MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Homeopathy has many critics who claim that there is no good evidence for this type of therapy. Homeopaths invariably find this most unfair and point to a plethora of studies that show an effect. They are, of course, correct! There are plenty of trials that suggest that homeopathic remedies do work. The question, however, is HOW RELIABLE ARE THESE STUDIES?

Here is a brand new one which might stand for dozens of others.

In this study, homeopaths treated 50 multimorbid patients with homeopathic remedies identifies by a method called ‘polarity analysis’ (PA) and prospectively followed them over one year (PA enables homeopaths to calculate a relative healing probability, based on Boenninghausen’s grading of polar symptoms).

The 43 patients (86%) who completed the observation period experienced an average improvement of 91% in their initial symptoms. Six patients dropped out, and one did not achieve an improvement of 80%, and was therefore also counted as a treatment failure. The cost of homeopathic treatment was 41% of projected equivalent conventional treatment.

Good news then for enthusiasts of homeopathy? 91% improvement!

Yet, I am afraid that critics might not be bowled over. They might smell a whiff of selection bias, lament the lack of a control group or regret the absence of objective outcome measures. But I was prepared to go as far as stating that such results might be quite interesting… until I read the authors’ conclusions that is:

Polarity Analysis is an effective method for treating multimorbidity. The multitude of symptoms does not prevent the method from achieving good results. Homeopathy may be capable of taking over a considerable proportion of the treatment of multimorbid patients, at lower costs than conventional medicine.

Virtually nothing in these conclusions is based on the data provided. They are pure extrapolation and wild assumptions. Two questions seem to emerge from this:

  1. How on earth can we take this and so many other articles on homeopathy seriously?
  2. When does this sort of article cross the line between wishful thinking and scientific misconduct?

5 Responses to Homeopathy: a textbook example of wishful thinking masquerading as research

  • Non-science, pseudo-science, even bad science is not ‘scientific misconduct’ because it is not even science and is simply a piece of imaginative whimsy.
    This article is a chapter in a novel.
    But if the authors try to use this article to obtain funding for homeopathic remedies/services – that is a confidence trick and fraud.
    No different from the ‘find the lady’ chap at the racecourse who invites investment on where ‘the queen card’ is only to sureptitiously switch her position.
    Saying: “Take these pills, your health will improve as a result” is also a con-trick.
    The University of Berne where the author works should castigate him, not for bad science (which it isn’t – there was no science involved), but for incompetence and misleading his students. He may be in breach of contract.
    Investigators in the field have been sacked from other universities for far more spurious reasons.
    The publishers of the article, Elsevier should be ashamed.
    Do they have no standards?
    No requirement to have controls at the very least?
    Elsevier’s reputation has been harmed by this nonsense.

    • Agreed.

      Homeopathy is a con trick from start to finish.

      No scientific evidence? B…, b…, but we put on white coats like the scientists do, and we styled our magazines just like the scientists publish in journals and we get our mates to say it is fine to publish just like the scientists do, so it must be science.

      Richard Feynman had something to say about this. Cargo cult science.

  • University of Berne?

    Heiner Frei is a pediatrics practitioner in Laupen, Switzerland. Of course, he has cooperated with the Institut of Complementary Medicine (IKOM) of this university in the Berne ADHS study published 2005. (http://www.heinerfrei.ch/s/ADHDRCT-EurJPaed.pdf).

    But, even if he had a job there, I doubt, if UoB would fire anybody for misleading students. Only October last they announced to host a sponsored professorship for ‘Anthroposophically Expanded Medicine’ (‘Anthroposophisch erweiterte Medizin’). I dare say, we will see more of such strange things emerge from this source.

  • I am fascinated by the notion of research being conducted on substances that do not exist. Not only that but we don’t even know which substances they were before they were diluted past physical presence. Of all of the crazy witchcrafts, homeopathy surpasses even chiropractic in assertion of totally implausible “cures”.

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