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mattbrowne's avatar

Debunking homeopathy - Best book or best article?

Asked by mattbrowne (31648points) February 23rd, 2012

My wife is a teacher and she’s looking for good scientific material analyzing homeopathy. We both know that homeopathy’s effectiveness for some medical problems relies on the placebo effect. For other medical problems it has been found to be totally ineffective. And dangerous if it was the only treatment a patient received.

I never searched for books on the issue before and tried this today using all kinds of keywords like debunking, criticism, pseudoscience, illusion, and so forth. Both for German and English books. I couldn’t find a single one. Instead I always got thousands of hits with books praising homeopathy. Wow. So the best way might be to look for good articles, ideally written in a simple way that 11th graders can follow.

Any advice?

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12 Answers

cazzie's avatar

Ben Goldacre has a book called, ‘Bad Science’. It has a section with loads of references on homeopathy. here is his website:

ragingloli's avatar

James Randy swallows an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills before every show.
You can do that to demonstrate the uselessness of homeopathic scams.

picante's avatar

Dr. Dean Edell, once a “holistic” doctor, has spent a good deal of his professional career debunking homeopathy. While I don’t have a specific link for you, you can research him to see if relevant data can be found.

Qingu's avatar

I don’t have a specific recommendation, though I imagine that one of the best ways to debunk homeopathy is to get your hands on a book that explains what homeopathy is.

Homeopathy is based on the idea that if you swallow an infinitesmally small amount of X, the effect will be the opposite of X. Find a homeopathy text that explains this clearly and any thinking person should conclude that it’s absurd.

AdamF's avatar

In addition to Ben Goldacre’s book (which is great!), get a hold of Simon Singh’s “Trick or Treatment”. It has a dedicated chapter on homeopathy, and is equally worthy of praise.

Both excellent reads, and they compliment each other well despite covering similar topics.

gorillapaws's avatar

There is a chapter dedicated to homeopathy in Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh. It’s had a lot of great reviews. The book takes the approach of acknowledging that each treatment may actually work and then uses the evidence available to evaluate it like any other medical treatment would be to determine if it’s pseudoscience.

Rarebear's avatar

I actually look at it a little differently. There are plenty of demonstrations like Randi’s sleeping potion trick, but since homeopathy is basically water, the null hypothesis is that it doesn’t work. I don’t say, “Prove it doesn’t work,” I say, “Prove that it does work.” Does that make sense?

That said, if you’re looking for good arguments against, The Science Based Medicine website/blog is a good place to start.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Rarebear Singh takes the approach you describe. I apologize if I mischaracterized how the book treats the subjects. Essentially, they give each treatment a fair unbiased chance to prove their safety/efficacy the way any medical treatment would be given, and none of them hold up. His approach is useful because it allows people who may be open to these treatments to get the sense that the author isn’t “out to get them” or is unfairly biased against their particular pseudoscience of choice.

While it turns out that homeopathy is just water, I think it’s reasonable to approach it (at least initially) as having the potential for plausibility (there is theoretically a mechanism that might have an effect via the agitation of the molecules). It turns out that the hypothesized mechanism doesn’t work, and the result is just water.

Rarebear's avatar

@gorillapaws I haven’t read Singh’s book, but I know of him and I have a lot of respect for him. He’s got bona fide skeptic creds.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thanks, everyone. In the meantime I found an excellent German article debunking homoepathy that my wife finds very useful for her classroom project. Interestingly there was one reference to a recent study conducted in England

“Homeopathy has clinical benefits in rheumatoid arthritis patients that are attributable to the consultation process but not the homeopathic remedy: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Exploratory double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial conducted from January 2008 to July 2008, in patients with active stable RA receiving conventional therapy. Eighty-three participants from three secondary care UK outpatient clinics were randomized to 24 weeks of treatment with either homeopathic consultation (further randomized to individualized homeopathy, complex homeopathy or placebo) or non-homeopathic consultation (further randomized to complex homeopathy or placebo).”

Stinley's avatar

It works only through the placebo effect. I did read the Bad Science stuff which us very clear and readable

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