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A Promising Sceptic

Robert Todd Carroll, Ph.D, was a professor of philosophy at Sacramento City College till he retired in 2007. He set up the ◦Skeptic's Dictionary on-line in 1994. It was also published as a book in 2003. The following sums up and relates to several key points of his entry 'homeopathy' in that Dictionary.
Robert Todd Carroll, modified photo.
Dr Robert Todd Carroll. Photo used with permission.

Remedies that are names, are without much harm

The term 'homeopathy' is derived from two Greek words: homeo, similar, and pathos, suffering. Homeopathy originated in the 1800s, when bloodletting was a popular medical practice. The originator of homeopathy was Christian F. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). His alternative to bloodletting and other conventional practices of his day was more humane and less likely to cause harm, in that the remedies he developed, were diluted. Many of them were unlikely to cause harm in themselves.

Hahnemann put forth his ideas of disease and treatment in The Organon of Homeopathic Medicine (1810) and Theory of Chronic Diseases (1821). He believed that very small doses of a vigorously shaken and diluted (in one word: succused) medication (substance) could have very powerful healing effects, but also issued dire warnings about the perils of diluting medicines too much: it might have serious or even fatal consequences if the medicines became too powerful that way, he said.


The question, "How to dilute lead in alcohol that way?" deserves an honest answer: First make some metal shavings, and then shake them in alcohol in a routinely manner. The metal is not diluted that way; the underlying idea is that the water somehow absorbs and records the influence-pattern of the substance lead. Here is a caveat: If the liquid in a glass bottle absorbs and records things it get in contact with, not just lead but also the glass walls are to be reckoned with, the cork of rubber, cork or plastic of the bottle used, and the alcohol in it too. These could influence the remedy. Put another way, why should lead be recorded above the other factors that go into the making? A human hand is also an influence, if the electromagnetic field in and around it is recorded in the water or alcohol. To compare with, blessed water in sacraments and otherwise is in no small way dependent on touches.

A lot of potential influences are often overlooked. They are there in the process, which may last for weeks and months on end, since it takes time to "dilute (succuse) water with water a hundred thousand times", or "dilute (succuse) alcohol with alcohol in the same way" to get a CM potency of a remedy.

Another overlooked, potential influence is that of putting high-potencies of homeopathic remedies shoulder by shoulder, side by side, so that the one influences the other and their possible influences mingle. I have seen no serious treatment of that "hidden contamination idea" in homeopathic circles. However, if homeopathic remedies have biomagnetic fields that extend beyond the glasses, those fields may blend. What then? You think you get the name of homeopathic Gold (Aurum metallicum) only, but get Gold mingled with the named auras of fifteen other remedies in one scenario. It suggests lack of control -

Kirlian photos show a corona surrounding certain remedies. Then again, Kirlian photography is may be explained or explained away. Now, Dr Igor Jerman and associates of the Institute for Bioelectromagnetics and New Biology in Ljubljana in Slovenia investigated the Kirlian corona discharges of water-drop pairs. They had already documented that "even extremely weak electromagnetic (EM) fields can be "imprinted" into water", and now sought to differentiate better. To this end they used a modified form of Kirlian photography and computer picture analysis of Potassium iodide and came up with repeatable and statistically significant effects of potentisation. It led them to conclude that "there is some physical basis of molecular (ionic) information imprinted into water." The "Instrumental measuring of different homeaopathic dilutions of Potassium iodine in water" (1999). [◦Research findings]

Still startling

Back to Dr Hahnemann: eventually he claimed that there was no need for patients to swallow the medicines at all; but merely smell* them. Unfortunately, that latter idea seems unfounded, for there is nothing left to sniff for higher potencies, only water diluted with water up to nearly 100,000 times - and depending on how the remedy is produced,.

* Compare: One of the most comprehensive investigations done to date on aromatherapy failed to show any improvement in either immune status, wound healing or pain control among people exposed to two often-touted scents, lavender and lemon. They are two of the most popular scents tied to aromatherapy. "But the human body is infinitely complex. If an individual patient uses these oils and feels better, there's no way we can prove it doesn't improve that person's health," says William Malarkey, professor of internal medicine, and one of a troika heading the study. (Holland 2008).

Non-poisonous medicine for keeping healthy

Ordinary prescribed drugs seem to have side effects, every one of them. Even tap water in large amounts may do harm. It is a matter of what amounts a body can handle. If you drink ten liters of water a day, you risk a lot, and may not benefit either. It is the same with prescribed medicine: Too much of the thing could be bad for you. What is too much is largely individual, but also age-related. There are mistakes done in this field, and statistics document it. Malpractice is called "the third leading cause of death in the United States" When harmful treatments and other causes of illnesses and death add up, it is malpractice. Now, "prevention is better than malpractice" - it is better to live so well that it increases one's chances to live longer and happier. A healthy lifestyle if we can afford it. By adhering to ways and means that attestedly improve one's odds for having a healthier and longer life, we can lessen the impact of malpractice too, as a healthy population could starve it out. Holistic health perspectives definitely help (Gorden 2001).

Postulated homeopathic strengths - also called potencies - are had by diluting a substance or liquid in several set ways. Two potency scales are in common use: the decimal, which proceeds by 1:10 steps, and the centesimal (1:100). Starting from the original "mother tincture" (in the case of a plant this is an alcoholic extract) a 1:10 or 1:100 dilution is made. This is succussed (shaken and diluted) and the resulting solution is known as the first potency. This now serves as the starting point for the next step of succession (diluting and shaking), which results in the second potency, and so on. The 1:10 potencies are usually indicated by x or D and the 1:100 by c; thus Aurum met (Gold) 6c means the 6th centesimal potency of the metal gold is used. There are few or no gold molecules back after a dilution process, and that is a good reason to call the remedies non-poisonous. It is also the reason why persons without an eye to the subtler sides to existence call them humbug. Some loosening-up might help them; who knows? [Dr Karin Lenger's research in a nutshell]

Hahnemann believed it was the spirit in the body that did the balancing and harmonising needed for keeping healthy. His medicines were designed to help the vital spirit work its ways, and his remedies were determined by the patient's symptoms, not by the supposed disease causing those symptoms.

Homeopathic "laws" that were not laws

"Beer was allowed. The result was arrays of symptoms." (From the text)

Many of Hahnemann's ideas did not tie in greatly with experiences. One of his basic assumptions was that whatever caused derangement symptoms in a healthy person could be made a homeopathic emedy for a disease with similar symptoms. However, many common homeopathic preparations are prepared from common foods that may not (easily) produce other symptoms than satiety, like milk, honey, several vegetables, and so on. Also, many so-called disease tokens found by overindulging in substances, are general body reactions to (symptoms of) just that, and not particular symptoms that speak much of the poisoning effects of a substance itself.

Another of Hahnemann's notions was that any remedy would cause the patient to get worse before getting better and that one could minimise this negative effect by significantly reducing the size of the dose. That notion is debatable.

Worse still, Hahnemann and other early homeopaths gave themselves and prison inmates poisonous metals and other poisons first, and then administered homeopathic remedies of those metals and poisons to get them well again - hopefully. The trouble is that heave metals like lead is stored in the organism and can cause great damages, even death.

Hahnemann experimented on himself with various drugs over several years and concluded that medicines should be given in single doses, not in complex mixtures. But today, many homeopaths do administer complex mixtures.

Coffee, chess, tea, wine, brandy and spices were forbidden to those persons who gradually poisoned or "half-poisoned" themselves by homeopathic substances, but beer was allowed. The result was arrays of symptoms that were ascribed to the substances that went into potentised preparations. But people differ in their responses, and it is an open question what and whose symptom descriptions fit best, if any. Accordingly, one hundred homeopaths preparing a remedy for one patient might theorietically come up with one hundred different remedies - or fifty, or twenty, or ten, for that matter. Opinions differ, and at times widely.

Further, another source of error is that Hahnemann based the provings of remedies largely on symptoms only supposed to have been produced in his chronic patients.

It stands out from this that Hahnemann's methods of testing or guessing (theorising) were defect. For one thing, he was not actually testing the medicines for effectiveness on sick people but for their effects on healthy people (!). And he had to rely on subjective evaluations of his provers. Later investigators should use more controlled methods of proving.

Great customer satisfaction with homeopathic preparations are no scientific evidence that they work in themselves, per se. Nor is anecdotal evidence, no matter how impressive it may sound.

So far homeopathy may not sound impressive or good, but wait:

The World Health Organisation states that homeopathy is the second most used medical system internationally, with over $1 billion in expenditures for such therapy. Twenty to thirty percent of French and German physicians use homeopathy in clinical practice. In Great Britain, five homeopathic hospitals are part of the National Health System, and over 30% of generalists use homeopathy. In the United States, there are more than 500 physicians and 5000 nonphysicians using homeopathy in clinical practice, and 2.5 million Americans currently use homeopathic medicines - of which two-thirds are self-prescribed - spending more than $250 million annually. - McPhee et al. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, p 1763.

And besides, today there is photon research that documents and goes into sides to homeopatic remedies at last.

Doing clinical trials on potential medicines

Robert Carrol (picture) thinks that finding a statistically significant difference, positive or negative, between an experimental (drug therapy) group and a control group in one trial of a drug should usually be taken with a grain of salt. So should not finding anything statistically significant. It is not uncommon for twenty trials of a drug to result in several with positive, several with negative, and several with mixed or inconclusive results.

Of the hundreds of studies that have been done on homeopathic remedies the vast majority have found no value in the remedies. But some have. Such studies might be rewarding to pursue further and elaborate on.

If homeopathic remedies do not work, there is no need for a theory as to how they work. In one hitherto unpublished study I documented that a certain sort of replicas of homeopathic preparations - ◦MGA replicas - effected bacteria from common tap water. Even though the veterinarian's counting of bacteria was not so helpful - he gave up counting the bacteria of some samples when he got to a thousand - the overall results were there were well over 16 times more bacteria in geometrical average in the samples that had got special influence-treatment. The documents are public. The geometrical average of sixteen is really misleadingly low, for some of the bacteria in their Petri dishes had multiplied so much that the counting veterinarian decided to put "above 1000" as his count for some samples. [A little more]

Against such unpublished findings, findings that Carroll and others know nothing of, he says a bit askew that no reviews conclude that there is good evidence for any homeopathic remedy (HR) being effective. You might find I am somewhat sceptical to the statements of a sceptic . . . Then again, it is as it should be: an advancing sceptic needs to get sceptical to scepticism itself too, just to maintain consequence.


In the last two decades so-called meta-analyses have been used to evaluate the effectiveness of homeopathy. Such analyses include and draw on many groups of studies and draw conclusions based on the results as a whole. It is also known that end results depend in part on just how the analyses are designed. There is a possibility that different researchers using the same data, may in the end hold different views on what the data mean. It shows up that sometimes researcher attitudes are funneled into flawed "research findings"

On the Bright Side of It

A 2006 meta-analysis of six trials evaluating homeopathic treatments to reduce cancer therapy side effects following radiotherapy and chemotherapy found "encouraging but not convincing" evidence in support of homeopathic treatment. (S. Milazzo, N. Russell, E. Ernst. Efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer treatment. European Journal of Cancer, Volume 42 , Issue 3 , Pages 282 - 289)

In the British Medical Journal (Kleijnen et al, "Clinical Trials of Homeopathy. BMJ 302; 316-23, 1991), where a meta-analysis of 1991 covered 107 controlled trials. 81 of them showed that homeopathic medicines were effective, 24 showed they were ineffective, and 2 were inconclusive. The professors who published the material concluded, "The amount of positive results came as a surprise to us.".

There is room for more along this line, such as:

  • An independent group of physicians and scientists evaluated clinical research prior to October 1995. They reviewed 186 studies, 89 of which met their pre-defined criteria for their meta-analysis. They found that on average patients given a homeopathic medicine were 2.45 times more likely to have experienced a clinically beneficial effect. When reviewing only the highest quality studies and when adjusting for publication bias, the researchers found that subjects given a homeopathic medicine were still 1.86 times more likely to experience improved health as compared with those given a placebo.
  • A group of researchers at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital conducted four studies on people suffering from various respiratory allergies (hay fever, asthma, and perennial allergic rhinitis). In total, they treated 253 patients and found a 28% improvement in visual analogue scores in those given a homeopathic medicine, as compared with a 3% improvement in patients given a placebo. (The result was significant at P = 0.0007.). . . . The researchers conclude from their research that either homeopathic medicines work or controlled clinical trials do not.

(A book, Bellavite and Signorini's Homeopathy: A Frontier in Medical Science (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1995) is referred to and recommended by homeopathic doctors.)

What Now?

Wendy Kaminer is a critic of various irrational behaviours, but also a satisfied user of homeopathy, fearing "that someone would find out I'd consulted a homeopath" (1999; p. 3). She confesses:

Maybe I'm acting rationally after all . . . not using homeopathy if it works would be . . . irrational. I care only if medicine works, not why.

So . . . why would I want to start doubting - and diminishing - their effectiveness? Why not be susceptible to placebos?

She has focused on her belief that homeopathy works, saying "Don't take my word for it, try it yourself." And that is permitted for so many.

At this point Robert T. Carroll says that if something seems to work, he would rather want to investigate it. I agree with that. He says:

If a homeopathic remedy did cure me of my knee pain, I would want to investigate what was in the remedy . . .

If I could yo-yo the pain by stopping and starting the homeopathic remedy under double-blind conditions, I would have to conclude that the potion was having the effect and would have to become an advocate of that homeopathic remedy. This is just to say that homeopathic remedies can be empirically tested.

Yes to that too. Homeopathic preparations are more or less ideal for double-blind investigations that use placebo medicine.

Holding conclusions in suspense or not

Homeopathy itself is very effective or . . . very popular in Europe, especially among the royal family of Britain, Robert Carroll says. And there are schools of homeopathy "all over the world", and the fact that it is condemned as unscientific by some orthodox doctors is for many people a positive merit -

Potentised preparations are probably safe, he concurs, and that one potential danger is in the encouragement to self-diagnosis and treatment. Another danger lurks in not getting proper treatment by a conventional medical doctor in those cases where the patient could be helped by such treatment, such as for a bladder or yeast infection, or for cancer.

Robert Carroll may not have been alerted to that Dr Karin Lenger has proved that various high-potency homeopathic remedies really are different. See Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine Journal, Volume 15 Number 3 2004, and later published as "Homeopathic Potencies Identified by a New Magneti Resonance Method: Homeopathy—An Energetic Medicine" in Hpathy Ezine, December, 2006. [◦Link].

Since then she has gone further.


Scepticism as to homeopathy and Kirlian photography, Literature  

Bellavite, Paolo, and Andrea Signorini. Homeopathy: A Frontier in Medical Science. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1995.

Bellavite, Paolo, and Andrea Signorini. The Emerging Science of Homeopathy: Complexity, Biodynamics, and Nanopharmacology.. 2nd ed. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002 (limited view at Google Books)

Fisher, Peter. "Homeopathy and The Lancet." Oxford Journals: Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM). Vol.3, No. 1.

Gorden, James Samuel. Holistic Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishing, 2001.

Hahnemann, Samuel, and Constantine Hering. ◦Organon of Medicine. 4th American Edition. Philadelphia: Radde, 1869 (at Google Books). ⍽▢⍽ The one who started homeopathy wrote in 1810: "The results of my convictions are set forth in this book." He revised them in a sixth edition from ca 1842, a work that unfortunately did not come much to light for a long time. The work is a historical document.

Hahnemann, Samuel. ◦Chronic Diseases: Their Peculiar Nature and Their Homoeopathic Cure. (Theoretical Part) New Delhi: P. Jain, 2005. (At Google Books) ⍽▢⍽ Dr. Hahnemann thought well of his healing system, "Homoeopathy, the great gift of God!" and "This teaching was founded upon the steadfast pillar of truth and will evermore be so. The attestation of its excellence, yea, of its infallibility (so far as this can be predicated of human affairs), it has laid before the eyes of the world through facts." - Samuel Hahnemann.

Hines, Terence. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal.. New York: Prometheus Books, 2003.

Holland, Earle. "Aromatherapy may make you feel good, but it won't make you well." 2008. Research Communications. 3 March 2008. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University.

Kaminer, Wendy, in Robert T. Carrol. ◦The Skeptic's Dictionary. 1994-2011. Online. ⍽▢⍽ Well recommended reading

Kleijnen et al. "Clinical Trials of Homeopathy." British Medical Journal302, 1991.

Lenger, Karin. "Homeopathic Potencies Identified By A New Magnetic Resonance Method: Homeopathy—An Energetic Medicine." Hpathy Ezine, 2006.

McPhee, Stephen J., Lawrence M. Tierney, and Maxine A. Papadakis. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment. Ill. annot. 46th ed. New York: Lange Current Series / McGraw-Hill Professional, 2007.

Milazzo, S., N. Russell and E. Ernst. "Efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer treatment." European Journal of Cancer, Volume 42 , Issue 3.

Ullman, Dana. ◦Essential Homeopathy: What It Is and What It Can Do for You. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002 (Free view at Google Books).

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