Another Systematic Review of Veterinary Homeopathy (Nope, it Still Doesn’t Work)

I have reviewed the overall evidence concerning homeopathy, from basic science through clinical trial research in great detail previously. Despite more than 150 years of effort by advocates for this practice, virtually no reliable evidence has been developed to show it can work or does work.

The same conclusion has been reached by many others, from the systematic reviews of homeopathic trials and systematic reviews of these systematic reviews, to the formal investigations of governmental agencies such as the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and the Australian National Health and Medical research Council. While homeopaths have had more than a century to try, they have not been able to produce a body of scientific evidence to convince anyone but themselves that homeopathy works.

However, homeopaths crave the legitimacy (and boost to their business) that comes from the appearance of scientific validation, so they continue to produce publications intended to create this appearance. A series of publications have been produced by a group of homeopaths employed by a homeopathic organization specifically to produce pro-homeopathic literature. This includes a number of systematic reviews. I have discussed one of these in detail previously. The study reviewed placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials of homeopathy. Despite grand claims of a robust evidence base, even these dedicated advocates could find almost no suggestion of an effect.

So the best that two committed supporters of homeopathy could find when attempting an objective evaluation of the veterinary homeopathy literature were two studies that were probably pretty reliably conducted, one of which found an effect and one of which didn’t. Once again, in the face of the inherent implausibility of the practice (despite the nonsense about “nanoparticles” which these authors themselves reference as if it solved the plausibility problem), and a century and a half of dedicated effort, such a glaring lack of positive evidence is far more consistent with homeopathy being a placebo than with it being the dramatically effective therapy its proponents claim.

However, for propaganda purposes, simply being able to cite studies and reviews creates the impression there is some reason to think homeopathy might work, so the authors have gone on to produce another review, this time of studies using something other than a placebo control.

Mathie, RT. Clausen, J. Veterinary homeopathy: Systematic review of medical conditions studied by randomised trials controlled by other than placebo. BMC Veterinary Research 2015, 11:236.

Like their other reviews, this one found no high-quality research evidence to support a beneficial effect for homeopathy. The studies reviewed were of generally poor quality and did not effectively control for bias and other sources of error. This is routine for homeopathy research and so not surprising. Given the implausibility of the premises behind homeopathy and the failure to find clear, meaningful effects in good quality research for over a century, once again the only rational conclusion is that homeopathy doesn’t work and that it is time to give up on it.

As I’ve argued before, science and evidence-based medicine are worthless if we can never reach a conclusion or reject any therapy no matter how many failed attempts we have made to find evidence it is effective. The absence of evidence absolutely can be evidence of absence and a reason to stop wasting resources on an idea once adequate efforts have been made. If this is not true, than science will never be able to reject any idea no matter how implausible, and we effectively surrender the most effective tool ever discovered for finding out the truth about nature.

However, belief counts for more than evidence with homeopaths, and science is merely a marketing tool, not a means to discover the truth about the practice. So these authors portray the absence of evidence in this study not as still more evidence of the absence of an effect but as a reason for yet more research:

Due to their extremely poor quality, OTP-controlled trials are incapable of providing useful additional insight into the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment or prophylaxis in animals. To clarify the matter, new and substantially improved OTP-controlled research in both individualised and non-individualised veterinary homeopathy is strongly indicated.

The opposite is actually true. Further research is strongly contraindicated. There is a tremendous shortage of good-quality research evidence in veterinary medicine, and more and better evidence is desperately needed to support effective clinical practice. Wasting precious and scarce resources on hare-brained ideas that have failed to prove their worth hundreds of times over for decades is not a rational, appropriate or ethical choice.


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3 Responses to Another Systematic Review of Veterinary Homeopathy (Nope, it Still Doesn’t Work)

  1. A. Knapp says:

    I once stumbled upon the website of a British homeopath who quite seriously discussed his self-described “semi-scientific” research. I remember little of what he wrote, other than his statement that he carefully selected the participants in his research (ahem) trials, to ensure that they were “sensitives”. Otherwise, he explained, he could not be assured of getting the results he wanted.
    I nearly lost my morning coffee.

  2. Adam Price says:

    Love your blog – wanted to point out a likely typoe, in the first sentence of the paragraph that begins: “As I’ve argued before, science and evidence-based medicine are worthless is we can never reach a conclusion or reject any therapy no matter how many failed attempts we have made to find evidence it is effective. ” I don’t think you meant to say that “science and evidence based medicine are worthless.”

  3. skeptvet says:

    Thanks for catching that. It should read “if we can never” instead of “is we can never.” The point, of course, was that there is no point to science at all if it doesn’t allow us to reject ineffective therapies no matter how many times we test them. 🙂

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