Homeopathy

“ Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. ”
Paracelsus (1493-1541)

“ Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
Democritus of Abdera

Prof. Rustum Roy PhD

Prof. Rustum Roy PhD, Pennsylvania State University

“ The poets did well to conjoin music and medicine, because the office of medicine is but to tune the curious harp of man's body. ”
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

“ A bodily disease which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part. ”
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)

“ Variability is the law of life, and as no two faces are the same, so no two bodies are alike, and no two individuals react alike and behave alike under the abnormal conditions which we know as disease. ”
William Osler (1849-1919)

“ The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity. ”
Albert Einstein

Homeopathic remedies

“ Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality. ”
G K Chesterton

“ We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us. ”
Rabindranath Tagore

" It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people. "
Giordano Bruno

Myths and Misconceptions

Click here for translations


This page was inspired by the responses to the question " Do homeopathic remedies work?" on the BBC's "Have Your Say" page in the wake of the much-publicised Lancet meta-analysis, published August 2005, which claimed to be the "last word" on the subject of whether homeopathic remedies have any effect beyond what might be expected from placebo. Amongst all the responses on the subject, there were a lot of misconceptions about homeopathy so it seemed worth addressing a few of them here.

For a more general introduction to the subject, see the Beginner's Guide, and for a perspective on how it is that scientists can become so divided over a question like homeopathy, see the essay Unscientific Attachment.

The Lancet article itself was the biggest myth of the lot, and very far from being the last word on the subject. Aside from the highly irregular context out of which this study was published, its quality has been widely condemned on its own merits (see below), along with the motivation of the Lancet in publishing it. Mikel Aickin PhD, Research Professor at the University of Arizona commented: “The Lancet article appears to be part of a recent trend, in which medical journals are publishing articles of exceedingly low quality to justify attacks on controversial therapies.”

If you have a question about homeopathy that isn't covered on this page or the Beginner's Guide, send it to me and I'll do my best to answer it and, if appropriate, include it below.



"... I think that we should all remember that it takes 4 or 5 years to be a doctor, I could be a homoeopathist in 5 minutes."
Chris, London

In the UK, homeopathic training is not a legal requirement so it is technically possible for anyone to call themselves a homeopath and start advertising for patients. However, in practice these days you'd be highly unlikely to find anyone doing so. And as for learning homeopathy in 5 minutes, forget it! Non-medically qualified (professional) homeopaths in the UK typically go through a 3-4 year college training (commonly including modules in anatomy, physiology, pathology, psychology, practitioner development and ethics as well as homeopathic theory, philosophy and materia medica) before starting supervised practice. Some courses are accredited by universities and have degree status. Qualified medical doctors wanting to use homeopathy used to take much shorter courses, but these are now becoming much more thorough and approaching the depth and extent of the courses undertaken by professional homeopaths.

It's no easy discipline and the learning never stops. Many practitioners devote their lives to it.

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"I worked for a well known homeopathy company for many years and was able to sample products on regular basis. In doing so, I found the lavender, citrus and rosemary oils very good for their particular uses such as tiredness, rejuvenating etc."
Baz, London

"Yes, actually. I sometimes have liquorice when I have an upset stomach. I chew on peppermint when I have a headache. I take cayenne pepper in broth when I have a headache as well. They all usually work and I try them first before subjecting my body to drugs and chemicals."
Beth, Bristow, Virginia USA

Lavender, citrus and rosemary oils are essential oils and liquorice, peppermint and cayenne pepper are herbal remedies. They are not homeopathy. Although there are essential oils, herbal remedies and homeopathic remedies prepared from the same substances, their method of preparation is quite different and they are used in different ways according to different principles.

See the Beginner's Guide for a more detailed explanation.

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"Anybody with even the most basic knowledge of chemistry or pharmacology will know that homoeopathy cannot possibly work any better than placebo, so these results are no surprise."
Adam, London

The extreme dilutions of homeopathic remedies to a point where there's no likelihood of a single molecule of the original substance remaining mean that the mechanism of action can't be based on a reaction to the material substance itself. That's perfectly obvious. However, to assume that implies there can be no possible mechanism of action and that therefore homeopathic remedies can't work is mistaking the map for the territory. Such an assumption

" ... relies on a quaint old idea from the nineteenth century that the ONLY way that the property of water can be affected or changed is by incorporating foreign molecules. This is the Avogadro-limit high-school level chemistry argument. To a materials scientist this notion is absurd, since the fundamental paradigm of materials-science is that the structure-property relationship is the basic determinant of everything. It is a fact that the structure of water and therefore the informational content of water can be altered in infinite ways"
Prof Rustum Roy PhD, Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State Emeritus; Professor of Science, Technology and Society Emeritus; Professor of Geochemistry Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University

So it doesn't mean that there isn't a mechanism of action, only that one hasn't been discovered. There's an awful lot we don't know about the world yet. The mechanism of action of many modern drugs isn't understood either. Nobody knew how aspirin works until just a few years ago, for instance, yet it hasn't stopped people using it for decades.

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"Many people forget that medical illnesses can improve spontaneously without any treatment or vary in severity over time. When homeopathy seems to cure an illness it is probably mere coincidence. Furthermore, the reason that homeopathy seems successful is due to the pseudo religious 'believe and thee shall be healed' ethos."
Dr Richard Campbell, London

If homeopathic cures are mere coincidence, then there's an awful lot of coincidences in 200 years' worth of documented case history. Take the 1854 London cholera epidemic for instance. The results from homeopathic treatment were so positive that they were deliberately withheld from parliament. The House of Lords asked for an explanation and it was admitted that if the homeopathic figures were to be included in the report, it would "skew the results." The suppressed report revealed that mortality under homeopathic care was just 9%. Under conventional care it was over 59%. This is a matter of public record. Some sceptics have recently conjectured that the conventional treatment of the time would have exacerbated the disease rather than helping, and that homeopathy's results are consequently still no better than placebo. This is unsupportable. Mortality rates in untreated cases of cholera are generally in the region of 50-60%. Neither is it the sort of condition where placebo would be likely to have much effect.

More up to date evidence is provided in a recent study of 6544 patients over a 6-year period in a hospital outpatient unit within an acute National Health Service (NHS) Teaching Trust in the United Kingdom. 70.7% of patients receiving homeopathic treatment reported positive health changes. An even more recent study in Germany analysed outcomes for 493 patients, and concluded that patients seeking homeopathic treatment had a better outcome overall compared with patients on conventional treatment. This seems rather more than can be passed off as "mere coincidence".

Belief does play a part in healing, and the placebo effect is very real. It seems somewhat overplayed as an argument here though, not to mention singularly failing to address how it is that homeopathic patients come by their belief in the first place. A lot of people come to homeopathy as a last resort after conventional care has failed them. (TEETH – tried-evertything-else-try-homeopathy.) They're often far from convinced, but willing to give it a try. That doesn't argue for a very strong belief effect. That only tends to kick in after they've experienced successful treatment, which may occur only after several different remedies have been tried. Conversely, conventional medicine is accepted by most people as simply the way it is, so the belief/placebo effect operating there is likely to be considerably stronger than it is in homeopathy. And if those patients experiencing successful cures under homeopathy are deemed particularly susceptible to the placebo effect, then it seems strange that so many should have experienced so many failures with conventional therapy beforehand.

And as a few respondents pointed out, babies and animals don't have any belief in homeopathy yet it's been shown to be just as effective in treating them too.

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"I have no objection to people using homeopathic medicines if they want to, but if these medicines cannot be shown to work under the same rigorous conditions used to test standard medicines, they should not be prescribed on the NHS."
Colin, UK

"So the Society of Homeopaths thinks that "the placebo-controlled, randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy"? Would that be because it always shows that homeopathy doesn't work?!"
Norman MacLeod, Edinburgh, Scotland

Modern medicine presumes that its perspective on how the body functions is the only one with any validity. It assumes that one human body is very much like another and that they all work in exactly the same way. These being the ground rules, individual variation is regarded as insignificant and irrelevant. In any given condition, the assumption is that the same thing must be going wrong with the physical "machinery" so all you need to do is to find out what that is and discover a medicine that biochemically interferes with the process. To test for effectiveness, you give the same medicine to a lot of people suffering from the same condition and see how they all react. And if you want to test the effectiveness of remedies used by other therapies, you do the same thing.

Homeopathy places as much importance on individual variation in physiology, physiognomy and illness as the common features – after all, variation is just as evident and ubiquitous as what is common; why should it be any less significant? – and takes the view that although there's a level at which bodies all appear to function in much the same way, and you can treat people at that level, it's often not very effective. You end up having to continually repeat the treatment in order to keep the symptoms at bay and often they come back as soon as treatment is stopped. You're also limiting yourself to looking for the common and the physical amongst potential causative mechanisms in disease, ignoring all the enormous number of other factors contributing to illness.

Homeopathy takes in a much larger picture, moving the focus from exclusive concentration on a specific condition in isolation to a view of the whole person, amongst who's various complaints is this specific condition. The most effective treatment is a remedy that matches all their complaints and even how they feel and think as well. So to test homeopathy's effectiveness in the context of any one condition, each person suffering from that condition would need to be interviewed carefully and an individual remedy selected for each of them. This could mean that out of 10 people suffering from the same problem, as many as 10 different remedies are prescribed.

This is why RCTs testing a single remedy for a single condition are not an appropriate research tool for homeopathic medicine, except in the instances in which certain remedies which have very strong affinities with superficial acute situations can show a measurable effect in a large number of people. Like Arnica for bruising.

You cannot test one system in terms of the assumptions of another when the two are not the same. To test homeopathy properly, its principles as well as its medicines need to be taken into account. Otherwise you are not replicating the real-world prescribing situation in the trial of the therapy's effectiveness. If you don't do that, then you're not testing the therapy.

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"The vast majority of illnesses 'cured' by homeopathy are episodic or self-limiting in the first place."
Cris Bates, UK

"Whilst I wouldn't countenance the prescription of a homeopathic remedy for true organic illness, there are a number of stress related or psychosomatic conditions for which it might well be appropriate."
Dr Phil, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

It's worth noting that the vast majority of complaints have some episodic qualities and all are ultimately self-limiting – ending either in recovery or death.

The assumption that homeopathy is only applicable in minor and acute illnesses is, however, a common one. It's no doubt fostered by the fact that remedies for first aid situations and minor complaints are sold in many pharmacies and health stores, and these are the ones that tend to be featured in the media. The wide availablility of remedies for these types of complaints is because these are conditions for which self-prescription can be safe and to some degree successful. Minor injuries such as cuts, bruises, burns and shock are not so much the product of an individual's make-up as a situation, and the remedies that have affinities for these traumas can provide at least some symptomatic relief for most people. The same comment applies to common acute complaints such as colds and flu, although the chances of a good cure are slimmer. (For that it would need to be the correct remedy for the person's overall state.) Being as this is the most visible but often least effective aspect of homeopathy, the assumption that its effect is of only marginal benefit in conditions that will resolve of their own accord is consequently perfectly understandable. However, it's a mistake to suppose that this is all there is to it, or that this is representative of the therapy's potential.

Homeopathy treats individuals with "true organic illness" in the same way as those with illnesses without evident physical pathology and can be just as effective. There is extensive case history showing well-documented cures of people with organic illness, from cholera to cancer, under homeopathic treatment over a period of 150 years. Recent large-scale studies, such as the Bristol study mentioned above, involve predominantly chronic cases of illness. In another recent German study, a total of 3,981 patients were studied including 2,851 adults and 1,130 children. Ninety-seven percent of all diagnoses were chronic with an average duration of 8.8 years. Almost all patients had received conventional treatment (95%) prior to the start of the study. Disease severity was found to have decreased significantly (p<0.001) between baseline and 24 months under homeopathic treatment.

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"About time – as an NHS professional I find it scandalous that we waste millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on such useless interventions."
Jonathan Mason, London, UK

An extensive, high-quality 5-year study of complementary medicine in Switzerland, initially widely hailed as an exemplar for all future CAM research, was starting to report considerable economic benefits arising from complementary medicine's integration into national healthcare before the entire study was derailed by political interference. (This is the program which spawned the Shang et al meta-analysis published in the Lancet. If you're at all interested in discovering what's really going on in complementary medical research behind the spin, then read all about what happened here, as well as the critique of the meta-analysis below.)

The cost of homeopathic medicines is absolutely miniscule in comparison to the cost of conventional drugs (and it's the cost of conventional drugs which is bankrupting the NHS). The same remedies that were used 150-200 years ago are still in use today and the research and development of new remedies is mostly undertaken by unpaid homeopathic practitioners and students who volunteer to do so. No prohibitively expensive technology or resources are required in the production process, and homeopathic remedies don't exploit the environment since only the minutest amount of the source material is required.

In contrast, it's estimated that up to one fifth of all new prescription drugs may ultimately be recalled or produce potentially harmful side effects (Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2215-2220, 2273-2275) and that the annual death toll from reactions to correctly prescribed drugs amounts to some 106,000 in the US alone which, together with other iatrogenic (physician-induced) causes, makes conventional medicine the third leading cause of death in the US (Journal of the American Medical Association 2000;284:483-485). By the pharmaceutical industry's own admission, 90% of prescription drugs are effective in only 30-50% of cases. Only 13% of 2,500 commonly used treatments have clear evidence of benefit.

The companies producing conventional medications are some of the largest, richest and most powerful in the world, practicing some of the most dubious of marketing and business ethics.

"In our view, disease mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments. It is exemplified most explicitly by many pharmaceutical industry–funded disease-awareness campaigns—more often designed to sell drugs than to illuminate or to inform or educate about the prevention of illness or the maintenance of health.” (Moynihan, Ray and Henry, David. The Fight against Disease Mongering: Generating Knowledge for Action. Public Library of Science, vol 3, issue 4, April 2006)

“The coming years will bear greater witness to the corporate sponsored creation of disease” (Coe, J. 2003. Healthcare: The lifestyle drugs outlook to 2008, unlocking new value in well-being. London: Reuters Business Insight, quoted in Moynihan and Henry above.)

At the very least, taxpayers deserve the freedom to be able to make informed choices about their healthcare and there have been extensive studies indicating that homeopathic interventions employed under the umbrella of the UK's NHS have been far from useless, and a more recent German study concluded from a analysis of outcomes for 493 patients that patients seeking homeopathic treatment had a better outcome overall compared with patients on conventional treatment. (Note too that an analysis of the statistics published in the Lancet meta-analysis actually shows no statistically significant difference between conventional and homeopathic interventions in the selected trials.)

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"Some people are happy to believe in alternative health, astrology, ghosts, quackery and other fanciful things."
Ronald, London

Indeed they are. Usually because they've had direct of experience of them and discovered for themselves that there's something there worth investigating. We are all scientists in our own way. As Sir John Weir (1879-1971), Royal Homœopathic Physician serving George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II, once said, “I suppose not one of us has approached homeopathy otherwise than with doubt and mistrust; but facts have been too much for us.”

A lot of homeopathic practitioners are people who have worked in conventional medicine – nurses, doctors – or in other scientific disciplines, and who were open-minded and curious enough to start studying it having discovered its effectiveness for themselves. It does defy our present models of how the body interacts with medicines in illness, but for many people that makes for an exciting subject of research rather than something to reject and deny.

As Dr Rakan Sankaran, Vice-Chairman for Asia, International Council of Classical Homeopathy comments, "Nothing sustains a form of medicine for 150 years unless it is effective. Homeopaths today successfully use the same remedies that were used 150 years ago, in addition to adding new ones to their material medica. In contrast, modern medicine keeps discarding many of its wonder drugs once their side effects become known. Homeopathy is based on a definite philosophy, backed by precise observations of remedy effects and a very well recorded register of remedies. It has been a very consistent system and several modern medical practitioners who seriously looked into it with an open mind became homeopaths themselves, never to turn back."

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None of the comments from respondents above are based on an actual experience of homeopathy. Only on second-hand opinion and supposition. For those that have tried homeopathy, there can be a different set of misconceptions.



"I tried a homeopathic remedy for my problem once. It didn't do anything at all. Homeopathy doesn't work."

Homeopathic treatment is highly specific to the individual. With self-selected remedies available over-the-counter you may get lucky and find that the most common remedies associated with the condition help. Or you may not. And with all the experience and the best will in the world, no homeopathic practitioner selects the best possible remedy first time every time, particularly if the features that allow them to distinguish one remedy state from another are not readily apparent from your description of your condition. (See the Consultation check-list for more details.)

Assuming homeopathy doesn't work because one remedy didn't help is no different to assuming conventional medicine doesn't work because an aspirin didn't cure your headache.

The way homeopathy acts can also mean that you're simply not aware of its action (see blog entry Curative AmnEASYa). Often someone will come back and say nothing happened, but when the symptoms they described on their previous visit are read back to them, they realise that they've all gone. As improbable as it may sound, most homeopathic practitioners will have at least one instance of it in their records.

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Lancet Vol 366, Issue 9487, 27 August 2005

" I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives. "
Leo Tolstoy

" The medical establishment has become the major threat to health. "
Ivan Illich, in Limits to Medicine, 1976

" First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. "
Mahatma Gandhi

" In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. "
Eric Hoffer

The biggest myth of all ...

As to the Lancet meta-analysis (Shang et al. 'Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo controlled trials of homeopathy and allopathy' The Lancet 2005;366 (9487):726-733), the slick PR campaign claiming that it was the "last word" on the subject was so far removed from the reality of the quality and scope of the study itself that it's provoked outrage – in conventional medical circles as well as homeopathic – and presently constitutes probably the greatest myth about homeopathy in general circulation.

"When orthodox scientists, statisticians, molecular chemists, clinicians, and mathematicians, and rigorous, scientifically trained, academic clinical homeopaths begin corresponding in response to the publication of a paper in a learned journal, to draw attention to a serious scientific error, quite apart from its associated moral and ethical implications, and when letter after letter, quietly reasoned, and objectively critical of the original publication, is rejected by the initiating journal, it is surely time to reflect very deeply on what might be taking place and to ask "why?""
(Jobst, Kim A. Homeopathy, Hahnemann, and The Lancet 250 Years On: A Case of the Emperor's New Clothes? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 751-754)

"There is unsettling evidence that we are now in the midst of a methodological degeneration in biomedical science. This appears to be occurring in, of all places, our fundamental approach to inference – using observation and evidence to decide how to act or believe. That it might be happening in medical research makes it of more than just academic interest."
(Aickin, Mikel. The End of Biomedical Journals: There Is Madness in Their Methods. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 755-757)

Quotations from various critiques illustrate some of the study's failings:

"The authors went to the great trouble of selecting 110 homeopathy trials that met their inclusion criteria, matching them with 110 allopathy trials and then ignored all but 8 trials of homeopathy and 6 of allopathy in their final statistical analysis*. Moreover the original stated intention to compare trials of similar condition and outcome has been ignored in the final analysis. The final small subset of trials is not matched at all suggesting that different kinds of trials are being compared, apples are being compared with oranges – a common failing in meta-analyses."
(Chatfield, Kate and Relton, Clare. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? - A full critique of the article by Shang et al (Lancet 2005;366 (9487):726-733))

* Note that this was without identifying which trials were finally included – a violation of transparency which should never have passed the peer review process – or adequately explaining why only these trials were selected. It also appears likely that several of the included studies would not meet an acceptable definition of homeopathy to most homeopaths, since what constitutes an allopathically "high quality" RCT (ie. large studies based on the routine administration of the same remedy) ignores the principles of homeopathy in the selection of a remedy.

"Why 8 versus 6 and not 8 versus 9 or 12 versus 8? The answer may be found in the plots of Figure 2 of the paper by Shang et al. We are almost sure that including just one or two more papers in the conventional medicine group would have affected the results crucially. From a professional statistician's point of view, the random selection of the 14 studies is a post-festum hypothesis but was not planned in the original design of the study. Therefore, we strongly suspect that the authors chose this second-line investigation because their predefined desired effect was not found in the first investigation. If it had been planned, why was it done after having investigated the initial 110 studies?
[...]
"There is no hint or mention of which studies were selected for these comparisons. As far as we can deduce, three of the studies were done with Oscilliococcinum and three with complex remedies. These 6 studies are in no way "homeopathic.""
(Frass et al. Bias in the Trial and Reporting of Trials of Homeopathy: A Fundamental Breakdown in Peer Review and Standards? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 780-782)

And further ...

"It would be normal practice when comparing two different treatment options to measure the statistical difference between the two options for a fair comparison. The authors fail to do this, presumably as this calculation shows clearly that there is no statistical difference between the effects of the two interventions. That is, the statistics tell us that there is no basis for saying that allopathic intervention is any better than homeopathic intervention."
(Chatfield, Kate and Relton, Clare. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? - A full critique of the article by Shang et al (Lancet 2005;366 (9487):726-733))

"The underpinning of the editorial content of the Lancet as it relates to homeopathy relies on a quaint old idea from the nineteenth century that the ONLY way that the property of water can be affected or changed is by incorporating foreign molecules. This is the Avogadro-limit high-school level chemistry argument. To a materials scientist this notion is absurd, since the fundamental paradigm of materials-science is that the structure-property relationship is the basic determinant of everything. It is a fact that the structure of water and therefore the informational content of water can be altered in infinite ways"
Prof Rustum Roy PhD, Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State Emeritus; Professor of Science, Technology and Society Emeritus; Professor of Geochemistry Emeritus, Pennsylvania State University

These and many other points were made by numerous commentators on the paper. For this study and the Lancet's editorial to go to such apparent lengths to attempt to discredit a therapy seems conversely to evidence quite the opposite of the study's conclusions.

Dr Rajan Sankaran perhaps sums it up best:

"Actually there is no threat to anyone. Each system has its strengths and limitations. If we work hand in hand, and not against each other, it will really benefit our patients. In order to do this it is important to understand the other system, and evaluate it according to its principles and not see it from the view point of the other system. A modern medicine model of testing is not applicable to homeopathy. It is like comparing oranges and sheep."
[...]
"Having practiced homeopathy for over 25 years, I can say that I see everyday what homeopathy can do and how it affects the entire quality of life of the patient, in addition to helping his complaints. It is a priceless gift to humankind and it is now that it is needed the most. Let not some people with blinkers, speaking from high podiums, mislead the public. I am sure that no one who has been benefited by homeopathy is going to be fooled. This system of medicine, like the truth, shall prevail and grow more and more popular. This is not the end of Homeopathy; this is the beginning."

Lastly, as if the foregoing weren't enough already, this study cannot be seen in isolation from its context. The Shang et al meta-analysis was an offshoot from a Swiss government study, the Programm Evaluation Komplementärmedizin (PEK), which was designed to allow politicians to assess whether or not five complementary therapies – anthroposophical medicine, homeopathy, neural therapy, phytotherapy (herbal medicine) and traditional Chinese herbal therapy – should be included in the list of services covered by the Swiss compulsory health insurance scheme (KLV). This entire study, which in its early stages had been cited as an exemplar for future CAM research, was comprehensively derailed by political interests. In an email to PEK Review Board member Harald Walach, who protested the degree of political interference, the vice-president of the Swiss federal health agency (BAG) referred to the study data as "waste products which do not bear any relevance to the political decisions." (Since Walach is translating this comment from his natve German, one can reasonably speculate how "waste products" might be translated were it not being presented for publication in a scientific journal.)

Walach concludes his editorial on the subject,

"This is a very interesting, informative, and, in fact, very sobering piece of recent history in the evaluation of complementary medicine. Public authorities, health systems researchers, and, in fact, all CAM researchers should at least take some note of this process in order to understand the complexities of the issues at stake and of the power-plays of different stakeholders in the game."
(Walach, H. The Swiss Program for the Evaluation of Complementary Medicine (PEK). Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, April 2006; Vol 12, No 3, pp 231-232)


For further critique of the Shang et al. paper in addition to the quoted texts above see:

Letters to the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 779-785, including
Lewith, George T, Walach, Harald, Jonas, Wayne B. Horton Deplores Breach; As Do We His
Peters, David. Shang et al. Carelessness, Collusion, or Conspiracy?
Reilly, David T. Sir: Is That Bias?
(NB. All links to letters above are to the same file which contains them all.)

Bell, Iris R. All Evidence Is Equal, but Some Evidence Is More Equal than Others: Can Logic Prevail over Emotion in the Homeopathy Debate? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 763-769

A comprehensive collection of a wide range of comment and analysis on the study from the homeopathic profession worldwide is presented by Louis Klein RS Hom.


For more information on the background to the study, see my two blog entries on the subject.

Bias-binding and the PEKing order
PEKing out the bias top

smeddum.net – FAQs and common misconceptions about homeopathy by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard