|The controversy with the BBC - program Horizon|
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The controversy with the BBC –program Horizon
The well known Horizon program of the BBC had an interesting film on Homeopathy where together with the magician Mr Randi tried to duplicate the experiment of Dr. Benveniste on homeopathy. The experiment failed to show results and so the conclusion of the Horizon program was that homeopathy actually does not work.
Though the film was appearing to be well researched it failed to see the loopholes of the Benveniste experiment. I was present in the historic Bermuda Conference where Benveniste presented his findings and I immediately objected to the findings. Nevertheless ‘Nature’ the famous scientific Journal made a major jump in their policy and published his paper there after a major scientific blunder attained devastating dimensions for homeopathy.
What follows is the correspondence with the responsible people in the BBC section of Horizon and the discussion that followed and still continues in the BBC scientific posting.
Here is my objection to the BBC film:
Matthew Barrett, Editor
As one who has devoted his life to the teaching of homeopathy, I watched with great interest the Horizon program on homeopathy in which you took up Mr. Randi’ s challenge.
In 1989 I had the honor of participating in an international assembly of some of the leading conventional scientists, organized by Temple University of Philadelphia and taking place in Bermuda. Dr. Benveniste, one of the participants, presented his research. At that time I strongly objected to his findings, on the grounds that they contradicted the basic principles of homeopathy. According to these principles, a highly diluted and potentized substance will have an effect on the organism opposite its effect in its undiluted state. Therefore, to use Benveniste's model, the highly diluted antigen would be expected to suppress basophile degranulation, not to cause the degranulation Benveniste claimed. In other words, a substance (if taken in large enough quantities) is able to create a set of symptoms but at a high potency counteracts these very symptoms. The symptoms of a bee sting will be reduced by a high potency of Apis Melifica, but could never produce the allergic condition of degranulation which Dr. Benveniste then claimed.
Since then I have repeated my objections in many of my lectures. Unfortunately, Benveniste's research was published in the prestigious journal NATURE and therefore is still perpetuated by some scientists, causing more and more confusion about this important therapeutic modality.
The regrettable thing in this excellently executed documentary was that all the stakes were bet on an incorrect assumption and on dubious research.
I do not see how the documentary can conclude ‘homeopathy does not work’ just because one experiment - based on an incorrect assumption – failed! This conclusion could be compared to a claim that an antibiotic could cure anxiety neurosis; upon finding that this is not true, we then conclude that all conventional medicine is useless.
To test a therapeutic system by examining its theory instead of its therapeutic results is quite inappropriate. Until a few years ago we did not know how aspirin works, yet it was the most frequently prescribed drug in conventional medicine.
To give another example: if the scientists who discovered electricity wanted first to know how this phenomenon was produced before they would use electricity, then most probably we would still be in darkness. It took a hundred years to develop the theory that electricity is the movement of electrons, and even today we do not know the nature of any type of energy, including electricity. Homeopathy uses a type of energy unleashed through the process of potentization (not through simple dilution, as was shown in the film). The fact is that at this moment we do not have conclusive evidence of what the nature of this energy is. Generally, energy is defined only as ‘that which has the ability to produce some effect’. Homeopathy therefore must be accepted or rejected on its therapeutic effects alone.
While I admire the technical excellence of the program, I am sorry to say that I think its effects were unfortunate. It gave the impression of having conducted an objective and scientifically sound test when, in fact, it was based on an incorrect assumption and inappropriate methodology [requiring theoretical validation rather than empirical evidence] that would discredit homeopathy in the minds of the viewers and discourage them from turning to it as a therapeutic method which can relieve their suffering in most instances.
I don’ t know who suggested using the Benveniste experiment as something which would invalidate or disprove homeopathy, but whoever promoted that concept failed to appreciate or understand what homeopathy is about or what it can do. If it was Mr. Randi himself, I am afraid that he has done a disservice to humanity by sowing confusion in the minds of people whose sufferings could have been alleviated had they not been discouraged from considering homeopathy as a viable and valid alternative when the modality they are presently relying upon is not producing the desired results.
The following was the reply to my letter from the producer of the program Mr. Nathan Williams, BBC Horizon
Dear Prof. George Vithoulkas
Thank you for your letter concerning the Horizon programme on Homeopathy. Matthew Barrett asked me to reply as I was the producer of that programme. I’ d like to answer a few of the points you raise in your letter.
The key point we were making about homeopathy is not just that we don’ t know how it works, but that if it works it means that scientific understanding is fundamentally wrong in some important respects. For a high potency homeopathic medicine to have a pharmacological effect our basic understanding of matter would have to be rewritten. Therefore for homeopathy to work it is a necessary (but not sufficient) requirement that sub-molecular dilutions have some effect on biological systems. You are quite correct that this would not in itself prove homeopathy and that certain ultra-dilution effects might provide better evidence for homeopathy than others. However, we decided to give homeopathy the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and allow that any demonstration of an effect from a sub-molecular dilution would show that this scientific principle was wrong and so provide support for homeopathy (whether directly or indirectly).
We therefore sought advice (in particular from homeopaths) and were told that the Ennis experiments provided the most convincing such evidence. Therefore it was this system that we used - and sadly were unable to replicate. We were not asking that anyone explain the mechanism by which sub-molecular dilutions have an effect, merely that they demonstrate that sub-molecular dilutions do have an effect.
You say that homeopathy must be accepted or rejected on its therapeutic effects alone- and we showed in the programme claims of therapeutic effect of both clinical and anecdotal.
However, it is the opinion of the most scientists and many homeopaths that given the conflicting results of controlled trials that there will never be enough purely therapeutic evidence to convince science that homeopathy works. Therefore it is vital that homeopaths are able to show in a reproducible experimental system that sub-molecular dilutions can have a biological effect. It appears that no such system yet exists.
Nathan Williams, BBC Horizon
After this reply the matter went to the BBC scientific posting and following are the comments from different scientists.
After these comments here is the second posting by Prof. Vithoulkas.
re: Horizon on Homeopathy George Vithoulkas - 2nd post - 9 Oct 2003 12: 06
It is a basic principle in homeopathy that in order to have an effect with a highly diluted and potentized remedy, such a remedy must fit the totality of the symptoms of the patient. Otherwise there is no effect.
What were the 'symptoms of the cells' in the Benveniste experiment for which the remedy (Apis) would fit and have shown some effect? Since this aspect of Homeopathy was not respected in these experiments, we cannot say that homeopathy was tested. An irrelevant idea was tested, but not the homeopathic idea.
When I wrote that the allergen in high potency could 'suppress basophil degranulation, ' I was actually saying, in medical terms, that a high potency of a remedy (if fitted to the case) can cure a patient with allergies, not cause an allergic condition. In order to cause symptoms in an organism you have to give large quantities of the substance.
This is a fact that must be understood by research scientists before they undertake a homeopathic experiment.
I sympathize with your 'empathy' when you make swiping statements like 'homeopathy is rubbish' because you heard that meta-analysis showed no effect. It showed no effect because it took in to account irrelevant experiments similar to the one we talk about.
Every one is aware of the integrity of the BBC - we recently witness the amazing controversy with BBC VS Blair - and I am sure they do something to balance the damage their film has done to Homeopathy, looking at acceptable experiments which, respecting the principles of Homeopathy, can prove the validity of this therapy.
Actually, we would have liked to have such a producer for a new experiment that respects the principles of homeopathy!