Last week was World Homeopathy Awareness Week, though homeopathy practitioners have recently gotten more publicity and awareness than they wanted.
Homeopathy was invented around 1796 by a doctor named Samuel Hahnemann. He believed that homeopathic medicines become more effective the more they are diluted. Homeopathic solutions are often so literally watered-down that they don't contain a single molecule of the original medicine or substance: the patient is drinking nothing but water. Homeopathic medicines have not been shown to work better than real medicines, in fact they have been shown to be exactly as effective as placebo. Yet many people use and endorse homeopathy.
Late last month, the British Science and Technology Select Committee (part of the United Kingdom's Parliament) released the results of a comprehensive examination of whether homeopathy has any medical or scientific validity.
The report is devastating to the pseudoscience of homeopathy: "The Committee concluded-given that the existing scientific literature showed no good evidence of efficacy-that further clinical trials of homeopathy could not be justified.... The Committee carried out an evidence check to test if the Government's policies on homeopathy were based on sound evidence. The Committee found a mismatch between the evidence and policy.... The Government acknowledges there is no evidence that homeopathy works beyond the placebo effect (where a patient gets better because of their belief in the treatment). The Committee concurred with the Government that the evidence base shows that homeopathy is not efficacious and that explanations for why homeopathy would work are scientifically implausible.... Given that the existing scientific literature showed no good evidence of efficacy, further clinical trials of homeopathy could not be justified."
Even professional homeopathic practitioners admitted in testimony before the committee that basic claims made about homeopathy have never been tested. For example, the director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, Peter Fisher, asserted that for homeopathy to work it is very important that the solutions be shaken. Asked how much shaking is required to make sure that the homeopathic medication was effective, Fisher said he didn't know because that issue had never been researched: "that has not been fully investigated."
This is a stunning and revealing admission from one of England's top experts on homeopathy. Homeopathy has been around for over two centuries, and yet during all that time apparently not a single homeopathy practitioner has bothered to do any scientific testing to find out how to make sure what they are selling is effective.
Can you imagine a pharmaceutical company trying to sell you a drug they claim will cure you, but when asked how much active ingredient is necessary for it to be effective, they respond that they never really looked into that?
This will not of course deter homeopathic practitioners, who insist that homeopathy works and that anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or secretly lobbying for the pharmaceutical industry (never mind that the "alternative medicine" industry-including homeopathy-is itself a multi-billion dollar industry). Hopefully the new study will help educate the public about what works, and what doesn't.