Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Defending Homeopathy?

Timothy Caulfield published a nice article in The national Post last week where he lambasted naturopathy and homeopathy [Don’t legitimize the witch doctors]. Here's part of what he said ...
Allow me to lay my admittedly love-of-science, rant-tainted cards on the table. In general, the services provided by naturopaths reside either in the realm of commonsense lifestyle advice (get lots of sleep, eat well and stay active) or they have little empirical evidence to support their use. In fact, many naturopathic practices are based on a semi-spiritual theory (the healing power of nature), and have no foundation in science. They reside largely in the realm of pseudoscience.

Am I being too harsh? I recently worked with a University of Alberta colleague on an analysis of the websites for the naturopaths in Alberta and British Columbia. We wanted to get a sense of what is being offered to the public. In Alberta, the number one most commonly advertised service is homeopathy.

Homeopathy has been around for hundreds of years. The basic philosophy behind the practice is the idea of “like cures like.” A homeopathic remedy consists of a natural substance — a bit of herb, root, mineral, you get the idea — that “corresponds” to the ailment you wish to treat. The “active” agent is placed in water and then diluted to the point where it no longer exists in any physical sense.

In fact, practitioners of homeopathy believe that the more diluted a remedy is, the more powerful it is. So, if you subscribe to this particular worldview, ironically, you want your active agents to be not just non-existent, but super non-existent.

The bottom line: For those of us who reside in the material world, where the laws of physics have relevance, a homeopathic remedy is either nothing but water or, if in capsule form, a sugar pill.
There are people who don't live in the material world and they always pop out of the woodwork whenever their favorite superstitions are questioned. In this case, it's a homeopath named Karen Wehrstein who was given space on the newspaper website to respond to Timothy Caulfield [Homeopathy offers hope]. Wehrstein is described as ....
Karen Wehrstein is the executive director of the Canadian Consumers Centre for Homeopathy (, an organization formed in 2011 to educate the public about homeopathy and advocate for freedom of choice in health care.
In other words, she's a lobbyist for quackery. She runs the Homeopathy Centre of Muskoka. Here's part of what she has to say ...
Homeopathy’s big stumbling block to acceptance is that its medicines are diluted so much that people outside of the field can’t understand how they can possibly have an effect. There are, however many scientists who do have that expertise. So many, that there is an entire journal devoted to the field, the International Journal of High Dilution Research. And they seem to be getting intriguingly close to providing definitive answers.

Opponents of homeopathy claim that homeopathic medicines are “just plain water” with no medicinal properties. But increasing numbers of scientific findings are making it harder to maintain such as stance. One study has found that solutions prepared in the traditional homeopathic way — through repeated dilutions by mechanical shaking — have properties unlike plain water, with elements of the dissolved material. Another study suggests the solutions have an affect on living cells in vitro. Yet another study shows that solutions can be distinguished from each other, using the right equipment to determine their contents. And emerging research suggests that homeopathic solutions actually contain nanoparticles of the original dissolved material.
Students who have taken my course will recognize this kind of response. Science is so overwhelmingly respected these days that nobody can afford to be on the wrong side of scientific evidence. If you are defending quackery then you only have two choices; either you discredit the evidence against you or you make up scientific evidence to support your position. Most quacks do both. They end up simultaneously disparaging and praising scientists who work in the field.

If you're interested in the scientific truth and why Karen Wehrstein is so very wrong, then you can do no better that read what Diane Sousa has to say on Skeptic North where she takes apart all of Wehrstein's claims [A Response to Karen Wehrstein: Homeopathy Offers Hope but Delivers Only Sweet Nothings].