Homeopathic “Where’s Wally” Part 2 — The Missing “Fact”April 19, 2012
In an earlier post I looked at homeopath Louise McLean’s rather long and tedious list of “50 Facts About Homeopathy”. With the help of Wally (of Where’s Wally fame) we identified the occasions where McLean flipped between claiming that:
a) homeopathy has been proven in clinical tests, and
b) homeopathy can’t be tested.
Vitally entertaining as that was, I decided to deal with only 49 of McLean’s 50 “facts”. In this post, I want to highlight the remaining “fact” (it was Fact 20), which demonstrates an important point that is often obscured by the absurdity of all the other claims that homeopaths make.
And the point is this….
Everyone assumes that when homeopaths talk about how a particular clinical trial was “successful”, they mean that the particular remedy that was tested has been vindicated. But that’s not the case. They never say it at the time, but homeopaths take each supposed “positive” result as a vindication for the entire Law of Similars*(see footnote) — and therefore as a vindication of all their other remedies as well.
The Lancet might think it’s publishing a study on homeopathic cough remedies, but homeopaths are thinking rather more grandly. No wonder they get so excited about the faintest whiff of a percent above the placebo effect, and will quibble about it for decades to come.
Clearly, if homeopaths stuck to using only those remedies that have been properly studied, they would have to limit themselves to dispensing (ineffective) cold medicines or headache tablets and the like.
Instead, after a few dubious (no, entirely spurious) “positive results” for minor studies, homeopaths like Louise McLean inform their customers that their “empirically based, clinically proven” method can treat serious illnesses:
[Links to remedies added by me, not in the original.]
And this is where their fanaticism turns deadly. Anyone still wondering why there is such vehement opposition to nice caring homeopaths now has their answer.
I think we must leave aside the truly bizarre claim that numerous infectious diseases are somehow of genetic origin. (I really have no idea what McLean is suggesting here – perhaps a homeopath can leave an indignant comment and enlighten me?)
How did homeopaths get from bickering over a few percent improvement above placebo controls to suddenly being able to “empirically” treat things like cancer or leprosy? This is not a leap of faith. It’s a pole vault of reckless stupidity, using the bogus Law of Similars as the pole.
Has homeopathy ever even been studied in relation to such serious illnesses?
Believe it or not, the answer is, horrifyingly, yes.
During the late 1930s the German Government commissioned a broad and thorough going study of homeopathy. I have covered it elsewhere on this blog, but in short, the Nazis had hoped to replace the “Jew-infested medical profession” with good Germanic homeopathy.
But, unlike Louise McLean and the majority of homeopaths, they were not prepared to risk the nation’s health without first seeing if it really worked. However, after the study was completed, all the documents as well as the final report “disappeared” — most likely destroyed by homeopaths. One of the leading researchers, Fritz Donner, later wrote an extensive account of the studies and results from memory. In short, no homeopathic treatments at all worked. (An extensive account of this can be found here.)
Studies for deadly illnesses were often carried out on prisoners of war, who invariably died.**
Clearly, such trials are still being conducted today — by Louise McLean and other homeopaths, albeit without any records being kept. The closest any of them ever come to keeping records is writing self-promotional accounts of their blinding successes — of course the greatest success is always reported in those countries with the slackest medical regulations.
Not all homeopaths are culpable in this matter. Homeopath Dr Peter Fisher*** head of London’s homeopathic hospital does not condone use of homeopathy for serious illnesses — like for example, Tuberculosis, Syphilis, Gonorrhoea, Cancer, or Leprosy. He politely says that there’s no evidence for its efficacy in such cases, but he seems to be a lone voice.
I can well understand why other homeopaths disagree with him. If the Law of Similars is a real Law of Nature, then why should it magically apply only to non-serious short-term illnesses? Homeopathy, like much in alternative medicine, is based on an ideology that must either be all true or all false. A product of fantasy can’t develop and improve through criticism and sifting out the failed methods, because objective reality is trumped by dogma. Dr Fisher and others like him have no chance at all of convincing less responsible homeopaths to reign in their rhetoric, because all objective standards have been permanently suspended.
* The Law of Similars is the assertion that because ingesting a particular substance causes particular symptoms, it must logically follow that a sick person suffering from those same symptoms can be cured by ingesting that particular substance. This is the basis for all homeopathic remedies. Unfortunately, neither chemistry nor physiology function according to this logic.
** This is reported in Der Spiegel 12.7.2010, print edition (in German)
*** Dr Peter Fisher (homeopath), responding to the sale of homeopathic anti-malarial prophylactics: “I’m very angry about it because people are going to get malaria – there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.” [quoted in The Guardian]