Cancerfighter’s Weblog

Alternative cancer therapies and ideas

Dr Ben Goldacre, homeopathy and the question of scientific evidence

Posted by Jonathan Chamberlain on July 30, 2010

Cancer: The Complete Recovery Guide –

Dr Ben Goldacre, a columnist of London’s Guardian newspaper, is a scourge of anyone who does not conduct impeccable science. He has often expressed himself contemptuously on the subject of homeopathy. Here is an exchange of emails I had with him a few months ago.
> Dear Dr Goldacre
> It is of course bad science to prefer theory to factual evidence. It’s no
> good saying X is impossible if in fact X happens. It’s also no good saying
> “We cannot accept it because we cannot understand how it can possible be” –  not if X happens. That is the point of experiments.
> So I now point you to evidence that homoeopathy works and look forward to your discussion of this.
> A paper on homeopathy and cancer was published in the February 2010 issue of  the International Journal of Oncology. Scientists at the University of Texas  M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDA), led by Moshe Frenkel, MD, have confirmed  the ability of four homeopathic remedies to induce apoptosis (programmed  cell death) in breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory. The scientists in  question were from the Integrative Medicine Program, the Department of  Molecular Pathology, and the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology of MDA.
> Their two Indian collaborators were from the Banerji Homeopathic Research
> Foundation, Kolkata, India, where these same remedies are employed
> clinically with apparent success. The four ultra-dilute remedies in question
> were Carcinosin, Phytolacca, Conium and Thuja.
> “The remedies exerted preferential cytotoxic effects against the two breast
> cancer cell lines, causing cell cycle delay/arrest and apoptosis” the
> authors wrote.
> Yours sincerely
> Jonathan Chamberlain

His reply:

you do understand these arent people, these are cells in a dish?

dr ben goldacre

My response:
It is evidence that even with cells in a dish a homoeopathic substance has an effect – ie placebo effect doesn’t come into it.


Dr Goldacre’s response:

can you think of any other explanations for the finding?

dr ben goldacre

My response:
If lab tests have any validity at all it is that they indicate possibilities – in this case the possibility that 4 homoeopathic preparations might have a beneficial anti-cancer effect. Of course there are many possible events that might have affected the results – contamination for one. However, until these have been tested one at least has to recognise that there appears to be some sort of effect caused by homoeopathic preparations. Critics of homoeopathy argue that these preparations simply cannot possibly have any effect at all.

We can now say that these same critics – if they persist in arguing that there is no evidence – will be falsifying the record – that is they will be arguing ideologically rather than scientifically if they continue to  say there is no evidence that homoeopathic preparations have any effect at all. This research shows that there is evidence. That evidence may be suspect or weak but it exists.



There was no further comment from Dr Goldacre

3 Responses to “Dr Ben Goldacre, homeopathy and the question of scientific evidence”

  1. xtaldave said

    Hi there. You might want to check out some critiques of the Frenkel paper.

    It is also worth noting that one of the original authors on the paper has come forward and publicly expressed her doubts about the validity of the conclusions.

    To put it all into a nutshell – homeopathic remedies are made up in “extra neutral alcohol”, basically, high purity ethanol. In this case, the ethanol concentrations were not controlled for, and the paper is simply measuring the effects of ethanol on cells in cell culture.

    Ethanol is toxic to cells, in even low concentrations.

  2. Adam said

    The only problem with your argument is that the paper you refer to is complete tosh.

    It’s been discussed pretty comprehensively here and here. You might want to read those blogs for a description of the many flaws in that paper.

    You see, it’s not enough for someone to publish something. The results have to be credible as well.

    If anyone independently replicates those results, let us know. I’m not holding my breath.

  3. JDM said

    Ben’s probing question:

    “can you think of any other explanations for the finding?”

    is a pithy lesson in critical thinking.

    Who’d bother replying to someone who’s not prepared to learn?

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