Guest post by Richard Rasker
Last summer, I strolled through my garden, enjoying the abundance of flowers and insects. At the far end, the garden gave way to shrubs and reedy grass and a tiny pond that, contrary to past years, hadn’t dried out completely yet.
And right there, at the water’s edge, is where I stumbled upon IT.
At first I thought the small white object was a twig or something similar, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be a small bone – looking remarkably like a human femur, albeit a bit eroded. So I looked around in the vicinity, to see if I could find any more bones. This was not the case, but what I DID find was even more breathtaking: a slender, 2-inch long gauze-like wing.
Immediately a mind-blowing realization dawned: there are fairies in the back of my garden!
Of course I had to be careful not to get carried away based on this single observation, so I spent the following months painstakingly searching for more corroborating evidence. And what I found was astounding: at least a dozen similar bones and wings, and even a very small tuft of brownish hair. And the bogs and marshes a few miles from my home proved an even richer treasure trove. Of course I also identified remains of numerous dead animals, mostly mice and other small rodents, but the femur-like bones I found were definitely too long for mice.
So I can now safely reveal my findings: fairies do exist after all! This is truly world-shattering!
Now what does this have to do with homeopathy, one may ask? The answer is simple: the gathering of evidence for the viability of homeopathy (and many other alternative modalities) is fully analogous to the way that I found scientific evidence for the existence of fairies:
- People (scientists or homeopaths) believe that they stumbled upon something special.
- They almost immediately consider their finding as either a type of revelation, or as something that lends strong support to their prior belief.
- They then set out to gather more evidence in support of the phenomenon they found, thus affirming their belief.
- And after a lot of painstaking work, the conclusion is reached that the observed phenomenon indeed exists!
Recently, a commenter on this blog tried to bolster the validity of homeopathy by naming a couple of scientists who did exactly this: they started believing in homeopathy, not because of proper clinical trials with homeopathic medicines, but because of revelation-type experiences, or because of hypotheses and/or observations that appeared to explain and support one important prerequisite of homeopathy, the so-called ‘water memory’.
These scientists come up with all sorts of hypothetical mechanisms how this water memory is supposed to work. Usually, quantum physics is invoked – even though real quantum physicists are unanimous in condemning this as nonsense, because quantum physics doesn’t work the way that homeopaths say it does. Nevertheless, these believers in homeopathy come up with ‘explanations’ that involve entanglement, or ‘coherence domains’, or stable nanostructures in water. And there are still lots of other mechanisms dreamed up by believers in homeopathy that aim to explain the all-important water memory.
First of all, most of these hypotheses are completely bonkers, without any real-world evidence to back up the suggestions and claims made – and none of these scientists have so far succeeded in distinguishing an arbitrary homeopathic dilution from plain water, even though some claim that they can find minute differences for a few very specific substances. Just too bad that these results have not been replicated by other scientists, and that they have not been published in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. And even if these results are legitimate, the effect found is absolutely tiny – just like all other homeopathic research with positive results.
But for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that these findings with regard to water memory are real (although no two researchers agree on even the basics of the purported mechanisms). Does this provide enough evidence to make us accept that homeopathy is a viable system of medicine?
No, of course it doesn’t!
Even if water would retain certain ‘nanostructures’ or ‘coherence domains’ or ‘quantum-entangled particles’, this means just that: that an almost undetectable ‘something’ apparently persists in water. It says NOTHING about how this tiny something can have a huge range of highly specific therapeutic effects, necessitating a hugely intricate structure (of which not a trace has ever been found). It says nothing about how this something finds its way from the water to the specific parts of the body to exert those beneficial effects, or about the way that this something interacts with the organism. It does not tell us why this something only ends up in water if it is shaken, or why this something becomes more potent with higher dilutions, or how this something can pass from homeopathic water to sugar pellets while retaining its very special water-based(!) structure – or why, in spite of this all, literally nobody can distinguish a homeopathic dilution from plain water.
Saying that the existence of water memory proves that homeopathy is real is like saying that the existence of those bones and wings I found proves that fairies exist. It is a totally unwarranted inference, and an excellent example of, in the words of Dr. Harriet Hall, Tooth Fairy science: these people spend lots of time, effort and money doing very serious research into all sorts of mechanisms and effects to explain how homeopathy works, but totally neglect to answer the primary question first: does homeopathy work at all? And even worse: these people think that the tiniest glimmer of an effect supporting their hypothesis immediately proves all of homeopathy right. Which is not so much jumping to conclusions, but making leaps of astronomical proportions that would have made even Neil Armstrong jealous. This is not how science works.
For homeopathy, I think that the primary question is answered pretty definitively: even after 227 years, homeopaths have not succeeded in coming up with even ONE ‘remedy’ that is efficacious beyond a shadow of a doubt. NOT ONE.
And to add insult to injury, nothing in science even remotely supports the very core tenets of homeopathy, the similia principle and the law of infinitesimals. ‘Like’ does NOT ‘cure like’, and higher dilutions most certainly were never found to become more potent medicines – quite the contrary, as is observed on a daily basis literally everywhere.
Most other ancient and traditional forms of medicine have come up with at least some treatments or herbs that turned out to have scientifically proven efficacy and have become part of modern medicine – but not homeopathy. Homeopathy DOES NOT WORK, PERIOD.
(Although, to be fair, homeopathy has given us one important insight with regard to medicine: that for many ailments, simply doing nothing is often the best choice. Because most conditions resolve naturally, without medical intervention.)
On a friendlier note: I do not think that those people who study water memory mechanisms and other similarly elusive effects are useless as scientists. Their painstaking research into things like nanostructures in water may one day produce interesting and useful new scientific insights. But it would benefit them greatly if they would distance themselves from homeopathy and its associated pseudoscience, because that is truly a dead-end street, bringing them nothing but scorn and derision.
And oh, about those bones and wings that I said I found? Those were of course likely from frogs and dragonflies, respectively. Or maybe I was the victim of a prank, or maybe I simply made up the whole story. Believe what you will, but you probably agree with me that almost any explanation one can think of is more likely than the fairy scenario. And this again is analogous to homeopathy: almost any explanation one can think of is more plausible than the explanation that mere shaking and diluting magically transforms water into a highly specific medicine.