Homeopathy is an embarrassment to everyone living in this century

Zite has failed me. For some reason under the “science” heading it referred me to thisold hpathy article on homeopathic treatment of burns. I realize this site has been a source of idiocy for years but I think this is a true gem. It makes me want to cry for humanity. Orac, don’t look, it will make your brain explode. The question is, how should you treat burns? Most normal, sane people, in the treatment of the acute burn would suggest cooling the tissue, thus ending the process of damage from the exposure to heat, as well as adding the secondary benefit of soothing the injury. What do they recommend at hpathy.com?
Heating it.
No I’m not joking.
No they’re not joking.

In my first year of homoeopathic training a general discussion led the lecturer to describe a treatment for burns. He explained that he had been dining with a friend who had burnt herself and had immediately, to his horror, held the burnt area of her hand in the heat of a candle for a little while. The friend had then explained to him that the normal treatment of using cold water was ineffective, but that the application of heat to a burn meant that it would not blister, and although it did hurt more on the initial application it healed far more quickly and painlessly thereafter. This she demonstrated a little while later when he saw to his amazement that the burned area was not even red and she was experiencing no pain.
His explanation was that left alone a burn, ‘burnt’, as in the vital force would produce heat. By applying cold water this burning effect was reduced and the vital force had to summon even more heat. If instead we assist the vital force by applying heat the job would be done more quickly.
This is really nothing more than elementary homoeopathy… like cures like… similar similibus curentur…. And yet some in the group were surprised, and some argued that this would be dangerous with anything other than a very slight burn…

Sigh. Do we really need to break down why this is a bad idea?

Besides the fact that this basic tenet of homeopathy, “like cures like”, is without merit, this treatment flies in the face of basic physics and biology. Recommending people do this as first aid is not only stupid, but dangerous and possibly injurious. The author even shows the injury to her daughter’s hand (19 years old – another adult stupid enough to fall for this), that she treated with heat and the blister was enormous. What a moron. While it’s impossible to say for sure how much worse the burn was as a result of the therapy, the image is nothing to be proud of.
The reason we cool wounds after exposure to heat is to end the process of injury. Throughout the article the author seems to think the use of cooling is based on just making people feel better. However, cooling a wound acutely after injury also serves to halt the process of continued injury from the tissue remaining overheated. Your body can not cool the tissue as fast as you can with a stream of cold water. Further heating the tissue will slow the process of cooling even more. In the face of a burned hand from say, scalding water, our body must rely on convective cooling of the tissue using your blood which is a balmy 98.6 degrees. Running your hand under the tap will much more rapidly lower the temperature of the injured skin, ending the continuous damage to the overheated tissue.
The idea that homeopaths are so fixated on their bogus “like cures like” hypothesis that would actually treat a burn with a candle flame, just boggles the mind.
Now Zite, which I usually love, somehow pointed me at this horrible article from 3 years ago, and despite it being a violation the blogger culture of only writing about what is current, as in within the last 3 minutes, I couldn’t resist. As long as this page exists on the internet recommending treating burns with more burning I think we must remain horrified at the intellecutal lows humanity can reach.


24 responses to “Homeopathy is an embarrassment to everyone living in this century”

  1. Gee… in class yesterday one of my students managed to punch me in the nose, and drew blood (it’s OK; I teach martial arts). Ignorant as I am, I just left the floor for a few minutes until I stopped oozing. I should have just had her lightly bop me a few more times – that would have helped the broken blood vessels.
    And when that orthopedic surgeon manipulated my knee a few years back, causing me to lunge at him growling (I couldn’t reach him, though – he was holding my knee), he wasn’t torturing me to get a literal feel for the damage. No, he was applying homeopathic principles to cartilage and ligament tears.
    Speaking of unexpected applications, I wonder if there are any homeopathic addiction treatment centers?

  2. You said it brother. I have such an AVERSION to homeopathy. When the “science-based” naturopathy educational racket got me attending their school with that so false “science” label, I came across — of so many woos — their homeopathy.

  3. A few years back we had a “wellness” lecture here at work, which turned out to be a presentation by a lady who was training to be a Naturopath. One of her anecdotes was about how she had burned her hand while lighting the furnace, and had used homeopathy to treat it. I’m pretty sure she was putting tincture of something on it, rather than holding her hand over a gas stove.
    Until it became infected and she had to go to an actual Dr. for treatment. So not only is this lady dumb enough to fall for this stuff, she’s also not a very convincing salesperson.
    We did manage to convince the HR department that letting her sell bottles of homeopathic water to employees was irresponsible, so that’s a start.

  4. I’m guessing that these people recovered from their burns INSPITE of them making it worse. Confirmation bias, don’t ya just love it! This would increase the chances of killing somebody with life threatening burn damage. Thankfully I doubt there are any Homeopathic ER’s.

  5. It is interesting to note that I refer to people who deny the benefits of homeopathy to be DENIALISTS (and “medical fundamentalists”). Usually, such denialists are embarrassingly unfamiliar with the body of several hundred clinical trials and the even larger number of basic science trials, let alone the cost-effectiveness studies (that are usually even on a larger scale than the clinical trials).
    Further, I consistently find that these denialists are equally unfamiliar with the entire field of HORMESIS, the multi-disciplinary study of small dose effects.
    That said, I completely understand why people who are ignorant of the body of evidence might assume that homeopathy is hogwash. I also understand why people who have a very superficial knowledge of homeopathic research would assume that it is bunk. However, people who pride themselves on having a healthy, scientific attitude usually do not make pronouncements until AND unless they are deeply familiar with a subject. In fact, the best scientists are deeply humble, even on their most cherished and knowledged subjects.
    I sincerely hope that you’ll consider emulating the scientific attitude you are trying to promote.
    You can see part of my body of writing on homeopathy at: http://www.Huffingtonpost.com/dana-ullman and at http://www.homeopathic.com

  6. Hi, okay, wow. That’s pretty bad. But it is an extreme example. There are other homeopathic cures that aren’t this glaringly dangerous, and actual science can figure out why they work. I’m an MD and holistic wellness coach. I promote prevention, not homeopathy, and in fact I really don’t know much about it. I think to bash the entire practice would be naive of its existence for thousands of years, however. Plus, what IS good science today? I actually wrote a blog recently on homeopathy in response to a blog I read on Quackbusters. I always, always try to keep an open mind. 2 homeopaths responded, which is good- I asked them to. But we can’t forget how corrupt the conventional system is. It is. And to ignore that fact is moronic just as it is to burn burns. Here’s the blog– I’d love for you to take a look : http://www.bloomingwellness.com/1/post/2012/01/is-homeopathy-successful.html

  7. Dana, please do inform us. Give us just one citation, one that you think makes an extremely strong case for homeopathy.
    Two necessities:
    1. double blind, placebo controlled.
    2. Large sample size, strong observed effects.
    I’d also like to suggest choosing a study where the primary outcome was recorded not via patient reported symptoms but instead through clinical observation or testing. Furthermore, studies where the primary outcome was changed during or after data collection (bait and switch) will get a proper razzing.

  8. Vince Whirlwind

    Dana, speaking for myself, I am 100% confident that I have as deep an understanding of the subject as is necessary in order to describe Homeopathy as “completeley without merit”. Of course, my study of the subject was rendered very easy thanks to the complete absence of any published academic research in support of homeopathy.
    “Dr Erin Kate”, clearly has no knowledge of homeopathy. She states “… its existence for thousands of years…”, when anybody who has studied the issue knows perfectly well that homeopathy was invented 250 years ago.
    To think that somebody could qualify as an MD with such ignorance and such a stunning lack of critical thinking skills is mind-boggling.

  9. Matthew Cline

    Awwww, c’mon, Dana, don’t you have anything to say about the homeopathic burn treatment being discussed in particular, rather than homeopathy in general?

  10. MarkH has not disclosed in his article about the degree of burn treated with heat by a Homoeopath and not with cold water.In slight burns say Ist degree you will not find formation of blisters if treated with heat but the same is not possible with severe burns.

  11. Wow … that’s great. Now we can get rid of all those very expensive conventional trauma centers in the cities and just have a guy standing by with a tiny gun, an miniature knife and a clown car to treat the GSW, stabbing, crash victims. With this vital information we can get rid of all the doctors. We can get the janitor to shoot gunshot victims with the tiny gun, stab them with the miniature knife, and crash into them with the clown car to effect a cure. I see huge savings.

  12. vince, don’t be too harsh in judging drerinkate: after all she attended West Point, and

    While there, she majored in chemistry-life sciences, minored in environmental engineering and conducted her first research project on phytoremediation, which was later displayed on a poster at the Environmental Chemistry Society’s National meeting. Because she signed up for the wrong division, her poster was displayed next to NASA’s. She made NASA look bad.

    Of course, she doesn’t say when this was, but still, impressive, no? /snark
    She also states that after graduation from West Point she thought she would be a veterinarian but ended up in medical school. Strange, no mention of serving in the army after graduating from West Point. She documents all sorts of amazing things about herself at her site – but strange, while rich in detail it is surprising empty in important detail. Perhaps she diluted the verifiable stuff.

  13. Matthew Cline


    In slight burns say Ist degree you will not find formation of blisters if treated with heat but the same is not possible with severe burns.

    That’s because if you “treat” a 1st degree burn with heat it will turn into a 2nd or 3rd degree burn! The more severe burns don’t blister.

  14. Dana’s contention is that an expert in the practice of magic water fantasy is qualified to speak it’s validity, but a scientist or doctor with real qualifications in actual science is not (they don’t, after all, have a pay-for diploma from a university of horseshit). Don’t lecture us on humility Dana, you talk the undiluted bullshit and expect people to take you seriously, so your more-humble-than-thou posture is farcical.

  15. Dana’s contention is that an expert in the practice of magic water fantasy is qualified to speak its validity, but a scientist or doctor with real qualifications in actual science is not (they don’t, after all, have a pay-for diploma from a university of horseshit). Don’t lecture us on humility Dana, you talk undiluted bullshit and expect people to take you seriously, so your more-humble-than-thou posture is farcical.

  16. I once ACCIDENTALLY bought homeopathic burn cream (that had nothing but some herb in it) because it was shelved in with the real MEDICINE. When we realized that it didn’t work because it was “homeopathic” I had to go back & get somethign that actually addresssed the pain & swelling – I returned the product & wrote a nasty note to the company and then to Walgreens to rethink their shelving. For all I care they can have non-effective “homeopathic” treatment shelves -but they need to be clearly marked & NOT mixed in with actually effective medicine. The store manager called & apologized to me, so hopefully they’ll rethink their supply of that product & their shelving.

  17. It amuses me when people who believe in things like homeopathy call people who think it’s nonsense “close-minded”, when really, if they’d be more open minded and listen to evidence as to why homeopathy does nothing, they might come away a bit smarter. It’s their own close-minded-ness that refuses to let them see the truth.
    Also, I think New Zealand law is trying to make it so homeopathic remedies can’t be sold as actual medicine. I think. I hope.

  18. Homeopathy was an embarrassment to everyone living in the last century.

  19. Calli Arcale


    I promote prevention, not homeopathy, and in fact I really don’t know much about it. I think to bash the entire practice would be naive of its existence for thousands of years, however.

    You need to learn more about homeopathy before assuming that we all are just doing some knee-jerk bashing. Perhaps once you study it’s actual claims, you’ll understand the antipathy.
    A few other points:
    1) Homeopathy has not had an existence for thousands of years. It was invented by a man named Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 — it’s younger than the United States.
    2) Even if it had existed for thousands of years, that has no relevance. The humoural theory of medicine has been around a lot longer than the germ theory, yet I doubt you would be very sympathetic to anyone wanting to bleed a patient following amputation. Yes, that was actually done in the bad old days. They believed a comparable portion of blood to the amount that was in the lost limb had to be removed afterwards or the patient’s humours would be dangerously imbalanced. Honestly, it’s amazing anyone ever survived an amputation in those days, but of course they always thought that when people did, it just showed them they were doing the right thing. Which is pretty much how homeopaths function as well; if it seems to work, they declare it does work and go on doing it. You would have us ignore all that in the spirit of being nice to them. I can be nice to them at a party; I don’t have to be nice to their claims.

  20. Tami Carter

    Sites like the one cited in this article make me cringe. The idea of homeopathy and naturopathy is a nice one: using natural treatments to promote wellness and treat minor ailments, instead of incurring large medical bills and absorbing toxic chemicals into our bodies. The practice, however, is a joke…a very dangerous joke.
    If someone recommends I drink some warm milk to help me sleep, or tea with lemon and honey to ease a sore throat, or even the old spoonful-of-sugar to get rid of hiccups, I’m all for that. I even will buy into getting more rest when you are ill, letting someone with a fever bundle up against chills (so long as the fever is not dangerously high), and using Vicks VapoRub on the soles of your feet to quiet a persistent cough. But burning a burn? Oh my goodness…I would hope nobody is really stupid enough to do that.

  21. At risk of becoming highly unpopular, I’ll stick my neck out and say this: If stupid people want to auto-darwinize themselves, more power to them. Overpopulation down, average IQ up, more wide-open space for smart people who don’t fall for nonsense, etc. What’s not to love?
    The place where I draw the line is anti-vaccination hysteria, since that produces the externality of risk to non-consenting innocent parties. But aside from that, hey step right up and get your Power Placebos!

  22. Andrea Bellelli

    Actually the idea that burns are to be treated with warm rather than cold water goes back to Hahnemann himself and and exchange between him and one of his opponents on this subject is quoted by Richard Hael in his “Life and work of Samuel Hahnemann” (first published in 1921). The issue was exactly as is stated in the post, but at the time (anything between 1810 and 1835) the vital force was not as discredited a concept as it is nowadays.

  23. @g724 The problem there is that the vast majority of the (American, but I doubt it’s much different elsewhere) public simply has no clue what homeopathy is. Most assume that it’s herbal, or some “gentle” form of real medicine, or some other slightly-less-ridiculous woo. They’re completely flabbergasted when they learn that it’s actually just tap water dropped onto sugar pills. The fact that many homeopathic “remedies” are poorly labeled, made to look like real medicine, and often sold next to real medicine makes matters even worse.
    Imo, the most effective way to combat the issue is to educate the public, and to push for stricter labeling laws.

  24. re. PV @ #23:
    Ultimately what we need is to go hardcore for improved science education. Not the “neo three Rs” of rote, repetition, and regurgitation, but *method.* Teach scientific method starting early. Teach people to understand negative capability, falsification, probability, operationalization of variables, significance, the difference between proof and support, the definitions of fact, hypothesis, and theory, etc. etc. Get kids thinking this way starting early, and while we’re at it teach them media analysis so they can recognize when they’re being fed emotionalist propaganda.
    We need another Carl Sagan to make this stuff interesting to the public. And we need working scientists to step up to public debates wherever possible. Labeling laws, sure, and much better than banning stuff that in the end is merely a waste of money that might otherwise be spent on some other nonsense. But none of this is going to do much good so long as aggressive stupidity dominates the culture.

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