In the last few years there has been an increasing criticism of the use of homeopathy as a medical treatment system. My suspicion is that this is happening because more and more people are using it and the other medical practitioners and the pharmaceutical companies are starting to feel it in their pocket books. In any case this is happening and it is increasingly annoying.
I want to give you a recent example of this and show how it is an example of prejudice, not the comments of a neutral observer. In the July 1, 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association is a letter to the editor by a professor of pharmacology at the veterinary school in Virginia. Right away we can be suspicious in that it is written by a professor of pharmacology as such a person is obviously focused on, and committed, to the use of drugs in treatment. If a system like homeopathy comes along and says these drugs are not necessary and even that not using them and instead turning to homeopathy will be more effective, this is a threat to such a person.
I won’t put up the whole letter but rather focus on the part that is criticizing homeopathy. Here is the excerpt:
Botanical medicine, homeopathy, and the placebo effect
The AVMA is currently exploring two aspects of complementary and alternative medicine: a petition before the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties for recognition of the American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine and a recent news report on the role of homeopathy in the veterinary profession.
As explained in the recent JAVMA News report homeopathy is an 18th-century notion that rests on two basic principles: “the idea that a substance capable of causing particular symptoms in a healthy individual will cure similar symptoms in a person with disease” (the so-called “law of similars”) and the idea that these substances retain their medicinal properties when highly diluted (so-called “potentization”). Large scale studies have shown that homeopathic preparations are not effective and that their reported positive actions are nothing more than a result of placebo effects. In veterinary medicine, some species—especially dogs. cats, and horses—may seem to react positively to placebos, but this generally is a result of conditioned responses to human-animal interactions, such as touch, voice, and visual cues. In addition, a phenomenon known as placebo-by-proxy has been described. by which an optimistic animal owner (or even the veterinarian) may imagine improvements in a sick patient when no true benefit has occurred.
As for homeopathy there seems little justification for recognizing a modality that has not been shown to be effective. The AVMA’s position is clear: “all aspects of veterinary medicine should be held to the same standards, including complementary, alternative and integrative veterinary medicine, non-traditional or other novel approaches.” When we ignore this basic principle, we undermine our credibility as a science based profession.
Notice the use of this language “homeopathy is an 18th-century notion.” I think I can say with some confidence that when this professor talks about the idea of using drugs in amounts enough to influence the body he does not introduce it by saying “use of drugs is a 6th century notion.” (I don’t know if 6th century is accurate, just picking it for effect.) To say “18th century” is to make is sound old and antiquated. Then to use the word “notion” it is a judgment. It is not a principle or a hypothesis, it is a notion. The dictionary defines “notion” as “a belief about something” or “a desire or impulse.” Obviously this denigrates the principle of homeopathic work, the great discovery made by Dr. Hahnemann that medicines could act in this way. It is an indication of pre-judgment, of prejudice.
The next thing to note is the statement “Large scale studies have shown that homeopathic preparations are not effective and that their reported positive actions are nothing more than a result of placebo effects.” What does large scale studies mean? A large number of test subjects? isn’t the critical factor in a study the decision if it is statistically significant or not? We don’t base the evaluation of something because a large number were involved. It depends on how it was set up and if properly controlled. By this standard there are many double-blind, controlled studies of homeopathic treatment that show greater effectiveness than the conventional use of drugs. Why is this ignored?
Then the most outrageous statement of them all is that any perceived effectiveness of homeopathy is due to “placebo.” When the word placebo is used this way it is dismissive, in other words, it is imagination, not real. The professor of veterinary medicine is actually saying that even though there are case reports of animals improving with homeopathic treatment it is all imaginary. In case it is too much a stretch to think that placebos act on animals (because they do not know what they are receiving), we will instead say the client has brought about imaginary improvement because of the way they interact with and touch their animal during the treatment. Is this a stretch or what? I can say, after 50 years of being a veterinarian, that I have not seen this correlation. Sure, it is important how the client thinks and acts towards their animal but this does not show up clearly as the factor that determines if the animal is better or not. Isn’t it incredible that instead of allowing the possibility that homeopathy may be an effective modality this person, ignorant of homeopathy, would make the statement that the clients of homeopathic practitioners are imagining improvements in their animals?
For one thing, there are many clients that come to us that use homeopathy and they are doubtful or skeptical about using this method yet will report improvements. But this ridiculous statement becomes more clearly so if we turn it around. Let us say that “placebo-by-proxy” is a significant happening in medicine. If so, does this not also apply to clients who report their animals are better with allopathic treatment? Or is the author of this letter saying this happens only with homeopathy?
Do you see the lack of intelligence in a letter like this? First of all it is coming from prejudice, a pre-formed conclusion, one made without any personal experience or study. It basically is what this professor was told by someone else. Then to ignore double-blind studies that have shown effectiveness of homeopathic treatment is to act with blinders. The final evidence is making the statement that when improvement with homeopathy is reported it is only imaginations of the client. This is not the action of intelligence, it is simply a closed mind expressing its limitations.
Unfortunately this is commonly the sort of criticisms being put out these days. It is blind, emotional, and ignorant and eventually will have to end. In the meantime those of us that use homeopathy in treatment (in my case now almost 40 years) continue to do so and see wonderful outcomes.
July 1, 2017, Vol. 251, No. 1, Pages 29-31