Myths about homeopathy 3:
"Homeopathy is only the placebo effect"
This myth is one which is often adopted by people who know nothing at all about homeopathy. A so-called "pop-myth".
Before addressing this myth, it is necessary to make it clear that the placebo effect is not an imaginary benefit. Often this claim is meant to imply that the patient has not really got better, they just think they have. But this overlooks the fact that people who benefit from the placebo effect really do get better. In fact, for conventional doctors the only difference between getting better from a conventional treatment and a placebo is that they cannot explain why the placebo has made someone better. In a sense, the fact that conventional medicine has a problem with explaining homeopathy means that it is by definition a placebo for them. Of course any new treatment they cannot yet explain is theoretically a placebo too.
The placebo effect is also dependent on the patient expecting a particular result. So with the huge investment in marketing conventional drugs, one should logically expect an enhanced placebo effect from use of those drugs. The idea that an unconventional treatment, which is regularly ridiculed by conventional medical practitioners and experts, has a more powerful placebo effect than would happen with conventional drugs, is a denial of the principles of the effect.
In fact, when it comes to the details, the myth breaks down completely. In the conventional placebo effect the symptoms which the patient believes are being treated get better, but the reaction to a homeopathic remedy is much more complicated. In some cases the patient does claim to feel better, but there is no indication of real change in the symptoms, and for a homeopath this is the true placebo effect. Where changes are observed they reveal a great deal about the case. For example, a homeopath can identify that:
a there is a serious problem of pathological change in the body's tissues
b the patient is only being palliated by the remedy
c the patient is being made worse by the remedy
d the patient has not reacted
e the patient is getting better, but the potency is not the best one
f the patient is getting better but the remedy is not the best one
g the patient is getting better and the choice of remedy and potency are exactly right
This range of reactions cannot be explained by the conventional placebo effect.
The myth also breaks down when you consider how remedies are tested to find out what they can do. Homeopaths test substances for use as remedies by giving healthy people a potentised form of the substance (usually 30c). This is exactly the same form of dose given to patients, and it is given until the provers (the people testing the remedy) start to have symptoms. The symptoms that follow are recorded in as much detail as possible, including the time and speed of onset, the precise location and nature of the symptoms, and the things which make them better or worse. By gathering this information from a number of different people of different ages and both sexes, it is possible to establish a picture of the way the remedy acts. This is impossible to explain by placebo effect and proves that the remedies can act on the human body in precise ways, even if the mechanism of action is unknown.
Evidence of remedies working on babies and animals also disproves the placebo effect theory, since they do not understand the world about them sufficiently to be able to believe that a remedy is going to do them good. There have been bizarre suggestions that babies and animals are reacting to the expectations of the people treating them, but there is no evidence that the placebo effect can be extended in this way.
The main reason for this myth is the claim that there is nothing in the remedies. Which we deal with next ...