Plausibility bias and the controversy around homeopathy

Guest author, Dr Peter Fisher, Clinical Director at the Royal London Hospital of Integrated Medicine, examines the controversy surrounding homeopathy. Dr Fisher highlights the lack of consensus in interpretation of the evidence base for homeopathy and introduces the concept of ‘plausibility bias’ in homeopathy research as a suggested underlying cause.

Homeopathy has long been surrounded by controversy. As long ago as 1846 it was denounced as ‘ludicrously absurd’ and an ‘outrage to human reason’  and more recently it has been claimed that  ‘Accepting that infinite dilutions work would subvert  more than conventional medicine; it wrecks a whole edifice of chemistry and physics’.

The latest high profile episode was the publication  of the Commons Science and Technology Committee  report in February 2010, which concluded that  ‘There has been enough testing of homeopathy and  plenty of evidence showing that it is not  efficacious’, called for it to be banned from the NHS and for no further research to be conducted.

This  report was heavily criticised, particularly for its  failure to take evidence from a single patient who  had experienced homeopathic treatment and from only one practitioner (me), while calling a number of well-known sceptics including representatives of  Sense about Science, a lobby group which has campaigned stridently against homeopathy.  An  Early Day Motion critical of the report was signed by 70 MPs.  The government’s response rejected the  suggestion that the Department of Health take the  ‘unusual step of removing PCTs’ flexibility to make  their own decisions’, and declined to rule out  further research funding.

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