MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

When a leading paper like the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG (FAZ) publishes in its science pages (!!!) a long article on homeopathy, this is bound to raise some eyebrows, particularly when the article in question was written by the chair of the German Association of Homeopaths (Deutscher Zentralverein homöopathischer Ärzte) and turns out to be a completely one-sided and misleading white-wash of homeopathy. The article (entitled DIE ZEIT DES GEGENEINANDERS IST VORBEI which roughly translates into THE DAYS OF FIGHTING ARE OVER)  is in German, of course, so I will translate the conclusions for you here:

The critics [of homeopathy] … view the current insights of conventional pharmacology as some type of dogma. For them it is unthinkable that a high potency can cause a self-regulatory and thus healing effect on a sick person. Homeopathic doctors are in their eyes “liars”. Based on this single argument, the critics affirm further that therefore no positive studies can exist which prove the efficacy of homeopathy beyond placebo. After all, high potencies “contain nothing”. The big success of homeopathy is a sore point for them, because efficacious high potencies contradict their seemingly rational-materialistic world view. Research into homeopathy should be stopped, the critics say. This tune is played unisono today by critics who formerly claimed that homeopaths block the research into their therapy. The fact is: homeopathic doctors are today in favour of research, even with their own funds, whenever possible. Critics meanwhile demand a ban.

In the final analysis, homeopathic doctors do not want a fight but a co-operation of the methods. Homeopathy creates new therapeutic options for the management of acute to serious chronic diseases. In this, homeopathy is self-evidently not a panacea: the physician decides with every patient individually, whether homeopathy is to be employed as an alternative, as an adjunct, or not at all. Conventional diagnostic techniques are always part of the therapy.

END OF QUOTE

[For those readers who read German, here is the German original:

Die Kritiker … betrachten die heutigen Erkenntnisse der konventionellen Pharmakologie als eine Art Dogma. Für sie ist es undenkbar, dass eine Hochpotenz einen selbstregulativen und damit heilenden Effekt bei einem kranken Menschen auslösen kann. Homöopathische Ärzte sind in ihren Augen “Lügner”. Von diesem einen Argument ausgehend, wird dann weiter behauptet, dass es deshalb gar keine positiven Studien geben könne, die eine Wirksamkeit der Homöopathie über einen Placebo-Effekt hinaus belegen. Schließlich sei in Hochpotenzen “nichts drin”. Der große Erfolg der Homöopathie ist ihnen ein Dorn im Auge, weil wirksame Hochpotenzen ihrem vermeintlich rational-materialistischen Weltbild widersprechen. Die Erforschung der Homöopathie solle gestoppt werden, heißt es. Unisono wird diese Melodie von Kritikern heute gespielt, von ebenjenen Kritikern, die früher behaupteten, die homöopathischen Ärzte sperrten sich gegen die Erforschung ihrer Heilmethode. Fakt ist: Heute setzen sich homöopathische Ärzte für die Forschung ein, auch mit eigenen Mitteln, soweit es ihnen möglich ist. Kritiker fordern mittlerweile das Verbot.

Letztlich geht es homöopathischen Ärzten allerdings nicht um ein Gegeneinander, sondern um ein Miteinander der Methoden. Durch die Homöopathie entstehen neue Therapieoptionen bei der Behandlung von akuten bis hin zu schweren chronischen Erkrankungen. Dabei ist die ärztliche Homöopathie selbstverständlich kein Allheilmittel: Bei jedem erkrankten Patienten entscheidet der Arzt individuell, ob er die Homöopathie alternativ oder ergänzend zur konventionellen Medizin einsetzt – oder eben gar nicht. Die konventionelle Diagnostik ist stets Teil der Behandlung.]

While translating this short text, I had to smile; here are some of the reasons why:

  • ‘conventional pharmacology’ is a funny term; do homeopaths think that there also is an unconventional pharmacology?
  • ‘dogma’… who is dogmatic, conventional medicine which changes almost every month, or homeopathy which has remained essentially unchanged since 200 years?
  • ‘liars’ – yes, that’s a correct term for people who use untruths for promoting their business!
  • ‘Based on this single argument’… oh, I know quite a few more!
  • ‘doctors are today in favour of research’ – I have recently blogged about the research activity of homeopaths.
  • ‘co-operation of the methods’ – I have also blogged repeatedly about the dangerous nonsense of ‘integrative medicine’ and called it ‘one of the most colossal deceptions of healthcare today’. Hahnemann would have ex-communicated the author for this suggestion, he called homeopaths who combined the two methods ‘traitors’!!!
  • ‘new therapeutic options’… neither new nor therapeutic, I would counter; to be accepted as ‘therapeutic’, one would need a solid proof of efficacy.
  • ’employed as an alternative’ – would this be ethical?
  • ‘Conventional diagnostic techniques are always part of the therapy’… really? I was taught that diagnosis and treatment are two separate things.

There were many comments  by readers of the FAZ. Their vast majority expressed bewilderment at the idea that the chair of the German Association of Homeopaths has been given such a platform to dangerously mislead the public. I have to say that I fully agree with this view: the promotion of bogus treatments can only be a disservice to public health.

54 Responses to Homeopathy: ‘the days of fighting are over’

  • I am sure there is a homeopathic meme generator somewhere. There have been several utterances from the usual suspects along the lines of ‘The fight is over, we have won’ despite the reduction in use in the UK NHS, the dropping of quack degrees in universities and the increasingly vocal complaints of science and medical organisations or perhaps in response to these failures.

  • “efficacious high potencies contradict their seemingly rational-materialistic world view”

    Efficacious? Not a trace of good evidence but bin-loads of rubbish “evidence”.
    High potencies? Water.
    Seemingly rational-materialistic world view? Basic science.

  • Homeopaths do not realize the connection between prior probability of a hypothesis and the p-value of an experiment. If a hypothesis is extremely improbable, only a huge bunch of positive experiments will give enough evidence that the hypothesis is in fact true (see for instance the discussion in Nature about p-values). To quote Carl Sagen: exceptional claims need exceptional evidence. This is clearly not the case with homeopathy.

    • “Carl Sagen: exceptional claims need exceptional evidence.”

      Homeopathy has been around for 200 odd years. “It cannot work” has continued to be the statement from the orthodox medical system, based upon RCT and Meta analysis.

      Even when it works: “That by introducing the returns of homœopathic practitioners they (the Treatment Committee) would not only compromise the value and utility of their averages of Cure, as deduced from the operation of known remedies, but they would give an unjustifiable sanction to an empirical practice, alike opposed to the maintenance of truth and to the progress of science.” (Medical Committee’s report to Board of Health : Cholera in London.)

      To sustain for 200 years and continue to grow, with such opposition, is exceptional evidence !!!!!
      Many well known US hospitals are adding homeopathy as complementary treatment method.

      • exceptional evidence???
        no, it’s merely a classical fallacy [appeal to popularity].
        moreover, it is not true that, in recent years, the use of homeopathy has been increasing; if you have evidence to the contrary, please show it to us.

        • You are quite aware of Homeopathy in Germany. Check France, India, USA and Switzerland.

          If sales of Bioron and Schwabe are increasing every year, people are increasingly using homeopathy.

          Homeopaths are learning RCT. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3085232/

          And others do not accept your analysis: Dr. Robert G Hahn is of the opinion that you have ideological issues with homeopathy.

          • “If sales of Bioron and Schwabe are increasing every year, people are increasingly using homeopathy.”

            Appeal to Popularity again.

            “Homeopaths are learning RCT. [link]”

            That’s not an RCT, it’s a lengthy sales pitch. Durr. Its impressive list of cargo-cult footnotes claims to cite a couple of homeopathic RCTs, but without being able to read those studies it is obviously difficult to tear them apart as the customer satisfaction surveys they almost certainly are.

            “And others do not accept your analysis: Dr. Robert G Hahn is of the opinion that you have ideological issues with homeopathy.”

            Oh look, Appeal to Authority and Ad-Hominem too.

            Well done on diluting your critical thinking and intellectual integrity to completely undetectably homeopathic levels. At least you’ve proved that works.

      • In which case many hospitals are adding water to whatever. Just so long as everybody is clear that is what they are doing.

      • Bloodletting was seen as an exceptional treatment for just about everything spanning about 2000 years. So it was used almost ten times longer than homeopathy but then something happened. Modern science came along! So based on your logic should we thus re-introduce bloodletting?

        • “Modern science came along! So based on your logic should we thus re-introduce bloodletting?”

          You believe bloodletting has stopped? Please read below.

          http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h2747

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4251505/

          http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/upshot/the-right-to-know-that-an-operation-is-next-to-useless.html?_r=0

          There is reams of literature showing ineffectiveness/adverse effect of bypass surgery.

          This is all blood letting: the modern science way.

          • I checked the NYT article. I won’t waste any more time with the others.

            To sum up the article: some surgeons ignore the results of clinical trials showing some of their procedures are next to useless.

            Next to useless is considerably better than worse than useless.
            Bloodletting was considerably worse than useless; consequently homeopathy, being a placebo treatment, was a great advance on bloodletting.

            Those surgeons in the NYT article would be better off giving their patients a pill dipped in water, but drain their patients of virtually all their blood? Not such a good idea.

            You too refuse to accept evidence which challenges you to change your beliefs and/or threatens your livelihood. You prefer to make a complete fool of yourself into the bargain.

            Homeopathy contradicts basic science and a mountain of historical and present evidence shows that it is next to useless, being nothing more than a placebo.

            Wake up and smell the coffee.

        • No need to re-introduce, Frank. Bloodletting never went away. It’s an exceptional treatment for pain and injuries. Even modern boxers use it.

      • In which way does a 19th century story show that homeopathy works?

        All it shows is that using homeopathy was less dangerous than the conventional medicine of that time.

        At that time, the conventional treatment of cholera was mainly bloodletting and calomel as laxative which both caused further dehydration. The reason to use those treatments – balancing the four humors – was then 2000 years old. So if you say homeopathy can only sustain for 200 years if it works – should that also mean that humoralism which survived for 2000 years should also be true?

        Lets have a look at some numbers for the claim that homeopathy “works” as a treatments for cholera in the 1854 outbreak in London

        From “The Logic of Figures or Comparative Results of Homoeopathic and Other Treatments, Boericke und Taflel, Philadelphia 1900” Page 131 (https://archive.org/stream/logicoffiguresor00brad#page/n8/mode/1up)

        London Hom. hospital: 37 cases/7 death (mortality rate 18.92%)
        London, St. George’s: 140 cases/59 death (mortality rate 42.14%)

        If you compare that with the numbers with the outbreak during the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

        Untreated: mortality rate 20% (about the rate of of homeopathic treatment in London 1854) to 30%

        With the introduction of just oral rehydration (“sweetened sea water”) the mortality rate dropped to 3%

        With current full medical treatment, the mortality rate is less than 1%.

        So how does your quote of a 19th century statement show that “homeopathy works”?

        • Where do you get these figures from?

          The reference should be Page 138.

          You cannot compare London 1832 and Bangla Desh 1971. When the disease strikes the first time, fatalities are large as no natural immunity exists against these pathogens. You shift a Londoner to Bangla Desh now and he will get severe stomach problem from water normally drunk by a local with no adverse effect.

          Smallpox in America and Syphilis in Europe were great exchanges.

          • Frank’s reference is correct. Yours isn’t.

            You can make the comparison. According to the WHO cholera has a 20% mortality rate untreated, falling to 1% when treated with oral hydration salts.

            For what happens when one subtracts litres of blood from a cholera patient the statistics are provided by Frank.

            The evidence is transparently clear.

            Homeopathy can’t help cholera victims. Neither can it harm them. A sugar pill dipped in water is meaningless if you have cholera. Having litres of blood removed is virtually a death sentence.

            http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs107/en/

      • Like every known homeopath, you lie.

        The argument for 200 years is that it doesnt work. Here is an 1835 clinical trial, agreed to by homeopaths where it failed.
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1676327/

        It has been failing ever since, you sir, are contributing either willingly or unwittingly to a fraud.

        • This is a stupid trial. Used by allopaths for publicity.

          This is better. https://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/355916

          • @ Iqbal Krishna on Tuesday 09 August 2016 at 13:44

            We know Robert Hahn well. He is well known for his wishful approach to fantasy 😁

          • So you reject evidence and substitute an opinion. Hmm, I wonder why that would be. I wonder which you would reject if the trial was positive for homeopathy and the opinion negative.

            Your original assertion was that homeopathy has been rejected for 200 years because it cannot work. That is just a strawman. It doesn’t work as was shown by quite a well run study, a study that has been confirmed many times.

          • That is not a Trial. It’s religious special pleading. Honestly, did you read even its title before posting?

            Arnica, intellectual integrity, reading skills… Is there anything homeoshills don’t dilute to 300C?

          • Björn Geir on Tuesday 09 August 2016 at 14:35

            “We know Robert Hahn well. He is well known for his wishful approach to fantasy 😁”

            The classic “ad hominem” statement. I did read your earlier detailed message.

            If you note the description that you used for Dr. Hahn: “deeply religious and there is the usual, unmistakably narcissistic aura, religiously confident, authored at least three books on spiritual matters, He believes firmly in former-life memories and therefore the man would be an ordinary, religiously devout quack.”

            You altogether forgot to rebut the analysis bias he attributed to Dr. Ernst.

          • Björn: “We know Robert Hahn well. He is well known for his wishful approach to fantasy 😁”

            Icky: “The classic “ad hominem” statement.”

            Björn’s comment is not an Ad Hominem. An Ad Hominem would be saying “Icky is wrong because he is a moron.” Both of which may be (and indeed are) independently true: Icky is wrong and Icky is a moron. However, the latter does not in any way prove the former, so asserting that it does (the “because” conjunction) is committing the logical fallacy of Ad Hominem.

            Björn’s response is a mocking dismissal of your pathetic Appeal to Authority fallacy, and your attempt to rebut that by falsely declaring “ad hom” is a logical fallacy too. Though I don’t even know what that one’s called, probably because anyone with the basic logic and critical thinking skills to identify it as one has long since written its perpetrator off as a bad-faith actor with an embarrassing dose of echolalia†.


            † This, BTW, is not a logical fallacy either; just a combined brief character assessment plus good old-fashioned insult. Which I hope our esteemed host will forgive and allow on this occasion, if only for sake of your own further, and much needed, education.

          • I. Krishna forgets the respectful praise I also wrote about R. Hahn’s genuine and laudable scientific scholarly merits and achievements.

            You altogether forgot to rebut the analysis bias he attributed to Dr. Ernst.

            No need to rebut what is a well known fallacy we have previously addressed ad nauseam on this blog and elsewhere.
            Homeopathy is an impossibility so truthfully criticising it cannot be afflicted with bias.

            Call my comments “ad hominem” if you like, I consider them statements of verifiable facts about a person’s advocacy for inexcusable quackery. My description of the character of the self-documented spiritualistic infatuation are admittedly brusque but so are my views on religious zealotry in general. R. Hahn is a public person in this respect so he will have to endure criticism of his activities and statements.
            Of course R. Hahn is, just as anyone else, welcome to disagree with reality in any way he chooses but his efforts at applying his scholarly weight for defending homeopathy are inexcusable.
            Homeopathy is not a benign religious folly. It is a system of deception used to defraud gullible patients with useless nostrums, many of them in need of genuine medical measures. It is also widely applied in an overtly harmful manner as in the case of homeopathic “vaccination” and when seriously delusional homeopaths (aren’t they all?) pretentiously enter underdeveloped, underserved populations to administer dangerous pseudo-medical aid.
            Homeopathy is in my opinion unacceptable fraud and I speak out in no uncertain terms about its apologists.

          • Why is the trial stupid? It appears to me to represent a progressive move in the direction of careful evidence gathering and testing.

            The charge that Ernst is motivated by ideology is self-evidently ad hominem.

            Hahn singles out one meta-analysis as clinching the deal: homeopathy is proven to be superior to placebo. This is quite strange since he states that meta-analyses of vastly disparate data are difficult to interpret; yet the very trial which clinches the deal (for him) contains vastly disparate data.

            Such inconsistency may indicate unconscious bias, or perhaps I am being too charitable? To base one’s conclusion about a treatment on one single study amongst an enormous number of equally valid (or invalid) studies is cherry-picking with a vengeance.

            Particularly so, considering that the authors of the study concluded: “the results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo. However, we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition”.

            Despite the positive result of the meta-analysis not a single one of the studies, individually, showed convincing evidence of efficacy.

            Red light and clanging bells alert!

          • Björn Geir

            “Of course R. Hahn is, just as anyone else, welcome to disagree with reality in any way he chooses but his efforts at applying his scholarly weight for defending homeopathy are inexcusable.”

            Dr. Hahn states that Ernst has fudged data to get outcome in line with his biased ideological position.

            “Ernst makes conclusions based on assumed data when the true data are at hand. Ernst invalidates a study by Jonas et al. that shows an odds ratio of 2.19 (1.55–3.11) in favor of homeopathy for rheumatic conditions, using the notion that there are not sufficient data for the treatment of any specific condition . However, his review deals with the overall efficacy of homeopathy and not with specific conditions. Ernst still adds this statistically significant result in favor of homeopathy over placebo to his list of arguments of why homeo­pathy does not work.”

            Instead of writing long messages: just address this remark. You understand the meaning of data fudging?

          • “Instead of writing long messages: just address this remark.”
            this has been done – why don’t you read what has been posted before about this subject?
            the repetition of nonsense does not turn it into sense!!!

          • Let’s make a deal Iqbal…

            I will address this remark (again) when you have shown us credible, reliable (can be repeated by anyone) evidence that 30C (or greater) water or alcohol potentiation-diluted substances that have evaporated off sugar pills leave a verifiable healing effect in them that is clinically clearly different from the placebo effect of non-soaked sugar pills.
            I will not stop there. I will also help you or whoever did this remarkable discovery with cashing in on the million dollar prize for proving that homeopathic remedies work and with the application to the Swedish Nobel committee.
            Of course all textbooks of physics and chemistry would have to be re-written.

            Is that a deal?

          • Björn Geir on Sunday 14 August 2016 at 11:31

            “Let’s make a deal Iqbal…”

            Accepted. But one at a time. Your reply to the specific point first.

            The Noble prize for medicine should be merged with chemistry. These are not really different.

          • Accepted. But one at a time. Your reply to the specific point first.

            Your naivety continues to amaze. The deal is not reversible 🙂

            And even if many consider the prize to be noble that is not its name, it is named after Alfred Nobel the inventor who got rich on dynamite.

      • Appeals to Babbling Self-Delusion and Shameless Graft Antiquity and Popularity are the best evidence homeopathy has got? Then it can’t potentiate itself into oblivion soon enough!

      • Iqbal Krishna SAID:

        Many well known US hospitals are adding homeopathy as complementary treatment method.

        Which ones and treatments for what?

  • The days of fighting are over? So lectures about “magnetic photons” like that of Karin Lenger at the annual congress of homeopathic doctors in Bremen in 2016 are science? Claims of healing cancer merely by homeopathy like that of Dr. Jens Wurster are good medicine? Fluctuating results of effects near the zero line are evidence of effect? Is there any argument that would make Ms. Bajic rethink her positions? Seems there ist none.

    • Joseph, I’m unable to read German so I’m wondering if you are referring to this abject nonsense, written by Karin Lenger, on the notorious website “Hpathy”:
      http://hpathy [dot] com/scientific-research/homeopathic-potencies-identified-by-a-new-magnetic-resonance-method-homeopathy-an-energetic-medicine/

      To the best of my knowledge, magnetic photons do not exist; only far-field self-propagating electromagnetic photons exist. Of course, in the pseudoscience of ‘homeopathic nanoparticles’:

      “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

      “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

      “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

  • Björn Geir on Sunday 14 August 2016 at 11:31

    Let’s make a deal Iqbal…

    I will address this remark (again) when you have shown us credible, reliable (can be repeated by anyone) evidence that 30C (or greater) water or alcohol potentiation-diluted substances that have evaporated off sugar pills leave a verifiable healing effect in them that is clinically clearly different from the placebo effect of non-soaked sugar pills.

    If it is taking too long to write the details, just provide link to the rebuttal of Dr. Hahn’s critique of Ernst fudging data. Other than the personal attack you made on him earlier and dutifully posted by Ernst.

    As I confirmed earlier, the deal is on.

    • “Dr. Hahn’s critique”:

      For an assessment of Hahn’s critique see here (only in German): http://www.beweisaufnahme-homoeopathie.de/?p=1576. In short: Hahn criticises comprehensibly the methods of metaanalysis and their pitfalls, but he adds no new knowledge to the evidence base of homeopathy.

    • As I confirmed earlier, the deal is on.

      Really? Good luck with your search. We won’t be sitting idle waiting so knock if you come back with something to show. If you bump into anyone of the others who’ve been out there for a couple centuries searching for the efficacy of shaken water and sugar pills, say hello from us.

      • Björn Geir on Wednesday 17 August 2016 at 09:47

        “And even if many consider the prize to be noble that is not its name, it is named after Alfred Nobel the inventor who got rich on dynamite.”

        That is the reason it is offered for science based medicine!

      • Björn Geir on Wednesday 17 August 2016 at 09:55

        “Really? Good luck with your search. We won’t be sitting idle waiting so knock if you come back with something to show.”

        From the guy in a Western: ALL YELLOW.

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