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

As you can imagine, I get quite a lot of ‘fan-post’. Most of the correspondence amounts to personal attacks and insults which I usually discard. But some of these ‘love-letters’ are so remarkable in one way or another that I answer them. This short email was received on 20/3/19; it belongs to the latter category:

Dr Ernst,

You have been trashing homeopathy ad nauseum for so many years based on your limited understanding of it. You seem to know little more than that the remedies are so extremely dilute as to be impossibly effective in your opinion. Everybody knows this and has to confront their initial disbelief.

Why dont you get some direct understanding of homeopathy by doing a homeopathic proving of an unknown (to you) remedy? Only once was I able to convince a skeptic to take the challenge to do a homeopathic proving. He was amazed at all the new symptoms he experienced after taking the remedy repeatedly over several days.

Please have a similar bravery in your approach to homeopathy instead of basing your thoughts purely on your speculation on the subject, grounded in little understanding and no experience of it.

THIS IS HOW I RESPONDED

Dear Mr …

thank you for this email which I would like to answer as follows.

Your lines give the impression that you might not be familiar with the concept of critical analysis. In fact, you seem to confuse my criticism of homeopathy with ‘trashing it’. I strongly recommend you read up about critical analysis. No doubt you will then realise that it is a necessary and valuable process towards generating progress in healthcare and beyond.

You assume that I have limited understanding of homeopathy. In fact, I grew up with homeopathy, practised homeopathy as a young doctor, researched the subject for more than 25 years and published several books as well as over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers about it. All of this, I have disclosed publicly, for instance, in my memoir which might interest you.

The challenge you mention has been taken by me and others many times. It cannot convince critical thinkers and, frankly, I am surprised that you found a sceptic who was convinced by what essentially amounts to little more than a party trick. But, as you seem to like challenges, I invite you to consider taking the challenge of the INH which even offers a sizable amount of money, in case you are successful.

Your final claim that my thoughts are based purely on speculation is almost farcically wrong. The truth is that sceptics try their very best to counter-balance the mostly weird speculations of homeopaths with scientific facts. I am sure that, once you have acquired the skills of critical thinking, you will do the same.

Best of luck.

Edzard Ernst

42 Responses to A homeopathic love-letter

  • Ah, the good ‘ole “you don’t understand homeopathy” trope once again… The amusing thing of course is that there isn’t anything to understand in the first place. Homeopathy is not based on any viable theory whatsoever; its principles are nothing but long-discredited speculations from Hahnemann, and any ‘understanding’ of it is nothing more than merely committing the same old well-known fallacies over and over again — e.g confirmation bias, confusing correlation with causation, and many more.

    Why dont you get some direct understanding of homeopathy by doing a homeopathic proving of an unknown (to you) remedy?

    ‘Proving’ is one of the most ludicrous rituals in homeopathy, and I’d almost say that it is nothing short of an insult to human intelligence:
    – No patients or ailments are involved a proving. So how on earth someone can claim that this is a good way to determine the effectiveness of a ‘remedy’ is beyond me.
    – The people involved in a proving quite often do know what it is they’re ‘testing’, and the ‘results’ also reflect serious biases brought on by that knowledge. (I recall that a proving of jellyfish extract resulted in reports of ‘burning’ sensations and ‘weakness’ …)
    – Provings usually yield no results if the proving (and its subsequent evaluation!) is properly blinded, e.g. see the Nuremberg salt test of 1835.

  • Of great interest regarding provings are the recordings of Dr. Fritz Donner. He was a homeopathic physician who took part in the German official evaluation of homeopathy before WWII. Our dutch friend Jan Willem Nienhuys has prepared an abbreviated version in English here:
    https://www.kwakzalverij.nl/behandelwijzen/homeopathie/a-total-disaster-for-homeopathy/
    An absolutely brilliant insight into the history and research on homeopathy that everyone should read, not the least our friends who have faith in shaken water.

    • Richard, Richard, Richard…

      How can anyone take you seriously, really. The majority of provings done over the past several decades are either single-blind or double-blind.

      You, on the other hand, seem to be working from studies in 1835!?!?

      Your reference to that 1835 trial is particularly embarrassing. A homeopath or an allopath didn’t do this study; a journalist performed it. However, reports about the study suggest that it resembled a séance rather than a sober scientific experiment. Most participants seem to have opposed homeopathy, and if they wanted to discredit it, they could do so simply by reporting that they had not experienced anything unusual. No matter whether they actually had received the dilution or not, this would invalidate Reuter’s claims. Only if the participants were, in principle, convinced that the substance might have an effect would this problem have been overcome and double blinding could have served its intended purpose.
      REFERENCE: https://web.archive.org/web/20070311092319/http://www.jameslindlibrary.org/trial_records/19th_Century/lohner/lohner-commentary.html

      • “Richard, Richard, Richard…
        How can anyone take you seriously, really.”

        asked DUllman and thus created a new dimension of irony.

      • The majority of provings done over the past several decades are either single-blind or double-blind.

        Admittedly, I can’t reliably tell what proportion of recent provings is blinded and to what extent. I haven’t done any systematic research on this, but I do occasionally encounter provings where participants know what their shaken water is derived from, hence my vague quantification “quite often”. Replace it with “sometimes” if you so desire.
        But this was, of course, merely a secondary point of criticism. The main point, and the one that you so conveniently skipped, is that proving involves neither patients nor ailments. One must be a seriously deluded fool to believe that a procedure such as this says anything about medicinal properties of any arbitrary substance – let alone if the substance in question is nothing but shaken water. This is even exacerbated by homeopathy’s aversion towards regular medicines – which are tested against real patients and real conditions. To me, this once again shows that homeopaths are well and truly over the sanity horizon, at least as far as their common sense and reasoning capabilities go.

        About the Nuremberg salt test: sure, participants could have been lying en masse that they didn’t notice anything unusual. Then again, maybe they didn’t; there is no evidence either way. Your other criticism (that the test was carried out by a journalist) is not only unwarranted, it is a lie. The test was devised and performed by physicians, pharmacists and local health officials; only the final report was drawn up by a newspaper editor.
        So the latter must have been lying about the results – and without vehement protests from any others involved? Those who are against homeopathy are prone to be liars, is that what you try to convey here?

        This is rather funny, because in effect you say that only those who (are willing to) believe in homeopathy’s fairy tales are to be trusted in any trials involving homeopathy.

        And thus you can always (haha) ‘prove’ that, yes, homeopathy works!

      • And how many remedies are still used according to the laughable “provings” performed by Mad Sam, Kent and all the others?

        Let’s just remind people of the quality and rigour of the proving process..

        From homeopath Peter Fraser’s piece.. http://www.hominf.org/articles/posheal.htm

        “In 1997 I was involved in the proving of Trained Peregrine Falcon. The remedy (Falco) was prepared from a feather and a drop of blood taken from a trained Tiercel (male Falcon) by a vet. Half of a class of student homoeopaths took the remedy and half supervised, though symptoms clearly affected everyone in the group. Though none of the provers knew what the remedy was they experienced all sorts of symptoms clearly connected with the Spirit of the Falcon. When driving, many provers felt the urge for excessive speed (the Falcon is the fastest creature on earth), or found that they could not get off roundabouts and went round several times. There were things connected with the fingernails (talons) and dreams about eating raw meat.”

        And they expect us to take them seriously.

        • Richard, Richard, Richard,

          Once again you provide inadequate information for anyone to make heads or tails of what you wrote.

          If that proving was blinded, that information is impressive…and if it wasn’t, the information is useless.

          Was the study blinded or not…and worst of all, I cannot help but sense that you don’t know. And in that case, why are you wasting everyone’s time (a common practice used by skeptics).

          • Dana, I’m not sure if I should vilify you for promoting your absurd beliefs or admire you for your stick-to-itiveness in the face of so much damning evidence against you.

            But here’s what I will say: Ad hominem attacks—something you do with reckless abandon—in addition to the complementary condescending attitude make it clear that whatever you write, your arguments will be lame and your science, non-existent.

            You don’t have to change your beliefs, of course, but I would suggest you patronize us less and evidence us more.

          • Ron!

            You “skeptics” crack me up. Where, oh where, is my ad hom in THAT instance?!?! Are you for or against “evidence.” Please provide such “evidence” of an ad hom in those words you quote of mine? Wow, when I simply ask this guy if the proving was blinded or not, you somehow (?) have determined that this is an ad hom. Hmmmmm.

            “Richard, Richard, Richard, Once again you provide inadequate information for anyone to make heads or tails of what you wrote. If that proving was blinded, that information is impressive…and if it wasn’t, the information is useless. Was the study blinded or not…and worst of all, I cannot help but sense that you don’t know.”

          • Dana—sorry, DANA—you wouldn’t know evidence if it walked up, introduced itself and spit on your shoes.

            You make for good chuckles but you get no more of my time on this thread, I’m afraid.

  • Over and over again I read these speculations by people who have no experience of homeopathy and only a basic understanding that the remedies are too diluted to possibly cause any effect – In their opinion. Period. They all read each others speculations confirming each others bias. This “total disaster” article is one more in a long litany. Their supposed research into homeopathy was a hash because they really didnt understand it. Usually before someone researches a topic they understand what they are researching.

    EVERYBODY has this same skepticism of homeopathy when they are first exposed to it. Its an insult to our intelligence to read such ignorant speculations. Your Nuremburg salt test was not a properly performed proving. Taking a single remedy once is not a proving. So No, you dont get to claim that “provings usually yield no results if properly blinded. Completely false.” Its “beyond you” because you dont understand it. Just suspend your disbelief and do a proving and experience it for yourself. Then I can explain to you why it determines the effectiveness of the remedy.

    • very well!
      you are convinced that you can do a proper proving.
      then, what stops you collecting the prize money from the INH [mentioned in my post]?
      please do it – if not, we might think you are deluded.

    • Its an insult to our intelligence to read such ignorant speculations.

      No. It is an insult to our intelligence to claim that one can reliably establish medicinal properties of a substance without testing it on sick people even once.

      Its “beyond you” because you dont understand it.

      You are an arrogant fool. There is nothing to ‘understand’. No, please don’t feel personally insulted. In my experience, many homeopaths are quite arrogant – they have to be, lest they lose faith in their magic.

      Then I can explain to you why it determines the effectiveness of the remedy.

      You can only explain this to me after I experience the effects of a proving, not before? So performing a homeopathic ritual somehow imparts ‘special knowledge’ on me, needed to ‘understand’ how that ritual says something about medicinal effects?
      Yeah, right. Last time I heard similar BS, it was from some religious people trying to convert me.

      • The BOTTOMLINE is that homeopathic materia medica (the books that describe the symptoms associated with a homeopathic medicine) match precisely with modern-day books on toxicology, though the homoepathic books simply provide a LOT more details.

        Hmmmm.

        Yeah, that’s right…homoepathic medicine is BUILT on experiments in toxicology…and that proof is in the pudding.

        Homeopathy continues to be 100 years ahead of “modern medicine” and the primates who defend it.

        • “Homeopathy continues to be 100 years ahead of “modern medicine” and the primates who defend it.”
          Oh, Dana! you are priceless!!!

        • Well, if you do provings with undiluted or marginally diluted substances, then yes, you may actually gather some toxicological data. And yes, if enough people are involved per proving, you may even get some sensible toxicological data. So far, so good.
          But (and please, please try to get this into your head this time):
          Toxicological properties of substances say NOTHING WHATSOEVER about medicinal properties.
          If you don’t test a substance with actual patients who have actual illnesses, you cannot possibly tell if you have a medicine or not.
          Yet homeopaths routinely claim that this is how they reliably identify ‘remedies’. This alone means that homeopaths are fools, period.

          All the other stuff of provings involving dilutions, double-blinding and whatnot are completely beside the point. Lacking any testing on sick people whatsoever, provings are a ludicrous ritual that only serve to show what homeopathy really is: the air guitar of medicine, the emperor’s new clothes.

          • “Well, if you do provings with undiluted or marginally diluted substances, then yes, you may actually gather some toxicological data. And yes, if enough people are involved per proving, you may even get some sensible toxicological data.”
            DEPENDS ON THE NATURE OF THE STOCK: if it’s berlin wall, vacuum, X-ray, etc., you will get nothing. and with some nosodes, you might even kill your volunteers.

          • Cool…now Ernst is saying that the 30C dose (the most common dose used in homeopathy) has no active ingredient in it but it will KILL people!!! Oooooooo!?

            Which is it? Is it equivalent to a “no dose” and “no active ingredient” or is it so strong that it’ll kill you?

            Do you really read what you write, or has Trump-logic infected you?

            What is REALLY surprising that fellow skeptics never question what Herr Ernst writes, despite the sheer idiocity of what he writes (please note that I did not call anyone an idiot…I referred to an idiotic statement…big diff, though inevitably, some people here will still not get this big diff). And there’s no irony lost here on skeptics misconstruing things, pretending to be personally attacked, and showing no real evidence. No irony here at all.

          • MOST PROVINGS ARE NOT MADE WITH HIGH DELUSIONS
            but even you knew that, Dana, didn’t you?

          • What?

            First, the 30C potency is not a “high dilution” (it is considered a “medium” dilution).

            Second the 30C potency is the most common potency used in modern-day provings.

            Third, what ARE you saying…or should I ask: what you are fabricating now?

          • oh Dana – your idiotic comments, THEY ARE HILARIOUS – what would I do without them?
            [please note: this is not an ad hominem; I did not say you are an idiot but your comments are idiotic]

          • I did not use ‘potency’ in my comment but delusion. a delusion of 1:1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 is high, never mind the fact that the idiocy of homeopathy often uses even higher ones.

          • @Edzard

            and with some nosodes, you might even kill your volunteers.

            Well, then the experimenters will have gathered some valuable toxicological data, now won’t they? The only drawback is that they may have a bit of trouble recruiting the next round of volunteers…

            Yes, of course there are the totally insane (or perhaps I should say: even more insane) ‘provings’ of radiation, shipwreck(*) and even water(!). Here’s a small list.

            And this is one of my personal favourites, in particular because of what the man says here:
            “I experienced strong symptoms from the remedy even though I did not take it.”

            So homeopathic ‘remedies’ even work when you DON’T take them! Oh dear, best not to let the general gullible public find out, or Boiron and all those other purveyors of highly profitable sugar crumbs and shaken water would really have to worry. Apparently, just standing next to the pharmacy shelf with these ‘remedies’ should cure you of any ailments you may have!

            *: I wanted to point to that one, but it appears that Mary English, the homeopath in question, has removed it from her Web site, probably because it was mainly used as an example of the silliness of homeopathy in general and homeopathic proving in particular.

          • Don’t ya love it when skeptics go out of their way to purposefully misunderstand things, unless they are so daft that they really don’t understand. Which is it?

            Actually, the toxicological properties of a substance IS of vital importance. People who happen to have similar symptoms to the toxicological properties of a substance will have HYPERSENSITIVITY to that substance. THAT is what homeopathy proves every day and in tens of millions of patient prescriptions…daily.

            It seems that the skeptics here purposefully misunderstand and assume that homeopaths assert that nanodoses of just anything will have some effect…and homeopaths never assert this.

            Sorry to burden you with facts rather than your strawman. It is so easy to knock down a strawman of your own making and which has nothing to do with homeopathy.

            The fact that skeptics never call out their own for the many many ludacrous statement is part and parcel of a cult here.

            No irony here (again). Please don’t admit to any irony…move along.

          • so glad ya love us!

          • @DANA ULLMAN
            (apparently, you’re so high-strung that you now even feel the need to type your name in all caps…)
            You can blab about details all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that provings do NOT involve actual patients or ailments and that one must be a seriously deluded fool (read: homeopath) to think that proving is the way to go to determine the medicinal properties of whatever substance.

            People who happen to have similar symptoms to the toxicological properties of a substance will have HYPERSENSITIVITY to that substance. THAT is what homeopathy proves every day and in tens of millions of patient prescriptions…daily.

            Um, so you say that sick people are actually hypersensitive to certain substances in their food or environment, and that homeopathy fixes this by administering water or sugar that does very explicitly not contain the substance in question? A sort of ‘anti-substance’, so to speak, neutralizing the (wholly unproven!) sensitizing agent that you posit here?

            Oh dear … You have really outdone yourself this time… Just when I thought that testing a homeopathic ‘medicine’ without actual patients was already as stupid as it could get, you now manage to go even one step further.

            In a way, I feel sorry for you – apparently, you feel you have no choice but to vehemently and arrogantly defend homeopathy, even though a child can already understand that you are completely and utterly wrong. You must have a pretty difficult life, with lots of people telling you that you’re doing it wrong all the time…

          • @DANA ULLMAN
            I though a bit more about your hypersensitivity hypothesis, and the inevitable conclusion is that you are making things up as you go along – and I’m putting it very mildly.

            Take one of homeopathy’s favourite ‘remedies’: Natrium Muriaticum. For those unfamiliar with homeopathy’s arcane pig-Latin naming system: Natrium Muriaticum is plain table salt (sodium chloride), diluted into oblivion.
            If you look it up in the Materia Medica, you will find that it is associated with an utterly ridiculous amount of ‘symptoms’ – well over a hundred, if I counted correctly.
            This alone is plain stupid, as every single (adult) human has some 200 grams of sodium chloride in their body already – yet homeopathy insists that ingesting water from which the salt has been diluted away will have all sorts of special effects (which was also what prompted the Nuremberg salt test in the first place).

            And now here you are, telling us that homeopathic symptoms are the result of some sort of hypersensitivity for the substance in question. But how on earth can someone be hypersensitive to table salt? Anyone who is hypersensitive to table salt should be dead instantly!

            Oh, wait, let me engage my premonition faculties … ah, here it comes: “You don’t understand!”

  • The very word used in English – ‘proving’ misleads English speakers – manifestly. Nothing is ‘proved’ by these homeopathic tests whatsoever.

    May I provide a few paragraphs from Real Secrets of Alternative Medicine ?

    “Hahnemann tested potential remedies on himself and other healthy (male) associates.
    This method continues today, but the German word pruefung used by Hahnemann (meaning ‘testing’ or ‘examination’) has been translated into English as ‘proving’.

    Both languages derive their words from the Latin probare, to test, but whilst in modern English usage ‘probability’ means ‘likelihood’ – ‘proving’ today caries a connotation of certainty which Hahnemann did not intend. The British Homeopathic Association states: ‘Hahnemann deduced that an illness could be treated with a very
    small amount of a substance that, in larger quantities, could cause that illness. These experiments were called proving and led him to observe and describe the basic principles of homeopathic medicine.’

    Some may be misled into thinking there is an element of scientific truth in the procedure of ‘proving’ that is not merited. OED: “To prove – to demonstrate the truth or existence of something by evidence.”

    Any claims that Hahnemann ‘proved’ anything are deliberately misleading. The German for ‘to prove’ is beweisen and that is not the word Hahnemann used. There is no reason why homeopathic writings in English should not refer to the investigations as ‘testing’, ‘experiments’ or even ‘research’, as the German pruefung translates, but invariably homeopaths use the terms ‘proof’, ‘proving’ and ‘provers’ with the misleading certainty that implies.

    Anthony Campbell has pointed out: ‘Hahnemann’s method of conducting his proving, though extremely meticulous and painstaking, did nothing to eliminate the effects of suggestion. The subjects knew what medicines they were taking and what effects they might experience.’ “

    • Proving does also have the same meaning in English as pruefung, i.e. testing, but it is not in such common usage. However there are some well-known examples:

      “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”
      i.e. don’t assume an outcome in advance

      Nitro-proofed: This is sometimes inscribed on the barrel of an antique shotgun meaning that it has been tested with a more modern propellant than gunpowder.

      % proof or degrees proof for alcoholic drinks:
      This refers to an old method of testing spirits to determine their alcohol content. It involved adding a sample of the drink to gunpowder to see what effect it had on combustion. If it still burned the drink was “over proof”

      Indeed many usages of the word have a reference to some sort of testing in them:
      “I proved myself”
      “It proved to be good”

  • Dear Edzard

    Do you recall this discussion? Earlier in the thread, you stated:
    ‘what are your qualifications for making categorical statements about clinical research?
    do you have any relevant experience, training or skills?
    can you show us some of your publications?
    OR ARE YOU TALKING OUT OF YOUR ARSE?’

    It seems now that that Mueller report is out and President Trump has been exonerated of Russia collusion, the evidence here suggests that it is you that writes out of their arse?

    Greg on Sunday 16 April 2017 at 20:11
    Sixty two million Americans voted for him to become President.

    Reply

    Edzard on Monday 17 April 2017 at 07:06
    not to mention the Russian hackers

    Reply

    Greg on Monday 17 April 2017 at 09:55
    Oh my God, you are into conspiracy theory Professor Ernst! This is the United States of America that we are discussing and not some tinpot dictatorship.

    Professor Ernst, do yourself a favor and stick to your area of expertise, which in all fairness to you: it is good.

    Edzard on Monday 17 April 2017 at 09:58
    hardly a conspiracy theory any longer!
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/10/spanish-police-arrest-russian-programmer-accused-hacking-us/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_interference_in_the_2016_United_States_elections
    http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/12/12/13919702/russian-hackers-donald-trump-2016
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/16/qa-russian-hackers-vladimir-putin-donald-trump-us-presidential-election

    ‘Hardly a consipracy theory any longer’. Edzard

    https://edzardernst.com/2017/04/new-meta-analysis-confirms-that-the-clinical-effects-of-homeopathic-remedies-do-not-differ-from-placebos/

    • Dear old Greg. Back to give us joy and merriment with his homeopathic-level reasoning 😀

      • No ‘Dr Geir’, that discussion here is over.

        I was hoping that Dr Ernst would provide an update on his Russia Collusion theory involving the president of the United States so that the Special Counsel and the House of Representatives could pursue this matter further.

        So far no there is no response from Dr Ernst because he relied on internet trawling to reach his verdict before Robert Mueller even got going with the investigation.

        Enough said.

        • Well Greg, you haven’t changed any. Still as much fun having you.
          I’ll tell you one thing Gregory. If the professor won’t mind a brief, frivolous exodus out of topic?

          Mr. Drumpf “colluded” with the russians allright, he is still at it in a big way, doing all he can to destroy the US, he is just to stupid to realise it. No one really expected him to be smart enough to knowingly and on purpose do something so devious.
          The aphorism that states this universal wisdom is called Hanlon’s razor. It says you should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. This applies to Mr. Drumpf’s doing all the work while Putin sits by smirking 😀

          Now back to the topic, how’s the shaken water business going for you Greg?

        • @Greg:

          I was hoping that…

          …people would stop talking about homeopathy?

    • Greg, that’s an excellent thought and thank you for thinking of it and bringing it to our attention!

      “Enough said.” Yes, please.

  • Edzard’s ‘epitaph’:

    Edzard on Monday 17 April 2017 at 09:58
    hardly a conspiracy theory any longer!

    Yes, it IS a conspiracy theory according to the Report of the United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

    It says everything one needs to know about Edzard’s flawed investigations into ‘homeopathy’ and politics.

  • President Trump memo: The memo was sent on Monday to a number of networks, including MSNBC, CNN and NBC, by Mr Trump’s 2020 campaign communications chief Tim Murtaugh, under the headline, “Credibility of Certain Guests”

    The credibility of certain guests (in tatters, ruined)

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-mueller-russia-report-investigation-cnn-msnbc-a8839951.html

    • Please stop cluttering up the blog. Others may have missed you. Me, not so much.

    • @Greg 😀

      You don’t seem to have read what you cite, or rather, you seem to totally miss its message.
      And you don’t seem to be reading what others post either. I asked you a polite question before, which you have ignored. I thought you were interested in homeopathy.

      Now tell me Greg, what do you think of the Hekla Lava remedy? Wouldn’t it be good for heel spurs?

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