Homeopathy: How Can Wikipedia Get It So Wrong?
By Richard Gale, Gary Null PhD., Amy Mitura, Esq. and Neal Greenfield, Esq.
In 2014, Dana Ullman, who is regarded as America’s leading advocate for homeopathy and an author and publisher of over 35 books about this alternative medical system, bumped into Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales in Vancouver. Over the years, Wales is on record for showing animosity against homeopathy and has publicly put his support behind efforts to discredit it. After a verbal exchange over Ullman’s concerns about the online encyclopedia’s unwarranted bias and misinformation under its homeopathy entry, Ullman published an article entitled Dysfunction at Wikipedia on Homeopathic Medicine as a response to Mr. Wales.
At the time of the article was written Wikipedia described homeopathy as “a pseudoscience and its remedies have been found to be no more effective than placebos.” Ullman wrote, “It is more than a tad ironic that this first paragraph in the Wikipedia article on homeopathy references only one article that was published in a peer-review medical journal.” In particular he takes issue with a referenced study by Shang, et.al and informs Wales that it “has been thoroughly discredited.” Ullman cites an article published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, which found that the Shang analysis failed to review “higher quality” medical trials; if it had done so, the analysis would have had a positive conclusion confirming homeopathy’s efficacy in treating certain illnesses. Consequently, the review concluded that the Shang study was biased by “arbitrarily defin[ing] one subset” and deemed the “entire review as ‘falsely negative.’”
After presenting a partial list of studies on homeopathy, Ullman asked Wales if he could “name ONE other system of ‘pseudoscience’ that has a similar body of randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled clinical trials published in high-impact medical journals showing efficacy of treatment?”
Five years later, Wikipedia’s homeopathy entry is even more disparaging, despite Ullman’s provision of reliable references debunking the studies the entry relies upon. The encyclopedia now reads, “Homeopathy is a pseudoscience—a belief that is incorrectly presented as scientific. Homeopathic preparations are not effective for treating any condition; large-scale studies have found homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo.” Although Ullman educated Wales and Wikipedia’s Skeptic editors, they have refused to properly correct the entry to more accurately educate the encyclopedia’s massive audience.
Dr. Stephen Barrett, the founder of Quackwatch – a Skeptic clearinghouse of harsh criticisms against non-conventional medical theories and practices — is also responsible for Wikipedia’s misinformation about homeopathy. The entry references Barrett’s article “Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake,” a very outdated paper that relies primarily on studies published over two decades ago. A couple of direct Wikipedia references to Barrett’s paper state, “Robert L. Park, Ph.D., a prominent physicist…has noted that since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would…require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth.” And, “[a]ctually, the laws of chemistry state that there is a limit to the dilution that can be made without losing the original substance altogether. This limit, which is related to Avogadro’s number, corresponds to homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 10 to the 24th).” Park is a noted Skeptic and the author of Voodoo Science, a lengthy diatribe attempting to discredit all alternative medicine and homeopathy. The Washington Post criticized the book for its strong reliance on sensational news stories rather than hard scientific research.
Barrett’s reference to “dilution” is not based on accurate mathematics. A 30C potency of homeopathic medicines is diluted through a course of 30 vials of water. Barrett’s reference to Park’s nonsensical math of 30 billion earths is ludicrous at best.
Dana Ullman addresses Barrett’s reference to the Avogadro’s number in his article, “When skeptics of homeopathy reference Avogadro’s number as “evidence” that homeopathic medicines beyond 24X or 12C have “no remaining molecules left,” they are simply verifying their own ignorance of Avogadro’s number because this widely recognized principle in chemistry does NOT account for the complexities of the silica fragments, the bubbles or nanobubbles, nor the increased water pressure. In fact, any serious scientist or educated individual who asserts that a homeopathic medicine is ‘beyond Avogadro’s number’ has no ground on which to stand.”
A study in LANGMUIR, a journal published by the American Chemistry Society, verifies that nanoparticles of a homeopathic medicine persist in solution even after they were diluted 1:100 six times, thirty times, and even two-hundred times.
It is not only dangerous to have incorrect and incomplete information on Wikipedia, but the references contain links where readers will find further misinformation about homeopathy. For example, in a section called “Unimpressive ‘Research,’” Barrett takes issue with a study about homeopathy’s efficacy to treat childhood diarrhea that was published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Ullman sent this study to Jimmy Wales in his response letter. In his article, Barrett argued that the study “had questionable clinical significance and no public health significance because the only remedy needed for mild childhood diarrhea is adequate fluid intake to prevent or correct dehydration.”
Barrett’s bias against the study having “no public health significance” displays a serious lack of knowledge about childhood diseases and their severity, which can be life-threatening. According to the World Health Organization, “Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old…Each year diarrhea kills around 525,000 children under five…Globally, there are nearly 1.7 billion cases of childhood diarrhoeal disease every year. Diarrhea is a leading cause of malnutrition in children under five years old.” Moreover, perhaps Barrett is unaware that the world’s poorest families that suffer most from gastro-intestinal disease and diarrhea causing parasites do so because of highly polluted water. Any sane person would agree that a non-conventional treatment for 1.7 billion children carries “public health significance.”
As far as the reliability of the homeopathy study published in the journal Pediatrics, subsequent reviews had acknowledged it met high standards. To say that homeopathic medicines are prescribed “arbitrarily” simply means that Barrett and Wikipedia Skeptics don’t fully comprehend homeopathy’s underlying principles and refuse to understand its methodology. The study was repeated twice by other homeopathic practitioners and the replication of these studies verified the efficacy of homeopathic medicines. In The Health Robbers, Stephen Barrett wrote, “the only way for homeopathy to gain acceptance by the scientific community would be to demonstrate positive results through repeated experiments designed with the help of critics and carried out with strict safeguards against experimenter bias and fraud.” (202) For some medical indications, such studies have been replicated.
In 2015, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published an Information Paper about homeopathy and concluded “…there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.” The Paper was treated as a landmark study for homeopathy’s opponents. However, four years later the Council’s CEO issued a clarification in the Homeopathy Review stating, “Contrary to some claims, the review did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective.”
An investigation by the Australian Homeopathic Association (AHA), combined with an in-depth scientific analysis of the review by the Homeopathy Research Institute uncovered “serious procedural and scientific misconduct.” In fact, an earlier 2012 study by the NHMRC was never disclosed to the public wherein the report’s investigators found “encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy” in five medical conditions.”
The Homeopathy Research Institute provides references to 1,200 studies that have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. Some are strong studies with very positive and promising results. Wikipedia, on the other hand, only presents unscientific biases in order to emphasize homeopathy’s uselessness. Perhaps Stephen Barrett should be more concerned about the bias shown in Wikipedia and in his own writings rather than the poor and distorted studies Skeptics rely upon to continue their ceaseless attack on homeopathy.
In conclusion, homeopathy has a substantial body of quality science to support its safety and efficacy. Some countries such France and Switzerland have incorporated the practice into its national health programs. This was only done after a careful and critical analysis and review of the scientific literature. What is missing from Barrett’s and Wikipedia’s invective is clinical experience. Barrett is a former licensed psychiatrist and none of Wikipedia’s anonymous Skeptic editors have any sound academic or clinical background in the medical subjects they criticize. Hundreds of millions of people have benefited from homeopathy. Consequently, Wikipedia is promoting individual and collective bias that is founded on personal animus, disdain and antagonism on behalf of its own ideology to harm an effective and popular medical intervention that has internationally been recognized for benefiting patients for over two centuries.
To prove our point about homeopathy, we are providing twenty-three (23) of the best studies and a link to the 5,833 results on homeopathy at PubMed, the world’s largest library of health sciences.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Frass, M, Dielacher, C, Linkesch, M, et al. Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill patients, Chest, March, 2005;127:936-941. The journal, Chest, is the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians.
- Hayfever: Reilly D, Taylor M, McSharry C, et al., Is homoeopathy a placebo response? controlled trial of homoeopathic potency, with pollen in hayfever as model,” Lancet, October 18, 1986, ii: 881-6.
- Asthma: Reilly, D, Taylor, M, Beattie, N, et al., “Is Evidence for Homoeopathy Reproducible?” Lancet, December 10, 1994, 344:1601-6.
- Fibromyalgia: Bell IR, Lewis II DA, Brooks AJ, et al. Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo, Rheumatology. 2004:1111-5. This journal is the official journal of the British Society of Rheumatology.
- Fibromyalgia: Fisher P, Greenwood A, Huskisson EC, et al., “Effect of Homoeopathic Treatment on Fibrositis (Primary Fibromyalgia),” BMJ, 299(August 5, 1989):365-6.
- Childhood diarrhea: Jacobs, J, Jimenez, LM, Gloyd, SS, Treatment of Acute Childhood Diarrhea with Homeopathic Medicine: A Randomized Double-blind Controlled Study in Nicaragua, Pediatrics, May, 1994,93,5:719-25.
- ADD/ADHD: Frei, H, Everts R, von Ammon K, Kaufmann F, Walther D, Hsu-Schmitz SF, Collenberg M, Fuhrer K, Hassink R, Steinlin M, Thurneysen A. Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial. Eur J Pediatr., July 27,2005,164:758-767.
- Linde L, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Jonas W, “Are the Clinical Effects of Homoeopathy Placebo Effects? A Meta-analysis of Placebo-Controlled Trials,” Lancet, September 20, 1997, 350:834-843. Although a later review by some of these authors found a reduced significance, the authors never asserted that the significance was no longer present. Further, two of the lead authors of this article provided a very sharp critique of the Shang, et al. review of research (2005). Also, both Linde and Jonas wrote to the Lancet after the Shang/Egger article was published and asserted that the Lancet should be “embarrassed” by their publication of this article and the accompanied editorial (Lancet, 366 December 17, 2005:2081-2).
- Kleijnen J, Knipschild P ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homoeopathy. BMJ 1991, 302, 316-23. Of the 22 best studies, 15 showed positive results from homeopathic treatment. The researchers concluded, “there is a legitimate case for further evaluation of homeopathy.”
- Jacobs J, Jonas WB, Jimenez-Perez M, Crothers D, Homeopathy for Childhood Diarrhea: Combined Results and Metaanalysis from Three Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trials, Pediatr Infect Dis J, 2003;22:229-34. This meta analysis of 242 children showed a highly significant result in the duration of childhood diarrhea (P=0.008).
- Kassab S, Cummings M, Berkovitz S, van Haselen R, Fisher P.Homeopathic medicines for adverse effects of cancer treatments. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 2.
- Taylor, MA, Reilly, D, Llewellyn-Jones, RH, et al., Randomised controlled trial of homoeopathy versus placebo in perennial allergic rhinitis with overview of four trial Series, BMJ, August 19, 2000, 321:471-476. The BMJ published an editorial in the issue in which this study was published asserting, “It may be time to confront the conclusion that homeopathy and placebo differ…… This may be more plausible than the conclusion that their trials have produced serial false positive results” (This week in the BMJ. Homoeopathic dilutions may be better than placebo. BMJ 2000;321:0).
- Jonas, WB, Linde, Klaus, and Ramirez, Gilbert, “Homeopathy and Rheumatic Disease,” Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, February 2000,1:117-123.
- Mathie RT, Lloyd SM, Legg LA, Clausen J, Moss S, Davidson JR, Ford I. Randomised placebo-controlled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews 2014; 3:142. http://www.systematicreviewsjournal.com/content/3/1/142
- Macías-Cortés EdC, Llanes-González L, Aguilar-Faisal L, Asbun-Bojalil J (2015) Individualized Homeopathic Treatment and Fluoxetine for Moderate to Severe Depression in Peri- and Postmenopausal Women (HOMDEP-MENOP Study): A Randomized, Double-Dummy, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0118440. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118440 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118440
- Lüdtke R, Rutten ALB. The conclusions on the effectiveness of homeopathy highly depend on the set of analyzed trials. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. October 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.06/015. This article published in a highly respected journal that evaluates research provides a compelling critique of the Shang review and shows that positive or negative conclusions are dependent upon the various ways you evaluate the body of evidence. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18834714
- Hahn RG Homeopathy: meta-analyses of pooled clinical data. Forsch Komplementmed. 2013;20(5):376-81. doi: 10.1159/000355916. Epub 2013 Oct 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24200828
- Ullman, D, Frass, M. A Review of Homeopathic Research in the Treatment of Respiratory Allergies. Alternative Medicine Review. 2010:15,1:48-58. This review provides strong and compelling evidence for homeopathy in the treatment of respiratory allergies.
- Mathie RT, Frye J, Fisher P. Homeopathic Oscillococcinum® for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like illness. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD001957. (4 large double-blind trials show efficacy but not enough for first line of treatment)
- Frass, M, Dielacher, C, Linkesch, M, et al. Influence of potassium dichromate on tracheal secretions in critically ill patients, Chest, March, 2005;127:936-941. Published in the leading journal on respiratory medicine, this study shows remarkable results in treating the #4 reason that people in the USA die. Conducted at the University of Vienna Hospital.
- Bell IR, Lewis II DA, Brooks AJ, et al. Improved clinical status in fibromyalgia patients treated with individualized homeopathic remedies versus placebo, Rheumatology. 2004:1111-5. Published in the leading journal on its subject, this study showed clinically relevant improvements from homeopathy as well as influences on objective EEG readings.
- Frei H, Everts R, von Ammon K, Kaufmann F, Walther D, Hsu-Schmitz SF, Collenberg M, Fuhrer K, Hassink R, Steinlin M, Thurneysen A. Homeopathic treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled crossover trial. Eur J Pediatr. 2005 Dec;164(12):758-67. Epub 2005 Jul 27.
- Adler UC, Paiva NMP, Cesar AT, Adler MS, Molina A, Padula AE, Calil HM. Homeopathic individualized Q-potencies versus fluoxetine for moderate to severe depression: double-blind, randomized non-inferiority trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Aug 17.
For more information on homeopathy by Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH visit:
Evidence Based Homeopathic Family Medicine: https://homeopathic.com/product/1-ebook-evidence-based-homeopathic-family-medicine-4/ (an ebook on homeopathic research)