The $100 Homeopathy Challenge: Update

Well, I have had two conversations with homeopaths now about taking the challenge. Recap: its a simple challenge to see if a homeopath can determine which remedy is which out of a sample of six when they do not already know which remedy is which. If the claims of homeopaths are correct, it ought to be easy.

First up: Sarah K, who left comments on my blog to say she was up the challenge. Fantastic news. Unfortunately, quite quickly she appeared to get rather defensive and say she would not be rushed into things. And ultimately decided that she did not want to do it. A huge shame.

Some of her excuses were that remedies could take a long time to take effect and might interfere with each other. Fine. But she has the choice to decide which remedies to use. For example, I suggested Nelsons Insomnia remedy. Customers of Nelsons might expect their insomnia to be reduced in a few hours, not over several weeks, and they would expect no lingering side-effects too, which homeopaths claim do not happen. Oh well. So close.

Another homeopath appeared to contradict Sarah K in the most striking terms. Soroush Ebrahimi was up for the challenge, but unfortunately not mine – he had his own ideas. He wanted to give me a remedy and be able to seal an envelope with a prediction of what the remedy would do to me – a ‘reproving’. I think it best to allow the IM chat to speak for itself…

(for explanation, Soroush has already challenged Ben Goldacre to a similar test. This is IM, so spelling and sentence order may be erratic)

SE: Hi – did you want me for something? Welcome to my group of friends

LCN: Just wanted to know if you were prepared to take the quackometer $100 challenge. If you claim you could guess ben g’s symptoms from taking a single remedy, then this test ought to be a walk in the park and great public proof of homeopathic claims.

SE: Hi – I did explain that the quackmaster test involves to elements:

SE: 1- Is the homoeopath any good?

SE: 2- Does a potentised substance work?

LCN: yes i am happy with that – do you think you are good homeopath?

SE: So if the result is a fail you do not know whetehr the homoeopath was poor in his selection or whether potentised substance have no effect

LCN: sure. but if you succeed then you win!

SE: So my ‘reproving’ exercise is better, because it elliminates the uncertainty about the ability of the homoeopath

LCN: no it does not. it relies on both the homeopath to interpret the symptoms correctly and the subject to report them correctly – both subjective and so unlikely to yield a good result for anyone. Eitgher side could cry foul. With my test, no one can cry foul.

SE: Neither with my test – when they are in agony and asking for help, then we will know for sure!

LCN: well frankly – if you are prepared to inflict agony on someone then you are not fit to conduct such tests. and ben was quite right to refuse.

SE: Oh – so dilute potentised substance do have an effect?? Make up your mind

LCN: so, you want to induce agony in someone and then claim that homeopathy is right? I think you do not understand anything about obtaining objective evidence

LCN: you are telling me they do. i think ben was quite right to worry tha tyou might poison him. i would be. my test involves no such risks.

SE: Ben was QUITE wrong – because if you read my post, you would have realised that he would have had the substance tested for himself and my half of the remedy would have been in a safe-box only to be opened with both of us present

SE: You guys have to put your body where your mouth is

SE: Either a potentised highly dilute material has powers or it does not

LCN: i am happy to take homeopathic remedes – but not from someone who promises to have me in agony! it shows a lack of ethics in the trial that you would be prepared to do so.

LCN: i have no doubt that the homeopathy would do nothing. I just would not be prepared to take a pill forom you.

SE: So tell me do potentised highly dilute substance have any power?

SE: if not – you are just taking a sugar pill as you lot claim

LCN: i believe they do not. but can i trust you to give me a potentised highly dilute substance ?

I hope you understand my reluctance to take part. The conversation went on for a while more. Mostly, me repeating a question to ask Soroush to take my test or work out a better protocol for his own.

For the record, I would take such a test, but Soroush needs to think up a protocol to take into account the following:

  • S should not be allowed near any pill I would take.
  • We need end measures that are not subjective – if the test fails I do not want homeopaths accusing me I was misreporting symptoms.
  • We need a quantifiable result. At present, a success for S would not give us any idea of the significance of the result. Could it have been chance? We have no way of quantifying that.
  • If it is going to cost more than my proposed test, I want to know why it is a better test and worth the money.

Without these things, Soroush’s test is just a circus stunt. And, if I may say so, a very disconcerting circus stunts. Like a scary clown juggling sheep’s hearts.

It is remarkable than no one else has come forward. This is a basic test of homeopathy. Something that ought to be easy and yet nothing quite like it appears never to have been done. It would show basic evidence that homeopathy is not a delusion. And yet, homeopaths feel no shame in taking on the responsibility for sick people. A responsibility that cannot be grounded in reason or evidence and instead relies on fragile anecdotes. Homeopaths’ preference to counter criticism is to sue people rather than provide argument and evidence.

I am offering the chance for some homeopath to give me a metaphorical bloody nose, humiliate me, and prove me wrong – all for the cost of some postage and and few remedies.

So far, none of them have the courage of their convictions.

28 Comments on The $100 Homeopathy Challenge: Update

  1. Wouldn’t this test meet the standards for Randi’s challenge? If I remember correctly, it’s to reliably distinguish between a homeopathic remedy and an inert solution/pill. In which case, they could use your $100 to buy a round of drinks to celebrate winning the million dollars…

  2. Would this meet Randi’s requirements for the million dollar challenge?

    Probably not. I would expect Randi to be a little bit more stringent in the requirements to qualify for the challenge. For example, the odds of getting a fluke results are 1:720. Very low, but Randi does get a lot of challengers. It would not be hard to tweak the test to significantly up the odds.

    I imaging this test would be the sort of test that Randi asks challengers to do themselves before applying for the challenge just to check they have the powers they claim to do. If someone passes the $100 challenge then I would surely encourage them to apply to Randi and hope they would be generous enough to give me a cut for spurring them on!

    I have deliberately set the standards for the test as low as possible to make it as easy as possible for homeopaths to take part. Little expense. Nothing too arduous. No ‘complicated’ placebos or statistics to do. No nasty sceptics involved in any of the actual test to send ‘bad vibes’ into the experiment. No excuses.

    • only a nerd will come to your challenge. It is an ill conceived and totally useless experiment. None of the Homeopath themselves claim that they can detect medicine this way. so whose claims are you challenging ? They claim that they can cure real patients using Homeo medicines. so send them patients to let them prove. and why send any patients , when already thousands and millions patients already visit them and get relief. But they are ridiculed by few as chance healing or natural healing. What an explanation that applies only when one gets cured with Homeopathy.

      • This is not true. Homeopaths claim that their remedies produce consistent symptoms pictures in healthy people. it is the fundamental basis of the ‘proving’ technique. If this is false, then homeopathy collapses.

        If it is true, then my test should be easy. Do remedies produce distinctive, consistent symptoms or not?

        PS Stop double posting – this is the last time you will do that, OK?

  3. What remedy could possibly leave you in agony? Surely something like Poison Ivy, indeed anything that could harm you, would CURE an agonising death once it had been potentised?

  4. Rick, these are not my claims. I struggle with the idea of a homeopathic sleeping pill. Did that pill leave you wide awake in provings?

  5. I know. I was wondering if a remedy that could induce agony in a healthy homeopath could be used as an anesthetic? Now there is a test that might be quite dramatic.

  6. Perhaps a homeopathic version of an anxiolytic could cause a nervous breakdown? Presumably the ‘power’ can be used for evil….

  7. I’ve jsut found your site, and very interesting it is too. Don’t you think that running your quackometer is a form of quackery in itself – its far from scientific and gives wildly misleading results.

    If I type in “Linus Pauling” two times Nobel Prize winner, firstly for his work on the chemical bond and secondly for peace, he gets two ducks. One of the greatest scientists of the last century gets two ducks! Quackery (pseudoscience) indeed – but in this case you end up libelling people. I think I’ll give it a swerve.

  8. Well – off topic, but lets tackle your points.

    1) I do not claim my site is scientific. The quackometer is supposed to be fun and thought provoking (I hope).

    2) Pauling was a great scientist, but he also had some funny views on Vitamin C and it being a cure all – widely regarded as quackery now. I am quite pleased the quackometer picked this up.

    Anyway – back to the point of this thread. Still waiting for a brave homeopath…

  9. Sorry about being off topic here, but I can’t find your general blog spot.

    I think you make the point rather well when you say: “I do not claim my site is scientific”. You are attacking (perhaps quite rightly) the lack of science behind these quack offerings, without employing science yourself.

    Oh, and I typed in a few others including Dr Nerys Roberts – my dermatlologist. Not only is she Head of Dermatology at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital (one of London’s greatest teaching hospitals affiliated to Imperial College), and also practices at Great Ormand Street (one of the best children’s hospitals in the world) but she holds several degrees, a Phd in pharmacology and has numerous publications. She is also a physician to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Household. In short she is widely recognised as one of the finest dermatologists in the world. Yet you give her 5 ducks – yes that’s 5 ducks!

    I don’t see that as a bit of “fun”, but certainly “thought provoking”. I continue to wonder what the lawyers would make of all this.

    Oh, and I am far from sold on homeopathy myself, but I have a few homeopath friends. I’ll see if I can round one or two up for you. I’d be rather interested in the outcome myself.

  10. It may well be that Dr Nerys Roberts is a fine doctor – the quackometer though has looked at a web site where she works where the clinic offers: acupuncture • chinese herbal medicine • cognitive-behavioural therapy • homeopathy • nutrition • osteopathy • physiotherapy • reiki • sclerotherapy & collagen treatments • therapeutic/sports massage • Counselling Podiatry • hypnotherapy • pilates

    As I quite clearly say: do your own research and check things before jumping to conclusions.

    Anyway, where was that homeopath…

  11. I’m not sure if association with the practices you identify makes her a quack, or lends those practices legitimacy.

    Oh, try this one “Martin Rees” who is the President of the Royal Society (who follows a long line of distinguisehd past presidents including Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, Pepys, Lister, of one of the oldest and most prestigious scientific socities on the planet) and also Master of Trinity College, and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. He is also Visiting Professor at Leicester University and Imperial College London. He was appointed Astronomer Royal in 1995, and was nominated to the House of Lords in 2005 as a cross-bench peer.

    He gets two Ducks!

    Has he been mixing with the wrong people, or can we conclude that even the seemingly most solid members of the scientific community are quacks?

  12. Anonymous – you are discovering that you might have to think for yourself on these matters.

    A few months ago, an editor from the Lancet rang me up to mention that the BMJ had scored canards. My, how we laughed. Your reaction does not look so whimsical. Could it be you have put your own name in there?

  13. Yes, I have put my own name in, and was mortified to find that I scored no ducks at all. The fact that my lifetime’s work doesn’t seem to merit an accolade that would allow me to rub shoulders with the elite who I so admire, fills me with despair.

    “No Duck Despair” (NDD) could become an increasingly serious and widespread condition that will require effective remedies and therapies. I suspect NDD will push beyond the extremities of the capabilities of alternative medicine and require more conventional approaches. So calling all conventional medics – what do you suggest?

  14. If you want to come out in the open Anonymous and say who you are, I can tweak the quackometer to improve its results. WOuld not want to disappoint. Or do you just want to hide behind the web’s anonymity?

    Speaking of which, there is a deafening silence from the homeopaths regarding te challenge. Are they prepared to test their claims?

  15. Anonymous said…
    +++I’m not sure if association with the practices you identify makes her a quack, or lends those practices legitimacy.+++

    Association with anyone cannot lend a practice legitimacy.

  16. I’d volunteer for Soroush’s challenge, if it’s done with something I can buy for myself over the counter or from a reputable Internet supplier without Soroush being involved (I too am worried that someone who would want to leave me ‘in agony’ might be tempted to mess around with non-homeopathic ingredients in the pills), and if the dilution is at least 30C. Name your remedy & I’ll give it a try.

    Can you come up with a fairly objective measurable endpoint? I have a rather high pain threshold, & would not want it to be argued that I was just too stubborn to roll around on the floor screaming.
    I will get bored if it takes more than an hour or two.

    Should be done somewhere reasonably public, with both pro- and anti- homeopathy people present to allay suspicion of cheating. Can turn up to London occasionally, if that helps.

    I am healthy & run marathons, so it would be rather impressive if you could produce symptoms. It would still only be an anecdote, but nevertheless a fairly impressive one, and I’m sure a You-tubed video of me ‘rolling around on the floor in agony’ will do great things for the reputation of Homeopathy.

    If it works, people will be impressed. If it doesn’t work, you can buy me a bag of chips or something.

    Incidentally, I’ve been treated by a homeopath before. She was very nice, but it did not work.

    You have your volunteer. Reply on here if you are interested.

  17. Could we get Soroush to send you the pill(s) and then have them analysed at a good forensics lab? If the MS (or other method of choice) picks up anything more than sugar, he has tried to cheat and should be jailed.



  18. Get the Homeopath to take several randomly selected pills as well.
    If they are adulterated, he will stand a good chance of poisoning himself.

  19. That vaccine challenge is a giant crock. The participant must buy 6 anti-vaccine books at their own cost and be tested on them, if they fail the test, they must donate $5000-10000 to some quack organisation and are ineligible for the challenge. Also they will give you thimerosal even though it has been taken out of all vaccines in the US (without any evidence to suggest that it is dangerous in the quantities it was present in vaccines, I might add).

    Do they up the quantity of active or non-active ingredients in vaccines for adults? I don’t think so but I could be wrong.

    I also find it hilarious how an anonymous commenter keeps referring to people’s qualifications and ignoring their quackery when they are found to contain quacks on the quackometer. The only problem I’ve had with the quackometer is that it doesn’t seem to search far enough on larger sites, so they inevitably get 0 quacks.

  20. homeo would qualify for $1 million Randi challenge!

    suspect subconciously many homeos half know subconciously “just”placebo (which can work well for some conditions)

  21. I did laugh out load at Anonymous’ vapid arguments from authority! These are the same silly assumptions that kept the catholic church in power for all those centuries. I honestly didn’t think a reader of a scientific blog/debunking site would actually resort to using such quaint methods. Ah well.

    I should like to point out that my local pharmacist, a thoughtful and empathetic person, was severely offended when I told her my favourite homeopathy joke. I thought she was putting me on, but she got really upset. It just shows how anyone at all can be taken in by the homeopathy scam.

    The joke? Did you hear about the homeopathy patient who forgot to take his remedy one day? He died of an overdose…

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