As most scientists and skeptics know, homeopathy is a sham medical practice with no scientific validity that is nevertheless highly popular worldwide.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both been putting some pressure on manufacturers of homeopathic remedies.
The Center for Inquiry, which includes our Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has been instrumental in pushing those agencies to act (see, e.g., “Homeopathy ‘Unsupported, Ineffective, Dangerous’: CFI Testimony to FDA,” SI, July/August 2015; “Homeopathy Is a Sham,” by CFI Legal Director Nick Little, August 1, 2017, on csicop.org; “FDA to Regulate Some Homeopathic Products; CFI Hails Move,” SI, March/April 2018; and “FDA Has Duty to Crack Down on Homeopathic Fake Medicine, says Center for Inquiry,” SI, July/August 2018).
In fact, as we were in layout, CFI announced a major lawsuit against CVS pharmacies for fraud in marketing sham homeopathic remedies (see https://centerforinquiry.org/press_releases/cfi-sues-cvs/). More on that in our next issue.
Homeopathy is even more popular in Europe than in the United States and especially so in Germany. There, full-fledged doctors and layman-practitioners alike deploy and promote homeopathic remedies, and they’ve found ways to get health insurance companies to reimburse for homeopathic treatments. Skeptic arguments against homeopathy draw quick opposition from homeopathy’s defenders, few of whom are versed in scientific thinking or the way research works.
Scientific skeptics in Germany have found that arguing that homeopathy has been rejected by science has not been convincing to the practice’s users and defenders.
So GWUP, the German branch of the international skeptics movement, has announced a new kind of challenge to homeopathy. They decided to drop the “science paradigm” and “open their minds,” as requested by homeopaths. They issued this challenge following GWUP’s annual meeting in Cologne, Germany:
We are willing to pay the amount of 50,000 Euro (fifty thousand Euro) to the first individual or group that is able to identify homeopathic preparations in high potency and to give a detailed description on how this can be achieved reproducibly.
Homeopaths may use their own methods, whether recognized in science or not, to disprove one of GWUP’s major points in criticizing homeopathy, namely that all homeopathic preparations in high potency are identical and thus incapable of triggering specific healing effects.
“This protocol is as accommodating to homeopathic understanding as can be,” Norbert Aust of GWUP’s homeopathy working group said in announcing the challenge.
To start, the participant is to name three different homeopathic remedies of his choice that he thinks he could distinguish best. GWUP will assign a sworn-in public notary in Germany to prepare twelve coded bottles each containing one of the three remedies. The material will be supplied by the vendor directly to the notary, and GWUP is to provide a randomized list established by throwing a pair of dice.
GWUP has a set of detailed guidelines for the test, available on its English-language website at https://www.gwup.org/current-tests, but in short it goes this way: In two rounds GWUP will supply a set of twelve coded bottles to the participant. Each bottle contains one of three remedies in high potency the applicant specified to be able to identify.
When at least eleven of the twelve bottles are correctly identified and when the participant supplies a description of his approach, the first half of the test is successfully resolved. For the final part, the notary will provide another set of twelve bottles with either the same remedies but supplied from another vendor or different remedies supplied from the same source as before. If the participant once again correctly identifies eleven of the twelve contents and it could be verified that the participant deployed the method described in the first step, then the participant is entitled to receive the prize.
Participants themselves define the time they need, a maximum of six months after they receive the bottles. They may deploy any method they think best to accomplish the task. GWUP says it is ready to accept any method if it yields the correct result.
The mutually agreed upon protocol will be binding for both parties after the contract between the participant and GWUP is signed. Applications must come within two years of GWUP’s public announcement of the challenge in May 2018, so no applications will be considered after April 30, 2020.
“GWUP invites individuals or groups that are interested to verify that we critics are wrong and want to show that the tenets of homeopathy might be right after all,” GWUP’s Aust said in a background statement about the challenge.
GWUP wants to show by this challenge that it is impossible to distinguish homeopathic remedies by any means and that this is not a question of not accepting some outlying methods that have no real scientific validity. The reason for the remedies to be indistinguishable is that they are identical save random contamination of the materials involved in production and the surrogate. The issue of “science paradigm” would be obsolete. Science is a well-honed method to evaluate what is real fact and what is not.
If however somebody solves the task, this would be a scientific sensation, and GWUP would have a part in it. We would publish a report of this trial in some top scientific journal to trigger research [in] how the properties of material not present in the solution is nevertheless able to define its properties. Quite a number of Nobel Prizes would follow in due course and it would be an honor to be mentioned by the laureate as the institution who started all of this.
GWUP is asking skeptic organizations worldwide concerned with pseudomedicine to help spread word of the challenge. It specifically asks help in identifying homeopathic organizations so that GWUP can send them the challenge invitation.
For further information, see https://www.gwup.org/current-tests or contact Norbert Aust directly at email@example.com.