How homeopathy might work

How might homeopathy workThe article has referenciness. Several of these references are familiar. As usual TatMaggot doesn’t give the full reference (wouldn’t want to follow journal practice, after all, or make it too easy to debunk her credulous nonsense)`, and references include that peerless source of cutting edge medical discovery, the Daily Mail.

TL;DR summary

In the end, I’m disappointed. After the debunking of the previous WDDTY advertorial on homeopathy and the Banerjis, this amounts to little more than repeating precisely the same refuted claims because TatMaggot believes she’s right so refutation of Benveniste etc. can be ignored. I was hoping for something new to get my skeptical teeth into, this provides nothing new. Not even a new spin on the tired old conspiracy theories. Medicine sometimes fails, therefore unicorns.

The only genuinely new study since the last go-round is ” The potentized homeopathic drug, Lycopodium clavatum (5C and 15C) has anti-cancer effect on hela cells in vitro” (J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2013 Aug;6(4):180-7).




This has yet to be replicated (as is the case for most homeopathy basic research) and contains, as usual, no evidence of generalisability, no evidence of potential therapeutic effect, no credible rationale for selection of the “remedy” and no evidence that this will be linked to the “similimum” or any other symptomatic presentation.

It’s all the same old long-debunked rubbish. It’s almost as if there is no credible evidence for homeopathy, just a lot of wishful thinking by believers.

Oh, wait…

Seriously? It is just possible that a homeopath might stumble upon a substance that at clinical doses produces a useful effect. Given the sheer number of substances they use, anything else would be statistically improbable. But there’s no compelling evidence of any persistent effect at homeopathic dilutions, no credible evidence that the diluted and potentised “remedies” have any specific clinical effect, and ridiculous quote mining expeditions like this do nothing other than perpetuate the smokescreen of confabulation used by homeopaths to hide the fact that everything about their beliefs is simply wrong.

The first batch of references seem to be drawn from those cited in the Homeopathy journal’s special issue on the memory of water. We can assume that these are the best of the bunch from that issue.

  • Complement Ther Med. 2007 Jun;15(2):128-38 is “The in vitro evidence for an effect of high homeopathic potencies–a systematic review of the literature” by Witt et. al. Witt is paid by a homeopathy promotion body, the Carstens Foundation. This paper reviews primary research into mechanisms for homeopathy, finding 67 experiments of which 1/3 were replicated (i.e. 2/3 were not replicated, in line with the norm for homeopathy). It notes that the designs were inhomogeneous. Witt claims that “[e]ven experiments with a high methodological standard could demonstrate an effect of high potencies” but notes that “[n]o positive result was stable enough to be reproduced by all investigators. So the take-home from this is that believers can produce a positive result, but can’t replicate it.
  • J Therm Anal Calorim, 2004; 75: 815-36 is “New Physico-Chemical Properties of Extremely Diluted Aqueous Solutions” by V. Elia and M. Nicoli. This was discussed in a Bad Science Journal Club. The significance of this is that Elia claims, according to another paper in homeopathy, to have documented an effect which increases over time – i.e. which apparently violates the second law of thermodynamics. In the nine years since, this has not become anything like mainstream.
  • Homeopathy, 2007; 96: 175–182 is “The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy” by ML Rao, Rustum RoyW, Iris Bell and Claudia Witt (again). BadSciencers fisked this one too, noting that “different” spectra turned out to be the same graph and so on. A letter to the journal, reproduced in a JREF discussion, notes fatal flaws with the data as presented.
  • Physica A, 2003; 323: 67-64 is “Thermoluminescence of ultra-high dilutions of lithium chloride and sodium chloride” by Louise Rey. The Bad Sciencers didn’t have a lot to say about this other than that it’s speculative: it seeks to project condensed matter effects onto liquids. Definitive or conclusive it ain’t.
  • Biochim Biophys Acta, 2003, 1621: 253-60 is “Effects of ultrahigh dilutions of 3,5-dichlorophenol on the luminescence of the bacterium Vibrio fischeri“, by Brack et. al. I can’t find any significant discussion of this other than drive-by citations in laundry lists of references on homeopathy apologist websites.

So TatMaggot sets out her stall with a series of papers that include weak, irreproducible or uninterpretable results, and which advance in some cases contradictory hypothetical explanations for how homeopathy might work in some classes of substance.

None of these shows any link between “remedy” and symptom or disease, none of them shows any evidence of a clinically useful effect, none of them shows any evidence of a general or universal effect that is unambiguous and specific. This is, in other words, a re-warming of the Homeopathy “memory of water” issue.

Molehill Montagnieering

No paean to the refuted “memory of water” thesis would be complete without reference to Jacques Benveniste and Luc Montagnier.

TatMaggot of course believes Benveniste, it goes without saying, all avid homeopathy believers do. The special pleading is all reproduced: the pejorative characterisation of Randi, the claims that they “changed” the protocol and so on. It really doesn’t mater how sincerely you want to believe in it, the Benveniste experiment is a busted flush. Attempted replications have failed.

Montagnier has a self-published series of experiments that purport to back Benveniste, but these have not been independently validated either and when interviewed by CBC’s Marketplace he acknowledged that his work “cannot be extrapolated to the products used in homeopathy” – and indeed the same is true of Benveniste’s work, had it not been refuted.

Lastly, there is the knotty problem of shelf life. The effects Montagnier claims to have observed, last a few tens of femtoseconds – a fraction of a picosecond. This is entirely incompatible with the claims of an effect that increases over time, or is stable.

Jumping on the Banerji wagon

As with the previous issue of WDDTY claiming homeopathy is “much more than placebo”, the intellectual heart of this thread lies in the Banerji foundation and their extraordinary claim to reverse cancer using homeopathy alone.

Papers cited include the uninterpretable rubbish that is “Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells” (Int J Oncol. 2010 Feb;36(2):395-403) and the followup “Ruta 6 selectively induces cell death in brain cancer cells but proliferation in normal peripheral blood lymphocytes: A novel treatment for human brain cancer” (Int J Oncol. 2003 Oct;23(4):975-82). The balance of the sources are: a WashPo editorial, the Banerjis’ publication in the best cases series (which explicitly does not establish the validity of the treatment), a Yahoo group, the Banerji website, the “journal of acupuncture and meridian studies“, the only genuinely new source since the last go-round as far as I can tell, (spoiler alert: meridians don’t exist and acupuncture is an elaborate placebo), and the BBC News website. Oh, and the Daily Mail, often cited in the top-tier medical journals for its groundbreaking basic research on the influence of immigration on the British pint or some such.

2 thoughts on “How homeopathy might work”

  1. Pingback: Daily Overload – News in short (09-01-2014) « The Skeptical Bear
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    My, how times change. Back in the old, subscription-only, days they claimed – at least twice! – that scientists had proved homeopathy to work. There are still links to those articles on their site, if you search for them.

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