This week is World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW). Great! More people should know about homeopathy, its relative efficacy, and the evidence justifying its use. So from April 10-16, we will be presenting articles focusing on the topic of homeopathy.
In a nutshell, homeopathy is the practice of diluting a substance that has an effect similar to the illness being treated. The thought is that water contains the memory of the active ingredient, which becomes more potent the more its diluted, yet there are no adverse reactions because the substance is so dilute. So for example, diluted coffee (a stimulant) would treat insomnia.
Often consumer testimonials are used as evidence of efficacy, in addition to individual studies that may suffer from various methodological issues. Unfortunately, so far there is no credible scientific evidence to support the use of homeopathy as a health treatment and there several legitimate concerns with its practice:
- The proposed mechanisms are generally unquantifiable (“life force”), or oppose the laws of the universe and the principles of biology.
- The Law of Similars (the “like cures like” premise) is superficial and confusing. For example, coffee (mentioned above as a treatment for insomnia) is a psychoactive stimulant, but it is also a diuretic — shouldn’t there be an antidiuretic side-effect? If not, why?
- Provings are a poor standard of evidence.
- There are ethical issues with greatly profiting (large pdf) from a health product that does not have robust clinical evidence to support its use, especially given the 200 years of medical advancements since homeopathy’s invention that contradict its principles.
- There are ethical issues surrounding the intentional prescription of placebos, even if homeopathy is “effective” as a placebo.
- Ad hominems against the pharmaceutical industry and science-based medicine (“Big Pharma”) are sometimes used as arguments to support homeopathy.
- Homeopathy is often justified in terms of consumer freedom rather than efficacy and safety verified by objective evidence.
- Disagreement and scientific debate/inquiry about homeopathy is often perceived as personal prejudice against it.
All this and more about the well-meaning practice of homeopathy will be explored in the coming week, so stay tuned for an informative, fun, and science-based discussion of relevant consumer concerns. As there are many participating authors this week, expect many different points of view, styles, and approaches to the topic.
To follow WHAW on Twitter, search for the hashtag #WHAW and include that hashtag in your tweets about homeopathy this week.
Check out the personal blogs of the Skeptic North authors, listed in the side bar under “Affiliated Sites”, which may feature an article or two this week about homeopathy.
Check out the 10:23 campaign, which is centered around homeopathy in the UK (Twitter hashtag #ten23).
Michael Kruse will be on Calgary’s AM770 tonight at 9-11 PM mountain time speaking with Rob Breakenridge (click on “listen live” at the top of the page). [Update: The interview can now be downloaded here.]
Skeptic North editor Steve Thoms will be on Skeptically Speaking tonight at 8 PM Eastern. If you miss the live air, you can catch the show within the next few days on iTunes or, for those who don’t use iTunes, the Skeptically Speaking website.