Part 1 – Why Words Matter
In 1976, Richard Dawkins the evolutionary biologist introduced the word “meme,” identifying it as an idea, slogan, image or behavior that spreads from person to person within a culture almost like a viral phenomenon with vast numbers of people in the society “catching” its’ meaning and using it without thinking about the idea it is spreading.
Sometimes memes are fun and useful, “lets google it,” or descriptive “going viral.” Sometimes it’s a gesture-thumbs up or taking a knee. Sometimes a meme conveys a political position: “fake news,” “Black Lives Matter,” “#Me too.” Some are subtle advertising: “ask your doctor,” and some recall a time and place: “9/11,” “Katrina.”
Typically memes appear spontaneously, are catchy and capture a sentiment that people consciously or unconsciously identify with and then spontaneously “spread,” just like a virus.
There are many negative memes associated with homeopathy: “it’s a placebo,” “there’s nothing in it” or “we don’t know how it works.” The specific meme or sound bite I would like us to focus on is: “there is no research.”
To counteract a spreading meme one needs to catch it midair and say “really?” Once when I was seeing my former primary care doc she told me she was giving me a flu shot. I said “No thanks I do fine using homeopathy.” She looked startled and said “That’s a sham—there’s no research.” I asked her if she knew a lot about homeopathy and she said “no, nothing.” When I said there was indeed research and could I share some with her, she actually said “No I don’t have time…” Needless to say she is my former primary care doc. I did point out to her in as gentle a manner as possible that saying something does not work when you know little or nothing about it is unethical and dishonest. However, today I find more and more physicians are interested in what works for their patients.
When I talk with folks in the homeopathic community nearly everyone has had a similar experience. So this is where YOU come in. A subgroup of volunteers for NCH are busy developing Quotable Research, sound bites or Memes of research so that each of us can have at hand the information in small digestible packets so when we are in conversation with our neighbors, our children’s teachers, professionals we work with, our health care professionals, other pet owners etc etc Often we are excited telling them about our use of homeopathy until they cough out the viral meme “oh there is no research.” So maybe we could have a ready response.
“Ah that is an unfortunate but popular misconception, did you know:—“ and you can quote the research.
For example: “Did you know that in 2012 a group of European medical researchers reviewed three randomized, controlled studies of Oscillococcinum and found it very effective with flu. Some of the findings were statistically significant which as you know means there is strong support that this does work! I found this so very exciting.”
These bits of Quotable Research will be on our website, in the newsletter, sent out in Facebook postings and in Homeopathy Today
They will look like this:
Quotable Homeopathic Research
Oscillococcinum for influenza treatment
Marrari(a, Terzan( and Chaufferin , Ann Ist Super Sanità 2012 | Vol. 48, No. 1: 105-109
In 2012, the three European researchers reviewed three randomized controlled double blinded studies completed between 1988 and 1998 with over a total of 1000 patients all studied showed clinical improvement in flu like symptoms using Oscillococcinum with one study having statistical significant improvement.
The goal will be for the soundbite or sightbite to know the topic, authors, journal and publication date and just enough information to help people have an antidote to the viral infection of the meme “there is no research.”
If you are interested in looking at some of the research yourself , Iris Bell MD, PhD and Peter Gold have curated a 2016 data base of over 200 pages of homeopathic research. It is on the American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH) and can be found at www.http: homeopathyuse.org. There is also a link on the NCH website to AIH and this database. In addition, at the end of this article are multiple homeopathic research sites.
Now a few things to remember about research.
- First of all, what is research and what is its value? Many people think that a research study proves or disproves if something is “true.” Actually that is not the case. When scientists are looking at the value of any intervention-medical curative or preventative, they are looking at the question: Does this approach show that it has a greater than coincidental chance of making a change?
To measure this outcome mathematical formulae are used –statistics! (Remember those from college??) If the math shows that the likelihood of this outcome is greater than chance, it is said to be “statistically significant.”
- Over the history of science we have always found that healers noticed when something helped the healing of a single client, then noticed a pattern, and finally said let’s study this! So research progressed (and still does) stepwise:
- Clinical experience- often written up as a single case story, as in Homeopathy Today or in a journal dedicated to the specific clinical condition i.e. addiction, mental health, diabetes
- Case studies-several cases demonstrating a similar outcome typically published in medical journals or journals dedicated to a specific condition
- Animal studies- where animals have benefited from a specific intervention i.e. using Nux vomica for rats and their induced alcohol use,1; using Gelsemium versus antianxiety medicine in nervous mice 2.
- Randomized controlled studies– comparing 2 groups, one using the intervention, the other one not using that intervention e.Weintraub and Chapman’s head injury study.
- Basic science looking at molecular interactions i.e. some of the recent work on nanoparticles would fit this description. A nanoparticle is one-billionth of a meter, too small even to be seen with a conventional lab microscope. As part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund [nihroadmap.nih.gov], the NIH [nih.gov] has established a handful of nanomedicine centers. Some researchers are exploring this as a possible explanation of how homeopathy “works.”—-So let’s stop saying we don’t know how it works but replace that with science is beginning to understand the mechanism by which homeopathy helps us heal.
- The design of the study and the number of people in the study influence its perceived sturdiness. Not every piece of research can have a large sample of people or the perfect design but each piece of research adds to our collective information. To disregard a study rather than mine it for the nuggets it holds is a missed opportunity. Often the articles one reads reviewing studies, especially homeopathic studies, one sees an needless disregard of data because overly stringent criteria are used.
As we think about this it is helpful to remember that meme’s not only perpetuate stereotypes but often blind us to new information.
An unfortunate example from the mid 1800’s demonstrates this. Dr. I.P. Semmelweiss MD from Vienna was in charge of 2 clinical birthing wards. One was run by medical students another by midwives. He noticed that the mortality in the student’s clinic was 11.2% and in the midwives 2.8% . Through observation and inquiry he deduced one of the major differences was the midwives washed their hands before delivering a baby, and the med students, often rushing in from the cadaver class did not. This was before Pasteur and his revolutionary germ theory. Semmelweiss ordered his medical students to wash before delivery and within 7 months the mortality rate dropped to 3%. Elated at his findings he began to lecture all over Europe and was often laughed off the stage and subsequently fired for his outlandish views. His colleagues said nothing could so simply prevent deaths.
Four centuries before in Egypt, Maimonides had written “Never forget to wash your hands after having touched a sick person.” (Never mind a cadaver.) Ironically it wasn’t until 1970 that the CDC began promulgating “Hand washing as the single most effective means of preventing infection.”
Sometimes it takes a long time to change a meme but human beings have the ability to change and grow. Good information and a shared commitment to catch that virus “no research,” and dose it with a minimum dose of actual research is a step.
- American Institute of Homeopathy (AIH) http:homeopathyuse.org has a newly edited 2016 research data base developed by Iris Bell and Peter Gold. There is a link on NCH website to research database
- NIH.gov Go to Institutes, NCCIH, and then choose Search and find Pubmed-put in homeopathy most resent search gave us nearly 5000 articles!
- Homeopathy Research Institute https://www.hri-research.org/resources/research-databasesv/ Has a register of homeopathic research and analysis of selected research.
- Faculty of Homeopathy (UK) research website
- Official Indian Research Centre http://ccrhindia.org/index.asp
- BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882 Research on CAM (including homeopathy), summaries free of charge, some full articles available, others may be ordered.
- https://researchinhomeopathy.org/ Initiative to Promote Research in Homeopathy
Research Cited in article:
- Bellavite et al Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Vol 2011 Art ID 362517. Department of Morphological Biomedical Sciences (Chemistry and Microscopy Section), University of Verona, Verona
- Sukul A, et al ,Altered solution structure of alcoholic medium of potentized Nux Vomica underlies its antialcoholic effect, Br Homeopath J. 2000 Apr;89(2):73-7.
- Sukul NC, et al Strychnos Nuv Vomica extract and its ultra high dilution reduce voluntary ethanol intake in rats, J Altern Com Med. 2001 Apr;7(2):187-93.
- Weintraub, et al Mild Traumatic Head Injury-Post Concussive Syndrome Using Homeopathy , J of Head Trauma Rehab, Curr Treat Options Psychiatry. 2014 Jun 1; 1(2): 204–223.