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Tag Archives: placebo

It is probably wise to exercise a great deal of caution in using treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (see Messing With Memory) that are essentially mysterious to even the people administering them. But, of course, not many people undergo ECT anyway. Homeopathy is a much more prominent example of a family of treatments of this nature. Please read the following very carefully:

If homeopathy does work, it works through some unknown mechanism that is completely foreign to our present understanding of physics and chemistry. In other words, if the laws of physics, as they stand today, are correct, then homeopathic medicine SHOULD NOT work.

Please follow this link to read a brief summary of the basic tenets of homeopathic medicine; and ask yourself seriously whether it is advisable to build ostensibly scientific theories of disease that are based on vague, undefined (and possible un-definable) terms like “the vital force of an individual”.

Consider this definition (from here) of “dynamization” – the process through which homeopathic remedies are prepared:

Dynamization: The process of increasing the vital energy, and thus the potency, of a substance through specific forms of serial dilutions, termed “succussion” or “trituration”.  Dynamization is the goal of remedy production.  It is the most characteristic aspect of homeopathy. 

Ask yourself, again: what is the “vital force” of a substance? And how could it increase when there is less of a substance in the solution? Chemistry does not normally work this way.

Having said all that, I must also note that it would be wrong for anyone to be biased against homeopathy. What this means is that if there is convincing evidence that homeopathy works, then even the most committed skeptics  must honour that evidence and adjust their beliefs about homeopathy. The fact is, though, that the evidence is missing. The following is from a 2002 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology:

Eleven independent systematic reviews were located. Collectively they failed to provide strong evidence in favour of homeopathy. In particular, there was no condition which responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo or other control interventions. Similarly, there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo. It is concluded that the best clinical evidence for homeopathy available to date does not warrant positive recommendations for its use in clinical practice.

You will find many more studies like that if you look for them.

In sum, then, there are two crucial differences between ECT and homeopathy: first, although we do not know how ECT works, we have no reason to believe that it goes against what we already know about the brain; the same is not true of homeopathy, because the effects it claims to produce are in direct contravention of what we know about physics and chemistry. And second, there is no convincing scientific evidence that homeopathy does anything more than a placebo would; whereas there is real evidence for the therapeutic value of ECT.

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