Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Closing the books on homeopathy

There comes a point when there is absolutely no reason to continue investigating a claim for which there is no evidence (or significant evidence against).  Pursuing it beyond that point is a waste of money, time, and effort, and can only be explained by people's desperation not to have their pet idea proven wrong.

That point has been reached by homeopathy.  It is useless, unscientific horseshit.  Case closed.

But if by some chance you still were unconvinced, consider the paper that was withdrawn last week from the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  The title of the journal itself makes me wince a little; to paraphrase Tim Minchin, when alternative medicine has the support of evidence, it is thereafter known as "medicine."  But setting that aside for a moment, the paper in question was written by father/son team Aradeep and Ashim Chatterjee, and claimed that the homeopathic remedy "psorinum" was effective in treating cancer.

Without even knowing what "psorinum" is, any claim that a homeopathic "remedy" can cure cancer is about as close to medical fraud as you can skate without committing an actual crime.  If you don't know how "remedies" are created, the quick explanation is that you take a substance of some kind and dilute it past the point where there is any of it left, and then use the resulting water to treat whatever condition has symptoms like the ones created by ingesting the original substance.

For example: the homeopathic sleep-aid "calms forté" is made by diluting caffeine.  I shit you not.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

In the case of "psorinum," however, we have an additional level of "what the fuck?" to add; the "remedy" is made by diluting...

... wait for it...

... fluid from the blisters of someone who has scabies.

I feel obliged to say at this point that I am not making this up.  The site Homeopathy Plus, which is the source of the link above, says the following about "psorinum:"
Those who need Psorinum usually lack vitality and are prone to mental disturbances.  They catch infections easily, especially colds, and recover slowly.  Skin complaints are common and if unattended will be dirty and offensive but these days with frequent bathing and access to steroids, are less likely to be so.  The person is also likely to be anxious about health, work, poverty and the future which leads to depression, despair and sometimes, suicidal thoughts.
You read that right.  If you're depressed because you're poor, the treatment is to ingest serially-diluted scabies pus.

Anyhow, the Chatterjees wrote a paper suggesting that "psorinum" could treat cancer, and evidently that was too much even for Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  When it was found that (1) the "ethics board" that cleared the study the paper was based on was identical to the Board of Directors of a clinic the Chatterjees owned, and (2) both the father and the son were practicing medicine without a license, it was too much for the authorities, too, and the pair were arrested.

This, unfortunately, is not a unique occurrence.  Papers supporting homeopathy have, one and all, been shown to be cherry-picked, if not outright fraudulent.  100% of the controlled scientific studies of homeopathic claims have resulted in zero evidence in favor.

So enough people-hours and research grant money has been wasted on this.  Homeopathy was a ridiculous claim from the get-go, but it was only fair to test it.  The research community did so.  It failed.

Case closed.

Now, the next step is to get those useless sugar pills off the shelves at CVS and other pharmacies.  I know the principle of caveat emptor applies, and if you're choosing to waste your money on fake treatments, you deserve what you get.  But the companies that make this stuff are profiting off the general public's gullibility and ignorance, people are taking quack remedies for serious conditions instead of seeking out legitimate medical help, and the Food & Drug Administration needs to put a stop to it.

As far as the Chatterjees go -- to quote a friend of mine, "I hope they bring them some 'psorinum' sugar pills in jail to cure their 'anxiety about the future.'"  To which I can only add: "Would you like some highly-diluted skin lotion for that burn?"


  1. OMG, the path people take to live & defraud others is mind-blowing. I'm sure homeopathy will cure all that ails in jail.