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Homeopathy — Still Crazy After All These Years

Posted in Skeptic by Skepdude on January 15, 2009

Homeopathy is one of the longest running forms of pseudoscience in the modern world. Oliver Wendell Holmes recognized that it was nonsense back in 1842 when he wrote “Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions.” We long ago gave up the nonsense of trying to balance the four humors by bloodletting and purging, but the homeopathy Energizer Bunny is still marching on. What makes it so indestructible?

One reason is a lack of understanding about what homeopathy really is, even among health care providers. I recently heard about a nurse who thought “homeopathic” just referred to any mild natural herbal remedy. In case any readers are similarly confused, here’s a brief overview. Homeopathy was invented by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. It is based on the now-outdated principle that “like cures like,” and the lower the dose the better in homeopathy. If coffee keeps you awake, highly diluted coffee will put you to sleep. The more dilute the coffee, the better you will sleep.

To figure out what remedy works for what symptoms, you do a “proving” by giving a substance to healthy people and writing down every symptom they have for the next few days (without trying to determine whether the symptom was due to the substance or was just coincidental). You make a remedy by diluting that substance many times and shaking it (succussing) at each step. You look up a patient’s symptoms in a book listing all the different proving results, and you give him the remedy that best matches what ails him.

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