What’s the Liberal Democrat position on homeopathy?

As the issue has been debated several times recently on this site, here’s the latest statement of the party’s position:

A recent report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee examined the provision of homeopathy through the NHS and called for funding by the NHS to be stopped. The Committee did recognise that many users derive benefit from its use and did not argue that such treatments should be banned.

The Liberal Democrats believe that, as a basic principle, individuals should have maximum freedom about how they choose to get treated, so long as the therapy is safe.  When it comes to NHS provision, we support a review by NICE into the cost effectiveness of Complementary and Alternative (CAMs) therapies, including homeopathy; as well as expanding the work of NICE to look at the cost-effectiveness of existing conventional treatments.

We know that many complementary therapies are popular with the public. The NHS budget is limited and we want to make sure that NHS funding is focused on treatments which are efficacious and cost-effective. NICE reviews of all existing treatments would give us the best possible basis for future decisions over funding.

Note: Kudos to James Graham for being quicker off the mark blogging on this story.

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106 Comments

  • Andreas Christodoulo 11th Mar '10 - 10:48pm

    Three paragraphs to say “It’s a load of tosh and the NHS might as well be spending money on druids and prayers to Zeus.”

  • The NHS is spending money druids and prayers to zeus.

    £32 million pounds a year on chaplains that should really be funded by the local religious bodies.

  • Oliver Dowding 12th Mar '10 - 7:16am

    It’s only a fudge because Evan Harris has been allowed to become so extreme and dominant. Anyone who can say it’s a load of tosh displays a worrying level of ignorance. Whether you want to carry on being committed to medication that can cost thousands of pounds per patient per day, or spend a few thousand pounds per day on research into something with medication costs that are virtually zero is up to you. But don’t expect those of us who understand the efficacy of homoeopathy to consider your policy as balanced.

    For your information, and a point which most people who start debating homoeopathy completely miss, is the enormous pool of livestock and other animals successfully treated with it and demonstrating total efficacy. You can ignore them if you like, but I’ve never known one of mine, develop an ability to lie, to deceive, or be a smart alec with words.

    You could also go and look at the vast number of homoeopaths operating successfully in other countries, where uptake is much higher than in the UK, and where state funding for homoeopathy has been established over many years and for good reason. Can 400,000 homoeopaths in India are all be — wrong?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Mar '10 - 8:26am

    “Fudge it may be but it just about strikes the right balance.”

    Isn’t that the whole point of fudge, though? A confection that no one will find particularly offensive, and whose recipe can be tweaked a bit to make it more pleasing to whoever you are talking to at the time.

    And increasingly the whole point of British politics, it seems. Pathetic.

  • “Can 400,000 homoeopaths in India are all be — wrong?”

    Answer: yes. Through a careful scientific process it’s been shown to be nothing but placebo. So feel free to argue that it’s still cost effective: sending someone to a homeopath might well make them feel better because they’ve had a nice natter. But you best have a damn good argument as to why it isn’t unethical for the homeopath to lie to the patient about the efficacy of a medical treatment that they’re prescribing.

    As to animals and the efficacy of homeopathy. You want to point us in the direction of some (VALID) scientific studies? http://www.skeptics.org.uk/article.php?dir=articles&article=it_works_in_animals.php

    Please read the evidence and have a good critical think about it. I’d recommend here as a good starting point: http://www.badscience.net/category/complementary-medicine/homeopathy/

  • Anyone who can say it’s a load of tosh displays a worrying level of ignorance.

    No, anyone who says it’s not a load of tosh displays either a staggeringly low level of basic numeracy or else calculated dishonesty. I’m not sure which category a farmer who thinks he can treat his animals’ ailments with pure water falls into, but I’m willing to be open-minded about it.

  • Andreas Christodoulo 12th Mar '10 - 8:54am

    I would be highly interested in a rigorous study, or a review of a large quantity of rigorous studies of the effects of homoeopathy on animals. If anyone has links to one, I will happily read it.

    Thousands of scientific studies on the effects of homoeopathy have shown it to have placebo levels of effect, which ties in with the science behind it (i.e. that it’s nothing but water).

    Any product which claims to have a medical benefit, whether it be conventional pill-based medicine, herbal remedies, homoeopathy, acupuncture or chanting for the spirits to heal you standing in the middle of a circle of stones in a field of heather under the full moon should be backed up by standard, rigorous, double-blind testing.

  • It’s only a fudge because Evan Harris has been allowed to become so extreme and dominant.

    Ah, yes. Evan Harris is one extreme, and homeopaths are the other extreme, right? So, logically, the correct position is the one in the middle?

    The reason Dr Harris has become so “extreme” is that he’s focussed on the scientific evidence. Homeopathy performs no better than placebo, according to the best meta-analyses out there. That doesn’t necessarily mean it shouldn’t be funded (disclosure: I don’t think the NHS should fund it), but it does essentially refute your entire argument.

    I’ve never known one of [my animals], develop an ability to lie, to deceive, or be a smart alec with words.

    I assume you are talking about higher intelligence animals, such as dogs or cows or some other mammal – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I also assume that you have some sort of sympathy with them; they’re happy when you’re calm, say. Is it really so ludicrous to suppose that the placebo effect is still in play, since you relax as you expect them to get better, so they relax and seem better? Please note that no-one’s accusing anyone of lying, deceiving or trickery.

    Further, effects like regression to the mean are straight-forwardly still in play.

    I understand that it seems to you that homeopathy works consistently. But you have to understand that we’re all easily misguided, and only controlled scientific trials can begin to correct that. I’m a big fan of evidence-based policy, and unfortunately evidence is not in favour of homeopathy.

  • Oliver Dowding 12th Mar '10 - 9:11am

    Thank you, Ben.

    It’s clear that we’re not going to agree!! You might think that “careful scientific process” has shown homoeopathy to be placebo, but I’ll disagree with you. The science, you may use the drug is not the science that is going to deliver answers with regard to homoeopathic treatment.

    Your scientific study on animals, which you pointed me towards is interesting, but is simply the result of work on one herd of cows using nosodes only. If you bothered to enquire properly, you’ll discover that the majority of dairy cattle, in hundreds of herds in this country, and tens of thousands of herds elsewhere in the world, are treated by herdsmen and women who have no vested interest in efficacy, other than to ensure the welfare of the animals with which they are charged to maintain in a healthy state. They do not rely solely on nosodes, preferring to administer individual remedies of individual cases. As I’m sure your medical qualification will have taught you, if you treat something or someone from mastitis and get it wrong, very quickly the animals udder will develop all kinds of complicating conditions and likely render the animal fit only to be culled within a week or two. If homoeopathy was ineffective, the herds employing it as their means of medication, would surely find they had a very small herd in next to no time given the prevalence of mastitis in the UK dairy herd?

    With regard to your blog which you kindly posted me towards, I did find a tiny bit of evidence, but frankly most of it was innuendo and cynical commentary. It’s dismissive of the potential for there to be something over which the person posting the comment, cannot at present conceive as being a possibility. I suggest that nearly everything we have in modern society is the result of somebody pursuing something which at the time when they were doing the pursuing was considered by the majority to be a nonstarter and implausible.

    I remain delighted to be involved with homoeopathy, to have had 15 years successfully treating over 300 cows and their offspring with homoeopathy for 95% or so of their ailments, never having given our conventional veterinary surgeon any cause for concern, or need to report me to any welfare charities etc.

  • Do we have a policy positon on Angel therapy? Acupunture ? Astrotherapy ? Bach Flower Therapy ? Ear candling ?
    Magnet therapy ? Psychic surgery ? Alien Abduction ? Trips to see The Loch Ness Monster ? the healing power of crop circles ? Should they all be availible on the NHS ? Plenty of people will vouch for them and they are very popular.

    There aren’t two types of science, conventional and non-conventional. There is just science. You are either doing it or not.

    One potential danger of homeopathy is in the encouragement to self-diagnosis and treatment. Another danger lurks in not getting proper treatment by a science-trained medical doctor in those cases where the patient could be helped by such treatment, such as for a bladder or yeast infection, asthma, or cancer.

    People should be free to take such treatments if they wish, but state funding, no thank you.

  • Mouse: I hope we do have a position on them. That is to say, I hope we think they should not be funded on the NHS, until such a time as reliable scientific evidence for these treatments appears.

    Oliver: “The science, you may use the drug is not the science that is going to deliver answers with regard to homoeopathic treatment.

    Please could you explain what you mean here? Maybe I’m being a bit thick, but why should the scientific method not work for homeopathy?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Mar '10 - 10:03am

    “I hope we do have a position on them. That is to say, I hope we think they should not be funded on the NHS, until such a time as reliable scientific evidence for these treatments appears.”

    The party’s position seems to be:

    “A report has called for NHS funding for homeopathy to stop. Homeopathy is popular with the public. There’s an election in a few weeks. Let’s call for another report from someone else.”

  • Hi Oliver,

    apologies, those links weren’t meant to be substantiating evidence, more signposts written by people more intelligent and better informed than I am. However, as one example of a meta-analysis (i.e. a study that looked at all of the studies that test the impact of a particular intervention) have a look at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=16125589. There are others, they generally say that the better the study conducted, the more homeopathy looks like a placebo effect.

    As to your animals, as someone pointed out above, the important thing here is spontaneous resolution (as a medical practitioner I’m sure you know more about this than me). But interestingly I found this in the Merck Veterinary Manual: http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/110904.htm
    “Many mild mastitis cases (nearly 80%) are coliform intramammary infections that resolve before treatment is necessary.”
    Now I realise that doesn’t cover serious cases but it seems like a pretty healthy recovery rate above which homeopathy would have to be going some. It means if I came along and patted 100 cows that had mild mastitis, 80 would recover. But I’d look pretty weird if I claimed I healed them by laying on hands wouldn’t I?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m also an animal welfare biologist, if there’s evidence for homeopathy working in animals then I’d love to see it. Anything which improves the lot of domestic animals is good by me. But anecdote doesn’t constitute evidence. I’d suggest you get together with 20 or 30 homeopath friends, make up two batches of homeopathic remedy, one with the active ingredient, one without. I’d take the labels off the bottles during the dilution process, relabel them so you didn’t know which was which. You and friends go off and treat the mastitis cases (separate herds for each of you). The farmer tells us which cows got better. Then I (or someone else) has a look at the percentage of cows that got better given they received either the remedy with an active ingredient or without it. The stats will tell us if the homeopathic remedy did better than sugar water. If it does then everyone has to start accepting that homeopathy works in cows. How about it?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 12th Mar '10 - 10:55am

    Those here who appear to be advocating that because the Science and Technology Committee says X, X must happen automatically without any further debate would appear to be as dogmatic as the homeopaths.

    If anyone had said that, there might be something in what you say, but of course no one has said that.

    For my part, I was simply making the point that the party is obviously just casting around for some expedient that will allow it to ignore the report and avoid losing votes over the issue. After all, the party had no difficulty in putting out the line initially that it “fundamentally disagreed” with the recommendation that the NHS should stop funding homeopathy.

  • Sigh, LibDem MPs haven’t really done themselves a favour here:

    http://www.dcscience.net/?p=2829

  • Oliver Dowding 12th Mar '10 - 11:38am

    “LibDem MPs haven’t really done themselves a favour”……I take it you mean by that, that you’re disappointed that they’re not all sheep and prepared to be herded in one direction (yours and Evan Harris’ et al), and disappointed that some of them have an independence of thought.

    Thank you, Ben, for your suggestion. I imagine you were operating tongue in cheek when you suggested that I am a medical practitioner. I’m not. However, I think you and all the other people here who refute that homoeopathy is anything other than sugar and water need to appreciate that it’s more than that, and that what it is creates the reason why running a trial in the way in which you might run one with a modern drug unrealistic.

    I refer you to a link found via the advert just below this blog roll! This explains neatly, a great deal about homoeopathy, with which I have every confidence you will object and disagree, but who ever said that science the way things work has only one methodology. Surely we can all read a map in many different ways in order to end up in the same place. http://onlinehealthnews.org/2009/12/why-skeptics-love-to-hate-homeopathy/

    Others have talked about prescribing placebos. As in the previous paragraph, I disagree with referring to them as placebos, being perfectly convinced of the efficacy of homoeopathic remedies, individually prescribed, because they don’t necessarily work as effectively by blanket treatment, including being used by a large range of sceptics who used it and benefited from it when conventional medicine had failed them. Sometimes, they have resorted to homoeopathy, because conventional medicine and doctors had left them with no option but to die.

    I could just as easily ask about the justification for prescribing drugs. Maybe some people haven’t read the following report that was in the Lancet? Given that it refers to paracetamol, albeit in a format for use for children, surely we ought to be extremely concerned. Why would we want to give children something, which dramatically increases the likelihood of contracting a debilitating affliction later in life? I know which of my two children had more Calpol than the other, and which one has an asthmatic tendency and skin problems today. Yes, I know, a trial of one doesn’t constitute anything, but try telling that to him. You will all realise that this is a medication, which we can all purchase freely over-the-counter, self administer, and take with no reference to a doctor. We can even kill ourselves with it, which is far more than anyone was ever going to do in that stupid 10:23 stunt. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2808%2961445-2/fulltext

    Whilst mentioning Calpol, the paracetamol for children, I read the article in a magazine, which I doubt many who are corresponding here would read, The Ecologist, http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/behind_the_label/346400/behind_the_label_calpol.html on the same subject. It gives a fairly clear run-down of what Calpol also contains, and which I doubt very much most doctors would know, and certainly very few parents would know or understand, and yet surely we cannot be so naive as to think that all those extras don’t have any impact on the fragile nature of a child’s constitution? I’m not saying that this will be reactive to every child, at every age, but wouldn’t it surprise you to think that none of them react negatively? I wonder how many of those negative reactions have ever been reported by a parent to a doctor, and of those that are how many have ever been reported by the doctor to somebody who should be doing something about it? Here’s the relevant paragraph, and I’m signing off for now, as I have a day job, and other things to see to! I may be back later!!!

    Calpol of course doesn’t just contain paracetamol. It is a veritable cocktail of sweeteners, flavourings, preservatives and colourants to make the product appealing and palatable to infants. These additives include strawberry ‘flavouring’ and carmoisine (E122- suspected carcinogen, banned in Austria, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the US) to produce its pink colour.

    It also contains, Maltitol (a mild laxative), glycerol (E422 – large quantities can cause headaches, thirst and nausea), sorbitol (E420 – large quantities can cause stomach upset), the paraben preservatives methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218 – suspected hormone disrupter and allergen), propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216 – suspected hormone disrupter and allergen), ethyl parahydroxybenzoate (E214 – suspected hormone disrupter, banned in France and Australia), and a thickener xanthan gum (E415 – no known adverse effects).

    Being such an interesting E-cocktail, it’s not surprising that it can cause allergic reactions (such as skin rashes and hayfever-like symptoms), tiredness, unexpected bleeding or tendency towards bruising as well as headache, nausea. Using paracetamol to treat fever may also result in your child having a seemingly endless round of colds, since the body’s natural fever reaction was not allowed to kill the virus causing the illness leaving your child to be reinfected again and again.

    E122 and E218 can lead to hyperactivity, and the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group identifies them as likely causes of mysterious and sudden cases of ADHD-like hyper-activity.

  • “I’ve never known one [animal] of mine, develop an ability to lie, to deceive, or be a smart alec with words. ”

    You’ve never fed a hamster, watch it hide away all the food in its bowl and then set their alternating between staring meaningfully at the empty bowl and looking at you with a mournfull, “You’ve not fed me today” look. 🙂

  • Of course homeopathy has the advantage over actual medicine of having no unpleasant side effects. It can’t have side effects because it has no effects, because it’s just water.

    I think there’s a strong case for prosecuting parents who ‘treat’ their children homeopathically, because it amounts to withholding medical treatment. Personally I’d also prosecute the charlatan who prescribed it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th Mar '10 - 8:51am

    “Of course homeopathy has the advantage over actual medicine of having no unpleasant side effects. It can’t have side effects because it has no effects, because it’s just water.”

    If a homeopathic doctor told his patient the treatment might have unpleasant side effects, could there be a displicebo effect?

  • I’m very uncomfortable with this – the position needs to be clear – No NHS funding for homeopathy. There is no need for further research – it has already been done. The ‘science’ behind it is utterly ridiculous, but anyone who wants to know can head to Ben Goldacres site, rather than have me repeat it.
    I also believe that private homeopaths should be have all of their remedies clearly marked with the following ‘This remedy contains no active ingredient, and there is no evidence that homeopathy has any clinical benefit over the placebo effect’.
    Let people waste their money on sugar pills, but no more NHS funding thank you.

  • Oliver Dowding 13th Mar '10 - 10:55am

    Hywel, you are absolutely right, I’ve never kept a hamster. Half ton cows are a different entity.

    As for Iain M, if you feel so strongly that you could win a prosecution why don’t you take somebody to court? What would you say to the children who are given “conventional” medicine, and suffered diabolical side-effects? Would those parents have been better off to withhold? Have the doctors in every single case reported every single side effect? Would you disagree with the paper in the Lancet, which reported significantly increased incidence of asthma and eczema in children who’d been fed regularly with Calpol?

    I’m not going to cite any examples, from my own children is growing up years, because they’ll presumably be simply recorded by you as being anecdotal.

    However, this is where the argument against homoeopathy seems to me to be precarious. If you and other sceptics genuinely believe that it’s all placebo, noting that the patient appears to have made a full recovery as a consequence of what you refer to is a placebo treatment, often in cases where continuous attempts to find a solution with conventional medication had completely failed, sometimes to the point where people had been told to go away and die, at what point are you going to make the differentiation between the requirement for a placebo treatment or what you would refer to as a conventional medical treatment?

    Furthermore, we also all know that significant numbers, often reported to be around 10%, of hospital beds taken up with people who suffered side-effects in reaction to conventional drugs, and that being the sole reason for them having been hospitalised. I don’t consider that a track record to be proud of.

    Before signing off, let me also make it quite clear that I’m not against conventional medicine, and have at times benefited from it, but would prefer that the options to take various types of conventional and, if you’d like to use the word, alternative medication for whatever illnesses and conditions that I may be wishing to treat remain at my disposal. 100 million users of homoeopathy throughout Europe, can’t all be wrong, can they?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 13th Mar '10 - 11:26am

    “… if you’d like to use the word, alternative medication …”

    I think “non-medication” would be more accurate.

  • Sigh, Oliver I really wasn’t being tongue-in-cheek, if you’re going to claim that you’re curing disease in animals or humans then I have a right to hold you as a medical practitioner. By that right, you are endowed with all the responsibilities of a medical practitioner: ethical, moral and, crucially, the ability to provide evidence-based treatment. Your riff on calpol is fine, I don’t know enough about it, but if it really is as heinous as you say it is, I’m equally outraged. Whether it’s a pharmaceutical corporation or an individual homeopath, I’m going to be annoyed if either of them presents me with false or no evidence that what they’re doing is going to do what it says it does without unduly harming me.

    Unfortunately, you’ve fallen back on the last resort of the religious: our beliefs are beyond the comprehension of your science, therefore you can’t test them and we can carry on blithely. Sorry but while you can be agnostic about God, you can’t be agnostic about whether someone gets better or not after medical treatment (and yes if you want to be taken seriously then medical includes homeopathy). And I’m afraid you’re still failing to grasp the point about placebo and spontaneous recovery. Sometimes people just get better, after 2 months, after 6 months, after 20 years. It happens. That’s why you have to do carefully controlled studies rather than relying on anecdote. So, in short you need to provide two crucial bits of evidence for homeopathy: it’s better than placebo, it’s better than doing nothing. If you can’t show that, it’s not medicine, it’s quackery and we have a right to treat you not as medical practitioner but as a quack (just as much as you would undoubtedly sneer at someone if they suggested they treat a cow with mastitis by praying to zeus).

  • […]if you feel so strongly that you could win a prosecution why don’t you take somebody to court?

    I would. Unfortunately justice has to be bought, and I’m not rich enough to afford it.

    What would you say to the children who are given “conventional” medicine, and suffered diabolical side-effects

    I’d feel sorry for them, and I’d try to help them, and I’d try to make sure we figure out what caused the problem and correct it. Of course just because a drug you don’t approve off turns out to have nasty side-effects doesn’t mean homoeopathy works. It just means the drug you don’t approve has has side-effects.

    I’m not going to cite any examples, from my own children is growing up years, because they’ll presumably be simply recorded by you as being anecdotal.

    Yes, it is entirely anecdotal. But if you think your child is suffering side-effects from medication, then tell your GP, and report it using the yellowcard scheme so that it can be investigated. Unlike homoeopaths honest medical people will follow the evidence; help them out by providing it.

    It’s a balancing act, the aim of every medication is to ensure that the side-effects are as limited as possible while keeping the effect as narrowly targeted as possible. Masses of trials are done to try and achieve this, but since every single person is unique the only way to be sure there are no side-effects in anyone is to try it on everyone. In some cases it simply becomes the lesser of two evils; look at chemotherapy: feel horrible for months, or die of cancer.

    Everything that changes the chemical balance of the body is a drug and I don’t see you hating or objecting to peanuts, Well, peanuts are a collection of chemicals ingested for a specific effect (nurishment / pleasure) and they can have side-effects on a significant portion of the population, in some cases even fatal. What about shell-fish? Do you object to the catering industry because some of the people who take their “drugs” are hospitalised from the side-effects? People die from eating stuff all the time, not a good record for the catering industry. Maybe people should live on homoeopathic remedies only?

    It’s unfortunate that drugs have side-effects, but the human body is a very complex thing and whenever you mess with it, i.e. change the chemical balance by giving medication, you will ALWAYS affect something else. The only medication that doesn’t have side effects are the ones with no active ingredients, e.g. homoeopathic remedies.

    What no homoeopath has every explained to me is why, given how dilution increases potency of the any substance in the water, the water I drink isn’t poising me or curing me, given how many times it’s been diluted since the last person used it to flush their toilet. Maybe the magic is in the shaking and forceful striking?

    There’s also the issue of poisoning. If homoeopathy works, if it has the ability to affect the human body, then you should be able to use it to poison someone (or does water have an innate intelligence and is able to tell the difference between harmful and beneficial substances and make a conscious choice not to remember the harmful ones?). If succussion and potensation really works on a “curing” agent then it should also work on a poisoning agent. The principle of homoeopathy (straight from the homoeopaths website) is that treating something is done by using a substance that brings about the same effect and then heavily diluting it. Therefore, surely, if I took a paracetamol (which brings about symptoms of curing headaches) then creating a homoeopathic remedy and ingesting it should cause me enormous headaches?

    Let’s do an experiment. Any doctor knows instantly how his medicines could kill someone, so surely you should know how to kill someone using your own remedies. Just find a substance that if treated homoeopathically will kill me if I ingest it. We’ll make up a nice 400C solution of it and I’ll drink it. Since the principle of homoeopathy is about treating like with like, the initial substance must of course not be a poison in it’s own right. Maybe vitamin C, since that normally boosts my immune system, surely a homoeopathic remedy of it should cause my immune system to collapse? I’ll be happy to drink it; after all, as a rational person, I know it’s only water; in fact, if we use pure water, your “poison” will probably the healthier for me than the bottle of water I bought from the supermarket the other day.

    Can you poison someone with a homoeopathic remedy; someone who doesn’t believe in homoeopathy? If you can’t then homoeopathy is not internally consistent and therefore nonsense.

  • Site stripped out my link, the yellow card scheme is here: yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Mar '10 - 11:01pm

    Can I just say thank you to Martin (at 2.20 today) for an absolutely beautiful, rational, unhysterical, cut-out-and-keep demolition job on this pseudoscience? Superb.

  • Oliver Dowding 14th Mar '10 - 11:02am

    Well, thank you Margaret for the suggestion that I be prosecuted if I caused any animal welfare problems. Personally, I don’t actually have any animals any more, driven out by ruthless economics, etc. However, when I did, and it was around 500 head of dairy livestock, we were undertaking all our treatment under the full over supervision of fully qualified MRCVS veterinary surgeons, who visited the farm at least once a week, often more regularly. All these veterinary surgeons were trained conventionally and had no understanding or interest in homoeopathy, and in many cases were as sceptical as you and other sceptics, and simply came to diagnose illness, and administer relevant conventional treatments if that is what they recommended. Sometimes we agreed to give their conventional medication to the animals, sometimes we deferred and used the homoeopathic option. They never once in 15 years observed an animal welfare problem connected with homoeopathy. Indeed, sometimes we took part in trials, in which they were involved, comparing our herd with conventionally treated herds, and in which the health of our animals turned out in many instances to be superior to the conventional. I hope that satisfies you. But I doubt it!

    I would simply say to you, Malcolm, that in all that I am saying. I am most definitely not doing so in a hysterical way. I’ve simply reported how things worked out for me, and all the animals that I kept. I appreciate that the sceptics believe that all I was administering was water (because none of our remedies were given in solid form, but were diluted liquid versions). I repeat what I have said on many other occasions, and which every sceptic has never responded to. Why don’t you recommend that conventionally treated herds are offered the same homoeopathic remedies which we used? If administering nothing can produce such a wonderful response, imagine the saving in economics for those herds, and imagine the reduced requirement that antibiotics, and the reduction in acquisition of resistance to the antibiotic.

    However, if they administer your version of nothing, as opposed to the true version of a homoeopathic remedy, for which a proper diagnosis of the condition has been made and a proper selection of the correct remedy in the correct potency has been ascertained, then it is highly likely that the animal will not respond and will end up being culled from the herd very rapidly. No doubt there will also be a visit from the animal health and welfare inspectorate. When I was administering homoeopathic remedies, we did go through the full procedure and make the correct selection, and that’s why we had such repeated and wide ranging success. You sceptics might like to think that it was all supposition and suggestion that we made to the animals, and that is why they got better. We’re not talking companion animals with which we spent hours on, fussing over them day and night, but huge cows which were seen as often as necessary, but in reality infrequently, and yet responded to the treatments offered. Furthermore, the assessment, selection, administration, and observation of results was often undertaken by more than one person, and indeed could be a separate person undertaking each of those four functions.

    You sceptics might want to dismiss the whole efficacy argument that I’ve experienced on the basis that I’m just a simple farmer, who gullibly thinks that the homoeopathic remedy is what made the animal better. You ignore the fact that there are many dual qualified veterinary surgeons practising, in this country (over 50) and throughout the world, who understand the arguments for both conventional medication and homoeopathic remedies, and see benefit in both options that do not in a blinkered way rule out either. They accept that they don’t necessarily understand the modus operandi of the homoeopathic option, as indeed they may not about some of the conventional drugs, but they are capable of working out what works and what works when, in an intelligent and informed way. They don’t tend to take the view, a very narrow view, that because they don’t understand why it is that something that is so dilute that the original molecule or atom is no longer present, but it therefore cannot work. They tend to understand that the remedy offered to one animal through a particular condition may not be efficacious for another animal with a similar condition. I appreciate that this is all a little bit hard to understand when, as I say, somebody is of the opinion that the veterinary surgeon is offering no more than a sugar pill. You will have to reside with their understanding, that limited understanding, and do as you will. I don’t think you’ll find any of the veterinary surgeons using homoeopathy would be doing so, if they were to jeopardise the welfare of the livestock they are treating, and therefore their professional reputation and livelihood. They are fully aware of their animal welfare obligations, the professional code of conduct and more. It’s always intrigued me enormously how two people trained in much the same way can come to a totally different conclusion on the best means of resolving the same problems! It just shows that there are more tools in the toolbox, which can deliver the same end result, but we all have our preferred tool in each situation and should not decry the other of their method. If it’s equally efficacious in outcome, even if we believe that the tool that the other person used had some magical element attached to it.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 14th Mar '10 - 11:30am

    “I appreciate that the sceptics believe that all I was administering was water (because none of our remedies were given in solid form, but were diluted liquid versions).”

    Are you sure you understand what homeopathy means?

  • Oliver Dowding 14th Mar '10 - 11:59am

    Yes, but thank you for asking.

  • Malcolm Todd 14th Mar '10 - 1:54pm

    Oliver: just to be clear, when I described martin’s post as “unhysterical”, I didn’t mean to imply a contrast with you, but with some denunciations of homeopathy (and other faith systems) that even if right in their conclusions can give the impression of much frothing at the mouth and swivel-eyed obsessiveness. I admired martin’s contribution as much for its calm, level-headed and rational tone as for its conclusions. Your own contributions to this thread have been perfectly reasonable in tone, and I certainly didn’t wish to imply that you were hysterical, just because you show little sign of understanding the principles of placebo, regression to the mean, and statistical analysis, or of the fundamentally nonsensical nature of the technological basis of homeopathy.

  • Oliver Dowding 14th Mar '10 - 2:27pm

    Melton, thank you, and I understand your points. However, lumping homoeopathy in with faith systems is an odd thing to do, because they are most definitely not connected. I appreciate that you think they are on the basis that you believe homoeopathic remedies to constitute no active ingredient.

    However, I disagree that there is a “fundamentally nonsensical nature of the technological basis of homoeopathy”. I fully understand the principles of placebo, it’s just that I don’t see placebo as being the explanation for why homoeopathic remedies deliver successful conclusions. As I’ve said before, I’m not a scientist, and I’m not endowed with the time or financial resources to undertake scientific experimentation. I’m just mightily pleased that there are professionals out there, often trained both conventionally, and with homoeopathy, who are daily administering homoeopathic remedies with great success and therefore building up an increasing reservoir of knowledge.

    With that disagreement, we will both continue to use the things we currently use to both maintain our health in its best possible state, and restore it, should we find it challenged.

  • Oliver Dowding 14th Mar '10 - 2:28pm

    Malcolm, sorry about that, not sure how it came to call you Melton!

  • Don’t forget to bang the magic water on the horsehair cushion though Oliver. The force will not be with you otherwise.

  • “100 million users of homoeopathy throughout Europe, can’t all be wrong, can they?”

    Well of course they can. Most of us are wrong about lots of things most of the time.

    Wishful thinking, self deception, pious fraud, post-hoc reasoning, ad hoc hypothesis, the clustering illusion,
    selective thinking, communal reinforcement, confirmation bias, false dilemma, the Forer effect, regressive fallacy
    all relevant to homoepathy.

    see http://www.skepdic.com/

  • Oliver Dowding 15th Mar '10 - 3:20pm

    Blimey, so now we’re comparing homoeopathy to Nazism. Well well, whatever next. So far as I was aware, I thought the Nazis were into totalitarian control, and control of thought processes, amongst other things. Are you really suggesting the home you is of the same ilk? And in case you wonder, I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever that anything the Nazis ever thought or did.

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Mar '10 - 5:46pm

    Dammit, Margaret, have you never heard of ? That’s what I was contrasting with “unhysterical”!

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Mar '10 - 5:49pm

    “heard of Godwin?”
    Has anyone got an idiot’s guide to HTML out there?

  • Malcolm,

    To create a link you the following format:

    <a href="http://page/tp/link.to">This is the link Text</a>

    Interestingly the instructions at the bottom of the chat window are wrong.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Mar '10 - 9:00am

    Thanks, Martin! (And yes, I was placing too much faith in the instructions below…)

  • There is a lot of truth in the quip that “alternative therapies that work are called medicine”. The origin of modern medicine, certainly pharmacology, was in the identification of those herbs that actually worked and isolating/refining their effective properties. I’m not naive enough to suggest that we’ve already identified all those herbs that work; so herbalists should feel free to submit the results of placebo controlled trials to journals.

    There are elements of aromatherapy that work. Some oils have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, and are prescribed as such in France, I believe, by mainstream doctors, just like any other medicine. The whole “feel good” factor of it though is more in the field of psychotherapy and can be effective if used to improve a person’s emotional well-being when used in parallel with conventional treatment (as placebo trials show, mental attitude can have a large impact), or where there is no treatment and the only option is to make the patient as comfortable as possible. I’ve never really thought of the NHS as a “feel good” service though, given factory-conveyor/mass-production approach to GP surgeries. I’ve long been of the opinion that if GPs got to spend as much time with patients as homoeopathy practitioners, patients would get the same benefits without the need for sugar water.

    Another interesting development is in acupuncture. It turns out (to my admittedly great surprise) that poking people with needles actually helps alleviate back pain. You can’t really call it acupuncture though, because it was shown that randomly poking people with needles, without any of the mystical stuff, works as well, (possibly better) than “real” acupuncture. Love to see what develops out of that.

    I’m not though, as a rule, overly happy with the term “complimentary medicine”. Something either works, in which case it’s medicine, or it doesn’t in which case it’s not; although I accept there is a grey area for “unproven”, in which case it’s neither. It’s certainly better than “alternative medicine” though, since complimentary at least doesn’t imply you can do without proper medicine.

    I suppose for complimentary in the sense of complimentary chocolates it’s accurate enough; it won’t cure you, but it will make you feel better.

  • Oliver Dowding 18th Mar '10 - 3:56pm

    @Richard Elen (et al)
    Have any of you who stridently determine, with regard to homoeopathy, such as Richard puts it, that “methods of treatment that have been demonstrated not to work” ever been off to meet with a homoeopath, or maybe a homoeopathic vet for a day or part day? Surely then you could have your argument heard and they could demonstrate their success, and from a medical perspective explain why it works and is not placebo?

    Ditto, your comment “we shouldn’t be allowing the sale or use of treatments for medical or pseudo-medical purposes that have not been subjected to the standard procedure of clinical trials and regulation that are applied to any “real” medical treatment”… and yet c.30% of all medication is given for a purpose for which it was never tested, so how can that be right? Are these also the “real” treatments that deliver untold side effects? Ever wondered why people might be inclined to go find something other than that offered by their doctor or vet?

    Also, how can you be so sure that the “standard procedure” is correct for homoeopathy? You work on the basis that something can only exist if you can find an atom or molecule. However, just because people don’t believe in anything lesser, or not currently identifiable being able to exert an effect, does that mean it cannot do so? I suggest it can. We may not yet know how or why, but that does not stop it being shown effective.

  • Oliver Dowding 28th Mar '10 - 11:19pm

    Margaret, yes I did.
    No you need not fear – we don’t harm people, nor do silly stunts of no value and incorrectly set up.
    Actually it was the 2nd Homeopathy Science and Research conference, not as you mistakenly referred to it.
    It was first class and offered serious people the chance to learn things of real and lasting value – why not read the presentations?

  • Oliver Dowding 5th Apr '10 - 8:38pm

    You will…….be patient…..sorry for delay

  • Unless you have tried Homeopathy, you are not really in a position to make a judgement.
    It was only 200 years ago that we had absolutley no idea what electricity was! Yet we knew it existed.
    The Drug companies run the NHS. Until that stops, proift will be the main goal!
    I am a floating voter and this is my mian area of concern.
    I can’t vote for Labour as they have made such a hash of the economy. I can’t vote Tory as I have always disagreed with most of thier policies (and New Labour=Old Tory!)..
    So it’s between LIb Dem and Green…
    As you most likely guessed, I am a qualified and practicing Homeopath.. Any skeptics out there like to have a free course of treatment?? All I ask is that you blog your experience on this website! What do you have to lose? ;o)

  • What about you Mike???

  • Oliver Dowding 20th Apr '10 - 1:01pm

    So, Dave, are you seeking to dismiss all those who have tried and succeeded with homoeopathy, those who have observed success whilst being careful NOT to be biased and only to observe symptoms, effects etc? Methinks any data will thus be skewed!

    How odd that just because one has tried it and gained (whether it worked or was placebo) that one has to be discounted. Does that apply for allopathic drugs and poisons? For all research?

    Just because you don’t know HOW it works it does not mean it does not work. See the comment re electricity….and that is just one.

    Wonder if anyone will take up Dawn’s challenge!?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 20th Apr '10 - 1:13pm

    “So, Dave, are you seeking to dismiss all those who have tried and succeeded with homoeopathy …”

    Can people really be so clueless about how clinical trials work?

    Of course people whose symptoms improve are not “dismissed”. The way it works is that those people are counted, and the people whose symptoms improve after being given a placebo are counted. And comparison of the numbers has consistently shown that homeopathic “treatments” are no more effective than the placebo.

    Surely it’s not so hard to understand.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Apr '10 - 1:17pm

    Oliver/Dawn: you’re completely missing the point (still). If I take one of your homeopathic “remedies” and get better it doesn’t prove anything. In fact, if I take it and don’t get better it doesn’t prove anything.

    Sure, I don’t have any problem with taking it, providing I don’t have to pay or come waste my time on a “consultation” with you first. Send it to me free if you like. After all, there’s absolutely nothing in it, so it can’t do me any harm.

    The problem is not that “we don’t understand HOW it works”, or even that there is a lack of (good) evidence for it working.The problem is that there is good evidence that it doesn’t work. That’s why we shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money on it.

  • Sure Dawn, I’ll take you up on it.

    First though, electricity is an invalid comparison. We knew electricity existed because we had vast quantities of scientifically valid evidence that indicated its presence. There is no such valid scientific data for homoeopathy. You cannot claim “it exists, but we don’t understand it” without first showing it exists.

    I want you to use homoeopathy to give me scurvy.

    Since homoeopathy uses like to cure like (quoting Samuel Hahnemann), e.g. you’d take some diluted arsenic to cure arsenic poisoning, I’d like you to cure me of my vitamin C poisoning by giving me diluted vitamin c. The result should be that I get scurvy.

    Or if that doesn’t work, maybe give me something else, like an allergy I don’t already have, e.g. peanuts. If your homoeopathy really works (even if you don’t understand how it works) you should be able to bring about the desired effect.

    To ensure this is an accurate experiment, I also insist that you use pure water, i.e. water that doesn’t have any homoeopathic “memory” already that would therefore contaminate and invalidate any experiment. I expect you to show me how you test for this (I’ll bring some samples of my choice you can test).

  • Oliver Dowding 20th Apr '10 - 1:38pm

    Malcolm, it may not prove anything to you, but it has to many. You may think that it doesn’t work, by some standards you employ. However, by the standards that many others use, including all homoeopaths (of which I am not one) which are much more pertinent with regard to homoeopathic medication and its requirements of individual consultation, consideration, and remedial prescription, there is plenty of evidence.

    Presumably, your argument is the same for allopathic medications? In other words, if you take a medication, and don’t get better, it doesn’t prove anything?

    Finally, are you happy that we’re spending taxpayers money on allopathic medication being prescribed for conditions for which it has never been trialled? Are you happy with allopathic medication being prescribed conditions for which we know there have been serious side-effects, and sometimes fatal? Are you content that every side-effect, every negative reaction, has been recorded by the doctor or other medical person who administered that allopathic medication? I know this is deviating off your subject of trying to denigrate and eradicate homoeopathy from being a public cost, but all of the above points are public costs, or cause further public cost.

  • Oliver Dowding 20th Apr '10 - 1:39pm

    Prateek, I think you need to understand how homoeopathy works or stop posting such comments. I’ve seen the antics that went on in Red Lion Square. Until you understand that it doesn’t matter whether you take a million homoeopathic pills in one go, or one pill, and that either quantity constitutes a single dose, then you’ll continue to believe that the stunt should have left people sprawling on the pavement in their last throes of life! I’m not going to repeat all the things I previously said about RCTs, and their inapplicability to the individuality that comes with homoeopathy. I know that conventionally minded folk find this difficult to understand and comprehend, but that’s just how it’s going to have to remain.

    I’m afraid that I find myself having to equate those who don’t want to understand homoeopathy, or simply cannot understand it, is being like those who dismissed people who said that birth wasn’t flat. I’m not sure who the last person was to finally accepted that it had a circumference, but sometimes it seems like those who don’t understand that homoeopathy does work, but doesn’t conform to their version of science, are in the same camp. I know that you like to think that we are in the same camp and don’t want to accept your version of science and medication, but you’re wrong, because I’m quite happy to accept both versions. That’s the difference between us.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Apr '10 - 2:05pm

    Oliver said:

    Presumably, your argument is the same for allopathic medications? In other words, if you take a medication, and don’t get better, it doesn’t prove anything?

    Yes, Oliver, that’s exactly right. The point is that one person’s experience constitutes an anecdote, which as you have probably heard before, is not the singular of “data”. Proof comes from lots of repetitions of the treatment using lots of people, ideally in double-blind conditions, with pre-agreed definitions of what effects one is looking for, and what statistical tools are going to be used to test for significance. This isn’t being “conventionally minded”, it’s being scientific. The reasons that these conditions are necessary for meaningful results, and that individual experiences of “getting better” (or not) are of no evidential use, have been exhaustively rehearsed already here and elsewhere. The only interesting bit about Dawn’s challenge is that it tests whether those who call homeopathy worthless really believe that there’s nothing in them that could do them any harm. Hence my and Prateek’s responses; but as Prateek pointed out, the “mass suicide” demonstrated that point very effectively already.

  • Molly Henness 20th Apr '10 - 2:12pm

    The homeopathic remedies I bought from Boots many years ago didn’t work for me (coffea and arnica and I can’t remember what else). I haven’t met a single person who feels they’ve benefitted from self-prescribing and buying one of the Boots remedies, though I know many who’ve tried them. This should come as no surprise to homeopaths who bang on about how remedies are individualised and it is a mystery to me why they objected to the 10.23 campaign (which I took part in by the way). Selling homeopathic remedies OTC seems to go against the very spirit of homeopathy. I doubt if Hahnemann would approve. And if people self-prescribe, as I did, and the remedy doesn’t work then there is the danger that people think homeopathy in its totality is a crock. You surely don’t want that, do you, homeopaths?

    I would be very interested in receiving a free course of treatment from a homeopath. However, I live in London and Dawn is in Hove. Are there any homeopaths closer to home who’d be prepared to make the same kind offer?

    I wouldn’t bother with an internet consultation (and I appreciate Dawn is not offering one but some homeopaths do) because I have zero faith in homeopathic remedies – there is nothing in them, after all. I believe that the homeopathic consultation is a crucial part of why homeopathy sometimes seems to work for some people. The only person I know who consulted a homeopath – for her baby’s eczema – was bitterly disappointed and over £500 worse off (the course of ‘treatment’ involved several appointments and the prescribed remedies were about £12 a go). The child’s eczema didn’t begin to improve until three years later.

    A lot of conditions do get better by themselves, of course, which is the other main reason why homeopathy seems to work sometimes.

    Thank you for posting the link to that very interesting report on the scientific research and homeopathy conference, Mary. It doesn’t sound as if much scientific research is taking place and I agree with what the writer says about it being more like a religious faith than a science.

  • @Oliver Dowding

    There is no “version” of science, it’s not a set of beliefs. Science is a methodology, one that has been proven time and time again to be effective.

    The fact that you have your own “version of science and medication” simply means that you are unable to explain your beliefs in a proven, rational framework and therefore have to make up your own rules to suit your beliefs.

    That you claim your own version of science merely means you have no understanding at all of science.

  • Oliver Dowding 20th Apr '10 - 3:03pm

    Briefly………I’ll try and deal with the gang attack, despite not being a homoeopath, etc.

    Prateek, of course, the remedies are available over the counter, is the consultation or decision to use them, that is individual.

    We should all stop going on about there being no evidence. I just leave you to believe that it’s all in the mind. Read my previous posts about tens of thousands of animals treated with homoeopathy, the scores of vets and doctors who use both forms of medication, etc. I’m not going to repeat myself, you’re clearly content in not accepting my point, and so I’ll have to leave you to make yours over and over again in the belief that eventually it’ll stick. Well, it won’t with me.

    Malcolm, I understand yours and many others fascination with double blind trials treating a single condition with a single drug. The homoeopath takes into account the complete animal or person, a life history, and as many other things as possible before prescribing one or a mixture of remedies. The conventional doctor , predominantly treats the symptoms they see, and does not consider the underlying maintaining causes, which can often include the side effects of previous medication. You have an assertion that there is only one form of science. I don’t. And that, much as you don’t like it, doesn’t render me or anybody else wrong, just different. If we are achieving the same end result, i.e. healthy, where the patient was unhealthy, then surely that’s just all matters?

    Martin, I’m sorry that you think that just because I believe from extensive first-hand experience with cattle, and that they do not know how to deceive or lie, twist words, misunderstand, misappropriate, that I therefore have no understanding of science etc, is highly presumptive, and barely worthy of comment.

    Molly, you’re probably right to not accept an internet consultation. However, just because you’re one example didn’t recover from eczema for a period of time, it doesn’t mean nobody is curable of this condition with homoeopathy. Equally, and I’m sure that the sceptics will tell me that it simply was a self-limiting condition that miraculously resolved itself at that particular moment, my incredibly sceptical friend who had for three-year’s suffered an intensely irritating chest infection and cough, four which extensive conventional medication and hospital appointments had failed to resolve, saw the whole thing disappear within 48 hours of starting a course of homoeopathic remedy. As he said to me, I don’t know what it was that made me respond, but I certainly did and am not sceptical any more, even though I don’t understand how it works.

    Have a nice day.

  • Martin, I’m sorry that you think that just because I believe from extensive first-hand experience with cattle, and that they do not know how to deceive or lie, twist words, misunderstand, misappropriate, that I therefore have no understanding of science etc, is highly presumptive, and barely worthy of comment.

    When commenting, it helps of course if you actually read what is written and not just deride what you want to believe I wrote.

    My conclusion that you don’t understand science is entirely based on your statement that you believe there are different versions of science and you’re happy to accept both. Science is clearly defined, and hence there is only one version of it. Anything else isn’t science by, oddly enough, definition. Whatever it is you believe, it’s not science.

    As to animals not lying, I’d like to see you back up that claim with evidence. Animals deceive all the time (here’s an article from Nature to support my assertion: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v319/n6049/abs/319143a0.html), so you’ll need to show that you’re not being deceived. Also, there’s simple interpretation errors to what you are seeing (c.f. Kluger Hans). The placebo effect has been demonstrated in animals, essentially animals responding to body language/tone of their handlers etc (again, c.f. Kluger Hans). Since you and your homoeopathic vets believe homoeopathy works, there’s also confirmation bias, so an independent view is required. Finally without a control group you cannot actually show that your anecdotes are in any way proof. It could be that some other factor was the cause, e.g. change in temperature, regression to mean, or something else entirely; a control group will control for that (hence the name). Placebos are used because even just the act of giving them something needs to be controlled for. Double-Blind is used to control for patient and doctor expectations and giving subconscious cues that could affect the outcome (c.f. Kluger Hans).

    That’s why anecdotes are totally useless as evidence. Again, anyone that believes anecdotes (even masses of them) in some way constitute proof has little understanding of science.

  • Molly Henness 20th Apr '10 - 5:31pm

    Oliver,

    It is hardly surprising, on a public forum, if people disgree when a highly controversial topic is being discussed. But it is extremely surprising to me that you should describe the comments here as a “gang attack”, especially when everyone is managing to remai civil in their disagreement. I do not know the other posters here and take strong exception to your suggestion that we are “a gang”. I speak for myself alone and won’t be intimidated from doing so by your making snide comments.

    By the way, I have not argued “just because (my) one example didn’t recover from eczema for a period of time, it doesn’t mean nobody is curable of this condition with homoeopathy”. Unlike homeopaths, I do not rely on anecdotal evidence. What I do is consider two things: (1) the scientific plausibility of the therapy and (2) the totality of scientific evidence for it. On both counts, homeopathy fails.

    Have a nice day yourself.

  • dawn bowles 20th Apr '10 - 6:00pm

    Mike…
    I’m [email protected]
    Let’s sort out this treatment!

  • dawn bowles 20th Apr '10 - 6:03pm

    Sorry, reading the forum whilst cooking dinner..
    Martin… you got my email.. I look forward to hearing from you..!

  • I’ve sent my email to Dawn, essentially restating my request here to make me ill using homoeopathy, a nice peanut allergy or maybe scurvy or something to my detriment. I’ve even offered her the chance to use insanely powerful solutions (the more dilute the more powerful, according to homoeopathy rules) of up to 480C !!.

    I still expect her to prove to me (against samples I provide) that she can distinguish a homoeopathic remedy from water.

    Let’s see what happens.

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Apr '10 - 8:02pm

    Ah, what fun. I look forward to hearing your report. Obviously, given the risks you’re running, I shall pray for you… 😉

  • Thanks Malcolm… unfortunately I not only don’t believe in magic water… I’m also a godless heathen… there’s obviously no hope for me… and my horoscope said I’d have a good day today.. can’t trust anyone.

  • Oliver Dowding 20th Apr '10 - 10:36pm

    OK, one of the time. Molly, I wasn’t insinuating, or meaning to insinuate that in some way you all knew each other and had lined up to collectively have a go at me, but it just felt like I was bearing the brunt. I am also trying to remain civil whilst debating these points.

    Do I take it that you mean that every single homoeopath, every single time that they observe improvement from use of a particular remedy for a particular condition and report it, are involved in some anecdotal event. I presume you therefore consider that all the homoeopaths in the world, which I think are over half a million, are creating anecdotal something or other?

  • Oliver Dowding 20th Apr '10 - 10:46pm

    Martin, I’m not sure where to start. I readily accept that I’m not a scientist, but does that bar me from commenting on science? when I said that there were different versions of science, and simply referring to the thought that you believe there is only one way in which illnesses can be repaired, and I believe there is another. That was my mistake to refer to these two options as two forms of science for which I apologise.

    I see that you’re falling back on that old chestnut of thinking that for 15 years, 500 animals deceive over 15 full-time herdsman, a multitude of professional vets (none of whom were homoeopathic vets), and more people. And that’s just on my farm. What happened to animals was NOT anecdotal. As Molly said, we’re trying to remain civil on here, but it’s getting difficult when folk are insisting that so much that actually happened was nothing more than an illusion.

    May I also point out that all the homoeopathic vets I’ve ever met, and many of the homoeopathic doctors, were trained conventionally before they started their homoeopathic phase of medicine. They can see things from two perspectives, as can I having both treated animals allopathically and with homoeopathy. Does this mean that for the first phase of their life, when they were involved predominantly or totally with allopathic means, everything was fine, but when they used a different form of medicine, homoeopathy, to treat animals and observed the same recovery process, etc, that they were in some way becoming hoodwinked, where before they were just seeing genuine reaction? I don’t think so.

  • You’re failing to understand my point Oliver.

    I don’t doubt for a second that your animals really did get better. The problem is that every single one of the scenarios your talking about makes no effort to control for the fact that homoeopathy might not have been the reason for it; and I’ve listed loads of reasons why it might not have been.

    There are masses of things in nature and the universe that are counter-intuitive and hence common sense and our own basic assumptions (which we all make in different ways) will often (most of the time probably) lead us astray and make us draw invalid conclusions. It’s how conjurers work; they use our assumptions against us and get us to deceive ourselves.

    The whole purpose of science is to eliminate those assumptions, to eliminate our intuition and the concentrate entirely on the facts and on what’s really happening; to focus on one single thing and eliminate all the other factors; it’s why recording your method and equipment is so extremely important in trials. That’s why science is so important and so successful at helping us understand the world. Until you can consistently show a statistically significant, better than placebo effect for homoeopathic treatments in your animals then all that homoeopathy actually does is nothing more than what a placebo does.

    Centuries of scientific research, theories that form the foundation of thousands of modern technologies which would fail if they were invalid, a vast body of evidence to support those theories and from multiple branches of science tell us that the basis of homoeopathy is scientifically nonsense.

    Your claim that it therefore works is extraordinary. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. No study yet done, of the hundreds performed, once checked for quality, has shown homoeopathy to be more effective than the water physics and chemistry says it is.

    You have a herd, you have a chance to do trials. If homoeopathy really works, then you should be able to prove it. So why can’t you, why do you only ever have anecdotal evidence? People have suggested trials you could do.

    Every single time you insist that it works because of your anecdotes or by appeals to authority you simply strengthen the belief in others that your views don’t have a leg to stand on. Where’s the real proof?

  • I’m wondering who to vote for this time. The standard of debate on this thread has definitely improved my opinion of the LibDems greatly. Thanks.

  • It makes me chuckle when I see A following B and people thinking that A therefore caused B.

    It reminds me of the radio 4 show Radio Active, in particular a bit which went like this

    critic: You will be saying you can sort out the weather next
    labour party person: Can I remind you that the last good summer was in 1976, under a LABOUR government?

  • Molly Henness 21st Apr '10 - 5:57pm

    Oliver wrote, “Do I take it that you mean that every single homoeopath, every single time that they observe improvement from use of a particular remedy for a particular condition and report it, are involved in some anecdotal event.”
    I wouldn’t use as many words but what you describe is an anecdote, yes and, if you’ve read and understood Martin’s last post, I am sure you now know that the plural of anecdotes isn’t data.

    “I presume you therefore consider that all the homoeopaths in the world, which I think are over half a million, are creating anecdotal something or other?”
    No, they’re not creating anything, They are just administering an unproven and ineffective treatment. And getting paid for it.

  • Oliver Dowding 22nd Apr '10 - 12:58pm

    Molly, thank you for your thoughts. Half a million people issuing ineffective treatments and getting away with it….er, I think not, and we will disagree about this.

    Martin, you say I should “concentrate entirely on the facts”. I was. The facts of what remedies I gave, what results we witnessed were there for all on the farm to see. Sorry, forgot, we were fooled into believing homoeopathic remedies did it. We must have only seen many animals over many years going into spontaneous remission.

    I don’t have a herd any more (see earlier posts to learn this) so cannot do the simplistic and rubbish trials you suggest that take NO account for individual animals having individual symptoms requiring to be matched to individual remedies. But like I don’t appreciate the mechanics of my computer, you don’t (appear to) appreciate the mechanics of homoeopathy.

    You who deny homoeopathy is effective, and is “counter intuitive” to your understanding of (some) science are destined not to agree with the half million or so homoeopaths, and their many millions of patients who are happy. You are destined not to appreciate the options that homoeopathy could provide.

    Over and out.

  • Some people look in the mirror and see fate. Others see opportunity. So dismissing not being believed as your destiny may not be appropriate.

    Homeopaths are paid for their services and thus are encouraged to take a glass half-full perspective.

    Science can change its mind. That is its strength. It does not do so because of the sheer number of people advocating a position.

    What kind of trial would you suggest which does not fall into the heffalump trap of relying on people not seeing what they expect to see?

    If a person looking at an animal for improvement has no idea whether the theory predicts improvement or not, then they cannot fall into wishful thinking. This is called a blinded experiment.

    A blinded experiment should be possible, even with individual treatments for animals.

    To judge the results, you simply see if there is a match between those treated with “genuine” homeopathic preparations and those who got better.

  • Blanche Canard 23rd Apr '10 - 12:26am

    Although I have been impressed with Nick Clegg, I am sorry to say I will not be voting for a party that denies my family and I the right to a system of medicine (homeopathy) that has kept us well and healthy for the last thirty years. We pay our taxes and National Insurance and should have the right to have a drug free system of medicine that works brilliantly. I though the Lib Dems were a forward tinking party but I am mistaken.

  • Molly Henness 23rd Apr '10 - 12:50am

    @ Oliver

    An argument from personal credulity doesn’t cut it. In other words, what you think or don’t think doesn’t matter. Nor does what I think or don’t think. The fact that I personally find it very difficult to believe that homeopathy works is totally irrelevant.

    What matters is what the science tells us, and what the science tells us is that homeopathy is a crock.

    @ Blanche

    So it’s perfectly OK with you that taxpayers should pay for therapies that the totality of scientific evidence tells us don’t work. As long a minority of people want them, that’s what matters even if it’s at the expense of other people’s lives. You’re right about the lib dems – I don’t thing they’re the party for you.

    On the other hand, I will almost certainly be voting for them, whereas I don’t usually. Evan Harris can take a lot of the credit for winning my vote.

    @ Voter

    Excellent post.

    @ Margaret

    He did say ‘over and out’ so maybe he’s switched himself off. 🙂

  • Molly Henness 23rd Apr '10 - 5:15pm

    “The regulatory body for pharmacists in NI has proposed that patients be told that homeopathic products do not work, other than having a placebo effect.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8640582.stm

    Good idea. Spend millions on sugar pills, then ruin any placebo effect they might have by telling patients it’s a placebo.

  • Oliver Dowding 24th Apr '10 - 10:20am

    @Molly

    No, he hasn’t switched himself off. Very droll. I’ve just got a life to lead, but at the same time I don’t see why those of a relatively closed mind should exclude my preferred form of medicine.

    “what the science tells us, and what the science tells us is that homeopathy is a crock”. What I would say is that it is. Some science tells us these things, but most definitely not all science, as seems to be the presumption of many on this forum. But then, of course, that suits the cause. Anybody who thinks that any science is outright conclusive stands sometime to be surprised, I suggest. And, it’s not what I “thought”, it’s what I and many others, repeated by hundreds of millions of others, observed and continue to observe daily. I know, you think we’re all deluded, seeing things that don’t exist, fiddling around with sugar, etc. Ho Ho!

    The same comment applies to your sneer at Blanche.

    You carry on with your vote for Evan Harris. I wonder who the 89 groups he has entertained at the House of Commons over the last 5½ years were. I don’t suppose there was a drug company or a drug company rep amongst them, which is gratifying to know, unless you know otherwise. Perish the thought that he might have been influenced.

  • Molly Henness 24th Apr '10 - 12:02pm

    “I don’t see why those of a relatively closed mind should exclude my preferred form of medicine.”

    Hmm…you’re suggesting that people are closed-minded because they judge homeopathy on the fact that it is not only (1) scientifically implausible but (2) it has been tested extensively and the totality of scientific evidence available to us demonstrates overwhelmingly that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo.

    The fact that, in spite of all the careful and patient explanations provided on this forum, in spite of countless well-supported arguments on countless blogs and websites, you still “dont’see”, Oliver, would seem to suggest that you are the closed-minded one. You’re not addressing the real arguments here but are resorting instead to the same old fallacious post ‘hoc ergo propter hoc’ and to personal incredulity. As I said before, these count for nothing against high quality RCTs.

    My response to Blanche was not a sneer, it was a summary of her position and appears to be a summary of yours. There is such a thing as being so open-minded that your brains fall out, you know.

    “Some science tells us these things, but most definitely not all science, as seems to be the presumption of many on this forum.”

    Oh dear me. Are we talking about a few methodologically flawed trials, or a couple of reviews that homeopaths like to cherry-pick the odd sentence out of? Because that’s pretty much all there is – unless you learned something startling new at this science and homeopathy conference you were at. It did say it would equip people to effectively counter the critics – so come one, let’s hear it.

    I repeat my own offer to be a guinea-pig for any (accessible) homeopath in London prepared to offer me a free course of treatment.

  • I though I’d try to explain the scientific reason why we know that any homeopathic remedy is water. I doubt this will convince people like Oliver for whom it’s simply a matter of faith but maybe it will help others. It starts with Avogadro’s number.

    The reason Avogadro’s number is important is that it’s the number of elementary particles present in one mole of a solution. (This number has been measured many times, since it was first calculated in the late 19th century, and by many different means, so it’s highly reliable). Essentially using Avogadro’s number you know the number of molecules that make up a fluid (i.e. a gas or liquid). So for example the number of molecules of H2O there are in a litre of water. You should have met this number during GCSE chemistry and/or physics.

    Now on to homeopathy:

    The molecular mass of water is 18.02 grams / mole. (atomic mass of oxygen = 16, and hydrogen is 1, so H2O = 18, the 0.02 is due to rare isotopes of those elements having slightly different masses.)

    That means there are 55.5 mol (moles) in a litre of water. 1L = 1kg = 1000g. 1000 g / 18 g/mol = 55.5 mol.

    Avagadro’s Number is 6.0221415 × 10^23 (I’ll write it in “E” notation as 6.0221415E23, as you would see on a school calculator, simply because it’s easier to write in a post like this). It’s units are “per mole”.

    So that means the number of molecules of H2O in a litre of water is 6.0221415E23 * 55.5 = 3.34E25. This number will be important in a bit.

    You (as the homeopath) prepare your base solution by adding (if it’s soluble) 1 part of your ingredient to 100 parts of water, so a ratio of 1:100. For very 1 ml of your initial remedy there is 100 ml of water. For every 1 molecule of your remedy, there are 100 molecules of water. A solution of 1C, as it’s called. You dilute it by 1 in 100 a second time to get 2C.

    2C = 1:10,000 ( 100 * 100 = 10,000 = 1E4 )
    3C = 1:1E6
    4C = 1:1E8

    I’m sure you can spot the pattern here. A common “mild” homeopathic remedy is 30C.

    30C = 1:1E60

    Note that value. 1 molecule of your remedy for 1E60 (that’s a 1 followed by 60 zeros) of water. Now compare it to 3E25 from earlier. Every increase of the number after the E by 1 means a factor of 10 bigger. 1E2 is 100 times bigger than 1. 1E3 is 1000 times bigger, 1E6 is a million times bigger etc.

    That means to ensure you drink at least 1 molecule of your ingredient, you must drink at least 3.3E34 litres of your 30C remedy. We worked out how many molecules there are in a litre of water above, so I divided 1E60 by that number to work out how many litres you’d need to drink to get just 1 molecule of your ingredient. (1E60 / 3.3E25 = 3.3E34 ) in words that is 33 thousand million million million million million litres of your remedy. That sounds pretty big but there’s no way anyone can really grasp the true significance of a number that big. So just for comparison, there are about 1E21 liters of water in all of the Earth’s oceans. So you would need to drink the equivalent of all of the Earth’s oceans 33 trillion times. Or the entire planet of Jupiter 24 million times (it has a volume of 1.4E27 liters).

    100C is not an uncommon dilution for a homeopathic remedy.
    100C = 1:1E200 and would require more sheets of paper than I care to count just to write out the word million. Just for comparison, the volume of the observable universe is around 10E80 liters. (type 1E200 into http://www.wolframalpha.com and see what you get; Nb. you can verify some other facts at wolframalpha if you like. Type “Molecules in 1l of water” into the search engine for example).

    That’s why anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of science knows that your 100ml bottle ( 0.1 litres ) of your 30C remedy can’t possibly contain even a single molecule of the original substance and is therefore 100% water.

    Homeopaths say water has “memory” but not one of them has been able to tell a “memory” water from a normal water. And if water has memory… why does it remember the homeopaths ingredients, but not the sewers it’s been through (multiple times)?

    Anyone who’s done A-level chemistry should have no trouble confirming the validity of this calculation; I believe Avogadro’s number and moles might even be covered in GCSE chemistry, so maybe even a good GCSE student could verify it.

    Hope that entertained a few people.

  • That’s a great explanation. Thank you, Martin.

    I also came across an entertaining and detailed analysis on that blog I found.

    http://www.skepticat.org/2009/03/homeopathy/

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