MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

When sceptics claim that no positive trials of homeopathy exist, they are clearly mistaken. The truth is that there are plenty of them! But many, if not most are of such poor quality that it is safe to suspect they are false-positives. Here is a recent example of this type of scenario.

This new study investigated the clinical effectiveness of a homeopathic add-on therapy in children with upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). It was designed as a randomized, controlled, multi-national clinical trial. Patients received either on-demand symptomatic standard treatment (ST-group) or the same ST plus a homeopathic medication (Influcid; IFC-group) for 7 days. IFC tablets contain a fixed combination of 6 homeopathic single substances (Aconitum D3, Bryonia D2, Eupatorium perfoliatum D1, Gelsemium D3, Ipecacuanha D3, and Phosphorus D5). IFC was administered according to the following schedule: 8 tablets/day during the first 72 hours, 3 tablets/day during the following 96 hours. Outcome assessment was based on symptom and fever resolution and the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey-21 (WURSS-21).

A total of 261 paediatric (<12 years) patients (130 IFC-group; 131 ST-group) were recruited in Germany and the Ukraine. The IFC-group used less symptomatic medication, their symptoms resolved significantly earlier, they had higher proportions of fever-free children from day 3 onwards, and the WURSS-assessed global disease severity was significantly less during the entire URTI episode.

10-1177_2333794x16654851-fig2

Days until symptom resolution (WURSS-21 item 1) in both treatment groups.

The light grey (IFC-group) and dark grey (ST-group) lines are polynomial fit curves. The dashed line estimates the between-group difference in the number of days after which 50% of patients had symptom resolution.

10-1177_2333794x16654851-fig3

Between-group differences (IFC − ST) with 95% confidence intervals in the proportion of patients without fever during the observational period.

A difference (%) greater than zero indicates a higher proportion without fever in the IFC-group. Day 1 = Baseline.

The authors concluded that IFC as add-on treatment in pediatric URTI reduced global disease severity, shortened symptom resolution, and was safe in use.

On the one hand, this study has many features of a rigorous trial. I am sure that homeopaths will praise its quality, sample size, clever statistical analyses, etc. etc. The trial will therefore be cited by enthusiasts as a poof for homeopathy’s effectiveness and for homeopaths’ laudable research efforts.

On the other hand, one only needs to apply a minimum of critical thinking to find that it has been designed such that it cannot possibly generate a negative result. In fact, the paper turns out to be much more of a marketing exercise than a research effort.

The homeopathic remedy was given as an add-on therapy according to a fairly tedious ritual. It is safe to assume that this ritual created expectations on the parents’ side. These expectations alone suffice to account for the small group differences which seemingly favour homeopathy. The study follows the infamous ‘A+B versus B’ design which (as we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog) is extremely likely to generate false positive findings.

Why do researchers nevertheless plan, conduct and publish such studies (in the case of the paper discussed here, they even published their findings twice! Their previous paper included a larger group of patients of all ages and concluded that the homeopathic treatment shortened URTI duration, reduced the use of symptomatic medication, and was well tolerated.)? The answer can be found, I think, in the small print at the end of the paper:

Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The author(s) declared the following potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Robert van Haselen has received a consultancy fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union. Manuela Thinesse-Mallwitz received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for coordinating the study. Vitaliy Maidannyk received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for coordinating the study. Stephen L. Buskin is a member of the Advisory Board of the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union. Stephan Weber received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for contributing to the study. Thomas Keller received a fee from the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union for contributing to the study. Julia Burkart is an employee of the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union, the study sponsor and manufacturer of Influcid. Petra Klement is an employee of the Deutsche Homöopathie-Union, the study sponsor and manufacturer of Influcid.

Funding: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The study was funded by Deutsche Homöopathie-Union, Karlsruhe, Germany. Deutsche Homöopathie-Union manufactures the homeopathic medicinal product used in this study and provided the publication fee.

I REST MY CASE

8 Responses to Another flawed trial of homeopathy reports positive findings

  • Sounds like the perfect double-blinded design to me: the practitioners are perfectly blinded by their own motivated dishonesty and incompetence, and the patients are perfectly blinded on how they’re being scammed and manipulated.

    Complementary and Alternative Science great success! Can’t wait to see their results on Free Energy and Hollow Earth.

  • Studies like this beg the perennial question, “Mad or Bad?”

    Are homeopaths so mad they think this study design is valid or so bad that they know it’s not but do it deliberately to generate ‘positive’ results?

  • I have to ask, since you were once into it: what do homeopaths in their white lab coats do – exactly – at, say, Boiron Homeopathic, since it isn’t science? I think, if it isn’t a criminal organization, it has to be some kind of “Alice In Wonderland” beyond my imagination. Has anyone ever gone underground, with a hidden camera, into one of these places to see what they’re thinking? I remember one story, out of the American northwest, where an employee of a small operation caught the owner saying “We could make this stuff in the bathtub if we wanted to” but I wonder what the Big Boys are thinking? Any idea?

    • “We could make this stuff in the bathtub if we wanted to”

      Yes Louis Dixon. You nailed it.
      I long to know if the Big-Homeo factories or for that matter many of those who call themselves homeopaths even bother to start with the material for the “mother tincture” at all.
      The feeble minded who believe religiously in the memory of water do of course go through the whole tennis-arm inducing process from crunching the brimstone to serially diluting the water and thumping the flask at each repetition against a leather bound copy of Hahnemann’s opus.

      I have come across homeopath’s telling how they make remedies “by meditation” i.e. without the prime stuff!
      An enlightening example is here:


      I made a Hekla 1M by “meditation” which I’ve dropped off to my patient (whose tooth pain from dubious dental work that had been troubling him for two months healed over a few days and has stayed away – 12/9/00). I felt incredibly clear and energised whilst making it; it felt very windy and desolate as I sort of blew the essence in. When making the remedy I felt:
      Wind, cold wind rushes through the land, a settling of fine dust permeates and disturbs. It blocks the fine vessels, and sets hard. It is immovable, without violent eruption.
      After making the remedy, I had definite doubts about anything actually being in there, much the same as when I made up the Venus remedy – well it IS pretty weird! – but did find I had an energy about me, a momentum that I was trying to allow to flow. That evening, 9/3/00, whilst Rosa (9 years old at the time) and Suzanne (my partner) were getting ready to go out i.e. things were a little hectic (heklic?!), I gave Suzanne the bottle to hold and she came out with it feeling like a lot of space, very spacey….. not really concentrating as she was directing the getting ready, so I passed it on to Rosa, just to see if she felt anything. Now, either she was picking up on it from me or the bottle, who’s to know, but what she said was startling. I wish I’d recorded it on tape, but here is what she said (including subsequent clarifications).

      I intentionally copy-pasted the whole paragraph to illustrate the mindset and preternatural fantasies that characterise most die-hard homeopaths. J.K. Rawling couldn’t write up such florid fantasies.
      When come across muddle-mindedness like this, that can also be found similarly in most enumerations of the experiences of proving-subjects, you stop wondering how in the world people can believe their shaken water soaked sugar pills is what makes their gullible customers better.

      Some homeopathy practitioners probably just put tap water in flasks with a drop-pipette, which you can get cheap on Ebay and make up something handwritten on the label. I have seen such “remedies” at family member’s with colicky toddlers and they were not cheap. Remember, you do not have to go to school to call yourself a homepath. Ordinary people cannot tell the difference anyway.

      n Nelson’s remedy factory in the UK, a delegation from the US found that their pill production lines missed every sixth vial of sugar pills so the drop went on the floor. The remedies seem to have worked just as well, or at least no one had ever complained 😀 Here’s the letter they sent to Nelson’s. They also noted that the pills at the bottom of the glasses did not receive any of the shaken water. So it does not seem to matter if the remedy is there at all or if it is made out of any starting material.

      Helios homeopathy webshop sells the weirdest potions in any potentiation and form you can imagine. I seriously doupt they bother to replenish their supply of many of the substances and strange thing they pretend to put into the first batch of shaken water. Putting a bottle of water next to a microwave oven or a cellphone is not hard and best of all almost free. It is easy to find houseflies but plutonium and the light of Venus must be a bitch to find. The revelation at Nelson’s shows that it is little chance anyone comes and bitches about their pillules of cows hair 200C do not contain any memory of the shaken water containing the ridiculously dilated potentised memory of cows hair

    • The page froze on me so correcting my wordy comment above timed out.
      I was also going to add that I wished I could be a fly on the wall at Helios’. But then I thought the better of it. I might end up in a mortar :D… Or not, if they bother with using starting materials at all?

  • I don’t think we pay enough attention to the religious/spiritual/mystical/cult outlook, because then we’d have to possibly reframe our thinking on the organized aspect of, for instance, Boiron. Is it a business – or some kind of unspoken priesthood? We know they (for lack of a better term) revere Hahnemann, but we don’t explore why. We just watch them freaking out if we go near him. Same for the “practitioners.” The Reiki Masters behave the same way – what’s going on? Dr. Ben Goldacre is supposed to be working on a documentary featuring the threats he’s received. What are they so friggin’ passionate about – especially if it’s just water? I say it’s not just water. As a matter of fact, the water could be anything – and many times is – because we’re dealing with something else all together. Something we’re not looking at, or trying to look at, directly,…

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/10/study-links-religious-belief-to-poor-understanding-of-physical-world/

  • “Norway has one,…popular Norwegian science program called ‘Folkeopplysningen (People’s Enlightenment)’…Previously, they have made headlines debunking homeopathy, clairvoyance and super foods. In September they aired a show debunking common myths about GMOs,…”

    I’m posting this, here, to point out something, Professor – notice the grouping: on the surface, homeopathy, clairvoyance, super foods, and GMOs have little in common – they’re even covered separately. But, add in the NewAge cult, and now we’re onto something – we can fully understand the weapons used against reason – but also, as clearly as Christians wear crosses, we can finally see who’s putting them to use as well.

    What do you think?

    http://fafdl.org/blog/2016/10/14/how-norway-became-an-anti-gmo-powerhouse/

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