Wikipedia on Homeopathy: Clinical Trials

A series of posts examining some of the statements made on Wikipedia regarding Homeopathy. (These comments derive from a 2012 edition of the Wikipedia article. Only those statements have been reproduced which are misleading and should be corrected.)

More fun in Paragraph 4:

Wikipedia: “Homeopathic remedies have been the subject of numerous clinical trials, which test the possibility that they may be effective through some mechanism unknown to science.

Did the writer really need to include that last phrase? He got this close to making a factual statement! But ending a sentence about homeopathy with the word “effective” might have occasioned a vasovagal episode…. I wonder if researchers really spend their time and limited financial resources testing whether something they feel has no scientific basis might be possible. Or, alternatively, do they test such things with the purpose of proving they are not possible?

Wikipedia: “While some individual studies have positive results, systematic reviews of published trials have failed to demonstrate efficacy.”

Up until very recently, the standard line from the medical fundamentalists was that NO clinical trial had EVER demonstrated efficacy. Now, as you see, they have fallen back to the line that “systematic reviews” haven’t shown efficacy.

And yet, both of these assertions are false. Some systematic reviews have shown efficacy, some have not. Some clinical trials have shown efficacy, and some have not. Some years ago, a prominent medical journal published a systematic review that found that the higher the quality of the research, the more likely a particular study was to find homeopathy effective. Most recently, a systematic review by the Swiss government concluded that homeopathy should continue to be funded by that country’s national health service.  

By and large, clinical trials and “systematic reviews” of clinical trials are conducted by organizations with a lot of monetary resources. In fact, they are usually conducted by drug companies or other organizations (universities, foundations) being funded by drug companies. When any Tom, Dick or Harry can make a homeopathic remedy with a mortar, pestle, lactose and water, companies that make pharmaceuticals have a clearly vested interest in the idea that homeopathy doesn’t work. If you think that the bias that showed up in that first sentence we examined has no effect on the outcome of a clinical research trial, I have some evidence-based medicine to sell you.  

Furthermore, if clinical trials were the final arbiter of objective truth, they would always give a similar answer to a single question. But even high-quality clinical trials contradict each other frequently. Every year, new guidelines are issued, drugs are removed from certain indications, drugs are even removed from the market when we learn that they are dangerous to life. This is not a very impressive system to cite in the assertion that homeopathy doesn’t work.  

The current paradigm for testing pharmacological drugs relies largely on pools of pre-selected subjects who suffer from a common named condition, the discrete existence of which is often debatable. (Is “depression” a single medical condition with definable pathology? “Autism”? “Insomnia”?)  

This approach is nearly impossible to apply to homeopathy and homeopathic remedies, because homeopathy is always patient-centered, not condition-centered. While the homeopath’s goal is to remove the symptoms of disease, this is done by understanding what is characteristic in the individual case of disease at hand, not by giving the disease a name and generalizing the treatment of that disease to everyone who has it. So, choosing a medical condition and giving one homeopathic remedy to everyone who has that condition is a meaningless exercise and, by homeopathic standards, will always yield poor results.  

(The edition of the Wikipedia page that we are examining existed sometime during 2012. We will not attempt to keep up with the page edits since then.)


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