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.)
My original intention with this series had been to cover the entire Wikipedia article and its arguments against homeopathy. Having barely finished discussing the Wikipedia introduction, however, I am finding the whole thing a little tiresome. Most of the Wikipedia argument (90 percent) boils down to the size of a homeopathic dose, which subject encompasses a fraction of what homeopathy is and how it works. The other 10 percent consists mostly of mocking 18th century language.
In order not to belabor the point too vigorously, I would like simply to make the rest of my argument in this one very long post. So, here are a few more corrections that should be made to the Wikipedia page on homeopathy. I hope that for someone attempting to understand homeopathy or to understand the conflict between homeopathy and conventional medicine, these comments might be useful.
Wikipedia: A photograph of a vial of homeopathic pellets has the subtitle: “A homeopathic remedy prepared from marsh tea: The ’15C’ dilution shown here exceeds the Avogadro constant, so contains no trace of the original herb.”
The above claim is made solely on the basis of Avogadro’s theory of molecular distribution in a gas, postulated in 1811. Traces of the original substance have now been detected by material science in dilutions as high as 200C, and these results have been replicated. That dilution is equal to 1 part of the starting substance in 10 to the 400th parts of water. Clearly, the derived assumption that molecules always distribute evenly in a water solution is not true. How can we expect a scientism-ist to understand that a gas behaves differently than a liquid?
Wikipedia: “Homeopathy is a vitalist philosophy that interprets diseases and sickness as caused by disturbances in a hypothetical vital force or life force. It sees these disturbances as manifesting themselves as unique symptoms.“
Yes, homeopathy is a vitalistic medical discipline, just like acupuncture. The “vital force” is the archaic word we use to describe the idea that a person is more than the sum of his or her parts, that something energizes us which is not measurable or isolate-able. As in other holistic disciplines, disease is seen to arise from disturbances to the economy of the organism. Therefore, symptoms are seen not as individual diseases but as expressions of a disordered system.
Recent research is suggesting that if the “vital force” is something that regulates health, something that can be out of balance and something on which homeopathic remedies can exert an effect, then “vital force” may be accurately translated as “allostasis,” the deepest and broadest process by which the human body maintains physical health.
The beautiful thing about an expression like the “vital force” is that while it provides a basis for understanding the application of homeopathic remedies and assessing their action, one does not have to theorize about exactly what it is in order to apply the principles of homeopathy to a patient’s disease.
Wikipedia: “Homeopathy maintains that the vital force has the ability to react and adapt to internal and external causes, which homeopaths refer to as the ‘law of susceptibility’ (as with the ‘law of similars’ this is a term of art and not a natural law, and it lacks significant scientific acceptance).”
Is the writer questioning that the individual human body is susceptible to certain influences? Like, say, measles? Or arsenic? Or that this susceptibility varies from person to person? Like how some people died from smallpox and some people didn’t? Or why some people died from Vioxx and some people didn’t? I don’t think so, because such a position would be ridiculous.
The concept of susceptibility is exactly what the most cutting edge conventional researchers are working on right now in their development of drugs that take not only a person’s medical condition but also her genetics into account in treating her disease. It’s a pretty basic concept and not at all controversial in medicine. (Oh, and we don’t call it the “law of susceptibility,” just “susceptibility.”)
Wikipedia: “The law of susceptibility implies that a negative state of mind can attract hypothetical disease entities called ‘miasms’ to invade the body and produce symptoms of diseases.”
I’m gonna be generous and assume that the writers are simply in over their heads here.
Because they have never read the homeopathic literature with the honest desire to understand it, they are mixing up all sorts of concepts in one completely nonsensical statement. A cynical person might think they were doing this to make homeopathy seem ridiculous.
For example, the idea that I expressed above about the “vital force” being roughly equivalent to the body’s allostatic mechanisms is also an idea that Hippocrates had thousands of years ago. Hippocrates, of course, would have expressed “allostasis” as a “balance of humours” (water, fire, air, earth), another theory of health that Wikipedia labels as “discredited” (as if that were necessary).
We can parse old language by the standards of new science, we can make Hippocrates seem ridiculous (why not? we don’t even use his oath anymore), and we can pat ourselves all over the back for being so enlightened. Or, we can recognize that people like Hippocrates and Paracelsus and Hahnemann had a very deep understanding of health but had neither the precise research nor the specificity of language that we now have to express these ideas.
Homeopathic “miasm” theory, despite the funny word, is a complex understanding of chronic disease as the interaction between genetic susceptibility and germ theory. After all, what is a germ if not an “invading entity”? And what determines whether a particular germ makes you sick? Both how well you take care of your body (hygiene) and your inherited makeup (genetics). Some people are susceptible to certain types of illness, others to other types of illness, both infective and non-infective. This idea is the basis of homeopathic miasmatic theory. The idea is that if someone has a particular miasmatic susceptibility, a homeopath will need to address that deeper susceptibility to cure that person’s chronic disease.
Hahnemann never said that a state of mind attracts an invasion of disease. Homeopaths use states of mind as indicators (symptoms) of disease, but it is outside the realm of classical homeopathy to claim that states of mind attract disease. (It must be admitted that some modern homeopaths speak as if this were the case, but it is not an idea of Hahnemann’s.)
And, in the very next sentence, the Wikipedia writers say that Hahnemann actually did NOT believe in “invading entities” causing disease….
Wikipedia: “However, Hahnemann rejected the notion of a disease as a separate thing or invading entity, and insisted it was always part of the ‘living whole’.“
The meaning of the word, “miasma” during Hahnemann’s time was “invisible contagion.” Before Robert Koch and the microscope, these contagions were understood to arise from unhealthy living areas like swamps. Hahnemann spoke of that contagion spreading through the air in unhealthy places. It seems pretty clear from this that Hahnemann believed in invading entities.
In fact, Hahnemann’s entire system of chronic disease treatment is based on the idea of chronic infection.
What the writers don’t tell you here is that Hahnemann is conventional medicine’s Father of Hygiene. It was Hahnemann who alerted (Western) medicine to the fact that people living in certain conditions were more likely to contract and spread diseases that proliferated in those conditions. In fact, it was conventional doctors who didn’t recognize the idea of microbes until the microscope was invented some years later and they could actually see with their eyes. Much in the same way some don’t recognize homeopathy today because they can’t measure it yet.
Wikipedia: “Hahnemann proposed homeopathy in reaction to the state of traditional Western medicine at that time, which often was brutal and more harmful than helpful.”
Whoa, a true statement! Somebody at Wikipedia has been napping.
Hahnemann took ten years off from practicing medicine because he could not conscience bleeding and sweating people to death, nor giving people medicines that had never been tested as to their effects. That was another one of Hahnemann’s contributions to conventional medicine, the idea that we should test our drugs before we use them on people.
I couldn’t possibly make this up. They revere Hahnemann in medical history classes, and he has the only monument to a physician in the United States of America, but they don’t teach the same students that he also founded homeopathy.
Wikipedia: “Hahnemann coined the expression “allopathic medicine”, which was used to pejoratively refer to traditional Western medicine.”
And your point is …?
Wikipedia: Section: “Remedies”
Don’t you just love the picture of the remedy bottle from 1920? I wonder what the writers are trying to suggest?
Wikipedia: Section: “Preparation”
(Again with the archaic image.)
To clarify, an insoluble solid that is meant to produce a homeopathic remedy is first ground with lactose for three hours in decreasing concentrations. The resulting “triturate” is then diluted in water or alcohol and succussion is applied after each dilution. This is compatible with producing nano-particles of the original substance for medicinal application.
Wikipedia: Section: “Dilutions”
And we come again to the only real argument in all 30,000 words and 234 references, the argument we will see hashed and rehashed in the interminable evidence section at the bottom of the page. It is the foremost and really the only concern of the medical fundamentalists. They are invested in the idea of a material cause for any effect, and the idea of a homeopathic remedy having any material and therefore any effect is anathema.
A few final corrections:
Wikipedia: “In Hahnemann’s time, it was reasonable to assume the remedies could be diluted indefinitely, as the concept of the atom or molecule as the smallest possible unit of a chemical substance was just beginning to be recognized.”
Oh, now you think it’s reasonable for someone to rely for understanding on the knowledge of their time? How generous. As reasonable as it may have been, however, there is no evidence that Hahnemann made such an assumption. He commonly used dilutions below Avogadro’s constant.
Wikipedia: “The greatest dilution reasonably likely to contain even one molecule of the original substance is 12C.”
Yes, this is the prediction made by Avogadro regarding the distribution of molecules in a gas. Avogadro makes no prediction as to the distribution of nano-particles in a liquid solute that displays non-gas properties like surface tension. The presence of nano-particles of the original substance have now been detected by the instruments of physics in remedy potencies as high as 200C.
In case you think I’m being erudite with my use of the term, “nano-particles,” those are exactly the reason why conventional medicine now thinks the incidence of autoimmune disease is exploding in the U.S.: industrial nano-particles in the atmosphere. It could be! (It couldn’t possible be the overuse of petrochemicals and unnecessary pharmaceuticals.)
All the examples of how high our dilutions are come to naught in the face of demonstrable clinical results and positive studies, but it is the sticking point for the fundamentalists. Diluting one molecule in the “observable universe,” as they say, still doesn’t prepare the substance homeopathically, neither with trituration (grinding) nor with the energy added in the form of succussion. These are crucial to the preparation of a clinically effective homeopathic remedy, as shown by recent material science studies.
Otherwise, every sip of water we drank would be a homeopathic remedy. But because our tap water is not prepared homeopathically, it does not exert a homeopathic effect (unless it’s full of industrial nano-particles).
Wikipedia: “Those favoring low dilutions stressed pathology and a strong link to conventional medicine, while those favoring high dilutions emphasized vital force, miasms and a spiritual interpretation of disease.”
Spiritual? No. Vitalistic. But “spiritual” sounds so much more airy fairy!
Wikipedia: “Some products with such relatively lower dilutions continue to be sold, but like their counterparts, they have not been conclusively demonstrated to have any effect beyond that of a placebo.”
The linchpin here is “conclusively.” Conclusively in whose interpretation? It has certainly been conclusively demonstrated to this homeopath and in a number of well designed studies.
Wikipedia: Section: “Provings”
This is the section where the writers try their darndest not to admit that Hahnemann was the first western physician ever to demand that medicines first be tested before they be used on patients. Some naughty homeopath has been in here pointing out that fact, in the middle of which a fundamentalist reminds us that the dilutions are too high to have a molecule left. Yawn.
Wikipedia: “Though the proving process has superficial similarities with clinical trials, it is fundamentally different in that the process is subjective, not blinded, and modern provings are unlikely to use pharmacologically active levels of the substance under proving.”
The b.s. word keeps bubbling at my lips the more I read this stuff. This writer has never participated in a proving and has no authority to make such statements. Modern provings contain both subjective and objective data, sometimes including laboratory data, and can be blinded and placebo controlled. (They are not always so, but as in conventional clinical trials the methods are always included in the published results.) They can also use measurable doses of the original substance, which by the way is not a requirement for a drug test to be a “clinical trial.”
As in conventional clinical research, there are good provings that yield useful information, and there are weak provings that yield vague and clinically impossible information. That has more to do with the researcher(s) than it does with homeopathy in general.
Wikipedia: “As early as 1842, Holmes noted the provings were impossibly vague, and the purported effect was not repeatable among different subjects.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes was a jurist and writer, not a physician, definitely not a trained homeopath. He obviously never read a proving if he thought they were “vague” by conventional standards!
Holmes’s writings on homeopathy are a disgrace to his otherwise good name. He knew nothing about homeopathy except what a friend of his had told him. Holmes’s own physician was famous for stating that unless a doctor bled his patients he didn’t deserve to practice medicine.
Wikipedia: “ ‘Classical homeopathy’ generally involves detailed examinations of a patient’s history and infrequent doses of a single remedy as the patient is monitored for improvements in symptoms, while ‘clinical homeopathy’ involves combinations of remedies to address the various symptoms of an illness.”
Classical homeopathy generally sees the prescription of a single remedial substance, prescribed on the totality of the characteristic presenting symptoms and uncombined with other substances. “Clinical homeopathy” is homeopathy practiced in a clinical setting. It has nothing to do with combination remedies nor treating symptoms individually, none of which are considered classical or Hahnemannian or even “homeopathic” in application.
Wikipedia: Regarding homeopaths theorizing as to how remedies work: “However, the explanations are offered by nonspecialists within the field …”
Kinda like the Wikipedia writers publishing all this babble about a 200-year-old medical discipline they have never studied?
Dear Reader: If you have made it this far, I commend you for your efforts and apologize for your lost time. May you live and prosper!