Nov 15 2012

Homeopathic Logic

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40 responses so far

40 Responses to “Homeopathic Logic”

  1. Jim Shaveron 15 Nov 2012 at 10:38 am

    Well said, as usual, Steve.

    I see a common characteristic among homeopaths (and other pseudoscientists) and politicians (at least the zealous kind). They seem to think that getting to the truth (or getting to policy or into office, for the politicians) is simply a matter of winning a superficial debate, a debate for which the audience is mostly unprepaired and uninformed. The goal is to paint a convincing negative picture of one’s opponent, with liberal use of repeatedly debunked, disproved, and dismantled arguments to which the pseudoscientist (or cynical politician) never holds himself accountable. The reset button is blissfully pressed after every debate, the pseudoscientist’s knowledge remaining ever stagnant.

  2. Todd W.on 15 Nov 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Ali Shah throws in the standard propaganda about homeopathy being holistic and “treating the whole person.”

    How can a homeopath be so ignorant of homeopathy? If ever there was a system of medicine (or purported medicine) that was entirely symptom-focused, homeopathy takes the cake. Everything about homeopathy is symptom-oriented, not patient-oriented. How do they figure out what pills to take? Find out your symptoms and match those to ingredients that, undiluted, cause those symptoms.

  3. Bronze Dogon 15 Nov 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I like the summary of how drug approval works. I’ve been arguing with some trolls who keep attacking every imperfection of pharmaceutical companies while using it as an implicit excuse why their untested energy medicine should be given a free pass.

    Back on homeopathy, I just recently posted a comment at RI about how the accusation of “allopathy” is both ridiculous and missing the point. As Todd says, homeopathy is entirely symptom-based. Hannemann trapped himself in the symptomatic frame, talking about using his alleged same-symptom treatments versus the evil allopaths who uses opposite-symptom treatments. It artificially narrows medicine to two very limited categories, which is probably the point, since false dichotomies are so propaganda-friendly.

    Modern medicine doesn’t base curative treatments on symptoms, but on the cause. Symptoms are used to help narrow down the cause along with other sources of information. The cause determines the cure, not the symptoms.

  4. LittleBoyBrewon 15 Nov 2012 at 2:42 pm


    Excellent take down as always, but (in my opinion) a significant percentage of the public does not care. They hear or read a news headline that announces this or that drug has been recalled due to unexpected side effects and, if they give that report a second thought, wonder why we spend millions of dollars testing drugs and we still get it wrong. They don’t think about the hundreds (thousands?) of successes that exist for every recall. They do not understand what a placebo controlled trial really means. So when Ali Shah touts the effectiveness of homeopathy (people take it and they get better!) and says “no homeopathic drugs have been recalled!”, well, I think you can see why people think homeopathic drugs are an acceptable alternative.

    Recently the Merseyside Skeptics (as I recall) discussed the problem with the public perception of the placebo controlled trial. I thought their points, presented humorously as they are, were well considered.

  5. jreon 15 Nov 2012 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve always gotten a smile from the FDA’s statutorily enforced stance on homeopathy. The law requires that the agency inspect homeopathic manufacturers, like any others, for “adulterated” products. Now, if any active ingredient is detected in a 20C nostrum, then the product is adulterated by definition. FDA gets around this inconvenient fact of chemistry by exempting homeopathic remedies from the usually required “laboratory determination of identity and strength of each active ingredient prior to release for distribution.”

    Oh, and homeopathic products need not have expiration dates. Duh.

  6. Karl Withakayon 15 Nov 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Agreed, Bronze Dog.

    Homeopathy is exclusively concerned with symptoms, and has no regard whatsoever for the actual underlying cause(s).

    Homeopathy aims to treat a condition based on the symptoms is causing, and uses substances that, in measurable quantities, cause similar symptoms.

    In other words, it tries to treat the cause(s) of symptoms with immeasurable/non-existent amounts of different cause(s) of the same symptoms, irrespective of what the actual cause(s) of the manifested symptoms are.

    Are you sneezing? Is that your only symptom? OK, don’t worry about figuring out why you are sneezing; just use a homeopathic preparation of a substance that in measurable & detectable amounts causes sneezing.

  7. CrookedTimberon 15 Nov 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Nicely dissected Dr. N. Homeopathy is certainly one of the most implausible of the pseudosciences.
    As a regular reader of this site and SBM I know that you have no qualms about calling out pharmaceutical companies when appropriate and those that try to label your team as pharma shills have no leg to stand on. However, I am intrigued by Ben Goldacre’s new
    and speeches documenting that the dodgy practices of some pharmaceutical companies may be more pervasive and cause more harm than most previously realized. I’m starting to think that maybe those on the side of science based medicine should follow Dr. Goldacre’s lead and devote a little more attention/articles to fighting this as well. That way we can’t be accused of taking it easy on the pharma companies while endlessly cutting down wacky homeopaths, anti-vaxxers, etc. (although they should continue to be fought as well). Thoughts?

  8. InvincibleIronyManon 15 Nov 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I am by no means an expert on this, so perhaps you can help me.

    Whenever it is claimed that such-and-such a trial shows that homeopathy has some kind of beneficial effects, it seems to come down to an argument over whether or not the observed effects can be explained by experimental error. Surely the fact that we can even have such a discussion means that even if the effects are real they must be small enough to leave room for debate. Doesn’t this mean that even if homeopathy worked its efficaciousness would have to be incredibly low at best? “Marginally better than a placebo” doesn’t sound like some kind of miracle cure, hardly what one would call “superior to conventional medicine”.

    Am I missing some subtlety here?

  9. locutusbrgon 15 Nov 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Homeopathy to me is one of the slam dunks of useless CAM. You would have an easier time arguing that alien spaceships in orbit are making me feel better. Despite that it is the unsinkable rubber duck of CAM. Depressing.

  10. Davdoodleson 16 Nov 2012 at 1:07 am

    “none of the homeopathic medicines introduced during the last two hundred and fifty years was withdrawn from the market.”

    I have a magical skateboard that I falsely claim cures cancer and vague feelings of unsightly puffiness. It has never been “withrdawn from the market” either.

    Also, I wear a lab coat, for some reason. Gravitas, perhaps.

    Bow down before my third “disciplines of medicines”!

  11. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 1:11 am

    once again the voice of reason.

    i have to say I agree with CrookedTimber too.

    I’m thinking about the drug pradaxa – developed to replace warfarin. Why? pradaxa may be more expensive to use than warfarin in the long run, but on pradaxa the patient has no dietary restrictions, and no blood tests – unlike the ongoing monitoring with warfarin. But some patients are bleeding out when they get too much or react badly, and unlike warfarin there’s no countering agent (like vitamin K for warfarin)

    why did we need the drug? were we REALLY trying to make life easier for the people on warfarin?
    well, I’m sure that there was that in mind after all, but it’s starting to look like the trials may have been faulty: a rush to market. And why the TV ads? Shouldn’t it be up to the docs to “advertise” this to their patients that might benefit? The pharms may think the docs might be too cautious: “warfarin works and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

    I know I’m a bit off-topic here, but I hate it that what looks to me like increasing greed inside the business is feeding the public’s disenchantment with SBMedicine and simultaneously feeding the homeopathic crap.

  12. MikeBon 16 Nov 2012 at 4:03 am

    Wonderful piece. A lay person’s dream because it is so understandable.

    One thing I would add: Dr Novella has spoken out against the “organic” food scam, and it needs to be more widely known that homeopathy is often preferred over standard veterinary care among “organic” farmers.

    See here:

    Raising Organic Livestock.

  13. Steven Novellaon 16 Nov 2012 at 9:36 am

    Crooked – I agree that the pharmaceutical industry needs to be called out on their shenanigans, and we do so here and on SBM and other blogs. It’s hard to say what the right balance should be and if we are there. I will cover it whenever an issue comes up.

    One difference, though, is that no one is defending what the pharmaceutical industry is doing (when they step out of line). They get caught, they get criticized, they get fined, and we talk about how to tighten regulations.

    Meanwhile, in CAM world, proponents are actually defending their nonsense and trying to change the rules of science and evidence – and that needs to be addressed directly.

    I’m sure we would write about it more if pharmaceutical reps were writing articles defending their questionable practices.

  14. Steven Novellaon 16 Nov 2012 at 9:38 am

    IronMan – You are correct. If, after hundreds of studies, we are arguing about whether or not there is a real effect, one thing we can say for sure – there is not big or robust effect. The argument is about whether or not there is a tiny but real effect or no effect at all.

    This comes up in real medicine as well. This is why we need to consider clinically significant effects, not just statistically significant.

    My belief is that clinically insignificant effects are also likely not real – at least that is the default conclusion preferred by Occam’s razor, unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges. This is especially true when the effect is highly implausible and would require rewriting some basic science textbooks.

  15. Jared Olsenon 17 Nov 2012 at 4:50 am

    Unbelievable hypocrisy on the part of sCAM proponents. They delight in attacking the inevitable faults in mainstream medicine (no system is perfect), yet offer an alternative that suffers the same faults, and more. Are we really expected to believe that they provide ‘medicine’ out of the goodness of their hearts? (where big Pharma only care about profit?) There would be no profit if their drugs didn’t work, or killed and injured those buying them. It works because it’s a positive sum game.
    I’d like to see an experiment where mainstream, western medical care is withheld from them for a year, and see how bad they think it is after only a month!

  16. DanaUllmanon 17 Nov 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Contrary to your own personal opinion, the conventional medical community has widely embraced the term “allopathy” and “allopathic medicine” as it strongly evidenced by all of the governmental agencies, medical schools, medical education regulatory agencies and associations listed here under “Hopping’s Huge List of Links…and then under “More references” and under “Even more references.”

    (note: you have to scroll down the page a bit to see these listing and click on “Show” to see these references)

    But heck, you’re going to believe what you want to believe. You seem to create your own belief system and cult following. Quite impressive.

  17. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2012 at 1:40 am

    He’s back!
    DUllman is back!

    As you say, the word ‘allopathy’ is indeed wheedling its way in.
    But to say that it has been embraced by those so labelled is analogous to saying that your presence here has been embraced just because you are here.

    Dana, there is science-based medicine and the other stuff.
    Homeopathy is other stuff.
    And it’s dying a slow death.

  18. Jared Olsenon 18 Nov 2012 at 1:42 am

    Steve, over to you mate…

  19. DanaUllmanon 18 Nov 2012 at 1:18 pm

    This is now a body of evidence that shows that nanoparticles remain in homeopathic medicines, even those in what are deemed to be “high potencies.”


    Anyone who says or suggests that there is “nothing” in homeopathic medicines is not basing that assertion on scientific evidence, but the ignorant and the fundamentalists who continue to spread misinformation about homeopathy…but I predict that the cult followers here will continue to misinform people while claiming the vital importance of “scientific evidence.”

    This cult is fun to watch. Spin your “scientific”assertions…

  20. ccbowerson 18 Nov 2012 at 1:42 pm

    “This is now a body of evidence that shows that nanoparticles remain in homeopathic medicines”

    This is being put forth as a possible mechanism for how homeopathy could work, if it did work, but it doesn’t?

    Not to mention that any remaining particles should be viewed as contaminants, but instead are embraced because it helps avoid the requirement of a ‘vital force,’ since such a notion is not as acceptable these days

  21. DanaUllmanon 18 Nov 2012 at 2:37 pm

    ccbowers’ response simply proves that s/he did not read either article. Wow, so, you cultie folks don’t believe in reading or in basic science. How quaint.

  22. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2012 at 2:43 pm


    Hypotheses about how homeopathy works are irrelevant because it has been shown not to work.

    “We show that once the bulk concentration is below a threshold level of a few nanograms/milliliter (ng/mL), at the end of each dilution step, all of the nanoparticles levitate to the surface and are accommodated as a monolayer at the top. This dominant population at the air-liquid interface is preserved and carried to the subsequent step, thereby forming an asymptotic concentration. Thus, all dilutions are only apparent and not real in terms of the concentrations of the starting raw materials.”

    I hope you have informed the manufacturers that they must now make sure they carefully siphon off the top layer of the solution at each step of the dilution process. Of do you think that they have been fortuitously dong this all along without knowing what they were doing. ;)

  23. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2012 at 2:43 pm

    …sorry for the typos, I’m using an iPad.

  24. sonicon 18 Nov 2012 at 2:55 pm

    The links provided to back the claim the use of the word ‘allopathy’ is ‘widely embraced’ are mostly broken or do not use the term as claimed.
    If the best evidence you can give is no evidence at all, one would probably be smart to discard the claim.
    Can you offer better?
    I have read the other articles you linked to (some of the first, all of the second)– at best they present the possibility that there exists a mechanism by which homeopathy could work- nanoparticles. They do debunk the claim there are no possible active ingredients- a point I would give you.
    That is not the same as saying they work– right?

    Regarding the article linked to by the homeopath:
    I can see a point – if you went to a doctor and he gave you something that did more harm than good, you would be better off with homeopathy (no good, no harm).
    I think there have been drugs recalled for that reason, but not all drugs recalled would fit– sometimes the drug is recalled because it is worse than an existing drug, not because it does more harm than good.
    Further it doesn’t seem possible to know in advance which drug it is going to be the one that gets recalled– “Doctor, is the drug you are subscribing one of the extremely rare ones that will later be found to do more harm than good?”, is an interesting question– but who could know the answer?

    It is possible that some of the current standard treatments do more harm than good.
    In such a case, it might be appropriate to use something like homeopathy (no good, no harm) instead.
    But if it were known the treatment was doing more harm than good, it wouldn’t remain the standard treatment. So the value would be fleeting at best.

    If the author knows of current treatments that are doing more harm than good, he should specify which ones and give some evidence.

  25. BillyJoe7on 18 Nov 2012 at 3:46 pm

    It is never appropriate to use something that has been shown not to work.

    Also, homoeopathy is not harmless.
    There are a number of ways in which it can be harmful. For example, if someone is attending a homoeopath exclusively, he is likely to be misdiagnosed, have a delayed diagnosis, miss out on treatment that is actually useful, and be led into all sorts of other non-evidence based beliefs that are harmful. For example that vaccines should be avoided. And there are homeopathic vaccines that, like all homoeopathic treatments, do not work and that leave the patient open to morbidity and mortality.

  26. DanaUllmanon 18 Nov 2012 at 3:54 pm

    BillyJoe7, you are the poster child for denialism. First, there is a greater body of high quality studies that verify that homeopathic medicines WORK than those that show that it doesn’t work. Even Shang’s famous hack-job in the Lancet (2005) reviewed 21 high quality studies in homeopathy, and these studies verified efficacy, except if and when he and his team chose actually throw out the MAJORITY of “high quality” studies (“high quality” as determined by Shang and his team!).

    As for the 2 links that I provided to the work done on homeopathy and nanoparticles, BillyJoe7 has simply verified that he has not read them (caught showing ignorance again!).

    Anyone who actually believes that these nanoparticle sized doses cannot possibly have biological action has to be DEAD because many of our own hormones and cell signaling systems operate at even LOWER doses than are found in homeopathic medicines (the 2 links provided above verify that much higher doses of nanoparticles exist in homeopathic medicines due to the silica hypothesis, nanobubbles, and other component parts of the homeopathic manufacturing process).

    So sorry to burst your bubble (and your nanobubbles) with facts and evidence and research. Go back to your religious fundamentalism…and start attacking me personally.

  27. ChrisHon 18 Nov 2012 at 7:23 pm

    All you have shown, Mr. Ullman, is that you, Ms. Bell and the other homeopathy apologists do not know anything about nanoparticles.

  28. sonicon 19 Nov 2012 at 12:08 am

    the list of references that supposedly support the claim that the word ‘allopathy’ is used by government agencies and so forth includes numerous broken links and papers that do not use the word as you suggest.
    Is there a single paper that you can link to that will support your claim? (I couldn’t find one but my search was less than exhaustive).

  29. Davdoodleson 19 Nov 2012 at 1:43 am

    “First, there is a greater body of high quality studies that verify that homeopathic medicines WORK than those that show that it doesn’t work.”

    Oh dear.

    Dear oh dear…

  30. Jared Olsenon 19 Nov 2012 at 4:41 am

    The silence is deafening. Has Mr Ullman run out of Ad Hominems?

  31. DanaUllmanon 19 Nov 2012 at 11:39 am

    Indeed, the silence is deafening, except for one totally daft person who seems to claim that a hundred or so links to the use of the word “allopathic” is not enough (!) and a very funny note from someone who blames an attackee for being an attacker (and the spin continues).

    Like I have said, your cult is fun to watch.

  32. etatroon 19 Nov 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I had a look at the Langmuir paper. You seem to be proposing a physical basis for there being retained an “active ingredient” in the 15c diluted solution because of retention of the solute through adhesion to liquid-gas interface. That is a fine explanation for retaining some types of chemicals. But I really, really, really don’t understand the point. If the point is that a diluted compound will have some biological effect, and the dilution procedure yields something like 9.4 ng/mL “bulk” — why not just make a 9.4 ng/mL solution of the active ingredient? Why go through the 15 dilutions?

  33. etatroon 19 Nov 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I had a look at the other paper, published in BMC CAM. The proposed mechanism here seems to be that silica released from the shaking/banging process causes the active compound to adsorb to the surface of the silica; the bubbles formed during the shaking process brings them to the top. The silica-adsorbed active compound is transferred from bottle to bottle during the dilution process. However, the active ingredient can still not be detected. It honestly seems like these people are just observing lab dust under a microscope and calling them nanoparticles. The active ingredient wasn’t observed or shown to adsorb to the silica in this paper. The article type was classified as a “Debate,” not a research article. I’m sure there are lots of the former and few of the latter in BMC CAM.

    And again, I really don’t get the point. If you are saying that compounds adsorbed to silica particles will cure the disease, why not synthesize silica-adsorbed active compound nanoparticles? Characterize them, test them for biological effects, create a solution of them with appropriate concentration (previous reference you mentioned seemed like anywhere from 9.4 to 0.1 ng/mL — whatever quantity an ng corresponds to). Both of these authors seem to have a fascination with Avagadro’s number too, and reaching a threshold of dilutions at 10^-23 has some sort of significance to them, which I don’t understand. (I have a BS in chemistry & biology).

  34. Davdoodleson 19 Nov 2012 at 5:48 pm

    “If you are saying that compounds adsorbed to silica particles will cure the disease, why not synthesize silica-adsorbed active compound nanoparticles? Characterize them, test them for biological effects, create a solution of them with appropriate concentration (previous reference you mentioned seemed like anywhere from 9.4 to 0.1 ng/mL — whatever quantity an ng corresponds to). ”

    Hokeopathy don’t need no steenkin’ science.

  35. sonicon 19 Nov 2012 at 8:07 pm

    First let me thank-you for linking to the articles you did.

    The paper you linked to here-
    “However, physicochemical studies of these solutions have unequivocally established the presence of the starting raw materials in nanoparticulate form even in these extreme (super-Avogadro, >10(23)) dilutions.”
    “Thus, all dilutions are only apparent and not real in terms of the concentrations of the starting raw materials.”

    This should debunk the claim that these pills have none of the original raw materials in them. (It would be nice to see the study replicated, of course…)
    Assuming this result is correct (the starting raw materials are in the dilutions) it will be interesting to see if any of those who have attacked this on the basis that the dilutions couldn’t have any of the raw materials in them will change the tune.

    With that said– I still have a problem with your claim about the term ‘allopathic’.
    Obviously if you had provided 100′s of papers that supported your claim that “… the conventional medical community has widely embraced the term “allopathy” and “allopathic medicine”… “, I would have no problem accepting the claim.

    Actually, I would like it if what you say is true, but the links provided do not support it.
    So it is not that I find 100′s of paper unconvincing, it’s just that I can’t find one from the list that actually supports what you are claiming.
    Perhaps if you just gave a link to one or two.

  36. DanaUllmanon 19 Nov 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Etatro is missing the point. With your logic, you would seem to assume that acupuncture would work better if they used nails instead of needles (because nails are bigger and thus “better”). He might learn something about the physics of water.

    I urge everyone here to learn something about the significant power of very small amounts of certain hormones and cell-signaling factors. Here’s a link to an article from which you will benefit:

    Eskinazi, D., Homeopathy Re-revisited: Is Homeopathy Compatible with Biomedical Observations? Archives in Internal Medicine, 159, Sept 27, 1999:1981-7.

    Also, I urge you to consider studying the broad and multi-disciplinary field of HORMESIS, the study of low-dose effects. An impressive review of articles on homeopathy and hormesis (low-dose effects) were published in the journal, Human and Experimental Toxicology, July 2010:
    To access free copies of these articles, see:

    Glad to create some sparks to encourage people here to learn something…

  37. BillyJoe7on 19 Nov 2012 at 10:32 pm


    If anyone thinks DU is going to answer any serious questions, you are seriously mistaken.
    I thought everyone had his measure by now.
    Talk about beating a dead horse…this one has been reduced to a disarticulated and crumbling skeleton.

    The plausibility of homoeopathy is so zero that even NCCAM no longer funds any research anymore.

    What is needed now is derision and laughter, not serious discussion.

  38. etatroon 20 Nov 2012 at 4:04 am

    The reason that hormones work at such low concentrations is that they are amphiphlic. That means they have both polar features (e.g., an OH group, like water) and non-polar features (hydrocarbons) on the same molecule. They are both water soluble, and will pass through cell membranes. They generally directly bind to transcription factors, causing the cell to either suppress expression of genes or newly express some genes; this bypasses regulatory effects and they require a lower threshold concentration than surface receptors & signal transduction to get an effect. 1. Nanoparticles (because of their size; they are many times larger than a hormone) will not readily pass through a cell membrane. 2. Silicate will not pass through a cell membrane (being negatively charged). (my phd dissertation was studying kinetics hormone receptor trafficking & adapter proteins)

    I am not saying that anything “like” acupuncture being better with a nail versus a needle. I suppose I am saying that accupuncture would work better with a needles that are all made of the same metal manufactured in a consistent way, knowing their composition, mass, and sharpness. You are saying that accupuncture would be better if the Earth were put into a grinder and shaken around a bit, then a random selection of roughly needle-sized aggregates of minerals were selected to jab into someone’s skin. Only, you don’t know for sure if you’re selecting anything at all when you do it because the conditions aren’t as controlled in practice as they were in the lab reports.

    Seriously — if they are measuring some “x” ng / mL at the end of some dilution — why not make a standard concentration of the compound and test its effects? Why go through the 15 dilutions? If banging a glass jar creates silicate nanoparticles — why not create & characterize nanoparticles and test those biological effects? (I am currently testing for applicability of nanoparticles in biological systems — we are having a difficult time demonstrating polymeric micelles with DNA [with some tweaks, but still negatively charged] getting into cells).

    I am curious what lessons on the physics of water you would have to offer above and beyond what I learned as a chemistry student.

  39. BillyJoe7on 20 Nov 2012 at 6:09 am

    ^hmmm….serious discussion mixed with sarcasm…even better :D

  40. etatroon 20 Nov 2012 at 2:26 pm

    yeah i was little cranky. it was like fish in a barrel and i needed a therapeutic session at the firing range.

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