Tuesday, December 23, 2008


At the CVille Skeptics second meeting, the food will be delicious, and the topic will be homeopathy. Amanda has already posted a whole bunch of great links to start the discussion on the message boards. I'd like to point out some of these and add a few more, especially since I won't be able to attend. (Instead I'll be running around midtown Manhattan with some old college buddies!)

Homeopathy is basically the claim that a substance that creates ill-effects in a healthy person can be used to treat the illness in a sick person after being massively diluted as to be rendered no longer harmful. This is a form of alternative medicine, which is the growing field of promised cures that fall outside conventional (some would say evidence-based!) medicine. The American Cancer Society gives a good basic description of homeopathy's origins and claims. Homeopaths, as the practitioners are called, have a society* and journals which I encourage you to browse, although most content is certainly geared towards their own members and dealing with the media. Homeopathy has found a forum with Oprah, and an interesting introduction can be found on her website. Yes, many of you skeptics will cringe at the section citing "vital life energies" and such things, but hasn't science uncovered even weirder sounding phenomena? There is no scientific basis for such a phenomenon... but what if?

Homeopathy promises to be safe and effective, more so than conventional measures. It sounds so great! However, one needs to look carefully at the studies. There's a good, short introduction to the most often cited positive studies on homeopathy, which includes the Benveniste study from the 1980s, which was later shown to be due to bias on the part of the researchers. Skeptical superstar James Randi was involved in that affair, and has also been known to down large amounts of homeopathic sleeping pills in front of Congress to demonstrate their ineffectiveness. (See his take on homeopathy here.) Homeopathy is also a popular topic with the doctors at the Science Based Medicine blog.

So if homeopathy is ineffective after all, then what's the harm? I'm sure this will prove to be a fruitful discussion topic at the upcoming meeting!

*Don't worry, SkepTools fans, I used nofollow on some of these links!

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