In France, where up to 60% of the population seeks homeopathic treatments, the government has now announced it will no longer reimburse the bills for those treatments through social insurance. In Britain, support from the Royal Family long kept some homeopathic provision within the NHS, but in 2017 the NHS recommended that GPs should stop providing for homeopathic treatments.
First off, let’s be clear: “alternative medicine” (also referred to as “complementary”, “integrative”, and “holistic” medicine) is quackery. At best worthless, often harmful, and at times deadly.
Alternative medicine is medicine that has either not been proved to work, or has been proved to not work. There’s a name for alternative medicine that has been proved to work: “Medicine”.
Alternative medicine includes “disciplines” proved beyond doubt entirely worthless (such as homeopathy, naturopathy, Reiki, iridology, cupping), and some such as acupuncture that have to date been proved nearly entirely worthless with perhaps minor exceptions. (Emphasis on “perhaps”... the jury is out).
And it includes some that historically and by their theory are pure quackery, like chiropractic, where it has been shown that one very limited narrowly defined aspect of the discipline (in the case of chiropractic, spinal adjustment based on history and observed findings only for relief of mild to moderate back and neck pain) is proved about as effective as conventional medical treatment.
Of the above, homeopathy is by far the easiest to demonstrate to be entirely totally bunk, because it involves for the most part treatment with pills, so that the gold standard of clinical testing, double-blind comparison of active drug vs placebo testing, is trivially easy to do.
It is secondary that the “theory” of homeopathy is outrageous bunk, for in fact we don’t have solid explanations of the precise mechanism of many of the treatments used in science and evidence-based real medicine. For example, It took 250 years from the time it was scientifically demonstrated that citrus juice would both prevent and cure scurvy to the time we understood why that was the case.
To this day we don’t know how inhalation gases cause anesthesia, but we know well how to use them safely and effectively. But knowing how something works is for the most part not important when it comes to demonstrating whether or not it works.
At the time homeopathy was dreamed up by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century, evidence-based scientific medicine that offered effective treatments for a significant number of illnesses, as we know it today, did not exist. It would not exist for another approximately 150 years.
“Mainstream” medicine at that time included such deadly follies as “bloodletting”, and could easily be considered in many respects no better than the absurdity that was and is today homeopathy.
What is surprising is that such utter bunk, now overwhelmingly proved worthless at best for everything it has been proposed to treat, should persist to this day. That it should enjoy state support in the USA, India, and elsewhere. In some cases that has been merely via the official sanction of regulations and licensing of homeopathic quacks. In Great Britain there were years of official state support via the national health system for this quackery.
There is also some support for such quackery among those of the progressive and revolutionary left.
This support mostly arises due to the relative lack of education and experience with medicine and science by most leftists, with in particular lack of training in distinguishing between quality and junk medical and scientific research. But a key mechanism that leads to embracing quack medicine among leftists is a tendency toward the sort of conspiracy theory “thinking” by leftists which leads them to “throw out the baby with the bathwater”.
That is, in rejecting the bathwater (how medicine is developed and practised under a for-profit capitalist system, and the role of insurance and pharmaceutical companies in that for-profit system) leftists ignorant of medicine and science often throw out the baby: evidence-based, science-based, research-based medicine.
Result (in some cases): belief in foolish and at times deadly quackery such as homeopathy and other “alternative medicine”, embracing of deadly myths suggesting vaccination or fluoridation or mercury dental fillings pose any threat to health, embracing of deadly conspiracy theories denying the viral cause of AIDS, etc. by various scientifically and medically ignorant leftists and leftist groups.
• Martin H. Goodman MD is a medical doctor and director of the Riazanov Library digital archive project
Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine, by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst
Bad Pharma, by Ben Goldacre
And for those who want to seriously study and learn how medical research is and isn’t properly conducted, to be able to distinguish junk research from quality research themselves, by the example of efforts to study acupuncture, I recommend:
Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by Barker Bausell