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

It is not often that I publish a paper with a philosopher in a leading journal of philosophy. In fact, it is the first time, and I am rather proud of it – so much so that I must show my readers (the article is freely available via the link below and I encourage everyone to read the full text) the abstract of our article entitled WHY HOMOEOPATHY IS PSEUDOSCIENCE (Synthese (2022) 200:394):

Homoeopathy is commonly recognised as pseudoscience. However, there is, to date, no systematic discussion that seeks to establish this view. In this paper, we try to fill this gap. We explain the nature of homoeopathy, discuss the notion of pseudoscience, and provide illustrative examples from the literature indicating why homoeopathy fits the
bill. Our argument contains a conceptual and an empirical part.

In the conceptual part, we introduce the premise that a doctrine qualifies as a pseudoscience if, firstly, its proponents claim scientific standing for it and, secondly, if they produce bullshit to defend it, such that, unlike science, it cannot be viewed as the most reliable knowledge on its topic. In the empirical part, we provide evidence that homoeopathy fulfils both criteria. The first is quickly established since homoeopaths often explicitly claim scientificity.

To establish the second, we dive into the pseudo-academic literature on homoeopathy to provide evidence of bullshit in the arguments of homoeopaths. Specifically, we show that they make bizarre ontological claims incompatible with natural science, illegitimately shift the burden of proof to sceptics, and mischaracterise, cherry-pick, and misreport the evidence. Furthermore, we demonstrate that they reject essential parts of established scientific methodology and use epistemically unfair strategies to immunise their doctrine against recalcitrant evidence.

And here is our conclusion:

At the beginning of the paper, we noted that homoeopathy is commonly named one of the prototypical pseudosciences. However, there has been, to date, no comprehensive discussion as to what makes it a pseudoscience. Moreover, the problem is not trivial since the most well-known and influential demarcation criteria, such as Popper’s falsifiability criterion and Kuhn’s problem-solving criterion, cannot account for it, as we have shown. We have tried to fill this research gap using a novel bullshitology-based approach to the demarcation problem. Following this approach, we have argued that homoeopathy should be regarded as pseudoscience because its proponents claim scientific standing for it and produce argumentative bullshit to defend it, thus violating important epistemic standards central to science.

28 Responses to Why homeopathy is pseudoscience

  • How do homeopathic medicines work?

    Some claim that there is no “scientific” proof of homeopathy..
    “… meta-analyses can arrive at different conclusions despite being based on virtually the same material. They are not performed according to strict methodology and are, to a variable extent, guided by creativity, interpretation, and personal bias. This is why everyone can find arguments for and against homeopathy in the meta-analyses of the pooled clinical data.”
    Dr Rober Hahn, MD, PhD, 2013
“Homeopathy: Meta-Analyses of Pooled Clinical Data”. Dr Hahn is not a homeopathic doctor.
     
    Homeopathic medicines work the same way all medicines work. All drugs have a primary action on the vital force which is followed by a secondary reaction of the vital force against it as it wears off. Homeopathic medicines have primary action in the same direction as the disease on all levels – mental, physical and emotional. And the secondary reaction in the opposite direction by the vital force leads to healing. Like cures like.
     
    We are all familiar with the primary and secondary action of coffee. The primary action is as a stimulant, an upper. When it wears off we “crash”; its a downer and we want that second cup of coffee for the lift. Without it we return to our normal pre-coffee state.
     
    An example might be Coffea (homeopathic remedy made from coffee) healing a patient of insomnia. An individual on the mental level might have racing thoughts, emotionally they are hyper-excitable and physically they are somewhat jittery with an elevated heart rate. As a result they cannot sleep at night. These are all symptoms that coffee can cause in a healthy person. So when the patient takes homeopathic Coffea it gives their vital force a small push in the same direction on all levels. If the dose is too strong there will be a temporary aggravation or worsening of their symptoms at the beginning of the treatment. This would not happen with a placebo. The secondary reaction in the opposite direction cures on all levels.
     
    This is not such a strange concept. All conventional drugs have as side effects the same symptoms that they are used to treat. A side effect of aspirin can be headaches in someone who is not taking it for headaches. The problem is that in conventional medicine they only prescribe drugs based on the limited number of symptoms for which it is indicated, not based on the entire mental, emotional and physical constellation of symptoms experienced by the patient. As a result the drug normally only temporarily suppresses/palliates those few symptoms and does not cure on all levels as a homeopathically prescribed drug matching on all levels would.
     
    Dr Hahnemann, developer of homeopathy, was concerned about the safety of giving toxic substances to sick people. All drugs are toxic at some dosage. So he started diluting the medicines in a particular way, even to the point where he knew that none of the substance remained. He was a famous chemist in his day and knew Avogadro’s principle. AND YET the diluted medicines had an even stronger effect on his patients. He knew he was working with some as yet unknown energy in these medicines. So it doesnt contradict or invalidate any of the KNOWN physics, chemistry or biology. Modern science cant explain consciousness either. To this day we still dont know why, but we do know THAT these more diluted homeopathic remedies have a more powerful effect on living beings than less diluted or undiluted medicines.
     
    This can be experienced by anyone interested, by participating in a homeopathic proving which is the basis of homeopathy. A proving is a process where relatively healthy volunteers take a homeopathically dilute remedy repeatedly over several days until they start experiencing new never-before experienced symptoms – mental, physical or emotional. They stop taking the remedy and carefully document the new symptoms that ensue until the remedy wears off in a week or few. The constellation of symptoms that are unique to a remedy made from a particular source are used to identify patients who can be cured by that remedy.
     
    Thousands of provings using dilute homeopathic remedies have been done over the years and they consistently show, virtually 100%, that homeopathically dilute remedies are not placebo and have a strong effect on the being – mental, emotional and physical – of those who take them. For a sick person the remedy they take must correspond to their constellation of symptoms i.e. be homeopathic to their state of pathology on all levels, to see a strong healing response. Otherwise remedies must be taken repeatedly to see the new symptoms that they cause.
     

    • thanks Stan, for confirming this:
      “”…homoeopathy should be regarded as pseudoscience because its proponents claim scientific standing for it and produce argumentative bullshit to defend it, thus violating important epistemic standards central to science” “

    • @Stan
      In all your drivel, lies and insane rambling, the following still manages to stand out:

      To this day we still dont know why, but we do know THAT these more diluted homeopathic remedies have a more powerful effect on living beings than less diluted or undiluted medicines.

      NO, homeopathic dilutions do NOT have ANY effects beyond placebo, that is the whole problem. There is NOT ONE scientific procedure or experiment or study that can reliably demonstrate what you claim here. NOT ONE.

      If homeopathy would have significant and independently repeatable effects, then we would not even have this whole discussion. It would be embraced by real medicine, and actually help people – instead of deceive and defraud people like it does now, and has done for well over 200 years.

    • Odd how those consistent and reproducible effects in provings don’t appear when proper randomisation and controls are used.

      https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/014107689809101108

      Strange, that.

      Almost as if homeopathy is a load of fantastical nonsense and homeopaths are very good at indulging in acts of collective self-delusion.

    • Stan,

      Homeopathic medicines work the same way all medicines work. All drugs have a primary action on the vital force which is followed by a secondary reaction of the vital force against it as it wears off.

      We are all familiar with the primary and secondary action of coffee. The primary action is as a stimulant, an upper. When it wears off we “crash”; its a downer and we want that second cup of coffee for the lift. Without it we return to our normal pre-coffee state.

      All conventional drugs have as side effects the same symptoms that they are used to treat. A side effect of aspirin can be headaches in someone who is not taking it for headaches.

      You clearly know very little about how conventional medicines work. The examples you have given, caffeine and aspirin, both have somewhat complex pharmacology as they each have several different pharmaceutical effects with varying mechanisms of action. None of them involve a “vital force”, however, whatever that is.

      The problem is that in conventional medicine they only prescribe drugs based on the limited number of symptoms for which it is indicated, not based on the entire mental, emotional and physical constellation of symptoms experienced by the patient.

      The data sheet of all drugs lists the indications for prescribing it. They are nearly always diagnoses, not symptoms. The symptoms of any medical condition can vary widely, and it is rare to see a textbook case of something.

      As a result the drug normally only temporarily suppresses/palliates those few symptoms and does not cure on all levels as a homeopathically prescribed drug matching on all levels would.

      I don’t know what drugs you have in mind here, but what you are describing sounds very different from what doctors actually do.

      Modern science cant explain consciousness either.

      No, but that has very little to do with pharmacology, which is a well-established discipline.

      A good introduction to the subject of pharmacology is D. R. Laurence’s book “Clinical Pharmacology”, which is a standard undergraduate textbook.

      Dr Hahnemann, developer of homeopathy… …was a famous chemist in his day and knew Avogadro’s principle.

      Samuel Hahnemann was born in 1755 and died in 1843. His first published paper describing homeopathy was in 1796, and the “Organon of the Rational Art of Healing” was first published in 1810.

      Amedeo Avogadro was born in 1776 and died in 1856. He developed the hypothesis that the relationship between the masses of similar volumes of different gases was in proportion to their relative molecular weights, and first published this in 1811, followed by a other papers on the same subject over the following decade. However, the importance of his work was not recognised until much later, and it wasn’t until after his death that apparent inconsistencies in experimental results were resolved.

      I think it is unlikely that Hahnemann was aware of Avogadro’s principle, and even if he did become acquainted with it later in life, the dates mean that it couldn’t have informed his ideas on homeopathy. Nor was he a famous chemist, or indeed a chemist at all.

      Thousands of provings using dilute homeopathic remedies have been done over the years and they consistently show, virtually 100%, that homeopathically dilute remedies are not placebo and have a strong effect on the being – mental, emotional and physical – of those who take them. For a sick person the remedy they take must correspond to their constellation of symptoms i.e. be homeopathic to their state of pathology on all levels, to see a strong healing response. Otherwise remedies must be taken repeatedly to see the new symptoms that they cause.

      Can you supply any evidence to support these assertions?

    • I’ve asked you previously how homeopathy can “cure” something uncurable like cardiomyopathy and you gave me some vague handy wavey answer; I went and looked up homeopathy and cardiomyopathy and found nothing that made any sense, to the point that it was not clear that those homeopaths were even dealing with cardiomyopathy and their suggested “treatments” would result in death, which might explain the rather short survival time one of them quoted.

      Is there any chance of a proper answer or at least a link or 2 to some sources which provide back up to your claim?

      Or just some more hand waving and mutuially contradictory statements (like in your post here).

  • Wait for it:
    ‘YoU DoN’t UnDeRsTaND hOmEoPaThY!’
    ‘BuT wHaT aBoUt SiDe EfFeCtS!’
    ‘BuT BiG pHaRmA!’

    I’m not sure there are any others. They’re so predictable.
    Thank you for your work to improve the quality of life and keep people safe

  • The only snag with involving a philosopher, much as I agree with the conclusions, is that it’s too easy to point to some of the crackpot ideas espoused by philosophers over the centuries. As the article points out, science has developed ways of separating sense from nonsense. I’m not entirely sure philosophy has yet managed that.

    It’s also worth mentioning that Kuhn has provided ammunition for the pseudoscience pedlars, not that it was his intention of course. His notion of the paradigm shift is constantly misused by SCAM promoters to argue that theirs is a different paradigm from the “narrow scientism” of the mainstream. The only thing worse than bullshit is bullshit dressed up with cod philosophy.

  • If, by chance, anyone is seriously interested in explanations for how homeopathic nanodoses can AND do have physiological effects, you’ll benefit from reading a more up-to-date review of this literature here:

    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/15593258211022983?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%20%200pubmed

    It is typical of Ernst to quote articles that review CLINICAL research and then create a strawman argument by claiming that something has been said that suggests that we don’t know precisely how homeopathic medicines may work. Oh golly, you knocked down a strawman. Oh…how macho!

    For the record, for a century (!), we didn’t know how aspirin worked…and yet, I don’t know a single medical doctor who refused to prescribe it for this reason. And double heck, we don’t know how many anaestresia drugs work either.

    • Hi Dana,
      did you not want to apologize for calling me a liar the other day?

    • Oh dear, Dana

      Linking to a piece of your own fanciful bullshit explaining how many angels are dancing on a pinhead is hardly a ringing endorsement. Has anyone taken any notice of it?

      No.

      And, yes, we don’t know how most general anaesthetics work.

      But what we do know is that they DO work. That they do is conclusive and unarguable.

      Unlike homeopathy, which remains the heap of valueless bunk it has been since Mad Sam first pulled the idea out of his arse 200 years ago.

      That you are unable to recognise this is your problem, Dana, not one for science to worry about.

      This is why you remain, as ever, a bloviating, pathetic, irrelevant object of ridicule.

    • @Dana
      The article you refer to is a wonderful example of exactly the pseudoscience that Edzard describes in his paper: full of assumptions, conjectures, untruths and fallacies, all neatly presented in the form of a lot of sciencey bubble babble and continuously referring to science, without itself ever being supported by real science. You may even succeed in fooling some of your fellow believers into thinking that it is actual science. Well done!

    • Not again this nano-nonsense, which is supposed to show that homeopathy works. It has long been disproved, just like the quantum effects or the water memory.

      Dana is riding a dead horse. As he has done before.

    • Yes, Mr Ullman, we read your paper and we discussed it here:
      https://edzardernst.com/2021/07/dana-ullman-has-just-published-two-papers-in-real-science-journals/

      The very post on which you wrote:
      In any case, no one, except liars and fools, can now say that homeopathic water is “the same” as “water.”

      I suggest that you reread the post, and all the comments.

      • Not a single specific fact or study mentioned in my article has been proven to be inaccurate. Instead, it is more than ironic that people here prefer to use ad homs and vague assertions. How embarrassing, indeed.

        As for “nano-nonesense,” well, our hormones and cell-signaling agents operate at a nanodose level. It is so strange that people here don’t know these simple facts…but then again, the fools and liars here have their own axe to grind…and they love to maintain ignorance about subjects with which they disagree. How convenient.

        Here’s an article from the mainstream medical press that highlights the nanodoses our body uses every moment.

        https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10510983/

        • Dana,
          what has unquestionably been proven to be inaccurate is your recent claim (not made lightly) that I have lied.
          Isn’t it time for an apology?

          • Anyone who says that there are no explanations drawn from the newest research in material sciences and the physics of water for how homeopathic nanodoses can have effects on living organisms is either lying or is misinforming others.

            It is now time for an apology from you on this matter.

          • … and I had thought that essentially you were an honest man.

          • @Edzard
            I’d almost be inclined to demolish this dung beetle feast that he calls ‘paper’, and make the journal retract it. I haven’t got the time right now (important deadline looming), but maybe it’s something to spend a couple of rainy afternoons on next year …

        • Dana Ullman wrote “Not a single specific fact or study mentioned in my article has been proven to be inaccurate.”

          For the same reason that not a single specific fact or study mentioned in Lorem ipsum has been proven to be inaccurate.

        • They’ve not been shown to be inaccurate because clinicians and scientists have better things to do with their time than further disproving previously disproven nonsense.

          At what point will you realise that your petulant flailing and sputtering is achieving nothing?

          Your farcical nanomedicine claims remain ignored, your friends Sandra and Benneth have gone to early graves despite or possibly because of their faith in magic shaken water and yet you still yammer and wave.

          You, Dana, are the embarrassment. Your hubris will never recognise this. But, really, we don’t care. You are utterly insignificant.

          You can, of course, prove me wrong if you wish to. We’ll wait.

  • QUOTE

    The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment Is how we get a handle on it.

    At a dinner many decades ago, the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to the toast, “To physics and metaphysics.” By “metaphysics,” people then meant something like philosophy, or truths you could recognize just by thinking about them. They could also have included pseudoscience. Wood answered along these lines:

    ‘The physicist has an idea. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it seems to make. He consults the scientific literature. The more he reads, the more promising the idea becomes. Thus prepared, he goes to the laboratory and devises an experiment to test it. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are checked. The accuracy of measurement is refined, the error bars reduced. He lets the chips fall where they may. He is devoted only to what the experiment teaches. At the end of all this work, through careful experimentation, the idea is found to be worthless. So the physicist discards it, frees his mind from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else.’

    The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded as he raised his glass high, is not that the practitioners of one are smarter than the practitioners of the other. The difference is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.

    END OF QUOTE
    — Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

  • Can say that your new paper it is a disaster. You were trying to prove that homeopathy is a “pseudoscience” based on “cherry picking”, but you end up proving that many of the demarcation criteria typically used by your friends are useless and are quackery. More than, they say that homeopathy is based on cherry picking, but in your article you have made that supposedly support your point. For example, in the case of the application of quantum mechanics to homeopathy, you clearly admit that Lionel Milgrom uses quantum concepts in a metaphorical sense. One of the others, as is the work of Mahata and Maity, you just disqualify him without further ado. You don’t explain to me why the model of the Del Giudice is “quantum woo”.
    Even worse, in your criticism of Frass et al’s review you claim that he dismissed several negative reviews such as Hawke’s and Doehring’s, when in fact these are cited by Frass et al. Or when you quote Gartlehner’s work confirming that publication bias rates are not much different than “conventional” medicine papers, you conveniently don’t quote that paragraph.
    There is not even an explanation why you decided to omit the thousands of experimental studies and hundreds of clinical trials, you only limited yourself to quoting a few popular books such as Shelton or Dawkins, who said that “there were no clinical trials” (the same thing that you, Ernst, contradict in your books). It is ridiculous that you will only talk about the Benveniste case citing only two critical opinion sources (Ball and the out dated and cherry picked Maddox report), and not the replications of Ennis and others that are consistent with Benveniste’s results. In fact, you don’t quote them in your books either!

    The only thing you have proved is that you have confirmed with Oreskes, that homeopathy is systematic and there is a group of scientists who apply the scientific method.

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