James Randi’s challenge and the search for science in homeopathy

James Randi launched a bold challenge Saturday that aims to debunk so-called homeopathic drugs. The fraud-busting magician even offered $1 million to any manufacturer who could prove they work as directed.

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Finding science and medicine experts to defend homeopathy isn’t easy. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine offers a primer complete with an explanation of homeopathy regulation, the status of research and more.

The first two “key points” are especially notable, the first for the explanation, the second for the context.

“The principle of similars [or ‘like cures like’] is a central homeopathic principle. The principle states that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.


“Most analyses have concluded that there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition; although, some studies have reported positive findings.”

Respected skeptic Steven Barrett is more blunt. He says this about homeopathy: “Homeopathic ‘remedies’ enjoy a unique status in the health marketplace: They are the only category of quack products legally marketable as drugs.” That’s just the beginning of his essay. Read the full post on Barrett’s site, Quackwatch.

The National Center for Homeopathy would disagree, of course. And it helpfully distinguishes between “homeopathic” and “herbal” for those who consider all nonprescription or “alternative” products virtually the same. “Homeopathy is a system of medical therapy that uses very small doses of medicines, or remedies. These remedies are prepared from substances found in nature. Nevertheless, homeopathy should not be confused with herbal medicine. These two systems of medicine are very different. Herbal medicine uses tinctures of botanical substances, whereas homeopaths use ultradilute ‘micro’ doses made from not only plants, but minerals or any other substance found in nature.”

In the meantime, we’ll wait to see whether anyone takes Randi up on his challenge.