The dilution problem
Many critics of homeopathy have highlighted the fact that in most homeopathic remedies the original substance is diluted to such as extent that no molecules of the substance remain in the remedy.
Homeopaths have argued that the critics are missing the point of the succession process. It is not necessary for any of the original substance to remain as the succession process somehow imprints a ‘memory’ of the substance into the water.
The claim that water has a memory is a controversial one to say the least, and it is rejected by most mainstream scientists. However, supporters of homeopathy have pointed out that an unusual effect that occurs at the sub-atomic level could explain how water could have a memory. (Sub-atomic is a term used to describe the smallest particles found in the universe, such as electrons and photons).
If you split a pair of sub-atomic particles, they will both fly off into separate directions. If you then interact with one of the particles in order to change how it moves (known as its quantum spin), the second particle will also change in the same way, even if both particles are millions of miles apart.
This is known as quantum entanglement which the famous scientist Albert Einstein described as ‘spooky action at a distance’.
Some supporters of homeopathy have argued that a similar process takes place during succession. That is, sub-atomic particles inside the substance become entangled with sub-atomic particles in the water which gives water its memory.
However, there is currently no proof that quantum entanglement is involved in homeopathy.
Lack of clinical evidence
The second issue that many critics of homeopathy raise is the lack of conclusive clinical evidence from medical trials to show that homeopathy is effective.
For example, a study published in The Lancet, in 2005, looked at over 100 clinical trials and could find no evidence that homeopathy worked any better than a placebo.
A placebo is the unusual psychological effect that sometimes occurs when a person is given a ‘dummy’ medication, such as a sugar pill. They feel better after taking the pill because they think that they are being given real medication.
Supporters of homeopathy have argued that the way that most medical trials are run means that they are inherently at odds with the way that homeopathy works.
How medical trials work
In order to better understand this argument, it is useful to know how medical trials work. Most medical trials are what are known as double-blind randomised controls trials (RCTs).
In simple terms, if you wanted to test a new medication for migraines, you would sign up 200 people - 100 people would get an existing medication and the other 100 people would get the new medication.
Neither those taking part in the trial, or the researchers who are running the trial, would know who was getting the old medication, and who was getting the new medication until after the trial had finished. This is known as ‘double-blinding’, and it is done to reduce the risk of bias.
For example, if someone who is running the trial was aware of who was being given which type of medication, they could deliberately choose people with less severe symptoms to receive the new medication as they are more likely to report that the medication is effective.
After the test groups have been given their medication, the researchers use a standardised scale to record the pattern of everyone’s symptoms. For example, a scoring system could be set up where people get a point for every day they go without a migraine.
At the end of the trial, the scores are added up to determine which medication worked the best.
Therefore, to summarise, medical trials are:
- randomised - where nobody knows who is getting what treatment until the trial has finished, and
- standardised - where everyone receives a similar sort of treatment and their symptoms are recorded in the same way.
Homeopaths argue that the principles of standardisation and randomisation go against the principles of homeopathy as each patient requires an individual approach that has been specifically designed for their individual circumstances.