is no evidence either that this ‘energy medicine’ actually works. And again, there are LOTS of reasons that make it plausible that it does NOT exist, and purely is a product of the human imagination. The same imagination that may produce a placebo effect when treated with this energy magic medicine, but never has any significant therapeutic effects in case of actual medical conditions.

I think that the statement that science ‘does not know how homeopathy could work’ is correct…
Science should be directed at things that actually do work, not things that could work.

Religion — at least the Abrahamic variety — is relevant to the magic v. science question as it definitely comes down on the side of magic. If there are laws of physics or chemistry, they exist only because G-d created them, and they remain in effect only to the extent His Omnipotenceness chooses to abide them. If He wants to suspend them to burn bushes, part seas, multiply loaves, or perform any other miracle, “science” takes a holiday. I’m not aware of any homeopathy advocates going the “it’s a miraculous gift from the Lord” route, but they surely could.

Leaving mystical explanations aside, what IR would seem to be asserting by putting “magic” in quotes is that things that may appear to us as magic, that do indeed seem to contradict the known laws of science may someday be explained by the discover of some as yet unknown scientific principal.

This notion isn’t completely preposterous, which is why it’s not enough for skeptics to merely establish that the claimed mechanism of a given woo — qi, meridians, infinitesimals, whatever — is impossible. The forebears who proposed these hypotheses may simply have misunderstood that which was beyond their understanding at the time, and remains so today…

The problem, of course, is that there has to be some apparent “magical” material empirical phenomenon that remains unexplained. Which, in the case of homeopathy, subjective anecdota not counting, only emerges from various forms of faulty research methods, and disappears under any valid and reliable methodology.

What atheism has to with it ? Medication doeas work or it does not work. You should not start with curing people, prove first that water has memory. Start with simple things, like salts Or build bioenergy detector

Oooh yes. I believe Indie bragged about being able to knock one of those up.

I wonder if I could get pissed by drinking water with a few molecules of beer in it? Be a lot more cost effective than a crate of Stella.

@ NumberWang:

We’ve always ventured that if homeopathy were real, people could greatly dilute expensive liquids like scotch, gin, parfum, drugs, meds and fuels with water, making them even stronger and creating a new fortune every day easily.
But they don’t.

About fifteen years ago homeopath Andre Saine claimed that homeopathy worked better for rabies than the modern vaccines. As noted, since it affects non-human animals and is almost always fatal, that is easy to prove: “He even claims that homeopathy can cure rabies with 100% success. Rabies is almost 100% fatal, even with modern treatment, so this is quite an astounding claim. An audience member helpfully suggested that we can test this claim on animals that contract rabies, since they are just put to death in any case. I pointed out that if Dr. Saine’s claims are even remotely true it is amazing that such a simple study has not been done in the last two centuries, that we have been sitting on a cure for such a deadly disease all this time and yet homeopaths have never been able to silence critics with a controlled experiments. I also pointed out that homeopathically treating “rabies,” a disease, contradicts Dr. Bell’s “holistic” defense, but that’s a separate point.”

From: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/my-day-with-the-homeopaths-part-ii/

Are you brave enough to do that study to prove homeopathy actual works?

One of my hardcore Catholic colleagues got a laugh out of me reading your atheist baloney to him. He thinks homeopathy, crystals, UFOs, and the rest are silly nonsense too.

This study adds to the literature yet another observation that publication bias is a major problem in homeopathy and likely explains its higher than expected (based on random chance alone) number of positive clinical trials.

I think that is being far too generous to the homeopathy literature. While I don’t doubt publication bias is playing a role with negative trials not getting published, there is also a rampant issue of looking at large numbers of subjective measures and then using any statistically significant ones for publication. The high frequency of post hoc registering of trials and of changing primary outcomes between trial and publication suggests this is a real and extensive problem. Of course, most of the authors of these trials are true believers and I expect believe they are not doing anything wrong.

I’m surprised there’s no mention of all the “positive” preliminary studies that are never followed up.

Now, I’m not sure if I get this exactly right ( and after all, it is all made up nonsense) BUT an acclaimed woo-meister holds that homeopathy works because the process transforms water so that it is not merely water any more but a type of crystalline structure that has healing qualities which echo the original material**. Resonances remain that illustrate what the starting material was although it no longer is there. Harking back to Orac’s earlier post, the vibrations are the important curative factor not the actual presence of molecules.
I told you that this was woo.

** this might be based on Emoto’s “research”.

Nassim Haramein’s “Resonancescience dot org” site is still pushing a “water has memory” notion.

https://www.resonancescience.org/blog/Scientists-Show-That%20Water-Has-Memory

It references a very rigorous experiment:

“A scientific experiment was carried out whereby a group of students were all encouraged to obtain one drop of water from the same body of water, all at the same time. Through close examination of the individual droplets, it was seen that each produced different images.”

Can’t beat that with a stick

When it was invented, without anything resembling actual scientific trials (basically a single observation that one particular substance had a side effect similar to the disease it treated, and then unblinded reports of symptoms observed by a group of people), it wasn’t entirely implausible as we knew virtually nothing, especially about various potential causes of disease.

Cells had been discovered, but there was no real cell theory, microorganisms were not discovered and there was no germ theory, genes and proteins were unknown, hormones were unknown, elements were being discovered, but atomic theory was in its infancy and it was well before avagadro’s number, proteins, electrons or the periodic table. We may have known the function of organs other than the heart and digestive tract, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

If homeopathy worked,it would be one of the most astounding pieces of good fortune ever

I helped a colleague teach an elective class on critical analysis of alternative medicine in a pharmacy school curriculum. At the start of class for the homeopathy unit, we each pulled out a bottle of homeopathic 30C sleeping pills and read the warnings on overdose to the class and then we each downed an entire bottle of the sleeping pills in front of the class. The looks on their faces were pretty great. We then had an activity where we went through the math that Orac mentions in this article on 10^-60 vs. 6.022×10^23 to demonstrate why we could down a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills with confidence. News flash, neither of us fell asleep during the class or after.

So I must have missed the ‘follow the science’ on this one.

“New York City mayor partially lifts vaccine mandates for professional athletes”

If you are a multi million dollar ball player or actor you don’t have to be vaccinated in New York but if you are a police/fire/healthcare/waitstaff/teacher/dog catcher you lost your job because you didn’t get vaccinated.

cnbc.com/2022/03/24/new-york-city-mayor-partially-lifts-vaccine-mandates-for-athletes.html

Tell me again how is was all about science ‘some animals are more equal than others’

What kind of life do you live that you are so transparently desperate for attention, posting irrelevant nonsense under a multitude of socks? Are you so desperate that you even crave the mockery that you deservedly attract? So sad.

Yes, as I’ve said more than once previously. Occasionally I just wonder whether holding up a mirror, so that they can see themselves, will help them to improve their lives. It’s worth a shot in the interest of charity.

This post is about homeopathy. Not COVID, not vaccines.

Though the strength of your reading comprehension should be measured on the homeopathic scale.

@ Bill

First, you have made it absolutely clear that you don’t understand vaccinology; e.g. immunology, microbiology, epidemiology, public health

However, to answer you:

a. The higher the number vaccinated the better. If we reached, say 92 – 95%, the pandemic would end. It wouldn’t guarantee some COVID severe cases; but it would NOT be able to spread.
b. Cases don’t equal sickness. On any given day we are exposed, both internally and externally to between one thousand and three thousand potentially pathogenic microbes; e.g., 30% have MRSA in their nasal cavities, around same have Clostridium difficile in their intestines. However, our immune systems keep them in check. For instance, nasopharyngeal swabs find COVID in vaccinated people. But their immune systems, thanks to the vaccines, usually keep it from spreading further in body, even removing after a short time. And no one claims that vaccines are 100% effective, so there will be severe cases, just exponentially less than among non-vaccinated.
c. The New York mandates are for people who have extensive daily contacts with others. Firemen, police officers, medical personnel can come in contact with someone who is vulnerable; e.g., autoimmune disease, elderly and/or comorbidities, etc. Those working in restaurants can as well, though those most vulnerable probably avoid, they can still pass it on to those who were vaccinated and, for whatever reason, the vaccine did NOT take and/or they have some unknown genetic predisposition/weakness.
d. Professional athletes may as individuals go to restaurants, etc.; but on the playing field/court, they are NOT in direct contact with public. In addition, they represent a very small percentage of population. However, if we were NOT a nation of people ignorant of science, persuaded by social media, with exaggerated beliefs in individual liberty, not balanced with social responsibility, everyone possible should be mandated to get the vaccine.

No one knows the future; but, given what we know, quite possible for COVID to mutate to a much more virulent and transmissible form or for a new pandemic to break out. I wonder what someone like you would think/say if the number of hospitalized and dead exploded? Obviously as we approach one million it doesn’t phase you.

Even the cdc admits that if you are vaccinated you can still transmit the virus and still get the virus. Just like cold/flu the virus will never end, we will just accept it as part of life
As to your point on mulit millionaires ability to transmit covid and not get the vaccine but making the less well off get the vaccine…….
The star players in question all have attended indoor sports in New York as un- vaccinated… so its ok to sit in the same building with 20,000 other people un vax and un masked but once you get on the playing floor or ice or baseball field you are a health hazard?
In addition players from visiting teams were not mandated to be vaxxed in New York, just players from New York teams

‘Admit’?
There’s nothing to admit.
The only people expecting a 100% success rate for vaccines are antivaxxers!

If you can name the scientist or study that says sports people are a special case then do so. Otherwise, it’s not a scientific question is it? Direct your enquiry to the person in question.

Be careful though. Plenty of anti-vaxxers are quite happy to go against the ‘science’ and you’ve already stated your objection to different rules for different people.

@ Bill

Yes and no. Some vaccinated have been found to transmit COVID for a period of time; but at much lower levels AND, as I wrote, if we had a high level of vaccination then those exposed would have an exponentially lower risk of sickness. You apparently are too STUPID to understand what I wrote about the difference between infection and sickness and to actually read the CDC reports and go further and read the actual studies that show just how much transmission and for how long after being vaccinated.

And, as I wrote, I don’t agree with decision to not mandate everyone be vaccinated. As I wrote, too many Americans are STUPID like you, a combination of ignorance of how vaccines work and not understanding that rights must be balanced with communal responsibilities. We don’t have individual rights outside of communities.

You write: “so its ok to sit in the same building with 20,000 other people un vax and un masked but once you get on the playing floor or ice or baseball field you are a health hazard?”

Really, everyone who attends sports events are unvaccinated? Are you delusional? And, yep, if they sit next to someone unvaccinated or vaccine didn’t take they are a risk. But, assuming every 25% of those attending sports events are unvaccinated, far fewer than ALL the people who would be exposed on a daily basis to firemen, police officers, medical staff, restaurant workers, etc. So, MORON, we don’t live in a perfect world, the more vaccinated the better; but our politics and people like you who don’t understand infectious diseases, vaccines, etc. have a sick say. I guess you are unaware that on a per capita basis the US has by far the highest COVID deaths among all advanced democracies.

What I wish is each COVID infected person who transmit it, somehow one could genetically trace a marker back to them. Then if they refuse to be vaccinated and infect someone who sickens and dies they could be indicted for involuntary manslaughter; but unfortunately such a technology doesn’t exist.

“Really, everyone who attends sports events are unvaccinated?”
I never said that or even came close to that. I was referring to Kyrie Irving, who attending games in MSG un vaxxed and un masked.
But he was not allowed on the playing floor during a game, because he was un vaxxed. Yet after the games he went down to the floor and celebrated with the rest of the team.
In addition players from the opposing teams had several members who did not get the shot, they DID play and came into close contact with other players and fans.
The vaxx mandate applied to sewer workers too, but I am sure they were in close contact with people too.

“Then if they refuse to be vaccinated and infect someone who sickens and dies they could be indicted for involuntary manslaughter;”
We had a couple of governors who intentional infected healthy people with sick people maybe we should start with them first.

@ Bill

OK, I misread one quote; but you didn’t give a name; however, if one unvaccinated and unmasked sits in a crowd where most are vaccinated, then risk of many serious cases essentially extremely low.

And I agree that if we could prove which unvaccinated person infected someone who died, yep, I would want them prosecuted; but, as I wrote, we don’t have such technology and just because a particular person is unvaccinated, legally and scientifically we could not be certain that someone who becomes sick wasn’t infected by someone else.

However, you ignore the main points I’ve made, namely, that you really don’t understand the immune system and, thus, vaccines and that you don’t understand that individual rights only exist within communities, thus, have to be balanced with responsibilities to others.

So, as typical of MORONS, intellectually dishonest people, like you, point out some trivial error in what others write and avoid the major points.

We will certainly hit one million dead before Easter and according to credible studies, it will be an undercount. And you have indicated NO sorrow or understanding for such losses. I guess as long as not a close loved family member or friend the lives of others means little to you. I, on the other hand, at 75 am still at active blood donor, which helps total strangers. And I empathize with those who have lost loved ones from COVID, loved ones, even senior citizens, who may have lived years longer if vaccinated and those around them had been vaccinated. And even worse, children who have suffered, many developing long COVID, and some dying. I can’t think of anything worse.

@ Bill

You write: “The vaxx mandate applied to sewer workers too, but I am sure they were in close contact with people too.”

DId you know that they are now in some parts of US measuring COVID virus amounts in city water. So far no evidence one can become infected through this route. And sewer workers like everyone else interact with family, friends, go to restaurants, etc. And as I explained, the more people vaccinated the lower the probability of severe illness, including lower risk of transmission, not zero; but lower. You just don’t understand that we don’t live in a black and white world, all or none. All we can do is reduce risks significantly, not end them, though in a few cases historically we have in fact ended them; e.g., smallpox.

Tran et al. (2021 Feb). SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in water and wastewater: A critical review about presence and concern. Environmental Research; 193.

Dr. Joel, please do not feed the off topic troll.

Vaccines have nothing to do with homeopathy. Mostly because they contain measurable active ingredients… as opposed to the sugar pills.

@ Chris

If one wanted to exaggerate, since homeopathy believes incredibly small amounts of a substance confers protection/treatment, then vaccines are also an attenuated form of a microbe. LOL

Wrong, wrong, wrongety wrong. Vaccines work, sugar pills do not.

And it is really bad form to feed an off topic troll.

@ Chris

I guess you missed my point. Simply if homeopaths believe that “smaller” amounts of a substance confers some medical advantage, then they should support vaccines. LOL

Welcome to the party…… We’ve known that virus are easily spread thru our modern plumbing system since before 2003. That’s something any plumber could tell you, when you flush your toilet the suction that pulls the water down and then the air seal is broken the back flush of air from the system is released under pressure into your bathroom, then every smell, germ, bacteria and what ever…… is released back into your house. Its why your mom told you to shut the lid on the toilet before you flush.

Yes we are going to hit 1 million deaths with covid but then over 5 million people died of something else during that same time.

voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2003-04-17-49-researchers/395618.html

@ Bill

Yep, plumber and public health experts have actually always known that microbes can exist in our waters; but we also test to see if they survive the various processes used to make water safe, including chlorination and in most cases only when the public water system broke down or was ineffective have people been infected. And, as I wrote, there is NO evidence that anyone has become sick with COVID from public water.

You write: “Yes we are going to hit 1 million deaths with covid but then over 5 million people died of something else during that same time.”

Yep, and 10s of thousands die and are seriously injured by drunken drivers, so, according to your logic we shouldn’t do anything to reduce drinking and driving. And you SUPER ASSHOLE, the one million had friends and loved ones who would have wanted them to be around longer and without COVID most would have been. Just how FRIGGIN CALLOUS ARE YOU???

Have you ever studied, read a single book on immunology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, or as just another ASSHOLE, do you cherry pick, twist things to suit your IGNORANCE???

“That’s something any plumber could tell you, when you flush your toilet the suction that pulls the water down and then the air seal is broken the back flush of air from the system is released under pressure into your bathroom”

I never realised that plumbers have their own version of knowitall pundits too.

I was just in a Rite Aid for my shingles shot. The area around the pharmacy was LITTERED with bottles with that pesky CYA: these claims have not been verified by the FDA, and this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, etc…. sigh

I think pharmacists here in the US have a lot of latitude about discussing homeopathic products because they are such a cash cow for the big chains. I recently asked a trusted and experienced pharmacist whether the zinc cold remedies had any effect and what their policies were about discussing homeopathic products. He shrugged and said it’s possible the cold products shorten the duration of a cold but that he thought the jury was still out on that. To my great surprise, he took me to another aisle away from other people and quietly said that homeopathy was total nonsense, but he wasn’t allowed to state that fact explicitly. His company advocated just dodging the question in some way so as not to hurt sales. I also had a vet who claimed she was board-certified in homeopathy with twenty years of experience–whatever that’s supposed to mean–who rattled off recommendations for a diagnosed case of spinal arthritis using–you guessed it–products sold in her practice. My neuroscientist husband was with me and immediately challenged her. Her response? The practice DUMPED me as a client!! Unbelievable. Vets are some of the worst, and this one apparently regularly recommended her BS products before prescribing things that actually work. Vets need better oversight.

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