Homoeopathy Critics between Scientific Dogmatism and Political Agenda Setting
von Dr. Jens Behnke
An analysis of the so-called ‘skeptical movement´: historical origins in the USA, links to medical societies, industrial donors and political institutions.
Since the emergence of homeopathy some two hundred years ago it has been constantly criticized. This usually ignites in the use of highly potentised substances as is customary in homeopathy. In the current debate in the German-speaking area members of the so-called Information Network Homeopathy (INH)  are leading the way. The INH is a direct offshoot of the Society for the Scientific Investigation of Para-Sciences e.V. (GWUP).  The GWUP in turn belongs to an international network of similar organizations which are summarized under the term ‘skeptical movement’. The present article seeks to give a brief historical outline of the emergence of the ‘skeptical movement’ in the USA as well as a general classification of its motives, contents and structures. Reference is made to homeopathy, which has always been a particularly important subject of the activities of the GWUP and analogue institutions.
Homeopathy in the USA
Homeopathy was first exported to America in 1825 by the Danish doctor Hans Burch Gram.  In the following period, repeatedly fueled by the migration of talented homeopaths from overseas, it came into a bloom never known in Europe. The highest number of homoeopathic colleges was reached in 1900 at 22. This was equivalent to 15% of all US medical schools.  In addition there were 140 homeopathic hospitals, 127 lay and medical associations, and there appeared 31 different professional journals. 
This upswing came to a sudden end by the Flexner Report , published in 1910: Under the leadership of Abraham Flexner the financially strong Carnegie Foundation performed an evaluation all medical colleges. The underlying goal was to significantly reduce their numbers in order to focus on the promotion and expansion of a few large institutions. Critics of the report complained that the evaluation criteria were purposely formulated in a way that the homeopathic schools had to do worse. This process was supported by the politically influential American Medical Association (AMA) by dividing colleges into quality classes. The AMA was founded in response to the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH) established in 1844. The AIH was the first medical organization in the United States ever. The AMA understood itself from the outset as an anti-homeopathy organization : Its first chairman, Morris Fishbein, published several works explicitly opposed to homeopathy and other complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) throughout his career. [8-9] Homeopathy was perceived not least as an economic threat by the conventionally oriented medical profession. The Flexner Report and the AMA ensured that the urgently needed third-party funding was withdrawn from the homeopathic colleges and that political decisions were made to their detriment.  As a result most of the homeopathic educational institutions had to close their doors by 1923.
The AMA was able to gain significant influence until the middle of the 20th century. The Rockefeller- and the Carnegie-Foundation, respectively the groups behind them, established a close cooperation with the growing pharmaceutical industry as key financiers of the health and science sector. This network decisively influenced the development of what we call ‘modern medicine’ today.  The responsible federal institutions, primarily the 1938 established Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sanctioned these processes due to close links with the economy. For example, between 1959 and 1963, ten percent of FDA employees later joined those companies they had previously supervised on behalf of the government. 
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The notions of scientific medicine, along with the related understanding of health, disease and therapy, cannot be isolated from political and economic interests against this historical background. Traditionally some representatives of conventional medicine perceived CAM as a threat and fought it by different means. One strategy was the public discrediting of certain therapies, citing their alleged unscientific basis and potential dangers, by the American National Council Against Health Fraud (NCHF).  Certainly some of the offers circulating on the CAM-market have exactly these properties and are useless or even harmful. However, this applies equally to many conventional treatments as well, especially many expensive drugs which can cause serious adverse effects.  It is possible that in this context the motive of distraction from the greater danger actually played a role. Conventional medicine then had the advantage of being at least theoretically legitimized by the ‘officials’.
The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)
In the last decades of the twentieth century, US consumer protection campaigns against dietary supplements, homeopathy and other forms of CAM have received powerful support from the first major American skeptics society: The popular philosopher Paul Kurtz founded it in 1976 as a splinter group of the atheist and socialist-oriented American Humanist Association (AHA).  Kurtz saw a resurgent belief of the American population in astrology on the rise, which he apparently interpreted as a danger to a rationality-based world order. Consequently, one of the founding impulses of the CSICOP was the scientific ostracism of astrology through the publication of a manifesto titled ‘Objections to Astrology’.  For this purpose Kurtz collected the signatures of 186 scientists of various disciplines and tried to produce the largest possible media response to his topic. The eagerness shown in these and other campaigns against the paranormal prompted some signatories to the manifesto and members of CSICOP to distance themselves from Kurtz. Too little scientific and too much ideologically charged seemed the habit of the movement. [17-18]
The Mars Effect
The CSICOP acted with the claim to debunk alleged paranormal phenomena as non-existent by scientific investigations. The first (and only) study by which this claim should be fulfilled was the repetition of an investigation by the French psychologist Michel Gauquelin. He had made statistical calculations to test the hypothesis that a certain position of the planet Mars in a human birth chart would increase the probability for this person to become a top athlete. Gauquelin had come to a positive conclusion.  The independent re-analysis of the data on behalf of the CSICOP produced the same result.  This fact prompted Kurtz to withhold the publication of the calculations and claim that they had produced the opposite outcome. In the media he asserted that he had disproved the so-called ‘Mars effect’. In addition, he repeatedly tried to prevent a colleague from disclosing the matter to the public.  Incidentally, much later, other explanations were proposed for the Mars effect that did not include astrological implications.
The discrepancy between pretension and reality with regard to the handling of scientific findings that emerges from this example can be stated as characteristic of the ‘skeptical movement’: Science is not a method of non-judgmental knowledge but a set of theories already established in advance. Anything that contradicts these theories is considered unscientific and denied by prejudice, regardless of the direction in which the empirical findings point.  This particular form of scientism  should therefore be understood more as an ideology than an epistemological position. The original postulate of scientism is that there are no phenomena to which the methods of science cannot be successfully applied. At the same time all statements that escape investigation by scientific methods, such as metaphysical hypotheses, are considered to be pointless. 
They call themselves ‘The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal’. In fact, they are a group of would-be debunkers who bungled their major investigation, falsified the results, covered up their errors and gave the boot to a colleague who threatened to tell the truth.
Many ‘skeptics’ believe that an effect of highly potentised drugs is impossible. They refer to the incompatibility with certain scientific or medical theories and models. These models are thus elevated to the status of dogmas which in principle cannot be refuted by any possible experience. In this way, however, the notion of science is reduced to absurdity because precisely that type of ultimate theories belongs to the realm of metaphysics.
Homeopathy in the Focus of the Skeptical Movement
The ideological basis of the ‘skeptical movement’ with its dogmatic understanding of science as well as its focus on public relation campaigns led to connections between the CSICOP and the NCHF. Meanwhile the last had expanded and consolidated its cooperation with the pharmaceutical industry, petrochemical groups and scientific organizations such as the AMA.  Soon a plethora of articles appeared in journals of the ‘skeptical movement’ that presented CAM as useless and dangerous in the name of science.  Homeopathy quickly established itself as a favorite subject in this field: It has always received great popularity among patients, and there was no conclusive theory that could explain how drugs can trigger medical effects that are not likely to contain enough molecules of a pharmacologically active substance.
This lack of a theory of the mode of action of potentised drugs is still interpreted by the ‘skeptical movement’ as the actual impossibility of an effect. Following this reasoning homeopathy belongs to the field of superstition. Therefore it is not only dangerous because of its alleged ineffectiveness, but because it opens the door to the belief in the irrational, as a recent homeopathic critic points out.  This author consequently calls for a research ban on homeopathy, precisely because there are high-quality studies that suggest its efficacy beyond placebo. 
Mathie RT et al.: Randomised placebo-controlled trials of individualised homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews 2014, 3:142.
The CSICOP developed its first active involvement in the field of homeopathy based on the research of the French immunologist Jacques Benveniste. This scientist, employed at a governmental medical research facility, published the results of his experiments with highly diluted human antibodies (IgE) in the renowned scientific journal Nature in 1988. IgE was able to trigger an immune response in certain cells even if it was diluted to such an extent that in a purely mathematical way no molecule of the starting material could be present anymore (Avogadro’s number). This effect only occurred if the solution was prepared in stages and shaken vigorously between the individual dilution steps. 
Nature’s editor, John Maddox, published Benveniste’s work only under the condition that the experiments were repeated under the supervision of a commission appointed by him. One member of this group was the well-known stage magician and ‘skeptic’ James Randi. It turned out that the repetition of the experiments revealed the same effects only under certain conditions. The effects were demonstrable and significant but not reproducible in all repetitions. This is true even today, although the number of similar experiments with a positive result is now relatively large. [30-35] It seems to be an interesting area of research in which a lot is still unclear.  Such phenomena are called anomalies. Frequently scientific progress takes place precisely when such processes, which are difficult to grasp by means of established theories, are better researched.  Randi and the CSICOP initiated a media-effective campaign against Benveniste and homeopathy as a whole which made the matter seem settled and suggested Benveniste was a fraudster or at least deceived by others. 
Outlook: The Society for the Scientific Investigation of Para-Sciences (GWUP)
Within a few years the ‘skeptical movement’ spread from the USA all over the world. The founding year of the German GWUP was 1987.  Within this organization developments similar to those already known from America soon became apparent: Scientists who were initially convinced by the program of ‘skeptics’ began to doubt the impartiality, the methods and the actual goals of the movement. The sociologist Edgar Wunder was one of 19 founding members of the GWUP and has been working in various positions within the association for many years. After his departure in 1999 Wunder delivered an in depth analysis of the mentality of the ‘skeptical movement’. He presented internal documents from the bodies and organs of the GWUP to support his presentation. 
He states that the typical ‘skeptic’ resembles his enemy image, the ‘esotericist’, in a striking manner, only in reverse: While the ‘esotericist’ believes things even though they are not scientifically proven or even refuted, the ‘skeptic’ denies certain phenomena in principle, regardless of the scientific findings about them. The underlying dogmatic scientism and the structures of the organization are characterized by a dual world view within one can only be for or against paranormal phenomena and consequently ‘skeptic’ or ‘believer’.  Intermediates are inadmissible, and dissenters are usually opposed. The eagerness shown in this struggle is more familiar from contexts of political agitation and has little in common with serious scientific methods. 
In fact, while most ‘skeptics’ require scientific scrutiny and evidence in relation to certain items, they themselves seldom work in this manner, for example, citing publications in peer-reviewed journals.  The rhetorical mean of choice in the refutation of supposedly unscientific claims is rather often the polemic or even the insult. As has been shown above the end apparently justifies the means, so that arguments against better knowledge as well as misrepresentations are delivered. [44-45] With regard to the current discussion about homeopathy the arguments of the GWUP, the INH and similar organizations are largely based on insufficient knowledge or deliberate neglect of the data from clinical trials and basic research experiments.  The rare reception of scientific publications is used for the selective and one-sided presentation of some negative results. In any case the intention clearly is to discredit homeopathy by all available means, irrespective of the direction in which the empirical evidence points. Due to digitalisation the agenda in this area today focuses primarily on the rule of the Internet. 
The scientific dogmatism which is based primarily on the fact that the effects of highly potentised drugs cannot be explained by the model ‘molecule acts on cell receptor’ has remained the same from the beginnings of the ‘skeptical movement’ in the USA to today’s GWUP. How far the structural similarities between the historical American association and its modern German counterpart may go in detail, for example with regard to PR strategies and the networking with certain lobby groups and donors, would be reserved for further research.
Dr. Jens Behnke
Programmleitung Homöopathie in Forschung und Lehre
Telefon: 0201 56 305 13 und 0178 5594 308
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