Homeopathy: Frontier Science
Much to the dismay of many people cured by homeopathy around the world, a recent wave of strong opinion held by a very few asserts that homeopathy is not scientific, or, at the very least, is “bad science”. Unfortunately those writing blogs claiming that Homeopathy is bad science have a very closed view of what science truly is and what the future of science may look like. Much of their postulating is borne out of fear. Fear of what they do not understand, and fear of a perceived threat to the scientific status quo from which they derive security. Hence, they vehemently attack a form of health care that has profoundly helped thousands of people all over the world.
These recent attacks on homeopathy rely heavily on misunderstanding and selective misinformation. The constant cry is that homeopathic remedies are placebo and can therefore do nothing. When homeopaths assert that remedies work on animals and therefore cannot be the placebo effect, they blame the biased observer. Tell that to my sister who was able to cure her entire herd of sheep sick with highly contagious pinkeye with the use of a homeopathic remedy. These critics have even gone so far as to say that the reason homeopathy “seemed” successful in the cholera epidemic of 1854 was because conventional medicine was so harmful:
“So, while hideous medical treatments such as blood-letting were actively harmful, the homeopaths’ treatments at least did nothing either way.” (The Guardian, Ben Goldacre November 16th 2007).
Mr. Goldacre’s statement is at odds with the excellent therapeutic results of homeopathic patients reported at the time of the epidemic:
“In 1854 London was struck by an outbreak of cholera. This gave homeopaths a chance to show what they could do. Among the patients admitted to the orthodox hospitals the death rate was 52 per cent, while at the homeopathic hospital, where 61 patients were admitted, only 10 died (16 per cent).” (English Homeopathy in the 19th Century; Campbell)
Not only is it clear that homeopathic treatment was successful, but the “Bad Science” author admits the harm conventional medicine was doing. In this day and age of prescription drug therapy which is rife with harmful, even leathal side affects, can we really say conventional medicine is any better than it was in 1854? Remember the Hippocratic oath: “first do no harm”.
Another oft-raised issue is that homeopathy cannot stand up to conventional medical trials, and that homeopathic studies fail meta-analysis. It is suggested that homeopaths “cherry pick” the results of studies to confirm positive results. Iris Bell MD Phd, director of research at the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, stated the following in response to a negatively biased article in the British medical journal “The Lancet” in August of 2005;
“The researchers started with 110 homeopathy studies and 110 conventional medicine studies, but drew their main conclusions from 8 homeopathy and 6 conventional studies. And in an odd decision by the journal and the researchers, those 14 studies were not identified. This makes it impossible for others to challenge or confirm their conclusions. Given the tiny number left, they really were under an obligation to tell the reader which they used.”
Regardless of your point of view about this issue, everyone should agree that the selective use of available studies to substantiate a conclusion-while omitting those that are unfavorable- serves no one’s best interests in the long term. That the Lancet relied on only 14 of 220 studies-all unidentified-on which to base it’s attack on Homeopathy completely destroys all credibility their researchers had hoped to muster. This comes from a medical paradigm that allows “scientifically tested” drugs like Vioxx to be used well beyond the time when there was substantial evidence of it being lethal. To coin a phrase made popular by Ben Goldacre and The Guardian, this is a heinous example of “Bad Science”.
Many attacks on homeopathy are in reference to it being a “faith based” science. Modern scientific thought recognizes that science is inherently based on faith in often unprovable laws and assumptions. In his recent editorial in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion), Paul Davies, a research physicist states:
“It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe that govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.
In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.”
Our understanding of the true science of our universe is very limited. To think that we can prove something is real and true with our limited, parochial understanding undermines our quest for scientific knowledge. Homeopathy is frontier medicine. Because it works it shows us we are lacking in true understanding of how the universe works. That the current system of scientific verification labels homeopathy’s demonstrated efficacy as “placebo” only underscores how absurdly faulty and inadequate this verification system is. Instead of denying homeopathy works and limiting our choices and possiblities we should embrace this knowledge and let it take us forward to open new possibilites.