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“The best studies have shown homeopathy doesn’t work”

By the ‘best studies’ people usually mean comprehensive systematic reviews, which analyse the results from all available randomised controlled trials (RCTs) on a given subject.

The most recent and robust systematic review of the efficacy of homeopathy comes from a 2014 meta-analysis of placebo-controlled double-blind randomised controlled trials. This study by Dr Robert Mathie found that homeopathic medicines, when prescribed during individualised treatment, are 1.5- to 2.0-times more likely to have a beneficial effect than placebo.1

If there are positive studies, why do some people still refuse to accept what the evidence says?

The issue appears to be one of ‘plausibility bias’ i.e. those who hold a prior belief that homeopathy is impossible, will view the results of research differently from those who believe homeopathy may work or does work.

As far back as 1991, the authors of the first systematic review of homeopathy expressed this very clearly in their own paper:2

“The amount of positive evidence even among the best studies came as a surprise to us. Based on this evidence we would be ready to accept that homoeopathy can be efficacious, if only the mechanism of action were more plausible.”

There are also a small number of historical systematic reviews on homeopathy published between 1991 and 2005 that continue to be cited inappropriately, giving out of date and flawed evidence undue attention.

In particular, it is remarkable that the single negative review by Shang et al. 20053 continues to be cited widely in anti-homeopathy publications despite only covering data up to 2003, being contradictory to the remainder of evidence in this category and serious concerns regarding its scientific reliability.

It is hard to understand why the 2017 EASAC position statement on homeopathy makes no mention of Dr Mathie’s 2014 meta-analysis of individualised homeopathy1, being the most relevant and robust data on the topic available at the time, yet includes the discredited and negative Shang et al. 2005 study3.

For further details of both the recent and historical systematic reviews see the Clinical Trials Overview.

ReferencesLess

1. Mathie RT et al. Randomised placebo-controlled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews, 2014; 3: 142
 | Full text

2. Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homeopathy. BMJ, 1991302: 960 | PubMed

3. Shang A, Huwiler-Muntener K, Nartey L, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homeopathy and allopathy. Lancet, 2005; 366: 726–732 | PubMed

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