Two hundred years ago, Samuel Hahnemann, a German doctor, invented a medicinal method based on old, unsubstantiated notions like those of Paracelsus that “like cures like”. That a substance which sickens the healthy, cures the sick.
Hahnemann’s “discovery” lies in the idea that an active substance that produces symptoms alike to the disease, when mixed in water, will cure an organism already ill. So, the ivy can cure a rash because (when not diluted in water) would cause a rash.
Thus, we are introduced in the nonsensical world of homeopathy. That is the name Hahnemann gave to his method, which revived worldwide during the 70s, mostly due to the Greek George Vithoulkas. The method consists of diluting an active substance in alcohol or usually in water, so that in the final product only a weak form of it remains. Hahnemann himself used the “C scale” for dilution, a scale of his own making. For most diseases he suggested a 30C dilution, which means that for every part of the active ingredient 10030 parts of water must be used for dilution. The problem is that in order for this analogy to be achieved, one drop of the active ingredient must be diluted in an amount of water that is equal to all the matter of our solar system! Unfortunately, in Hahnemann’s time nobody knew what a molecule or an atom was and they thought that any substance could be diluted infinitely. Today, even homeopaths admit that there is not even one single molecule of the active substance in the dilution they sell.
But then how can they claim that what they sell has any effect? And here is were it really becomes absurd, as they refer to the “memory of water”; meaning, whichever ingredient has gone through a quantity of water leaves a print -a memory- of itself in it, even thought absolutely nothing can be detected with any instrument we employ. They attribute the existence of this memory mechanism to science’s inability to prove that it doesn’t exist. In fact, so they claim, the more diluted a substance is, the stronger it is, since in this way a new energy form is released and the matter is spiritualised, obtaining a bodiless curative power. But even so, they fail to explain why we should buy their formulations and not choose instead tap water, since every molecule of water that exists on earth, due to water’s perpetual circulation, has come in contact with all the chemical substances around us. Why doesn’t water remember all of them anyway?
I feel I have to clarify the difference between a homeopathic medicine and a vaccine, as there is confusion concerning the two. Vaccines are made of weakened or even dead viruses, that are introduced in a healthy body, so that its immune system “is familiarized” with them and can fight them when they intrude naturally in the organism. The homeopathic “medicine” is supposed to introduce to the organism a substance that causes an illness, to someone who is already ill, arbitrarily claiming that this will provide a cure. Some homeopaths even conclude in having the ability to cure pestilent diseases, arthritis, schizophrenia, heart deficiencies, the Down syndrome (!), AIDS and even some forms of cancer. Many are the cases when homeopaths reject the usability of vaccines and deter those who make the mistake of taking them seriously from medical science. But they fail again and again to present a shred of evidence for the efficiency of their own formulations (in 2015, in Australia, a review of 225 research papers concluded that homeopathy is ineffective) while vaccination provides a celebrated method of fighting diseases and pandemics and has led to the eradication from the planet of smallpox and the restriction of polio to only parts of four countries (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan).
Homeopathy is not science, it is a practice. All studies, research and experiments performed both on homeopathic medicines and their recipients, show that at best we can attribute their so called success anecdotes to the placebo effect. Meaning the confirmation bias effect of a patient (or a doctor) observing erroneously health improvement when there is none or attributing it to the wrong cause. For example, many of the diseases homeopathy claims to cure are self-cured (they are healed even without intervention). They also have success on curing illnesses the symptoms of which are diminishing in the short term only to reappear later, leaving the naive observer with the impression of a cure. But we shouldn’t tire ourselves too much, even homeopathy believers revel in the fact that homeopathy is beneficial through the placebo effect!!!
Homeopathy isn’t just a fallacy; it is a dangerous one indeed. A quick google search will provide you with a plethora of deaths of people who preferred this exotic and “close to nature” method, not willing to trust their health to the “conventional, chemical medical science”. Cases of incarceration of parents for failing to provide proper medical care for their children by letting a homeopath treat them in stead of a proper physician, leading even to their death, are abundant.
Let’s take the nine month old Gloria Thomas. Little Gloria had eczema, and her homeopathic “doctor”, who happened to also be her father, treated her (basically meaning, as previously established, that he was giving her water) but her health deteriorated instead of improving. In May 2002 she was admitted in a hospital with skin and eye infections. After 3 days she died of septic poisoning that caused lung haemorrhage. It was a case that could probably be resolved if treated properly in time, and in any case the infant shouldn’t have suffered more than necessary if it couldn’t. The same could happen to anyone who shows apparently harmless symptoms that hide a serious illness. The homeopath is often incapable of correctly diagnosing a disease, since it is not necessary (at least in some countries) to have any medical degrees. A characteristic example is the famous G. Vithoulkas, who graduated from the Indian Institute of Homeopathy. It is also indicative that one can have a post graduate degree in Homeopathy (there is no specialization in homeopathy in Greece) after attending the 3-year program of the Hellenic Homeopathic Medical Society, with classes attended in a central hotel in Athens.
Off course it can be argued that there is no harm with addressing a homeopath when dealing with the common cold or a headache, and not an incurable disease or a difficult illness like septicemia. But this is admitting that homeopathy is a limited practice, a lesser method when compared with medical science. So why bother with it? Why risk your health and not go to a real doctor immediately?
Homeopathy gained advantage along with other “new age” trends: feng shui, aroma therapy, colour therapy, magnet therapy, reiki, holistic medicine, iridology, ear candling (!); the list goes on to overwhelming irrationality. It seems to be a part of the latent modern “return to nature”, where everything plastic and chemical is evil and everything that is green or smells nice is supposed to…improve your aura.
Homeopathy today is presented in a suit, self important and smiling. To questions of bad diagnosis, deaths and examples like Gloria’s above, they answer with marketing lines like “Trust homeopathy, be careful of homeopaths”, as if it is a few bad apples in the business that give it a bad name, when in fact it is the practice of the original method that is problematic. In effect, behind this billion dollar affair, one can only find profit, exploitation of people in need, dogmatism, lack of scientific education and gullibility. Homeopathy must be placed where it belongs, along with the other spectres that stand against rationality and science.