MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

The Independent asked me yesterday to write a 500-word piece on homeopathy. I accepted with pleasure. About two hours after I had sent it, my article appeared on their website. As I had not even seen their edited version, I was surprised how much they changed without my permission.

No, I am not cross about this – I know by now how journalists function. Yet I think that some of their changes did change my meaning, and therefore I have decided to post here the original. Since I did not get paid nor sign a copyright transfer, I think I am perfectly entitled to do that.

HERE IT IS

Time to get real about homeopathy

EDZARD ERNST, EMERITUS PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF EXETER

The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recently published what might be the most thorough evaluation of homeopathy in the 200-year long history of this therapy. They assessed a total of 57 systematic reviews summarizing 176 individual clinical trials focused on 68 different conditions. They concluded that, firstly, there is no evidence that homeopathy works better than placebo, and, secondly, that patients may harm themselves, if they nevertheless employ homeopathy instead of effective therapies. Already in 2002, on the basis of a similar but less comprehensive analysis, I concluded that “the best clinical evidence for homeopathy available to date does not warrant positive recommendations for its use in clinical practice” [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12492603]. Yet homeopaths around the world seemed shocked by this news and are now on the war-path to rubbish or suppress it.

This reaction is as surprising as it is ridiculous. The conclusion that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos had already been derived from the utter implausibility of Hahnemann’s theories that like cures like and that diluting a remedy would render it not weaker but stronger. Oliver Wendell Holmes, for instance, famously wrote in 1842 that homeopathy is “a mingled mass of perverse ingenuity, of tinsel erudition, of imbecile credulity, and of artful misinterpretation, too often mingled in practice…with heartless and shameless imposition.”

Homeopaths, however, claimed for the last 200 years that science was not yet able to explain how homeopathy works, in other words, that homeopaths are ahead of their time. The fact, however, is that scientists have always been perfectly able to affirm that there cannot be an explanation for homeopathy that does not fly in the face of science.

“The proof is in the pudding”, homeopaths countered, “if patients benefit from homeopathy, it works regardless what the science tells us!” This argument too has long been shown to be based on little more than the delusion of homeopaths. Patients benefit from the therapeutic encounter, from the placebo-effect and from other phenomena that are unrelated to the sugar pills dished out by homeopaths. To convey such benefits to their patients, clinicians do not need placebos. Administering truly effective treatments with compassion will make them benefit from both the specific and the non-specific effects of the therapy in question. This means that just using placebos like homeopathics is unethical and amounts to cheating the patient.

Given the overwhelming evidence against homeopathy it seems now time to act. There is no reason any longer for consumers, patients, politicians, journalists etc. to believe in homeopathy. Pretending there is room for a legitimate debate is merely misleading the public. There is also no reason to have homeopathy on the NHS, to pay for homeopathic hospitals or to invest into further research. After researching the subject for more than two decades, I am convinced that the only legitimate place for homeopathy is in the history books.

11 Responses to …and here is the original (of my homeopathy article in the INDEPENDENT)

  • Bravo, Edzard! Both versions are very good: I don’t think the Indie’s editing has seriously altered your meaning. The article is bound to provoke a backlash from homeopathists, but you already know that. Such a shame there’s no 30C remedy for the inability of these people to think beyond the ends of their noses.

  • Frank Odds said:

    The article is bound to provoke a backlash from homeopathists

    Oh, it already has. It already has. Noting new, of course, just the same old tired discredited nonsense, ad homs, fallacious and ignorant arguments. And anecdotes. Where would they be without their anecdotes?

    • For reasons unknown, my computer won’t display the comments in the online versions of the Independent and the Guardian. But I looked on another machine. So far, I’d say the reasoned remarks outweigh the fundamentalist homeopathists. Or am I missing something? But I’m sure we’ll soon have the great anecdotalists in abundance.

  • Can anyone, more qualified in the Law, explain to me how Mike Adams and his weird ‘Natural News’ website are able to get away with the outlandish claims they make? One of the latest being about turmeric’s ability to fight, and defeat, cancer? Is it to do with the slippery wording, which enables them to appear to be making a claim about this which they can then legally deny was their intention?

    • The ‘service’ sold by Mike Adams and the likes are not medical product, therefore, they can make wild claims about it. Yes they use all the smoke and mirrors they can to make their shit look like medical product but in the end, wrote somewhere in small ‘this is not a medical product’.

      They could be condamned if they clearly put someone life in danger by telling to not take a medical treatement for a deadly condition (like diabete), but this is really hard to prove most of the time. (because they will say that they advised this mumbo jumbo + the standard med).

      This is absurd, yes.

  • I fully admit I did not read the article beyond: The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recently published what might be the most thorough evaluation of homeopathy in the 200-year long history of this therapy. They assessed a total of 57 systematic reviews summarizing 176 individual clinical trials focused on 68 different conditions. They concluded that, firstly, there is no evidence that homeopathy works better than placebo, and, secondly, that patients may harm themselves, if they nevertheless employ homeopathy instead of effective therapies).
    I just want to say WHAT ABOUT THAT PLACEBO EFFECT!???? FOR MY FAMILY OF 5 THE PLABO EFFECT (if indeed that is all what it is) has worked just fine for the lat 33 years of my life.
    So please make the damn conventional medicine work with the placebo effect and we all would be way better off. So everybody take your pills or just take a homeopathic remedy, it’s just as effective.

    • maybe you should read articles to the end before you comment – the issue is being addressed further down!

    • Remember also that if a therapy is no more effective than placebo, this does not mean that it has a significant placebo effect. It just means that it’s no better than a sham. A placebo control controls for all sorts of factors in addition to the placebo effect itself.

      And there’s even evidence that homeopathy has no more of a placebo effect than “the damn conventional medicine”:

      CONCLUSIONS: Placebo effects in RCTs on classical homeopathy did not appear to be larger than placebo effects in conventional medicine.

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