Many so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) traditions have their very own diagnostic techniques, unknown to conventional clinicians. Think, for instance, of:

  • iridology,
  • applied kinesiology,
  • tongue diagnosis,
  • pulse diagnosis,
  • Kirlean photography,
  • live blood cell analysis,
  • the Vega test,
  • dowsing.

(Those interested in more detail can find a critical assessment of these and other diagnostic SCAM methods in my new book.)

And what about homeopathy?

Yes, homeopathy is also a diagnostic method.

Let me explain.

According to Hahnemann’s classical homeopathy, the homeopath should not be interested in conventional diagnostic labels. Instead, classical homeopaths are focussed on the symptoms and characteristics of the patient. They conduct a lengthy history to learn all about them, and they show little or no interest in a physical examination of their patient or other diagnostic procedures. Once they are confident to have all the information they need, they try to find the optimal homeopathic remedy.

This is done by matching the symptoms with the drug pictures of homeopathic remedies. Any homeopathic drug picture is essentially based on what has been noted in homeopathic provings where healthy volunteers take a remedy and monitor all that symptoms, sensations and feelings they experience subsequently. Here is an example:

The perfect match is what homeopaths thrive to find with their long and tedious procedure of taking a history. And the perfectly matching homeopathic remedy is essentially the homeopathic diagnosis.

Now, here is the thing: most SCAM diagnostic techniques have been tested (and found to be useless), but homeopathy as a diagnostic tool has – as far as I know – never been submitted to any rigorous tests (if you know otherwise, please let me know). And this, of course,  begs an important question: is it right – ethical, legal, moral – to use homeopathy without such evidence being available?

The simplest such test would be quite easy to conduct: one would send the same patient to 10 or 20 experienced homeopaths and see how many of them prescribe the same remedy.

Simple! But I shudder to think what such an experiment might reveal.

28 Responses to Homeopathy is also a diagnostic method

  • Nice try, Prof. Ernst, but you can´t fool me.
    Although admittedly, homeopaths believe in many strange things, this illustration of the “Merc. Sol. Type” must be satire.
    Which even semi-intelligent person would believe in such stereotypical, zodiacal sign-like classifications of patients?!
    This is just too stupid to be true…

  • Ernst, dear chap;

    It amazes me constantly, how ill-informed critics of the homeopathy remain; how little they know about the true practice rather than the straw man they have in their heads.

    Perhaps you did not know there are automated homeopathic repertories, “expert systems”?
    I think you should have known that, since some have been employed in trials you may have read – sadly not very good trials, since such systems are only a guide, and cannot use monkeys to replace a proper homeopath.

    If you enter the same information, you will naturally get the same results. Although that does depend on the exact implementation, I suspect they are not that far apart.

    Automated repertories will generally suggest several remedies, according to a scoring system.

    The final choice of ‘best remedy’ for the individual patient would be the province of a homeopath who should ideally be well-versed in the presentation of each suggested remedy, its primary and secondary effects, and should be equipped to make the best choice.

    Of course, with the well-chosen remedy, that patient gets cured. This is the true test. This does not show up in poorly-designed trials which the EBM crowd favour, based around eliminating the individual – an approach which lends bias to other medical approaches. But pharmacy addicts will insist on special pleading that theirs is the only proper method for testing. And think it is “Science”.

    Did you know that early homeopath Korsakoff was an inventor of such information systems? Probably not. These were fore-runners of computer systems – using an automated card-index method. Incidentally, it was Korsakoff, not Hahnemann who was actually responsible for the high-dilution preparations, using a machine he had invented.
    Homeopathy was always streets ahead on the scientific approach, and observing clinical evidence and feeding it back into the system. The rest caught up some time later. (Denialists will prefer their straw man)

    I reckon you would find that by-and-large, at least for uncomplicated cases, homeopaths will come up with the same remedies. And justify their choices in the same way.

    Did you imagine they spent years studying, just to throw dice?

    • Will: what I did not know is how patronising homeopathy fans can be. all the rest of the post, I did know of course and is, if I remember correctly, even discussed in my book ( but thank you for confirming: HOMEOPATHY IS A DIAGNOSTIC TEST THE VALIDITY OF WHICH HAS NOT BEEN TESTED AND THUS IS UNPROVEN.

      • All CAPS, Edzard?

        Surely a perfect indication of your level of knowledge of the subject. I would have to say that, yes, homeopathy has from the very inception diagnosed a particular condition as would be brought on during a homeopathic ‘proving’ (which are generally double-blinded nowadays, and are often replicated in colleges, as I’m sure you know). Part of the scientific endeavour to move away from false authority, by actual experiment and investigation.

        However, the triumphalist suggestion that these many instances may have not been correlated rather than just observed to conform, does rather seem to invite an ‘argumentum ad ignorantiam’ – a common pseudo-skeptic failing, wouldn’t you say?

        I suppose a professor of alt med with a genuine interest in the field could have done such a thing. It would seem quite perfunctory.

        Patronising? Could I be forgiven for thinking that ‘patronising’ was the whole theme of your blog, article and average responses?


    • William

      Of course, with the well-chosen remedy, that patient gets cured. This is the true test. This does not show up in poorly-designed trials which the EBM crowd favour, based around eliminating the individual – an approach which lends bias to other medical approaches. But pharmacy addicts will insist on special pleading that theirs is the only proper method for testing. And think it is “Science”.

      So. Let me sum up: “Testing demonstrates repeatedly that homeopathy doesn’t work therefore science must be wrong because we know homeopathy works.”

      THAT is special pleading. And circular logic. And wonderful foolishness. A perfect demonstration of the hubris homeopathy nuts repeatedly demonstrate.

      Please explain exactly why the scientific method is unable to evaluate homeopathy, Will. And wibbling about individuals and nebulous unexplained biases will only get you laughed at.

    • Well designed trials used individualized homeopathy with the pharmacy dispensing a bottle of either the prescribed “remedy”or a placebo. They showed no benefit from the individualized remedies.

  • I can’t stop laughing. Testing of homeopathic remedies is already carried out by means of ‘provings’ on healthy humans. No need to carry out your suggested ‘simple’ test. I’m sure you are aware that the symptoms (rubrics) meticulously written down by each patient over hours, days, weeks and even months have all been well documented in the literature since Hahnemann’s time. Fortunately, no homeopathy skeptic can count on health care consumers to be ill-informed any longer. Another Ernst fail.

    • Sandra: thank you for confirming that the test I suggest is crucial but has never been done.

    • ROFL! You are amusing, Sandra.

      If someone was to meticulously write down all the nonsense homeopathy proponents such as yourself have uttered over the years, would that magically make any of it actually true?

      You know the saying: GIGO.

    • A proving is to evidence what homeopathy is to health care: worthless.

      I can’t stop laughing. Oh, wait. It’s not funny. I apologize, Sandra. I shouldn’t laugh as you bob in and out of reality.

    • Sandra

      Do you actually read the tripe you post? Some of the links are beyond comical. The checklist for the minimum quality of provings is headshakingly stupid. This is documentary evidence of fools imagining they’re scientists. Provings are nothing more than collective acts of self-delusion and if you can’t see why it only further demonstrates your own blinkered ignorance.

  • Edzard, where did you supposedly get your training in homeopathy? Doctors who trained in homeopathy went through medical school. They use all the same diagnostic tests and physical examinations as any other doctor. Why dont you run your ignorant posts by someone like Dr Farokh Master of India before making a fool of yourself.

  • The existence of Santa Claus has also been ‘proven’ by counting Christmas preseents. Same methodology.

    • @ Roger,

      I liked your comment on that Bawaji (Dr. Farokh Master) 😀

      • Here in the “west” the tendency is to think of homeopathy as a hippy crank fringe medicine. But it’s mainstream medicine in large parts of the world. There are homeopathic medical schools in Mexico, India, Europe and S.America. These homeopathic doctors have all the same basic training as our vaunted US doctors who kill 300,000 people every year with EBM (Evidently Baseless Medicine). I urge anyone to go to homeopathic medical clinics and sit in. They treat all the same issues that US docs see plus more extremes because of the poverty of large parts of their clientele. They use all the same tests and all the same physical examination procedures to chart progress, and include more, because the have the added perspective of homeopathy.

        Frequently investigating the minutia that regular MD specialists enjoy are a complete waste of time for a homeopath. Looking at the big picture that this Merc-sol picture provides, may be more useful. The same pathological changes can be found in cases requiring different homeopathic remedies. The homeopathic physician has to match the whole constellation of symptoms to the remedy. The allopathic diagnosis may not be very helpful. Sometimes the “diagnosis” are just fancy Latin words that describe the condition but there is no understanding of it to back it up! Useless.

        How many regular doctors get the same diagnosis for the same patient? I saw a study that found that 50% of the time CONMEN (CONventional MEdiciNe) docs get their diagnosis wrong. Second opinion anyone? Everyone!

        • @Roger

          I try not to waste my time responding to your nonsense any more, but surely even YOU can see why saying “I saw a study that found that 50% of the time CONMEN (CONventional MEdiciNe) docs get their diagnosis wrong.” is utterly worthless unless you point us to the precise study.

          (Hint: it’s not the time you spend working out novel insulting acronyms that counts, it’s the reasoning behind the arguments you make.)

        • @Roger
          Saying something does not make it true. E.g. someone saying Santa Claus distributes presents does not prove he exists. Your claims have exactly the same value unless you support them with evidence. Please stop trying to convince us you are a fool and support what you say with credible references. Otherwise we will be regretfully obliged to conclude that you must be a simple fool.

        • Another load of self-contradictory rambling twaddle, Roger. Well done.

          Let’s just look at your claim of 50% diagnostic error, shall we? Presumably you read this in a quack-rag like WDDTY? Or possibly one of Mike Adam’s unhinged screeds?

          Let’s do what proper clinicians and scientists do and look at the evidence properly, shall we?

          10%-15%, Roger. EBM looks at itself and tries to correct errors in view of the evidence. Show us one time when homeopaths have done this. We’ll wait.

        • Well said Roger.


            “So, why do prominent physicians call EBM mostly useless? The 2 most prestigious journals of medicine in the world are The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet said this in 2015.
            “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue”

            “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor”

            “The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful”

            The people in charge of the system - the editors of the most important medical journals in the world, gradually learn over a few decades that their life’s work is being slowly and steadily corrupted. Physicians and universities have allowed themselves to be bribed.”

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