Homeopathy as a Science

Hundreds of millions of people are followers of homeopathy — practitioners and patients alike. Are they all complete idiots?  I don’t think so.  They may be wrong in most things, but classifying them as idiots invites huge misunderstandings.  This is just one of my “Confessions of a Homeopath” series where I explore how homeopaths may view themselves.

Is homeopathy a science? Her followers probably think so. So let’s use my “Discussing Science” diagram to explore this issue.

I am going to generously include Homeopathy in the “Science Communities” by definition in that they would call themselves a science. This is more of an anthropological labeling than a evaluative categorization. For example, in England’s Science community homeopathy is like #1 in my diagram.  It belongs partially in Orthodoxy because homeopathic “medicine” is covered by the British National Health Service payments. Though this is a huge controversy in England, at present, Homeopathy is thus partially accepted in the edge of orthodoxy. Likewise in India, Homeopathy is recognized as one of its national systems of health with licensing required.

In The USA, however, homeopathy may be like #3 — well outside of orthodoxy, but sharing fields with some herbalists. However, many herbalists would flat out reject homeopathy. In 1900 there were 22 homeopathic colleges in the USA. Their success led to the rejection of bloodletting and purging used in orthodox medicine at that time. During the epidemics of the late 1800’s death rates in homeopathic hospitals were lower than conventional hospitals where orthodox treatments did far more harm than good. In this atmosphere orthodox medicine conspired to shut down homeopathy, not for scientific reasons but economic. And using the government as their weapon, Homeopathy was decimated in the USA.

It is these true stories that feed the lore of homeopathic sympathizers and nourish their self-image as a nobel science.

Now, let’s go through my “Properties of Science-Communities” and see if Homeopathy can be considered a science using that list. You will see that I will examine this list both from the perspective of the Orthodoxy followers and the Homeopathy followers.

  • Explorative: Homeopathy began as revolutionary and very explorative in the years of its foundation. Even today, occasionally new remedies are “discovered”.
  • Systematic: Homeopathy is intricately systematized.  They organize their knowledge at many levels.  Remedies, symptoms, psychological make-ups and methods are all tightly connected.
  • Inviting Doubt: Here homeopathy is lacking. For the most part, they feel the truth about medicine is already discovered and there is no reason to doubt their methods.
  • Inviting Correction: Homeopaths have different opinions of treatment methods. Some prefer to only do constitutional treatment while others may be content with symptomatic treatment — most mix these. There are varying opinions on the best dilutions. There are varying opinions on the descriptions of the constitutional characteristics of the remedies. All these result in different schools of homeopathy. So some would say there is still correction going on, but over all homeopathy is very closed to correction
  • Hypothesis Testing: Homeopaths publish research to prove themselves to Orthodox medicine and so as not to be further excluded from access to patients via the reach of Orthodox hegemony. Articles using all the familiar research methods and statistics of orthodoxy are published — rarely in orthodox journals, however. The articles generally have very poor methodology and conclusions.
  • Methodological Naturalism: American Homeopaths of the Kent school are Swedenborgian in that they think god’s essence flows through all things and that the remedies contain formative intelligence and is an agent through which god works. Teachers in other schools also have a rather mystical notions of the divine and how nature works. Almost all homeopaths consider nature as purposeful and good. This is not a methodological naturalism stance.
  • Consilience:  Homeopathy  claims to be a “Wholistic” science because its theories intimately tie together the psychological temperament of a person with their physical suffering.  Further, homeopathy pays attention to the smallest of particular symptoms which a patient may complain of whereas orthodoxy often ignores what it can not understand how to treat. But homeopathy  is limited to medicine and does not reach out to relate to principles of other sciences.


Hopefully I have made it clear how followers of Homeopathy could see homeopathy as a science, while likewise showing where they are lacking in crucial properties which allow orthodoxy to reject them as a science.  Also, I think it is important to see the tug and pull of the politics of these groups to determine orthodoxy and influence.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

15 responses to “Homeopathy as a Science

  1. PS
    Wow, as of noon today, 431 folks have visited this post from Reddit. Though, alsas, I doubt few of those have read it.

    But one did, and challenged my claim that “hundreds of millions of people” are followers of homeopathy.

    So for you doubters (and to get one comment on this thread), I offer you this support:

    In fact, over 100 million people in India depend solely on this form of medical care. (This number does not include the patients who consult a homeopath besides consulting another practitioner)
    Reference: Raekha Prasad, Homeopathy booming in India. Lancet, 370: November 17, 2007,pp.1679-80.

    The WHO states that Homeopathy is the second most used medical system internationally, with over $1 Billon in expenditures for such therapy. In the United states, there are more that 500 physicians and 5000 non-physicians using Homoeopathy 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.
    Ref: Lawrence M.Tierney, Jr. et al, “Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment”, USA: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 2004 (1701-03; 4thEd)

  2. “The WHO states that Homeopathy is the second most used medical system internationally”

    Calling it a “medical system” is the where the problem starts. It’s not a medical system if it has no medicinal value or medical benefit. The 100 million people in India are using it because 1. they have been tricked into thinking it’s beneficial and, 2. they don’t have any real medicine available. It’s like the 10’s of millions of people in the U.S. who don’t have health insurance and are relying on prayer. That doesn’t make prayer a medical system.

    It’s not the “second most used medical system internationally”… it’s the first most common medical scam.

  3. Do these over 100 million followers of homeopathy in India have access to more then one medical system ?

    Heres a link to the complete study http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)61709-7/fulltext
    As a counter anecdote one man was promised a cure for AIDS and sold his tractor to afford homeopathic remedies, he got worse and said homeopath is being prosecuted. (see the second paragraph of the text)

    Could you please define “depend”, do they use it on regular basis, once in a while, is it a must have for them to live ?

  4. @ Cat’s Staff
    I love your blog. Your recent post with the Rap video pushing for Homeopathy in Africa is scary. But now to your comment:
    (1)Medical Systems
    I don’t want to argue terms with you. I find arguing terms to be a very difficult path to understanding. Define “Medical System” as you like. Then give me a term for the medicine of shamans, faith healers, yoga and much more. I use the term in an anthropological sense. Create whatever terms you want. I understand that you are upset with the way that phrase can manipulate but it is used that way in anthropology.

    Yes, it is cheap, they are tricked and it offers some hope where none exists. And well off people use it there too — they too are tricked.

    @ Lowe Schmidt
    Yes, they have access in various degrees to Homeopathy, Ayurvedic Medicine, and Modern Medicine — there are others too — shamanistic, local herbals and magical medical gigs.

    Yes, like you and Cat, I am disgusted at the scam of homeopathy. Problem is, many of the practitioners fully believer their practice. That is part of the problem and part of my article.

    Don’t get hung up on the word “depend” — many folks can’t afford any different medicine or that is all that is available and thus there is a dependence of sorts.

  5. DaCheese

    I am interested In the historical aspect you mentioned with the homeopathic hospitals. Are there any particular articles you recommend?

  6. @ DaCheese
    I will be glad to look into that for you. It has been 20 years since I read about this sort of thing both when I did Homeopathy training and when I did my MPH at Hopkins.
    But I had a planned post on this topic — just need time to get to it. Just now I am working more on guitar blues, German and python programming — not to mention trying to keep up on my medical journals.🙂
    But it will be fun to review again. Explaining this sort of thing may help folks understand homeopathic thinking outside of just being pure stupid, I think. What is your take on the posts to date?

  7. Earnest

    Thanks Sabio this is one of the most effective & convincing condemnations of Homeopathy I have read.

  8. Wow, Earnest, you got it ! For many Reddit folks my post pushed reflexive buttons and they were angry at me. Funny how people read. But Earnest, got it. I was starting to wonder if I should have been more clear. I was trying to be subtle in a way that made the point while pushing the envelope of understanding also.

  9. Earnest

    I guess many readers may have stopped reading before the concluding paragraph. I think those lines make it clear that in your opinion Homeopathy, as it exists today, has one if not several critical weaknesses which condemn it to exist perpetually outside the circle of orthodoxy. Great diagrams, by the way.

  10. @ Earnest
    Yes, I think you are right. But I must say, as my diagram illustrates, being outside of orthodoxy does not necessarily condemn one to not holding truths.

  11. in some ways, the response to homeopathic and other “alternative” treatments can be compared to the European witch trials – which was often economically motivated doctors charging midwifes and herbalists with witchcraft to get rid of the competition.

    The difference today being that today, the reasons for being against alternatives is that there’s no basis in science or reality for the alternative treatments and they are often a waste of time, money and sometimes contraindicated

    but with people being able to chose and decide what options to pursue, people who are desperate will listen to anyone promising what they want to hear – minimal effort cures

  12. @Random Ntrygg
    I think it is being unscientific when say

    the reasons for being against alternatives is that there’s no basis in science or reality for the alternative treatments

    But since you are not grossly generalizing when you say:

    they are often a waste of time, money and sometimes contraindicated

    I will certainly agree there.
    But you do realize that Western Medicine is sometimes a wast of time and money. It is just that alternative treatments tend to be far more so.

  13. The good thing about Homeopathy is that the less you use it the more it works.

  14. @ J Cosmo,
    Funny, I think !
    Yeah, I don’t think it works at all except as placebo.

  15. Yes, it was meant to be funny. Glad you picked that up!

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